Sense 5 App Drawer

If there's one feature of HTC's new Sense 5 that's taken us extra time to get used to, it's the new app drawer. HTC's attempt to simplify things has, in fact, made them more complicated. That's partly due to the new home screen scheme, with BlinkFeed anchored to the far left at all times (even if you never use it). It's also partly due to the app drawer itself. 

That's not to say it's without some interesting new features. But they almost seem forced together in a way that makes sense once you're familiar with them. Good luck explaining all this to a first-time Android user, though.

We'll explain.

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Grid size

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Open the app drawer for the first time, and something looks ... odd. HTC has opted for a 3-by-4 grid of icons by default. Only, it actually looks like 3-by-3 at first, because that weather/clock widget is up top. It'll disappear as you scroll down. There's a thin bar of options just below that widget, and it disappears when you scroll down, too. Hit the overflow menu on the right (that's the three dots button), and you have some new options.

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"Hide apps" gives you the option to select any and all apps and get them the heck out of the app drawer. To make them reappear, just uncheck them from the "Hide apps" section.

Manage apps takes you to the applications section of the settings menu. Standard stuff.

And finally, you have the option to change the grid size from 3-by-4 to 4-by-5.

Sorting options

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On the left-hand side of that options bar is a drop-down menu. This is where you can change to an alphabetical sort, or sort by recently used apps. By default, the app drawer is set to "custom" sorting, which lets you arrange the apps however you want, including creating folders within the app drawer itself.

You get a warning if you try to rearrange apps while in alphabetical sort. The warning also refers to "Date sort," which is the same as "Most recent" in that sort drop-down menu. (Grammatical issues aside, it might have been better to have those more closely labeled.)

Pro tip: To get back to the top of the app drawer as you're scrolling through-- which you'll need to do to get back to those options -- tap the notification bar at the very top of the screen.

How to place apps from the app drawer to the Sense 5 home screen

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This is where we come up against one of the bigger changes in functionality. In just about any other version of Android we can think of, you can long-press on an app in the app drawer, which then will switch back to the home screen view, for you to place the app icon on a shortcut. That doesn't work in Sense 5. Instead, you have to drag the app icon up to the top left and have it trigger a shortcut button, which then makes the home screen appear, and you can place the icon wherever you've got room. It's only one extra step, but it kills any fluidity in the action. And if you're coming from another Android phone, it's not all that intuitive. 

An easier way to get apps onto the home screen (though not necessarily any more intuitive) is to do so from the "customize home screen" section. You can get to it from the setting menu (Settings>Personalize>Customize home screen), or by long-pressing on an empty space (as in an empty 1-by-1 space, not just a place where you see wallpaper) on the home screen.

The launcher bar

Launcher Bar

Another source of potential frustration (albeit minor) is the launcher bar -- dock, you might also call it. A dock like that in and of itself hardly is new, and HTC's largely retains the same functionality as in previous versions of Sense. You can stick whatever apps you want in there -- even create folders -- and whatever's in there also shows up as quick links on the lock screen.

What's new is that the launcher bar is persistent. That is, it still shows when you're in the app drawer. That's new. And it's not necessarily the worst idea in the world. But it takes some getting used to, at least for me. Apps that are in that dock do not appear in when in the app drawer view. This might just be me still getting used to things. But when I'm viewing apps in alphabetical view, I expect "Chrome" to be between "Car" and "Clock," as nature intended. My brain knows that's where it's supposed to be, never mind if it's docked anywhere else. 

Is that a small problem? Maybe. Certainly nothing you can't get used to. If you're thinking that a persistent launcher bar/dock seems like a solution in search of a problem, you're probably a bit right. But consider: When you're in the app drawer, the app drawer button changes shape and will return you to the home screen -- and it's easier to reach (being central) than the home button, which is now in the bottom right of the display.

The bottom line

In and of themselves, these are not bad options to have. Our biggest gripe is in the extra step -- mentally and physically -- needed to get apps onto the home screen. Perhaps if you look at it in the context that HTC has some pretty good options for initial setup -- including a web-based "Get Started" tool -- maybe it makes sense. (Though "Get Started" is still pretty limited in the applications that can add up front.) 

Oh, and vertical scrolling needs to go -- particularly the page-by-page, scroll-then-stop thing. We've never liked that, we still don't like it.

The simple fact is that more options doesn't simplify things in the Sense 5 app drawer. The clock/weather widget isn't necessary -- there's still a clock in the notification bar at the top of the phone, visible at all times. The app drawer should contain apps, and only apps. The persistent launcher bar is another complication. Again, it's something you should get used to pretty quickly -- but it's a solution in search of a problem. It doesn't make things any easier.