HiOS 7 Review: A fresh new compelling user interfaces

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HiOS is TECNO’s custom user interface on top of Android. Its functionality is tailored to users in Africa, which remains the company’s biggest market. Not unlike other user interfaces from other OEMs, it borrowed inspiration from the design elements of Android, while offering greater functionality than stock Android.

Android 10 was released in September 2019, prompting manufacturers to scramble to tailor it to their phones. TECNO, too, joined the beta update train by providing a trial version of Android 10-based HiOS 6.0 for the Spark 3 Pro. In March this year, the company pushed a more stable update of its software with HiOS 6.0.1 making its debut on Camon 15 series before being rolled-out with the company’s other phones since then.

HiOS 6 was a good improvement over previous versions, but it still had some functionality drawbacks and aesthetic issues that prevented it from being regarded as one of the better full-featured custom user interfaces. HiOS had come a long way in terms of user experience, but there was still some way to go.

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TECNO, however, hasn’t given up on improving its software. It’s proving this with the unveiling of HiOS 7, the latest update to its operating system as Africa’s top smartphone giant pushes to broaden its services ecosystem. TECNO held an online Launch for HiOS 7 in August in Lagos, Nigeria. The event’s location showing that TECNO was focusing on the Nigerian market, which is no surprise considering that Africa has been the main focus for the smartphone giant. The HiOS 7 upgrade adoption plan is said to be the largest update plan ever for HiOS.

What’s new with HiOS?
TECNO said it is delivering a range of new features to its users with HiOS 7, including a revamped user interface, exclusive localized elements, the ability to translate documents or check the authenticity of drugs just by scanning with the phone, improvement to entertainment and gaming support, health and wellbeing and more privacy controls to users.

This version is, in fact, the biggest visual overhaul to HiOS ever. Added to this is the exclusive take on the Android experience which you won’t find on any other phone. It retains its own sense of style especially in its colour scheme which a company representative says is inspired by the most-Instagrammed location on earth, Lake Tekapo, with the icons stretching more naturally across the screen — this is made possible by rounded edges — as a user taps on an app.

HiOS 7 is based on Android 10

The latest version of TECNO’s user interface is, as expected, based on the latest version of Android 10. That means users will get all the expected Android 10 features: full-screen navigation gestures, dark mode, more granular permission management, and a mandatory Digital Wellbeing solution (in HiOS 7, TECNO uses Google’s Digital Wellbeing implementation combined with its own custom solution). HiOS 7 in itself is a solid upgrade over HiOS 6.0, but it’s good to see that every single flagship feature of it is retained in HiOS 7.

HiOS 7’s revolutionary design makes for an outstanding visual experience

TECNO’s HiOS 7 comes with a new user interface that is a breath of fresh air, as it disposes of the blur-focused user interface that so common with many user interfaces. Instead, its UI is a smart circle, starkly minimalist. In HiOS 7, all elements such as lines, shapes, colours, white space, composition are effectively organized, leaving no room for redundant over-modification, nor a crude original design.

HiOS took inspiration from New Zealand’s remarkable turquoise colored lake, Lake Tekapo, well known for its intense picturesque milky-turquoise colour from the fine rock-flour (ground by glaciers) which is suspended in the water. We can certainly see the resemblance. By adopting the monochromatic Tekapo blue, supplemented by a specific simple colour scheme, HiOS 7 is dazzling yet cohesive, ensuring users are not easily distracted.

Suffice it to say that this is not the HiOS of old. For example, the bright contrasting colours in the Notification shade (quick settings menu) have vanished. TECNO now uses a single shade of blue – inspired by the Lake Tekapo blue colour – and while it may sound insignificant, it makes a big difference when considering the fact that users make use of the Notification Shade multiple times daily. This means users get an outstanding visual experience every single time! Such examples of minimalism are found throughout the UI.

The Recent Apps menu, the calling screen, and applications such as the AI Gallery benefit from the lack of visual clutter. The core principle of HiOS 7.0’s minimalist design seems to be to elegantly retain the critical and attention-grabbing parts.

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HiOS 7 has a brand new icon design, featuring rounded rectangles. The icons themselves are nicer-looking than those of HiOS 6.0, as the colour scheme is more pleasing to the user’s eyes. The new icon design is expected to work seamlessly with third-party apps, ensuring visual consistency and maximum visual tension.

