Xiaomi has built a contender for Smartphone of the Year with the Mi Note 2
Xiaomi has made quite the name for themselves over on the other side of the world. They are actually one of the most valuable startups around. They have been making smartphones for about six years now, but the Mi Note 2 is perhaps the most exciting, for a few reasons. One is the fact that it has a curved display – drawing a lot of comparisons to the Galaxy S7 Edge – and the other reason is the fact that it supports just about every 4G LTE band around the world. That includes the US. Something that most smartphones out of China have lacked. Not to mention the fact that it sports 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, it’s safe to say that this is an all-around beast, at least on paper. But the real question is how does it stack up in the real world? Let’s find out.
Xiaomi has outfitted the Mi Note 2 with a rather large 5.7-inch 1080p display (that’s 1920×1080). It’s an AMOLED display with a pixel density of about 386ppi. The Mi Note 2’s dimensions are 156.2 x 77.3m x 7.6mm which gives it a screen-to-body ratio of about 76.2%. Powering the Mi Note 2 is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 (the MSM8996 for those keeping track), which is comprised of two 2.35GHz Kryo cores and two 1.6GHz Kryo cores. That is paired with the Adreno 530 GPU and either 4GB or 6GB of RAM, depending on the model. There is also either 64GB or 128GB of storage included, and there is no micro SD card slot.
There is a 22.5-megapixel camera on the backside of the Mi Note 2, which also has an aperture of f/2.0, along with EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization), phase detection autofocus and dual-LED flash. The front-facing camera is a 8-megapixel shooter with the same f/2.0 aperture. This beast is powered by a non-removable 4070mAh battery, and Android 6.0 with MIUI 8. The Mi Note 2 does use a USB-C connector and it is compatible with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0.
In the Box
With the Mi Note 2, we have a pretty plain looking white box, but it’s what’s inside that really matters. As soon as you lift up the cover, you’ll find the Mi Note 2 laying there, waiting to be used. Below that you’ll find a quick start booklet, showing you how to insert the SIM card(s) – this is a dual SIM smartphone. Within that booklet you’ll find the SIM ejection tool. Below that is the wall adapter and a USB Type-A to Type-C cable for charging the Mi Note 2.
If you have used a Xiaomi smartphone recently, then you’ll know exactly what to expect from the Mi Note 2, and that’s quality. The Mi Note 2 does feel an awful lot like a Galaxy Note 7, but that’s not a bad thing. And that’s because it has a curved backside and a curved front. The curved back makes the 5.7-inch device feel much smaller in the hand, and allows you to hold onto the device a bit better. As with any smartphone that has a glass back, the Mi Note 2 does pick up a ton of fingerprints. Luckily with this black color that we have here, it’s not as bad. One of the complaints we have about the back of the device, actually, is the placement of the camera. It’s a bit lower than you would expect it to be. And it led me to believe that it was a fingerprint sensor, even though I knew that was on the front of the device. It took a few days to get used to that, after those first few days, it wasn’t so bad. The back is nice and clean, with only having the Mi logo on the back as well as the camera and dual LED flash.
The front of the Mi Note 2 is also pretty clean. At the bottom of the front, you’ll find that physical home button which doubles as a fingerprint reader. Additonally there are two capacitive buttons on either side, which appear as a simple dot. This allows the user to map whichever button they want to be the back button or the home button. Making things quite easy on the user. For example, out-of-the-box, the back button is on the right side and recents on the left. After setting up the device, I switched them, so that the back button was on the left and recents on the right. And because the capacitive keys don’t show a particular icon, it’s easy to use it this way. The bezels are pretty minimal here on the front, especially the side bezels, of course that is mostly due to the curved display helping to hide them.
As you’d expect on a device that has a curved backside and a curved front, the sides are actually pretty narrow. But still bit enough to hold the power button and volume rocker on the right side, with the dual SIM card slot on the left side. The sides don’t come to a sharp edge either, like the Galaxy S6 did, it actually feels rather nice in the hand. Now the top of the device houses the 3.5mm headphone jack (nice to see that stick around), while the bottom houses the USB-C port, speaker and microphone. It’s a setup that we’ve really come to expect from a smartphone in 2017.
Xiaomi, like many Chinese manufacturers today, have opted to stick with a 1080p panel on the Mi Note 2. Now given that this is a 5.7-inch panel, that gives you a ppi of just 386. But that doesn’t mean the display is terrible. Actually, to the naked eye, you probably wouldn’t even know that it was a 1080p display. The display looks incredible and I don’t even mind that it’s a 1080p panel. Part of this is due to the fact that it is using an AMOLED display (not quite the same quality as what Samsung uses in the Galaxy S7, but close). Making it a bit more saturated, and of course the blacks are blacker than on a standard LCD display. And with it being a curved AMOLED display, that means that the Mi Note 2 is great for consuming media on.
