Xiaomi’s success can largely be attributed to the company’s ability to offer its devices at very competitive prices, and its latest flagship, the Xiaomi Mi 6, is the perfect example of Xiaomi’s pricing strategy. Not only is the Mi 6 the most affordable Snapdragon 835 smartphone in the market now, it’s also arguably Xiaomi’s most premium smartphone yet.
However, much like its predecessor, the Mi 6 is still lacking in some key areas. Don’t get me wrong: for its asking price, the Mi 6 is a pretty fantastic flagship smartphone, but value for money alone is not enough.
Design & First Impressions
When I first held the Xiaomi Mi 6, one thing stood out the most: this is a hefty smartphone. Our review unit is the Ceramic Edition, and this 5.15-inch smartphone weighs 182g – that’s about the weight of a 5.9-inch Huawei Mate 9 (190g). The bulk of the weight is actually due to the stainless steel frame and ceramic back of the Mi 6; the standard glass edition weighs slightly less at 168g.
That’s still heavier than most smartphones of its size, but we’re told that one of the major complaints of the Mi 5 last year was that it was too light at 129g.
This will naturally be a subjective issue, but I actually like the heft quite a bit. The extra weight helps the Mi 6 feel more premium, and the weight distribution is very balanced too.
However, the same issue I faced with the Mi 5 is still present on the Mi 6. Because of the minimal side bezels and curved back panel of the Mi 6, my palm would occasionally touch the lower right portion of the display. This is especially troublesome with one-handed operation.
Speaking of bezels, that’s one area the Mi 6 is behind in comparison to its competition. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S8 devices or the LG G6, the Mi 6’s top and bottom bezels are…typical of a conventional smartphone. The sizeable bezels make the Mi 6 taller than it should be, and it just doesn’t look quite as sleek as Samsung and LG’s flagships.
Design aside, I’m impressed with the Mi 6’s under glass fingerprint sensor. Not only is it very fast and accurate, but because the sensor is placed underneath the protective glass of the phone, it has the same texture as the glass display. It’s a small thing, yes, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.
The Xiaomi Mi 6 both looks and feels premium, and the phone’s extra heft really helps drive this point home. While the Mi 6 is easily Xiaomi’s most premium phone yet, the sizeable top and bottom bezels do give the device a rather ordinary design, especially considering this is the same company that released the Mi Mix.
Powered by the Snapdragon 835 chipset, performance is not an issue with the Mi 6. There’s no noticeable performance hiccup or stuttering throughout the review period, and the Mi 6 is very, very enjoyable to game on.
That’s not the only highlight of the Mi 6: it also has a 3,350mAh battery, which is quite impressive for a 5.15-inch device.
The Mi 6 is definitely very capable in terms of hardware, but it also depends on how the hardware is utilised – that’s where the Mi 6 falters.
Before we get to the software of the Mi 6, I must point out that our review unit is running on a beta build of the global MIUI ROM provided by Xiaomi; the issues we faced here may be resolved in the final version.
I’ve used the Mi 6 for a couple of weeks, and on more than one occasion, the device would freeze up and reboot by itself. Aside from that, GPS performance is iffy as well. While I was able to get the GPS to lock in on my position just fine on certain days, I’d have trouble the next day.
Aside from these issues, the Mi 6’s software experience…is very similar to the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4. Google Assistant is available here, and the many different themes available on Xiaomi’s theme store are actually pretty interesting – the one you see here in this review is one of the official themes from Xiaomi.
However, there is still definitely room for improvement here. It would’ve been great if notifications can be expanded with a simple downward swipe, and the fact that useful Android 7.0 Nougat features like Split-Screen Mode is not available on the Mi 6 is rather…unfortunate.
This is one area the Mi 6 excels in. Packed with a large 3,350mAh battery – especially for a device its size – I can easily get five hours of screen on time consistently with the Mi 6. This commendable battery life can be attributed to the Mi 6’s 1080p display and the power-efficient Snapdragon 835. Of course, the sizeable battery definitely helps too.
As for the charging speed of the Mi 6, it’s not the best we’ve seen. Within 30 minutes of charging, I only got about 35% of battery life; it’s not bad, but it’s not great either.
Although the Mi 6 doesn’t come with a high resolution QHD display like many other flagship smartphones in the market now, its 5.15-inch 1080p IPS display still looks great. Texts and images look sharp, colours are vibrant, and it gets plenty bright to be used comfortably outdoors.
Unlike its predecessor, the Mi 6 comes with a stereo speaker setup; the earpiece acts as the left channel, while the bottom-firing speaker is the right one. While the speakers can get pretty loud with no noticeable buzzing at maximum volume, the audio quality is…well, only decent.
And then we have one of the most controversial design choices of the Mi 6: the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. Sure, users can always use a pair of Bluetooth earphones with the Mi 6 – or use the provided Type-C to 3.5mm jack adapter – but it’s just not as convenient. In fact, I was on a flight when I wanted to watch some shows with the Mi 6, but alas, I only brought my regular pair of earphones.
