Back when I first got the HTC One X, I was surprised to discover, firsthand, that HTC had dramatically improved its customized Android interface, Sense UI. Previous versions were notorious for being overbearing, clunky and cluttered. At the sacrifice of the cohesiveness of Android OS, nearly every aspect of the interface had been altered at HTC's hand, a slight to Matias Duarte's vast improvement to the design and streamlining of Android.
But with Sense 4, although the customizations are certainly still present, HTC took a step back and toned down the customizations. They threw out some of the domineering animations, cleaned up the interface and took several steps forward in performance and polish.
When I bought the HTC One X, I was certainly skeptical of the software. I had my fair share of Sense UI in the past, and HTC's customizations were the sole reason I began to distaste its devices. I've always been a fan of HTC hardware, but the software slowly picked away at my sanity over the course of two years. And in 2011, I all but wrote off HTC and Sense.
The One X and Sense 4, however, are an entirely different story. The interface and performance of the OS is noticeably better … bearable, even. I have even caught myself saying I like Sense a time or two. (Gasp!) But it's true. HTC made a big turnaround on the software front and deserve some recognition for both listening to their biggest proponents and executing what we'd been asking for ages.
All of that said, though, Sense 4 isn't perfect. And it's not impervious to the occasional glitch – no software is. Now approaching five months with an HTC One X in my pocket (on most days), I have noted some of the worst features and idiosyncrasies of the software:
The wallpaper can only be changed from the Settings or Gallery apps
When trying Ice Cream Sandwich out on a smartphone for the first time, I wasn't thrilled to find the widgets listed alongside the applications in the app drawer. After all, it's an … app drawer. Why are widgets there? The more I used it, however, the more it made sense and the more I got used to opening the app drawer to add a widget to my home screen.
By long pressing the home screen on a stock Android 4.0 phone, though, you could still change the wallpaper.
Although Sense 4 is built upon Android 4.0, long pressing on the home screen will bring up a display of widgets and allow the user to add them to their home screen. And since there is no longer a menu button on HTC-made Android phones, there are no other options accessible directly from the home screen. Instead, to change the wallpaper, you must navigate to the Settings app (a shortcut is in the upper right corner of the notification shade), tap Personalize, then tap Wallpaper.
This, of course, isn't a huge problem; I don't change my wallpaper all that often. I generally choose one and keep it for several weeks. But every time I go to change the wallpaper on my One X, I catch myself trying to long press on the home screen. Only then do I remember that I have to go to the Settings app. This is neither intuitive or convenient. And the only alternative is opening the picture in the Gallery app and setting it there, which isn't so bad. But even five months in, my brain isn't trained to do this over long pressing the home screen.
App associations forget some of my preferences … every time
The beauty of Android over some rival platforms is the ability to use third-party applications for inbuilt functions. For example, if you install Chrome on an Android device, you can set it to the default browser. On iOS, if you install Chrome, it will never be your default browser over Safari unless you jailbreak your iDevice.
In Sense 4, HTC calls this default app setting App associations. The problem is that it constantly forgets my preferences. For the browser, the software seems to remember that I told it Chrome should be my default browser. It also remembers I prefer to open audio files with Play Music instead of HTC's media player and that I use Gmail over the stock Email client.
However, it can never seem to remember that I will never use AT&T Navigator over Google Maps Navigation. Every single time I need to navigate somewhere, the software asks me which I would rather use, despite having checked the "Use by default for this action" setting hundreds of times. (It's futile, but I check it every time in hopes that it will, by some miracle, quit asking me one day.)
HTC's task switching is finally starting to get to me
Back in May, not long after the HTC One devices made their way to consumer hands, it was discovered that HTC had altered the way Android handles task switching, making their task management system much more strict. Instead of keeping as many applications' states in memory as long as possible, applications are killed off after just a minute or two – sometimes even faster if you open several applications rapidly.
This means it can sometimes be difficult to multitask. If you switch to another application from the browser, when you switch back, the page may will probably reload. This makes it especially difficult to reference outside information you don't have readily available for forms.
How so? I use LastPass to save my personal account passwords. I was trying to purchase something from a site I had to sign up for. I entered some information and used Facebook to create my account. I had to switch to Last Pass to copy my Facebook password and when I switched back to the browser, the page reloaded. I lost my transaction and all the information I had entered.
I also ran into this problem when trying to link to multiple web pages in a Facebook comment. I had to use an external note taking application to compose the comment with several links before copying and pasting in the Facebook comment thread. It's annoying more than anything, and there are ways around it – but only if you can think ahead and anticipate Sense killing off an app.
Sometimes the only way to paste is to replace your last word
Of all the tiny glitches that drive me up the wall, this has to be the worst, and it's one that has plagued me since the earlier days of Sense UI. HTC has replaced the stock method of altering text. In most cases, it works similarly to the stock software. But not only does it look awful, it has several terrible quirks that cause problems when editing text.
The most prominent is pasting text. It doesn't always happen, but in most third-party applications, there is some incompatibility or glitch that causes the long press – meant simply to paste – to select the last entered word or punctuation. For example, in the tweet you see above, I deliberately deleted the period and spaced several times after the word "entered". Still, long pressing spaces away from the word to paste a link, the word "entered" is continually highlighted. This means, the only way to paste is to replace the word altogether.
Sometimes the option to paste text simply won't appear. I can tap in a blank text entry field to activate it, then long press. Nothing happens.
Sense 4 is, without a doubt, a huge improvement over previous iterations of the interface. And of all the different custom Android interfaces, it's still my favorite. But dealing with all of these issues day in and day out is enough to drive a guy mad. I have always preferred stock Android, and it's oddities like these that cement that preference.
Are there quirks with your HTC phone with Sense 4 that drive you up the wall? A Samsung device with TouchWiz Nature UX? Or even a stock Android phone? Feel free to vent about the worst nerve-wracking software glitches and quirks below.