Blog Post

HTC Sense UI on the Nexus One — First Impressions

Google (s goog) may be steering potential Nexus One customers to the HTC Incredible, but that doesn’t mean the Nexus One is yesterday’s old news. Last night, I breathed new life in my Nexus One — as if the three-month old phone needed resuscitation — by installing HTC’s Sense UI on the device with these instructions. The process only took me about 20 minutes but the dramatic changes to the device will live on for months. Adding the HTC Sense UI has turned my Nexus One into a completely different device. It’s like I just took delivery of an entirely new phone.

Although I’ve only spent a few waking hours with my refreshed handset, I’m already getting dozens of requests on Twitter and in email asking about the experience. I have enough hands-on time to offer up some basic first impressions at this point. Bear in mind that you can brick your device and you are voiding the warranty if you decide to put the Sense UI on your device — you’re on your own, and I’m not responsible if you follow me down the path.

Interface — I’ve said before that Android focuses more on utility while the iPhone OS is more polished and refined. Simply put: the Sense UI levels the playing field when it comes to “fit and finish.” Both the HTC apps and widgets are extremely well designed. I’m generally not a fan of most Android widgets, but HTC takes it to another level and I’m adding quite a few to the home screens. Speaking of home screens, I now have seven, which is two more than the stock Nexus One. Tapping the Home button from the main screen zooms out and shows all seven, making it quick and easy to navigate. I also love the fact that I can cut and paste text from the web far easier than the stock Android method. Tapping text on a web page brings up a start and end pin that’s used to select text — sound familiar? ;)

Performance — I don’t notice any performance degradation by using the Sense UI. In fact, some activities feel faster, but perhaps that just because the interface is dazzling me. ;) I’m not sure that every function works in this ROM — Bluetooth flakiness has been mentioned, but I haven’t tested it yet. I also can’t be sure that the auto-brightness feature is working with the display. The dialog box access the automatic option, but when I use it, I don’t see much of a difference in the brightness. It could just be that the lighting in my surroundings hasn’t varied enough.

Customization — Android by itself allows decent customization, but the Sense UI takes it to an entirely new level. There are six pre-loaded “scenes,” each of which is like a theme, complete with wallpaper, widgets and shortcuts relevant to the theme. Social, for example, adds more of the messaging, communications and social networking widgets like HTC’s own FriendStream for Facebook. Normally, I don’t use the stock Facebook widget, but I am using FriendStream. Each of the scenes is simply a starting point — you can modify, add or delete anything on the seven screens in a scene and save it as your own.

Extras — Sense UI isn’t the only feature in the ROM I used, found here. I also included the “extras” that Paul O’Brien from Modaco baked into the ROM. The biggest features for me are the two tethering applications — one for wired tethering and one for wireless use. With the application running, I created a 3G mobile hotpot with my Nexus One on T-Mobile’s network. From there, it was a snap for my iPad to use the HSPA hotspot over Wi-Fi. While I pay for monthly service on Verizon’s 3G network with my MiFi, the tethering ability provides me with a useful backup broadband solution. While you can install a ROM with just the Sense UI on a Nexus One, I strongly recommend considering the ROM with Paul’s extras.

Stock or Sense UI — So is it worth the effort and minor risks to get the Sense UI on a Nexus One? Even with less than a day of usage, it is for me. The Nexus One was fun to use before thanks to the super specifications, but it’s even better with the Sense UI. Personally, I’d like to see HTC offer the Sense UI for aftermarket installation — even if they charged $10 or perhaps $20, it would be worth it for me.

I’m sure that folks have additional questions on the whole experience, so drop ’em in the comments and I’ll share my thoughts.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Google’s Mobile Strategy: Understanding the Nexus One

30 Responses to “HTC Sense UI on the Nexus One — First Impressions”

  1. Just got my Evo 2 days ago. The first thing I planned to do was remove Sense … but after using it for a day, I’m hooked.

    Excellent interface for Android phones. (though I still prefer standard Android interface on my Archos 5.

  2. FrankMurphy

    I would like to get an Android phone with Sense UI and specs similar to the Nexus One for my next phone. My wife doesn’t want to give up her iPhone and we need to be on a family plan with the same carrier. Since it doesn’t look like AT&T will be picking up the Desire or Verizon will be getting the iPhone any time soon, this looks like my only option.

    Have you managed to get bluetooth working yet? Are there any other issues you’ve run into? Do you know how updates would work? Like if Google released an Android update and/or HTC released a Sense update, would you need to re-flash a custom ROM incorprating the updates, or could you still do it over the air?

    Sorry for so many questions, and thanks for the post.

    • Sounds like the Incredible is worth a look in your situation: HTC Sense and slightly better specs than the Nexus One. No need for hacked ROMs either. ;)

      Bluetooth isn’t working and likely won’t with the ROM I’m using. There should be an updated ROM in the next few weeks, however. Updates wouldn’t come over the air with this method, either – you’d likely have to download and manually apply them, or reflash back to the original ROM to get them OTA.

