In just five years, one of the world’s most valuable startups, Xiaomi, has gone from being the “Apple of China” to forging its own path in the smartphone industry. The company’s latest smartphone, the Mi Mix, proves just that.
Xiaomi has crammed quite a bit of technology into the Mi Mix, including a piezoelectric speaker system, ultrasound proximity sensor, and a front-facing camera that’s 50% smaller than normal sensors. Collectively, these technologies show just how innovative Xiaomi has gotten over the years. But the real question is, is the Xiaomi Mi Mix any good?
It sure is.
Design & First Impressions
The Mi Mix almost feels like something out of a futuristic flick. The almost bezel-less display is a sight to behold, and its design as a whole is simply…polished. While I would’ve prefer a less squarish design, there’s no denying that the ceramic construction of the Mi Mix both looks and feels great.
However, the ceramic body isn’t perfect: it makes the Mi Mix very, very slippery. The whole device almost feels like a bar of soap, especially the sides. Picking up the Mi Mix from a flat surface proved to be much harder than it should be because of this, which was why I put on the exclusive leather case within a day of using the phone. Although the case adds quite a bit of bulk to the device, it feels premium, not to mention the improved grippiness.
Despite packing a huge 6.4-inch display, the Mi Mix isn’t too unwieldy, thanks to the bezel-less nature of the display. With a 91.3% screen to body ratio, it is much smaller than other phones with that display size. But, much like one of our colleagues, I was really hoping Xiaomi went with a smaller display instead. While the Mi Mix doesn’t feel quite as big as the Xiaomi Mi Max – which has an equally big 6.44-inch display – the Mix is still noticeably bigger than say…the Nexus 6P, which isn’t all that small to begin with.
To add to that, the Mi Mix’s button placement could’ve been better. When I’m holding the phone naturally, I can reach out to the power button with some effort, but not the volume rocker. The Mi Mix also has quite a heft to it. Weighing 209g, this is one of the heaviest smartphones I have personally used, and I’ve used the hefty Nexus 6P (178g) and Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro (179g) before.
Then we have the rear fingerprint sensor of the Mi Mix, and it’s pretty fast. A quick tap is enough to unlock the phone, and rarely does it not detect my fingerprint accurately. I can confidently say that the Mi Mix’s fingerprint sensor is quicker – and more reliable – than the ones found on the Xiaomi Mi 5 and Redmi Note 3.
All things considered, the Mi Mix is a beautiful smartphone. The bezel-less display is eye-catching, and it has the look and feel of a high-end, premium device. Yes, the Mi Mix is a hefty and sizeable phone, but other aspects of the device are nothing short of impressive – I’ll detail these further down the review.
Packed with Qualcomm’s greatest processor yet, the Snapdragon 821, the Mi Mix simply flies in my testing. I usually fire up Asphalt 8 to test out the gaming performance of phones I review, and I have never seen the game run as smoothly as it did on the Mi Mix. The device as a whole also feels very zippy in my daily usage. Rest assured, the Mi Mix is a very pleasant device to use, even if the software experience isn’t quite as pleasant.
I’ll be honest: my past experiences with Xiaomi’s MIUI Android ROM hasn’t been smooth sailing. When I was using the Mi 5, for instance, the aggressive app management doesn’t play well with messaging apps. Push messages didn’t seem to work on WhatsApp, Telegram, and even Facebook Messenger, which meant that I had to open each app to refresh the notifications and ensure that I didn’t miss any messages. Unfortunately, I faced the same issue with MIUI 8 on the Mi Mix. As a workaround, I had to manually lock each apps after launching them to make sure they don’t get killed in the background.
Aside from that, MIUI 8 on the Mi Mix does feel more pleasant to use than MIUI 7. It feels and looks more polished, and I like that the notification area and shortcuts are now in one place. The fact that I can change the order of the navigation buttons is also a nice touch. However, I really wish Xiaomi went with stock Android’s approach of expanding notifications with a simple downward swipe: pinching to zoom on any given notification to show more information just isn’t as intuitive.
Amazing. That’s really all that needs to be said of the Mi Mix’s battery life. Equipped with a very sizeable 4,400mAh battery, getting through a typical day of usage with the Mi Mix was simply effortless. To be perfectly honest, I could use the phone well into the second day without worry.
On average, I was consistently getting more than six hours of screen on time with the device, which is fantastic considering most flagships these days average about four hours. If you don’t have multiple email and instant messaging accounts synced to your phone, I reckon you could get about two whole days’ battery life on a single charge.
The quick charging of the Mi Mix was pretty great too. With the provided charger, I managed to get about 35% of charge within 30 minutes. Considering the sizeable battery capacity of the Mi Mix, this is really impressive.
Unlike conventional Android smartphones, the Mi Mix has a 17:9 2040 x 1080 display instead of the more standard 16:9 panel. This was done to ensure that there is space for the on-screen navigation buttons. Essentially, the effective display area still has a 16:9 aspect ratio, much like other Android smartphones.
While I was initially sceptical of this implementation – Pixel and Nexus phones have 16:9 displays despite having on-screen buttons – I did learn to like it over time. In fact, it’s actually a very smart method to minimize the bezel of the Mi Mix. There is no issue with scaling at all, and there will only be a black bar where the on-screen buttons would be at when I use apps that hide these buttons.
