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A longterm Windows Mobile user switching to Android – Part 5: HTC Sense widgets review

A lot of hype was generated about the HTC Sense widgets when they were shown off the first time. But as soon as the first reviews of the HTC Hero started to emerge, we could hear voices complaining about the laggyness of the HTC Hero, when there are many widgets used on the homescreens. Widgets like Peep (Twitter widget) seem to be infamous for eating up too much battery, or being not reliable enough. In this part of my review series i will go in-depth into the widget functionalities, and all the different available layouts, since i found that while there are many HTC Hero reviews out there none of them presents all widget layouts in detail. But especially when considering buying the HTC Hero it makes sense to check out all widgets and widget layouts so you know what awaits you. In example i was curious to know how many different calendar layouts exist, but couldn’t find a review online which really got into detail. Therefore i hope this review will help further to get a clear picture of HTC Sense widgets. Furthermore i will try to explain if the widget is really pratical for daily usage or not. Let’s start with the already mentioned Twitter widget.

The HTC Sense Peep Widget

Twitter is all the hype currently, nearly every phone manufacturer wants to provide features to link contacts to Twitter or provide standalone Twitter apps. HTC introduced a HTC Sense Twitter app called Peep, and added two different widgets too. The big widget will show the timeline view of the Twitter users you are following. Scrolling is very fluid and you have the possibility to add your tweets directly via the widget. But as soon as you want to do more than that (reply to a person, direct message, retweet and so on) you will be directed to the main HTC Sense Twitter app. I found this widget to be very useful actually, since you don’t have to open an app to see the timeline view of the friends tweets. So for read only purposes this makes sense, especially if you follow a lot of people and just want to be up-to-date about the current tweets. Also posting updates is very comfortable.

htcsense_twitter_widget_big

There is also a small widget version, which only lets you to tweet directly without opening the Twitter app.

This may be interesting for frequent tweeters, but i’m definetly reading more than writing (which will be the same for many people, since most of the time you follow many people, and you won’t tweet more than the 100 people you are following).

htcsense_twitter_widget_small

There is a big drawback currently though: HTC Sense Peep doesn’t work for many user right now, because of the recent twitocalypse. Twitter changed the tweet IDs maximum number, and this caused some apps which rely on the Twitter API to crash. Peep is sadly one of them. HTC and Twitter are currently working on a solution.

The HTC Sense Contacts Widget

One of the pivotal points of HTC Sense is managing contacts, and the way we interact with them. Every information channel is collected and shown relating to contacts (Facebook, Flickr, Messages, Emails, calls), so you can access all the information about one person directly in the contacts app. Furthermore you can add a favourite persons widget to your homescreen, which will show your starred contacts as a vertical scroll bar. It’s possible to define default behaviour for your contacts, so clicking on a contact picture will trigger a call, a message or open the detail view. I used this widget initially, but found that using a regular Android folder to store favourite contacts is much faster. You don’t need to scroll, and will be able to open contacts much quicker.

htcsense_people_widget

The HTC Sense Clock Widget

There are many different clocks available from big blocks to very small ones taking only minimal screen space. The next screenshot only shows a few examples. For a full list check out my HTC Sense gallery.
I like the HTC standard clock the most, which will show the time on a big clock and also show weather information beneath the time.

htcsense_clock_widget_1

Just some more clock layouts:

htcsense_clock_widget_2

The HTC Sense Calendar Widget

The HTC Sense calendar widget has the same problem i explained on the HTC Sense apps review. It will only show flags for days with events, but you have no clue how many events each day has, so you have to open the calendar detail view every single time you want to check out how busy a day is. Not everything about this widget is bad though, in example you can smoothly scroll through months within the widget which is a nice feature.

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I don’t know if there is anybody who will use the small HTC Sense calendar widget. It shows only ONE item for the current day, so you will only see the next upcoming event. This is just not enough information for the regular employee, who definetly has more than one item/task/meeting per day on many occasions. Also only knowing about a meeting when it’s very immediate is not that practical, since there are meetings out there which actually require some preparation. So it would be nice to know about a meeting with more time in advance, and there are some very nice widgets available on the market for this purpose. I will provide reviews for those essential Android apps, as soon as i finished my current review series about the HTC Hero.

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The HTC Sense Weather Widget

Weather widgets are available in three flavours. The big widget will show the current day, and the next four days. This is one of the widgets which doesn’t have anything missing from the app. You can swipe through different cities, and reload the data. There isn’t much more you can do with the app, besides adding and deleting cities for the weather list. I’m using this widget on one of my homescreens regularly.

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The medium widget provides only information for today, with a small message.

htcsense_weather_widget_medium

And the small widget also provides only information for today, leaving out the message. These two smaller widgets are good for anybody who wants to save screen space as much as possible.

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The HTC Sense Settings Widgets

These widgets are very useful to quickly change settings, and i use them daily to switch between wifi and 3g connections. HTC provides settings widgets for wifi, mobile internet, bluetooth, flight mode and GPS.

