The first quarter of 2021 is in the books, and it looks like Xiaomi may have been a major winner. The manufacturer cemented third place for global shipments and is now within spitting distance of Apple in second place.
It’s bound to be welcome news for Xiaomi, especially after its humble beginnings as a ROM developer. And this ROM, dubbed MIUI, still powers all of its smartphones today.
MIUI gained a reputation for being an iOS clone in its early days due to the copycat icons and lack of an app drawer, but it’s certainly morphed into a more unique, useful take on Android nowadays. The iOS stylings have been toned down, although the skin still draws divisive opinions about its looks.
Thankfully, Xiaomi has continued to bring loads of interesting or handy features to MIUI. In years gone by, we saw features like the Quick Ball accessibility option, downloadable system themes, a system manager app (for cleaning storage, etc), Dual Apps, and a one-handed mode. More recently, we had Super Wallpapers, Magic Clone functionality in the camera app, and a few privacy features (e.g. clipboard protection, secure photo sharing).
There is one major issue Xiaomi needs to address with its Android skin though, and that’s the sheer inconsistency across devices and its various sub-brands.
Our own C Scott Brown reviewed the Poco F3 last month and called its MIUI for Poco software “buggy” and “messy.” The list of issues he encountered was particularly alarming for a smartphone in 2021.
“I saw all manner of problems including random reboots, disappearing/reappearing notifications, and even an unsolicited switch from a 120Hz refresh rate to 60Hz,” Scott explained in his review. He also told me that he saw issues like jittery animations, apps crashing, and notification text buttons opening the notification itself instead of performing the action labeled on the button (e.g. in-line replies). This doesn’t even cover the bloatware and ads, either.
Occasionally, we chalk up some of these issues to review models with pre-production software (and note where this is the case). However, an OTA update pre-review and a further update following publication have thus far failed to resolve many of these issues for the Poco F3.
These woes should be ironed out eventually through further updates. This was the case for the Mi 9T Pro, which our own Tristan Rayner reviewed a while ago. He noted that the device had loads of little bugs (“I turned off animations as I normally did and that broke everything”), but that the MIUI 11 update fixed many issues, albeit quite a few months after launch.
Unfortunately, this general inconsistency still affects some Xiaomi phones well over six months after launch. And how do I know this? Well, my girlfriend has the Redmi Note 9, and she’s experienced issues for months now.
MIUI is not the same across devices in terms of bugs and performance.
More specifically, her Redmi Note 9 has seen issues like the camera freezing for seconds at a time (preventing you from taking more shots), and the screen turning itself on every few seconds while music or a podcast is playing. The bugs don’t end there either, as replying to messages via the notification shade doesn’t work (losing the message she just composed), and the Instagram app crashes after viewing several Stories in succession. The phone has received several updates since then, but these haven’t fixed all the bugs and have sometimes introduced new problems.
The sad part is that there are Xiaomi phones out there with relatively polished, performant MIUI skins. Android Authority reviewers Eric Zeman and Dhruv Bhutani praised devices like the Xiaomi Mi 11, Mi 11 Ultra, Mi 10, Poco X3, and Poco M3. In fact, the only major concerns we usually have are centered on bloatware and advertisements, with the latter in particular a topic for another time.
It’s unclear what could be the cause of this inconsistency, but we doubt it has anything to do with horsepower. After all, the Poco F3 has flagship-level power and still struggles. We also recently reviewed the budget-focused Redmi Note 10 and Dhruv found that it was well-optimized and that he didn’t encounter any major bugs or issues.
Whether it’s a lack of QA testing, optimization, or another factor, it’s high time for the company to ensure more consistent software across the board. We can see that Xiaomi is capable of delivering a relatively bug-free, smooth experience.
It’s MIUI against the world
This inconsistent experience comes as other OEMs have begun to really step up their software game. Even OEMs that have traditionally had a shoddy reputation for software are bringing a solid take on Android in the last couple of years, such as Oppo and Vivo. Xiaomi can’t afford to rest on its laurels.
This also comes on the back of what seems to be a growing shift towards long-term update commitments. We’ve recently seen LG and HMD announce up to three years of version updates for their phones. But Samsung was the first non-Google, major Android OEM to announce a commitment to three years of version updates, and this is the company Xiaomi should be worrying about.
The top-ranked manufacturer is promising a three-year pledge for flagship and select budget phones, dating back to the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 family. Samsung is giving existing owners incentive to stay with the brand, making it harder for OEMs like Xiaomi to poach its customers. Xiaomi does offer MIUI updates to older devices, but these often don’t update the underlying Android version, which leaves the device at risk of app compatibility issues down the line.
Either way, Xiaomi is clearly capable of delivering a smooth, reliable take on Android. Now it’s time for the company to ensure that it’s delivering this same experience across the board, and for a longer period of time.