It was just the other day that we had our hands on HTC’s new flagship Android handset: the HTC One. The device brings a ton of innovation to the fore, with an all-metal body, a new 4.3-Ultrapixel camera and the newest version of the company’s Android overlay: HTC Sense 5.
In our fleeting encounter with the newest iteration of Sense, we were able to test and toy with some of the key new additions to the HTC Android experience. Starting with BlinkFeed; the company’s new feed aggregator can display content from select news sources, your favourite tech sites, social feeds like Facebook and Twitter as well as photos and videos from your handset. At the launch HTC also pulled out AOL CEO Tim Armstrong who spoke about a new partnership between the two companies which will bring content from AOL-owned sites like the Huffington Post and Engadget into BlinkFeed.
Next up is the new UI layout. Beyond BlinkFeed, the default Sense 5 homescreen features a new monochrome clock/weather widget which is visible not only on the homescreen but now when pulling up the app drawer too. HTC have also redesigned the majority of their app icons, opting for a cleaner more graphic art style for the likes of their browser, camera and gallery app icons.
We’ll bring you a full hands-on with Sense 5 when the HTC One arrives mid-March.
What is HTC Sense?
HTC Android devices include a customised skin called Sense, which alters the stock feel and features of Android with significant tweaks and visual alterations which are unique to HTC devices. As each year a new range of HTC handsets is released, so is a new iteration of HTC Sense to accompany them.
Some of the best elements of HTC Sense have nothing to do with the Android tweaks, but clever ways of how the phone ‘senses’ its environment.
It’s happened to most people, you’re talking with your friends, or having a meeting at work, and someone fumbles as their starts to ring, on full volume. They fumble to hang-up the call, but end up answering it, have to apologise to the person at the other end and then the rest of the people sat there. But when an HTC Sense-endowed phone begins to ring, by flipping the phone over so that its screen is face down, the phone will automatically let the call ring out in serene silence.
Another ingenious addition works in the reverse. If your phone senses, through its passive light sensor, that it is currently in a pocket or bag, it will ring out louder, hopefully resulting in fewer missed calls and messages. Get it out of your bag and it will thoughtfully turn itself down again.
What is HTC Sense 4.1?
Despite being an impressively slick Android overlay, HTC Sense 4.0 did still run the risk of causing lag within the general user experience. Sense 4.0 was based on Android 4.0.3, whilst Sense 4.1, is noticeably faster, includes welcome tweaks to the existing features of Sense 4.0 and is capable offering such enhancements thanks to the newer foundations of Android 4.0.4.
In testing, HTC Sense 4.1 on the One X was significantly faster and smoother, thanks in part to the removal of 3D transitions and animations throughout the UI (user interface), which although looking nice, place unnecessary strain on the hardware in the midst of general use. What’s more, this rework in Sense 4.1 theoretically lengthens battery life and allows for the screen to remain on for a further two hours of use.
What is HTC Sense 4+?
With the arrival of the new HTC One X+, HTC Sense 4+ also made its debut which although not quite as significant as the jump for Sense 4.0 to 4.1, still offered great new features.
With the exception of the new HTC One, any HTC device which runs Jelly Bean (HTC One X, HTC One X+, HTC One S etc.) is capable of supporting Sense 4+. Key changes include the reinstatement of a fully revolving homescreen carousel (a feature originally implemented on the HTC Sensation and subsequently removed with the arrival of HTC Sense 4.0), the redesign of native applications such as Music, Gallery and HTC Watch; which now aggregate not just local content, but draws from other apps, services in files stored on your device, such as Spotify, Facebook Album and movie files respectively.
One extra welcome addition is Sight Seeing mode, where the user can lock the phone with the camera active, meaning that the device can be brought from sleep to the full camera app, without having to launch it each time or unlock the phone, perfect for when your handset replaces your digital camera.
What is Sense 5?
The freshest version of Sense debuted on the new HTC One: the company’s first handset of 2013 and their new flagship device. New features includes a feed aggregator called BlinkFeed which collates stories from news outlets, websites, blogs, social networks and your own local content into one continuous stream of information. There’s also a new set of widgets with a monochrome aesthetic, icons for HTC’s key apps have been redesigned and the app drawer has reverted to scrolling vertically rather than horizontally.
In addition, apps like Gallery now display photos, videos and HTC’s new ZOE photos and even has the ability to automatically create clips of your content without any user interaction, which can then be shared online.
When can I get HTC Sense 5?
As the HTC One has only just been announced, we won’t be able to get our hands on it and by association Sense 5 until the handset launches post MWC. HTC say the handset should arrive in mid-March.
How to I download it?
HTC Android devices typically notify the user when an update is available, so provided they have enough battery (suggested to be over 50%) and are connected to a WiFi network, they should be able to download the update over-the-air. If your handset doesn’t appear to produce any such automated notification when you know the update has been officially released, pull down your notifications bar from the top of the screen, hit ‘Settings’, scroll to the bottom of the list, select ‘About Phone’ and then choose ‘Software Updates’, at which point make sure ‘Scheduled Check’ is ticked and hit ‘Check Now’ to immediately search for the update.