HTC’s Sense user interface has often found itself as one of the most distinctive and recognisable examples of how the basic Android user interface can be adapted by manufacturers. The UI stood out with its bright, colourful wallpapers and the fact that it often used white background for menus when other firms stuck to black.
But with Sense 5.0 making its debut on the HTC One, the Taiwanese firm has taken a giant leap into previously unexplored territory, incorporating the BlinkFeed interface. This has created a homescreen that is alive with images and updates, pulling through content form news sources and social networks.
However, while BlinkFeed may well by the most striking feature of Sense 5.0 it is by no means the only development that has come about with the new UI. The interface seen on the HTC One bears a resemblance to older versions of Sense in some places but in others is new and unfamiliar.
Let’s start with the lockscreen. The first thing you’ll see up upon powering up that handset is that HTC has turned it into something far more lively than earlier iterations. Possibly taking its cues from Windows Phone, the Sense 5.0 lockscreen can be set to show one of four different things; a still image, your notifications and upcoming calendar entries, controls and artwork from the music player or (our favourite) a rotating gallery of the images that are stored on the device. You also have the option of choosing to have no lockscreen at all, making the handset’s functions even quicker to access.
Having a separate option for music player controls on the lockscreen is a little redundant since they appear at the foot of the screen when music is playing anyway, a feature which impressively also works with third party apps such as Soundcloud.
Calendar entries are displayed in a big, bold format that is very easy to read with a quick glance, meaning this is an incredibly useful feature. However, we found the rotating photo gallery to be brilliant, making for a pleasant surprise each time the device unlock button is pressed. Whichever option you choose, the lockscreen shows notifications with large icons at the bottom of the screen allowing for them to be dismissed or responded to with a simple swipe.
A clock and weather widget is another lockscreen feature that is offered, something that was a trademark of older versions of Sense but manifests in a much more minimalist form. When the homescreen is displayed, a tap on the clock shows in-depth information about time zones around the world and pressing the weather app brings up current and upcoming weather information.
Below the main lockscreen is the app tray, from which apps can be accessed directly by tapping and holding on the icon and swiping it upwards. This actually gives you direct access to apps from the lockscreen, something which only happens in a limited capacity on other Android user interfaces and doesn’t occur at all on the stock version of the software.
The app tray can be customised so you have a choice of which apps to store there. However, the process for doing this isn’t immediately obvious and it took us some time to work it out; the app tray can only be changed from within the app menu, whereas we’d have liked it to have been possible to do this from any homescreen.
Speaking of the app menu, the one on HTC Sense is refreshingly free of bloatware with native apps having been kept to a minimum. Apps can be ordered alphabetically, in the order that they have been opened or in a custom arrangement of your choosing. The way in which app icons are presented can be altered too, with a choice between a 3×4 grid and 4×5 one, meaning you can cram more icons into a smaller space should you so wish.
The app menu also features a search option and a quick launch icon for Google Play, while icons themselves can be arranged individually or placed into folders as they would on a homescreen.
HTC has included the Kid Mode app with the HTC One, which allows users to lock off certain aspects of the phone’s functions so that children can use the handset safely. This echoes a similar feature present in Windows Phone 8 and means that parents can let their child play games or use certain apps without the fear of inadvertent phone calls being placed or bills being run up with app purchases.
Also included is a revamped version of HTC’s Car app, which opens a simplified desktop that gives access to functions that involve music and navigation, along with calls. It’s perfect for mounting on a dashboard and requires less attention to use whilst driving.
HTC has made attractive user interfaces in the past and Sense 5.0 continues this trend, offering an excellent skinning of the basic Android software that looks great and brings some useful functions to the table. We’ll be looking at the two big headline features of Sense 5.0 (BlinkFeed and the Zoe camera function) elsewhere but the rest of the UI shouldn’t be overshadowed by them. The HTC One is a stylish handset and its software looks just as good (and has a lot to offer).