MIUI 12 Hands-on: 12 interesting new features added in Xiaomi’s Android OS

MIUI 12 Hands-on: 12 interesting new features added in Xiaomi’s Android OS

Xiaomi’s custom Android skin, MIUI, may not even remotely look or function like stock Android, but that’s what makes it one of the most popular third-party skins out there. MIUI is full of useful features, which are sometimes much better than their stock Android counterparts. Xiaomi also adds exciting features that often inspire Google to adapt them for all Android users—one can argue MIUI’s full-screen navigation swipe gestures is one of those features. Despite the continuous improvements and routine additions of new features in existing versions of MIUI, Xiaomi continues to bring loads of exciting new features in each incremental MIUI update. Xiaomi announced the latest version, MIUI 12, recently, and it brings a slew of aesthetic improvements and beautiful animations for Mi and Redmi-branded devices. Xiaomi also included several new features for privacy and health.

Download the MIUI 12 closed beta builds for Xiaomi and Redmi devices
Download the new MIUI 12 wallpapers and Super Wallpapers

While stable builds of MIUI 12 will not be available until the end of June 2020, we were able to install the MIUI 12 China Beta ROM on a Redmi K20 Pro (or the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro, as it is known in Europe). This article contains a brief overview of the new and most striking elements that we see in MIUI 12.

Before we dive into discussing the new features in MIUI 12, here is the full changelog for the update.

MIUI 12 update full changelog

MIUI 12 Full Changelog

  • System animations
    • New: All-new physically based animation engine with advanced architecture will refresh your device’s look.
    • New: Dynamic window technology takes switching screen orientation to a new level.
  • System visuals
    • Brand new visual design works for all types of content and languages.
    • Magazine-level layouts bring important things into the spotlight and make content structure clear.
  • Privacy protection
    • New: MIUI 12 is the first Android-based mobile OS that went through the rigorous enhanced privacy protection testing.
    • New: Reset your device ID and control how it’s used based on virtual ID technology.
    • New: Grant permissions that will be used only while you’re using an app.
    • New: You can also grant permissions just once, and decide again next time a permission is required.
    • New: Restrict access to telephony to third party apps.
    • New: Return blank messages to the apps that require personal information.
    • New: Receive notifications whenever apps record audio, use camera, or access your location.
    • New: Use secure sharing to control what additional data is sent along with shared items.
    • New: Get comprehensive stats on how apps use permissions in app behavior history.
    • New: Visit privacy.miui.com to learn how MIUI protects your privacy. Optimization: Apps aren’t allowed to launch other apps in the background now.
  • AI Call Assistant
    • New: Mi AI can answer your calls now!
    • New: You can record a customized greeting that will be played to the other person during AI calls.
    • New: Customized greetings are also supported for outgoing calls.
  • Xiaomi Health
    • New: All-new Xiaomi Health gives you more options and makes your health stats more accurate.
    • New: Put your device next to you before falling asleep to analyze your sleep cycle and record talking and snoring.
    • New: You can sync data with supported wearable and smart home devices.
    • New: Xiaomi Health can remind you to stand up and move when it detects that you’ve been sitting down for too long.
    • New: The app also analyzes your stats and gives you simple health advice.
  • Control center
    • New: Swipe down from the upper right corner of your screen to open Control center.
    • New: Animated icons are a joy to look at!
  • Accessibility
    • New: Mi Ditto combines dictation and speech output, making mobile devices more convenient for people who have difficulties using conventionally designed smartphones.
  • Trips
    • New: Traffic and suggested routes to airports and train stations.
    • New: You can track your previous trips now.
    • New: Checklists for trips.
    • New: Alarms for train arrivals.
  • Mi Carrier Services
    • New: View your SIM balance and mobile data usage stats.
    • New: Save frequently used phone numbers to top up balance and buy mobile data later.
    • New: Buy SIM cards and services.
  • Messaging
    • New: Promotional messages are grouped according to their content now.
  • Status bar, Notification shade
    • New: All-new design.
  • Weather
    • New: New animations bring the weather from outside directly to your screen.
  • Settings
    • New: Security introduces new comprehensive privacy protection mechanisms.
    • New: Lite mode simplifies your device and brings essential features upfront.
  • File Manager
    • New: Use the floating shortcut to filter and sort items, as well as switch view.
  • Calendar
    • New: New layout tailored for landscape orientation is available now.
    • New: We added lots of fresh animations that will accompany your actions.
    • New: Calendar cards will remind you about important events and anniversaries.
  • Notes
    • New: You can create folders with notes now.
    • New: New dynamic backgrounds look gorgeous!
    • New: Tasks are completed with a satisfying animation now.
    • New: Checklists of subtasks make managing your agenda much simpler.
  • Security
    • New: New animations feel natural and refreshing.
    • New: Keep your home safe with smart home device alerts.
    • New: Binging your favorite shows will be more convenient with our new video toolbox.
  • Xiaomi Cloud
    • New: Shared family storage plan is available now.

