Highlight - Finally, a massive screen without the massive footprint.
For years Xiaomi has been a company that has tried its hardest to provide an iPhone-like experience on Android, and for a long time they’ve succeeded at that goal in many ways. Over the course of the past year, however, we’ve seen the company branch out into new things, particularly when it comes to product design. Xiaomi’s Mi MIX is easily the furthest Xiaomi has ever ventured out into their own designs, and it’s one of the most unique looking smartphones we’ve ever seen. It’s also packed with top of the line specs and a very Xiaomi price as well, but is it up to snuff, or is this just a showpiece? Let’s find out!
Looking at the Mi MIX, it’s pretty obvious that the defining factor of the device is its screen. Sporting a 6.4-inch 1080 x 2040 resolution IPS LCD panel up front, this huge screen takes up 91.3% of the front of the phone. Underneath is a Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 821 SoC with an Adreno 530 GPU. This quad-core CPU is made up of a dual-core 2.35GHz Kryo CPU and a dual-core 1.6GHz Kryo CPU. Below the screen you’ll find a 5-megapixel camera, and on the back of the phone sits a 16-megapixel with f/2.0 lens, phase detection auto focus, electronic image stabilization for video and a dual-LED flash. A 4,400mAh non-removable battery is underneath the ceramic back, and a USB Type-C port is used to charge it fast with Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 technology. Surprisingly this device is incredibly small for its screen size, and you’ll find its dimensions are much closer to a phone with a 5.7-inch screen.The Mi MIX sits at 158.8mm tall, 81.9mm wide and 7.9mm thin, but weighs a hefty 209g.
There are actually two models of the Mi MIX, both of which include all of the above specs, but differ on price, RAM and available storage. For 3,499 Yuan (~$515 USD) you’ll get the black Mi MIX with 4GB RAM and 128GB internal storage. Bumping that price up to 3,999 Yuan (~$590 USD) gets you an insane 6GB RAM and 256GB internal storage. This more expensive model also features 18k gold around the trim of the camera lens and rear-facing fingerprint scanner, making it appear much more like a luxury item. Neither model offers microSD card support, but they do both come with a dual-SIM card tray with two nano-SIM slots. Something new for Xiaomi this time around is not just full NFC capabilities, but also LTE radios that work in the US as well. This in addition to a fully ceramic body and ultrasonic proximity sensor make this one a bevy of new tech for the Chinese electronics giant.
In The Box
Normally Xiaomi’s phones don’t come with much more than the charger needed to keep their batteries full, but the Mi MIX is changing things up in a far more elegant and value-packed way. Instead of the usual fairly plain white box, Xiaomi has opted for an elegant black box with a tri-fold interior. The phone is of course prominently placed at the top, and opening the tri-fold box reveals a leather case for the phone, as well as the requisite USB Type-C to Type-A cable and wall charger, as well as a set of manuals and a SIM tray ejection tool. Interestingly enough the wall charger included has three separate voltage levels it can change between: 5v/2.5A, 9V/2A and 12V/1.5A.
Looking at the phone you'd probably guess the display is the highlight of the experience, and in this you'd only be partly right. It's likely no secret by now that this is not only one of the largest displays that you can get on any smartphone to date, but one with the smallest bezels ever created. Utilizing over 90% of the front of the phone's surface area, Xiaomi has created something we simply don't see very often in a modern smartphone. Having a display that truly comes to 3 of the 4 total sides of the phone is something truly wondrous to behold, and it's a little shocking at first to be completely honest. Another interesting thing here is that all four corners of the display are actually rounded off, something that gives a "friendlier" feeling to the overall display as a whole. As far as displays are concerned this one is a slightly better IPS LCD than most Xiaomi phones have, but it doesn't go out of its way to be particularly amazing. Xiaomi is definitely counting on its bezel-less tech to impress far more than actual screen quality here, but that doesn't mean it's a bad screen by most measures.
