What immediately comes to mind when you think of a bezel-less smartphone? Perhaps for most smartphone users, that would be the Apple iPhone X. Others might think of the Essential PH-1, or something obscure like the Sharp Aquos S2. But even when talking about all of these devices, one name tends to stand out – the Xiaomi Mi MIX.
Launched last year as a sort of concept, the Mi MIX captured attention worldwide as one of the first phones to go beyond the 16:9 aspect ratio. With a 6.4-inch screen and a somewhat-awkward 17:9 aspect ratio, the Mi MIX managed to turn heads thanks to its beautiful design, centred around its edge-to-edge screen. While that device didn’t see a wide rollout and didn’t make it to India, it established Xiaomi as a major player in the premium smartphone space.
2017 sees a different Xiaomi with a sense of energy unlike what we’ve seen before. It’s now the number two smartphone vendor in India, and recently announced that it had sold its 25-millionth phone in India. Last month, the company launched the Mi MIX 2, the successor to its 2016 concept, and has just announced that it will be launched in India on October 10. With improvements across the board, the Rs 35,999 Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 improves on many of the factors that forced the Mi MIX to remain a proof of concept, so to speak, and is now a complete product ready for market. We’ve had the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 for a while now, and here’s our review.
That screen, though
The Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 is beautiful. Just like its predecessor, it features an edge-to-edge screen that covers practically the entire front of the phone. Although there is some non-screen space at the bottom, the design of the phone is such that you’re realistically only looking at the screen. And the bezel-less design means you get a 6-inch screen in a phone that’s the same size as the OnePlus 5, which has a 5.5-inch screen.
The stunning design is something that doesn’t only appeal to me. While I had the phone, I had a few people come up to me and ask me what phone I was using. While a couple recognized it as the Mi MIX 2, others were simply taken by the design and edge-to-edge screen. Some were surprised that a phone like this could come from a brand like Xiaomi, which is better known for its reliability and affordability. This kind of design is revolutionary, particularly so for a phone that costs around the equivalent of Rs 40,000.
However, that design has both practicalities and impracticalities. The practicalities are particularly highlighted when you consider the recently announced Apple iPhone X and Essential PH-1. These phones also feature a screen that covers practically the entire front of the phone, but there are certain hardware bits that do need to fit into place at the front as well, These include the front camera, earpiece and sensors for proximity and ambient light. The iPhone X fits these onto a notch at the top, which a lot of people find to be unpleasant, while the PH-1 also has an ugly cut-out for the front camera and non-screen space at the bottom.
The Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 overcomes these issues by slapping on an uninterrupted 18:9 ratio 6-inch screen. It’s a full-HD+ screen, with a resolution of 1080×2160 pixels, and a pixel density count of 403ppi. Although you might complain about it not being a QHD screen, the reality is that even at this resolution, it’s sharp enough. This is a prime example of Xiaomi being practical with its design; the full-HD+ screen keeps costs down, and lets the company stick to an attractive price point.
As I mentioned, there are impracticalities – the front camera and earpiece still need to go somewhere. In the former’s case, the front camera goes to the bottom right corner of the phone, which is, as you’ve already guessed, the strangest possible place to put it. The front camera is usually at the top for a reason; when you’re taking selfies or video conferencing, you’re looking at the screen, and the camera’s position makes it appear that you’re looking at it. At the bottom, this creates some rather odd images.
Xiaomi’s solution to this is to flip the phone around, placing the camera at the top for selfies. The camera’s software is programmed to read the orientation and automatically reorients, so you don’t have to worry about upside down selfies. However, it’s a strange step, and the reorientation doesn’t work with other apps such as WhatsApp during video calls, which means you’ll always look a bit odd to anyone you’re talking to.
With regards to the earpiece, Xiaomi’s solution with last year’s Mi MIX was a piezoelectric acoustic speaker, placed under the screen. You could therefore place the phone to your ear as you normally would, and you’d hear sound through the screen, which was in theory a scientifically sound solution. In practicality, the system had its flaws, including poor sound and a lack of privacy thanks to others around you being able to also hear what was being said.
On the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2, the speaker driver is placed behind the screen, but is routed through a tube to a small slit above the screen. Since that slit is typically higher than where you’d expect a typical phone’s earpiece to be, it takes some getting used to and repositioning on calls. And the acoustic qualities of the tube itself make the sound incredibly loud. Unless you turn the volume down a fair bit, people can still hear what’s being said.
The Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 not only stuns with its screen, but with the way it looks and feels all around. The frame is metal with curved corners for better hand-feel and rigidity, while the back is a solid slab of ceramic. On the black unit, it’s extremely reflective, which looks great. Although it is a smudge magnet, it’s still one that I was particularly impressed with. And even though the box comes with a protective cover, I wouldn’t want to put that on and ruin the look of the phone. There’s also a ceramic edition which features a unibody ceramic design and a bit more RAM, but that’s unlikely to launch outside of China.
Interestingly, the typical Xiaomi logo and text are also missing at the back, in the interest of keeping the look clean and sophisticated. What you get is four words – MIX Designed By Xiaomi. It’s an understated, simple and forward-thinking way of dealing with design, and I believe Xiaomi has got it spot on. The rest of the phone is fairly typical, with dual-SIM connectivity but no scope to add expandable storage. There’s also no 3.5mm jack, so audio enthusiasts might be a bit disappointed, although you do get a 3.5mm-to-Type C adapter in the box.
