HTC's new One series, including the monstrous One X, runs a spangly new version of its Android interface: Sense 4.0. HTC claims Sense 4.0 is leaner and meaner than previous versions of the software -- so how does it shape up to Sense 3.5? Read on to find out what's changed in Sense 4.0.
HTC has simplified the front-facing control keys -- on a Sense 3.5 device such as the HTC Sensation XL (pictured right throughout, next to the One X) there were four keys: home, menu, back and search. On its new One series lineup, there are now only three: back, home and the recent apps key.
The recent apps menu has also been overhauled -- instead of a grid of icons, recent apps are displayed as cards which can be scrolled through and flicked off screen to close.
Doing away with a physical menu key means settings in apps such as the native browser and the camera are accessed via software settings or menu keys -- and there's no mini homescreen menu, which is not bad thing since all the functions it offered can be found elsewhere on the phone.
The folders system has been greatly improved in Sense 4.0. Apps on Sense 4.0 can simply be dragged together to create a folder that also displays up to four smaller icons of what's in it. If you want to add more apps to the folder you just hit the 'add' button and tap on whichever apps you want, then hit 'add'.
This system is a big improvement over folders in Sense 3.5, which first have to be created in a folder menu and then apps dragged into them. Folders in Sense 4.0 can also be called whatever you like, whereas in Sense 3.5 you're stuck with the generic 'Folder' or a few other names such as 'Favourites'.
On Sense 4.0, each folder can only hold a maximum of 16 apps -- less than Sense 3.5 lets you squirrel away -- but the limit does mean you can always see at a glance everything that a folder contains.
The launch bar has a new, slimline look. Gone is the curved grey bar and in its place is a dark grey rectangle with space for four customisable icons, or four folders if you prefer.
And where Sense 3.5's launcher is fixed with 'all apps', 'phone' and 'personalise', Sense 4.0 has only one fixed slot -- the central 'all apps' key -- the other four spaces can play host to whatever apps or folders you choose.
The apps and folders you choose here will also appear on the lock screen if you select the option to display apps shortcuts there.
Holding your finger down on the homescreen still brings up a widget menu, but the interface in Sense 4.0 is much more user-friendly -- showing a split-screen view, with thumbnails of each of your homescreens at the top and allowing you to scroll through thumbnails of all the different widgets you can add underneath.
This is a big improvement on Sense 3.5, which just shows app icons to represent widgets, so you don't get any preview of what the actual widget will look like before you select it.
If you pinch the homescreen it will still show you an overview of all your homescreens as thumbnails, but on Sense 4.0 you also get a small homescreen icon to indicate which is the main homescreen.
The notifications tray has been simplified, with the apps shortcuts and quick settings menu removed so there's more room for notifications to be displayed. And notifications can now be flicked off screen to remove them from the list.
The orientation of the apps screens has switched, so instead of scrolling vertically through all your apps, you now scroll horizontally. There's also a handy page indicator at the bottom of the screen. Also new: a search option at the top so you can quickly locate particular apps, a link to Google's Play Store app shop and a menu button that lets you sort, share, manage apps and edit tabs.
The default tabs are the same as on Sense 3.5 -- with all apps, frequent apps and downloads. In Sense 4.0 you can remove frequent and downloads if you like -- which means no tab will appear at the bottom. You can also rearrange the order of tabs, as you can in 3.5.
Sense 4.0 adds an extra option for sorting apps -- with 'date (oldest)' added to sorting alphabetically or by 'date (most recent)'.
The option to display all apps in one long list appears to have been removed in Sense 4.0.
There's not a massive difference between lock screens on Sense 3.5 and Sense 4.0. Both versions display a ring that you pull on to unlock the phone and also allow you to display a variety of widgets on the lock screen -- such as the weather widget and a photo album widget -- and to further customise the lockscreen by adding a selection of shortcut icons that can be pulled into the ring to launch straight from unlock.
Sense 4.0 has eight lock screen widgets to choose from, versus 3.5's six. The two extra widgets on Sense 4.0 are a Productivity widget and a People widget.
Productivity displays snippets of info such as missed calls and upcoming calendar appointments. It can be configured to show calls and messages from all your contacts or just a select few, to show email from all the email accounts you've attached to the phone or just selected accounts, and to show calendar events from all calendars or just some of them.
The People widget displays thumbnail photos of selected contacts. These thumbnails can then be dragged into the unlock ring to launch that contact's details straight from the lock screen.
There's also one extra clock on the clock widget. This shows dual clock faces that can be configured to show the time in two different cities.
The method for assigning shortcut icons to the lockscreen has changed. On Sense 3.5 you're asked to choose the shortcuts from a list of all apps on the phone. On Sense 4.0 you can only choose to show the shortcuts that appear in the homescreen launch bar on the lock screen -- or show no shortcuts.
Displaying the launch bar icons means you can have folders on the lock screen, so more than four apps can be included. If you pull a folder into the ring, the phone will open the folder on wake up.
HTC said it has pared back some of the graphical flourishes in Sense 4.0 and some pruning is in evidence if you pull the ring to land on the homescreen. On Sense 3.5 this triggers a 3D graphical carousel effect that whirls your homescreens in a circle before you land on the homescreen. On 4.0, HTC has ditched this effect and you just land straight on the homescreen.
The native browser has been tweaked, with a new menu key in the top right putting a more fully featured range of options one tap away -- including find on page and two new options to view desktop site and enable Flash player.
If you swipe down over the bezel a mini menu will also pop up with add to, bookmarks, saved and tabs (the new word for windows) options.
The tabs menu now includes an option to browse incognito, so any sites you view in this mode won't appear in your browser history.
'Add to' lets you add a webpage or article to your homescreen, bookmarks or reading list -- a handy hub where you can find all the stuff you've tagged for reading later.
The camera has had a slight layout tweak, with HTC including both a camera shutter button and a video camera button on the same screen -- so you can choose to snap a photo or shoot a video without having to pre-select either.
Sense 4.0 also adds continuous burst mode for shooting up to 99 stills by holding your finger on the shutter button. And you can snap still photos while shooting a video too -- just by tapping the shutter button as you record.
In gallery mode, Sense 4.0 includes a delete option in the block of options directly at the foot of the shot, rather than one tap away in the 'more' menu.
Music and Watch
The Music and Watch hubs have been tweaked slightly, with the Watch hub having a more polished layout to show off movies you can rent.
Music now includes a selection of tune-related apps such as TuneIn Radio and SoundHound, as well as any recently played songs.
Settings and menus
The settings menus in Sense 4.0 have various Ice Cream Sandwich tweaks. For instance, the quick settings menu is transplanted from the notifications tray to the top of the settings menu so you now get a selection of common shortcuts -- airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile data -- right at the top, which can be quickly toggled on or off via a slider.
The background colour has also been switched from black to white, and there's a concertina effect added to indicate when the top or bottom of menus has been reached.
What do you think of HTC's revamp? Is Sense the best Android skin around, or do you prefer Samsung's TouchWiz effort? Let me know down in the comments or over on Facebook, and check out my video review of the One X for more.