Xiaomi Mi6 review

Wow. That’s what comes to mind when you consider Xiaomi’s new flagship Android phone for 2017. The Mi6 is around half the price of more familiar flagships such as the Galaxy S8, LG G6, Sony Xperia XZ Premium and HTC U11, but it’s just as fast, just as beautiful, and just as much a must-have for anyone serious about their smartphone tech. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2017

A clear contender for snatching the crown for best Chinese phone, the successor to the Mi5 and Mi5s takes on design aspects from the Mi Note 2, adds a dual-camera and forward-facing features such as USB-C audio, and tops it all off with faster performance than anything we’ve seen yet.

While Samsung’s still debating whether to add a dual-camera or under-glass fingerprint scanner to its Galaxy line, Xiaomi’s already done it. And though it might lack the Quad-HD Infinity Display and curved-glass edges, the Xiaomi has a great screen and is a much more comfortable size to hold in one hand.

You'll also like: Xiaomi Mi 5X rumours and MIUI 9.0 rumours

How to buy the Xiaomi Mi6 in the UK

The one drawback of the Xiaomi Mi6 is that, unlike those aforementioned rivals, it’s not available to buy directly from Xiaomi in the UK, nor from any of our major mobile operators. That means you’ll have to import it from China, and pay for the whole thing up front (though you can save some money with a SIM-only deal).

The up side of that is you’ll pay nothing like as much for the Xiaomi Mi6 SIM-free as you would a flagship from the likes of Samsung, HTC, Sony and LG. You won’t get much change from £700 for those phones, but with the Mi6 you could almost buy two. It’s incredible to believe Xiaomi is able to offer such a great deal at what is in essence a mid-range price.

Our photo black Xiaomi Mi6 is the ‘International’ edition with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. There’s also a version with 128GB storage (neither support expansion via microSD, though few people would find themselves low on space at this capacity) and a ceramic model with the same 18K gold detailing as seen on the revolutionary Mi Mix.

It was sent to us to review by GearBest, which is one of many Chinese companies offering to import tech to the UK and elsewhere. Pricing is just £381.91 ($479.99/438.16€) for 64GB and £429.65 ($539.99/492.93€) for 128GB, though you’ll need to also factor into your budget import duty. This is usually calculated at 20 percent of the value printed on the shipping paperwork, plus an admin fee of around £11.

The Mi6 should ship between 1 and 3 June 2017, though how long it will take to arrive depends on the shipping option you select (a free service is available). Also see: Best Android phones 2017 

Xiaomi Mi6

We’ve reviewed many a Xiaomi phone sent to us by GearBest, and we’ve never experienced any issues. But we acknowledge that for some customers things can sometimes go wrong, and when they do you need to remember your rights are different when purchasing goods from outside the UK. We’ve outlined some of the things you need to consider in our Chinese tech buying advice.

Something else to consider is that different cellular frequencies are used in different countries across the globe, and these Chinese models may not necessarily work in your country of residence.

In the UK what we typically see with Xiaomi phones is that they don’t support the 800MHz/Band 20 frequency which is relied on by O2, Giffgaff, Sky Mobile and others for 4G connectivity. These customers will not receive anything faster than 3G connectivity without connecting to Wi-Fi, while customers of networks that support other 4G bands but also use 800MHz may find 4G coverage patchier than they have done previously.

We’ve outlined how to tell whether a phone is supported by your network here.

Another thing that can make Xiaomi phones a poor fit for UK customers is their lack of Google apps. This is not true of all Xiaomi devices, and wherever possible you should look to buy a ‘Global’ edition of a Xiaomi phone which will include access to the Google Play store and Google services out of the box. Some ‘International’ models also come with Google Play preinstalled, or allow you to install Google Services via the Mi App store.

Sadly, the International version of the Mi6 we have here does not come preinstalled with Google apps, and there’s no obvious way to add them. We’ve read that this may have something to do with MIUI 8.0, a custom version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow that is preinstalled on the Mi6, and if it is then there’s hope there will soon be a fix.

Of course we’ve found a workaround, but it is one that won’t appeal to less techy users. Something to keep in mind before you rush ahead and buy what looks to be the best-priced flagship of the year. Also see: Best mid-range phones 2017

Xiaomi Mi6

How to add Google Services to Xiaomi Mi6

Full credit for this workaround goes to Jaasir, a Diamond Member of the MIUI community forums.