  3. Kevin – what’s been your experience thus far with battery life after loading the Desire ROM? My N1 was draining a lot quicker on standby than with the stock ROM, it was pretty bad. I ended up restoring the original ROM last week.

    • Hmmm….. I’m not noticing any faster drain, but I haven’t done any scientific testing. Also, I’m using the phone a little bit less since getting my iPad about a month ago, which could be skewing my battery life impressions. I’m using r21 of the ROM from Modaco – just passing that info in case we’re using different ROMs.

  4. i flashed this rom using your instructions and im very please with the outcome. the sence ui seems to be the way the android os should have come in the first place even though the 2.1 stock rom was very good, it pales in comparison. What i wanted to ask you was, i have been trying to connect my phone to my computer and it doesnt show, meaning it doesnt mount. Is this a bug with the rom like the bluetooth?
    i dont care about the bluetooth but the syncing is kind of a bummer if not able to do it. would love to hear an answer from you, thanks.

  5. If i flash this on my nexus and dont like it.. will i be able to go back to stock android or at least factory reset to get everything back to normal?

  6. jonesdavide

    Thanks, I used the Superboot method instead of the sdk. I thought maybe you were using a button combo option that was made available in the new Rom.

      • I gained the ability to take screenshots though the process of flashing the ROM, which requires you to install the Android SDK. With the SDK on a computer, you can display the output of a connected Android device and capture the screen.

        There are also third-party apps that can capture the screen, but I believe they require root access to the phone. I’m fine with USB tethering the phone and using the SDK method for my purposes.

  7. ResaltN

    This is slightly off topic, but why aren’t there Android based PMPs similar to the iPod Touch. Not everybody can afford a data plan (e.g. kids or college students) but still have access to WiFi. I would think there is a big market just waiting for a competitor. AdMob just released a paper in which a sizable chunk of mobile web traffic comes from the iPod Touch. I would love a PMP with Android.

    Admob article:

    • Not a basic question at all! :)

      I made sure I knew the answer to that question before I flashed my ROM and yes, there is a way to restore. Using the method I found, you can flash or re-flash any ROM built for your particular phone. So you just need the original ROM image, which for my Nexus One, was pretty easy to find and download.

      • I guess that you have to download the original ROM from a third party, right? Well, ROMs are a very attractive toy for a tech enthusiast, that’s for sure… but I’m not sure if a “third-party-original” ROM would be an acceptable solution in terms of security. I mean, I am quite divided: on the one hand, I want to play. On the other hand, my mobile is connected to a mobile account. I can made payments from it. Therefore, although N1 would look the same again, I wonder if can be guaranteed that there cannot be any unauthorized operation against my mobile account.

        It is not like download Windows from emule in terms of security, for sure… but all this ROM thing awakens the little technoparanoid on me :)

        P.S.: I would like to experiment with my magic just before I buy an N1 here in Spain. Damn it.

      • Juan, you’re absolutely correct — you can’t get the original ROM image direct from Google or a carrier. Of course, I didn’t get the Sense UI ROM from either one in the first place, so I was already taking a risk. ;)

        It’s a tough call when talking about your primary phone. For me, the Nexus One is my only phone, so I was VERY cautious in making my decision.

  8. Jonathan Ballinger

    Gotta ask about the Bluetooth. I know you said in the article that there was talk of it being ‘flaky’ but I’d like your take on that assessment. The supposed issues with BT are the only things keeping me from flashing my N1 tonight, as I use a BT headset almost exclusively.

  9. Kevin you mention you payed 49.99 a month for the N1 and does that include data? If so now with the Sense installed and using the N1 as Wi-Fi hot spot how much battery does it hit on the N1? maybe if it can handle a good 3 hrs I might look into getting the N1 and install the Sense with the extras to use it as a Wi-Fi hot spot for my iPad and other laptops. I still have 10 days left on Verizon MiFi trial.

    • I originally was paying $59 a month for 500 minutes plus unlimited text and data. After dumping my iPhone and Pre, I bumped my plan up to unlimited everything for $79 a month. I haven’t used the device with Sense long enough to comment on the battery, although I have a spare battery. With 2 batteries, I think you should get through a full day, even using the device as a 3G hotspot.

    • bjtheone

      Almost every custom ROM has some sort of wifi tethering app included. Most popular seems to be ‘Wireless Tether for Root users”. This is separate and distinct from what UI the custom ROM includes.

      You could enable root and load a tethering app on a “stock” N1.

      Based on my HTC Magic I would suspect that you would need 2 batteries to get a solid 3 hours of tethering and still expect to use the phone mostly as a phone for the day. I do a fair bit of tethering in my truck, where I have access to a VERY large 12 volt battery :-) … so I have not paid much attention to it.

  10. At Mobile World Congress, the HTC representative I filmed in said HTC Sense could be disabled from Desire but that HTC Sense wouldn’t be available on Nexus One. I guess for now HTC wants to own the Sense UI as their IP to differentiate their Android UI.

    I’d think it would be best to simply have the choice for any home screen UI on any of Nexus One, HTC Desire or Droid Incredible. All 3 are manufactured by HTC, comon people, stop the confusion, just make them all compatible in terms of UI.