The system comes with new abstract geometric wallpaper figures from the many local visual symbols reflected in African batik culture including Ankara, kitenge, Aso-oke, which are localized themes. These combine with current popular visual elements to create a truly unique and fresh experience.

One of the most important highlights of HiOS 7 is the localized illustrations based on local African characters, scenes, and stories. The flexible and imaginative illustrations make HiOS 7 more relatable to its focus users as they can see illustrations that look more like them. For a continent that is rarely thought about by OEMs when designing their UIs, HiOS 7 has really gone all the way in providing a visual identity. The characters can be seen in the different application screens. It’s a connection that will be felt every day, so it’s good to see TECNO nailing this important thing.

HiOS 7 brings intelligent functionality

HiOS 7 is one of the most full-featured custom user interfaces out there. While it does comes with a complement of Android 10 features, it’s also packed with an arsenal of exclusive and intelligent HiOS features. One of these is the Smart Scanner, an intelligent tool that can scan any document, translate local language into more familiar ones, top-up airtime, check drugs for authenticity, add new contacts, share wifi and all other scenarios the user can or can’t imagine. The Auto Ear Pickup feature is another great example.

While HiOS 6.0 features a gesture to answer call feature which makes use of hand gestures, HiOS 7 lets users answer an incoming call automatically by placing the phone near the ear. Features such as Gesture Flashlight and Photo Compressor has been customized for African users. Gesture Flashlight, a feature specialized for environments with irregular power supply especially at night, allows users to create shortcuts for easy access to the flashlight. Users can light their torch at any time simply by drawing a designated letter on their screen such as V, M, Z to quickly turn on/off the flashlight when their screen is off and it’s difficult to see.

Photo Compressor on its own part helps users compress images easily without decreasing image resolution. So instead of downloading third-party apps just for image compression, HiOS photo compressor helps save the space easily. This is sensibly placed in the AI Gallery to make for easy access.

As always, the ease of communication features that HiOS offers is a significant differentiating factor for the custom UI. The innovative Social Turbo makes a comeback on HiOS 7 but this time it also includes WhatsApp Business in its lineup. Users can enjoy multi-features such as flashlight call, DIY Emoji, and Peek Mode on their WhatsApp Business and regular WhatsApp without needing to download third-party apps or root their phones. Users can also read messages without alerting the other party and make custom stickers to share with friends for their enjoyment.

Video Caller is another feature that seeks to make communicating easier by way of customizable ringtones. HiOS 7 provides users with the ability to set their favorite videos as the caller background, as different videos can be customized for different callers to create a specific and enjoyable reminder whenever there is an incoming call.

In terms of performance improvements, HiOS 7 doesn’t leave users wishing for more. The Smart AI Engine is said to make the system 35% faster which drastically reduces loading times for webpages and online mobile games thereby optimizing response time and frame rates. In addition, an intelligent notifications system helps users to deal with schedules more efficiently. Multi-windows permit users to work and have entertainment at the same time, while AI Gallery allows users easily and quickly share pictures or videos to social platforms, and One-hand Mode becomes more touchable simply by moving operation space to the downside.

Gamers also find joy in TECNO’s implementation of the Game Mode with Game Space and Game Assistant. Game Space enables users to manage and quick-launch games by having them housed in one neat, easy-to-reach place, while Game Assistant provides a suite of in-game tools that enhances the gaming experience such as Magic Button – allows users add one of the buttons on their phone as a key to be used in the game – Do Not Disturb that allows users to concentrate by preventing distractions from calls and messages, Pop-up Notification that shows users incoming messages as a snippet scrolling across their screen, and floating windows for chatting or browsing the web while gaming.

2020 has certainly been HiOS’ year in terms of delivering top-notch UI with a full basket of impressive features. While TECNO’s hardware continues to dominate the African market, the software has also grown from strength to strength. With HiOS 7, TECNO has raised the bar so much higher. While there might still be some sticky usability issues to sort out, HiOS has proven that it takes users’ feedback seriously with the overhauling of the visual looks which is heads and shoulders above the majority of user interfaces out there.

That is not to forget the unique set of localized features that solves the everyday mobile life problem of the African user which is by far better than what the competition is doing. In its current iteration, HiOS is an asset for TECNO phones and can only get better. Of course, we will be here to keep a tab on TECNO’ software and hardware development efforts in future.

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