Sense 4 is the first non-stock interface that I actually like

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| May 9, 2012

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an Android purist. I've used all the different custom interfaces – Sense UI, MOTOBLUR, TouchWiz, Motorola Applications Platform, LG's 4.0 interface (read: TouchWiz rip-off), etc. Whether it’s the dip in performance, battery life or the look of the interface itself, none of them have ever appealed to me quite like stock Android.

I will be the first to admit Gingerbread was a bit rough around the edges. Accent colors throughout the interface didn't match and some aspects were just plain ugly. It was omnidirectional and cartoonish. But the Ice Cream Sandwich and the Holo theme came along in November and did wonders for Android’s appearance.

With nearly every non-stock Android device I have owned to date, I have opted to root and flash an AOSP or AOKP (stock-like) custom ROM. Even if a mostly stock version of Android wasn't available in the form of a ROM, I always went to great lengths to get as far away from custom interfaces as possible. On the Galaxy Note, for instance, I currently have a TouchWiz-based ROM that has most visual elements of TouchWiz removed in favor of AOSP elements (i.e.: the Messaging app is from stock Android, as are Contacts, Dialer, etc.).

When I decided to purchase the HTC One X, I imagined the story would be the same. I would get it, use it for a few days and eventually grow immensely agitated with Sense UI. Even after seeing the changes HTC made to Sense UI in version 4.0, I figured it would still be the same laggy, overbearing, battery-killing, in-your-face Sense UI I've grown to loathe over the years.

At a glance, Sense 4, for the most part, is largely similar to earlier versions. Even after several short hands-on sessions with the EVO 4G LTE, One X and One S, I really didn't see a major difference. There are certainly some noticeable aesthetic differences, but the majority of the changes are extremely subtle, things that take time to notice. (For a video tour of Sense 4, look here.) But the end product is a fantastic change.

I have now had four days of up-close-and-personal hands-on with Sense 4 – since Sunday morning. Surprisingly, I'm okay with it. I have yet to want to pull my hair out. I haven't had the urge to root it, to flash CyanogenMod or even to install a third-party launcher. Not even once. I've struggled to last this long on every past version of Sense without wanting change or fix something by flashing a stock ROM.

But Sense 4 is surprisingly … bearable. Enjoyable, even. It's ultra smooth and polished. It actually looks very nice and takes many cues from stock Ice Cream Sandwich – like the application drawer and various flat (or matte) colors instead of cheesy, glossy gradients. The animations have been toned down several notches, rubber banding has been replaced with a neat blinds/shutter effect and the quick and useful lock screen is still there with added functionality.

Another huge plus is the fact that Sense 4 still uses the legacy method for adding widgets; you don't have to open your app drawer to add a widget, just long press on the home screen ... like it should be. The ImageSense software is feature packed yet intuitive. But most importantly, it isn't filled to the brim with bugs and glitches, and it's super fast (though I'm sure the S4 chip has a lot to do with that).

Of course, there are also some things I'm not exactly fond of. For example, HTC has completely customized the Recent Apps page. Instead of the vertical list that appears when you hit the Recent Apps key on the Galaxy Nexus, the Recent Apps key on the One X and One S reveals a horizontal scrolling page that resembles the tab switching method in the Sense browser. Folders are also quite different. Stock Android folders are circular and stack the icons of applications within the folders, always giving them a uniform look. Sense 4's folders are square, and display the first four applications in a shelf-like view. I know I'm just nitpicking, but the way folders with less than four applications look just irks me.

Kudos and hats off to HTC on this one. I doubted them and they made me eat my words. Just the way I like it!

For the record, given the choice, I would still chose to have the One X with purely stock Android on it (but oh would I miss that lock screen!). I still prefer vanilla Android over anything else. But Sense 4 is the first version of any custom interface that I … like. No matter how many times I say that in my head or write it, it doesn't seem right. But I honestly feel like I could use it for months, as is, without any major gripes. I'm not sure how long that feeling will last, but, for now, I'm content with Sense 4 on the One X. I guess that's a good thing, too, considering the thing is locked down like Fort Knox and it's unclear if HTC will even provide a bootloader unlock tool.

Tell me, readers. How are you liking Sense 4? Do you find it to be noticeably better and more lightweight than all previous Sense UI versions? Do you love it? Or would you still prefer stock Android in its place?

Products mentioned