• Download the necessary files (RAR; Extracted), then extract them to your PC or laptop’s desktop.

• Connect the Mi6 via a USB-C cable and open an Explorer window to view its contents (if you’re on a Mac use the Android File Transfer tool).

• Browse to Internal storage, MIUI, Backup, AllBackup (create that folder if it doesn’t already exist) and drop the file here to copy its contents to the phone.

• On the Mi6 open the Settings menu and go to Additional settings, Backup & reset, Local backups, then tap on the file you just added.

• Tap Restore.

• When the process has finished, restart the phone, then launch the Google Play store icon on the home screen. You should be prompted to enter your Google account details.

Xiaomi Mi6 design and build

It’s very rare (although not unknown - remember the LG G5 and the Google Pixel XL) for a company’s flagship to look anything short of amazing. And so it is with the mirror-finish Xiaomi Mi6, though this phone appeals for more than its basic good looks.

The Mi6 is fitted with a 5.15in screen, features very slim screen bezels, and is just 7.5mm thick with almost slippery smooth, rounded edges at the rear that make it feel ever so comfortable in the hand. As manufacturers look to differentiate themselves on screen size and quality, with flagships that get larger with every new release, Xiaomi is sticking to its ground. This is a relatively compact phone that will be ideal for those customers who think the market is beginning to outgrow them.

Xiaomi Mi6

We still have yet to see a Quad-HD Xiaomi phone - this Mi6 has a full-HD panel with a 1920x1080 pixel resolution and a density of 428ppi - but Xiaomi is not alone. It’s funny that the company it is most often accused of copying, and one that is perhaps the biggest and best-known in the western world, also has no Quad-HD smartphone in its line-up. (Hint: Xiaomi is also known as China’s Apple.)

We have to say we’re inclined to agree with Apple’s claims that you don’t need Quad-HD: though you absolutely can tell the difference between full- and Quad-HD, so don’t believe all that ‘Retina’ BS, the Mi6 is perfectly clear at this resolution. This is not a screen you’d find yourself complaining about.

With increasing screen resolutions also comes increasing demands placed on the battery, of course, and this is a standout area for the Mi6, fitted as it is with a 3,350mAh cell that supports Quick Charge (but not wireless charging) and may even keep going two days. So the full-HD screen is a trade-off we’re more than happy to make - especially when that display is as bright (1- to 600 nits) and vibrant as this one, with great contrast, realistic colours and excellent viewing angles.

Xiaomi claims the Mi6 has four-sided glass, which isn’t as amazing - or confusing - as it sounds. Really it means it is curved on the corners as well as the edges, and only slightly - we’re not talking curved in the same sense as we are with the Galaxy S8.

Xiaomi Mi6 review continues on the next page >>

Xiaomi Mi6

The Mi6’s design isn’t a huge departure from the Xiaomi Mi5s before it, which means you still get the under-glass fingerprint scanner on the home screen that sort of looks like the button fell off (we’re not overly keen on it), but it has returned to the glass rear of the Mi5 that was upgraded to aluminium for the 5s. You still get a tough steel frame, and to be honest we much prefer the Galaxy-esque glass look even if it may be more vulnerable to accidental damage and oh so many fingerprints.

Our photo black review sample looks very much like a smaller version of the Mi Note 2, but with the camera - sorry, cameras - found flush to the frame in the top left corner. This is not the first Xiaomi to feature a dual-camera (the Redmi Pro also had one), but it is the first dual-camera Xiaomi flagship. We’ll talk more about its photography credentials later in this review.

The Mi6 is said to be splashproof, which is something we’ve not seen before from Xiaomi. As such it features a sealed SIM tray and lined ports. You’ll find USB-C on the bottom, as before, and the volume rocker in line with the SIM tray on the opposite side of the device. This sits just above the power button, while there’s an IR blaster (which is becoming increasingly rare) at the top.

But something is missing here: the 3.5mm headphone jack. Xiaomi is the latest phone maker to drop the headphone jack in favour of USB-C audio. Apple did the same thing with its iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus last September, which caused a lot of complaints from users, although in the end everyone just got on with it. That’s probably because Apple supplied a headphone adaptor in the box, which is what Xiaomi has also done here.

Alternatively, you can buy yourself a pair of wireless or USB-C headphones, or rely on the phone’s built-in audio - which isn’t bad, thanks to a pair of stereo speakers.

The Mi6 is available in black, silver or blue, plus there's a ceramic version.

