The first of HTC’s 2013 smartphone lineup is here in the form of the HTC One and it’s done nothing but impress us. Along with new hardware like its unique UltraPixel camera, we were appreciative of the all-metal design and gorgeous 4.7-inch Full HD Super LCD3 panel, but it’s the user experience that really drew us in.
Running atop Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean is the company’s newest version of its own unique OS overlay: HTC Sense 5. There’s a huge amount of refinement as well as a number of new features in this iteration of HTC’s user experience so we thought we’d take you through each aspect of Sense 5 to highlight what’s new and worth checking out.
We’ll start at the top – the new lockscreen does away with the ringpull design of last year’s Sense 4+ and instead it’s simply a case of swiping the padlock icon up and away from the dock at the bottom of the screen. Rather than unlocking the phone, the same technique can be applied to any of the four app icons which sit either side of the padlock as a means to quick launch each respective app. By default this grants the user fast access to the phone, messaging, browser and camera apps.
If there’s no passcode or pattern on the lock screen, users can also pull down the notifications tray without having to unlock the device and interact with any of the notifications and respective apps they’re linked to.
The lockscreen is also the first place you’ll come across the new Sense clock/weather widget. A far departure from the more colourful widget of previous HTCs (which is still an available homescreen widget in Sense 5) the new widget features a clean, clear, monochromatic design which displays time, current weather, the date, present location and temperature.
Past the lockscreen, the new widget can also be seen at the top of the HTC BlinkFeed screen and the apps drawer. In each of these instances it isn’t removable, but tapping on the clock or weather element will automatically launch the Clock or Weather app respectively.
Unlocking your device will by default take you to BlinkFeed: the new feed aggregator built by HTC. In the same vain as popular iOS and Android app, Flipboard, BlinkFeed takes stories from online sources as well as allowing the user the ability to integrate their own social networks, calendar and camera too.
During setup, BlinkFeed draws from specific sites including (in the UK) The Guardian, Vice, UEFA.com and CNET in addition to choosing content by category, featuring topics like business, design, entertainment, gaming and travel. Once your BlinkFeed is up and running you can browse the content chronologically with the most recent posts at the top. Tapping a post will either take you to a full article view in the case of a story or the relevant page on your favourite social networking app in the case of personal posts. In some posts you can also choose to read stories on your phone’s web browser, share them or just alter font size.
Unfortunately, in its current state, BlinkFeed won’t allow you to cache content, so you’ll need to have a working data connection to view articles.
Save for the dock at the bottom of the screen, each homescreen can accommodate up to 16 1×1 icons (room for four rows and four columns) which sit atop the aforementioned dock offering up space for four more apps alongside access to the apps drawer. Whichever apps you set to the dock will remain accessible from whichever homescreen you’re on as well as from the lockscreen.
The act of adding and removing homescreens and widgets has been greatly simplified with Sense 5; a long press or a pinch together offering fast access to the customisation menu. Filtered by widgets, apps or shortcuts, once a desired item has been found pressing and holding lets you drag it up to the available homescreen. From here you can also add panels or by pressing and holding any of the screens, set them as the default screen or remove it altogether.
BlinkFeed is the only screen which can’t be moved or deleted, but although it’s the main homescreen by default, it doesn’t have to be for those who don’t want it. It’s also worth noting that users can add up to a maximum of four homescreens alongside BlinkFeed.
Tapping the middle icon in the dock from any homescreen will take you to the apps drawer where every app installed on your handset is accessible. Headed up with the previously talked about clock/weather widget, you can scroll vertically with either 12 or 20 apps being displayed at any one time. Pulling down from the top screen lets you organise apps alphabetically, by frequency or via a custom order of your own choosing, lets you search for an app, jump to Google Play to download more and offers up further options.
Tapping the menu button in the top right not only lets users choose between the two grid sizes but also grants the ability to hide apps which aren’t frequently used, as well as manage apps. The other key differences apparent in the apps drawer are the new icons which HTC have designed for their proprietary apps. Just as with the clock/weather widget, icons for apps like the browser and gallery look cleaner and clearer with a vector-based art style that looks thoroughly modern.
There are a few features baked into Sense 5 to help make navigation and certain functionality more intuitive. From select sections of the phone which potentially involve a lot of vertical scrolling such as BlinkFeed, the apps drawer and the image gallery, a tap on the notifications bar will auto scroll the screen back to the top, very handy if you’ve moved down some ways.
As demonstrated on the HTC One, the company’s new capacitive key button layout says farewell to the app switching button altogether and so its functionality has now been moved to the home button, whilst a regular tap will take you to the default homescreen, a double tap will launch the app switching window which lets you choose to jump to any of the nine most recently used apps, or flick up to close them completely. Holding the home button also launched Google Now, making it easy to quickly search the internet, your contacts, apps, calendar or anything else on your phone.
Gracenote and Beats Audio
Another notable addition to Sense 5 is the new music system. As well as integrating a new high quality recording and playback experience in the form of HTC BoomSound on the HTC One, the new handset features a music visualiser which not only shows sound-reactive graphics, but can display song lyrics, supplied by Gracenote as the song progresses, which when partnered up to a TV via HTC’s Media Link HD, could be used to make for a pocket sized karaoke machine. The overall audio experience is also bolstered by HTC’s ongoing partnership with Beats Audio.
One of the interesting new features of the HTC One flagship is its IR blaster power/lock key, which in addition to simply turning the phone on and off, can be programmed through the new Sense TV app. The app actually serves two purposes as it can be configured to control all manner of tech from TVs to cable/satellite boxes as well as offering up an integrated program guide with recommended shows, categories for upcoming movies, TV programs and sports alongside a full EPG (Electronic Program Guide) with show times and extra information.
One of the main selling points of the camera experience in Sense 5 is the new Zoe shooting mode. As well as more conventional photo taking, Zoe photos are a combination of sequential stills and video all mixed together. One part lets you capture 20 frames at 6 frames per second (5 before the shutter press and 15 afterwards) whilst at the same time recording 3.6 seconds of video with audio – 0.6 seconds before and 3 seconds after.
Zoe photos then serve as a nice addition to the new gallery app with animated thumbnails and editing options with features such as Sequence Shot. HTC’s ImageSense technology also goes towards creating better looking images both pre and post capturing an image.
Zoes and photos are then combined into something called a highlight clip. This is a montage of a day’s events set against music and overlayed with a filter to give it a certain je ne sais quoi.