Metro UI is a new and alluring Home Screen for Android. It’s been in development for approximately two months by Joe Chrisman, who took to the Windows Phone 7 interface when he saw it used on the TV adverts. Somewhat smitten, he looked into the Android Market to see if a clone of the interface had already been made for Android. Though he found one, Joe was disappointed by the poor speed and behaviour the application gave him. Determined to give his phone the Metro-Effect, he sat down and started coding his own version: Metro UI.
Metro UI’s current purpose is to serve as a clone of the Metro-style interface Windows Phone 7 boasts. I suppose there are no practical advantages to using it other than to have a taster of the WP7 interface, and to have a neat-transitioning fast Home Screen, both of which are rare!
Look and Feel
Metro UI’s overall appearance on an Android phone is very pleasant to say the least. Simplicity and neatness are inherent in a Metro-style Home Screen, and Metro UI doesn’t deviate.
The best part of this Home Screen is the fluidity of its sliding transitions. When you tap a tile to load up an application or service, each other tile breaks away individually. They then fold back on themselves before disappearing into the dark background, leaving the tile you tapped on alone for a brief moment, before it also disappears and your application loads up.
Another great point, is that the level of customization you are offered within the tiles is fantastic. Each time you add an application to a tile, you are given the opportunity to give it a custom name, an icon from either Metro UI’s stock icons (which are some neat little graphics), or its Android stock icon. You can also add an unread counter to the icon: for example, if you are creating a tile for the HandCent messenger application, you will want to know how many messages you have that are waiting to be read; you can do this by choosing to apply the ‘Messages’ counter to the tile when you create it. Then, whenever you visit the Home Screen, a friendly bold number informs you of just how busy your life has become.
The performance of Metro UI is nothing short of fantastic. Most other Home Screen interfaces flow nicely, however there can sometimes be jerky and abrupt motion when some flashier effects are enabled, or perhaps when the phone is already doing some background processing. Metro UI gives next to no lag or delay in response whatsoever. On my HTC Wildfire which runs Android 2.2, I get no lag at all, which is fantastic when you consider all the transition effects that are being run.
At present, Metro UI’s developer Joe Chrisman says that his focus is not so much on eyecandy and effects, but more about having a Home Screen that is speedy and efficient. This makes a particularly nice change when you consider that most other Home Screen applications are completely the opposite.
Though Metro UI is a fun and amusing Home Screen novelty, it is still a Beta! As such, some features that people expect from most other home screens are regrettably missing.
Metro UI’s main problem by a mile is that there is absolutely no widget support whatsoever. This means that folks who are used to using a nifty homescreen toggle to switch off WiFi or switch to 3G will be miffed to say the least. If you want to change settings such as these, you have to do it manually via the settings menu. This is a quite a bit more effort than we are used to. When interviewed, Joe said:
I don’t plan on adding widget support soon. I know a lot of people don’t want to hear that. My reasoning is that in my experience widgets are inefficient and can slow down the Android system. My goal for this project was a quick clean get-in get-out system (the way WP7 is supposed to be). So I don’t want to add anything that would hinder that. However, I have heard that you can use the app QuickDesk to get some widget functionality.
Though Joe raises a very good point concerning Widgets’ drain on the system, most of us would consider it to be a fair sacrifice. Perhaps a widget extension for Metro UI would be something we could look forward to in the near future.
Unfortunately, the initial set-up of Metro UI is an issue as well. Once you have downloaded the application and launched it (by pressing the Home key on your phone), you feel as though you must have done something wrong, since all you are presented with is a black screen. The problem is that (for now at least) everyone who downloads Metro UI has to scroll right to drag their application drawer open:
You then have to tap and hold on an application to add your first tile to your Home Screen. Though you get that customization window as a reward, it’s a pain for most users, who give feedback such as “Broken: Blank screen, useless” on the Android Market. I expect that default tiles will be added soon enough, so don’t read too much into this as a fault.
The biggest problem is the removal and adjustment of Home Screen tiles. If you remove a tile from within the list, and then try to add it back, it gets put on the end of the list. At present there is no way to shuffle the tiles around on the home screen. Lets say I have an Application at the top of the tile-list that I rarely use and want to it move down to the bottom of the list – no problems there. I just remove the tile and then add it back in, where it defaults to being added in at the bottom. However if I want to move a tile that I just added to the bottom of the list to the top, there is a big problem. The only way to do it is to remove every single tile you already have, and then re-add them one by one in the order you desire. This is time-consuming, and completely unnecessary. Plus as soon as you download a new application you think you will use regularly, the whole problem repeats itself! This is perhaps Metro UI’s single greatest flaw, and exceptionally irritating!
Comparison to Similar Apps
As I mentioned in the introduction, there is another application that attempts to give Android users the Windows Phone experience. Joe found that it falls short of what people would expect, and I have to agree with him. The application in question is ‘Windows Phone Android’, and if I had to use one word to describe it, it would have to be ‘Poor’. This application is nothing more than a blocky and crudely made ‘mimic’ of Windows Phone 7, with user reviews repeatedly crying out that the application does not work for them at all. These reviews, coupled with an overall rating of 3/5 stars, and a user called ‘Borhan’ declaring “Metro UI much better” helps reinforce the notion that Metro UI is by far the better choice if you do fancy a go with the Home Screen style.
Metro UI’s Developer Joe Chrisman has made the kind decision to provide two versions of his application: one paid version, and one free ‘Lite’ version.
The Lite version has all of the Metro UI features, and its only difference to the paid version is that it is considered unstable and experimental. The paid version is also a Beta, but declared stable. Once a new feature passes scrutineering by the users pf the Lite version, it is added to the Paid version. At $2.99, the pricing of the full version is very fair, considering that similar paid launchers such as ADW Launcher and Launcher Pro are around the same price. When I asked which versions of Android Metro UI supports, Joe replied, “Right now this officially supports Android 2.1. However, I happen to know that I have users on 2.2 and 2.3. Supporting 1.6 devices is not in my plans but I may re-evaluate that decision once it is in a final state.”
Final ThoughtsIn conclusion to my review, Metro UI is a fantastic and fun new Home Screen for Android. People who use their phones for simple tasks would find it a delightful and refreshing change, in both appearance and speed. However, people who treasure their Widgets and efficiency may want to wait a little while for an updated version. Do keep tabs on Metro UI if you can, though; it is in line to become another popular Home Screen very soon.
My personal rating for Metro UI has to be 6/10. Though that may not sound like much, it is only down to the lack of Widget Support and the poor tile-arrangement system. Once these niggles have been fixed, I would be more than happy to bump up my rating to 8/10, or even 9/10!