[Update: Now with hands-on video shot from Beijing!]
Xiaomi’s meteoric rise as everybody’s favourite smartphone brand is relentless, and with the release of its first-ever flagship Mi Note phablet, the signs are that there is no slowing this train anytime soon. Shortly after the launch event, we managed to sneak some precious few minutes with the device, and here’s our first impressions.
The first thing that struck when I saw the device unveiled was that it was a larger Mi 4 – Xiaomi’s keeping the design language of its flagship devices uniform. While the Mi 4’s metal frame was much-talked about, the defining design of the Mi Note is with its beautiful curves, both subtle and pronounced.
The Mi Note uses the same 2.5D Gorilla Glass 3 curved glass display as on the Apple iPhone 6 Plus – its benchmark for the best phablet – and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. What differentiates the Mi Note is at the back, where Xiaomi designed it with a more dramatic 3D curved Gorilla Glass 3 back. Aesthetically, this was something totally different and daring approach from a company that’s had its fair share of stick of purportedly copying other designs.
Practically, that’s where the real beauty lies. Where the Mi 4 frame’s metal edges were sharp and occasionally slippery, the Mi Note eliminates this entirely, where the curved back sits almost perfectly in the hand. Not since the HTC One M8 has a smartphone felt this comfortable to hold, and this pleasant surprise continued with how balanced the device feels. At 161g, the Mi Note feels not too light nor too heavy for a smartphone of this size.
This was perhaps why Xiaomi is exceptionally proud of what it has achieved here. The dual curved glass design had been rumoured, but not this way – and more importantly, nobody had designed a smartphone this way. This is a Xiaomi original, and hands down this is the most handsome Xiaomi smartphone since the stylishly simple Mi 3.
That being said, I’m personally not a fan of glass back covers as it is a fingerprint magnet. I only managed to try out the white model, and while there were no fingerprints on any device at the experience zone, the presence of Xiaomi on-ground staff constantly wiping the phones each time someone leaves the area tells another story. I can only imagine how the black model looks like under normal use for a few days.
On the other hand, the 2.5D glass really brings out the JDI display’s clarity. The IPS panel has exceptionally great viewing angles, which is complemented well by the curved glass. MIUI 6’s colourful screens further accentuates this point.
Speaking of which, a small tweak on MIUI 6’s navigational buttons at the bottom of the screen is also worth noting. The bottom left button, which is usually the “Settings” or “Options” button, has now been reassigned to the Recent Apps page, which was previously activated by a long-press of the same button. Animations on MIUI 6 were also a lot more fluid since I last experienced it, and this is likely due to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset running underneath.
Oh, and how does it physically compare to the iPhone 6 Plus? These images should help you out:
This may be a 2015 flagship, but unfortunately Xiaomi may come under scrutiny for choosing not to use a faster processor, instead opting to offer a “Pro” version – which depending on Qualcomm’s issues with the Snapdragon 810 chips, may or may not be released soon – could eventually backfire. With most of this year’s flagships rumoured to either be using a faster Snapdragon 805 or the Snapdragon 810 as well as putting in 4GB of RAM, Xiaomi seems to be making a little gamble with its choice of hardware.
This is also the first Mi smartphone to cross the 2,000 Yuan mark. Already, some are not too happy with the pricing of the Mi Note and Mi Note Pro. It may not be as big an issue to many – the Mi Note will still retail well below the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 – the Mi Note will likely be priced higher than its Chinese competitors’ upcoming products. And in a market where Xiaomi practically created for itself, it may soon find itself being priced out of this ferociously competitive zone.
Nevertheless, I’ve not seen a Chinese smartphone as handsome as the new Mi Note. The curved glass on both the front and back are not just design decisions: they actively make the user experience a whole lot better compared to previous Xiaomi phones. It doesn’t look like much in photos, but one that must really be felt to be believed.
Now let’s see if Xiaomi will be able to keep its Q2 promise for Malaysian Mi Fans.