Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

Despite being introduced as a concept phone, Xiaomi’s Mi Mix was arguably the most interesting smartphone we saw in 2016. It was the phone that inspired Samsung, LG and Apple to feature 18:9 full-screen displays in their latest flagships, and it garnered so much attention in the consumer tech industry that today I have no fewer than six Chinese copycat phones sitting on my desk waiting to be reviewed, all with the product name ‘Mix’.

Producing a successor to that revolutionary handset was always going to be a tough job for Xiaomi, but in the Mi Mix 2 it has returned a gorgeous flagship that is more manageable in the hand and significantly faster. It also features the same primary camera as the company’s Mi6, which is a good thing.

Earlier today (7 November), Xiaomi held a launch event in Madrid, Spain in which it said both the Mi A1 and the Mi Mix 2 would go on sale there later this month. If you can buy from Spain (or within Europe) you will save yourself the hassle of customs fees and shipping from China.

Also see: Best Chinese phones

Where to buy the Mi Mix 2 in the UK

There’s one main problem with the Mi Mix 2: it’s not officially available in the UK. We never let things like that stop us though, and our review sample was shipped in from China by GearBest.

This option is available to consumers, too, and with free shipping. But do note that legally you should pay import duty if requested, which is calculated at 20 percent of the value on the shipping paperwork plus an admin fee of around £11. (Read up on buying Chinese tech.)

Even so, it’s crazy to think a phone with this level of performance and such an awe-inspiring design is able to so heavily undercut UK flagships.

The 64GB model we’ve reviewed here costs just £427.14 at the time of writing. GearBest also stocks 128GB and 256GB versions at £458.47 and £489.04 respectively.

That’s just £60 separating its entry- and top-end models - compare that to Apple’s latest iPhone where the difference is £150.

The difference here is that if you want to buy the Mi Mix 2 you will need to pay for it upfront, then add a SIM-only deal. You won’t find any contract deals on the Mi Mix 2 in the UK.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

Previously with Xiaomi phones UK connectivity has been a concern, with the handsets routinely lacking support for 800MHz 4G, also known as FDD-LTE band 20. This had meant those on the O2 network or those who piggyback it - GiffGaff, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile and so on - were unable to receive 4G. But with the Mi Mix 2 4G connectivity extends to all 4G bands in use in the UK.

If you like you can even use two UK SIMs, because a key attraction of the vast majority of Chinese phones is their dual-SIM functionality, which here works in a dual-standby manner (the usual).

Unlike some of those phones this is not a hybrid SIM tray, however, so there is no possibility to swap the second SIM for a microSD card. It’s important that you choose the correct amount of storage for your needs from the outset.

The down side of a phone like the Mi Mix 2 is Xiaomi handsets are rarely sold preinstalled with Google services, which means you need to do some work to configure the handset if you wish to use Gmail, Google Photos, Google Drive and so on.

Fortunately with our review sample we were able to download the Google Installer from the Mi App Store, but this isn't something we would recommend for people who don't really know their way around an Android phone - especially when everything is in Chinese.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

Mi Mix 2 design and build

It’s difficult to imagine without seeing it in the flesh, but the Mi Mix 2 is even better-looking than the original. And that’s even taking into account we reviewed the top-end ceramic model for the original Mi Mix, a handset that won the IDEA Gold award for design. Part of the reason for this, no doubt, is French designer Philip Starck is back onboard.

The best design change, in our opinion, is the reduced overall size. It’s dropped 7mm on its height and 6mm on its width, and has even shaved off a little round its waist, now just 7.7mm thick. Unfortunately this means there is now a camera bump, which is more apparent thanks to its gold surround. We'd have preferred Xiaomi to stick to the 7.9mm design with the rear camera lying flush.

We fully appreciate that some people want a huge phone, but having used the Mi Mix across multiple seasons let’s just say we never managed to find a coat or jacket pocket into which it would comfortably fit without feeling as though it was going to rip the seams.

And when you have a piece of tech that large, it’s surprisingly easy to drop. Not good when you have a fancy phone with 18K gold detailing on the rear - that remains a feature here, by the way, albeit no longer surrounding the fingerprint scanner.

