HTC’s Android overlay, Sense, catches a lot of grief for being a heavy addition to the stock experience. I recently reviewed the HTC One X+ and in reality for this device, Sense did not ruining my experience with the device. I like my device and the way I interact with it to look nice, and HTC’s widgets have always kind of made me slightly jealous. Other than the colors and graphics used, the way you interact with Sense device isn’t all that different from the stock Android 4.1 experience (which may be a reason why people dislike it). Lately I’ve been a Samsung guy, and Samsung’s have notification toggles for settings which I really think are awesome. Most custom ROMs provide the option, and many phone manufacturers offer them. Google obviously has taken their own direction with their 4.2 update quick settings, but HTC is just still doing their own thing, even with their new One. I would love to see innovation like Sense had back in the gingerbread days. Hopefully HTC’s new Sense 5 delivers what people want, from what I’m seeing it doesn’t look like a drastic change. While I was running Sense 4+ on the One X+, I went looking for some apps to improve my experience.
So, what I want to offer you today is really directed at HTC users, or anyone else that feels like their UI may be slowing them down and want a change. This is aimed at users who chose not to root their device or dabble with rooting and modding. These apps I offer you today can be used with your completely stock device and offer you lots of customization. This is the beauty of Android. Even with a non-rooted device, you have lots of options for customization, different looks, and functionality. So here goes…
1) Notification Toggles
Notification Toggle is a nifty solution to give your device a quick settings notification toggle. As you can see with my screen shots of the HTC One X+, the notification toggles fall below the (much needed) power saver toggle. I think the icons available for the many different toggle/shortcut options look really great for this app. There are a few things I don’t love about Notification Toggles. First, some of the toggles aren’t toggles, but they’re shortcuts. For example, the GPS and NFC buttons I have up there in the screen shot are just shortcuts. This does make getting to these settings quicker, but it would be cooler if they were actually toggles. The other interesting issue with this app is that it requires either a constant notification in the notification bar which is also customizable, or you can make it transparent and it leaves a gap as can be seen. My guess is it needs to have a notification up there so that you have the toggles in your drop-down. But, it’s something you’ll have to deal with. If you’re a bit OCD about clearing notifications, you’ll it’ll look normal most of the time, but it’s a little kwirky.
Power Toggles offers a slightly different look with the icons than Notification Toggles, but actually offers toggles which is obviously a huge plus. This has been my quick settings app of choice on the One X+, but it also comes with its own caveat. Unlike Notification Toggles, you don’t get that empty gap in the notification bar, but with this app the notification quick settings doesn’t stay on top of the notification as can be seen in my screenshot. So I guess if you feel like you want or need quick settings, pick your poison, but this is the one I prefer.
2) Lock Screen
One of the issues I have with the HTC One X+ is that the power button is on the top of the device, and to unlock the device you need to swipe up from the bottom of the display. You either need to do some fancy hand work or make it a two-handed operation to unlock your phone. So, I decided to play with some alternative lock screens.
WidgetLocker Lockscreen is a really cool option that gives you tons of customization options and functionality for your lock screen One of the things that turned me off to this app for a long time were the screen shots it uses in the play store. I thought my only customization options were swipable graphics from Froyo or Gingerbread. That’s not true, there are lots of options for toggles and swiping dealies. It just received a major update that includes this really cool new lab feature that allows you to swipe from the left side of your device and have quick access to whichever apps you choose. I think this is a really powerful app, but definitely takes some time to set up. I just have a simple Jelly Bean style set up here. and what I’m showing you in my screenies aren’t even scratching the surface with what you can do with the app. So if you’re up for putting in the time for customization your home screen to your liking, this app will run you $2.99.
There are other lock screen replacements like GoLocker, but haven’t had much opportunity to mess with it or others. What I’d really like to see on the HTC One X+ is a lockscreen similar to what Samsung or LG runs. The lock screens still have the ability to launch some apps from the lock screen but you can also unlock the device by swiping anywhere on the display. That I think would be really useful with the One X+. If anybody knows of one that I’m overlooking be sure to let me know in the comments.
There are gobs of different launchers out there. I’ll just show you a two of my favorite here including the launcher I currently use on my phones. Installing a custom launcher generally changes the look and feel of your home screen and app drawer and can give you seemingly unlimited customization options. What launchers will generally not do is change how your notification bar and drawer or lock screen look and feel. You’ll have to do those with separate apps like I’ve already talked about. So, here’s what I use:
If you’re looking for a very stock Android experience, or tons of customization options, I go with Nova Launcher. One thing that’s handy about using a custom launcher with HTC sense is that the apps you have in your dock are no longer linked with the quick launch apps on the lock screen. For me, I was wanting to have different quick launch apps on the lock screen like Google Now, but didn’t want Google now in my home screen dock. This was a way I found around that. The images I provide you (once again) display nothing compared to the level of customization that can be done with a custom launcher. But as you can seen in the screen shot on the right, you can change the number of home screens, how they transitions, the transition speed, the grid size, how folders look, etc. You have lots of options. There’s a free version available, which is still very customizable but limits you some options. Or a paid key that unlocks the rest of the options. I love to play around with how my homescreens look and add custom icons and widgets with UCCW. If you want to do stuff like this, a custom launcher is the way to go. Lastly, I’ll end this paragraph by saying there are lots of custom launcher options like Apex, Holo Launcher, GoLauncher and more. Just go with what looks the raddest to you. They mostly do all the same things. I use Nova Launcher.
Lastly, Action Launcher. I reviewed Action Launcher when it first launched, and I thought I really liked it. Then, when updates started happening, I realized how much I loved this launcher and dropped the four bucks on it. I currently use this launcher on my Galaxy Nexus. It’s a beautifully holo styled launcher with a brand new take on getting to and organizing your home screen. Two main features (there are obviously others): app drawer is accessed by swiping to the right, like you’re accessing the home screen to the left. Scrolling through the app drawer that is now a list is super quick, and you can jump to a section using the letters on the right side. No longer do you need to swipe through several pages of your app drawer to get to your YouTube app. The second unique feature is called “covers.” In my screenshots shown above, all the icons in my dock are covers indicated by the small box in the bottom corner of the icon. Covers are basically fancy folders, except when you press on the cover, it launches the app that you see like the phone or chrome app. To access the folder, you can either double tap on the cover icon or swipe up, giving you access to the folder. I like to use the cover like the developer, Chris Lacy, demonstrated by putting quick dial widgets in my phone cover but you can do it however you want. I love Action Launcher because it’s a super clean look, it gives me access to any app fast, and it’s also being actively developed and is always getting new features. If you act fast, you can get it half off during the Google Play birthday sale.
So, these are some of the apps I used to make me feel more at home while I used the HTC One X+ as my personal device. I don’t think Sense 4+ is awful, but I also don’t think it’s doing anything to improve my Android experience. So if you’re looking for something a little extra and/or want to branch out and customize, give these apps a shot. There are probably thousands of others out there that are also helpful. If YOU have some that you think I’m leaving out or that you want to add to the list, be sure to comment below and let us know what apps you’re sporting. Heck, I wouldn’t even be upset if you weren’t running an HTC device, but just wanted to share some rad customization or productivity apps. Thanks in advance for your comments everyone…