What really defines this device is its operating system, Brew. Although it’s been around in various guises for years, this is HTC’s first play with it. The result is a unique operating system instilled with the essence of what HTC has been trying to achieve with its Sense interface tweaks to both Windows Phone and Android. It’s basic but incredibly easy to use.
Turn the phone on and it all looks rather familiar with HTC’s famous clock/date/weather app sitting on the central homescreen. Flick left and right and you can access six more screens, which are loaded up with various apps, including a screen of nine shortcuts to your favourite contacts, a combined Facebook and Twitter feed app, a music player, a picture viewer, and a messages previewer. What appears where can be customised with a total choice of 10 apps on offer. You can’t, however, arrange the apps within a page and add other shortcuts like you can on Android. Each page can be thought of almost as an individual app.
Instead, you can add shortcuts to your three favourite apps to the bottom of the main homescreen. Flick this screen up and you can access six more shortcut slots. To gain access to the full complement of the phones features, you press the back button when on the home page. This brings up three pages of apps arranged in grids of nine.
That back button also doubles as the home button so tapping it once takes you back a step while holding it down takes you home and tapping it again brings up the aforementioned apps. The little button above left of the back button is a context-sensitive menu button. Press it when on the central homescreen and it lets you customise the homescreen layout, change the theme or wallpaper, or go to the main settings page. Press it when in the web browser and you get Back and Forward buttons, Bookmarks, etc. Press it when in the messages app and you can start a new message, delete a message, etc. You get the picture.
The general feel of the Brew operating system is something akin to a mix of the Palm Pre’s WebOS and Android. So you get the slightly abstract app management and streamlined interface of the former but with a little bit of the latter’s practicality due to its extra buttons. The result is very good indeed.
What really helps this OS make such a good impression is how it responds to your movements. Just like the iPhone and Palm Pre, the virtual objects you move onscreen react in a way that feels really natural. Swipe a list up or down and it freewheels with just the right pace. Go beyond the end of a list and, if you continue scrolling, it pulls the list with your finger but shows there’s nothing there, giving you a neat visual cue. What’s more, all the animations and effects actually add something to the user experience rather than just being there for show. It’s not quite as slick as the iPhone as it’s a bit sluggish, but it’s better than Android and in fact really highlights our continuing complaints with that OS. The only real downer, due to the resistive touch-sensing, is typing on the on-screen keyboard – it’s rather slow, though the predictive text is very good.