Xiaomi Mi6

Xiaomi Mi6 core hardware and performance

Well, what can we say about the Mi6’s performance: it’s breathtaking. Also see: What's the fastest phone?

The Xiaomi features this year’s class-leading processor - the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 - but while its rivals pair this chip with 4GB of DDR4 RAM Xiaomi specifies 6GB. It’s likely to get some competition soon from the upcoming OnePlus 5, which is also rumoured to feature this setup, but for now this powerhouse is unmatched in the smartphone world.

And that is proven by its extraordinary performance in our benchmarks, as we will reveal below.

The Snapdragon 835 is a 10nm chip built in partnership between Samsung and Qualcomm, which meant no phone manufacturer was allowed to use it until the Galaxy S8 had been unveiled. Thus the LG G6, which would normally be a rival for the latest Xiaomi, was forced to use last year’s Snapdragon 821 (as seen in the 5s). Its benchmarking performance is therefore much lower.

Samsung doesn’t actually use the Snapdragon 835 in the UK - here you get the Exynos 8895 - but the Xiaomi still beat its performance in our benchmarks.

The Snapdragon 835 is a 10nm chip, which improves on Qualcomm’s previous 14nm chips with increases of up to 30 percent in efficiency, 27 percent in performance and 40 percent in power consumption. It runs at a clock speed of up to 2.45GHz with a big.LITTLE architecture, which means four of the eight cores run at a lower 1.8GHz for efficiency. 

We ran the Mi6 through our usual benchmarks and found some outstanding results. In Geekbench 4 it recorded 6472 points multi-core (1940 single-core), and it notched up a huge 170,709 points in AnTuTu.

In graphics benchmark GFXBench the Xiaomi proved itself absolutely capable of all kinds of gaming and media playback, with a very high 59fps in T-Rex, 52fps in Manhattan, 39fps in Manhattan 3.1 and 25fps in Car Chase. It’s worth pointing out that we run the onscreen tests since they are more closely related to real-world usage, though other phone reviewers often quote the offscreen results that are typically higher.

We also ran the JetStream JavaScript test, and the Mi6’s 70.0 result is as good as it gets in the Android world. Only iPhones have scored higher in our tests.

Xiaomi Mi6 connectivity and extras

We touched on the fact that this Xiaomi phone does not support 800MHz (Band 20) 4G LTE in the UK, but that 2100MHz and 2600MHz 4G are covered, and that those customers affected will still be able to receive 3G. However, something we left out was that the Mi6 actually accepts two SIMs, operating in a dual-SIM dual-standby fashion.

If you need to balance work and play and don’t want to carry around two phones, or if you’re going abroad and want to use a local SIM for data, this is a useful - and very popular outside the UK - setup. The Mi6 accepts two Nano-SIMs. In common with other Xiaomi phones one of these SIM slots can alternatively be used to add a microSD card up to 128GB in capacity, though with internal storage options of 64- and 128GB you may find you don’t need one. Also see: How to add storage to Android

The Xiaomi supports Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, GLONASS, NFC, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and even an IR blaster, which are becoming increasingly rare but people still like them for their ability to turn your phone into a remote control. Bizarrely, this was taken off the Xiaomi Mi5s, making it even more apparent that this is an update to the Xiaomi Mi5 rather than the Mi5s.

Xiaomi Mi6

Something that is missing, though, is the headphone jack, which has been swapped out for a USB-C port in order to allow space for a higher-capacity battery. This may be a deciding factor for you if you’re keen on audio.

The fingerprint scanner is exactly the same setup as we saw in the Xiaomi Mi5s, which is to say very good - although we’re not personally keen on the way the front of the device looks. The recessed area in which you place your finger just looks odd, and we yearn for the physical response pressing an actual button would offer. But it is the future, increasingly so, and it actually works incredibly well - fast and accurate.

Xiaomi Mi6 review continues on the next page >>

Xiaomi Mi6 cameras

The Xiaomi Mi5s was fitted with the Sony IMX378, a 12Mp camera also used by the Google Pixel and one that offers very good image quality. It’s improved things further for the Xiaomi Mi6, now fitted with two 12Mp cameras - one with a wide-angle f/1.8 lens and the other a f/2.6 telephoto lens.

Key specs include a 10x digital zoom, 2x optical zoom, four-axis OIS and PDAF. It can also shoot 4K video, offers various shooting modes including manual, beautify, Tilt-shift and group shot, plus real-time filters. After the photo is taken there are also some decent editing tools.

