Given its semi-open nature, handset manufacturers have taken to tweaking Android to look and function as they want. Motorola has MotoBlur, Sony Ericsson has UX, and HTC has Sense. What Sense brings to the Desire is a tweaked desktop layout that restricts you to seven horizontally arranged desktops (other handsets let you move vertically as well) onto which you can place widgets and shortcuts to all your favourite programs. The icons along the bottom row have also been rearranged so instead of the lone programs list sitting centrally you get programs off to the left, the dialler/contacts button in the middle, and a shortcut to add new widgets/shortcuts to the desktops on the right.
The widgets include HTC’s long standing and rather funky all-in-one time/date/weather app, a couple of live email viewers, a more comprehensive weather app, and the Friend Stream. The latter brings together messages and status updates from your friend’s social networking sites – namely Twitter and Facebook – into one desktop window. Go into the full app and you can then view photos and other details. Other tweaks include the aforementioned keyboard, some new wallpapers, and overhauls of the music, photo, and video viewing apps. The animated weather app that will spray water over the screen and wipe it clean or cover the desktop in grey clouds is also a very impressive addition.
Another new (well, it was on the Legend as well) feature is Leap, which shows you all your active desktops by inward pinching while on a desktop. To us it feels like a feature, somewhat like Apple’s CoverFlow interface, that seemed like a good idea at the time and works quite well but ultimately is a bit pointless.
It all looks rather polished and slick but does fall down on the usability front sometimes. For a start, all the HTC additions are just that, additions. So, almost every app on the phone has two different versions – one from Google and one from HTC. Also, some of the changes bring an annoying level of inconsistency. In particular, at one point while choosing what wallpaper to use, I was greeted by five different menu styles. It’s all stuff that you get used to but it just shouldn’t happen on a properly designed OS. Another problem with having a non-standard version of Android is that you’ll have to wait for HTC to make Sense work with the latest update before you can use it on your handset.
Aside from Sense, the Desire uses the latest 2.1 version of Android which brings with it social network integration so you can add your Facebook friends’ details and photos to your phone contacts. There’s also Google Chat but Windows Live Messenger isn’t supported straight out the box.
Messages are arranged into conversations and there’s support for multiple email accounts, as well as the standard Google one that you’ll need in order to use all the google apps. Annoyingly Google still keep the googlemail and other email accounts separate but apart from that, this is a great messaging machine.