I've been using an Android device for quite a long time. The phone I am currently using is the HTC One. For some reason I have been getting tired of the stock Android interface. A new launcher, stock Android, or Sense 5 didn't seem to quiet my feeling that something was lacking.
I spent some time scouring through the internet, trying to find an alternative. I came across MIUI. I've used older versions of MIUI, but version 5 is now available.
MIUI is a custom version of Android made by Xiaomi, a Chinese company. It is very popular in China and will become more prevalent in America now that Xiaomi is going to put more effort in internationally.
The interface is really where my main focus is. I was happy with the speed and features of Stock or Sense skinned Android, but I was looking for something better. I am a big fan of simple aesthetics and modern design. I go into this in an recent article about my impressions of iOS 7.
MIUI actually has a very similar design to that of iOS. It has a set of homescreens with all your icons and no app drawer. You can place apps in folders, which behave similarly to the new revision of iOS how the folder expands to fill the screen. Also, unlike iOS, you can add any of your favorite widgets to the homescreen. So at this point you may be thinking: well you can get all of this from the MIUI launcher, MiHome Launcher, in the Playstore without flashing a new rom. But that is just the beginning of the changes in the UI of the phone.
Each application is totally different. Having a new browser, contact, phone, gallery, camera, messaging app, music app, and dozens of other security centered apps. Essentially every vital app is replaced by one made by Xiaomi. I find most of these new apps better than what I had before.
I believe the new apps are better because, for one, they have very subtle animations and aesthetically pleasing designs. Menus fade away as they are no longer needed, and reappear when they are. Take the browser for example, it works much like the new Safari browser in iOS 7. When you begin scrolling and reading the page, the address bar and navigation buttons disappear. This is something that you may think is a small addition, but it honestly adds so much more to the usability in my opinion.
Many of the new apps use this sort of design. As you use the interface you discover even more of these small animations and designs. These little tweaks go along way in the overall experience. For me, I find that the user wants the UI to disappear when not needed and reappear on command. This seems simple, yet with Android you can have so many cluttered interfaces, which I find really degrades the user experience.
I have this belief that if you change up your environment it can refresh your mind, and this extends to your phone as well. MIUI has native theme support with thousands of themes in their theme manager online store. Some of the themes are very detailed and some cost money, but there are plenty beautiful themes for free. This to me is one of my favorite parts of MIUI. Not only can you find a theme you like, you can mix and match certain parts of the theme. If you like the lockscreen of one theme, and the drop down menu of another, it is very simple to make your own custom theme.
The theme engine even goes into the system apps, like messaging and the phone app. Which can also be mixed and matched with other themes you find in the theme store.
In the end, even with MIUI giving me a new flavor of Android, I still find myself wondering if I should head back over to the iPhone with the 5S. I've been experimenting with various Android phones over the past year, but I was never fully satisfied. I would always think ahead hoping that Android 5.0 would have come out and redefine Android, but it seems Google is taking the slow path. We still have a long time to wait for whatever Android 5.0 will be. The closest way I found to redefine Android was with MIUI. I just don't know if it is enough to keep me from switching back to the iPhone.