We were impressed with the quality of our test images, which were very well exposed and offered very realistic colours. Detail was softer than we were expecting, however. You can view a couple of our test shots in Auto and HDR mode below, though we will be updating this review in the coming weeks once we have had a chance to compare the camera properly with other current flagships.

Xiaomi Mi6

Xiaomi Mi6

The front camera has also been upgraded from 4- to 8Mp, which is plenty clear enough for video chat and selfies.

Xiaomi Mi6 software

The Xiaomi Mi6 runs MIUI 8.2, which is a custom version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow (the latest version of Android is Nougat, and Android O is expected within the next few months). The main differences you’ll notice are the lack of an app tray - everything is laid out on the home screen in an iPhone-esque fashion - and you’ll find some changes in the Settings menu. Fortunately there’s a search option at the top that makes it easier to find what you’re looking for. Also see: Best phones 2017 

Oh and, of course, the lack of Google Play. Which is a real issue for UK users (if you intend to use the Mi6 only for calls and texts you don’t need a Mi6). Until a Global model is offered with Google Play preinstalled we wouldn’t recommend the Mi6 to UK users who don’t know what they’re doing. Although we managed to get Google Play and various apps installed as we have outlined earlier in this review, we did still run into the odd issue, including a Gmail error message that said it was having trouble with Google Play Services.

You can, of course, use Xiaomi’s own apps for such things as email - you don’t have to use Google services at all. But if you’re already using them on your current phone, it makes no sense to switch now.

Xiaomi Mi6

MIUI 8 has some cool features of its own, including Dual apps, which in essence lets you run two instances of one app (this might come in handy if you make use of the dual-SIM functionality, for example), and in a similar vein you can also et up a second space on the phone - it’s almost like having two phones. There’s a Child mode, too.

You can individually lock any app on the phone, should you rather not lock the phone itself or you want a second layer of security, and you can tweak various things such as the theme and which side of the home button your back and multi-tasking options sit. You can make use of a Quick ball, which places onscreen a shortcut to options such as screenshot and lock, although in common with the one-handed mode (which shrinks the size of the screen to a more manageable area) it is more useful for the larger models in Xiaomi’s line-up - such as the recently announced Mi Max 2.

We like MIUI 8, but we also like Android as it was intended, and that’s not something we’re ready to give up just yet.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2017

Follow Marie Black on Twitter.

Xiaomi Mi6: Specs

  • 5.15in full-HD (1920x1080, 428ppi) four-sided curved glass
  • MIUI 8.2 (Android 6.0)
  • 2.45GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor
  • 653MHz Adreno 540 GPU
  • 6GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 64/128GB storage (no microSD support)
  • under-glass fingerprint scanner
  • stereo speakers
  • USB-C audio (no headphone jack)
  • dual-SIM dual-standby
  • 4G FDD-LTE B1/B3/B5/B7/B8
  • 2x2 MU-MIMO dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • GPS, GLONASS
  • USB-C
  • splashproof
  • 12Mp dual-camera, 2x optical zoom, 4-axis OIS, PDAF, f/1.8 and f/2.6 aperture
  • 8Mp front camera
  • 3,350mAh non-removable battery, Quick Charge
  • 145.1x70.4x7.5mm
  • 168g
  • 5.15in full-HD (1920x1080, 428ppi) four-sided curved glass
  • MIUI 8.2 (Android 6.0)
  • 2.45GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor
  • 653MHz Adreno 540 GPU
  • 6GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 64/128GB storage (no microSD support)
  • under-glass fingerprint scanner
  • stereo speakers
  • USB-C audio (no headphone jack)
  • dual-SIM dual-standby
  • 4G FDD-LTE B1/B3/B5/B7/B8
  • 2x2 MU-MIMO dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • GPS, GLONASS
  • USB-C
  • splashproof
  • 12Mp dual-camera, 2x optical zoom, 4-axis OIS, PDAF, f/1.8 and f/2.6 aperture
  • 8Mp front camera
  • 3,350mAh non-removable battery, Quick Charge
  • 145.1x70.4x7.5mm
  • 168g

OUR VERDICT

This really is an amazing phone, and only the Chinese software puts us off recommending it for a UK audience. It is crazy fast, crazy beautiful and crazy priced. If you know your way around Android go and get one, and you won’t be disappointed.

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