Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi has just made available a new version of its MIUI interface. This time, however, it is not a full Android ROM to be flashed on a device but is a less invasive homescreen launcher meant for non-MIUI smartphones.
Last month, Xiaomi released custom ROM for the 2013 Nexus 7. This move gave fuel to rumors of the company's plans to out an Android tablet soon. Now, however, this MIUI launcher is meant to be used by almost any smartphone and can be installed just like any other alternative homescreen launcher. And like any other launcher, MIUI brings with it its own brand of features and quirks. You have the ability to manage homescreens, widgets, and shortcuts. You have launcher-specific settings, like downloading and applying themes, wallpapers, and whatnot. There is even an option to hide apps behind a password.
What makes the MIUI launcher rather interesting is that, while not being a complete ROM, it still manages to bring almost a whole ecosystem with it. You have MIUI's own dialer, SMS, and phonebook apps, as well as various cloud services from Xiaomi. It even has its own lockscreen. The MIUI launcher also does some things in a unique way that you might have not experienced in other launchers. For one, there is no separate app launcher. All apps are on the homescreen and you can only rearrange them or group them into folders. That might be a bit disorienting for those who are used to how things are normally done on Android. The whole homescreen itself is also a large gesture target. While swiping left or right naturally takes you to the next or previous homescreens, swiping up initiates the T9 search function while swiping down triggers the Android notification panel.
This MIUI launcher is marked as a beta and it shows. Many parts of the user interface are still left in its native Chinese language and the MIUI forum lists possible issues one might encounter. Still, the launcher is quite functional and runs rather smoothly. Officially supported devices include the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, and the HTC One, but any non-MIUI smartphone running Android 4.0 and above with at least 1 GB of RAM, though 2 GB is recommended, can install the APK, which you can download from the link below.
[UPDATE] Just to clarify things a bit, this launcher is the brand new MIUI Express. Xiaomi also has another MIUI launcher already in Google Play Store named MiHome. The two are almost indistinguishable from each other except for subtle differences. MIUI Express definitely more recent but there is no word yet on the future of the older version.