2.5D curved glass at the front and slightly rounded edges at the rear are very significant in making the Mi Mix 2 feel more comfortable in the hand. To say the original was unwieldy is something of an understatement.

The Mi Mix 2 is much smaller thanks to a reduced screen size and a 12 percent smaller chin. The screen is still enormous, at 5.99in, but it was previously quite the monster at 6.4in.

It’s an ideal size for watching video, playing games and getting stuff done, and though MIUI’s one-handed mode may still come in handy you won’t be resorting to it quite so often (this shrinks the viewable screen size to 4.5-, 4- or 3.5in). The Quick Ball feature remains available too, placing onscreen quick access to the multitasking menu and home screen, and the ability to lock the screen or take a screenshot.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

This change in screen size also means that in line with more recent ‘bezel-less’ flagships, such as the Galaxy Note 8, Galaxy S8 and LG G6, it has an 18:9 aspect ratio rather than the Mi Mix’s 17:9. In future that could mean improved app compatibility, and for now you can use the Settings menu to configure which apps are allowed to take advantage of the maximum aspect ratio.

The screen itself is a stunner, crystal clear, bright, and with realistic colour reproduction. Viewing angles are good, too. All the things we'd expect from a decent IPS panel.

Xiaomi is holding out on the resolution, though, and while many of its competitors are including Quad-HD it has yet to release anything higher than full-HD on a smartphone. Actually, that’s the approach Samsung has taken with its Galaxy Note 8, too - Quad-HD is possible, but it’s set to full-HD by default.

While we won’t pretend there is no visible difference between full- and Quad-HD, we really don’t think it matters all that much. And when you’re talking about a phone with a screen this large, it makes sense to reduce its potential impact on battery life as much as possible.

Battery life, by the way, was one of Mi Mix’s strongest suits: its 4,400mAh battery could easily last two days with even heavy use. So it’s disappointing to see battery capacity reduced here to 3400mAh.

You should take into account that the screen is now smaller and the new 10nm processor significantly more efficient, but the reality is you're likely to find yourself with a day's usage here, probably with some juice to spare the following morning. Quick Charge 3.0 does let you rapidly refill the battery, though one thing missing is support for wireless charging - that's true for all of Xiaomi's smartphones.

However, we do like the fact the smaller battery makes the phone lighter - now 185g, previously 211g. This makes a huge difference to our overall impression of the phone.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

So we mentioned that we previously reviewed the ceramic Mi Mix. The new Mi Mix 2 still has a ceramic rear panel but a 7000-series aluminium frame. It's an improvement - much nicer looking, if less at odds with other flagships on the market. Still a flat slab, but the Mi Mix 2 is now a flat slab with ultra-smooth, rounded edges, which results in a softer, less boxy design.

Mi Mix 2 remains prone to fingerprints, but no way would you believe this was a phone that costs less than £500.

You’ll find two tiny antenna lines hidden away on the top and bottom edges, along with a USB-C port, a mic and speaker grilles. There are no physical buttons on the front, but you can access home, back and multitasking buttons at the base of the screen, or tuck them away from view so you must swipe up to see them.

But the Mi Mix has always been more about what it takes away than what it adds.

Forget the ‘notch’ on the iPhone X, or the slim area atop the screen on the Galaxy S8 and LG G6. The Mi Mix 2 - and the Mi Mix before it - has no top bezel. There is a bottom bezel, so it’s not strictly bezel-less, but it is the closest we’ve seen yet.

Some of the cheaper copycats have snuck in a speaker and sensors right at the very top of the screen. Mi Mix 2 does this too, which is a departure from its predecessor, but seriously - blink and you'd miss it. Mi Mix uses special technology to do away with other unsightly blemishes at the top of the handset, using a hidden ultrasonic proximity sensor and a tweaked sound-guided speaker. It's a setup that works as well as any other standard phone and call quality is good.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

This does mean there’s no room for the selfie camera, and this remains one of our gripes. As before, you’ll find this at the bottom right corner of the Mi Mix 2, and in order to take a selfie you’ll want to turn the phone upside down. Not too much of a hardship, you might think, but in our experience that doesn’t work great with apps such as Snapchat.

