Today I had my first taste of Android 4.0 on The HTC One range with the One X. I liked what I saw and touched. I liked the multitasking implementation which was beautifully Sense and beautifully different. I also liked the speed of the One X I was playing with. Most of all I loved how Sense 4.0 UI was no longer shoved down your throat and obscene in look, feel and use. I liked the new simplicity of Sense 4.0. Great stuff.
There is a but in here though, I know you were waiting for it really!
The but is the other devices I had the opportunity of playing with last week. And before you ask, no they weren’t new and no the Galaxy SIII does not exist.
So I had the ‘pleasure’ of playing with A HTC Sensation XE with Android 4.0 running Sense UI v3.6 and a Samsung Galaxy SII running TouchWiz 4.0 and Android 4.0.
Unfortunately for HTC and Samsung, the pleasure was all theirs and none of mine. So what is wrong with me you ask? 3 great phones all running the same great operating system.
If that was true I wouldn’t be writing this right now. Quite frankly the legacy devices (XE and GSII) were horrible to use.
Why you may ask?
Simple. HTC & Samsung took all the best UI tweaks & features of ICS and removed them in favour of their own UI skins (Sense & TouchWiz).
Granted the GSII looks exactly the same and will not alienate non power users and UB’s but this is part of the problem. Samsung has removed all the great UI tweaks Google made with ICS on the Galaxy Nexus in favour of TouchWiz, which despite being ok to use is not as easy to use now as Vanilla Android 4.0. The only thing Samsung seem to have kept is the data counter, settings menu style, Face unlock & the addition of the camera features like the panoramic capabilities. I miss the sweeping menus, the ability to add widgets directly from the main menu, the roboto font, the speed of the OS in general and more. All of which are missing from the GSII’s ICS implementation. Now I was never a GSII fan, I’ve hated TouchWiz since its origins on the Tocco range but now I simply abhor it.
Now onto HTC who seem to have gone for an even more baffling stance (for now anyway) where they have decided that the new awesome and simple Sense 4.0 is just not right for their older, Sensation range. So they decided to release Sense 3.6 for ICS on the older devices. Soooo HTC, you decide that you have to develop and release 2 UI’s for the same OS depending on which handset the customer has?
Great strategy…. ‘in tech la la land’ maybe.
HTC’s legacy Android 4.0 implementation is the same as Samsung’s. They have effectively shoehorned ICS onto the device whilst keeping their UI the same. Now with the One range out this is an even weirder option as there are striking differences between the two UI’s. Many of the features of Sense 3.5 were there because they weren’t on Android 2.5 Gingerbread. With ICS the UI adds elements of Vanilla ICS like the multitasking pane and folders but doesn’t do so in a way that makes it feel consistently Sense or consistently ICS. It feels hashed together and looks nothing like HTC Sense 4.0 on the One range, nothing at all. The main menu is also strange, forgoing the stock ICS implementation which as I mentioned already was a beautiful re-design. It’s the same in Android 4.0 with Sense 3.6, the same up & down swiping. It is only odd because in Sense 4.0 its completely the opposite, with a side to side swiping navigation style. That in itself is irritating.
HTC & Samsung seem to be taking the the same steps with their legacy handset upgrades to Android 4.0 ICS. Until the Galaxy SIII comes out to remains to be seen whether Samsung follow HTC in fragmenting their UI as well. It is unlikely but given what HTC has done, anything goes right now.
I was never a fan of Sense 3.5 either, it was vulgar, to in your face and too slow even when paired with dual-core processing. It crashed too frequently and was just cumbersome and hogged memory. Sense 4.0 is a vast improvement but the fact that HTC are not bringing it to legacy devices makes me sad. I thought the One range was meant to bring HTC back from the doldrums of Android and back into competition with Samsung. But it seems HTC are far more content with fragmenting Android even more.
The Android UI wars are raging on and now it seems they are helping to fragment Android even more than previously, despite wanting to make it familiar for current users it actually seems to be doing the opposite and alienating people who want to use the brilliant Android 4.0 ICS as seen on the Galaxy Nexus.
Is it time for Google to start putting it’s foot down on how OEM’s treat its operating system? Maybe Google should introduce slightly stricter rules on customisation and what UI & software features should be kept from the vanilla builds.
I for one stick to my guns, I always said for me to use an Android device it would have to be running Vanilla Android. The only devices I’ve ever wanted to own were the Nexus One and now the Galaxy Nexus. For good reason I say.