I ended up watching the show without audio and only read the subtitles.
This is the Mi 6’s Achilles heel. Sporting a 12MP dual-camera setup made up of two lens with different focal lengths – similar to the iPhone 7 Plus – the Mi 6 camera is surprisingly capable, but is hugely dependent on good lighting.
For example, the camera’s Portrait Mode, for one, works really, really well, but only when the lighting is ideal. In low light conditions, images captured can get pretty noisy – again, very similar to the 7 Plus.
The same applies to the Mi 6’s camera performance as a whole. It can take some great-looking shots when the lighting is ideal, but the camera’s low light performance certainly could’ve been better. To make things worse, the camera app also crashed on me several times, but as mentioned, our Mi 6 is running on a beta build of MIUI 8.
With some patience and thought, the Mi 6 can definitely capture some impressive shots, but that’s precisely the problem. Enabling HDR, for one, improves image quality quite a bit, but it makes the camera more sluggish. This is especially noticeable in low light conditions; there’s a good one to two seconds pause in between shots.
Then there’s the fact that this mode can be very aggressive in saturating colours, as can be seen in the two photos captured in Singapore above.
On the other hand, I found the Portrait Mode to be quite a fun feature. Remember, this is only previously seen in the iPhone 7 Plus, so this is still relatively a new camera feature.
The shooting experience is largely similar to the iPhone 7 Plus – just tap on the Portrait Mode icon and the camera automatically switches modes. It will usually accurately detect the subject, though a quick tap on the frame will lock focus and exposure more accurately.
The results are also quite similar with the iPhone 7 Plus. The software actually does a really good job of isolating the subject from the background, and the bokeh effect is subtle and natural-looking. But, just like the iPhone 7 Plus, once you zoom in on the result, noise can be very apparent. That said, photos captured in this mode is great for social media sharing.
If there’s one thing Xiaomi needs to improve in the camera department, it’s the shooting experience. It has to feel more effortless to take good shots with the Mi 6, which is something other phone makers know a thing or two.
In China, the Mi 6 Ceramic Edition retails at only 2,999 Yuan, which comes up to about RM1,870. The base model with 64GB of storage, on the other hand, goes for only 2,499 Yuan (around RM1,560). Needless to say, the Mi 6 is the most affordable Snapdragon 835 smartphone in the market right now.
As the Mi 6 is not officially available in Malaysia (yet – it’s already registered for SIRIM certification), we’ll have to use its retail price in China to find its closest competition. However, considering the fact that there’s virtually no Snapdragon 835 smartphone in Malaysia right now, it’s…slightly tough to come up with a list of competitors.
Nonetheless, there are several interesting smartphones in the sub-RM2,500 price range, and none is more compelling than the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, which currently goes for as low as RM2,399. For that kind of money, the S7 edge offers superior camera performance, a sharper and more vibrant 5.5-inch 1440p Super AMOLED display, support for expandable storage, and most notably, an IP68 rating.
But the Xiaomi Mi 6 does have its fair share of advantages as well. These include more RAM and internal storage at 6GB and 128GB respectively, a more powerful Snapdragon 835 chipset, as well as better battery life thanks to its smaller, lower resolution display and more power-efficient SoC. All of these for probably less money too.
Then there’s the OnePlus 3T. Originally retailing at RM2,229, the 3T can be purchased for only RM1,999 now. In comparison to the Mi 6, the OnePlus 3T packs a bigger 5.5-inch 1080p Optic AMOLED display, a slightly larger 3,400mAh battery (though this doesn’t necessarily translate to better battery life), and a much more pleasant – though barebone – software experience.
Value for money is the Mi 6’s most attractive aspect, so it’s no surprise that it trumps the OnePlus 3T in terms of hardware. The Mi 6 has a newer and more capable Snapdragon 835 SoC, a unique dual-camera configuration – which allows for some interesting shots, especially with Portrait Mode – and an arguably sleeker glass and metal design.
If the Xiaomi Mi 6 is priced very closely to the OnePlus 3T once it arrives in Malaysia, we imagine many consumers will have a tough choice deciding between the two devices.
The Xiaomi Mi 6 is a good flagship smartphone. In fact, it’s a great one, especially for its asking price. However, when it comes to the flagship smartphone category, value for money isn’t necessarily the deciding factor when making a purchase. That’s where the Mi 6 stumbles somewhat.
There are really only two major pain points with the Xiaomi Mi 6: software experience and camera performance. In retrospect, these two aspects have always been the areas Xiaomi could improve on.
We’ll reserve judgment on the software experience (since we’re running a beta build of the global ROM provided by Xiaomi), but for the camera…we’re still on the fence. It isn’t yet flagship-level, but I’ve a feeling that the Portrait Mode may sway some users – especially considering the Mi 6’s appealing price point.