Arguably the most popular of the “UI Improvements” offered by manufacturers is HTC’s SenseUI. While personally I am a fan of the Stock UI found on the Nexus S, the “Google Experience” devices are something of a minority nowadays. So, when I was given the opportunity to review the HTC Thunderbolt, I was once again confronted with the latest version of Sense. I gave it more than a fair shake, and am still using it as my primary device today. I can’t help but feel, however, that in HTC’s attempt to provide us with the “ideal user experience” they removed or altered some critical things that Google had right in the first place. So, here it is, the 5 things that HTC needs to fix right now.
Charging Percentage on the Lockscreen
This seems like a fairly trivial thing, unless you are used to it. Unfortunately, this is the first phone I have ever had without it, and I miss it dearly. You can see the percentage if you use the HTC desktop clock app, but you have to be in the app to see it. For whatever reason, HTC removed it. My suspicion is that it has something to do with their really nice theming system, which also themes the lockscreen. It’s possible that there’s a complication that makes that difficult, but here I sit desperately wishing it were there.
Put my Browser back in the Launcher
That personalize button on the far right of the launcher? Yeah, worse than useless when compared to what’s supposed to be there, the browser. What would be even better would be if you could ACTUALLY personalize it and put whatever app you wanted there, instead of a hotkey to themes and ringtones and wallpapers. The personalize button wouldn’t be quite so frustrating for me if it weren’t 1 of 3 different ways to get to the personalize screen from that same space. That’s right, you can tap the menu button, tap the launcher button, or just long press on the homescreen and the personalize button is right there for you. In my opinion it’s neither needed nor wanted, and should be replaced by something that’s not needlessly repeated across the OS, like the browser.
Stop isolating HTC Widgets
I don’t know if you know this, but before you install any apps, the Thunderbolt comes with nearly 75 widgets. Only it doesn’t REALLY come with nearly 75 widgets, it comes with a handfull of “Android Widgets” and 66 “HTC Widgets”. Are there really a whole lot less then that, but rather than making a single clock widget with a lot of color and style options they made a whole lot of individual widgets. Navigating them in obnoxious to say the least, and they are categorized away from the normal Android widgets. HTC should bundle the widgets together, add some customization options, and just call them Widgets. There’s no need to separate them and complicate things for the user.
Simplify the “connect to PC screen”
On my Nexus S, when I plug my phone in, it asks me if I want to mount the drive. I think that’s a little technical for the average consumer. I don’t think that the answer is to give the user more than half a dozen options when they plug in their phone. HTC provides their users with all of the possible options, including charging, syncing media, and even tethering in either direction. Unfortunately the explanations for each option is still very technical. This screen is confusing, it’s unnecessary, and it still says “mount the drive” instead of “use as a flash drive” or “access internal memory through the computer”. If HTC really feels that Sense is an improvement over the stock experience, an effort should be made to create an easy to understand experience when connecting to a computer.
I am a little unusual with how my homescreens are setup. I typically only have a single panel, and nothing else. Sense’s huge widgets make that difficult, but the widgets are so useful that I don’t mind. What I do mind is when I am all the way to the left and have to swipe all the way to the right. It’s a pain, especially since you are forced to have 7 windows. I would love to be able to only have 5 screens, or 3 screens even, and it’s not a difficult thing to do. I do know, however, that this particular gripe is already being addressed in a way, with the new version of Sense for Android 2.3. In future versions of Sense, like what we’ve seen on the Evo 3D, the windows will wrap around, allowing you to slide a carousel of windows around, looping back when you reach the end. This isn’t a complete solution in my opinion, but it’s a great start.
Are any of these huge deals? No, not really. Are they things that will bring Sense much closer to being a complete thought instead of just a UI overlay? In my opinion, yes. A thousand times yes. HTC has made their position behind the “Google Experience” clear; it’s only going to happen if they work directly with Google again. Everything else will have Sense. So, since we’re stuck with it, we can either hide behind our Launcher replacement of choice, or we can encourage HTC to make these slight improvements to make the UI enhancements significantly more palatable.