At 6.4-inches and sporting a resolution of 1080 x 2040, this phone has a relatively lower pixel-per-inch density rating of 360 ppi, or at least 100 pixels-per-inch smaller density than most modern displays. That's not to say it's not sharp though, as 360 is over what's considered "retina" display density, and therefore unless you're using this one for VR applications you're probably not going to care much about relatively lower density. You might have also noticed that the resolution looks a little different from most 1080p displays, and that's because Xiaomi has chosen a taller 17:9 aspect ratio for the phone. This keeps the software navigation bar from impeding on the 16:9 dedicated aspect ratio for movies and other content, and doesn't force apps to go full screen in order to make the aspect ratio correct. In theory this is nicer than in practice, as I found it annoying to constantly see a blank bar on the right side of the screen when watching videos, but it's certainly more convenient for quickly navigating back or home.
Other aspects of the display have IPS LCD qualities written all over them. You'll find the brightness can be cranked up significantly, and this one is ultra easy to see in the sun. By default Xiaomi has an automatic contrast setting that lowers the contrast significantly and ups the sharpness when in direct sunlight, making the display look a little funny if you look closely, but the added visibility in direct sun is well worth it. White balance appears near perfect out of the box and needs absolutely no adjustment at all, although from an angle it's definitely got a slight warm hue to the whites. Black levels are typical IPS fare and appear dark gray, especially when the brightness gets turned up. Viewing angles are absolutely superb and show little sign of color changing or dimming, although as said before it's slightly warmer at an angle. Overall refresh and persistence rates of the pixels could definitely be better though, as there is some visible trailing when scrolling in any app, especially when contrasting light icons on a dark background.
Hardware and Build
When it comes to build quality, Xiaomi is quickly becoming one of the star players in the smartphone market. The Mi MIX sports a brand new design for Xiaomi, and not just regarding the bezels either; Xiaomi has outfitted the phone with a completely ceramic body, opting for more rare materials than metal or glass can offer. The zirconia ceramic used to make the entire chassis is only produced in relatively small quantities, which suits Xiaomi's traditional flash sale method in China quite well. This new material is simply stunning, and if you've ever held or used a ceramic OnePlus X you'll know what this feels like. The big exception here is that, since the entire body is made of ceramic and not just the back, there's little to no friction to any part of the phone at all. Every corner and curve is buffed to a mirror finish, and since it's ceramic built to 8 MoH hardness rating, you can bet it's not going to be scratched easily. For reference Diamond is 10 MoH, the hardest of minerals, while sapphire is just a notch down at 9 MoH, and the latest Gorilla Glass is around a 5 or 6.
Part of the process of making this so scratch resistant is coating the ceramic with layers of finish, however that also makes the device unbelievably slippery. During the past few weeks of testing the Mi MIX I brought it along with me to many family and friend's houses and asked their opinion of it's build. Every single person, without fail, mentioned that they would never use the phone unless it's in a case simply because it's so slippery. Given the horrendous drop results we've seen from some users, it's pretty obvious why Xiaomi included a leather case in the box with every Mi MIX sold, and it's not simply for looking high class. While the ceramic looks and feels amazing in the hand, there's no doubt it's a less practical material for actual daily use. The back of the phone does have a tad bit of give to it, and can be pushed in a fraction of a millimeter until it meets what's likely the non-removable battery inside. This doesn't feel great to say the least and is a bit concerning.
On the bottom of the phone you'll find a centered USB Type-C port flanked by two speaker grilles for symmetry, however only the left one is an actual speaker. The left side holds the dual nano-SIM tray, while the right side holds a rather flimsy pair of ceramic buttons. These buttons are wobbly and not only feel hollow, but they feel incredibly cheap and unfitting for the rest of the device. Up top is a single 3.5mm audio jack as well as a pair of microphones. The back of the phone features a round camera lens with dual-LED flash to the right, as well as a circular fingerprint reader below. The more expensive Mi MIX model features 18k gold trim around these two circular components. The front is truly where the design takes a very interesting turn, and shows some significant evolution over the previous bezel-less phones from Sharp in one big way: no huge chin.
