Through the Xiaomi Mi MIX, we come to the end of 2016 with one of the most interesting smartphones of the year. The Mi MIX gives us a hint of how smartphones could look in 2017. Xiaomi combines an almost borderless display in the Mi MIX with new and high quality materials. This Chinese company has shown the smartphone establishment how to put a concept smartphone into actual production.
- ✓Excellent workmanship
- ✓Exciting (almost) borderless display
- ✓Good performance
- ✓Decent battery life
- ✕Both cameras are only satisfactory
- ✕Slippery surfaces
- ✕Fingerprint magnet
- ✕Piezoelectric acoustic element projects sound widely
Xiaomi Mi MIX release date and price
In October 2016, Xiaomi launched the Mi MIX, a smart and noble phone that stood out from the crowd through its huge and nearly borderless 6.4-inch display. Since November 4, this smartphone, which was actually designed as a concept phone, has been on sale in small quantities in China.
The Xiaomi Mi Mix is available in two storage variants: the "cheaper" version comes with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage, while the expensive version is equipped with 6 GB of RAM and double the amount of internal memory for apps, music and video.
The smartphone with nearly borderless display in China is priced at 3,499 RMB and 3,999 RMB. This would then be $500 for the 4 GB/128 GB version, while the 6 GB/256 GB version costs $575.
Xiaomi Mi MIX design and build quality
The Xiaomi Mi MIX will definitely enchant you when it comes to design and workmanship. When switched off, the Mi MIX looks like a black monolith. There is nothing on the front that suggests that this rectangular object is in fact a smartphone. Only at second glance do you notice the front camera in the lower right corner.
For the first time ever, Xiaomi has opted to use ceramic as a material in one of its smartphones. OnePlus used ceramic in a limited version of the OnePlus X. The material is heat-resistant, extremely hard, but unfortunately quite fragile at the same time. So if you get a Xiaomi Mi MIX, you won’t have to worry about scratches on the barely polished case, but you definitely shouldn’t drop it.
The high-gloss material has two other disadvantages: it is absolutely not fingerprint-repellent. Even the smallest touch leaves unsightly greasy prints. In addition, the material is slippery. When you hold the Mi MIX, you constantly feel like it’s about to slip out of your hand and fall to the floor. To mask these two disadvantages, the Mi MIX has a leather cover. This makes it more grippy and obviously you won’t be able to leave fingerprints on the back anymore.
It is with impressive accuracy that Xiaomi managed to drill very small holes for the loudspeaker, headphone jack, microphone and SIM card holder in the brittle material. The buttons, the SIM card slot and the main camera and the fingerprint sensor on the back are very precisely fitted. The workmanship is excellent across the whole smartphone.
While in theory it is a great idea, the leather-like protective cover of Xiaomi is really badly implemented. If you use this cover on a daily basis, the rear fingerprint sensor becomes unusable. The protective cover is too thick, so the fingerprint sensor can’t work properly and you end up having to enter your PIN code or security pattern to unlock the Mi MIX. Fortunately, Xiaomi has included the protective cover with the Mi MIX so you don’t have to pay for the cover separately.
Xiaomi Mi MIX display
The main highlight of the Xiaomi Mi MIX is obvious: its display. Its aim isn’t to impress through high resolutions, high pixel densities or OLED technology, but rather through its almost edgeless integration into the smartphone housing.
The IPS LCD screen on our review device comes with AIDA64 from Sharp and, according to the technical specifications provided by Xiaomi, it should be 2,040 x 1,080 pixels. The pixel density is 362 ppi. Purely from these data, it does not appear to be a top-level smartphone, but the integration of the 6.4-inch display within a housing that is barely bigger than the Huawei Mate 9 is impressive. You may think you’re subtly holding a smartphone with a borderless display until you suddenly realize that there is a small crowd surrounding you, all trying to get a look. Unique technological gadgets like this catch everyone’s attention.
