Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Quick Review: Xiaomi Mi Mix


Xiaomi's newest flagship device manages to break many conventions, as well as potentially trailing the look of future smartphones from more familiar names like Apple and Samsung.

Despite packing decent late-2016 specifications, the Mi Mix is all about its screen and bezels. Or more accurately, its screen and missing bezels, because the 6.4" 1080p+ screen runs from edge to edge and right to the top edge. Including, uniquely, right into the rounded corners.

On first sight the Mix is jaw-dropping. Its Ceramic build is pretty impressive before you even turn the screen on. Once you do however... everyone who saw me using it stopped to comment. In fact the most common reaction was to whip out their iPhone Plus (usually) and marvel at the disparity in screen size and quality for such a similarly sized device.

Get past the wonder of the screen and things aren't always as impressive. Performance-wise, the Snapdragon 821 and 4GB RAM keeps things humming along nicely. However you'll be running the Xiaomi in-house MIUI 8.0 skin which, like most Chinese OEM's skins, lacks an app drawer. You'll also not find Google Mobile Services here, so no Play Store or indeed any of Google's Android apps. Fortunately Amazon's App Store runs fine here.

The Mix's 16Mp rear camera is passable, but barely so for what is a premium device. It's in a whole different league though when compared to the front facing selfie camera. Having done away with the top bezel, Xiaomi has had to move all of the sensors that normally reside up there down to the bottom chin. That includes the selfie camera and it's a move that really hasn't worked.

Images taken with the front camera exhibit significant distortion in the vertical - somewhat akin to the view a fish gets looking up from the bottom of a deep pond, I imagine. Inverting the phone marginally improves matters but the best you can hope for is a landscape selfie that distorts things in the horizontal plane, but seems to produce a more acceptable result.

Back to the screen again and even allowing for the impressive display to surface area ratio, you might find that there are some glitches to contend with. The resolution is an obscure 2040x1080 and those extra 120 pixels over true 1080p can cause problems.  In a number of apps the odd aspect ratio of the screen confuses the display decisions and you'll find that either the sides of the app get cut off or sidebars are displayed to restore the 1080p aspect ratio.

Summing up then, the Mix is amazing in some areas and average in others. The screen is big, bright and goes places that others don't. Paired with the materials used in construction, Xiaomi have managed to build something that is every inch a premium device. If the review stopped here then we would be talking about the most impressive smartphone ever assembled.

The cameras are a disappointment though and MIUI could really do with an option to choose to have an app drawer, rather than dump icons onto your home screen. The absence of Google's Mobile Services is currently a problem, however should Xiaomi choose to export it officially , that could easily be fixed. There's no micro SD slot, but with the only storage options being 128GB or 256GB that's probably one that most could overlook.

Even so, the Mi Mix is a technical achievement Xiaomi can be proud of. At a price of NZ$1299 for the 128GB version it seriously undercuts both the Google Pixel XL ($1649) and iPhone 7 Plus ($1629) whilst out-blinging both comprehensively. Had it squeezed a better camera in to the Mix I'd have gone as far as to say it deserved a place on your shopping list alongside either.

As it is, if you want to stand out from the crowd (whilst attracting a crowd around you) and can live with the cameras this might just be the phone for you. Anybody else need not apply.

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