(Pocket-lint) - With every iteration of Android, we're moving closer to platform perfection. That might sound like an opinion served with a healthy dollop of bias, but consider this: in 2009 we'd have baulked at native Android Eclair, but HTC made that palatable with the first version of HTC Sense.
Today it's a different story. Our review of Android Lollipop concludes with this: "We hope that manufacturers don't ride roughshod over Lollipop, because it really is a very sweet take on Android." Simply put, Android is now inherently refined in its native state.
So how well has Android 5.0 Lollipop been integrated into HTC's Sense on the M8, and what are the changes? We'll run you through a quick review of the new HTC One experience.
It's still Sense 6.0
That's right, HTC hasn't rolled the version of Sense forward with the update to Lollipop.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20, What3Words CEO, and Withings Sleep Analyzer reviewed - Pocket-lint podcast ep. 65
This is still very much the Sense experience you had before, but slightly adapted to accommodate the changes in Android 5.0 Lollipop.
Material design is one of the signatures of the new generation of Android. It's the place where visually you'll notice the change from KitKat. It isn't, however, just the preserve of Android 5.0, because Google's core apps display material design too and are available across different Android versions.
HTC has it's own apps, of course, and there are elements that follow the same material designs principles: the use of bolder colours was a characteristic of Sense 6.0 and that now fits nicely with Lollipop - in the HTC calendar, SMS app or weather.
HTC Sense 6.0 on Lollipop (left) vs Android 5.0 Lollipop's clean interface
You don't quite get Lollipop's clean treatment of the settings menu. Although HTC moved to a simpler design in Sense 6.0, things are still more complex than Lollipop. There's shading behind headers for different sections of the menu, where Lollipop divides things with cards in fitting with the rest of the UI design.
On the other hand, HTC presents more information in the settings menu at a glance, and toggles: stock Android simply gives you the Wi-Fi heading to click through, HTC gives you the toggle as well as the information of what network you're connected to.
HTC has adopted Lollipop's animations, meaning that apps open from the bottom and close to the bottom. It looks great, and it's slick and fast, with no sign of delay for having been integrated into Sense.
The home screen is the same as before: it's still HTC's BlinkFeed experience by default. If you're a fan or have been using it, there's no need to change, but to get you closer to that stock Android feeling the Google Now launcher is available on Google Play.
That will change things like your folder styles and some of the look of the home screen environment, like the integrated Google Search bar at the top - a hallmark of stock Android - as well as giving you the "OK Google" hotword without having to touch anything.
HTC BlinkFeed launcher (left) vs Google Now launcher (right)
We prefer the Google Now Launcher in all honesty, because it's simpler than HTC's BlinkFeed launcher. The square folders and squared apps tray icon don't sit as naturally with material design's use of circles - like the new instant action button in Gmail for example.
There's also the line dividing your shortcuts from the control icons, which now seems superfluous. However, HTC's apps tray is customisable - you can still use folders and search, which Google Now's launcher doesn't allow.
It's also worth mentioning that HTC hasn't changed its icons: instead of the new simpler icons, it's stuck to the previous shapes.
Overall, from the front page with HTC's stock BlinkFeed launcher, there's little to tell you you're on Lollipop.
The lock screen has been revised fairly heavily in Lollipop, and these changes are reflected in HTC's take on it: there are now no lock screen widgets.
However, you still get the shortcuts on the lock screen that are taken from your home screen shortcuts. These give you direct access to those apps with a swipe (depending on whether you have security or not). You also have HTC's iconic weather clock.
HTC Sense on Lollipop (left) vs stock Android Lollipop (right)
With widgets now gone, you have Lollipop's excellent lock screen notifications system. This works in exactly the same way as stock Android, giving you cards on the lock screen, but also putting you in control of what you see.
That means you can have sensitive information hidden, you can turn off notifications for entire apps, and when a notification comes in, a double tap will open the app. If you don't want them, you can just swipe them away.
All the controls for the lock screen notifications are in settings > sound & notification and we like the results - Lollipop's use of cards for notifications has been nicely adopted by HTC.
Quick settings and notifications
Sticking with the notifications theme, in Lollipop the quick settings and notifications partner up much more closely than in KitKat when you're on the home screen.