The nearly borderless construction of the display on three sides has forced Xiaomi to break with old smartphone or even cell phone tradition. Even at first glance (even a non-techie would notice), it would appear that there is no space for the usual speaker. Instead, Xiaomi uses a piezoelectric acoustic system. In simple terms, the DAC (digital-to-analog converter) oscillates a piezoeletic ceramic component installed inside the Mi MIX against the metal frame. Our ears then perceive these vibrations as sound.
Although conventional speakers have been removed from this smartphone through this technology, a disadvantage is that the conversation also gets dispersed into the surrounding environment and may even breach on being annoying for those around you. For a more confidential conversation, the Mi MIX user should use some good headphones. However, you would have to invest in these yourself, because Xiaomi does not include a set of headphones with the Mi MIX.
Xiaomi even had to rethink the proximity sensor on the Mi MIX. Conventional smartphones have an infrared sensor that turns the display off when you hold the smartphone to your head. Since such a sensor requires direct unblocked access to the external environment of the phone, this option was not feasible on the Mi MIX. So Xiaomi used a new sensor that is based on a different technique. Ultrasound does not require direct contact to the outside world. Behind the upper part of the display on the Mi MIX, an ultrasonic sensor is hidden, which reliably detects when objects are close to the display and deactivates the screen.
Xiaomi has been able to adequately replace conventional elements through the use of state-of-the-art technology. But one component that is not so easy to replace is the front camera. Xiaomi had to compromise and put the camera in the bottom right corner of the front of the phone, outside of the display. A disadvantage of placing the camera here is the unusual perspective. Fortunately, Xiaomi has found a little workaround to this, which I will delve into deeper in the camera section of this review.
As mentioned at the beginning of this section, the Mi MIX has an unusual resolution of 2,040 x 1,080. Under normal use, the navigation buttons are displayed in the lower edge of the display, such that the classic Full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080) is visible. In the MIUI settings of the Mi MIX, these buttons can be hidden when not in use. If you do this, the full 2,040 x 1,080 pixels then become available for other content. Unfortunately, games or videos do not support this resolution; only MIUI and the preinstalled apps work with it. Ugly black bars will appear around the app display.
Xiaomi Mi MIX software
Xiaomi installed the Android 6.0.1-based MIUI 8 on the Mi MIX. Since the Mi MIX is actually only sold in China, Google Apps do not come preinstalled. Some importers like Trading Shenzhen will install these onto the device beforehand, therefore the use of Google Apps and services should not hinder your decision to purchase a Xiaomi Mi MIX.
Compared with MIUI on a Xiaomi Mi 5s, not much has changed. The only thing worth mentioning is Quickball, which makes it easier to handle and use large phablets with one hand. Quickball is dragged out of the navigation bar into the visible area of the display and offers you numerous quick start functions, but it does take a while to get used to Quickball.
Xiaomi is perpetually lagging far behind other manufacturers in terms of Android updates. A software update is offered at least once a month, but MIUI 8 is still based on Android 6.0.1. A MIUI version based on Android Nougat will surely come into existence, but it’s not very likely that it will be delivered in the first half of 2017. Once we know more about Xiaomi's Android update schedule, we’ll let you know about it in our Android Nougat update article, which we update regularly.
Xiaomi Mi MIX performance
Xiaomi has not compromised on any equipment in the Mi MIX. Under the hood, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor with Adreno 530 GPU is used. Our review device is equipped with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. Because Xiaomi's internal memory is based on fast UFS 2.0, the performance should be on par with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and Huawei Mate 9. However, after we measured the performance of the device with our selected benchmark apps, we were slightly disappointed.
The Xiaomi Mi MIX was inferior in every aspect to the Huawei Mate 9 and in some cases, also to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. However, in daily life, the Mi MIX proves to be a fast everyday companion. There were no apps that forced the smartphone to the buckle at the knees, so to speak, and the phone didn’t heat up very much.
