Tech review: Xiaomi Mi 6 wins on power and price, but falls down on looks - with big bezels giving phone a dated feel
The Mi 6 combines two of the best features from current premium iPhone and Samsung smartphones at half the price, and has a decent camera and long battery life, but ignoring the bezel-less trend is surely a mistake
Xiaomi phones have always offered great value, but this year’s flagship Mi 6 seems to take that approach to another level. The Mi 6 is just the second phone after the Samsung Galaxy S8 to run on Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 chip, and it has the same dual-camera technology used in the iPhone 7 Plus. Xiaomi has effectively combined two of the top features of Samsung and Apple’s best phones into a device that retails in China for 2,499 yuan (HK$2,800).
Design and hardware
The Mi 6 keeps the general design language of the Mi 5 – the same display size and curved glass back – but there are three changes that give the device an iPhone 7 vibe.
First, the physical home button of the Mi 5 has been replaced with a touch-sensitive digital slot that simulates the feeling of a button when pressed. Second, the Mi 6 does not have a headphone jack (Xiaomi boss Lei Jun said at the launch event the decision was to make the Mi 6 “more compact”, but that sounds like marketing speak because the Mi 6 isn’t any thinner than the Mi 5).
And finally, there’s the dual-camera set-up that works just like Apple’s implementation. That means one standard lens and one telephoto lens that can offer 2x lossless zoom.
The phone’s overall construction feels very hefty and premium, but one area disappoints: the bezels above and below the 5.1-inch, 1,080-pixel display. Most of this year’s phones are going for an almost all-screen look (including the upcoming iPhone 8), and the Mi 6’s front looks dated next to the stunning Galaxy S8.
Software and features
The Mi 6 runs a heavily skinned version of Android, dubbed the MIUI, and it’s arguably the most derisory of all Android devices. Stock Android diehards tend to hate it, citing the lack of an app drawer, awkward notification shade and a lock screen that doesn’t support expandable notifications, but MIUI also has one of the largest online community of fans who build custom ROMs and themes.
My opinion of MIUI sits somewhere in the middle. I like the ability to swap the recent and back buttons and the built-in camera lens filters, but find the overall look too garish. The overly aggressive battery optimisation and RAM management (which tends to kill apps sitting in the background, requiring a fresh reboot the next time you open the app) annoyed me often.
The photo capabilities of the Mi 6 are great compared to other phones at this price point, but they don’t match the best mobile shooters on the market. The 2x zoom lens works as advertised, allowing you to take photos of objects from further away without losing detail.
I found the quality of photos under good lighting to be comparable to photos shot on the iPhone 7 Plus. But once the sun sets, or you step inside a dimly lit bar, the Mi 6 camera struggles with noise and details.
This is a phone camera that beats other mid-tier shooters from the likes of Meizu or Samsung’s budget C series, but cannot compare to the lens on flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, iPhone 7 Plus or Huawei Mate 9 Pro. But keep in mind, all three of those phones cost up to double the price of the Mi 6.
Performance and battery life
With a Snapdragon 835 chip and 6GB of RAM, one would think the Mi 6 would run circles around other phones. Sadly, this is not the case. I’ve experienced apps crashing and dropped animation frames when I switch keyboards (I often jump between SwiftKey and Google’s Cantonese keyboard). This is partly due to the early software and may get fixed later (Xiaomi is really good at releasing regular software updates), but I suspect that MIUI is just not the most efficient operating system.
The Mi 6 isn’t a slow phone by any means, but the overall performance is a tad slower and more jerky than the LG G6, which has an older Snapdragon chip and less RAM.
This doesn’t mean the Snapdragon 835 chip here is wasted, as the other Qualcomm features such as improved battery efficiency and charging times made it to the Mi 6. That, coupled with the relatively large 3,350 mAh battery means the Mi 6 is, like other Xiaomi phones, one of the longest-lasting phones on the market. The Mi 6 can last me from Tuesday morning all the way until Wednesday at 3pm, that’s roughly twice as long as the Galaxy S8.
The Mi 6 is stuck in no-man’s land in a couple of ways. It has enough raw muscle power to be compared to the top dogs (Apple and Samsung), but buggy software and an average camera keep the Mi 6 from being a true threat. And while the Mi 6 would have been considered a beautiful phone in 2016, we are now in an era of slim-bezelled phones from Samsung, LG and, ironically, Xiaomi itself.
The Mi 6 looks dated already and will only look more out of place later this year as more bezel-free phones hit the market.
Dimensions: 145mm x 70.5mm x 7.5mm
Weight: 168g (standard); 182g (ceramic edition)
OS version reviewed: MIUI 8.0 over Android 7.1.1
Processor: Snapdragon 835
Cameras: dual 12-megapixel lens with f/1.8 aperture, 8-megapixel front-facing lens
Memory: 64/128GB ROM and 6GB RAM
Colours: black, blue, white, silver, ceramic
Price: 2,499 yuan (HK$2,816) (64GB), 2,899 yuan (128GB), 2,999 yuan (ceramic)