HTC Sense

When HTC used Mobile World Congress to announce a pair of new Android phones, it also took the opportunity to unveil the all-new Sense user interface. The new Sense is rolling out first to the European Legend and Desire, and CEO Peter Chou said the Hero line of devices -- which should include the Sprint Hero and Droid Eris -- will see updates.

A leaked HTC Desire ROM is up and running on the Nexus One, which is a very close cousin. (Check out Redmond Pie's excellent installation instructions here.) Remember that this is an unofficial build, there are bugs, and that what we end up seeing officially in the United States may vary some. (At the very least, the clock wouldn't default to 24-hour time, we'd see temperature listed in Fahrenheit, and the date would be listed as month-day-year.) But we think this ROM gives us a pretty good feel for what's in store. If you haven't already, check out our video hands-on. Then join us after the break as we take a deeper look at the new version of HTC's Sense user interface.

The home screens

Like a stock Android home screen, the Sense home screen actually comprises a number of screens. In this case, it's seven, up from the three screens officially on the Motorola Droid and five screens on the Google Nexus One.

The telltale HTC clock, weather and date make up the center screen, along with a four-by-two icon area below. Four shortcuts -- Messages, Mail, Internet and Camera -- are on the screen by default at startup. Beneath them are the buttons to bring up the application list, phone dialer and "add to home," which adds widgets, programs, shortcuts or folders to the home screen. You also can tap and hold on the home screen to add content.

HTC SenseHTC SenseHTC Sense

HTC SenseHTC SenseHTC Sense

You flip through the home screens by moving your finger left and right on the screen. To the right of the central clock home screen are favorite contacts, the "News" RSS reader and a black screen on which to put whatever you want. Flip left from the central clock screen and you get a full-screen e-mail widget (strangely, it supports Exchange ActiveSync and POP3/IMAP protocols, but not gmail), "Friend Stream" (more on that in a bit) and the full-screen weather widget.

A little slider indicator just above the dialer button shows where you are in the order of home screens.

Leaping through the screens

Also new in Sense is the ability to "Leap" from one home screen to another. Pinch your fingers on any of the home screens and you zoom out to see all seven screens at once. From there, you can leap from one to another, without having to flip through all the rest.

Leap

You also can "Leap" by pressing the Home button while on the central clock screen. That's a testament to HTC's attention to detail. On a stock Android build, pressing the home button on the central home screen does absolutely nothing. HTC's making the most of the UI here.

Notifications work just as in any other Android build. Slide your finger down from the top of the screen at any time.

Actually, saying there are only seven home screens doesn't really do it justice here. As in the previous versions of Sense, there are a number of "Scenes" from which to choose, basically giving you multiple canvases on which to design whatever home screen (or home screens) fits your needs at any given time. That's a whole lot of real estate for widgets, contacts, clocks, shortcuts, calendars -- whatever you can think of. By default, the Scenes comprise HTC, Social, Work, Play, Travel and Clean Slate.

ScenesHTC SenseHTC Sense

Friend Stream

Probably the other biggest new feature in Sense is "Friend Stream." In a nutshell, it aggregates three of the largest social networking sites today -- Facebook, Twitter and Flickr -- and feeds them into your Android phone. Little icons in their profile pictures indicate whether you're looking at something from Facebook, Flickr or Twitter.

HTC Sense Friend Stream

You're given the option to sign in to the services when you first set up your phone. (You also can add or delete an account at any time after that.) Sense then integrates the services into a stand-alone Friend Stream app (and a home screen widget), and you can get the waterfall of information under the app's "All updates" tab.

That may sound like a good idea at first, but it's going to quickly get out of hand if you have more than a half-dozen friends on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. Fortunately, information is parsed out somewhat. You can turn off a service's updates without actually having to turn off the service.

Status

HTC Sense Friend Stream

You also can start whittling down your information stream with the Status tab. That sorts things out to just Facebook status updates, as well as Tweets. Again, if you're following a scant few people, it's a handy little thing. But most of us follow dozens and dozens (if not hundreds and hundreds) of people on Facebook and Twitter. Keeping up with the sheer volume of data in a single stream is next to impossible. And for that reason I'll likely still be using separate Twitter and Facebook clients. (Also note that Friend Stream and the Peep twitter client only support one Twitter account. That's another deal-breaker for me.)