Brightness on the Mi Note 2 was pretty good actually. We largely kept it on automatic brightness and it didn’t seem to be overly aggressive trying to adjust the brightness to the lighting in the room, but it worked out well. We really never needed to adjust the brightness manually with it on. Now the brightness can get pretty low, but it can also get very bright, making it great for being able to see the display while you’re outside, and especially under direct sunlight. Which is always a good thing. Xiaomi does have their own “Reading Mode” built into the display settings, a feature that many smartphone makers have added recently. You can choose to schedule when the reading mode enables and disables, you can also choose which apps it is used in, which would be good for apps that are largely white, like Google+.
The temperature of the display is pretty much on point. It doesn’t seem to be too warm or too cold, but right in the middle. But, you can change that to your liking. Under the “Colors & Contrast” section in settings, you can adjust the temperature, and also choose which contrast you want to use. There is Automatic Contrast, Increased Contrast and Standard available, we stuck with Automatic Contrast during the review phase.
The Mi Note 2 is a beast. And you’d expect that after looking at its spec sheet. Xiaomi has a Snapdragon 821 inside, which is Qualcomm’s latest – at the time of writing this – available flagship processor. The Snapdragon 835 has been announced, but no devices with the SoC have been announced nor are available just yet. The Snapdragon 821 isn’t a huge improvement over the Snapdragon 820, it’s mostly just an overclocked version of the Snapdragon 820 which was seen in most flagships in 2016. But Xiaomi also added in 6GB of RAM, adding plenty of RAM for doing all sorts of things on this device.
Throughout our time using the Mi Note 2, we never noticed a single slight of lag. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given what’s running the show here, but that also shows that Xiaomi’s MIUI skin is pretty well optimized to work with the Snapdragon 821. Now 6GB of RAM is still a bit overkill at this point. Whenever I would hit the recents button and it would show me how much RAM I had available, it was typically around 3GB available, which is half of what you have. And remember that unused RAM is wasted RAM. So if you are looking to buy the Mi Note 2, the 4GB model is still plenty powerful.
Gaming on the Mi Note 2 was pretty good as well, thanks to the Adreno 530 GPU that is included with the Snapdragon 821. The graphics rendered quite nicely and even while gaming, the device did not lag at all. Now it did get a bit warm, but nothing to really be concerned about. It still stayed much cooler than some other devices that had the Snapdragon 810. It got warm enough for you to say “hey this is getting warm” but you could still hold the device and such. Overall, performance was right where we expected it to be, and that’s top notch. Definitely nice to see from Xiaomi, especially where some other companies that use heavy skins will bog down the performance and cause the whole OS to run a bit slower and not as smooth.
Like Apple and Samsung, Xiaomi has opted to use a physical home button and have it double as a fingerprint sensor. This isn’t a bad thing really, as it allows you to still have a ton of screen real estate (and somehow the bezel down there is still incredibly thin). The fingerprint sensor works about as well as you would expect. It recognized my finger about 9 times out of 10. There’s always that one time where you touch the fingerprint sensor and your finger may not be exactly where it should be on the sensor, causing it to not recognize it. But all in all, it worked great, and it was fast. It wasn’t the fastest, as we’ve seen faster out of the Huawei Mate 9, but hardly anything to complain about.
There’s not a whole lot of features added for the fingerprint sensor. You can basically use it to lock apps, and secure your phone, not much else. Now it’s no surprise that Xiaomi didn’t implement gestures to the sensor, seeing as the sensor is on the front of the device, it makes it a bit cumbersome to try and swipe down on the home button for the notification shade. That works better with sensors mounted on the back side of the device. Since this does run Android 6.0 Marshmallow, it does support the Fingerprint API which means you’ll be able to use your fingerprint in supported apps, like the Google Play Store and Android Pay, to authenticate yourself, which is definitely awesome.
Speakers & Sound
Despite having a speaker on the bottom of the device, I was really impressed with the sound coming out of the Mi Note 2. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but I got plenty of sound. Unlike some devices, where when the sound gets louder, the speaker starts to get distorted and sound a bit tinny, the audio sounded the same. With quality mids and crystal clear highs, as well as nice and bassy lows. The only thing that could make the sound on the Mi Note 2 a bit better would be to use dual front-facing speakers.
Typically we don’t talk about this in a review, but with many smartphones leaving it out, I feel that it’s important to add. Xiaomi has left the IR Blaster in the Mi Note 2 – which is located at the top of the device. And it can be used with the Mi Remote app. You can add a slew of different appliances to the app like the Mi TV/Mi Box, TV’s, Air Conditioners, Fans, DVD players and so much more. It’s a pretty underrated feature, but for those times when you can’t find your remote to your TV, it can be such a convenience. Not to mention you can control multiple devices from this app, making it an all-in-one remote like the Logitech Harmony.
