Over the past two years, manufacturers have taken theming and putting their own twist on Google's Android platform to the extreme. HTC has the ever-popular Sense UI, Samsung created TouchWiz, Motorola now has Motorola Applications Platform (previously known as MOTOBLUR). Even Android newcomers like LG have begun putting their own spin on things. But of the handful of custom skins, HTC's Sense UI has always stuck out among the crowd.
Smooth rounded edges, gradients and flashy animations have always given Sense UI a more polished look and feel than stock Android, which is boxy, bland and rather beta-looking. It comes with built-in features like an HTC Sense account which allows you to track your phone if stolen, or play a ringtone at full volume in the event you have misplaced it in your home. This paired with beautiful, glossy widgets and the more polished interface gives Sense UI an air of superiority and elegance – a leg up on vanilla Android.
Back when I got my start in Androidland, all I would buy was HTC products that bore Sense UI. I even had a Nexus One and loaded a Desire Sense ROM on to it. (I know, those kind of actions should be punishable by law ...) I loved Sense in its early stages. But Sense UI has changed quite a bit since late 2009. It has grown from version 1.0 to 3.0, and now 3.5 is in the works. A video demo of Sense 3.5 was leaked yesterday, giving us a 5-minute peek into what HTC has been up to as of late. It seems to me that they're heading in the wrong direction.
In short, it's overkill. Don't get me wrong, it's extremely polished and there's nothing wrong with that. But it's becoming more than HTC's own phones can handle; the phone in the video had trouble keeping up. Take the Sensation as a perfect example. It comes loaded with Sense 3.0 and has been plagued with intermittent lag since day numero uno. The Sensation has a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 768MB RAM. Sure, it would have been better with a full gigabyte of RAM, but with those internals, the Sensation should never have trouble with lag. But it does and it's entirely HTC's fault.
Sense UI is a bloated memory hog. If you are into modding (or “romming”) at all, you likely know that an ASOP-based (stock) ROM is generally 70MB to 90MB, depending on what features the developer has added or removed. Sense ROMs have always come with larger install files, and that's understandable; there are a lot of added features and visuals. But when I was using the ThunderBolt, Sense ROMs were always well over 250MB, even after being stripped of all of the “bloat” by developers. That's simply ridiculous. Not only is Sense a large ROM to install, it also comes with its own background processes which slow things down even more. And don't even get me started on battery life.
Now they're adding more? More animations, more flashy visuals and more clutter (not to mention fragmentation)? This wouldn't be an issue if HTC's phones came with somewhere north of 1GB RAM. But the software has been poorly optimized and their phones have only just now reached 1GB RAM (EVO 3D). On top of poor optimization, Sense UI is full of bugs and glitches. Personally, I have struggled with the Sense SMS application since my very first Android phone, the CDMA HTC Hero, and it's hardly gotten better over the length of two years; I had the exact same problem on the Incredible, Eris, myTouch 4G, G2, Nexus One (with the Desire ROM) and the ThunderBolt.
For me, performance and smoothness outweighs flashy visuals. They have some really great things going for them right now like the utility lock screen, awesome widgets (that everyone tries to copy), great themes to choose from and more. But Sense 3.0 has barely been around for five months. Most HTC devices are still on Sense 2.0 and earlier versions. I would rather see HTC fix the bugs, optimize the software and get all current devices up to speed before adding to it again.
What about you guys and gals? Is HTC headed in the wrong direction? Should they focus on fixing (fragmentation and bugs) and optimizing what they have before moving forward? And how do you feel about the changes in 3.5?