As we keep saying, there is more to the much-in-the-news Xiaomi Mi 3 than just super hardware and a super price. There is the little matter of the MIUI, Xiaomi’s very innovative interface which overlays Android on its devices (you can read our ten-pointed take on it). Now, as recent events have shown, getting your hands on a Xiaomi Mi 3 is easier said than done. However, if you want a bit of the MIUI experience, well, there is – all together now – an app for that. Yes, a simple app that does not involve any ROM flashing or rooting or anything of the sort and will work on most Android devices. Although released a couple of years ago, it was recently updated to version 3.0.
Or at least, it was around till a few days ago – at the time of writing, we noticed that the MiHome Launcher app had been pulled from Google Play (it was generally available at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.miui.mihome2&hl=nl, but we are currently getting a ‘URL was not found on this server’ message). It is not a hefty download – less than 10 MB and worked very smoothly on both the Nexus 5 and Asus ZenFone 5.
And well, once installed, it does add a MIUI-like touch to your device. You get the same lock screen, with a central button that can be either moved to unlock the device into the camera, the phone function, the message app or just simply to unlock the phone. Tapping it twice won’t take you into the music player app, though.
Below the lockscreen, it is almost like being in Xiaomi-land – the icons are right out of the MIUI (even Chrome gets replaced by a swirly sphere). There is no app drawer here, though and your apps will be spread across four homescreens, with MIUI automatically clubbing some under Tools, System Tools and More Apps, while letting some remain on the homescreen. We were honestly a bit confused by the classification but as you can tweak the contents of each group, one can get to grips with the arrangement in no time at all. There are also some Xiaomi apps in the launcher, most of which are grouped under the Toolbox section. This includes tools that let you change the look and feel of the launcher, including playing around with transition effects.
Two touches that we liked in particular were the Recent Task app that shows open apps and gives you the option to close them by clicking the brush icon, and the T9 app search, which can be invoked by swiping up from the homescreen. It reveals a T9 keyboard (remember those? the ones with 3-4 characters on every numeric key) on which you can type the initial letters of the name of an app before the app drags out the app and gives you the option to launch it. Very cool, we think. There’s also an app for hiding certain apps and a one-key lock option (tap the key to lock the phone). You also get access to stacks of themes from the Xiaomi community via the Themes app. And yes, just like in Xiaomi devices, you can hold on an icon or a shortcut with one finger and swipe screens with the other until you find the screen where you wish to place it. And if you liked the Phone app on the Mi 3, well you do get something similar here in terms of appearance.
No, it is not MIUI in all its glory – you cannot switch on the torch by long pressing the home button on the lockscreen, and we could not see any option to make messages secret (the default messages app gets retained). And well – this one is a real clanger – almost all the widgets that come from Xiaomi for the launcher are in Chinese. But even then, we must confess that we liked the MiHome Launcher. It ran briskly and presented a welcome change in look and feel from the regular Android themes. We would love to see more of Xiaomi’s own apps in it (the photography and messaging apps for starters!), but as of now, it is a theme well worth trying out. Provided it comes back on Google Play. Yes, we are praying for that.
Available from: Not clear at the moment (app removed from Google Play and AppBrain market at time of writing)
Update: APK can be found here