Huawei needs to reimagine the ugly EMUI interface

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Huawei needs to reimagine the ugly EMUI interface
I’ve been using Samsung gear for the past year, with my latest go-to-daily driver being the excellent Galaxy Note 9. Being infatuated with a gadget is silly, but I liked that phone so much that I came up with a relatively long love letter detailing all the things I liked and the few bits I disliked about the device. However, as luck would have it, I forced myself to switch over to another phone due to a leisure trip around Europe.

Dead set on not hauling around my dedicated camera, I picked up a Huawei Mate 20 Pro for its useful “jack-of-all-trades” camera loadout. In hindsight, I should have probably chosen up a Galaxy S10+, but what is a man if he doesn't go outside his comfort zone - I had never used a Huawei device for a long period of time before, and dreaded a sub-par experience, but at the end of the day, curiosity got the best of me.

From a purely photographic standpoint, the Mate 20 Pro didn’t disappoint me at all. Sure, I could have probably came up with way more usable images if I had taken my real camera, but this little Chinese phone proved to be quite the versatile camera performer. The battery life was unexpectedly good, too, and the phone struck a very nice balance between features and compactness.

There’s only one thing that irritated me and made me want to gouge my eyes out - the interface.

Huawei's interface is awful

Yes, I hated EMUI at first sight and despite my hopes that this would be some Ugly Duckling scenario in which I’d end up loving it in the end, Huawei’s proprietary interface is just not as good. Despite the troves of features and functionalities EMUI has on deck, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was using some half-baked Android Marshmallow ROM originating from the depths of XDA. It’s anachronistic and feels like an afterthought on Huawei’s part, one that hasn’t actually been visually-improved for years. 

All in all, EMUI is plain ugly, and that’s despite the fact that it still tries to copy the looks of both iOS and stock Android.

While in the early days of Android EMUI the looks of the interface were getting a pass, it’s 2019 now, and software is quite an important aspect of a phone. Even more than hardware itself, actually. Thus, I find it perplexing why EMUI is still so ugly and unrefined, marring the overall otherwise-positive experience I had with the Mate 20 Pro.

Although this is an editorial and all opinions are my own, I feel that I should present some evidence to the court and justify my disdain for Huawei's software. Welcome to Design Inconsistencies 101!

Huawei needs to reimagine the ugly EMUI interface

Check out the screenshot above. Yeah, that’s the default icon setup of the Huawei Mate 20. Try to count all the different icon appearance styles that you can find.

  • Minimalism? Yes, there are a few minimalist icons.

  • Skeuomorphism? Sure thing, Sherlock, we've got that in here, too!

  • Squircle icons? You betcha!

  • Round icons? Why, yes!

  • Flat icons? But of course.

  • A rather hideous homage to iOS? We see you, Settings app!

The more you look, the worse it gets. Is Huawei's EMUI an angsty teen struggling to find themselves? I doubt it. To say that Huawei’s approach towards iconography is a hodgepodge of different styles would probably be a compliment, as the inconsistencies have little to no design merit at all. Samsung got a lot of flak for the cartoon-ish icons in OneUI, but at least those have a comforting consistency to them and make up for a very uniform appearance throughout the interface.

Possible solution? Take a page from Samsung's book!

Overall, I feel that software is seriously holding back Huawei’s otherwise-impeccable hardware. From a technical standpoint, the company’s phones have all the necessities covered and can easily rival any device you throw at them, but this is simply not cutting it in 2019. 

Samsung's previous interface versus One UI. The company designed its One UI from the heads up, with the focus being on user-friendly features and single-handed usage

Samsung's previous interface versus One UI. The company designed its One UI from the heads up, with the focus being on user-friendly features and single-handed usage

Not all is lost, though! Huawei could do this one simple trick and make its devices that much more appealing, and no, it has nothing to do with stock Android.

It just needs to scrap all of EMUI and develop a brand new design language to reflect its positions as a contender for the first spot in the global race for domination in the mobile space. I am drawing yet another parallel with Samsung, but the latter is the living proof that a company can actively listen to user feedback and develop an interface that both feels and looks contemporary. I still remember the days when TouchWiz was the stuff of nightmares for me and most of my colleagues in PhoneArena. These days, however, Samsung's OneUI is certainly one of the most refreshing and pleasing to use custom Android skins out there. Retaining most of the useful features and coming up with a likable interface shouldn't be such a hard task for a giant of the scope of Huawei, and here's to hoping that EMUI on the upcoming P30 series will be a step in the right direction. With all the talk about Huawei exploring life past Android and entertaining the idea of a proprietary mobile OS in the near future, it would make even more sense to completely redesign the interface. 

Hopefully, the announcement of Huawei's new flagships on March 26 will treat us to a much nicer and improved interface all across the board. Fingers crossed, but until then, EMUI gets a hard pass from me.

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26 Comments

1. Ichimoku

Posts: 137; Member since: Nov 18, 2018

EMUI is part of Huawei identity crisis.

26. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

All they have to do is call up some of the good looking icon pack creators in play store and create an overall icon pack for EMUI, so simple. I use various types of icon pack in my POCO F1 and they all look way better than stock icons and these EMUI icons.

2. vladcooo

Posts: 6; Member since: May 11, 2018

but it is the way around ... samsung one ui came after emui 9.0

3. .KRATOS.

