It’s been a little over a year, since Xiaomi announced its Mi 5 smartphone. The device was a flagship and on stage, ex-vice president Hugo Barra stressed on how the Mi 5 offered better value for money over existing premium flagship smartphones in the market. The Xiaomi Mi Mix 2. Image: tech2/Rehan Hooda In our review […]
It’s been a little over a year, since Xiaomi announced its Mi 5 smartphone. The device was a flagship and on stage, ex-vice president Hugo Barra stressed on how the Mi 5 offered better value for money over existing premium flagship smartphones in the market.
In our review of the Mi 5 we concluded that it was a fine device, with decent low light camera performance, and decent software as well. It was no Galaxy S7, but it packed in enough processing power to compete with the premium flagships and the OnePlus 2 (and the soon to arrive OnePlus 3).
Later that year, at a Xiaomi event held in China, the internet company announced the Mi Mix Concept smartphone. It seemed like something unbelievable at the time, an almost bezel-less display with a body made of ceramic, designed by famous industrial designer Philippe Starck. It sent tremors across the smartphone world, proving to critics that Xiaomi as a Chinese smartphone brand could innovate. Apart from the display, the device also featured piezoelectric ceramic acoustic technology since it could not accommodate an earpiece because of the thin bezels at the top, and the sides. Even the camera was moved down to the chin. The phone never made it to India, but it wasn’t received too well by the reviewers because of its average camera and large size, despite the great build quality using ceramic.
A few months later, around the IFA 2017 event, Xiaomi announced a mass production version of the Mi Mix concept smartphone called the Mi Mix 2. A few months later, it has finally been launched in India at Rs 35,999. So what has improved? Is it a better buy over the OnePlus 5? Or is it just a case of ‘all show and no go’? Let’s find out!
Build and Design: 8.5/10
Having used the Galaxy S8, the Galaxy S8+, the Galaxy Note 8, the LG G6, the iPhone 8 Plus and the OnePlus 5, I must say that Xiaomi has silenced a critic like myself, who looks into the tiniest details that go into the making of these premium smartphones.
It is impressive to see a Chinese smartphone manufacturer come up with something original at a time when every other smartphone looks similar to the one next to it in a retail store. So far the only design that has stood out this year, was the Galaxy S8 that managed to fit in a larger display in a smaller footprint. Samsung did a great job with the curved edges, which rendered the S8 as an almost bezel-less smartphone with bezels just at the top and the bottom.
The Mi Mix 2 is not bezel-less smartphone because well, there are bezels (about 3 mm thin to be precise). It’s just that you keep forgetting about them every time you unlock that display, which appears more like a window into your smartphone. Xiaomi’s software too plays a big role in giving you that impression where the rounded UI elements play nice with the rounded corners of the display. So the software and hardware integration that forms the UI here can only be compared to an Apple iPhone X. But it too has an annoying notch at the top. So Kudos to Xiaomi on this one!
The earpiece is almost hidden out of view, but sounded loud and clear despite its discreet location, which is deeper in the chassis.
The selfie camera sits at the bottom chin at the right corner, while the ambient light sensor is hidden in the left side of the chin. It is really hard to tell that a sensor is actually present in that area, until you mistakenly cover it and your display goes dim. This becomes a bit of a problem when you hold the smartphone horizontally while playing games.
The back cover of the device comes with a proper 2.5D sheet of ceramic and it’s here for a reason. Ceramic is literally scratchproof with most of the objects you will find in your pocket. I usually don’t carry around keys or coins (blame demonetisation for that) in my pockets but even if I did, I think the metal frame would have acquired scratches and scuffs but not the ceramic sheet on the back.
The ‘piano black’ colour of this ceramic sheet is also very unique. Add the 18-carat gold plating for the camera ring and some gold-coloured lettering on the back below it and you have a very premium-looking device that can easily compete with the premium flagship smartphones that are priced a lot higher. The glass on both the front and back did not catch smudges or fingerprints easily. Xiaomi did provide a well-made rubberised case, but I did not end up using it because I wanted to check how the ceramic felt and wore out with daily use (it did not).
So is it the perfect picture? Not exactly. The device is not IP 67 or 68 dust and water resistant. When we quizzed Manu Jain about it. He said, that Xiaomi has yet to begin working with special components needed for delivering such smartphones, and that IP rating would be a gradual move.
Then there’s that unfinished USB Type C port cut-out at the bottom, which kept reminding me that this is a Chinese smartphone. Every time you pick up the phone, and place your pinky at the center of the bottom edge for support, you can feel the sharp edge. But it’s far from the hastily finished machining found all over the OnePlus 5.
All-in-all, at Rs 35,999 I found both the design and construction quality up to the mark, save for that USB port at the bottom, which was a bit annoying. This is because even with that tiny problem, it’s still leagues better than what other manufacturers have on offer in this segment.
On paper, the Mix 2 appears to be the perfect smartphone, at the perfect price. You get a 5.99-inch Full HD plus IPS LCD display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, sporting a resolution of 1,080 x 2,160 pixels. Inside, there’s a top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core chipset that is paired with 6 GB RAM and 128 GB of internal storage with no storage expansion.