Wireless & Connectivity
Personally, I was excited for the Mi Note 2 when I attended the announcement in Beijing last Fall, and that was because it supports all 4G LTE bands worldwide. Even the US LTE bands. Which is something you never saw from a phone out of China, that isn’t coming to the US (yes, unfortunately, it’s still not coming to the US). So the Mi Note 2 does support LTE bands for both AT&T and T-Mobile here in the US. We used it in Las Vegas and in Detroit on T-Mobile and got great coverage. It even supports band 12, as you’ll see below. There’s still no support for CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint, but that does require a bit more certification, so it does make sense why those two were left out.
GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900
HSDPA 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100
LTE Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 40, 41
Xiaomi had another surprise in store as well, and that’s the fact that it supports VoLTE on US networks. Allowing you to make calls over LTE instead of the legacy voice network. This was a great thing for Xiaomi to add in, especially since many unlocked smartphones that aren’t sold through carriers lack this feature. Speaking of calls, we did make quite a few calls while we used the Mi Note 2 and it worked flawlessly. We didn’t notice any drops (even with VoLTE disabled) at all. There’s no HD Voice which is a bummer, but kind of expected.
For benchmarks, we ran AnTuTu, Geekbench 4 and 3D Mark, as we do with every review. On Geekbench 4, the Mi Note 2 scored a 1813 in single-core testing and a 3884 on the multi-core. With 3D Mark, which is mostly for gaming and testing the GPU, it scored a 1825. Finally with AnTuTu it scored a 136,238 which is actually somewhat low for a Snapdragon 821 device. But looking at the rankings, it sits at number 18 between a number of Snapdragon 820 and Snapdragon 821 devices, so not a huge surprise. You can see the full results in the gallery below, from all three benchmarks.
Xiaomi stuck a rather large 4070mAh battery inside the Mi Note 2. A bit surprising considering the Mi Note 2 is still only 7.6mm thin. With that large battery, and a 1080p display, Xiaomi has delivered some pretty incredible battery life on the Mi Note 2. Most days, I was able to go the full day, and the phone would still have around 50% of its charge left. That included a day full of watching YouTube, using Snapchat, checking emails, Twitter, Instagram, etc. You likely won’t get a full two days out of this battery, but you’ll get pretty close. The battery life is even great for power users, as you’ll likely get around 6-7 hours on screen time in a full charge, which is impressive.
Of course the battery’s performance isn’t the whole story when it comes to a phone’s battery life, it’s also how quickly can it charge. And thanks to the Mi Note 2 using a Snapdragon 821 processor inside, we get Quick Charge 3.0. Allowing you to charge the Mi Note 2 fairly quickly. Now given the fact that this is a larger 4070mAh battery, it didn’t charge quite as quickly as the LG G5, or the HTC 10. But it did charge in just under two hours, which is impressive, and it’s a great feature to have for those times that you want to quickly charge up your phone before heading out.
Xiaomi has “MIUI 8 Global 7.1.12 Beta” on the Mi Note 2 at the time of our review. This is based on Android 6.0.1 build MXB48T, and it has the latest security patch, January 1st, 2017. It’s impressive to see them with the January security patch, considering we got the Mi Note 2 in the first week of January. Xiaomi does update their devices quite regularly with new versions of MIUI and Android Nougat should be on its way fairly soon, although Xiaomi has not yet announced when exactly it’ll be available for the Mi Note 2.
There’s not a whole lot new with MIUI 8 here, it’s still pretty far away from being stock Android, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. MIUI 8 is jampacked with loads of great features that stock Android is missing, not to mention it looks amazing. We’ll start here with the notification panel in MIUI 8 which looks pretty good. Right at the top, you have the settings shortcut as well as a button to expand the quick settings that are included. On the left side, you’ll see the weather and the date. Having the weather there is pretty neat and very useful, especially since it’s not taking up a whole lot of space. Additionally, the colors in the quick settings area changes based on the weather. So when it’s foggy, it’ll be a sort of blue color, but it also turns green when it’s sunny. These toggles in quick settings are customizable, however you can only have 11 toggles there. Which is kind of unfortunate, but you do get to have all of your most commonly used toggles right there in one place.
As you would expect with MIUI there is no app drawer, so that means everything is on the home screen, and you’ll want to use lots of folders. But you can also opt to install a third-party launcher from the Google Play Store. Xiaomi’s launcher is actually really nice. You can change the layout to be 4×6 or 5×6, we opted for 5×6 as we can get more apps on each page. You can also change the scrolling effect, as well as switching from theme to theme.
