While Google would give an arm and leg for Android to look, feel and work like one operating system, the fact that the lack of differentiators are a put off for a lot of users who look at variety as the spice of life. Yes, you have hundreds of launchers that let you configure a unique look for Android, but Indian manufacturers have always tried to tweak the OS on their own a bit. Now, Xolo is institutionalising it with Hive, a new platform that is much more than a simple tweak.
Specs: 5-inch 1280 X 720p(294ppi) HD IPS display | MediaTek MT6592M 1.4 GHz Octa Core processor | 2GB RAM | 16 internal memory + 32GB external | 3G Micro dual SIM | 8MP rear camera, 2MP front | 3G, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4, | 1920mAh battery | Hive on Android 4.4 Kitkat OS
Living with Hive
The company calls it a platform to connect, collaborate and create. But the first thing that will hit you is the ‘create’ aspect with scores of artists lining up with themes that change your Android experience like never before. These themes are not about giving a very cosmetic change, they tweak the very core of the Android experience with everything from icons to the notification bar coming with a new look.
I tried a bunch of these themes and really liked some of them, especially Vijayakumar Aramugam’s Awakening inspired by Devi and the chakras of life. I also like Nikheel Aphale’s Calli-Cool, though it has a lock screen that could be a bit too complicated for when you are trying to make a calling in a hurry. Yes, the artists have complete creative freedom with the themes, but it is debatable if great digital art is also practical as a user interface. Changing icons too is a bit confusing when you are searching for those icons that you are familiar with.
While I like this concept, I would have loved it if Xolo had commissioned a couple of plain vanilla themes that a lot of people might like to use once in a while. The closest I found to the real thing was a theme called Hive Dark.
The new themes are pushed to users through Edge, an app that lets you download custom themes, ringtones and wallpapers that will separate you from the rest of the Android crowd.
Then there is Connect that you interact with other Hive users, and there seems to be a surprisingly large number of them already for a relatively new OS. This is a good way to figure out is trending among users, what are the issues they are facing and so on. But Connect does something which no one has tried before — crowdsource requests for new features and tweaks. On the forum you have users asking for stuff as varied as better sound output, longer LED notifications. Xolo is listening in and some of these suggestions are already finding their way into upgrades. In fact, in the couple of weeks that I used the phone, there were at least a couple of upgrades.
But I am not convinced everyone would like the changes being pushed through, as a crowdsourced feature might not always be something everyone likes. Xolo might want to add an opt out feature for users, who in the end will get only the larger upgrades.
There are other features like the FusionX music player, which seems to have been inspired by the best apps around to give users a consolidated experience. It provides more controls that any native music player around now. I also like the Power app that gives a composite view of the battery performance and the Secure app that lets you protect the device.
Living with the XOLO 8X-1000
The Xolo 8X is now the only phone with Hive inside. It has a design that is different from the majority of the Android phones out there with chiseled edges towards the back and straight lines elsewhere. It is also a unibody design. But despite being sleek and slim, it is a bit heavier than other phones in this price range.
There is some learning involved in using this phone, not just because of the different themes on it. The three touch buttons have back to the right and multitasking to the left, which can initially be confusing.
However, the overall performance of the phone is very smooth, especially considering that most of the themes use transitions and animations that could be a drain on the resources. As I said using the phone is a bit of a problem initially as you are trying to fight muscle memory. But it won’t take you long to realise that this is an Android phone, though with some gift wrapping. In fact, some of the tweaks, like volume and brightness adjustments, are better than on stock android.
The HD IPS display is pretty good and have decent viewing angles. The audio quality seemed quite dull initially, but it increased substantially with one of the upgrades. The 8MP camera on the phone produces good results in low light, though I found it to be a bit too slow for my liking. The battery is good enough to last a day.
Designed for the Indian audience, Hive also comes with local language support. Plus the camera app lets you easily shift modes and I particularly liked the Pro mode which lets you change the setting easily.
At the moment the Hive platform and and Xolo 8X-1000 phone are purely for people who want to stand out from the crowd and show that they are different. But if the first version in an indicator, Hive has the potential to develop into one of the better Android-based operating systems available in the market. But this if you like to be different and can live with being so.