The Mix series from Xiaomi was all about pushing boundaries in smartphone design. The original Mi Mix was a fine testament, introducing new technologies and a stunning 91.1% screen to body ratio. The Mi Mix 2 was a much more practical device, balancing new tech with cost-efficient solutions. The Mi Mix 2S continues down this path, which unfortunately makes it a lot less exciting when you consider Xiaomi’s lofty ambitions.
Xiaomi’s naming convention for the Mi Mix 2S is spot on: just like Apple’s “S” releases, the Mi Mix 2S is purely an iterative update, with some new tech fitted in. It’s only been six months since Xiaomi released the Mi Mix 2, so it’s perhaps understandable that the Mi Mix 2S is almost indistinguishable from the Mi Mix 2, with a similar design language and even dimensions.
The only major differences between the two devices are refreshed hardware (featuring a Snapdragon 845 and up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage), Qi wireless charging support, and a proper dual-camera setup. There is still no dust and water resistance, however, which is a really surprising omission.
From a design standpoint, the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S won’t be too much of a surprise. The front is basically the same impressive Full Screen 2.0 display with a “chin” at the bottom. At the back is a new dual-camera setup that looks just like that on the iPhone X. There are, however, some attempts to differentiate: the black model has 18K gold trims around the camera module, which looks quite classy.
The ceramic back is said to be more scratch resistant than glass, but is just as prone to fingerprints. For this reason – and the dual-camera module’s slight hump – Mi Mix 2S owners may need to get a case to go along with their purchase.
But beyond that, the Mi Mix 2S is a wonderfully crafted device. Build quality is superb, and it has a nice heft that feels great in the hand. It’s easy to forget that the phone has a massive 5.99-inch panel, since it fits very well in the hands. The rounded corners and sides makes it a really comfortable phone – though I must say I’m still not a fan of the bottom bezel. The asymmetry is quite awkward, and it’s made worse when the phone recommends you to flip the phone upside down if you want to take a selfie.
Speaking of cameras, let’s talk about the new rear camera. The Mi Mix 2S packs an iPhone X-esque dual 12MP setup, but with some differences. The main f/1.8 wide-angle sensor has Xiaomi’s 4-axis OIS, while the f/2.4 telephoto sensor makes do without one. On top of that, the main sensor features dual-pixel technology, promising significantly faster autofocus speeds.
Compared to previous Xiaomi cameras, this is a huge step up. The camera locks focus almost instantaneously, even when it is quickly moving between scenes. On top of that, there is finally an Auto HDR mode. On paper, it looks like Xiaomi is finally catching up to the competition.
In practice, however, it does look like this is still a work in progress. We’re told that the global ROM that was installed on the phones Xiaomi provided were basically a day old, and may be buggy. They were, but given that a global release is unlikely for the next few months, that’s understandable.
The camera, while definitely promising, really needs refinement in the software front. When kicked in, HDR photos take a few seconds to process before they can be viewed (though there is zero shutter lag). Some images shot in Portrait Mode had weird green artifacts on the bottom half. Sometimes, opening the camera app even crashes the camera altogether.
But, those are minor issues that will definitely be ironed out should Xiaomi release the device. During my time testing the camera after the event ended, I found a really glaring issue with the dual-pixel autofocus: it just wasn’t reliable.
Samsung’s excellent dual-pixel cameras work flawlessly in a variety of shooting scenarios. When an object appears in the frame that’s closer to the rest of the scene, the camera swiftly shifts focus on that instead. The Mi Mix 2S does not, even when the subject is so close to the camera. Worse, if you tap on the closer subject, it sometimes fails to respond, leaving the focus as it is.
Tapping on the red hibiscus failed to change the focus point.
Moving a lot closer finally helped, and even then I needed to tap on the hibiscus to lock focus.
This lead to some serious frustration in the half hour or so of testing the Mi Mix 2S camera. It performs very well in landscape shots, and in some Portrait Mode photos, it was even better than the iPhone 8 Plus that I had with me (comparison below). But for some reason, it struggled lock focus in situations where I really wouldn’t expect the camera to have issues with.
Because we were using pre-production samples with a buggy ROM, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this when we get our review unit of the device. There is definitely a lot of promise with this camera simply because of the hardware behind it, and I have quite high hopes that Xiaomi has finally got a flagship camera it can be proud of. Xiaomi’s engineers definitely need to work on the software, though.
The Mi Mix 2S is a good example of a device that aims very high, but at the same time is weighed down by costs and efficiency. Where the original Mi Mix was forward thinking, it had some issues that ultimately got Xiaomi to rethink the device’s direction, and to look for a balance between innovation, practicality, and cost. Does the Mi Mix 2S find that balance? We’re just as curious to find out.