Now, let’s start with the top 12 exciting features (and 1 bonus feature) you can find in MIUI 12:

1. New icons, fonts, and animations

The first striking aspect of MIUI 12 that we wanted to bring your attention to is the new set of animated icons. There are subtle changes to the standard icon packs that are part of MIUI’s pre-installed “Classic” and “Limitless” themes.

In MIUI 11, the app launch animation originates and terminates along the center of the screen. But in MIUI 12, the window expands right out of the app and goes back into the icon when you open or exit an app. Along with the window launching and closing animations, we also see a slight transition in the icons for system apps.

MIUI 12 also brings a more spaced-out and modern-looking font that goes well with the new UI. Even though the system shows “Roboto” as the default font, the new and rounder font style is quite evident.

MIUI 12 status bar

Additionally, while there aren’t many changes to the status bar icons, the battery icon is now much cleaner, and you can choose from among four different ways to show the remaining battery percentage.

2. New “Control Center” replaces the classic quick settings menu

MIUI 12 brings a new Control Center, which is quite evidently inspired by recent versions of iOS. With this version, the quick settings tiles and the notifications shade have also been separated. So now, when you swipe downwards from the right, the redesigned Control Center opens and it features bigger, rounder icons begging to be compared to the toggles in iOS 12 and above.

The icons also follow a color scheme quite similar to the iOS control center. You can access the settings by tapping the cog icon on the top right or edit the quick settings menu using the edit button. Similar to the system app icons, the quick settings buttons also show minor animations when interacted with.

The notifications shade can be accessed by swiping on the display along the top left side. The notifications from the same app are listed together and can be expanded individually either by swiping downwards on the bubble or by long-pressing the notifications group.

You can also activate the option to open the Control Center or the notifications panel by swiping down along the center of the display instead of the upper edge.

If you don’t enjoy the new Control Center, you can disable the feature by going to Display Settings and then Status Bar under the System tab. By turning off the toggle for “Use Control center,” you’ll be able to return to MIUI 11’s notifications shade, as shown in the images above.

3. Navigation gestures

MIUI 12 finally embraces Google’s Android 10 full-screen navigation gestures, which have been blatantly heisted from iOS with the additional back gesture. This was inevitable as Google mandates the inclusion of their full-screen gestures as part of the process of standardizing navigation controls throughout the variety of  Android devices on the market.

While Google hasn’t forced manufacturers to give up their own versions of navigation gestures, they are clearly aiming to have a common set of gestures available on all Android devices. Hence, Xiaomi follows suit. Since the build we’re testing is from China, Google Assistant is not installed on the phone, and we cannot confirm if support for corner swipe gestures exist until we test out a global build.