There's still a chin here, as having one combined with the ceramic build would make this almost impossible to hold in any fashion, but it's not big enough to offend in the least bit. Housed here is the single front-facing camera, situated all the way to the bottom right of the phone. I thought this would be less awkward in use than it actually is, but even if you find it awkward you can just flip the phone upside down and take pictures that way. MIUI allows full 180-degree rotation, making this one a forehead instead of a chin if you prefer. Since there is no real top to the front of the phone you'll find that there are actually two speakers; one on the bottom and one inside the glass. We'll discuss the positives and negatives of these a bit later. The included leather case feels excellent and really complements both the design and feel of the phone, making it not only considerably easier to hold thanks to the leather make, but also considerably sturdier too. Thankfully it's also light, as the 209g of the phone by itself is very heavy to say the least, and is about 30% heavier than the average phablet today.
Performance and Memory
As the Mi MIX is sporting the latest in mobile computing, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chipset, you should absolutely expect the best in performance that you can imagine on a modern mobile device. What you'll get is mostly that, however I found a few odd hiccups in testing the device that didn't quite jive with what I expected 100% of the time. First off daily performance is excellent and shows no sign of slow down or reloading of apps at all. At least 4GB of RAM is included with the Mi MIX, with 6GB on the more expensive model, and you'll find every megabyte is utilized effectively when using lots of apps. Switching between apps and launching apps is absolutely instantaneous, and I never found the phone lacking in multi-tasking abilities by any stretch of the imagination.
Xiaomi offers no split-screen multi-tasking of any kind, which is a crying shame given how large this screen is, and in general the interface for switching between apps is a little clunky simply because the thumbnails are so large. Xiaomi's horizontal scrolling row of app thumbnail previews is the same as it has been since the launch of MIUI 8 earlier this summer, as well as the way an app's multiple instances, such as tabs in a browser, stack on the same thumbnail preview. This is a cool idea which comes in handy some times, but ultimately is less useful than the vertical carousel stock Android features. Internal storage speed was found to be a bit lacking when compared to other phones on the market, even other Xiaomi phones, and as such I found there were times when intensive 3D applications would stutter or run slower than usual while loading or streaming content in the background, and benchmarks reflect this.
Benchmarks sit right about where you would expect, and the Xiaomi Mi MIX came in right with the rest of the Snapdragon 821 pack. As a reference it seems to have slightly higher single core speed than the Pixel XL, while multi-core is identical. 3DMark score was about 10% lower, but GeekBench 4 RenderScript score was a tad higher, so all in the ballpark. Check out all the benchmarks run below:
Wireless Connectivity and Networks
Aside from the screen and build, the Mi MIX holds two other things fairly unique to Xiaomi's phones: NFC and LTE outside of China. These two pillars of connectivity are paramount for Xiaomi to realize its dreams of global expansion, and ironically enough the first phone to feature both of these in the same package just so happens to be a phone that's not only being sold in limited amounts, but also only sold in mainland China. Of course you can get a Mi MIX through a number of online retailers and off eBay or something similar, so let's go over connectivity for everyone. The Mi MIX has NFC and is primarily designed to work with Xiaomi's own mobile payments system in China, Mi Pay. For those outside of China that want to use Android Pay for their daily needs, everything should theoretically work, although without a proper global ROM for support there's no guarantee things will stay that way. Android Pay is designed to be secure, and thus without an officially supported OS the inner workings of the system could fall off at any time.
LTE is another huge advantage of the Mi MIX over other Xiaomi phones on the market, but we're specifically talking for customers not in China, India or a few supported European countries. LTE worked absolutely perfectly on T-Mobile here in the US, and I found no issues with the phone at all in regards to data connection or speed. There's no VoLTE or HD voice over T-Mobile's network in particular, but the phone does support these protocols for other networks. What's rather interesting, and definitely a negative about the phone's design, is the placement of the speaker and proximity sensor.
Since there's no top of the phone to place an earpiece, Xiaomi had to relocate the earpiece speaker and proximity sensor to somewhere a little less conspicuous; under the glass. This sounds weird and it definitely is strange, but even more odd is the actual placement in the physical sense on the phone; right smack in the middle of the screen. This not only makes it difficult to hear people and awkward to hold, but placing your ear right in the middle of the earpiece makes the screen turn on and untold buttons to be pressed. It's not good, and I had nothing but problems with this during the review process. Thankfully speakerphone is good, with loud and clear audio coming from the bottom-facing speaker.
