HTC Sense 4.1 vs. HTC Sense 4+: What's the difference?

This could have been titled many different ways: HTC One X Ice Cream Sandwich vs Jelly Bean, or One X vs One X+, but we'll let you decide which best fits your requirements. Essentially, here we're looking in detail at software differences between the HTC One X and the HTC One X+.

Why? Because the software on the HTC One X+ - Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean and Sense 4+ - is what HTC One X and One S owners will get when their handset is updated. That has been confirmed to us by HTC, so we thought it only fair to put both on the bench and take a closer look. In each of the side-by-side images below, HTC Sense 4.1 is on the left and Sense 4+ is on the right.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean arrives

Jelly Bean launched on the Nexus 7 in August 2012, and brought with it a number of new features. There was "project butter" aimed at making the whole experience smoother; Google Now, changing the way that search returned results; and improved voice recognition.

Jelly Bean also brought with it an improved, more intelligent keyboard, expandable notifications and a whole range of tweaks here and there.

READ: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean review

Of course in a device like the HTC One X, some of what Google changed - the camera for example - will never be seen, as HTC Sense heavily modifies the camera app. So let's run through what you do get from Jelly Bean first of all.

Buttery smooth

With the HTC One X and the HTC One X+ side-by-side there is a slight difference in performance when it comes to typical daily navigation. Things like opening the apps tray or a folder of shortcuts has more snap, and apps open a touch faster. Remember that there's a faster processor (1.7GHz) in the One X+, which might have some bearing here. 

READ: HTC One X+ review

However, we couldn't say there was any difference in speed with things like Chrome, so loading up Pocket-lint.com over Wi-Fi was very much the same experience on both devices. So, we'll take a punt and say that some of the buttery richness of Jelly Bean is in evidence, but the One X on Ice Cream Sandwich is no slouch, so it isn't a huge deal.

Searching, Google Now

Searching, however, is different, as the result are presented in a much better fashion for mobile use. One of the key differences is that Google Now presents the results on Jelly Bean rather than the browser. The results effectively contain the same information, but with Jelly Bean they generally look clearer, aside from the massive advert panel at the top that you sometimes get.

 

Of course the inclusion of Google Now is one of the big differences, and HTC hasn't touched this. Google Now replaces the Google Search app you've probably ignored, but if you have the Google search bar widget, you'll easily find yourself in Google Now on Jelly Bean and Sense 4+. If you always search in the browser bar, then you'll again miss out on the Google Now experience.

There is another trick however: a long press on the home button now takes you direct to Google Now, so you can get straight to searching. This applies wherever you are in the phone, either on the homepage or in apps, so you really don't need the search widget.

Google Now is something of mixed bag: it's good at some routine exercises, like indicating traffic on your daily commute, but if your life doesn't fit into the tidy parameters of Google's life supposition, it'll often just give you the weather and nothing else.

But things like appointments will appear, so when you fire up a search there's additional information at your fingertips.

Voice and keyboard

Voice has a higher profile in Jelly Bean than it does in Ice Cream Sandwich and although both are very good, Jelly Bean has the slight edge in that voice recognition will stop after a lengthy pause, whereas on ICS it sometimes won't. The result is that ICS sometimes needs a few more taps and presses, such as confirming what you meant when searching, or to stop listening when dictating a message.

 

HTC Sense 4+ offers the Jelly Bean keyboard (right) as well as the Sense keyboard (left)

An interesting differentiator between these two devices, however, is that HTC has left the Jelly Bean keyboard in place. Rather than just giving you the stock HTC keyboard, you now have the stock Android keyboard too.

It makes better use of space than HTC's equivalent, although it has to be said that the predictive engine isn't a patch on the likes of SwiftKey, so perhaps it's a moot point: both devices, in our experience, worth better with a third-party keyboard.

Sense Visuals: How does it look?

Visually, there isn't a huge difference between Sense 4.1 and Sense 4+. But there are tweaks all over the place. They're for the better too, resulting in a cleaner and brighter looking interface.