Photos

HTC Sense Friend Stream

By now we're all used to seeing our friends' Facebook default pictures used as contact photos. From the Friend Stream app, you get a feed of all your friends' photos, uploaded from Facebook and Twitter.

Friend Stream also integrates Facebook and Flickr photos into your phone's Photo application, making it a one-stop source to see what they've been shooting. There are separate tabs for photos on your camera, a list of all your Facebook friends (click on one to see their FB photos), and a tab for your Flickr friends.

Links

HTC Sense Friend Stream

This one's pretty self-explanatory. If one of your Facebook friends posts a link, you'll see it here. Not sure if it's better or worse that links in Twitter don't appear here. That's probably a crapshoot.

The browser brings Flash support

HTC Sense

Yep, you read that right. We got a look at Flash 10.1 on the Nexus One at Mobile World Congress, and it wasn't all-the-way good, which we suppose makes it not half-bad. All we're saying is that this point we could take it or leave it. But since it's here, let's talk about it.

Adobe Flash Lite is up and running. (Again, see our video hands-on.) It works fine on smaller, less intricate objects. But while it loads larger objects such as games, it was noticeably laggy at times. Maybe that's the ROM port or an incomplete build, or maybe that's just how Flash is going to be. It's a little too early to tell just yet, but you guys go ahead and have yourselves a good ol' time in the comments.

Oh, by the way, pinch-to-zoom is on board. But that's old hat now, isn't it ...

Other software odds and ends

Friend Stream, Leap and Flash are really the biggest changes in the new version of Sense, though certainly there's more than enough eye candy to go around, too. And the app suite that HTC adds in is nothing to be sneezed at. Here's a rundown of what else you can find.

Clock

The clock features a main view, desktop view, alarm, stopwatch, time and world clock.

ClockClockClock

ClockClock

Calendar

The calendar app has been refined a bit. You can pick and choose from any of your Google calendars to be displayed. Different HTC scenes (see above) also offer different calendar widgets out of the box. And there are always plenty to be downloaded from the Android Market, though they might not quite fit the design motif. Weather information is listed for the next four upcoming days.

CalendarCalendarCalendar

CalendarCalendarCalendar

Footprints

HTC's photo geotagging app is still on board, though it's not one I've ever really cared for/about. But it's there if you want it.

Footprints

News

I'm quickly becoming a fan of HTC's "News" RSS reader app. You can import and export OPML feeds, but it doesn't sync directly with Google reader. That's going to be an understandable deal-breaker for a lot of people.

HTC Sense NewsHTC Sense NewsHTC Sense News

YouTube

Yep, it's still here, and it still works fine.

Google Maps

It's version 3.4 out of the box (at least in the Alpha 7 version of  MoDaCo's Desire ROM), so you'll want to update to 4.0.

Quick Office

It's there for all your office-type needs.

Peep

HTC's own Twitter client's ready to go. Again, it only supports one Twitter account at a time.

The wrap-up

It's worth another reminder that we're running an unofficial ROM from the HTC Desire on the Google Nexus One. While it's also an HTC-manufactured phone, the Nexus One was made for Google and the Google experience. The HTC Desire doesn't have the charging contacts at the bottom, and doesn't support the Google desktop charger. Notification lights are a little wonky. In other words, we're reviewing an unofficial ROM on a device for which it is not intended. But we believe it's complete enough to get a pretty good feel for what's officially coming.

All in all, this is a worthy upgrade to Sense. I'm not always a big fan of aggregating numerous social networks under a single roof, but HTC's Friend Stream does so gracefully, so long as you don't mind a slightly muddy stream if you follow a large number of people. That said, the photo integration is top-notch.

And Flash Lite in the browser is a good thing, if you're the type who lays awake at night wondering just when you're going to see Flash. Us? It's just not that big a deal. If you just HAVE to have Farmville on your phone, then waiting on Flash may be the least of your issues.

The bottom line is this is a nice evolution in Sense. And so with this we await with open arms the release of the HTC Legend and Desire, which will bring the new version of Sense to Europe, and we expect to eventually see new (and current) devices with it here in the States.