The camera on the rear features a 12 MP Sony IMX386 sensor with an f/2.0 aperture, PDAF and a 4-axis OIS system accompanied by a dual LED flash. On the front, there’s an f/2.0 aperture lens with a 5 MP sensor behind it for selfies.
Connectivity options include the usual 4G/LTE, 3G, 2G radios, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC and that USB Type C port at the bottom edge.
There’s a fingerprint reader on the back and 3,400 mAh battery inside that also supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 fast charging technology.
The Mi Mix 2’s display may not be one of the most pixel-dense ones around, but Xiaomi has struck quite the balance here. The display is an IPS LCD unit, supports 16 million colours and covers the front face with an 80 percent screen-to-body ratio. But as penned down in my first impressions I expected the worst, since it did not pack in a Quad HD unit considering the display’s size.
Thankfully, that Full HD plus resolution (1,080 x 2,160 pixels) gives a good 403 PPI pixel density. So despite Xiaomi’s abnormally fine software MIUI V8 elements, I did not spot jagged edges, whether it was icons, text or images.
The colours were spot on in my opinion and were not oversaturated like the AMOLED units on the OnePlus 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S8 (the Note 8 has a better display).
What I like even more, was the fact that it was flat and did not feature curved edges. The curved edges on the Galaxy S8 do eat into your screen’s usable real estate, so while it looks fancy and makes for a bezel-less appearance, it may not necessarily be a good thing.
Considering that this is a Sunlight display, I used the device in almost all lighting conditions. From a dark room, to a dimly lit environment, to coloured lighting and in direct sunlight. I must conclude that Xiaomi has done a fantastic job at tuning this display and loved how it adjusts to various types of lighting to reveal the right colours. There is that barely visible fine red tint, but that’s noticeable when I compare it to the Rs 77,000 iPhone 8’s display. In short, there’s not much to complain and the stuff you get here is incomparable with the rest of the offerings in this range.
Still then, if you are not happy with the way it looks, you can head into display settings and change the tone and the contrast according to your liking.
Like always, Xiaomi’s heavily customised MIUI V8 takes up residence in yet another Mi-branded smartphone. This time around, there is a difference.
It may look like the same MIUI V8 that we see on other smartphones by the brand, but it feels at home here and this is because of one hardware change, the rounded corners.
It makes a world of a difference for someone like me who installs apps based on what font they use and how well finished their user interface is. So a display with rounded corners and Xiaomi’s minimalist approach with MIUI 8 actually complimented each other in a way few smartphones today can.
The closest comparison to this experience would be the iPhone X, but it too packs in an annoying notch at the top to accommodate it new FaceID system.
The OS feels buttery smooth and there’s hint of slowdown or stuttering. In fact, it felt better and a lot lighter than’s Samsung’s TouchWiz that feels heavier despite looking minimalist with the recent shift to white backgrounds.
In the Recents menu, I like the idea of stacking the previously visible menus for apps. Open Settings, then tap on display, hit the home button. Short-press on the options key on the navigation bar and you will see those two pages stacked one behind the other. Even if it works just with the Settings it’s unique and helps you get to that particular page in Settings faster. So far, no other customised version of Android (nor Google) on any other smartphone does this.
With Android 7.1 Nougat on board and the heavy customisation options, I did miss the app shortcuts that you get on stock Android. But there was enough to keep me fidgeting with, thanks in part to the fluid UI, so I did not miss the stock features much.
Yes, the apps can scale individually to that 18:9 display. So, there are no black bars at the top and the bottom just in case your favourite third-party app does not support taller displays yet. However, the feature to activate the same is buried deeper into the Settings. You will need to go to Settings> Additional Settings> Buttons> Max aspect ratiosettings and then choose which app you need to run full screen. You can even hide the navigation bar for that true fullscreen experience. But unlike the Galaxy S8 (where there is an invisible 3D touch button) you will have to swipe from the bottom to reveal the navigation bar in order to exit an app. How I wished Xiaomi had included a swipe gesture for going back to the homescreen!
As mentioned above, I found the UI buttery smooth and fluid. Another mention Xiaomi deserves here is how smoothly I could scroll through the Google Play Store, without a stutter or a hiccup, which is something I have not seen even on premium flagships lately. Clearly, this proves that Xiaomi has worked on the UI in terms of stability and performance. But what about the rest?
Gaming was not an issue with a Qualcomm 835 and the Adreno 540 GPU on board. The smartphone ran most graphics-intensive 3D games flawlessly (at the highest settings) without a hiccup. I only had a problem with Real Racing 3 as the game simply refused to load from menu to menu (it ran eventually). This, however, could be attributed to the fact that it is a new device and has yet to be optimised by the developer. The phone rarely heated up, unless I was playing these over a 4G connection in direct sunlight (which is the case for most flagships today).
