Hands on the Hero and Sense

John Walton
Cell Phone Editor
| June 28, 2009

I have used HTC's new UI, previously known as Rosie, on an over-clocked G1 before - just like a lot of other Android modders out there. I knew it would be quicker on the Hero. I hoped it would be completely smooth. I've gotta say - and I really don't think I'm being influenced by free tickets and booze here - the Hero experience blew me away.

Rosie is just the beginning of what Hero delivers. Sense is the official title of the new interface, but it's more than that - it's a philosophy. O.K, O.K. That's some vague, confusing marketing; I agree. So I'll break it down into the three pillars that HTC has defined and then explain what it means to you practically.

Peter Chou designated the three pillars Sense rests upon in his keynote: Make it Mine, Stay Close, and Discover the Unexpected. This trifecta of connectivity concepts was emblazoned on the screen behind Mr. Chou on the stage, and as you'll see in the Hero launch video I'll be posting, atop each  of the stations where the demo units were presented. Sounds like some fuzzy, feel-good tagline, but the pillars serve as effective reminders for people like me who might need a nudge in order to recall everything that makes Hero and Sense stand out.

Make it Mine

The first thing people are likely to notice about Hero in the real world is how customizable it is. It will be available in several colors. But more importantly the actual experience can be tailored not only to each individual but to each individual's preferences for a given situation, time of day, location, etc. HTC calls these states scenes.

In one scene, you will have widgets focused on your work - maybe a business twitter account, Exchange inbox, and your company's stock ticker. Maybe you would like to associate a sound profile with your work scene, so that only your boss, colleagues, and spouse's numbers can activate your ring tone, while others are silent. (I'm not sure if states can change the preference for which numbers go to voicemail, but I'll check and post back in the comments.)

In another scene, your homescreen might house an army of RSS feeds so you can stay up-to-date on your favorite comedy blogs. This scene could have different wallpaper and even a different lock screen - so you know from a quick glance which scene you're currently using. You can change your clock, weather, and many other widgets to taste while making more practical adjustments under the hood. That's one of those implementations that makes so much *sense* I wonder why I haven't seen it before.

Stay Close:

HTC had social networking, email, photo streams, and many other facilitators of connectivity in mind when conceiving and developing this aspect of their new non-Google-experience Android. What's cool about it is that you don't have to think about any of that stuff. When you look at a contact, you might see three new messages from them. They could be a tweet and two emails from different accounts. Those emails could even be sent *to* two different accounts! You will find them all in the same place.

Same goes for photos. Flickr, Facebook, camera - it doesn't matter. Sort them by tag or associated name in your gallery, and they will all come together. It's not just people that are meant to stay close - your data will as well. And check this out - if you have a contact that you've friended on Facebook but haven't assigned a photo to, Sense will download one from Facebook and automatically assign it to your contact. If you haven't friended them, Sense will search Facebook for a match and ask if it's found the right one.

Expect the Unexpected:

Well, that last bit was unexpected for me, but there's more to come. Footprints, multi-touch, seamless integration and aggregation of data from multiple channels - all of this stuff is great. But there's more. Bookmarks are represented by thumbnails, browser pages are swapped in a three-dimensional environment, and flash lite integration will be functional by the time this thing ships. And then there's the virtual keyboard... The keyboard surpasses any I have used. As far as I know, it's the best one out there. It blows Google's QWERTY out of the water. That's just a simple fact.

The screen is ultra-crisp. The fingerprint resistant coating bonded to the glass goes a long way in keeping it looking bright and clean. When I was holding the phone and the screen was lit up, I could not see fingerprints. Only when it was dark or at an extreme angle could I detect any at all, and those wiped off easily. There is clearly some innovative technology at work here.

HTC produces what I feel is the most beautiful cell phone hardware available. But as Horace Luke put it, "It is polarizing." And it's bound to repel some as strongly as it attracts others. You may hate the chin, or the asymmetric button placement, but let me tell you; you've got to hold one in your hands to appreciate it. Take the sleek beauty of the Touch Diamond, marry it with Android, and then push every feature ahead two years in the evolution of cell phone technology. That'll give you a vague idea of how cool this phone is. Am I a fanboy? For now, yes. Does that mean I see no flaws? No, but I'll get to those later. Just let me enjoy this for a bit first.

Products mentioned