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Xiaomi

Review: Xiaomi Mi Mix – some day all phones will look this way

The Mi Mix has a great interface, efficient battery use, a sharp camera and an almost bezel-free ceramic body that has got the tech world buzzing. This is the future of smartphones

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 December, 2016, 6:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 December, 2016, 6:33am

Xiaomi’s had a rough 2016. Once the top-selling phone maker in China and the go-to reference whenever media in the West wrote about Chinese tech, the Beijing-based company suffered a 38 per cent sales drop in the second quarter of this year, and by the third quarter, had fallen behind Huawei, Oppo and Vivo to become (just) number four in China. But as we approach 2017, Xiaomi looks like it’s already in the midst of a comeback with the Mi Mix.

Design and hardware

Introduced last month in a surprise announcement, the Mi Mix drew immediate excitement from the tech community for its near bezel-less design. Much like the way gadgets are depicted in futuristic sci-fi films, the Mi Mix’s front is almost all screen (it’s got a 91 per cent screen-to-body ratio. The iPhone 7, by comparison, has a paltry 65 per cent).

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Now why does this matter? Well, tech geeks have always craved the thinnest bezels possible, for reasons both pragmatic and superficial. The lack of bezels around the display means the Mi Mix can cram a 6.4-inch display into a body that’s only a little larger than the iPhone 7 Plus (whose display is almost an inch smaller). But let’s be honest here, geeks also want a bezel-less design because it just looks cool. Viewing photos or videos on the Mi Mix, particularly ones with black backgrounds that match the phone’s frame, is quite stunning, since the visuals seem to reach all the way to the edges of the phone.

Much was made by Xiaomi at the press event of the phone’s ceramic body, designed by Philippe Starck. But I found the phone too slippery and shiny, collecting fingerprints and dust almost immediately out of the box. Xiaomi probably knows this, as it includes a premium-feel leather case with every phone.

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Under the hood, the Mi Mix is powered by the latest and best internals. It’s got a Snapdragon 821 chip (probably the second fastest chip on the market, behind Huawei’s Kirin 960), running on either 4GB or 6GB of RAM. Even on the “lesser” 4GB RAM version, the phone is smooth and without a trace of a hiccup despite heavy use.

Features

Another reason for the phone’s responsiveness, aside from the specs, is Xiaomi’s software, dubbed MIUI (Mi User Interface). Now in its 8th version, MIUI has been cleaned up significantly from the early days, when it was tacky and non-intuitive. Other than the lack of an app drawer, MIUI 8, running on top of Android 6.0, is a pleasant experience.

MIUI is a lot more customisable than the typical Apple or Samsung phone interface; for example, you can swap the “back” and “recent apps” buttons, and there are granular permission controls that let you determine which app can use data, and when.

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Since the Mi Mix lacks a top bezel, there’s no room for the standard earpiece and proximity sensor that’s placed at the top of almost all phones. Instead, the phone emits sound by vibration through the metal frames and checks where your face is with sonar. It sounds crazy, but both actually work. Callers on the other end sounded fine during tests, but the overall volume is lower than on a standard phone.

Performance and battery life

The 16-megapixel camera on the Mi Mix does a solid job during the day, with vibrant shots that tend to punch up saturation, but suffers in low-light/nighttime situations due to its relatively weak f/2.0 aperture. It’s by no means a bad camera, it’s just in the middle of the pack.

With a 4,400mAH battery crammed inside and MIUI’s aggressive battery optimisation features, the Mi Mix will easily finish a full 12-hour day with something like 25 per cent to 30 per cent battery left. But, because MIUI’s software is overzealous at saving power, it also tends to shut down apps in the background without your knowledge, leading to delayed or missed notifications. Fortunately, there’s a way to turn off MIUI’s battery optimisation, but it takes a bit of googling to learn how.

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Conclusion

The Xiaomi Mi Mix isn’t without flaws. The camera is underwhelming compared to those on the iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S7, voice calls could be problematic in crowded settings due to the lack of a dedicated earpiece, and at 209 grams, it’s heavier than just about every other phone out there.

But all this can be forgiven because this is new, eye-opening tech. There’s no getting around this: bezel-free phones are the future.

Very reliable rumours have all but confirmed that the next iPhone and Galaxy phones will both go this route – so the Mi Mix is effectively the first of a new smartphone evolution.

The Mi Mix is not on sale officially in Hong Kong, but most independent phone sellers in Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po have them in stock, and even with a price mark-up the base model retails for HK$5,100. That’s a bit less than a new iPhone, and will certainly raise more eyebrows.

Dimensions: 158.8 x 81.9 x 7.9 mm

Weight: 209g

Screen size: 6.4 inches

Screen resolution: 1080 x 2040 pixels

Battery: 4,400 mAH

OS: Android Marshmallow

Processor: Snapdragon 821

Cameras: 16 megapixel autofocus (rear), 5 megapixel (front)

Memory: 4GB or 6GB RAM

Storage: 128GB or 256GB

Colours: Black

Price: HK$5,100