The display quality of the Mi Mix is pretty good as well. Outdoor visibility is not an issue with the device, and the display’s colours are pretty vibrant. However, with a display this big, I honestly wanted a sharper 1440p panel, although I didn’t exactly notice any pixelation with the Mi Mix’s display.
In order to make up for the missing earpiece on top of the device, Xiaomi relies on a piezoelectric speaker system to generate sound for voice calls. To my surprise, it works surprisingly well; it’s also rather cool that I can just rest my ears anywhere on the display – or even the back of the phone if I feel like it – to listen to voice calls. Did I mention the fact that the Mi Mix relies on ultrasound for proximity sensing as well? Very, very neat.
The bottom-firing mono speaker, on the other hand, is equally impressive as well. It gets really loud at maximum volume, and the overall audio quality is pretty great as well with plenty of bass. That said, the audio can get quite shrill at higher volume, but there’s no noticeable crackling or buzzing.
A lot of work and innovation are under the hood of the Mi Mix, but when the company detailed the camera performance of the device, I was…a little underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the 16MP camera of the Mi Mix is surely capable, but it’s not exactly class leading either.
For starters, the Mi Mix’s camera does not have optical image stabilisation, which made it difficult to get clear and sharp images all the time. The phase detect autofocus may be pretty quick in locking focus, but I was really expecting something…more out of the Mi Mix’s camera, considering its many other impressive features.
Under ideal lighting, the Mi Mix performs as expected of a high-end smartphone camera. Pictures shot with the device are saturated, but it does make them look more appealing (though in the case above, oversaturation can be an issue). Images also look sharp with good detail preservation. On top of that, the shooting experience was decent as well with little to no shutter lag – there’s no evident lag even in low light conditions.
However, switching on HDR drastically impacts the shooting experience. There’s quite a delay in between shots, and the end results are…not bad, but only if I hold the device especially still. I found myself just switching on auto HDR instead.
Low light performance of the Mi Mix’s camera, on the other hand, is…serviceable. Getting enough exposure proved to be a challenge with the camera, and noise can be an issue.
The front-facing camera of the Mi Mix is quite interesting as well. In order to fit the 5MP shooter into the bottom right side of the device, Xiaomi actually had to shrink the entire module by 50%. Now, this is definitely an awkward position for a selfie camera, but I can just turn the phone upside down to compensate for this; the camera UI will adjust accordingly. However, in my testing, third-party apps such as Snapchat and Instagram does not change the orientation; there likely isn’t an API for third party apps to make the change yet.
Overall, the Mi Mix’s camera performance isn’t as good as class leaders like the Galaxy S7 edge and the new iPhone 7, and the lack of optical image stabilisation shows in various situations. For a smartphone that aims to be a model of the future, poor performance in such a core area is rather disappointing.
As we already know, the Xiaomi Mi Mix will not be launched here in Malaysia, but that doesn’t mean it has no competition. It is, however, slightly hard to come up with a list of competitors without any local pricing.
To get a good idea of how much the Mi Mix could cost in Malaysia – trust us, it will eventually be brought here by parallel importers – let’s look at its retail prices in China. The base model (which we are reviewing here) with 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM goes for 3,499 Chinese yuan (about RM2,170) in China, while the highest-end variant with a whopping 256GB storage and 6GB RAM retails at 3,999 yuan (approximately RM2,480).
At these price points, the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is a pretty good competitor to the Mi Mix. The S7 edge has an impressive – albeit not quite as eye-catching as the Mi Mix’s almost bezel-less display – and sharper 5.5-inch 1440p dual-curved Super AMOLED display, a better camera performance thanks to the S7 edge’s very capable 12MP dual-pixel shooter, as well as a more ergonomic – and compact – design.
However, the Galaxy S7 edge only has 32GB of storage, which pales in comparison to the 128GB base storage of the Mi Mix. Of course, the S7 edge has a microSD card slot to compensate for this, but native storage is always the better option for performance and optimisation reasons. Then again, you can actually buy the S7 edge right now in Malaysia from as low as RM2,500; the same does not apply to the Mi Mix – until grey importers bring it in, anyway.
If you’re looking for something more affordable, there’s also the OnePlus 3. Retailing at RM1,888, it is arguably the best smartphone you can get for under RM2,000. While the OnePlus 3 only has a conventional 5.5-inch 1080p Optic AMOLED display, it’s a very practical device. OxygenOS on the OnePlus 3 provides a more pleasant user experience than MIUI 8, and I’d argue its camera performance is better than the Mi Mix’s.
Then again, the Mi Mix also has double the storage at 128GB, and really, its bezel-less display just makes the OnePlus 3 – and practically every device – look…outdated. Even Sharp’s Aquos mini (or even the Aquos Xx and Aquos Crystal 2) doesn’t look quite as sleek.
Xiaomi can make some truly remarkable devices; the Mi Mix is really a testament to that. However, I still think the company can still work on its software: MIUI 8 still doesn’t feel quite as polished and refined as other versions of Android.
But, unlike my experience with the Mi 5, I am more than happy to live with the slightly buggy software experience – the overall package of the Mi Mix is just that good. It’s one heck of a product, and the technology that goes into the making the Mi Mix is something else.
If this is the future of smartphones, I absolutely cannot wait for what’s to come. The next smartphone that really pushes the envelope of what’s possible may very well come from Xiaomi again; the company has already proven that it can innovate with the Mi Mix.