Now when it comes to themes, there are three available, there’s Default, High Life and Black. You can also opt to download even more themes, which there are tons of them available to choose from. Themes change most of the things you’d expect, like the icons, notification pull down, contacts app, phone app and even adds in some new widgets depending on the theme. So you can really theme your device quite easily with the themes available on the Mi Note 2 (and really any Xiaomi device).
There is a pretty cool feature included in the Mi Note 2 called “Second Space” and the way they describe is, it is like “having two devices”. Meaning you can keep apps, photos and other files separate on this second space. Allowing you to essentially have a work phone and a personal phone at the same time. Now when you set up Second Space, you’ll be able to import photos, files and apps from the first space to this new – basically a new profile – on your Mi Note 2. It’s a feature that likely won’t be used all that often, but it can be very useful. Especially if you give your phone to your kids to play with and don’t want them to use certain apps or see your pictures or something like that.
It’s Marshmallow here on the Mi Note 2, so it’s a bit sad that we don’t have Nougat – the latest version of Android – but with MIUI 8 you likely wouldn’t have known the difference. What’s great to see with MIUI 8 is the fact that a lot of the quirks you’d see with other skins out of China, don’t exist here. Like with Flyme, EMUI and even earlier versions MIUI, you’ll have issues with Gmail notifications where the notification shows the text in the same color as the background, basically making it unreadable. You can also have issues with Hangouts and other apps, sending notifications. We had none of those problems with the Mi Note 2, in fact it was hard to find anything wrong with this device, other than the fact that it is not running on Nougat, yet.
Xiaomi has a 22.5-megapixel camera on the back of the Mi Note 2, and it’s a rather impressive camera. But before we get to the pictures taken with this camera, let’s talk about the app and how well the camera app works in real life situations. In MIUI, the camera app is still rather minimal, a trend we’ve seen a lot lately with smartphone manufacturers. On the right side (when holding in landscape) you have your video camera icon, shutter and a shortcut to the gallery which shows the last image you took. There’s also a toggle to flip the camera, another for different filters and then finally a button for the different modes available. Speaking of modes, we have Audio, Beautify, HHT, Timer, Straighten, Square, Panorama, Manual, Group Selfies, and Tilt-Shift. There’s also HDR, which can be left on in auto-HDR, but it does slow down the shutter a bit. It’s not really that noticeable though, since the shutter is already super fast. Unless you are in low-light situations.
The taking photos experience is really great with the Mi Note 2’s camera. Photos are taken nice and quickly, making it great for doing things like taking photos of kids and such. The camera, and this is a feature that is popular in China, is also able to scan QR codes, instead of needing to download a new app to do so. While we don’t scan codes all that often these days, it’s still nice to have that feature built into the camera app.
Before I left CES in Las Vegas earlier this month, I used the Mi Note 2 and got some great pictures at night, at the Bellagio. And I have to say, I was really impressed with how well the camera held up in these pictures. I used it to take pictures of the fountain, and there weren’t many lights, so it was rather impressive to see the background be black and not noisy at all. There were a few pictures where it came out a bit noisy, but the majority of them were just black as they should be. I got a picture of Planet Hollywood while in the car, and it handled those lights fairly well too. Some of the billboards on The Strip were blown out, but most of them weren’t. It was very impressive indeed. And this was all done in Auto, not manual or any other mode, which makes it even more impressive, and it means that most people will be able to get a good shot without having to change the settings or switch to a different mode.
Overall Size of the Mi Note 2
VoLTE Support in the US
3.5mm headphone jack!
Outdated version of Android
Not Available in the US
No App Drawer (third-party launchers will fix that though)
The Xiaomi Mi Note 2 is probably as close to a perfect smartphone as you’ll get in 2017 – and that’s impressive because it launched in 2016. The Mi Note 2 checks just about every box, and the only thing it is really missing is a Quad HD display. Unless you are planning to use your smartphone for virtual reality, that isn’t even a bad thing. The 1080p display is perfect for those not looking to do anything with VR (and since it does not support Daydream, that’s not a big deal). It’s hard to find anything wrong with this smartphone from Xiaomi, and that’s some pretty high praise when you think about it.
Should you buy the Xiaomi Mi Note 2?
Yes, definitely. And this applies to those in the US. Sure you’ll have to pay a bit more to import it to the US, but given its specs and the fact that you’ll get full LTE support in the US, it’s a no brainer. Especially if you’ve been wanting to pick it up already. Just be sure to pick up the global edition, as the other version is destined for China only, and is lacking the bands for the US, as well as a proper ROM with Google services included.Buy the Xiaomi Mi Note 2