Easily one of the biggest highlights of the phone during my usage, the battery life on the Xiaomi Mi MIX is absolutely astounding. The Mi MIX often lasted nearly 2 days on a single charge, and with moderate to light usage I could see most users easily pulling this off on a regular basis. For me an 18 hour day of full use brought the battery down to around 40-45%, something you just don't often see. Even heavier usage days of nearly 6 hours screen on time and 18 hours off the charger resulted in 20% battery left at the end of the day, showing the Mi MIX is ready to take whatever you throw at it. Xiaomi has even included Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 support out of the box, charging at least 50% of that battery in a mere 30 minutes. If you're looking for a phone that's going to last all day no matter what you're doing, this is your phone.
Sound quality hasn't always been a huge focus for Xiaomi, but they're stepping up to the plate with the Mi MIX. Supporting the full 192kHz/24-bit quality in order to meet high resolution audio standards, the Mi MIX sounds considerably better than any Xiaomi phone we've ever reviewed, to say the least. Xiaomi has even built in an upscaling feature for intelligently scaling the quality of those standard 16-bit audio files up into a more pleasing 24-bit quality, and the results are quite good. Turning on the Hi-Fi DAC changes the media volume slider to show "HiFi" right next to the icon, making sure you know you're listening to the best possible audio the phone can deliver. Xiaomi still provides a great custom equalizer in the sound options, complete with a range of presets that will help you get the most out of your sound system. I found the default settings increased the bass just a tad too much, creating a more muffled sound than I would like, but adjusting it was easy and took only a few seconds before it sounded great again.
As discussed above, the speaker for talking on the phone could certainly be better, and that's primarily because of its odd placement behind the glass. Subsequently the speaker on the bottom of the phone, which functions as the primary speaker for all audio coming from the phone, could be better as well. Part of this of course is its placement, as facing down is simply not as ideal as front-facing speakers ever will be. There's also only one speaker, which makes for a mono experience, and the quality of the speaker itself is just decent as well. There's little bass response from the speaker at all, and although it is clear and loud it simply will not replace even a mediocre dedicated Bluetooth speaker or similar product. There's also no aptX support here for high quality Bluetooth audio either, so Bluetooth headphone or car stereo users may want to look elsewhere for a higher quality wireless audio experience.
MIUI 8 is packed inside the Mi MIX, Xiaomi's own Android skin running atop Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. This is Xiaomi's latest version of the product and one that only launched a few months ago. MIUI 8 features some significant upgrades over previous versions of Xiaomi's skin, but there's literally nothing different here than you'll find on any higher-end Xiaomi phone on the market. Refer to the Mi Max review for an overview of all relevant features regarding MIUI 8 running on the Mi MIX, as that feature set is identical to this one in every way. This of course is disappointing considering the price difference between the phones, not to mention some significant hardware differences as well. MIUI 8 simply doesn't do a fantastic job of taking advantage of larger screens by any stretch of the imagination, although there is at least a way to scale the size of the font and elements found on screen, allowing you to fit quite a bit more on screen than smaller phones would at the default DPI.
Much like the OS itself, the camera software on the Mi MIX is identical to what we've seen on other phones running MIUI 8. This features the improved camera experience over MIUI 7, and includes a better labeled way of switching modes, faster overall operation and a few extra modes over some previous devices. The interface is what you would expect from smartphones nowadays, and features a large white shutter button, sitting alongside a dedicated video/picture snapping button, and a dedicated gallery button to see the most recent picture taken. These dedicated buttons are important, especially the shutter/record button, because they allow you to take a video as soon as the software launches without needing to switch between modes, and also allows quick picture taking when filming a video.
Aside from that you'll find automatic HDR is enabled by default, and the usual flash toggle can be found next to it as well. Xiaomi offers a number of options for live filters for enhancing your photos without needing 3rd party apps, and the number of modes totals 11: Panorama, Timer, Audio, Manual, Straighten, Beautify, GroupShot, Square, HandHeld Twilight (HHT), and Tilt-Shift. Manual mode is about the same here as we've seen on other higher end Xiaomi phones, and offers the ability to manually adjust white balance, shutter speed, ISO and focus. Manual focus this time around is done in millimeter segments instead of using focus peaking as we saw on the Mi 5, which is a huge disappointment considering how useful focus peaking is for manual focusing.
