I started writing this post about a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been jotting down notes and thoughts about HTC’s Sense interface on my HTC Hero. Sense is a great mobile experience. I wanted others to know what it’s all about.
Also, I’ve started a post that gives you some hints on how to get a Sense-like experience on almost any Android device, just by installing a few apps. I’ll publish that shortly.
What is Sense?
I’m going to back up a lil bit. Android is an open source operating system. That means that anyone can use/modify/distribute the source under the terms of the license…for free. HTC did this with Sense.
When you boil it down, Sense is the user experience. I’m not just talking about the color palette or the home screen layout. It’s everything. They changed the flow of the menu. They included social media integration. There’s multitouch and Flash Lite, which is pretty uncommon for Android devices. They improved upon many of the stock Android apps and widgets. They even dug deep and changed some of the core code (which actually caused problems initially). The only thing they couldn’t didn’t change were the “With Google” apps (Gmail, YouTube, Maps, etc).
I’m going to talk each of these things in more detail, and let you know how you can enjoy a similar experience on your non-Sense device.
There’s no place like Home
When you power up a Sense phone the first thing you’ll notice (after the cute boot screen) is that the Lock screen is different. You slide the screen down to unlock. Also, you can have a different wallpaper on your Lock screen from your Home screen. After you get past the Lock screen you’ll see a beautifully dark color palette. This theme extends throughout all aspects of Sense. At the top of the screen you’ll find the Notification slider. At the bottom are three buttons: An up arrow, “Phone” and a plus sign. The up arrow is the App tray. It looks pretty standard. However, if you press MENU you can opt to change the tray to a list view. The phone button launches the Phone app (one less icon on the Home screen :). Lastly, the plus sign opens a tray of things you can add to your home screen. All of the standard Android Home screen add-ons are present. You’ll notice a new section called HTC Widgets. More on that later. Also, there are 7 Home screens versus the standard 3 for vanillandroid. There is also a feature called “Scenes” that allows you to save multiple home screen experiences for particular activities. For instance, you can create a “Work” scene that has a “safe for work” wallpaper and includes the Mail, World Clock, and Stocks widgets. Then when you get home, you can switch to a “Home” scene that has a picture of your family for the wallpaper, and a different set of widgets and app icons. I don’t use this feature, but I see the benefit.
If you have an Android phone already, you may ask yourself “what the heck am I going to fill up those extra Home screens with?”. Well, you’re in luck. HTC Sense comes with a ton of widgets. Here are the categories: Bookmarks, calendar, clock, mail, messages, music, people, photo album, photo frame, search, settings, and weather. I think there were also widgets for Footprints (see below), twitter and stocks, but I deleted them. Each has two to three (or 12, in the case of Clocks) ranging in size from small to full screen. I use the full screen calendar, half screen music, half screen clock/weather, and a bunch of the “Settings” widgets. These are quick on/off widgets for commonly used settings (WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS…yes, Sense allows one-click GPS toggle ;). I don’t use many of the widgets, but I can see how they could be useful to some.
There’s an app for that…
HTC also took the stock Android apps and made them much better. Here’s a list of apps they’ve either replaced or added: Albums, Browser, Calendar, Camera/Camcorder, Clock, Footprints, Mail, Messages, Music, PDF Viewer, Peep (twitter), People (contacts), Phone (dialer), Quickoffice, (some) Settings, Stocks, Voice Recorder (Android has one, but it’s not visible o_O), and Weather. There’s also a built-in Ringtone Trimmer, but it’s only accessible via the Music app. That’s a lot. Almost every stock app. The Albums app added swipe-to-browse, and a much improved look-and-feel. The mail app added Exchange support. It’s pretty awesome to be able to view PDFs and Office documents as well. If you’ve ever use the stock Android Music app, you’ll appreciate the HTC Sense Music app.
Like other device manufacturers, HTC has integrated some social networking aspects into Sense. Peep, a Twitter client, is pre-installed on the phone and is part of the “Share” menu. The Facebook integration is a bit deeper. Once you sign in, it’ll start matching your phone contacts with your Facebook friends. It’ll set their profile picture as the contact image on your phone, you’ll be able to see their FB updates on their contact page (in addition to emails, SMS, etc). You can also share images and videos directly to Facebook. HTC also included Flickr integration. You can browse your friend’s photostreams and upload photos to your own.
By tweaking the apps and adding a ton of widgets, HTC created a pretty amazing experience, in my book. That being said, I can live without it. There are apps and widgets in the Market that can help replicate the Sense experience. If I had to choose between two similar phones, the only difference being Sense, I would choose the Sense phone.
Post your questions in the comments.