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Review: HTC Sense for Windows Mobile (HTC HD2)

One of the main reasons for me try out Android, after being an Windows Mobile user for many years, was HTC Sense. I never really liked the pure Android experience, as it was a little bit too bland for me. Only after HTC presented the HTC Hero as their Android flagship last year, and introduced HTC Sense, i could see Android becoming a real contender. In my opinion it was the first time that the Android UI provided a professional, mainstream-market compatible and stylish look. The fact that the Android market wasn’t full with great looking apps, was another reason why the HTC Sense experience was so important for Android at that point. Potential customers would compare the iPhone UI to Android and it just was no real competition, because Apple had the much better UI concept and more professional app catalogue. Making skins for a mobile OS wasn’t anything new for HTC though, as they have been developing skins for Windows Mobile for many years. The first iteration was called TouchFLO (i.e. on XDA Orbit 2), the second was named TouchFLO 3D and the latest iteration is HTC Sense. HTC seeks to archieve the same user experience quality across all mobile operating systems they support, and position HTC Sense as one of the unique selling points of their smartphones. This article is primarily about HTC Sense on the current Windows Mobile flagship HTC HD2, but i will also try to point out the biggest differences compared to HTC Sense on Android.

HTC Sense Homescreen

Speaking of differences, let’s start with the HTC Sense homescreen concept which is substantially different compared to the Android version. On the HTC HD2 you have different tabs at the bottom of the screen, each tab represents a seperate homescreen page. The default startpage shows a big clock, and three containers for shortcuts. You can assign apps, links and contacts to those slots. By swiping up on the screen you can access a second page with nine slots, which are also used for your preferred shortcuts.

hd2 htc sense home tab

The main difference to Androids HTC Sense version is that you won’t be able to customize each homescreen tab freely on Windows Mobile. You have a set of predefined tabs which you can sort, activate, deactivate and customize to some extent. But you can’t change the general layout of a tab, like you can do on Android OS with the homescreen pages. Personally i prefer the Android concept, because it gives much more customizing control to the user. But HTC Sense on the HTC HD2 is still the best Windows Mobile UI skin on the market, so let’s take a look at each HTC Sense tab and the corresponding app in detail.

HTC Sense Contacts

On the contacts tab it’s possible to add your favourite contacts and define a default action for them. I.e. you can define to open a new textmessage when touching the contact picture or start a call. If you need more than nine entries, you can just scroll down to access a second page to add further contacts.

hd2 htc sense contacts tab

By touching the “more” softbutton on this tab, you’ll open the contacts app. HTC did a great job with skinning the standard Windows Mobile contacts. HTC Sense’s contacts app has a much cleaner user interface, great usability and better performance than the Windows Mobile app.

hd2 htc sense contacts app

Scrolling through the list is very fluid and there were no hiccups at all. The detail view of a contact shows all communication channels like messages, emails and call log at the bottom of the screen, so you can easily switch between those tabs at all times. All email adresses and phone numbers are shown on the first tab, and you can chose directly if you want to start a call, write a message, or write an email without the need to access any submenu.

hd2 htc sense contact detail view

The next screenshot shows the exchange server contacts search, which is really nice to have if you want to look up a company phone number or any other company contact data via exchange server account.

hd2 htc sense exchange contacts

HTC Sense Calendar

One of my main gripes with the Android HTC Sense calendar was the fact that there weren’t any timebars on the monthview to give you a better overview of which days are especially busy. Sadly this is also the case for the Windows Mobile version, as you can see on the next screenshot. The monthview only shows flags for days which have one or many events, but there is no way to differentiate between days with only one appointment and days with many appointments, since the flag icon is always the same. Only all-day events have a different icon (square), but that’s not enough in my opinion.

hd2 htc sense calendar month tab

As an alternative you can switch to the agenda view, which will show all upcoming events as a scrollable list.

hd2 htc sense calendar agenda tab

Both HTC Sense views look better than the standard Windows Mobile calendar UI though, as the following screenshot prooves.