Not your average phone
Unlike the majority of Xiaomi’s portfolio, the Mi MIX 2 is a flagship smartphone through and through. And like Samsung, Xiaomi has two flagship devices now, catering to different audiences. While the Mi 6 (which never made it to India) would line up with the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Mi MIX 2 could typically compare with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. It’s on par with the flagship in most ways, but it costs a bit more and has an edge when it comes to that one stand-out feature, which in this case is the design and screen.
On paper, it’s a powerful phone that matches up to its most obvious competitors. It comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 64/128/256GB of storage and a 3,400mAh battery that supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. Also worth noting is that the phone has almost universal band support, which means that it’ll work with networks anywhere in the world. Simply put, the phone is incredibly quick, usually reliable, and gives you nothing short of the flagship smartphone experience. It’s a capable daily driver that I’ve enjoyed using, with decent battery life as well thanks to the frugal power usage of the 10nm-fabricated Snapdragon 835 SoC, and the reasonable screen resolution.
MIUI 9 is still a mixed bag
What makes Android so special is the openness of the platform, and that means that manufacturers can tweak the base software with their own customisations. Xiaomi’s MIUI is now into version nine, and is vastly improved from what it was even just two years ago. It’s clean, feature-filled, relatively secure and the bugs aren’t too bothersome. Although I’ve been using a global beta of MIUI 9, the software team at Xiaomi are constantly tweaking and improving the build, and stable software should be around the corner. ALSO READ: Even if the Google Pixel 2 doesn’t succeed, Android is still winning
That isn’t to say there are no bugs or shortcomings in the software. Notification handling is still somewhat bothersome on MIUI, as is how the software handles apps in the background and when the phone is on standby. I also faced a few bugs when it came to waking the screen, handling call waiting when I’m already on a call, and screen mirroring issues due to the resolution and screen shape when using a Chromecast. Hopefully, these will be fixed in the stable version though.
What I do like about MIUI is the clean and straightforward look, as well as the quality of the theme engine. This lets you tweak the way the phone looks to how you want it. Additionally, widgets and function toggles are particularly good on the interface as well, and the whole thing has been designed to take advantage of the phone’s large 18:9 screen as well. Most system apps are tweaked to take advantage of the ratio, and the on-screen Android keys can be hidden by default so you get a clear view of the whole screen. The Security app, dual-app function, in-built screen recorder and call voice recording by default are also features that I got used to quickly.
Just a single-lens camera
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that dual-cameras are the theme of the year. Although the feature gained mainstream attention last year with the Huawei P9 and Apple iPhone 7 Plus, it’s seen a significant bump in interest thanks to more manufacturers using the tech in 2017. Xiaomi itself debuted the Mi 6 earlier this year with a dual-camera setup. And while we might have been expecting to see the technology on the Mi MIX 2, it seems design and styling has trumped the feature on this one.
That’s not to say the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2’s camera is bad; the sensor is the same as the primary one on the Mi 6, so it comes with a promise of good photos, but no real tricks and effects. And while having a single camera isn’t a hindrance to having those effects as the Pixel 2 has just shown, the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 doesn’t seem to want to focus much on that. The goal here is to have a good camera that fulfils the key requirements capably.
(Camera samples shot with the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2)
As a result, you’ll find the camera app a bit barebones in terms of features. While the basics are in place, including panorama, manual mode and the ability to shoot at 18:9 ratio to use the full screen as a viewfinder, there are some key features missing. Although you can shoot at 4K and slow motion at 120fps, there’s no 1080p@60fps mode, and naturally no portrait/bokeh effects or lossless zoom. However, when it comes to the core functionality, the camera does usually get things right.
Whether its color, detail, sharpness or composure, the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 is competent, and takes good pictures that check all the boxes. It doesn’t quite have the capability of even the similarly priced OnePlus 5 or Honor 8 Pro when it comes to photography, but it does take good usable pictures that you’ll be happy to share on your social media accounts. It certainly won’t have your friends and family yelling at you for making a mess of a precious moment. Whether it’s in good light or low light, pictures taken by the Mi MIX 2 were impressive enough.
I’ll have to admit that when Xiaomi first came to India, I didn’t take the brand seriously enough. Whether it was scepticism at the pricing of the Mi 3, my lack of trust in a brand whose name I couldn’t pronounce (at the time) or just my then-biased ideas of Chinese products, Xiaomi was a brand I expected to leave as quickly as it came. But today, I’ll admit I’m surprised and impressed in equal measure.
The Rs 35,999 Xiaomi Mi MIX 2, which is making its way to India, is a flagship smartphone that deserves to be called a flagship smartphone. It’s a capable device that show’s Xiaomi’s competence in design, and manages to offer a differentiating factor that makes it so different from the competition. While it doesn’t necessarily offer an outstanding experience in every way, the Mi MIX 2 is a capable device with a design that is arguably the best I’ve seen on an Android phone in a long time. It’s even priced well, and will be sold on Flipkart, as well as Mi.com/in, Mi Home stores and other offline partners.
It’s a phone that catches your eye. It’s a phone that lets you enjoy the big screen experience without feeling like a big phone. It’s a phone that feels good in your hands. It’s a phone that stands out in a crowd, and has people stop to ask you questions. The Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 is a phone that I truly like, and one that is more than just a smartphone. It’s an experience.