Camera Performance and Results
The camera software launches quite fast, in under 2 seconds on average, but given that there's no quick way to actually launch it via button presses you'll find it's more in the range of 4-5 seconds. This is because you need to turn the screen on first and then swipe from the icon on the bottom right to launch. At least half the time I tried launching this way I found the screen would bounce back, forcing me to grab it again and take more time to launch it. This is partly a design issue, as it's rather finicky and wants the user to drag the camera icon to a certain point on the screen, which becomes annoying to say the least when trying to do things quickly. Adding in a quick way to launch the camera, like double tapping the power button as many phones have adopted, would be ideal.
Taking the picture is generally a fast experience too, and the only time I found it wasn't instant was when it needed to focus first. Focusing is average at best and can take up to 2 seconds or more when it struggles, even though it utilizes the generally excellent Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) method. Photo quality in general is mediocre at best, and most of the time I found the camera on the Xiaomi Mi MIX to be pretty poor. In 2016 it's probably assumed that a $500+ phone with 16-megapixel camera is a good performer, but alas that is simply not the case here. In daylight the Mi MIX is an admirable performer during the day, popping out clean and clear photos that have pretty good dynamic range, white balance and color accuracy. Zoom detail is decent during the day, but you can tell Xiaomi's image processing has a harder time with this sensor.
At night things take a drastic turn for the worse, and the Mi MIX is simply an awful night time camera. The slowest the shutter seems to want to go is 1/14th of a second, which normally would be fine for mobile cameras with optical image stabilization (OIS) or another method of helping keep the camera steady, but the Mi MIX often gets blurry in darker situations. At the same time it seems that Xiaomi is allowing the ISO to range up to 3200 when needed, which normally would let in tons of light with this slow of a shutter, but it seems the sensor chosen here is simply too small for the task. 16-megapixel sensors started going away in higher end phones simply because of physical limitations to the size of the device, as increasing the size of the individual pixels to let more light in meant the sensor itself had to be larger. With such a large phone it's odd that Xiaomi has chosen so small of a sensor, but regardless of the fact this is a terrible night time performer, delivering dark, blurry photos more often than not even in only relatively dim situations.
The front facing camera is not good either, offering bad looking, low resolution shots that are overly processed in the best of scenarios. Even in daylight these photos look blurry and heavily processed, removing detail that should be there on a modern shooter, and at night this is simply a terrible selfie taker to say the least. Videos in general are pretty good and offer up to 4K/30FPS recording abilities with electronic image stabilization.
No real bezels to speak of
Free leather case included
Small footprint for the screen size
LTE outside of China
Lots of features in MIUI 8
Incredible battery life
Decent screen at best
Poor camera results
Weird earpiece placement for phone calls
Very fragile build
No Bluetooth aptX support
The Xiaomi Mi MIX is really a mixed bag, pardon the pun. It's a very interesting device that shows where Xiaomi is trying to head as a company, but it's definitely an experimental design and a prototype device. The positives here are huge; a massive screen without the massive footprint of most phones in this class, rather it's nearly identical in size to the Nexus 6P, a phone with a screen 3/4 of an inch smaller. It's got an incredibly gorgeous design that's made of high quality ceramics, and not only packs the latest in mobile processing, but also high resolution 24-bit audio support too. Xiaomi's MIUI 8 is loaded with features, and although you're not going to see any differences here between this or any of the rest of Xiaomi's 2016 lineup, these are still great features that come in handy.
It's not a perfect phone by any means though, as you'll likely find yourself regularly struggling to get good pictures from the camera, and folks that use this as an actual phone might find the placement of the earpiece speaker unbelievably annoying. You'll also want to make sure to use that included leather case too, as one small drop of this ultra slippery ceramic phone may just be its last. Still with the inclusion of LTE that works outside of China, as well as NFC and all the rest of the achievements here, it's going to be a bright future for Xiaomi and the countries it decides to sell this phone in.