Xiaomi Mi Mix Review: It Makes The iPhone 7 Look And Feel So Outdated

Consuming full screen media on the Xiaomi Mi Mix is more immersive than on other phones. Photos: Ben Sin

Think of any movie or TV show set in a hi-tech future, and there are always the usual cliches: flying cars, sentient robots, and bezel-less digital displays. While the first two is still pretty far off from reality, the last one is (mostly) here in the form of a smartphone: the Xiaomi Mi Mix.

I say mostly, because there is a caveat: the borders around the Mi Mix are not as thin and invisible as Xiaomi’s official press imagesdepict. Still, this doesn’t take much away from Xiaomi’s accomplishment, because though the Mi Mix’s borders are quite visible, they’re still much thinner and smaller than the bezels on all other phones on the market right now. And when consuming high quality photos and videos on the screen in full, the visual effect is jaw-dropping.

The phone looks stunning.

There is no getting around this: Xiaomi has crafted a piece of hardware that embarrasses Apple and Google. Some readers are going to accuse me of nationalistic bias because they see my byline photo (which would be presumptuous, because I identify as a Chinese-American with roots in Hong Kong). But put the Mi Mix side by side with the iPhone 7 and Google Pixel, and no objective person can deny that one phone looks heads and shoulders above the other two in terms of smartphone innovation.

I’m actually not a fan of the ceramic body. It’s way too shiny, slippery and a complete fingerprint magnet (a matte black finish like the iPhone 7 would have been just as gorgeous in product shots, while being far easier to grip onto). Luckily, Xiaomi includes a free leather case with each phone that’s way nicer than any freebie case I’ve ever seen.sidesandbackmimixthe included leather case.

None of this would matter, of course, if the Mi Mix sucked as a phone. And though the camera comes up short (more on this later) against the top dogs, and there are minor annoyances with the Chinese software (more on this later too), this phone is excellent to use.

Chances are, you already know about the top-of-the-line specs: the fastest Snapdragon chip available on the market and the four or six GB of RAM available. What you might not know, is the phone is quite easy to use with one hand despite its mammoth 6.4-inch display. That’s mostly due to its bezel-less edge-to-edge design: the Mi Mix has almost an extra inch of screen real estate over the iPhone 7 Plus while staying mostly the same size. But part of the ease-of-use is also because Xiaomi’s software is well thought out and considerate.

Unlike on the iPhone 7, Google Pixel XL, Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (RIP) or the HTC 10, the Mi Mix lets you trigger the notification shade by swiping down anywhere on the screen. On those other phones, you have to drag your thumb all the way to top of the screen — good luck doing that one-handed without serious hand gymnastics. Also, Xiaomi offers a on-screen floating digital button (hilarious named “smart ball”) that brings more functionality than the same feature on the iPhone. And Xiaomi lets you hide the “ball” completely (and conversely, bring it back out) on-the-fly, unlike on the iPhone, where you either have the floating “assistive touch” button at all times or none at all. Oh yeah, and Xiaomi lets you pull off shortcuts by long-pressing any of the navigation buttons. You can’t do that on Samsung’s phones (those buttons do one thing and one thing only). There are just more ways to do things on Xiaomi’s MIUI software: it’s more open than the rigidity of iOS, Samsung’s TouchWiz, or stock Android.

But not every addition MIUI brings to the table is welcome. As mentioned earlier, there are annoyances, and it can be quite major to some. Like other Chinese phones’ UI, Xiaomi’s MIUI has a habit of killing background app processes completely, which disables push notifications (I had the same problem with Huawei’s EMUI). Chinese phonemakers do this because they really want to optimize battery life — but what good is a phone that can go two days with a single charge if you can’t get Whatsapp or Gmail notifications unless you manually open the app? There is a way to fix this, involving changing the battery usage/optimization settings, but it’s so insanely complicated (seriously, it took me 25 minutes of Googling and meddling with hidden setting menus to do it) it’s bound to infuriate the average Joe user.

I don’t know why Chinese phone softwares are still so aggressive at killing apps to conserve battery life — they already pack in much larger batteries than the Apples and Samsungs of the world. The Mi Mix has a whopping 4,400 mAH battery that’s capable of very fast charging. This thing is virtually impossible to run out of juice during the course of a day. In my testing, I managed to get more than six hours of screen on time multiple days, and I’m a heavy user. I’d leave the house at 8:40am, and by 2am I’d still have 15-17% juice (and this is after I’ve turned off all those unnecessary battery optimization features).

The battery life on the Mi Mix is excellent.

The battery life on the Mi Mix is excellent.

That amazing battery life will come in handy because with the Mi Mix, you’ll want to consume a lot of media. To me, this alone makes the phone worth buying (considering that the phone is relatively cheap too). The edge-to-edge display just brings a new experience to watching videos and looking at photos. On Instagram’s screen-filling stories mode, for example, I’m constantly blown away by how immersive the visuals are. It’s just something you have to see for yourself.

The 1080p LCD display may not impress like the quad HD AMOLED displays on a Galaxy phone, but as I’ve said many times before, it’s very, very hard to tell the difference between “just” 1080p and quad HD on a mobile screen. I’ve put the Mi Mix side by side with the S7 Edge and LG V20 and ran through a series of apps, videos and games, and I couldn’t spot any difference in pixels.

The loud speaker at the bottom of the Mi Mix is about in line with every other non-stereo loud speaker on phones: it’s not going to amaze you but it’s not bad. It’s definitely better than the speaker on the S7 Edge. Below is a video I made testing the various speakers.