 
There are 13 comments

aquaj13 says:

i can't wait to get this on my eris.

mdecker says:

Totally agree. I can't wait.

several says:

Nice review. Detailed descriptions and screenshots much appreciated.

Now that I've seen the details I'm not seeing Sense live up to the level of hype I've sensed around it. (pun intended.)

Probably not going to put it on my N1 but if cyanogen includes elements of it I won't exactly be disappointed either. So, I guess my reaction is the classic 'meh'.

MedioGringo says:

Having had Sense on my old Hero, I can tell you that the advantages are usually not covered in reviews you read on blogs. They usually stick to talking about the widgets. The nice stuff Sense does comes in the contacts, for instance. You can see all a person's facebook or flickr photos right there on their contact card (and now in friendstream) without having to go to the facebook app. That's really nice, especially since there is no good flickr app in the market, and I always have to go to the cumbersome mobile site to look at photos. And you can organize contacts by groups, something you can't do on the N1 but I could do on my old $30 disposable phone. That's huge for me. The camera app adds multiple metering modes allowing you to control the exposure better and adds multiple focusing modes. Also, the keyboard is much better.

There are tons of improvements to basic functionality in Sense that reviewers never cover. The widgets are pretty, but most aren't that useful.

Very good points. Left out the camera in this case because there are still some bugs in this ROM on the Nexus One. But I totally agree that the little tweaks that HTC does is what makes it special.

gbhil#AC says:

I'm going to assume you sync a bunch of contacts. You do realize that you will never be able to go back to the standard Vanilla contacts app. Bells and whistles are really neat and I love having them, but the HTC people app and widgets will ruin your ability to be happy with anything else :)

I'm not crazy about how it sucked in all the Facebook contact info. Not a deal-breaker, but it significantly grew the list.

Crunchbot says:

I agree with several's post. I was excited for this on my Eris, but after reading this review and watching the video, other than friend stream and that zoomy out home screen feature, what's the difference? Some aesthetic updates? All of those things are already available on the Eris as it is, am I wrong? This looks to be less sluggish than the 1.5 version of HTC Sense and I hope that carries through to the Eris.

The calendar does look better. Does the icon update to show the current date? I'd like that. Is the except "all day event" glitch that shows the day of the event as the day before fixed? Maybe the weather icon in the widget will actually update consistently instead of always showing the moon in the daytime.

I'm more excited for some kind of update that will allow me to get the 1.6 apps and above, such as turn by turn navigation on Maps. I hope the lag improves, but I feel that I was really getting excited over nothing. More than eye candy, I want the programs that exist now to work well, and for the phone to not feel so laggy and buggy all the time.

ads says:

Don't coin a new term of "leap". Leap is a cisco wireless protocol a LOT of us in the corporate wireless community are - almost desperately - waiting for.
Maybe "jump".
ADS

cycler says:

So Phil, it sounds like you prefer Sense over vanilla 2.1, am I correct? Or is it too early to tell sense Sense for the Nexus One is still in alpha?

I've always been back and forth on Sense, starting with WinMo. ... Visually, it's beautiful. But I'm of the sort that prefers to tweak things myself.

That said, Sense keeps getting better and better, and it's a great option to have.

several says:

Oh, I forgot to mention, regarding the display of thumbnails for all the home screens, if you haven't seen this yet on the N1, long press on the launch bar at the bottom of the screen, between the house image and the dots. You're then shown thumbnail images of your 5 home screens and can tap one to 'leap' to it.

So, that's not a feature that Sense has that stock 2.1 doesn't have, it's just displayed differently and is accessible via a hard button as well as a long press on Sense.

gdubmedia says:

One thing I'd like to know is if Sense 2.1 does the live wallpapers. I'm torn between going EVO or N1. I have a Hero now, and came from the Moment, and I like a lot of things about both Sense and Vanilla. I'm leaning more towards the EVO now that I know officials on it, but I want to make sure I have all the functionality of Vanilla, with the Sense features thrown on top.

I suppose I could throw a 2.1 Sense ROM on the N1 when it's officially released (relatively) bug-free, but I'd rather have a phone optimized for Sense if that's how I choose to roll. :/