Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Hands On: Oddly Familiar

It was a very well-documented fact that Xiaomi’s new Mi Note 2 would be a device that had a dual-curve display. Previously a feature unique only to Samsung devices, Xiaomi and others are now jumping on the bandwagon.

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I asked Xiaomi’s VP of Global Operations, Hugo Barra, about Xiaomi’s motivations behind the curved display. After all, Samsung adds some “Edge Screen” features that make use of the unique display; the Mi Note 2 has nothing of the sort.

Barra’s reply was simple: “because it looks cool”. Apart from a design perspective, having a curved display allows a smartphone to be narrower without reducing screen size. It also allows for better ergonomics, making it more comfortable to hold.

Therefore it was only natural that comparisons are to be made with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7. Besides the “Note” nomenclature, the dual-curve display and glass back lends a striking resemblance to the now-discontinued product. It doesn’t help either that Xiaomi introduced a new Glacial Silver colour that in certain hues of light, can look very similar to the Coral Blue Galaxy Note 7.

That said, there are some differences that are immediately apparent. The rear camera has a circular housing – and the slightest hint of a protrusion – and it’s positioned slightly lower than the Note 7’s camera module.

Given the curved sides, I was expecting the Mi Note 2 to feel roughly similar to the Galaxy Note 7, but it felt wider than what I expected it to be. The top and bottom bezels are also longer than the Note 7’s (perhaps it’s only very marginal, but the lack of branding at the top bezel leaves it feeling rather empty).

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Even if the device feels strikingly familiar, the Mi Note 2 isn’t just some blatant carbon copy of another product. Build quality is strikingly good, and both the Jet Black and Glacial Silver colours enhance the overall premium feel of the device; both colours look great, but the Silver’s sheen edges it for me. For a phablet, it’s got a comfortable weight, and the curved screen makes one-handed usage more bearable and comfortable.

There is a lot to like on the Mi Note 2. The symmetry between the front and back of the device is stunning when seen from the sides, and there’s always the “cool factor” that Barra mentioned when you swipe the home screen and seeing the icon animations curve along with the very vibrant OLED display.

Given the limited time at the experience zone and the indoor lighting conditions, I would rather not pass judgment on the Mi Note 2’s camera performance. It does, however, spring into life the moment you tap on the camera icon (as you’d expect a modern, high-end smartphone to be), and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chip is more than capable of delivering buttery smooth performance on MIUI 8.

One thing to note (heh) about the device: despite the curved display, Xiaomi has not made any kind of special additions to the device to leverage the unique feature. Where Samsung had its Edge Screen features (which some may argue are merely bloating the software with unnecessary things), the Mi Note 2 is essentially a high-end smartphone with a modern and sexy curved display.

In fact, while it certainly is a different product, the Mi Note 2 looks staggeringly similar in terms of hardware with another high-end Xiaomi phone: the Mi 5s Plus, announced just last month. One has a dual-curve display, another has a dual-camera setup. While choice is a good thing, having two large-screen devices in the same “prosumer” range will seem confusing for a consumer who will inevitably ask, “which is the better one?”

The answer will boil down to the individual’s taste and needs, of course, but it does leave quite a large portfolio of devices in the upper branches in Xiaomi’s lineup. The Mi Note 2 is undoubtedly one of Xiaomi’s best products we’ve seen so far, but it all seems so familiar – and I’m not even referring to the Note 7.

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