HTC Sense UI on the Nexus One — First Impressions

Google (s goog) may be steering potential Nexus One customers to the HTC Incredible, but that doesn’t mean the Nexus One is yesterday’s old news. Last night, I breathed new life in my Nexus One — as if the three-month old phone needed resuscitation — by installing HTC’s Sense UI on the device with these instructions. The process only took me about 20 minutes but the dramatic changes to the device will live on for months. Adding the HTC Sense UI has turned my Nexus One into a completely different device. It’s like I just took delivery of an entirely new phone.
Although I’ve only spent a few waking hours with my refreshed handset, I’m already getting dozens of requests on Twitter and in email asking about the experience. I have enough hands-on time to offer up some basic first impressions at this point. Bear in mind that you can brick your device and you are voiding the warranty if you decide to put the Sense UI on your device — you’re on your own, and I’m not responsible if you follow me down the path.
Interface — I’ve said before that Android focuses more on utility while the iPhone OS is more polished and refined. Simply put: the Sense UI levels the playing field when it comes to “fit and finish.” Both the HTC apps and widgets are extremely well designed. I’m generally not a fan of most Android widgets, but HTC takes it to another level and I’m adding quite a few to the home screens. Speaking of home screens, I now have seven, which is two more than the stock Nexus One. Tapping the Home button from the main screen zooms out and shows all seven, making it quick and easy to navigate. I also love the fact that I can cut and paste text from the web far easier than the stock Android method. Tapping text on a web page brings up a start and end pin that’s used to select text — sound familiar? 😉
Performance — I don’t notice any performance degradation by using the Sense UI. In fact, some activities feel faster, but perhaps that just because the interface is dazzling me. 😉 I’m not sure that every function works in this ROM — Bluetooth flakiness has been mentioned, but I haven’t tested it yet. I also can’t be sure that the auto-brightness feature is working with the display. The dialog box access the automatic option, but when I use it, I don’t see much of a difference in the brightness. It could just be that the lighting in my surroundings hasn’t varied enough.
Customization — Android by itself allows decent customization, but the Sense UI takes it to an entirely new level. There are six pre-loaded “scenes,” each of which is like a theme, complete with wallpaper, widgets and shortcuts relevant to the theme. Social, for example, adds more of the messaging, communications and social networking widgets like HTC’s own FriendStream for Facebook. Normally, I don’t use the stock Facebook widget, but I am using FriendStream. Each of the scenes is simply a starting point — you can modify, add or delete anything on the seven screens in a scene and save it as your own.
Extras — Sense UI isn’t the only feature in the ROM I used, found here. I also included the “extras” that Paul O’Brien from Modaco baked into the ROM. The biggest features for me are the two tethering applications — one for wired tethering and one for wireless use. With the application running, I created a 3G mobile hotpot with my Nexus One on T-Mobile’s network. From there, it was a snap for my iPad to use the HSPA hotspot over Wi-Fi. While I pay for monthly service on Verizon’s 3G network with my MiFi, the tethering ability provides me with a useful backup broadband solution. While you can install a ROM with just the Sense UI on a Nexus One, I strongly recommend considering the ROM with Paul’s extras.
Stock or Sense UI — So is it worth the effort and minor risks to get the Sense UI on a Nexus One? Even with less than a day of usage, it is for me. The Nexus One was fun to use before thanks to the super specifications, but it’s even better with the Sense UI. Personally, I’d like to see HTC offer the Sense UI for aftermarket installation — even if they charged $10 or perhaps $20, it would be worth it for me.
I’m sure that folks have additional questions on the whole experience, so drop ’em in the comments and I’ll share my thoughts.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):
Google’s Mobile Strategy: Understanding the Nexus One