Android customisation: How smartphones are putting a face to the interface
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One reason for Android’s popularity is that you can customize it. Phone makers try to ensure their phones stand out by changing the interface design, adding new features or enhancing functionality. We look at the interface and features of devices from each popular phone maker and assess which works best.
This is available on Google’s Pixel smartphones. The traditional app drawer has been replaced by a single dot button, and a user can swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen to open the app drawer. The built-in Google Assistant is really handy, offering contextual suggestions. Pixel Launcher allows you to open two apps side-by-side and offers the option to reply to messages from the notifications panel.
Pros: Google Assistant is fun to use, the layout is clean, and it’s lighter on the resources.
HTC Sense has one of the best-designed user interfaces (UIs). One can apply new themes, change the colour of the screen, decrease/increase grid size in the app drawer. A BlinkFeed aggregator shows all your news feeds and social media posts on a single page. It has a nice collection of freestyle themes as well. The latest Sense 8 adds Sense Companion, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) app that will send you reminders and notification cards based on usage and location.
Pros:It has a beautiful and symmetrical interface.
Cons: Limited BlinkFeed customization.
Over time, Touchwiz had become bloated with features, hurting performance even in high-end Galaxy smartphones. Recent updates have made it more appealing. It now offers features such as Game mode, multitasking, and the S Secure app which can protect your private data by hiding apps, photos and documents. Expect further improvements with the forthcoming Galaxy S8.
Pros: The quick short-cuts panel looks more polished and lighter.
Cons: The app drawer icon on the bottom right takes getting used to.
OnePlus has kept things very simple with the OxygenOS interface, and it’s the closest one to the plain Android interface. There are detailed customization options, such as app icon size. A dark mode allows users to change the background colour in the apps page and Settings menu to black. The Shelf screen allows you to get weather updates, make quick notes and see your favourite contacts. OnePlus is quite prompt with rolling out updates to improve performance or fix bugs.
Pros: It has a clean and clutter-free interface, and offers the option to use on-screen navigation keys instead of physical touch keys.
LG made a few modifications for the V20 smartphone. All app icons are spread across multiple home screens. Despite the many features and options available, however, it doesn’t feel complicated. The blue-filter display feature reduces stress on the eyes. Knock Code is a cool way of unlocking the phone by tapping in a particular pattern on select portions of the screen. You can also add up to five key options in the navigation keys panel.
Pros: It has a distinct layout and look.
Cons: There is no app drawer, so there is an increase in clutter.
Lenovo Vibe ui
Lenovo’s custom UI, called Vibe UI, strikes a fine balance between custom UI and plain Android. One can switch instantly between the Vibe UI launcher with customizations or a near-plain Android launcher. Its colour mode gives a richer look to the display. The interface offers some beautiful themes and wallpapers.
Pros: It offers quick access to recently used apps.
Cons: There are very few features for a customized UI.
Xiaomi’s MIUI is a visual treat. It has a good collection of wallpapers and themes, the icons look big and each is superimposed within a square frame. You can adjust the screen’s colour tone. Users who aren’t too tech-savvy will find this UI complicated. For them, an easy mode transforms the look of the UI and makes app icons bigger. MIUI also offers a hidden folder for your private documents.
Pros: It has a colourful interface and a secure folder for apps and documents.
Cons: It feels complex initially, and is not the most frugal on system resources.
Huawei Emotion UI
This is one of the best-looking custom UIs. The otherwise hidden search bar is visible when you swipe downwards on the home screen, like the Apple iOS. Emotion UI changes the wallpaper automatically in the lock screen, showing new wallpaper every time you unlock the phone. It offers plenty of cool themes too. You can also adjust the size of interface elements such as app icons, text size and images. The interface is visually robust, but that’s about it.
Pros: You can resize screen grids, and the view mode realigns text and photos to full-screen.
Cons: The value-add features are limited.
Asus Zen UI
The Zen UI is an example of how an overdone piece of software can become impossible to use. There are so many customization options that it isn’t possible to remember all of them. While Asus phones are spot on in terms of hardware, the software lets them down badly. The level of customization you can get on the Zen UI is hard to match. It also offers the familiar app drawer mode and the option of locking the home-screen to prevent accidental changes.
Pros: You can adjust screen-colour temperature for comfort and alter icon size.
Cons: There are too many settings, preloaded app clutter, and the icons don’t look smart.
Google Now continues to be the default interface in Nexus and Moto smartphones. The interface, which has two layers, doesn’t try to superimpose a singular shape on the app icons, like many phone interfaces tend to. Each app looks distinct and is easy to find.
Pros: It’s simple, and there is no negative impact on performance.
Cons: Customization options are limited.