There are two types of Android users. Those who use their devices as their providers meant them to, and those who see their devices as flexible hardware platforms to be customized with abandon. I count myself among the latter group, and I constantly install new ROMs on my Galaxy S2 phone. A few weeks ago I decided to try out MIUI, a free, alternative ROM, and so far I have been blown away by how slick and beautiful it is.
In this post I will take you through some of its features and give you an overall tour, so you can decide for yourself if you want to try it out. I will not be explaining how to install MIUI, because the official site contains complete guides tailored by phone.
MIUI’s default launcher looks very much like an iPhone home screen. This is one thing I don’t like about MIUI, but it is the first thing you will see, and some people do like that. Specifically, there is no app drawer, but just an endless parade of more and more screens containing all of your applications. When it comes to my phone, it looks like this:
And there’s another page of home screens after this one. If you like this style, great. If you don’t, you will be happy to hear that MIUI lets you use any launcher you want to use. I am addicted to Go Launcher, so I kept using it after installing MIUI.
The Settings Screen
This is MIUI’s Settings screen. It is a completely different implementation of the stock Android options screen – not just a skin. You can access all of the settings you can normally access, but MIUI adds lots of extras. Note that the dialog is divided into three tabs, allowing you to change “personal” settings (look-and-feel, mainly), system settings, and application settings. We’ll take a quick look at each of these.
Note the “Toggle Settings” at the bottom of the Personalization list. This refers to MIUI’s notification bar, which looks like this:
This slick interface lets you easily control many common settings from the comfort of your notification bar. This is somewhat similar to what you see on CyanogenMod, but Cyanogen usually places these toggles at the top of the notification bar and not on a separate tab. If you prefer that, you can always tell MIUI in the Settings dialog:
And you can also choose what toggles would be shown on the toggle screen, and in what order:
The Torch toggle activates the device’s flash LED, letting you use it as a flashlight. This is something you can do with Cyanogen too, but the point is that MIUI offers at least as many features as Cyanogen. And while we’re on the notification bar, here’s another slick feature:
That little toggle at the top lets you instantly turn on USB Storage once you connect your phone to a computer. No need to go into a separate screen – just a single tap.
Okay, let’s move on to System Settings, and pick a random panel:
If an application hangs, you can kill it by long-pressing the Back button on your device. You can also wake the device by pressing one of the volume keys, if your phone’s case makes it hard to reach the power button.
The last thing I want to show you in the configuration interface is the Programs panel:
This clever panel emulates iOS’s central configuration interface. It is basically a list of shortcuts that lead you right into the Settings dialog of each application. Again, not one of my favorite things about MIUI (I like the way Android deals with settings natively), but certainly an interesting twist.
As you may have noticed, MIUI puts a lot of emphasis on visuals and look-and-feel. It has a powerful theme engine, and a theme “store” that looks like this:
Chinese is very much in evidence in the store, because MIUI is originally Chinese. The ROM is well localized, but when it comes to themes, you will see lots of Chinese. Let’s drill down into one of these themes:
You can see exactly how each theme looks, with plenty of screenshots. You can tap a screenshot to see it full-screen and get a sense of what it would look like on your device. And if you’re curious to see exactly what a theme contains, scroll down to see:
This theme skins the lock screen, status bar, wallpaper, notifications, and more. Not all themes are this comprehensive, but many are. Once you decide you want a theme, you can grab it with a simple tap of the Download button. This may take a few moments, because themes are often large (13.8MB, above) and the connection is very slow, at least based on my experience.
Once you grab a theme, applying it is very easy: Just tap the Apply button.
The phone then dims out while the theme is applied:
And here is my launcher, with the new theme (note the status bar – you can compare with the previous screenshots):
MIUI is renowned for its awesome-looking lock screens, and there are some truly eye-catching designs. Above is just one; here’s another one:
Since the lock screens are integrated right into the ROM, they work much better than third-party apps I’ve tried before. You never get a second lock screen once you unlock your device, as sometimes happens with other apps.
MIUI lets you pick and choose theme components. You can take the lock screen from one theme, and the status bar from another theme:
See how I am using elements from three different themes, above? In short, if you like playing with your phone’s look-and-feel, MIUI is as good as it gets.
MIUI has a lot of other features, but I’d like to mention just one more: DND Mode.
This built-in mode lets you filter calls and text messages according to a “black list” of known annoying callers, against a white list (approve only certain people to contact you), or easily block all unknown callers:
I could go on, but I don’t want to belabor the point: MIUI rocks. If you’ve ever wished for a more customizable, slicker, sexier Android experience – you owe it to yourself to give MIUI a shot. And share your screenshots in the comments!