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HD Widgets Turn Ugly UIs Into Things of Beauty

By Patrick Nelson LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Jun 22, 2012 5:00 AM PT

HD Widgets, an app from Cloud TV, is available for US$1.99 at Google Play.

HD Widgets Turn Ugly UIs Into Things of Beauty

If you've ever used HTC's Sense graphical user interface, you've been spoiled. I had it factory-loaded on my first Android phone back in 2010, the Sprint HTC EVO 4G.

For those unfamiliar with the UI, the original Sense interface was woven around a set of panels centered on a home screen featuring an elegant flip-like clock and ethereal weather animations.

The light, airy home screen was a delight to use, despite the weather data often being wrong due to a glitch. It was a pleasure, however, to watch the clouds waft daintily across the screen intertwined with the clock face -- even if it was sunny outside.

HTC is on its fourth incarnation of Sense, and in my opinion, no one has come close. In fact, they've got nowhere near.

HD Widget

Muddy teal menus, and crude buttons from Motorola fail to delight; the Honeycomb UI on my Toshiba Thrive tablet with its neon-effect borders looks like it should be part of the UI for a child's toy.

However, a browse around the Play Store will uncover downloadable themes, sets of widgets and UIs, one of which is HD Widgets (3.0) Beta from Cloud TV.

Play Editor's Choice

HD Widgets is notable in that it's received Google Play Editor's Choice. Some of the other UIs I've played with have been low-resolution pixelated or generally spindly and poorly designed, so I decided to take a look.

HD Widgets is a $1.99 set of clock, weather and switch widgets that can be customized.

LED-style, flip and Honeycomb clocks are included, along with current and forecast weather widgets of varying sizes. A stack of switches is provided, and all of these elements can be mixed and matched.

Getting Started

I was leery at first because the screen shots on the app's Play page were somewhat garish, but, as with much design, it's a case of less is more, and Cloud TV has obviously tried to display as many of its widgets -- along with their variations -- as possible for marketing purposes.

But there's nothing to stop you cutting out the superfluous bling and ending up with a simple, elegant screen. Just use less stuff, which is what the designer was probably intending, and is one of the reasons the roles "salesperson" and "designer" are usually two different jobs within an organization.

Installing the App

Loading the app went fine on both phone and tablet. A device re-start is required to get the widget menu to populate, and accessing the widget list is intuitively similar to how you'd access existing device manufacturer, or Android-native widgets.

A 16-MB high resolution weather icon pack needs to be downloaded for tablets if you're using large weather headers.

Switch Widgets

The vivid widgets are of high enough resolution that they crossover well from phone to tablet, although font size on the switch widgets is more suited to phone-sized screens -- the text was too small on the tablet, and couldn't be re-sized.

The glass-effect buttons, however, looked gorgeous, and icon and text colors could be changed, so I started building transparent, color-coded buttons for the tablet and didn't worry about the minuscule text.

Unfortunately, switches aren't available for every device function. For example, a calendar switch template is included but not calculator. This leads to a mishmash of switch styles on the screen, and defeats the object of an elegant user interface. Strips of switches can be usefully edited.

Clock and Weather

The clock is beautiful. On the tablet, I chose a 2x1 glass-like, transparent flip clock that I stretched to fit the screen better.

The effect is simple and polished. Although the numerals don't actually flip, it still looks great, and better than any non-HTC clock that I've seen.

The Weatherbug-powered weather headers are of equal quality visually, although not animated, and consequently rather dull -- I saw no wafting cloud.

In Conclusion

Overall I like the app a lot. I've been disappointed with the boorish switch and weak clock designs on a number of devices that I've been using recently, and I intend to use HD Widget to clean up my device UIs when I get spare moments.

At $1.99, the app is good value because it works cross-device, so you only need to buy it once for both phone and tablet. Google Play: HD Widget Web Page id=cloudtv.hdwidgets&feature=search_result#? t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImNsb3VkdHYuaGR3aWRnZXRzIl0.

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