What's new in HTC Sense 5?

With the launch of the HTC One comes the arrival of a new version of Sense, HTC's user interface, layered on it's Android phones since the HTC Hero back in 2009.

HTC Sense 5 arrives with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on the HTC One. At the moment we don't know exactly what the plans are for rolling-out Sense 5 to existing HTC devices like the HTC One X, but from what we've seen, it would be very welcome.

We've seen HTC Sense 5 on the HTC One before its launch and at the launch event itself and here we're highlighting the new features of HTC Sense 5 we've discovered, which the Taiwanese company is hoping will pull their smartphones into the future.

We will update this feature as we find out more.

Blink Feed

Blink Feed is an evolution of much of what HTC has been doing before, a "new imagination of the homepage", as Graham Wheeler, director of commercialisation product management at HTC, told us. Blink Feed is designed to be a glance-and-go method of getting pertinent information in a flash, hence the name.

At a basic level Blink Feed is a content aggregator, drawing from multiple sources that you define. That might be your social networks like Facebook, but you can also tailor the content to you by selecting sources, with more than1,500 on offer. Of course you'll find Pocket-lint in there, as well as UEFA, ITN, Sky News and more, all ready to serve you content.

The result is a mosaic of content for you to browse and select. It's a connected service, naturally, so you'll need a data connection to drill down through content, but it will cache pictures and headlines so you can stay abreast of matters important to you.

Blink Feed is your new home page on the HTC One and Sense 5. If you don't like Blink Feed you can turn it off, and you can always swipe to the side to return to a conventional home page that you can fill with shortcuts and widgets, if that's what you want to do.

As Blink Feed draws on the things that are important to you, it will give your device that personal look and feel: no longer will you be looking at the HTC flip clock, instead you'll be dashing through pictures or friends, news stories, TV programmes and more.

Going lean

One of the biggest criticisms of HTC devices over the past few years is that HTC Sense sits in the way of the Android goodness. You're sacrificing lean raw speed for a repackaged experience. HTC Sense 5 trims things down, continuing a move that started with HTC Sense 4, but this is certainly the biggest step yet.

There are apps and bloat that have been carved away as Sense 5 is stripped back to the essentials. The focus isn't so much on widgets, the ubiquitous flip clock isn't blaring 10:08 in your face: instead you're looking at a minimalist weather clock sitting above a new headline feature in Blink Feed.

The widgets are still there if you want them, but as a feature that's been synonymous with HTC in the past, they've taken a backburner. Wheeler, talking to Pocket-lint, said that HTC had found may people never changed the widgets from the default selection when they took the phone out of the box.

Swiping away from Blink Feed will still give you a normal page, where a long press on the wallpaper will let you personalise things, dragging widgets out as you want them, if you want them.

Launcher, apps tray

The launcher in Sense changed in version 4, doing away with the awkward arced arrangement with a permanent "personalize" button on it, becoming much more like native Android. That also meant the opportunity to change shortcuts, add folders and have those shortcuts and folders appear as lockscreen shortcuts.

The same applies here, although app icons have all been simplified. This is part of a wider cleaning up of Sense 5, removing clutter and bloat to make for a lighter visual experience.

We like that Blink Feed scrolls behind the launcher, giving it an integrated feel, rather than looking like a widget sitting on the home page.

There's been a change in the centre of the launcher too. The apps tray icon switches purpose, as it will switch you from the apps tray to Blink Feed, the icon changing accordingly.

The idea is to let you back out of an app and return to the apps menu, rather than being dumped back on the home page. That's because the apps tray works slightly differently, letting you create folders within the apps menu itself, so it's no longer just a huge list of applications at your disposal.

It makes it much easier to manage your apps, as well as being able to change the size of the grid of apps, so you can fit more, or less, on to the page.

What's been added, or removed?

Things like Locations and Footprints appear to have gone and you no longer have that awkward situation of hitting a map link in the calendar and it opening HTC's alternative mapping solution: it's straight into Google Maps, something we've been calling for for years.

Also stripped out are the hubs of HTC Sense 4, so the music hub is now gone, replaced by default with a folder of music apps.

Coming into focus is the integration of TV control. With the HTC One featuring an IR transmitter, there's a new app to support it. This will present your channels graphically, so you can tap what you want to watch and have the phone switch to that channel.

This new look at TV will also integrate the HTC Watch app, so you can select content to watch and send to your TV via the HTC Media Link HD accessory. If you watch something, obviously your phone then knows and the information can flow through to Blink Feed, so you'll get an update on your home screen in advance of the next episode.

On the music front, the music player will now not only retrieve your album artwork from Gracenote, but at the tap of a button will switch to a visualisation mode, serving up the lyrics too, so you can sing along.

There's also a new Kid Mode for your phone, so you can engage this and pass it over to your children to keep them quiet while you wait for your lunch to be served in that snooty restaurant. We've seen this feature recently on Windows Phone 8, although haven't had the chance to explore it in too much detail.

The notifications area feels a little bare

One feature that's missing, that we'd really like to see, is hardware toggles. Many Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S III, or the Nexus 4 with raw Jelly Bean, has faster access to hardware controls, so you can switch on and off things like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi with a swipe and a tap. With Sense 5, you still have to access the settings via the notifications area to then toggle the hardware on or off, which seems a longer way around things.

HTC has also stuck with a skinned browser. This might mean consistency, but we don't feel it's as good as the Chrome browser that's now standard for Nexus devices. That's probably no obstacle, as you'll be able to download and use Chrome at your leisure.

Camera, Zoe Camera

Of course the big push with the new HTC One is the Ultrapixel camera. While the hardware is specific to the new phone, we're sure some of the features will roll through to other devices with Sense 5, but we're still to have this confirmed.

READ: Ultrapixels: How HTC wants to redefine the smartphone camera

Visually, the camera app looks much like it did in Sense 4, with buttons for still or video capture directly, although there's been a tweak visually as there has been throughout Sense 5.

New to the billing is a capture mode called Zoe Camera. This is a clever feature that will capture information through the camera whenever the app is open, so in effect it's always pulling in video. Because you get dual channel capture, you can still take stills as you wish, but Zoe has lofty aims for your content.

The real beauty of Zoe is what it does with the content that you consciously capture and the additional footage that it collects. Mashing the two together, Zoe will produce zero-edit movies for you to share, summarising your adventures. It does this by creating around an events engine (an event might be a day at the beach, for example).

The results are really impressive, adding cuts, style and themes, along with music, to give you a dynamic and funky "Zoe" to share. It can be pinged out to HTC's own sharing website known as Zoe Share, or exported to the likes of Facebook as a standard MPEG4.

Diving into the Gallery will serve up your photos in events, and there are six different themes on offer for you to apply, using additional metadata like maps if you want that included, so you'll get place titles too. The great thing about the Galleries is that they're now animated too, and in the high definition of the HTC One, they look sensational.

Summing up

HTC Sense is a much lighter take on Sense and although HTC Sense 4+ trimmed flab from HTC's UI, Sense 5 is a crash diet. Overall, HTC Sense 5 feels like the sort of change we've been waiting for. It's slick, fast, and we're impressed with what we've seen so far.

Of course, we'll bring you a full HTC One review as the device nears launch, which is slated for 15 March. Until then why not read our first impressions?

READ: Hands-on: HTC One review