From the homescreen there's no real difference at all, and the lock screen works exactly as it did before. However, look closely at the launcher and you'll see that on Sense 4.1 it has a patterned background; in Sense 4+ it's solid. The result is less fussy and this change flows through Sense.

Open up the apps tray and you'll find the same thing: the top and bottom bars have lost the diagonal stripe patterning, so the blacks look deeper and cleaner. The same applies to widget backgrounds and all sorts of other areas where HTC Sense has a dark background.

HTC Sense 4.1 (left) and Sense 4+ (right)

Sense has also dropped the grey lettering in many cases, so the lettering and icons shine much more than they did before. Overall it's a cleaner look all round. 

But there's another change too: the use of blue instead of green. The green highlight has been the default, but now it's blue, which is much more "Androidy". So now you'll find that tick boxes, switches and button highlights are finished in blue so Sense 4+ looks a little more like Android's neon blue, as you'll see below.

Notifications now get the expand option too. This means you can drag down your Gmail notification, for example, and either read more of the message, or see more details when you have multiple messages. As before messages can be swiped away and both features are particularly useful when accessing notifications from the lock screen, so long as you don't have security in place.

New features

There is a range of new features that arrived with Sense 4+. In messages, for example, you can now set up a secure box, where you can place messages and password protect them. In your calling history, you now have more options to sort and search, so you can find calls from particular people - although we'd argue that using the People view is probably better. 

In the People view you'll find that Jelly Bean's support for higher resolution contact images swings in. It's now much easier to change images, as you simply tap on the contact image, it expands, and you can then choose where the picture is pulled from, with thumbnails to help.

If you have a packed calendar then there's a new scrolling feature there too. When in day view, if you scroll down a busy day packed with appointments, you'll find the text at the bottom of the page squishes in the appointment boxes, meaning you can see a little more. This is in addition to the existing pinch zooming in the calendars that you had in Sense 4.1. 

It's also faster to set your phone up, as you'll be able to do some of it from HTC's website. HTC has long been playing with website support for devices (with differing levels of success), but this seems a nice simple way to getting some of your settings arranged before your phone arrives. Whether this will be an option for those buying the HTC One X new with upgraded software, we don't know.

A big new feature is eco mode. This is an option that sits in the notification area, ready to be engaged when ever you need it. The aim, of course, is to extend the battery life. The HTC One X+ benefits anyway because it has a 2100mAh battery compared to the One X's 1800mAh cell, but it's a useful feature to have. 

Of course, in this comparison we can't say whether it's effective, as the hardware is different in our test phones, but eco mode does things like limiting the maximum brightness of the display.

Camera

The camera app has been rearranged slightly, moving some of the options to make them more immediate. Where the "switch camera" option was in the settings menu in Sense 4.1 it's now added to the sidebar options, so it's a single tap to switch to a self-portrait. 

We guess the main reason for this is that the HTC One X+ has an enhanced front-facing camera, with a self-timer option, making it better for taking those self-portraits. It actually works incredibly well, but sadly this feature isn't coming to other devices. 

Elsewhere the zoom slider has moved from the bottom to the side, so it's easier to use with one hand: it was impossible to zoom when holding the phone with one hand in Sense 4.1, but you now can. That said, this is digital zoom and we'd always advise against using it.

The resolution options have also been tweaked, removing the references to megapixels and just sticking to the actual pixel dimensions and small, medium and large names. The other thing you get is a counter on the screen to show you how many more photos and how much more video you can capture.

Additionally, if you put your handset into standby when you are in the camera, you'll return straight to the camera when you press the standby button again. It's an option that's knocked out if you have any sort of security in place, but is ideal if you're walking around trying to grab that perfect sightseeing photo.

Entertainment: Gallery, Music, Video

HTC Media Link HD has a higher billing in Sense 4+. Not only has it moved from a submenu to the first facing menu in settings, but it also has direct access from the apps tray. You'll need to have compatible hardware, but if you do, this will let you send content easily from your phone to play on your TV.

In the Gallery app the landing page in Sense 4+ is now an overview of photo locations. Rather than landing in your albums, it's a higher level view with instant access to online photo albums, on Facebook, SkyDrive or Picasa for example. Previously these were accessed via a drop-down menu. 

