HTC Sense 4, Usability, Calling/Data

Usability

There was a time when HTC's Sense user interface was the belle of the smartphone ball, adored by all. In recent years, though, that has changed as Sense has gotten heavier and more intrusive, and once-hated systems like Samsung's TouchWiz have gained favor through iterative refinements. With Sense 4, HTC has started moving back in the direction of favored and refined, as some of the bulk in previous Sense versions has been removed, with the company even improving upon some of the base shortcomings in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich's stock user experience.

For starters, Sense still offers some of its key features, such as the shortcut icons on the lock screen and the ability to save multiple home screen configurations as "scenes" that can be quickly switched between. But gone is the waste of space at the bottom of the home screen for that oversized "phone" button we're used to seeing, having been replaced by 4 user configurable shortcuts.

The multi-paned, tabbed view of settings and shortcuts in the notification area has also been dropped in favor of a simple list. HTC's vertically scrolling main menu, which scrolled in one page increments, has been replaced with a horizontally scrolling paged menu that is similar to what Google offers as stock, but it comes with tabs for other views such as "downloaded" that makes it handier to use. On the other hand, HTC's new task switcher, with its paged view of apps, needs to be dropped. It is cooler looking than Google's stock switcher, but ultimately far less usable.

The new Sense on-screen keyboard is larger than before, due to the addition of dedicated arrow keys. It still supports a trace mode that emulates most of Swype's features, but is merely a pretender to the throne in that regard. I continue to dislike the keyboard's number mode key being located on the right hand side, as it has long been, but otherwise find the keyboard to perform quickly and accurately.

Some things that Google totally missed the mark on, such as widget management, have also been entirely replaced by far more usable HTC solutions. And while we still see cool Sense features like twitter and Facebook integration in the contacts app and a suite of beautiful clock and weather widgets, the UI as a whole now feels more like a benefit rather than a hindrance. There is still work to be done, but at least Sense is moving in the right direction once again.

HTC One X

HTC One X

Calling / Data

The HTC One X can be used on GSM and 3G networks around the world. I tested my European model on AT&T's network, where I still got ~HSPA data speeds - though not as fast (or stable) as I might have expected. In strong signal areas I managed to get data speeds of 3Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up. Reception on the phone appears to be somewhat weak, or at least inconsistent, but call audio quality was nice and crisp. The phone also supports Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n data connections as well as supports Bluetooth for headsets and other features and USB for connecting with a personal computer. A hotspot mode can be used for connection sharing with Wi-Fi capable devices, as well, and ~NFC support on the X can be used with functions like Android Beam.

Messaging

I absolutely love the email client that HTC includes on the One X. It's very attractive and offers functionality like a combined inbox view, gorgeous home screen widgets, and the ability to scroll through an inbox by date by using two fingers. You can use it with any mail server that supports IMAP, POP, or Exchange - which is just about everything. The messaging app is also well done, offering an clean interface as well as the ability to adjust the font size and configure the inbox to work as you like. The only instant messaging app pre-installed is Google's own Talk, but the One X comes with Facebook and Twitter loaded out of the box.

HTC One X

Apps / App Store

As an unlocked, carrier-free device, the HTC One X has very little bloatware. HTC loads a number of its own apps, like the HTC Watch streaming app, but mostly One X users will just find mostly Google branded apps (Maps, Gmail, Google+, etc). There are a few exceptions, though, such as HTC's Notes app, which is a slick front-end to Evernote that takes some of its inspiration from HTC's Flyer tablet. Polaris Office and a PDF reader handle Office document editing and viewing, and both are integrated with Dropbox (25GB for two years included) and Microsoft Skydrive support, which is truly useful. If you still need more, then the Google Play Store (formerly the Android Market) offers hundreds of thousands of apps (and books, songs) that you can browse through.

Browser

HTC One X

HTC has given the One X a fine new browser that is very fast and smooth in operating - with one exception. The browser exhibited some odd behavior during intelligent "double tap" zooming, often zooming in as desired, only to pan over unexpectedly to the wrong part of the screen. Apart from that, though, the Flash- and HTML5-capable browser worked very well. Still, for my money, you'd do even better by checking out the Chrome Beta browser from Google, which is just fantastic in most every way. Chrome doesn't yet support Flash, though, but it is expected to be the standard browser in future versions of Android.