4. App drawer

MIUI received an app drawer in the MIUI launcher with the stable MIUI 11 China build in November of last year. The app drawer is also available natively in MIUI 12 and can be activated from Settings. The launcher is very similar to the POCO Launcher in terms of appearance and operability but lacks the option to sort and group apps on the basis of the color of their icons. While the global builds currently don’t have the app drawer in MIUI 11, we expect this feature to be available for all users globally with MIUI 12. This is important as Xiaomi plans to expand further in markets like Europe.

MIUI 12 app drawer poco launcher

However, if users are comfortable with iOS-style horizontal scrolling, you can continue using the standard launcher style as has always been available in MIUI.

5. Live wallpapers

MIUI 12 introduces several new live wallpapers inspired by outer space. Among those, there are two new wallpaper bundles called “Super Wallpapers” which include backgrounds at four levels of zoom, from the always-on-display to the homescreen background. Depending on whether you choose the Earth or Mars live wallpaper as the background, you can see the planet from a far off distance on the always-on-display to a close-up on the homescreen.

The level of magnification increases at the lockscreen bringing you much closer to the orbit of the planet. When the screen is unlocked, you see an aerial view of the planet and scrolling left or right on the homescreen also moves the background. Lastly, when you enter a folder, the view zooms slightly closer to the surface and retracts back to the same height above the planet when you exit the folder.

You can select from among three different locations for Earth Super Wallpaper

If you want, you can also download the new MIUI 12 wallpapers on any Android device and the Super Wallpapers for MIUI 11 devices.

6. Animations in settings

Animations in MIUI 12 are not just limited to the homescreen and the control center but also accentuate different menus within Settings. For instance, there are new animations to highlight the battery capacity and battery usage graphs. In addition to the standard plot that shows battery percentage across time, you can now also view the battery consumption for each hour.

In the About Phone menu too, you see a splatter of animations, especially on the storage tab. When you tap on it, you see the entire internal storage represented as a cylinder with different colored disks stacked on top of each other, representing the different items that occupy the storage. You can swipe your finger to scrub through these different elements and tap on each individually to view items under each category.

7. Floating windows

MIUI 12 adds floating windows with the objective of offering the same multi-window experience as on a desktop. Supported apps can be opened in the form of floating windows that occupy only a small section of the display and can be opened on top of other apps. The Samsung Experience UI and its successor One UI have supported a similar feature called “Pop-up view” for many years now. Xiaomi’s version, on the other hand, feels much smoother and responsive, even in the beta build.

The floating windows in MIUI can be resized so you can continue working on another app in the background. To initiate a floating window, you can go to the Recents menu and tap on the Floating windows option on the top left. Alternatively, you can also launch floating windows by long-pressing on an app preview in the Recents menu and then tapping the picture-in-picture icon or by tapping on the floating window option in the Control Center.

Notably, we saw the first instance of Xiaomi’s floating windows in the Calculator app launched in the MIUI 10 beta in China last year.

8. Forced dark mode

MIUI 12 brings an improved Dark Mode which can now be applied selectively over certain apps. For apps that don’t natively support a Dark Mode or Google’s Dark Theme, the new dark mode can either invert colors or force dark backgrounds which are normally supposed to be light. This is similar to the forced dark mode we saw on some Realme devices running ColorOS 6. Above is an example comparing MIUI 12’s new Dark Mode forced upon WhatsApp (with its light theme enabled) versus WhatsApp’s native dark theme.

9. Mi Share

A cross-platform file-sharing platform, which was jointly announced by Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo a few months back, has been available in select Xiaomi, OPPO, Realme, and Vivo devices for quite some time under different names. On Xiaomi devices, it is called Mi Share. With the MIUI 12 update, the Mi Share interface also gets a visually enhanced redesign.

Additionally, Mi Share also allows sharing files with Mi Notebooks and RedmiBook laptops. This feature, however, may be limited to China since the laptops aren’t available elsewhere.

10. Memories in Gallery & File Manager sorting

MIUI 12 also brings two new handy features in the Gallery as well as the File Manager apps. The first one is Memories, which can be used to create collages or short videos using the existing images or videos you have. For collages, you can choose the orientation, add text, and edit each image individually. For short videos, you can choose from several templates and background scores or download more from the same menu.

