The HTC One range of handsets has finally made it to the UK market. Consisting of the high-end HTC One X, the more mid-range HTC One S and the low-end HTC One V, HTC are hoping that their devices will help them to take on Apple and Samsung and allow them to regain momentum in the market.
Over the previous week, we’ve already looked at the flagship device, the HTC One X in great detail and compared the hardware of the One X and One S to other top devices such as the iPhone 4S and Galaxy S II. In this article, we look at HTC’s software in greater detail: in particular the new HTC Sense 4.0 Android user interface layer, HTC’s camera and audio technologies and integration with the Dropbox cloud storage service.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: Google’s new Operating System
HTC’s new “One” family of smartphones features the latest version of Google’s Android operating system: Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
First seen on the Galaxy Nexus in November, Android 4.0 includes a raft of new features such as a data usage monitor (handy if you don’t have unlimited data on giffgaff goodybags), an improved software keyboard, faster real-time voice input and voice recognition, the ability to share contact details and webpages through “Android Beam” NFC functionality and the ability to secure your phone with facial recognition.
With the implementation of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich found on the HTC One series, HTC have made several key changes. In this article, we will explore these changes and look at how HTC’s Android match up against the competition.
The HTC Sense 4.0 User Interface
The most noticeable difference on HTC Android devices is the addition of the HTC Sense user interface layer. This means your home screen has a distinctly HTC design: you’ll get HTC’s distinctive digital clock and weather widget as well as features such as the “helicopter view”. Application icons have also been updated to match HTC’s lighter and brighter user interface design and Google’s search box has been relegated to a separate application.
The HTC Sense 4.0 home screen (left) as compared to the standard Android 4.0 home screen (right).
Multitasking in HTC Sense 4.0
Another key difference between HTC Sense 4.0 and the standard version of Android is that HTC have also introduced their own version of the task switcher.
With Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Google introduced a new visual task switcher with thumbnails of all the applications you’ve been using recently. This replaces the old task switcher which shows a grid of six icons. In the new task switcher, it is possible to scroll through the list of recent applications vertically (three are shown at once). Applications can also be closed or removed from the list by swiping them to the side.
HTC’s implementation differs from this: instead only one application is shown at a time and it is necessary to swipe left and right between your applications. This is reminiscent of Apple’s Coverflow interface for album art or the multitasking interface found in the now-defunct WebOS mobile operating system. Like in standard Android, applications can also be removed from the list but this time by swiping them upwards.
Whilst HTC’s multitasking interface certainly has star factor when it comes to looks and design, it can also be slower due to the fact that only one application is shown at a time. For power users who regularly switch between applications, this can be a major disadvantage, especially when 3 applications are shown at a time on the standard version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and 6 applications at a time on older versions of Android.
The task switcher in HTC Sense 4.0 (left) compared to the standard task switcher in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (centre) and the task switcher on older versions of Android (right). Most Android devices that are currently on the market will have the task switcher on the right which shows a grid of the 6 most recently used applications.
HTC ImageSense Camera Technology
HTC are selling their new One devices with the tagline “Amazing camera. Authentic sound”. To this regard, they’ve integrated ImageSense camera technology and Beats audio technology into their new devices.
HTC’s ImageSense technology adds several features that aren’t found on most Android smartphone cameras. Firstly, there’s a range of Instagram-like digital filters that can add effects and distortions to your images in real-time. This is a feature that is carried over from previous versions of HTC Sense and makes it easy to customise your images.
In terms of new features in HTC Sense 4.0, the ability to capture still photographs whilst recording a video has been added as has a new “continuous shooting” mode that allows you to take a burst of up to 100 pictures in short succession. It is possible to select the best photo afterwards when reviewing the images and all other photos are automatically deleted. With a dedicated chip for imaging inside the phone, HTC claim that with ImageSense technology their phones can capture an image in just 0.7 seconds.
Beats Audio Technology
HTC’s new devices come with Beats audio technology in the operating system. Whilst you won’t get the “Beats by Dr. Dre” headphones that HTC was bundling with some of their Sensation smartphones last year, HTC claim that the audio technology alone can still give an “authentic sound” experience with normal headphones.
The jury is still out on whether Beats can really deliver better sound on normal headphones - for example an investigation by Engadget found that Beats technology simply works like an equalizer that boosts certain bass and treble frequencies. They argue that Beats technology is “mostly a gimmick” and that the same effect can be produced by applications such as Poweramp. We’ll leave it to you to form your own views on Beats technology.
One of the much heralded features of HTC Sense 4.0 is integration with Dropbox, a cloud storage service. With Dropbox integration, your phone can be configured to automatically upload every photo you take and every video you record to the cloud. The Dropbox feature can also be used to share files between your computer and mobile phone wirelessly and HTC are including 25GB of Dropbox storage with each of their smartphones. See our full review of cloud storage services for more information on how to use Dropbox from your phone.
Note that like any other cloud storage service, Dropbox depends on being able to find a good 3G or wi-fi signal on your phone.
Older Devices: HTC Sense 3.6
If you’re running one of HTC’s 2011 Android devices (for example the HTC Sensation), you’ll receive an update to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in the coming months. It’s worth noting however that unfortunately this won’t come with HTC Sense 4.0: you’ll get version 3.6 of HTC Sense instead.
Version 3.6 of HTC Sense has several key differences to HTC Sense 4.0. For example, rather than getting the new “coverflow” multitasking interface, you’ll get the standard multitasking interface from Android 4.0 with 3 applications at a time and vertical scrolling. Sense 3.6 also lacks HTC’s new ImageSense photography features and Dropbox integration: for these additions you’ll need one of HTC’s new 2012 HTC One smartphones.
According to HTC, the user interface on their old devices will not be updated to HTC Sense 4.0 in the future. This is to ensure that when customers upgrade their devices, they will be presented with a user interface that is consistent with the one they have been accustomed to.
HTC Sense 4.0 is HTC’s next-generation Android user interface and something that that they’re hoping will be a key differentiation point from rival products from Samsung, Motorola, Sony and LG. In this article, we’ve compared HTC Sense 4.0 to “stock” Android 4.0 and looked at the additional features and enhancements that HTC have added in the form of photography, audio and file storage.
What do you think of HTC Sense 4.0? Do you like HTC’s additions and modifications to Android or would you have preferred that they stuck with the “stock” version of Android? How does HTC Sense compare to Samsung’s Touchwiz UI and Motorola’s Motoblur for you? How important are photography and audio features when you choose a smartphone? We’d love to hear your thoughts: please drop us a comment below!