When I first tried the One M8, I was pleasantly surprised. For the first time ever, I actually liked Sense.
I’ve used Sense UI from its very first release on the CDMA HTC Hero in 2009 and every following iteration on HTC hardware since. Each time, the custom UI felt overbearing – it used too many resources, the animations were excessive, and most of the changes introduced were changes for the sake of change. Sure, some versions of Sense looked nice, but the bugs, slow updates, and inconsistencies weren’t worth the trouble.
Sense 6 was somehow different.
Last year, HTC lightened the load of Sense, tightened up its appearance, and fixed many of the outstanding issues users had long complained about. It was the most bug-free version of Sense yet, and looked nice.
Sense 6 took that one step further by making things snappier, cleaner, and more consistent. Sense 6 is polished and packs more value than ever before, without being bloated and sluggish. BlinkFeed is more useful and pleasing to use with larger tiles and more relevant content; the theme colors are refreshing and give the entire experience a sense of unity; motion gestures are extremely helpful and make taking the phone out of standby much easier; and other tweaks, like how easy it is to rapidly add apps to the home screen, make setting up the phone a breeze.
When I bought the One M8, I had no intention of switching it over to a Google Play edition. I knew it was possible, but I was happy with Sense 6 during my review period with the Verizon model. Even after having used the phone for several months, I was still satisfied. I had no desire to convert the M8 to flash stock Android on the M8.
However, back in June, I decided to swap the Nexus 7 in my dash out for my old head unit. I paired the M8 to the stereo, put the car in drive and headed to Wilmington. About two minutes down the road, the M8 rebooted. Then it rebooted again and again … and again. It was stuck in a boot loop for the next few hours. I couldn’t power it down and every time I tried to wipe it or access the phone through ADB on my Mac, it would reboot too fast to do anything. I put the phone in recovery mode and restored a backup from a few weeks before.
Phew. Crisis averted.
The problem was, I didn’t connect the dots. I figured the M8 has just downloaded an update and went into a boot loop because it tried to flash an official update through a custom recovery – that’s happened a few times before.
Once I restored the phone, I paired it with my head unit again. Boot. Loop. Again.
It wasn’t an app, it wasn’t some glitch, it wasn’t some anomaly. For whatever reason, my car stereo’s Bluetooth hates the One M8 (or vice versa) and the phone gets stuck in a perpetual boot loop every time they connect. The only way to stop the loop it was to wipe the phone. So I figured the only way to avoid future boot loops would be to convert the phone to a Google Play edition. A few hours and $25 later (I had to purchase an S-OFF tool to get the conversion to work because I was one of the unlucky ones who happened to buy an M8 that isn’t compatible with firewater), I had a Google Play edition One M8. I was actually pretty excited. I paired it to my car’s Bluetooth – no boot loop. All good.
However, fast forward about a month, and I’m not nearly as happy as I once was with the One M8. Don’t get me wrong, I love stock Android and the Google Now launcher, but Sense 6 is part of what made the M8 so nice to begin with – it was a beautiful marriage of hardware and software. It sort of feels incomplete now, like its soul is missing.
While motion gestures, the Sense TV app, and BoomSound still work just as well as before, there are no more themes to choose from, I can’t use BlinkFeed, and, most importantly, the best part of the Sense experience is gone: the camera.
For the record, the One M8 camera is not all that impressive – nor is it the worst. It’s a mobile camera that can do a lot with very little, and that’s respectable. It can take some nice pictures from time to time. But without the beautiful and thoughtfully developed camera app to support it, it’s just another mediocre camera.
For what it’s worth, you can edit your photos using HTC software. When you’re viewing your recently taken photos and tap the edit button, HTC Photo Edit pops up as an editing option. Within this, you will have access to most of the functions of the stock photo editor in Sense 6. You can use the UFocus feature to refocus pictures and apply different effects, you can apply filters, etc. You can’t create GIFs, though, and you don’t get any Zoe effects.
Frankly, I don’t even care that I can use the Duo Camera setup. I just want the Sense camera application – the viewfinder, all the baked-in features, the ability to save setting presets, the Gallery app I thought I hated, and the massive amount of editing features which all come included in Sense 6.
The camera experience on the Google Play edition version of the One M8 is extremely sterile and unexciting.
What I don’t quite understand is why HTC does’t provide this application in Google Play as it does the Dot View application. Even though I’ve converted my M8 over to the Google Play edition software, I can still snap on the Dot View case and see notifications and the time through the perforated flap. I can also use the IR blaster with the HTC Sense TV remote application despite not using Sense 6.
HTC also provides BlinkFeed, HTC Gallery, and a few other applications in Google Play to decentralize its individual software updates from firmware version updates of. These applications are periodically updated separately from Android and Sense. Frankly, it’s brilliant and something every OEM could stand to do. However, they’re not available to the Google Play edition of the One M8, only the Sense version.
I can’t fathom why HTC hasn’t allowed the HTC Gallery or Sense 6 camera – or even BlinkFeed, for that matter – applications to be installed on Google Play edition devices. My guess is that these applications, like much of Sense, require certain frameworks to be in place to work. But truthfully, there is no reason these applications couldn’t work on stock Android. (They have before.)
Just as HTC provided updates to utilize the IR blaster and BoomSound last year, I hope it also updates some of the core Sense applications to work with stock Android on Google Play edition hardware. I know that’s likely little more than wishful thinking. But a man can dream, right?
Eventually, I may be swapping my One M8 back to Sense 6 (after I fix my car and reinstall the tablet). But until then, I’m stuck without the very things that make the One M8 so great. Or I can hold out hope that some third-party developer makes it possible.