Coming to the File Manager for sorting, there is a new icon at the bottom right. Tapping the icon reveals a new sorting menu that allows you to arrange different files and folders by name, size, date of creation, or file type. Along with sorting, you can also change the view between list and grid options. In MIUI 11, these options are available without options and can be accessed using the three-dot menu button on the Internal Storage page in File Manager.

11. Health features

MIUI 12 gets new features to help you improve your fitness and mental wellness. Starting with the former, the pre-existing, built-in step counter is now supplemented by automatic tracking for running, cycling, and stair-climbing. Furthermore, there’s a new sleep tracker that records the time and quality of your sleep based on the movements and sounds you make at night. It uses the microphones on a Xiaomi or Redmi smartphone to record your snoring and any sounds you might make while sleeping to account for REM sleep. In addition to tracking workouts, the Mi Health app also tracks the number of times you stood up and sends you sedentary reminders if you haven’t moved around in awhile.

When it comes to mental wellness, Xiaomi has also redesigned the Screen time dashboard with new graphs for daily and weekly usage. Additionally, as we saw in a leaked MIUI 12 build, you can now add a custom time duration for the Focus Mode. These features aren’t yet available in global builds and are substituted by Google’s Digital Wellbeing. However, Xiaomi’s own version is visually pleasing – although, once again, fairly identical to screen time feature in iOS.

12. Privacy features

There’s a lot of emphasis in MIUI 12 to apprise users of the permissions accessible to any app. These prompts for every time an app requests access for the camera, microphone, or location are shown in big fonts and occupy nearly one-third of the display. In addition, when you launch a system app for the first time, MIUI 12 commands your attention towards the information the app will be accessing. This feature has been named “Barbed Wire” by Xiaomi for its protective nature.

In addition, there’s “Flare” which raises an alarm every time an app is trying to use the camera, microphone, or location without your permission. This feature also maintains a log of every time any app uses certain permission.

Finally, there’s another feature called Mask System, which returns dummy or empty messages by default when any third-party application is trying to access your call log or messages. This is done in order to prevent untrusted apps from reading your private data.

Bonus: AI calling but only in China

Remember Google Assistant’s Call Screen? Xiaomi is doing something similar with its XiaoAI voice assistant but instead to help users with speech or auditory disabilities. The feature can be enabled from the Accessibility settings, and every time you make a call after that, you see an AI Calling button right in the middle of the display. You can toggle this feature and a computer-generated voice talks to the person on the other side.

The AI also transcribes the conversation and attempts to answer some questions itself. Alternatively, you can answer choose from a list of suggested responses or write your own response in the text box, and the AI will speak it out for the person on the other side. You can also choose between male and female voices.

Since this feature is currently available in the Mandarin language, we couldn’t verify its accuracy. Further, XiaoAI is limited to mainland China and only supports the local language, and so, we do not expect it to be available in other regions, but we hope that Xiaomi develops it for other key regions such as India and parts of Southeast Asia.

MIUI 12: Final Impressions

These thoughts are just after a single day of using the MIUI 12 closed beta ROM from China. We’ve chosen only the 12 most interesting features even though there are many more new features to talk about. Due to language restrictions and geographical factors playing a role in the availability of features, we cannot confirm which of these features will make it into the global variants of MIUI 12. The stable rollout of MIUI 12 is slated to begin at the end of June but that’s only the case in China as we don’t have a global rollout announcement yet.

Xiaomi has also shared the update schedule for the rollout of stable builds and listed the devices that will be receiving this update initially, but it must be noted that the following list only applies to China and not other regions.

The current build, being a closed beta, is very unstable, and the system UI crashes often and some features like the floating window or the Super Wallpaper stop working often. Thus, we don’t recommend installing this build on a daily driver. If you have a spare smartphone that can be used for testing, you can download the MIUI 12 close beta builds for Xiaomi and Redmi devices here.

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