Long time no see. The rise and rise of Google+, as well as the ingress of Ingress has meant I haven't had the time, or felt the need, to blog very much lately.
Today's post is not really related to Android in Japan, rather just some thoughts on Android in general.
Back in April, I picked up a HTC One SIM-free in Germany. I won't go in too much detail here, as there are a plethora of reviews out there on the Internet, and a great deal of them agree with how I feel about this phone: it is quite simply the best Android phone ever made. The hardware is absolutely beautiful, and the combination of Jelly Bean (Android 4.1), the latest* iteration of Android and HTC Sense, now in version 5, is the best software experience I have ever had on an Android phone.
So to the crux of this post. HTC Sense. Sense is often called a "skin" over Android. It replaces some parts purely cosmetically, and some parts with rather more different functionality than stock Android. Most notably on the One, the Sense camera blows the stock Android camera out of the water, with functions like Zoe (photos as 3-second movie clips), burst shots, slow motion video, action sequences etc, etc. In the gallery, the Zoes come to life like a photo album in Harry Potter, and the phone composes delightful highlight videos with transitions and music without any user prompting needed.
Nonetheless, Sense polarises opinion, especially among those who haven't used it for a couple of years. Sense 3 was slow, heavy and bloated, with cartoonish graphics and unnecessary features that slowed down the hardware of the day. Put AOSP on a Desire era HTC phone and the speed rocketed up. Plus there was lots of idealistic talk of AOSP being "pure" Android, as Google intended it to be, in a pseudo-religious fashion, and a lot of people were "AOSP or dead" types. Finally, there was very little functionality in skins like Sense that you couldn't replicate with an app.
June 2013. Enter the HTC One Google Play Edition. Yes, there were enough AOSP purists out there to put a movement together to get Samsung and HTC to put out versions of their flagships with pure Android on them, unadulterated by these abominable manufacturer skins. And who can blame them? 2 fantastic phones come out, while the last time AOSP fans had anything to get excited about was the Nexus 4, seemingly oh so long ago. Who wouldn't want to get pure AOSP on the latest and most gorgeous hardware?
So of course, I had to give it a go. In Android lingo, I'm a "flashaholic". That doesn't mean I like showing my bits to innocent young ladies on the street, it means I can't resist flashing the latest custom OS (ROM) to my phone every few days, just to try something new. This morning, the Google Play Edition ROM came out, and I flashed it right away. At first, I was struck by the beauty, simplicity and speed of Android stripped down to its bare bones. But slowly, I started to wonder, "is this all there is? What is all the fuss about?"
One of the things I used to dislike about Sense was the launcher (the Android desktop). It was severely lacking in functionality and customisability. I always used to replace it with a custom launcher, recently Nova Launcher, which mimics the standard Android launcher in looks. Now, however, I found the standard Android launcher to be lacking in functionality. I still needed to install Nova even though I was on stock Android - so no better than Sense (in fact, recently I had even been using the Sense 5 launcher; it is much better than it used to be. In particular, you finally have full access to all 5 slots in the dock bar).
What else? The camera! The Nexus camera includes Photosphere, a function for taking 360 degree panoramas. Awesome! But - oh, the same day the Google Play Edition comes out, the camera becomes available to all devices, including Photosphere functionality. And where are my Zoes? My HDR video? My burst mode? All gone, sadly.
The AOSP menus (settings) look a little nicer than Sense, still with its white background and over-designed icons. But Sense brings Facebook integration, so almost all of my contacts have a profile photo associated with their contact entry (so much nicer than the blank head icon - let's face it, still very few people have a Google+ profile); Sense has Bluetooth 4.0, Sense allows tethering to and from a PC; oh and, the HTC One with Sense can be used as an IR blaster - a remote control - handy for couch potatoes and hilarious / incredibly useful in bars with a TV. Also gone with Google Edition.
Honestly, I can't remember what was so awesome about AOSP. Yes, updates are promised quicker, but I was already on 4.2.2 with Sense so at the moment that doesn't matter. And Google is in the process of uncoupling improvements in functionality from OS versions so this should be less of an issue in the future anyway.
I'll be flashing back to Sense in the morning. In my opinion, the need for "pure" Android is diminishing, especially on HTC devices. HTC has done a magnificent job with their latest software.
If anyone can come up with some more reasons to be on AOSP, please let me know in the comments. Otherwise, the next time for me will be when 4.3 comes out. Of course I won't be able to resist giving that a test run.
*I know 4.1 is not quite the latest but the changes to 4.2 are minor and it's still JB
**I'm also aware that I misuse the term AOSP throughout this article; however there is no real name for the version of Android on the Google Play Edition.