Since I can remember, I have always found proprietary Android skins repulsive. That might seem like a strong word in this context but it’s true. Some of them either embarrassingly fall behind on software as well as security updates, some of them refused to deliver my notifications on time, some had a proclivity to behave or look like iOS and the rest, well, were just a mess with too superficial changes and layers.
Sure, they did offer a fleet of handy features stock Android has lacked for years and still does. But at the expense of either a crummy experience or a deteriorating performance. My affection towards vanilla Android remained, therefore, unhindered throughout the years irrespective of how much the phone maker said it’s dedicated to cutting down on bloatware.
That is until I tried Xiaomi’s MIUI 10 Beta on a Poco F1 for over a week.
China-based manufacturer, Xiaomi, revamped its mobile operating system back in May with a system-wide overhaul which, in addition to bringing a flurry of visual upgrades, mended a handful of core shortcomings MIUI has always suffered from. Most importantly, Xiaomi tweaked how MIUI handled background tasks previously which would simply terminate demanding apps resulting in delayed notifications, outdated information on widgets, and more.
But what truly impressed me is just how pretty and fun MIUI 10 is. The update ushers in a modern aesthetic to nearly every interface elements. The notification shade is now rounder, friendlier and has a vivacious personality which I can’t get enough of. It also blurs the background when you pull it down which complements the redesign even further.
App previews in the multitasking menu are now vertically laid out in sort of a mismatched layout which looks fresh and quite handsome especially when you compare it with the competition. Press and hold a particular app and the OS will accentuate it by raising a bit and fading the rest along with revealing three new floating options.
While there are not many, animations on MIUI feel much more coherent and consistent. For instance, when you launch the multitasking view inside an app, the entire screen will shrink down to a card and will be placed at the top of the grid. It’s oddly satisfying and in spite of being in beta, works without any hassles.
The best part of MIUI 10, however, is how clean it is on the surface. I say ‘on the surface’ because deep down, the bloatware and options galore is still there. It still throws a virus-scan pop-up everytime you install an app, you can still customize the entire OS with themes, there are two copies of every generic app, critical settings like battery or power still redirect to a separate app, you get the idea. This is not really a complaint, though. Xiaomi users do welcome most of these features and have grown accustomed to it. Therefore, the company here is essentially it’s not letting its longtime ‘fans’ down with new updates.
Speaking of homegrown features, MIUI easily has the most adept and refined set of navigation gestures among all Android offshoots. Swipe up to return home, swipe and hold for multitasking which is, yes, similar to nearly every other implementation. But what sets MIUI apart is the swipe inwards from the left or right edges to go back. You can even hold while performing the back gesture to quickly switch to the last app.
MIUI gestures have absolutely zero competition as far as Android phones are concerned. pic.twitter.com/YJPKjPPA68
— Shubham Agarwal 😷 (@phonesoldier) September 18, 2018
It’s simple, makes sense, and others should really just give up and imitate it for their skins instead of trying complicated combinations (I’m looking at you, Google). If you’re concerned about them messing with navigation drawers, the back gesture is only accessible from the middle, so you can swipe from the top or bottom portions to get to the menu.
I was also surprised to see that Xiaomi has not skimmed any native Android features such as notification dots on the homescreen, the ability to snooze notifications, picture-in-picture mode, and more. Although the PiP feature is a little unstable and occasionally crashes but that’s okay as long as the update is in beta.
One other favorite bit I have with MIUI 10 is the default ringtones. Xiaomi, while announcing the update, said how they’ve made sure alerts on MIUI sound soothing and not obtrusive by bundling calmer, natural sounds. And it’s true. Using drizzles or the ambiance of a beach instead of the annoying pings for ringtones is brilliant and the kind of feature you probably will begin appreciating as soon as you hear it.
Then there are the minor features like the well thought out Clock app, the dozen or so ways you can link actions like launching the camera to hardware buttons, and more. Apart from these, I do wish Xiaomi focuses more on status bar customization since a lot of their new phones have notches. The Poco F1, for example, doesn’t show a single notification icon at the top.
The MIUI 10 update is a thing of its own. It’s not trying to be like anything, nor is it trying too hard to offer a different experience which usually ends up ruining a lot of fundamentals. Pair that with a fleet of unique and wise features and you have got yourself a skin that finally manages to blend the best of both worlds. It’s arguably the best custom Android skin out there today. If you haven’t tried on your Xiaomi phone, I would say go ahead and install the beta since I didn’t encounter a single bug. It’s expected to publicly roll out to all the phones in the next few weeks.