One of the key differences with the Doid Eris is the UI that HTC has developed for their Android phones. The Sense UI provides a smoother interface to the stock Android interface. I am seeing this trend in a lot of phones. Motorola has the Blur, Samsung the Cube, and I am sure there will be more to follow.
Here I want to focus on what the Sense UI brings to the party. I’ll break it down to:
- UI Enhancements
- Core Extensions
- Extra Applications
I have mixed emotions on the current supplemental UI trend. On the one hand, anything that makes the phone more accessible has got to be a good thing, on the other hand, I am afraid that it fragments the market. Someone using an HTC phone may not take to the Motorola version as quickly. Of course, that is probably exactly why the handset manufacturers are embracing this trend.
Another issue, that is apparent with both the Droid and the Eris, is the delay in getting the latest Android OS. The Droid ships with Android 2.0 and without Motorola’s Blur interface. I can only assume this is because the Blur is not ready to work with Eclair. The Eris ships with Android 1.5 and the Sense UI, and I have heard they are working on updating the UI to work with 2.0. So if you want to have the latest and greatest, the UI add-ons are going to delay that for you.
First and foremost, the Sense UI means that the UI for your Android phone is going to look a little different.
The Icons in the Notification bar are redesigned to be smaller, and also have a different look. Another change is the bottom of the screen. In the Standard Android OS you get a single centered tab that you tap to see the applications tray. With the Sense UI the center button is now the Phone button, used to launch the phone app, and the applications button is moved to the left with a new add button on the right.
The Phone button seems redundant on the Eris. One of the things I like about it is that it has the familiar green call and red hang-up buttons on the phone. You don’t ever need to tap the phone button on the screen. The add button is, well, a nice add. I know folks new to Android can be confused how to add things to the home pages, now it is more obvious. Experienced users can still use the long-press to add an item.
The home page now has Seven pages, rather than the standard three. This comes in really handy with the new widgets that HTC provides. When you go to add an item on a page, you get a number of options:
We’ll cover the new HTC Widgets later. Shortcuts are not actually changed in Sense UI, but it is helpful to look at what you can create. You can add shortcuts to a:
- Gmail label
- Mail Inbox
- Music Playlist
I really like the ability to add a person. You can select how to contact them and create a direct dial to their mobile, home, work or even SMS them.
Other refinements I discussed in the First Looks: Droid Eris including improved media player interface, lock-out screen that lets you quickly control music player and enhanced widgets.
I could do a whole series of post on the HTC Widgets. I love the enhanced music widget, the mail widget, and the messaging widget. They take up a lot of real estate on the screen, but make your information quickly accessible. The Photo Frame is an enhancement on the Picture Frame widget in Android. You can tap on the picture to view it from the HTC widget. HTC also has a Photo Album widget that allows you to quickly browse through the pictures in an album by simply flicking up and down on the widget screen.
These are the features you don’t necessarily see, but enhance the experience nonetheless. A big one is Exchange support. This did not exist in Android before 2.0. I like the implementation in the Sense UI a little better. Your calendar events appear in one unified calendar, no need to check a separate Corporate Calendar application. You can also set a signature for your Exchange, POP and IMAP accounts. You can’t do this in the stock Android 2.0 mail application. You can, of course, download a replacement mail application on the Market that would allow you to do it, but it is nice to have it built-in.
The Sense UI also takes Facebook integration a step farther and adds Flickr integration. You can attach your Facebook friends and Flickr contacts to your contact list. Now as updates occur to these contacts, you get a notice on your phone. Here you can see upcoming birthdays, and a list of updates folks made in Facebook and Flickr:
If I tap on my name I can see a summary of all my Facebook notifications:
If I tap on an individual I see the details of their update:
This has been one of the nicest features of the Sense UI for me. I will really miss this when I am back on the G1.
HTC also includes some applications with the Sense UI. Two that I especially like are the Voice Recorder and Peep.
The Voice recorder is a very simple recorder for your phone. You can record on your phone, and set the recording as a ringtone, right from the application. Nothing fancy, and there are apps in the Market that do similar things, but a nice add.
Peep is my favorite, though. It is a Twitter client for your Sense UI Android phone. It is the smoothest Twitter client for Android that I have used. It does not have the multi-account features of other clients, but works wonderfully.
It provides simple tools across the bottom to access you Twitter stream, any mentions, direct mentions and favorites. You can choose among photo hosts for picture attachments and URL shorteners. Not an exhaustive list, but can choose from more than one.
I really like this UI. All things being equal, I would choose an Android phone with the Sense UI over one without. Of course all things are not equal. Unfortunately using the Sense UI today means being on Android 1.5. The only other negative I found was that the home page will not rotate to landscape view. Not a huge deal, and I am not sure this will change, some of the widgets would not fit in a landscape view.
I hope I get to try out some of the other UIs, but this one does show the promise of the enhancements.
I forgot to mention another really nice feature of the Sense UI, Scenes. Scenes are alternate looks and arrangements of your 7-screen home.
Each theme has a different wallpaper and set of widgets that apply to the scenario. You can save and name your own layouts. It’s a really nice feature than expands the UI even farther.
Also, the Sense UI supports multi-touch pinch to zoom-out, spread to zoom-in in the browser and picture view.