htc hd2 windowsmobile monthview

Opera Mobile Browser

On the HTC HD2 you’ll get Opera Mobile as preinstalled browser, besides Internet Explorer mobile. While Opera Mobile was by far my favourite browser during my Windows Mobile days, there are a few very evident setbacks. The rendering algorithm doesn’t seem to be up to par with the standard Android browser or Safari on the iPhone. Many website are rendered with layout bugs on Opera Mobile, while the browsers of the competition have no problems with it. Take a look at the results when browsing to my blog. All headers have some akward offset, since the tables are not correctly rendered.

hd2 htc sense opera browser blog

It’s even more evident on other blogs like engadget, where complete elements like the “Top Stories” are missing.

hd2 htc sense opera browser engadget

Not everything is bad though, as there are of course websites which are rendered without any problems.

hd2 htc sense opera browser 1up

Overall Opera Mobile is a fast browser with a nice user interface, and fluid scrolling, but some problems with website rendering. For more impressions check out my full Opera Mobile for Windows Mobile review. Since there are other browsers like Skyfire, NetFront or Iris available too, there is always the option to switch if you don’t like Opera Mobile.

HTC Sense Musicplayer

The music player user interface is pretty much identical to the HTC Sense player on Android. On the music tab you can play the current chosen song or switch through albums.

hd2 htc sense music tab

By opening the music library it’s possible to browse through all your music titles sorted by album, artist, composer, playlists and more.

hd2 htc sense music app

Switching between the views is easily done by using the navigation tabs at the bottom of the screen.

hd2 htc sense music app album

HTC Sense Twitter app “Peep”

I used Peep for Android for quite some time, but there were some problems with the Peep widget being slow and a battery hog. Therefore i tried out other Twitter apps like Seemic and Swift. On the HTC HD2 Peep is much faster than on my HTC Hero, updating as well as scrolling through the tweets list is just speedier. The Twitter tab provides the timeline view, and the option to directly post a new tweet. Furthermore you can manually refresh the timeline view by pressing the sync icon at the top right edge of the screen.

hd2 htc sense twitter tab

Using the full Peep app, there are further views available to access your direct messages, @replies and starred tweets.

hd2 htc sense twitter app

HTC Sense Footprints

Footprints is what HTC calls pictures which are enriched with GPS coordinates data and additional informations. That way you can tag places you have visited on a map and have some kind of a journey foto album. On the footprints tab it’s possible to scroll through your footprint pictures, or to make a new picture by touching the camera icon.

hd2 htc sense footprints tab

Footprints can be sorted under different categories like restaurants, shopping or favourites.

hd2 htc sense footprints app

The next screenshot shows the detailview of a footprint. As you can see the footprints app stores GPS data, time, date, audio comments and text comments. You can also specify i.e. phone numbers for restaurants, or website URLs.

hd2 htc sense footprint example

HTC Sense Stocks

Of course HTC also integrated their stocks app, which will provide up-to-date informations about stock changes. When i wrote my HTC Sense for Android review, i mentioned that i’m not really that much involved into stocks and that hasn’t changed. So i can only say that the layout is quite nice, and adding/updating stocks seems to work without any problems. But i can’t tell if there are any specific features missing for anybody who is more involved in the stock business.

hd2 htc sense stock tab

HTC HD2 Camera

The HTC HD2 sports a 5 megapixel cam with two LED lights. In bright surroundings the cam does a pretty good job of taking snapshots (click on the pictures to see the full size).

htc hd2 cam bright light

But in dim surroundings the two LEDs don’t really help that much. A real flash would be the only way to get nice pictures in the dark.

htc hd2 cam dim light

As nearly all other current HTC devices, you also have the autofocus feature which can be used to take macro shots too.

htc hd2 cam macro shot

Don’t expect extraordinary photos from the HTC HD2 cam though. It just follows the same footsteps of other HTC devices, which all produce acceptable results but are far from the best smartphone cameras out there.

