A simpler, more restrained version of Android
The precision feel of the HTC One's body extends to its UI skin for Android. Everything about the HTC One's UI says steely precision, to the point of coldness. The dark colors, the condensed bold font, the spare design, and the higher contrasts all contribute to that ultra-architectural impression. The Galaxy S 4, by contrast, is cartoon-colorful and a bit messy with an explosion of options and choices and widgets.
The HTC One has two versions of its home screen — really just the apps screen used as a home screen — and the more traditional Android home screen with a mix of widgets and app icons. The icon for the App screen changes based on which app is active. It's a nice touch.
Unlike standard Android, you scroll through the App screen vertically, not horizontally — as if it were Windows Phone. That change in a fundamental Android convention took some getting used to, and it doesn't really make the HTC One easier, but there's nothing inherently wrong with the idea.
The core apps on the HTC One are Google's standard titles: Calculator, Calendar, Chrome, Clock, Contacts, Downloads, Email (called Mail on the HTC One), Gallery, Gmail, Google Search, Google Settings, Google+, Maps, Messaging (called Messages on the HTC One), Messenger, Music, Navigation, Play Books, Play Magazines, Play Movies &TV, Play Music, Play Store, Settings, Talk, Voice Recorder, Voice Search, and YouTube. The Galaxy S 4 has enhanced many of these, such as Calendar, Clock, and Email, to make them more readable or easier to use than on the HTC One. But the HTC Settings app is simpler to use than the S 4's version.
The S 4 comes with a lot of cutting-edge features, such as touch-free gestures, that work only partially. As a result, they're frustrating to use and ultimately capabilities to avoid. The HTC One does none of that. It adds just a few apps such as Stocks, Tasks, and Weather that are simple but do what they need to do.
Oh, and there's the TV app, which turns the HTC One into a remote control for your home entertainment equipment. Nicely designed and easy to set up, it works well with my Sony TV and Pioneer receiver, but only somewhat with my TiVo — you can change channels with it, but not if you have another TiVo screen open, such as Find Programs or TiVo Central. By contrast, the WatchOn app on the Galaxy S4 — clearly based on the same core engine as HTC's TV app — is much harder to set up and not as smart about pulling the right settings from the Peel database. The bottom line: I can control my TV system from the HTC One easily, but not from the Galaxy S 4.
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