With the 3.5 mm headphone port missing, the only other way to test the audio was via the USB C port. Using the provided USB C to 3.5 mm connector, I was able to experience the true audio quality of the Mi Mix 2. Bluetooth was not really an option as Android Oreo will be the update to bring along a wider choice of higher quality wireless audio formats like Sony’s LDAC. Audio quality while listening to music was quite impressive. It was well balanced while sticking to the right amount of treble and bass making for a great music listening experience. Switching on the headphone and audio effects feature, kind of ruined it, by going a bit too heavy on the bass, despite choosing the ‘general’ setting. As with everything else with MIUI, there is an equaliser that you can customise to your liking.
Voice quality was pretty good over 4G networks but sounded fine over the bottom loudspeaker as well. However, while watching videos using the YouTube app, the volume felt a bit low. Xiaomi can increase the volume level a bit. Hopefully, this should arrive in future software updates. Camera: 7.5/10 Xiaomi included a Sony IMX 386 sensor on the Mi Mix 2. Surprisingly, the same sensor is also available on the Mi Max 2. With so much emphasis on the design, I really had no hopes for camera, but after using the unit for a week, the results were more strange than surprising.
In daylight conditions, the 12 MP rear camera with 4-axis OIS performed really well. It cannot touch the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Note 8 nor the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus in terms of details, but holds well for a smartphone that is priced at Rs 35,999.
The display felt more like a frame in my hands considering that there’s little bezel around it. So clicking photos felt like I was holding a cut-out and not a phone with the usual chunky bezels around.
The images looked sharp and colour balance was accurate. The almost Sunlight display also helped me get a better idea about what the actual image looked like instead of the AMOLED displays that do not show you the true toned-down colours of the actual image.
The focussing was quick in daylight but you have to remember to turn the burst mode off in the Camera settings (search for Press and hold shutter button), else all of your images will be out of focus because the burst mode is turned on by default. This is more visible in low light than daylight scenarios, because the Mix 2 has one big problem. It is slow to focus in low light.
While the daylight scenarios produced images that were better than the OnePlus 5, the OnePlus faired leagues better in the dimly lit and low light or twilight scenarios.
In low-light scenario with the Mi Mix 2, shots appeared blurry, because the camera took its own sweet time to lock focus. Whether it was a subject or a scene, in low light, the autofocus just did not work. I had to press down on the shutter button to trigger it every single time to get a decent shot in focus, but even those would turn out blurry because of the disappointing low light image processing.
Images were blotchy, lacked any detail whatsoever and were loaded with luminance noise. But as I found out it was not really the sensor at fault.
I switched to Manual mode and as you can see in the camera samples album, I managed to get some great (if not fantastic) shots, meaning that Xiaomi’s Auto mode image processing was at fault (you will find these on the album, followed by the image shot in Auto mode).
So while the camera performed up to expectations and better than the OnePlus 5 in daylight, it performed a lot worse than the OnePlus 5 in low light scenarios. The OnePlus 5’s DCAF system seems to have surprisingly defeated the PDAF system in low light scenarios. These processing issues can easily be ironed out in a software update, so here’s hoping that Xiaomi works on them and delivers them quickly.
As for the front-facing camera, it was decent and produced pleasing well-exposed images. Video too was above average but not stunning. In short, the video was almost on par with the OnePlus 5, but not better than it. When one looks at the overall camera performance, the OnePlus 5 clearly wins the battle in the camera department.
With a 3,400 mAh battery onboard, the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 with its 10 nm chipset and Full HD plus display faired pretty well in our standard PC Mark Work 2.0 Battery Life test.
The smartphone lasted a good 10 hours with the test that keeps the screen on continuously during the testing phase.
In day-to-day usage, with 3 email accounts on sync, camera usage, continuous messaging and continuous push emails on one account, the Mix 2 surprisingly lasted the work day with about 20 percent or more to spare for the next day. Clearly, there are no issues and the smartphone performed on par with the OnePlus out here.
Charging the device with the bundled Quick Charger was pretty fast. The device took a little over an hour to charge from 0-100 percent.
Verdict and Pricing in India
The Mi Mix 2 is Xiaomi’s best flagship smartphone offering yet. It almost is an all-rounder if you don’t factor in its abnormal low light camera performance. With that said, it performs equally good as the OnePlus 5 if not better on some fronts (just that it does not come with a Portrait mode).
The Mix 2, however, sets a new standard on one big important factor in the sub Rs 40,000 range, and that’s design. It’s unique, uses exotic materials like ceramic, gold plating and packs in a really good display, all three of which are way better than what the OnePlus 5 offers and eerily close to the premium flagship smartphones like the HTCs and the Samsungs.
Had Xiaomi simply added better image processing and IP 68 dust and water resistance, it would have no problems taking down some premium flagships as well. Thankfully for HTC, the folks at Xiaomi did not.
At Rs 35,999 I would recommend this smartphone over a OnePlus 5 as it delivers a lot more and looks good while it’s at it. Indeed, neither OnePlus nor Nokia see a product like the Mi Mix 2 coming to Indian markets. But it’s a good wakeup call for both Chinese smartphone brands and international brands alike.