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The HTC Sense Stock Widget

You can view stock informations using three different layouts. The screenshot beneath shows the big widget layout.

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And this is the medium sized scrolling widget. This size has a nice form factor since it doesn’t take up too much space, while still showing enough information due to the scrolling.

htcsense_stock_widget_medium

The small widget will only provide information about one stock at a time.

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The HTC Sense Mail Widget

You can view your recently received emails with this widget. There is only one layout available, and answering to emails is not possible within the widget. If you tap on the list or reply button the email app will be opened. So this is again a read only widget.

htcsense_mail_widget

The HTC Sense Message Widget

This widget is very similar to the HTC Sense email widget, as you can scroll through your messages. Anserwing to a message will open the full messaging app. I don’t see the real usability benefit in those two widgets. What’s the use of reading your emails when any other action will open the full app anyway? Why shouldn’t i open the app in the first place using a shortcut on my homescreen, since i will be notified about new messages either way by standard Android notifications? I prefer to directly open the email or messaging app using a shortcut or via notification bar, because i can quickly answer to messages and emails without delay.

HTC Sense messaging widget

The HTC Sense Music Widget

Music player are an important part of any smartphone, since nobody wants to carry around a standalone mp3 player anymore. Ok, that was a bit exaggerated, if you take a look at the HUGE IPod Touch and IPod Nano sales figures, but let’s say no smartphone can afford to leave the musicplayer option out. The HTC Sense music widget is quite nice, you can switch through your cds and access playback mode options directly on the widget. But you can’t search your library or choose your titles using any different filter than album, or access any playlists directly.

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The second widget leaves out the playback options, but other than that it sports the same functionality while taking less homescreen space.

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The HTC Sense Album Widget

I like the HTC Sense album app quite a lot, but the widget is too simplistic for me. If you have a lot of pictures, swiping through them using a widget is too cumbersome for my taste. There may be people out there who will need such a kind of widget, but i just can’t see the use case for it. Opening the HTC Sense album app will give me access to all picture folders and all features, so i don’t need a seperate widget only to scroll though my pics.

htcsense_album_widget

The HTC Sense Picture Widget

Hmmm… a widget for placing a picture somewhere on screen. In my opionion this makes even less sense than the album widget, but it could be nice to add a favourite picture on a homescreen page. I would actually never do that, because the homescreen space should be used for more useful stuff. You can use the lockscreen to store a favourite picture as wallpaper, which makes much more sense since it doesn’t take away any homescreen space, and you still get to see the favourite picture often.

htcsense_picture_pinup_widget

The HTC Sense Footprints Widget

Using this widget you can view your past footprints. You can also add new footprints from here, or view the footprints list. In both cases you will be directed to the full app though.

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The small widget only provides the option to take a look at your footprints or add a new one.

htcsense_footprints_widget_small

The HTC Sense Bookmarks Widget

This little widget can give you easier access to the internet by providing all your bookmarks. There are two different views available: The thumbnail view, which will show you little screenshots of your bookmarks as shown on the following screenshot.

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And the list view, which will present a list of your bookmarks. I used this widget only for a short period of time, until i found an app for a dynamic bookmark folder which will just add a little folder icon on your homescreen (like any other regular android folder on homescreen). I prefer using this folder for storing my bookmarks, because its much faster to access and doesn’t take up a whole homescreen page. I’m also pretty sure that widgets need more cpu power than a simple folder too, so it’s a good idea to not overdo it by having too many active widgets at once.

htcsense_bookmarks_widget_small

The verdict

So are widgets the new cutting edge UI elements everybody needs to have? Is it worth all the hype? And are the complaints about the HTC Hero running several widgets at once legitimate? Well, sort of.

I can see that there are some great HTC Sense widgets that make a lot of sense, like the Peep widget or the clock widgets. And furthermore they bring a professional look to the Android widget market finally. If you take a look at the Android market you will see that there are many UI-wise quite ugly widgets (maybe functional widgets, but shabby UI) available, and then you’ll understand how good it is to have a company like HTC give the whole widgets more polish. But there are also a lot of HTC Sense widgets, which may have a lot of style, but don’t provide enough functionality. Having messaging, email and album widgets is nice, but nearly any action besides scrolling through items (messages, emails, pictures) in the widget results in the full app to be opened. And read only widgets are just not enough for me, i want to be able to answer messages directly within the widget, without the need to open the app. But other than HTC Sense Peep widget it seems like nearly all other communication widgets are meant as read only hubs. HTC has to do a little more homework to make these widgets really functional, so they can replace the full apps on daily usage.
Having many active widgets seemed like causing lags for some people, but i have to say that i couldn’t really see any big differences when having many active widget or only a few. Especially after the recent rom update from HTC, this is not really an issue anymore.

My conclusion of this HTC Sense widget review is, that the whole concept has a lot of potential, and the style of the widgets is perfect. But on the functionality part there are some enhancements needed to bring the widgets to the next level, therefore i will give the HTC Sense widgets concept for now 3,5 of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★★½☆