HTC was one of the first Android phone makers to settle on a brand and style for its Android skin: HTC Sense. It has changed a lot over the years, but the last few design iterations have been really good. While we might like the Galaxy S6 better than the One M9 overall, it’s hard to ignore how powerful and fun Sense is to use. You just need to know where all the best features are hiding to take full advantage, so here they are.
Use BlinkFeed offline
One of the best features of HTC’s stock home screen is the BlinkFeed panel. Just swipe over to this screen on the left of your main home screen and you can see an aggregated list of posts from all your social networks and a variety of configurable news sources. It’s all very clean and straightforward, but did you know it also works offline? It does, and the feature is pretty robust.
Access the offline configuration by opening up the BlinkFeed settings from the slide-out navigation bar. First, set a mode for Offline reading, which is disabled by default. You can have BlinkFeed cache the full content of the posts or just the text. Content is added to your offline reading list with the button in the top right corner of expanded stories.
You can also decide how you want to read your offline content. The BlinkFeed settings let you pick a reading list service. The default is HTC Reading List, but you can install and use Pocket, Instapaper, and others.
Make themes more customizable
HTC’s theme engine on the M9 is fantastic, but the options are a little scattered. For example, you can download a theme from the store and apply it, but if you want to change any part of the look, you need to go back to the My Theme section and tap on My current theme. Not the most intuitive place. You can do this for any downloaded or custom themes.
There’s also a separate Personalize menu under the main system settings where you can edit the wallpaper, theme colors, and more. If you are creating your own theme, you should check this menu because for some reason, HTC doesn’t offer you as many color options for custom theme creation. It tries to extract colors from the background image, but going into the My Theme or Personalize area and you can choose the colors from any of your other installed themes.
Sense Home widget configuration
One of the few tweaks HTC has made to the home screen on the M9 is the Sense Home widget. This is a resizable panel that lives on the home screen and shows you a selection of apps that it thinks you’re likely to need based on your location. It’s okay in its default state, but you can make it more useful.
First, tap the drop down menu in the top left to set your location. It will ask you if you’re at home or work, and allow you to set an address manually if not. You can go into the settings (via the overflow button) at any time to change these addresses. The location should switch automatically between home, work, and out. The apps you use most in each of these scenarios will be shown on the widget.
To override the widget’s judgment, you can long-press on an icon and drag it up to remove. To pin it permanently to the Sense Home widget, just hold it in place for a few seconds. You should also get rid of the suggested apps smart folder in this widget. It’s unnecessary clutter.
The One M9’s power button is in a slightly awkward spot, but you barely have to use it thanks to Motion Launch. These gestures can be used to wake the device and perform various actions while the screen is asleep. HTC has most of them off by default, but you can choose which ones to use by going into the settings and opening Display & gestures then find Motion Launch gestures.
From this menu you can see a demo of each gesture, and choose whether or not you want it available. For example, a double tap on the screen wakes the device up to the lock screen and another double tap puts it back to sleep. You can also swipe up to unlock immediately or to the right to unlock to BlinkFeed. Most of the six gestures are useful, with the possible exception of swiping down for HTC’s built-in voice dialer. It’s not very good.
HTC has a custom streaming media feature called HTC Connect, but it doesn’t do the best job of surfacing it in the software. HTC Connect will allow you to stream any video or audio to a compatible DLNA, Bluetooth, and Miracast device.
To use HTC Connect, you can open the full screen Connect interface from the quick settings or simply swipe up on the screen with three fingers. There’s a checkbox to turn the gesture on in the Display & gestures menu (called Media gesture), but it should be enabled by default. This pulls up a window where you can pick the target device and connect. To disconnect and go back to playing on your device, swipe down with three fingers.
Customize the navigation bar buttons
HTC uses on-screen navigation buttons, and you can actually change the layout or add new buttons. That’s not an option on most phones. These options are accessible in the Personalize section of the main settings. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see Change navigation buttons.
The default layout from left to right is back, home, and overview. That’s the same as other Android devices. You can move those three buttons around and add one more button from a short list of options. There is an auto rotate toggle, notifications, quick settings, hide notification bar, and turn off screen.
Check the box to enable your fourth button, and place it in the list where you want. The screen off button is particularly useful if you don’t like the placement of the power button right next to the volume toggle, but you can just stick with the three standard buttons if you want.
Pocket mode and quiet on pickup
Smartphones are still occasionally used as phones, right? When you get a call on the M9, you have a few neat options for managing the ringtone. Head into the Sound & notification menu in the main system settings and scroll down to the Incoming calls section. Along the the ringtone, there are three extra features—quiet ring on pickup, pocket mode, and flip to mute.
You can probably guess what they do from the names. Quiet on pickup drops the ringtone volume to an acceptable level when you raise the phone. The speakers on the M9 are loud, so it’s not like you need them blasting right at you while you look at the screen. The phone can also increase the volume to take advantage of those speakers when the phone is in your pocket. It uses the proximity sensor to determine whether or not to use pocket mode. Finally, flip to mute lets you shut the phone up when it rings by turning it face down.
Custom camera modes
HTC missed an opportunity to wow us with the M9’s camera, but you might be able to squeeze some better results out of it by taking full advantage of all the settings HTC has included. You can alter the exposure, white balance, shutter speed, and more with a few taps. What’s more, you can save your favorite presets and pull them up in the future.
To make changes to the camera’s settings, tap the menu button in the corner. This pulls up the settings for your current camera mode (probably auto if you haven’t messed with it). You can change a few things from auto, but also take a peek in full manual mode. This gives you even more freedom to tweak the settings.
When you’re satisfied, tap the settings gear icon and select Save custom camera. Give it a descriptive name like “better low-light” or whatever you’re trying to accomplish. Any time you want to access one of your saved camera modes, tap the icon in the lower right corner that looks like a cluster of circles and pick your preset from the next screen.
App drawer organization
You’ve got a few options for keeping your app drawer in order on the M9. The Sense app drawer has a custom organization scheme by default, meaning you can have apps in any order and even drop them into folders. That’s all well and good, but what about good old alphabetical order? Yeah, you can do that. It’s in the drop down in the top left corner. You also have an option of ordering apps by recently used, but that seems like it could be confusing.
In the top right corner is a menu button, which when pressed offers a few useful options. You can hide/unhide apps from here, allowing you to scroll through the list and decide which icons you want removed. These apps will still be installed, and you can unhide them at any time. The menu also lets you choose between a 4×5 and 3×5 grid in the app drawer.
Power saving modes
HTC offers two power saving modes as part of Sense 7, and they have a good amount of customization. You can find the standard Power Saving and Extreme Power Saving modes in the Power section of the system settings. Regular power saver leaves the basic functionality of the phone intact and allows you to selectively enable power savings for the CPU, display brightness, vibration motor, and background data connection. This mode is toggled on and off manually.
Extreme Power Saving is more akin to Samsung’s Ultra Power Saver. The interface is simplified and only a few apps are accessible in this mode. It includes all the tweaks from the standard power saving mode, and also disables background processes. This feature can be turned on manually or automatically when the battery reaches 20%, 10% or 5%.