Another thing notably missing here is a 3.5mm headphone jack. This is the first Xiaomi phone we’ve seen not to include this port, and may well be a sign of things to come for the company. It’s a trend started in late 2016 with the iPhone 7, causing users to resort to the USB-C port or a pair of wireless earphones for audio.

There's the phone's built-in speaker, too, of course. But we weren't overly impressed with this. It's not especially loud, and quality is a bit inconsistent.

Xiaomi does not provide any USB-C headphones in the box, but you do get a USB-C to 3.5mm audio adaptor - and a case, which is handy as cases for Chinese phones are often difficult to get hold of in the UK, or you'll be waiting so long for delivery you've already cracked the screen.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

Mi Mix 2 core hardware and performance

Running the 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, Adreno 530 GPU and 6GB of RAM, the original Mi Mix was a force to be reckoned with. Swapping in that 14nm chip with the 10nm Snapdragon 835, also running at 2.35GHz and paired with 6GB of memory, the Mi Mix 2 now makes that phone look slow. The Snapdragon 835 makes huge savings on battery life, and significantly improves performance.

The Mi Mix 2 has performance as good as anything we've seen this year, bar the iPhone 8, and in fact its full-HD display means that it doesn't have to push so hard in our onscreen graphics tests.

We've collated the results of our benchmarks for various comparable phones in the chart below, but the Mi Mix 2 is right up there with the likes of the Galaxy Note 8, OnePlus 5 and Pixel 2 XL. And it shows a significant boost over the original Mi Mix.

We recorded a staggering 6675 points in Geekbench 4's multi-core component, which is faster than the Pixel 2 XL and only a tiny amount behind the Galaxy Note 8 and OnePlus 5. Its AnTuTu score of 177903 beats the Note 8's 166,832, though.

In graphics tests using GFXBench the Mi Mix 2 scored the maximum framerate of 60fps in T-Rex, so we increased the intensity and in Manhattan it achieved a commendable 55fps. In Manhattan 3.1 and Car Chase it recorded 30fps and 24fps, which are still very respectable, easily playable framerates.

Lastly we run JetStream, which is a JavaScript benchmark. The Mi MIx 2 scored 60.8, in line with all other Android flagships.

So what do all these numbers mean? In essence, the Mi Mix 2 is a powerhouse. We defy you to find any issue with its performance.

In terms of space for your stuff you get a choice of 64GB, 128GB or 256GB UFS 2.0 fast storage. All these options are generous, though there is no possibility of adding in more later via a microSD card. Choose carefully.

Connectivity-wise the only thing missing is an IR blaster. So you get NFC and a fingerprint scanner, which is necessary for making mobile payments, fast Wi-Fi, GPS and GLONASS, OTG USB and the latest Bluetooth 5.0.

There's also the aforementioned dual-SIM capability that will be useful if you want to use separate contracts for home and abroad, or business and leisure, and Mi Mix 2 supports all UK 4G connectivity bands.

In this regard the MIUI operating system supports Dual Apps, allowing you to run two instances of the same app each with their own home screen shortcut. This might save you having to keep switching your logins within apps, and it ties in neatly with the second relevant software feature...

Second Space lets you create a separate space on your phone that is password-protected. You can import photos, files and apps to this space, then switch between spaces using the command in the notification bar. It may come in useful if you're using two numbers on the phone, or if you have something to hide.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

Mi Mix 2 camera and photography

Mi Mix 2 has been advertised as using the same camera as the Mi6 (and, for that matter, the original Google Pixel), which is a bit confusing given that the Mi6 has a dual-camera and the Mi Mix 2 does not. Actually it has the same primary camera as the Mi6, the Sony IMX378, and that's a good thing. The only difference you'll find is the absence of any 'bokeh' effects.

This is a 12Mp lens (previously 16Mp), with an f/2.0 aperture, phase-detection autofocus, four-axis OIS, 1.25um pixels and a dual-tone flash.

It didn't wow us as other flagship cameras have, but it's by no means a poor offering. Detail is sharp, colours realistic, and low-light photography is acceptable if not the best we've seen, provided you allow it time to properly focus.