 

That's a theme across Sense 4+, there are fewer drop-down menus for navigation, with more options more immediate. One of the changes that appear with this shift is that media servers is now shifted to the menu, along with a new option to "add online service". This didn't appear to do anything: we logged out of some services and this didn't appear to offer them back, so we're not sure how it will be implemented. 

There's also new map view. If you geotag your photos, you'll be able to pull up a map and view photos by location. It's a nice touch, but as we've only so far been in London, we're yet to see the full potential. You can also sort by "event" which is essentially a calendar view, although location data rolls in to identify photos. Again, our limited movement means we have a selection labelled "Surrey County" and we'll be sure to see what happens as we travel with the One X+.

The video player is largely the same, but the big difference, apart from moving the share option into the menu, is that you now have Beats Audio listed in the movie player, rather than "sound enhancer". It's exactly the same thing, as both engage Beats Audio enhancement when you have headphones connected.

While on video, it’s worth mentioning HTC Watch. The app now has links through to "apps" although this doesn't let you add your own apps like Music does, it's simply a selection of pre-selected apps that will provide you with video. Hit Crackle, for example and it will prompt you to download Crackle from Google Play. There's no option to add your own, like Netflix or BBC iPlayer, which would make much more sense.

 

In the music player, minor tweaks see the "sound enhancer" option removed from the menu in Sense 4+, as well as the addition of a "folder" option in the dropdown menu, but the biggest difference is the removal of the "recently played" section at the bottom of the landing page. 

The Music app in Sense 4.1 and Sense 4+ acts as a hub, not only for playing your music, but also for accessing your music-related apps through one place. Removing "recently played" now gives you more immediate space, previously as you added apps this section was just pushed down the page.

That's not all on the music front however, as you now have Play Music (Google Music) installed by default, so you can use Google's approach to music from the off if you choose. Adding it to the Music hub means you have simple access to your cloud music, ready to download or stream.

Browser

The browser (called Internet in Sense 4.1, but Browser in 4+) is largely the same. Chrome came installed on the HTC One X+, which is likely to have flowed through with Jelly Bean, but Chrome works beautifully well on both Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean.

The HTC browser has had one minor tweak above and beyond the removal of the background diagonal patterns. The address bar is now slightly larger, which makes little difference, but thankfully now the tabs button shows the number of open tabs. This is also a feature of Chrome and one we like.

 

However, the browser still only supports up to six tabs at any one time, whereas Chrome will support an unfeasibly large number, so Chrome gets our vote as the browser of choice. It's pretty easy to make Chrome the default browser in Sense 4+. Android will naturally give you a choice between apps and in Jelly Bean and Sense 4+, this choice box is "always" or "once only".

On Ice Cream Sandwich and Sense 4.1, because search returns your results in the browser, it naturally uses the HTC browser, without presenting a choice. So you might use Chrome for everything else, but you've never been able to easily have the phone use Chrome for search results.

Because search works differently, with the results delivered in Google Now, clicking a link will then give you the browser choice where you can select Chrome for "always" and banish the HTC browser forever.

Summing up

Many of the differences between Sense 4.1 and Sense 4+ are about tidying up and improving consistency. This is certainly the case for Beats labelling in apps, the change of backgrounds and the switch to using whites instead of greys for some icons. It makes everything look fresher and brighter. 

 

Many of the biggest changes come thanks to native Android and the shift over to Jelly Bean is certainly a good step to make. Google Now makes search returns better, as well as enabling better access to Chrome (if that's what you want to do). 

The camera is tidier and the nod to preserving battery life shows that HTC has been listening to criticisms. There has been some tweaking to the settings menus too, and the display of the remaining battery life is now better, as it task the manager.

Overall, there's a wide range of changes. Many will go unnoticed, but the effect is that HTC Sense 4+ makes everything look cleaner, tidier and in most cases, it's faster to get to what you want, with less menu fiddling.&

HTC is yet to confirm a date for the upgrade for the HTC One X and One S, it was originally touted for October 2012 but we're yet to hear confirmation. 

READ: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: When is it coming to my phone?

You can read our full HTC One X+ review right here.