In short, the performance of the Mi MIX hardware is more than enough to provide the user with a fluid experience of MIUI 8. The main feature of the Xiaomi Mi MIX lies not with its inner beauty in the form of an unprecedented processor, graphics or memory performance. The highlight remains the external appearance of the phone.
Xiaomi Mi MIX audio
The Xiaomi Mi MIX has a mono speaker that radiates outwards. The Mi MIX does not have stereo sound, which works best when outputted from the front. But despite this, there is space for a 3.5 mm jack for wired headphones and headsets. These are also definitely needed because, as already mentioned in the display section, a call containing any sensitive or confidential conversation certainly cannot be done owing to the piezoelectric audio technology embedded in the phone.
Xiaomi Mi MIX camera
In the Mi Mix, Xiaomi installed a camera module with 16 MP of maximum resolution with electronic image stabilizer and aperture f/2.0. It was probably not possible to integrate an optical image stabilizer due to the flatness of the main camera.
For design reasons, the front camera had to be moved to the lower right corner of the phone. Those of you who are more familiar with the Android world will know that the same layout already exists on the Dell Venue 8 7840 tablet. There too the front camera had to be moved to this unusual location because the display was almost borderless. Fortunately, the Mi MIX really hold its own through the camera app. If you rotate the phone 180 degrees, the app will adjust. With this feature, you can avoid those “frog view” selfies.
I’m sure Xiaomi have their own reasons for putting an 18-carat gold frame on the camera but sadly, the camera doesn’t fit the otherwise high-quality elements of this device. The autofocus is slow, the shutter speed and also light sensitivity do not correspond to a smartphone of this price class. There isn’t much more to be said about the camera on the Xiaomi Mi MIX, there are simply no highlights that can win my favor. Too bad.
Xiaomi Mi MIX battery
You can guess from the size of the Xiaomi Mi MIX that it hosts a large battery inside. The battery has a capacity of 4,400 mAh. At almost the same dimensions as the Huawei Mate 9 (4,000 mAh), it gives an extra 10 percent of juice. Since the display resolution is a little more than Full HD, the Mi MIX should have quite similar run times as the Huawei Mate 9, if it doesn’t exceed these.
Normally in our reviews, we leave the battery continuously running and test it with PCMark. This allows us to test the smartphone battery extensively. Unfortunately though, this time we encountered some issues, as the PCMark database simply did not recognize the Xiaomi Mi MIX and thus it couldn’t divulge a value.
Luckily, you can still look at the battery history in the settings. This showed us a running time of 9 hours and 35 minutes from 100 percent charge to just under 20 percent. The Huawei Mate 9 came underwent the same test in just under 13 hours. You have to remember though that the Huawei phone has a smaller display and through Android 7.0 Nougat and Doze, it has a better battery than the Xiaomi Mi MIX.
The Xiaomi Mi MIX leaves you with a general impression of high-quality. Unfortunately though, the ceramic case is prone to fingerprint marks and the smooth surface coupled with the relatively heavy weight of 209 grams doesn’t assure a secure grip and you often feel like the phone is about to slip out of your hand - inevitably falling to it’s irreparably damaged doom. But as soon as the (almost) borderless display shines, these niggling worries are washed away and it’s all you can do but stare at the display with pure amazement.
One can forgive the low resolution display. As well as the almost embarrassing camera on the Xiaomi Mi MIX, the performance lags far behind its competition or even the huge battery with a sub-par running time. Just why?
It’s probably for the same reason that you forgive the faults of a sports car or a convertible: it’s about what it looks like and the emotions it evokes. For the Mi MIX, it’s all about the exterior. Excellent workmanship, a borderless display and almost certainly the exclusivity of a hard-to-find smartphone has convinced me. As is the case with a rare car, you look beyond the tiny trunk, the horrendously bumpy suspension and other impractical features.
The only question that remains is how long can one forego these features in everyday life, particularly the camera. At some point, the design and the display will fulfil their worth and then you'll probably wish you’d bought a more balanced smartphone that is mainly just a status symbol.