You can check out some of our test shots below, with auto and HDR settings respectively, and then in a low-light scene.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

There's also a 5Mp camera at the front but, as we've mentioned, awkwardly placed at the bottom right so you'll need to turn the Mi Mix 2 upside down to use it properly.

Mi Mix 2 software

As we've touched on several times within this review, the Mi Mix 2 does not run standard Android but MIUI 8.5.7, which is a custom version of Android 7.1.1. It is quite the departure from the Android to which you will likely be familiar, with a quite different settings menu and the loss of the app tray. Fortunately there is a search bar within the settings menu that helps you to find what you're looking for, and it should all become familiar fairly quickly anyway.

We've heard several critics comment that there's a lot of bloatware on this phone. We reckon that's an unfair comment. Sure, there is some, but all of which can be uninstalled very easily. The remaining apps are not bloatware, but alternatives to the Google services UK users are familiar with, since Google services are not preinstalled. It is these apps that cannot be uninstalled, and the fact everything is sprawled over the home screen makes that more apparent. Our advice: group them all in a single folder and forget about them.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

This is the biggest problem with the Mi Mix 2. Setting it up for UK use (on the assumption you don't speak Chinese) can be a headache. Fortunately we found it easier on the Mi Mix 2 than we did some Xiaomi handsets, since we were able to download the Google Installer from the Mi App Store, and then download a UK keyboard and all our usual apps from there.

The only app we had any issues with was Gmail, but while it kept popping up error messages it did seem to be working correctly. Our advice is to ensure all the apps you download have the necessary permissions allowed, because you can't take for granted the same seamless operation as you would on a phone preinstalled with those apps. Ensuring the likes of WhatsApp, Gmail and Facebook Messenger are allowed to autostart is also a good idea if you want to receive any messages.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review

While we'd prefer to use standard Android because that's what we're used to, MIUI has some real advantages - including timely updates and a huge community of users willing to provide help at online forums. We especially like Dual Apps and Second Space, but the likes of One-handed mode and Quick Ball are also useful in the Mi Mix 2 for helping you manage that enormous screen.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2: Specs

  • MIUI 8
  • 5.99in full-HD (2160x1080) display
  • 2.35GHz Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor
  • 6GB RAM
  • 64/128/256GB storage, no microSD support
  • fingerprint scanner
  • 12Mp Sony IMX386 rear camera with 18K gold detailing, four-axis OIS, 1.25um pixels, f/2.0, dual-LED flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x nano)
  • 4G FDD-LTE UK bands B3/B7/B20
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Beidou
  • USB-C
  • USB-C audio
  • 3400mAh battery
  • 151.8x75.5x7.7mm
  • 185g
  • MIUI 8
  • 5.99in full-HD (2160x1080) display
  • 2.35GHz Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor
  • 6GB RAM
  • 64/128/256GB storage, no microSD support
  • fingerprint scanner
  • 12Mp Sony IMX386 rear camera with 18K gold detailing, four-axis OIS, 1.25um pixels, f/2.0, dual-LED flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x nano)
  • 4G FDD-LTE UK bands B3/B7/B20
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Beidou
  • USB-C
  • USB-C audio
  • 3400mAh battery
  • 151.8x75.5x7.7mm
  • 185g

OUR VERDICT

We remain huge fans of the Mi Mix family, but rather than the revolutionary beast it once was Xiaomi's 'bezel-less' phone has been brought kicking and screaming into line with other Android flagships.

It may have lost some of its wow factor, but in the most part we're pleased with the changes: we love the new design, both smaller and lighter and therefore more manageable than before. We also love the improved connectivity, now with complete UK 4G support.

We don't love the reduction in battery life, though, nor the loss of the headphone jack, and we're not enamoured with the new camera bump.

But the Mi Mix 2 is still a fantastic phone: significantly faster than its predecessor, and much better looking. Better still, it's as affordable as ever, making it a great alternative to other Android flagships - provided you can either live without or cope with having to set up Google services yourself.

In the Mi Mix 3 we would love to see Xiaomi's dual-camera implemented, plus a higher-resolution screen. Waterproofing and wireless charging would also be good shouts.

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