Posts: 440; Member since: Mar 15, 2013

It's not that bad maybe a lil refinement will be very welcome but that feeling cz u're not used to the interface but when u use it for couple of days n weeks it'll be normal to u

4. HNP30

Posts: 3; Member since: Mar 26, 2019

Fact: Even after some time EMUI is still fluid compared to other UIs. This has been true for quite some time now. Sometimes, looks aren't everything. Samsung's current OneUI is damn ugly imho.

5. Seanetta unregistered

I hate it when you use a Huawei theme and not all icons change to the correct theme look

6. Aruminiumaian

Posts: 209; Member since: Jul 22, 2017

Saying that it sucks because of its 'ugly' icons isn't a good argument since you can change it very easily with the built in Themes app, and that asymmetrical icon arrangements on the notification bar from your screenshot of One UI is not doing you any favor either. Hideous homage to iOS? Did I hear you saying that to Google when they released Android 9.0 and changed the design of notification menu, multitasking menu, app UI of Google's own apps, navigation buttons and various system UI elements etc to something extremely similar to older versions of iOS? I definitely think that EMUI needs further design refinements here and there, but the way you presented the problem is simply unconvincing and mediocre at best.

7. worldpeace

Posts: 3099; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

So your problem is just about icons? Just get an icon pack ffs.

12. dimas

Posts: 3296; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Emui don't allow those things. Nova launcher don't even function properly on huawei's closed kernel environment.

8. indlvarn

Posts: 8; Member since: Jan 22, 2019

Yeah it's ugly, my both parents have Huawei. But I love the wallpapers which are changing very often. So I have a love-hate relationship with EMUI.

9. NinoH

Posts: 130; Member since: Feb 09, 2018

I never understood how people can use Huawei phones and like the UI!?!It’s been a mind boggling experience for me. I mean i get that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but common i would buy samsung phone on top of huawei any time of the day. And that is coming from an iphone user.

10. P20prouser

Posts: 44; Member since: Oct 10, 2018

I like the EMUI but not the default icon.. Yet, i downloaded Huawei's Neon theme and here you go... So good.. I am both S8+ and P20pro user.. There's no glitch on P20pro and its superb battery life. Another plus is the timely security update...

11. geordie8t1

Posts: 278; Member since: Nov 16, 2015

I usuallly just stick a launcher over the top and its great for the most part, my grip is with the file manager and how many of the screens are simply lists instead of having the option to change to grid as well, trying to locate some items in list view is an absolute nightmare when you have 1000s of files

13. drunkenjay

Posts: 1647; Member since: Feb 11, 2013

huaweis ui is so bad.

14. Cat97

Posts: 1774; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

For this, they would have to open a design center outside China, in order to keep out from copying others and then ruining even the copied bits.

15. Rager722

Posts: 622; Member since: Jan 30, 2013

I 100% agree with this article. EMUI is hideous copy of iOS and some Samsung. If Huawei wants to be taken seriously outside of China and India, then they have to develop their own identity. Right now it just looks like a cheap copy of iOS. Atleast they design good looking phones..

24. Shauryam900

Posts: 2; Member since: Jun 27, 2018

The Edge Design is copied ... Look At mate20 pro

16. Fialho

Posts: 18; Member since: Sep 03, 2015

So the only thing you disliked was the icons and the inconsistency of the iconography? Is that it? When you talked about not liking the sofware and the UI being awful it gave me the idea that there was something seriously wrong. But after all it turns out to be just the icons... ok then drama king.

17. darthmaul

Posts: 50; Member since: Feb 04, 2015

I felt that something was out of order on the Mate 20 Pro, otherwise one of the best phones ever. And I think its the icons and the overall feel. Something terrible indeed.

18. CEDEOTB

Posts: 365; Member since: Nov 21, 2016

They need to stop being an iOS clone and be something original. EMUI might be liked in China but not here in North America. Things to add is that; The clock widget is basic The app folder screen wastes screen space since it blows up big infront of you. The Nature wallpaper when someone calls is tacky The font in the camera app doesn't match the system font.

19. jjface

Posts: 215; Member since: Jun 07, 2017

Chinese brands need to launch android one versions

20. JEFF52007

Posts: 1; Member since: Mar 26, 2019

I dont understand the issue here, huawei has an Android OS, yes it has a skin but then again its Android, a quick look at xda or just a simple google search and you'll find the pixel launcher that supports icon packs which works flawlessly on my huawei phone, then another quick search and you'll find themes that are based on Android oreo or Android pie, then lastly find some stock looking icons on the play store then bam you got a stock looking and feeling huawei phone with all of its hard ware might and glory. Yes its not the out of the box ready to use phone but tweak and tinker with it a little and you'll have the perfect phone

21. monoke

Posts: 1145; Member since: Mar 14, 2015

Miui has done it the best so far. They're the only ones that didn't copy the awful ios horizontal task switcher that shows only 1 or 2 apps at a time. Just time wasting swiping to find that previous app. Ugh.. Their nav gestures are most logical and works good from what I've seen too.

22. yalokiy

Posts: 903; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

"The battery life was unexpectedly good" Seriously? On a 4200mah battery phone?

23. Whitedot

Posts: 725; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

Isn't it a catch phrase from aplz keynote ! :) Guys, isn't another cool key word on the new ultimate Tim's keyboard edition your got for Christmas ?

25. poopypants78

Posts: 28; Member since: Jul 13, 2017

While you're at it, throw LG's horrible UI into that as well. Crappy custom UI's need to die.

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