Swiping down from the notifications bar has two elements. The first swipe pulls down your notifications (and things like playing music controls), the second swipe opens the quick settings tray. This is the same as stock Android and on both, and quick settings can be accessed with a two-finger swipe.
The quick settings menu is pretty much the same as it was before, using similar icons and it's customisable so you can get what you prefer in there. However, HTC hasn't included the Flashlight option that we love in Lollipop - shame on you HTC - there's also no option to Cast the screen.
But more importantly, perhaps, is that HTC's take on quick settings is a lot more cluttered than it needs to be. Under the Wi-Fi icon, for example, is what you're connected to and a menu button. Lollipop just gets by with letting you click on what you're connected to to go through to the menu, which is visually much cleaner.
However, HTC wins on the notification bar icons: you still have the option to display the battery percentage, which we like.
Do not disturb and volumes
One of the other changes brought in by Lollipop, and related to notifications, was the option to quickly block, only receive priority, or all. This is accessed through the volume controls, tied into the idea that some app notifications are more important than others. We've found it pretty useful.
HTC has an alternative system already, called do not disturb (DND). They are similar, but DND is more like a night or meeting mode, turning off sound, vibration and the LED. It will let you specify callers who can always get through, but doesn't tie into the priority apps system.
You can still designate which apps are seen as priority, but these simply get elevated to the top of the list of notifications, rather than getting access when you're in an otherwise silenced state.
Talking of volumes, however, HTC's handling of volume is much more sensible than stock Android. When changing the volume, you simply tap the settings cog and you'll get all the options - music and apps, ringtone, alarms - all in one place. On native Lollipop you have to already be running the app before you can change its volume.
One of the headline changes in Lollipop was how recent apps was handled. Tap the button and you cat a Rolodex-style display of cards. Lollipop also allows you to include Chrome browser tabs in this, so everything you're doing can be flicked through. (You can turn off that option in Chrome, if you'd rather manage tabs through the Chrome app itself.)
HTC's twist on recent apps is giving you access to its old grid view as well. There's a menu next to the search bar that will take you through to your running apps, which we can't see we'll ever use, but there's also the option to change the style back to grid as it was previously.
We'll probably never do that either, the Lollipop-loving gluttons that we are.
Smart Lock is one of Android 5.0's fun features. It's not immediately apparent where it lives on HTC's device, but it is there. It needs to be enabled though security > trust agents where there's the option to toggle Google's Smart Lock.
This then opens up a new option in the security menu, containing trusted places, faces and devices. It's here that you'll be able to designate a connected Bluetooth device as safe, so you don't need to unlock your device when connected to your car, for example.
If you want face unlock, it's here that you'll find it too.
What don't you get?
There's no provision for multiple users. This is one of stock Android's strengths - if you want want quickly share your phone with someone else, they can have their own profile, so your stuff remains secure.
This is ideal for kids, where they can (from the lock screen even) access their own area of the device. HTC instead has a Kid Mode, but we much prefer the option for a separate user identity, where an administrator gets full controls.
Android's new battery saver option also isn't a part of the HTC update and we're not surprised: HTC already had a better system and it remains the same as it did before, where you're able to specify what elements battery saver will use to conserve power.
Naturally the dialer is HTC's, as it was before and so is the People app to handle your contacts. Both are reasonable, the only thing we miss is Android's caller ID, where it identifies calls based on it's own databases so you get fewer anonymous callers.
The position with Android 5.0 Lollipop is that it's pretty easy to give your phone a makeover and make it behave like a Nexus device. Why would you want to do this? Because some of the best apps - Gmail, Google Maps - are all being designed to fit with material design. When you put that in the context of someone else's design language, it's perhaps not as cohesive as you'd like.
HTC could go further and simplify things a little more and we'd love to see that in Sense 7.0. However, and importantly, we like the change to the notifications and recent apps that HTC has embraced. If you want to move over to a more Nexus-like visual experience, the Google Now launcher is a big piece of that experience and well worth a try.
The end result is that the HTC One is a great take on both. HTC's experience in convenient UI features is still prominent - like being able to get the battery level on the notifications bar and good handling of volume controls - without destroying some of the nice elements of Android 5.0 Lollipop's design and fluidity.
We're yet to see if there's any significant difference in battery life, but it's worth remembering that the HTC One M8 is now a year old. We suspect that more refinement will come with Android Lollipop and Sense 7.0 on the HTC One M9, due to be launched on March.