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MWC 2012: Preview of HTC Sense 4

Even though HTC One X was presented just a few days ago the prerelease firmware has already leaked into the web. Wizards from xda-developers and 4pda.ru used this opportunity and ported the new firmware to HTC Sensation and HTC Evo 3D which I have used for this review of Sense 4.0. I want to personally thank @mdeejay_ru for the the port.

Desktops

The first thing you notice is the new bottom bar. Finally, HTC made it customizable and you can now put any icons you want there: app, quick contact action (view, call or text), a media playlist, a browser tab or a folder. The big Phone icon is gone and on the one hand it is right but then on the other many people really liked it. It would be better if users had a choice of the bar appearance.

Creating folders on desktops has become easier – all you need to do is to drag and drop an icon onto another one. If only one icon remains in a folder then the folder disappears. The new Sense has a limit of 12 icons per folder for reasons unknown and it is a downer.

Swiping between desktops looks very much the same as in the previous Sense versions and it is accompanied with very nice 3D animation. However, circular swiping is not available in this version.

Apps

The preinstalled Twitter client Peep has become a part of the Friends Stream app but it still has a slightly different full screen widget.

The Dropbox app has been added and rumors say that owners of the new HTC devices will receive extra storage space in this service but this information has not been verified. You can find a detailed review of Dropbox here.

Another new app is Notes and it is not merely a notepad for short memos but a specially adapted version of Evernote for HTC Sense. It appeared first on HTC Flyer and HTC Sensation XL.

Tasks is a simple app for to do lists. It can sync with your Google account but, unfortunately, older tasks will not be available.

The Music app has got new looks and is now integrated into the TuneIn Radio and Last.fm services. The lock screen displays the album cover and playback controls. By the way, the Sense 3.0 bug with flipping album covers has been fixed. The Beats Audio enhancer is still there.

The World Time tab in the Clock app now displays the world map with selected cities.

The Camera app now features a blue button that applies the selected effect to the picture e.g. black and white.

Widgets and Customizing

The widget menu now looks differently. Formerly it was a simple list – now it is a thumbnail matrix. The matrix works fine with the preinstalled widgets but only displays the size and icons of third party widgets. Anyway, you can select a widget from the list by tapping the All Widgets button. Similar widgets are grouped that is Twitter widgets of different size are displayed together. Once again, this grouping does not work for third party widgets. Google widgets are resizable while HTC Sense ones are not.

At the bottom there are now three tabs: Widget, App and Shortcut for quick selection of the item you want to add to a desktop. Adding elements has also become easier – you only need to tap once on an element in the respective tab to add it onto the selected desktop.

I said that the first thing you notice is the bottom bar but on a second though I think it is the new clock and weather widget which I find hideous. 'Clock and Weather' is a landmark of HTC immediately recognized and copied by many other manufacturers and it was a really bad idea to change it. However, it is a matter of taste and you may like it. This widget is available in three modes: 4x2, 4x1 'Clock and Weather and 4x2 'Clock and Friendstream'. The smaller size seems more appropriate as it is as informative as the bigger ones and saves a lot of space on the desktop.

The Contacts widget is no longer available in the 4x3 size – another downer for me as I favored this size.

Swiping now works for third party widgets that support this feature (e.g. Plume).

Lock Screen

Any icons placed on the bottom bar are duplicated on the lock screen. I don't like this feature and I would much rather prefer to use different shortcuts on the lock screen.

There are now two new lock screens: 'Contacts' and 'Important'. The Contacts lock screen displays a matrix of selected contacts. You can call a contact by dragging his icon into the circle. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the Important lock screen to work but I know it displays calendar events, tasks, new mail, missed calls and SMS. Also, the system tray is now accessible from the lock screen.

Phone, Contacts and Messages

These three apps are now all gray. The phone app now has four tabs: phone, Contacts, Groups and Missed Calls. You can remove or rearrange the tabs. The transition between the tabs is accompanied by a very nice animation. I would also like to see a gesture control feature to switch between tabs.

The Contacts tab now features the Notification bar that displays prompts on contacts arrangement, here you can also add all your phone book contacts to friends. Also, now when you view a contact first his big picture is displayed.

The Messages app looks very much the same but see for yourself:

Settings

The Wireless Networks menu is now a lot more detailed and you can turn on/off any wireless interface or browse its settings. There is now a separate menu of settings for developers. Also, there is a new traffic monitor app that can tell you how much traffic goes through your phone and display statistics for every app.

Miscellaneous

By default this overlay uses the Roboto font and you cannot change it using standard means. Also, all Google apps have got new sleeker looks.

The Enable/Disable feature for wireless interfaces is gone from the system tray, instead there is a small Settings button that opens the wireless settings menu.

The key pad is now gray for English and white for a second language.

The App menu is now a number of screens you swipe between horizontally.

Bottom Line

First of all, I want to remind the readers that this review is based on a ported firmware from HTC One X (previously Endeavour) to HTC Sensation so it is not completely out of question that some menus and settings are going to be partly or completely changed. However, I think we can get an idea of what Sense 4.0 is about.

Briefly on ups and downs of Sense 4.0:

Ups:

  • the bottom icon bar
  • tabs in menus
  • swipe enabled third party widgets
  • resizable Google widgets
  • quick effect button in the camera app
  • new lock screen features
  • accessibility of the system tray from the lock screen
  • adding widgets and apps to desktops has got easier
  • size for the Clock and Weather widget
  • Evernote integration
  • Dropbox integration
  • Last.fm and TuneIn Radio integration

Downs:

  • some icons cannot be added to the bottom bar or the lock screen
  • arbitrarily ugly clock widget
  • no wireless interface controls in the system tray
  • no modes for the bottom bar (cannot put the big phone button back)
  • no file manager
  • cannot change the desktop or the app menu matrix size
  • no circular swiping between desktops

HTC have been steadily improving the Sense UI but they seem to be taking their time and while Apple can afford adding just a handful new features every year Android manufacturers should be a lot quicker. If an Android user does not like the launcher he will find another one, if the standard widgets are ugly he will download new ones. And in a while he will ask himself question: Why am I paying more for the UI if I end up not using it?

As usual, the Sense UI has great widgets, lock screens and the phone apps. However, the desktops remain a downer – they have less settings than Go Launcher Ex. And even the phone app could use some smart ideas from rivals.

I liked most of the new features in Sense 4.0 but I would like to see the desktops get smarter and on a par with rivaling solutions.

Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion be known to the author and everybody else.

Eugene Vildyaev (aldaronnn@gmail.com)
Twitter
Translated by Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 04 March 2012

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