HTC Sense Album

Pictures and videos can be viewed on the album tab. By swiping up or down it’s possible to scroll through the pictures/videos. The icons at the top-right corner are used for quick access to the camera app.

hd2 htc sense pictures tab

HTC implemented a nice UI for the picture viewer with a clean look. Touch controls like pinch-zooming work perfectly, and you can also share pictures directly from the viewer to different social media pages like Facebook.

hd2 htc sense picture viewer

Scrolling through the pictures library is very fluid and without any lags.

hd2 htc sense picture overview

HTC Sense Weather

When HTC presented the first device sporting their new TouchFLO3D skin, everybody was thrilled about the sleek new user interface. It was the first time that default Windows Mobile apps like contacts and calendar really looked user friendly. One of the features which got much attention was the weather app. I still can’t understand why, but a lot of people especially liked the weather animations. And not much has changed since then. The animations are still there, but this time around you can see them on every homescreen page as background animation. So if you turn on the display, you’ll see in example the sun shine through the background telling you what the weather will look like today. On the weather tab you can see the next four days too, and by swiping up or down you can switch between different places. Those places can be selected using the settings menu on the weather tab.

hd2 htc sense weather app

HTC HD2 and Windows Mobile 6.5

This review is primarily about HTC Sense on the HTC HD2, but HTC implemented changes to many OS areas in order to enhance and optimize the Windows Mobile 6.5 experience. Since you won’t get a stylus with the HTC HD2, one of the most important changes is the optimization of the menus. Every Windows Mobile menu you’ll access is reskinned for easy finger usage. This feature was already available starting from TouchFLO3D, but nevertheless is an essential change to make Windows Mobile more user friendly.

hd2 htc sense twitter tab menu

Furthermore nearly all settings pages have been reskinned too, in order to provide an easy way for the user to make changes. As you can see on the next screenshot, toggling connection settings can be done with a single tap. This wasn’t the case for regular Windows Mobile devices, where you would have to open many submenus in order to access those settings.

hd2 htc sense wireless options

The verdict

I think the HTC HD2 marks the pinnacle of what can be archieved with a Windows Mobile 6.5 device in many ways. First of all you get a great piece of hardware with impressing technical specs, a huge capacitive touchscreen and very good built quality. And the latest iteration of HTC Sense for Windows Mobile is also as good as it gets. All HTC Sense apps are very functional and i especially like the PIM apps like HTC Sense contacts. It’s not quite as customizable as HTC Sense on Android but still a very solid effort.

Generally the performance of the HTC HD2 is also very good, thanks to the 1 Ghz Snapdragon CPU and huge RAM. Starting up or switching through Apps happens in an instance, and scrolling lists as well as browsing the internet is very fast. But you still have some lags every now and then, and i just think that the old Windows Mobile core is responsible for this. So on one side you have cutting edge hardware with a great custom UI, and on the other side you got the same old Windows Mobile core from 2003. HTC did their best to make the Windows Mobile experience as userfriendly as possible by redesigning many aspects of the OS. In example every OS menu has been redesigned for comfortable finger usage. But all of this still can’t hide the fact that at the end of the day you still have Windows Mobile OS in the background, as you will encounter many leftovers when digging deeper into the OS. Another problem is that Windows Mobile legacy apps weren’t meant for finger only usage, so the missing stylus could be a problem if you have many old-school Windows Mobile apps you want to keep using. Of course there are some aspects were Windows Mobile is competitive too, like the great exchange server support, which will sync your emails, tasks, notes and calendar out-of-the-box. This is not the case for Android and the iPhone as you won’t be able to sync tasks and notes without 3rd party apps. And Windows Mobile still has the bigger professional 3rd party apps backlog compared to Android. Furthermore it seems that Android phones haven’t been embraced by corporate users that much based on different security concerns, so this is still a segment were Windows Mobile is stronger.

But this review is about HTC Sense, so let me emphasize that HTC Sense is no doubt the best UI skin you can get on Windows Mobile. Compared side by side with HTC Sense on Android it might not be as flexible especially due to the different homescreen concept and the underlying OS restrictions, but anybody who wants a huge and brilliant display alongside some professional Windows Mobile legacy apps and HTC Sense, should give the HTC HD2 a try.

Rating: ★★★½☆