Xiaomi Mi Mix full review

Previously a concept phone, Xiaomi has entered its Mi Mix into production. At its November unveiling this revolutionary new Android phone entirely overshadowed the amazing Mi Note 2, with a design quite unlike anything we've seen before. Also see: Mi Mix 2 rumours

Also see: Best Xiaomi Phones

We've been reading rumours for months that the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8 could come with a bezel-less display, and Xiaomi just beat both to the punch with the Mi Mix. Although the screen is huge at 6.4in, the loss of the top bezel means the phone itself isn't much larger than most 5.7- to 6in phablets. The Mi Mix has an incredibly high screen-to-body ratio of 91.3 percent.

Strictly speaking it's not entirely edgeless - there is still a bottom bezel, plus a thin black border around the screen as is common on Xiaomi phones - but the Mix is the first phone we've seen where the screen runs right to the edge on top, left and right sides. Also see: Best phones 2017

This has presented some logistical problems for Xiaomi, now needing to relocate the selfie camera, proximity sensor and earpiece from their usual homes. It's moved the selfie camera to the bottom right corner below the screen, which admittedly takes some getting used to, but getting around its poor shooting angle is a simple matter of turning the phone on its head.

For the proximity sensor and earpiece Xiaomi has been more intelligent in its workarounds. The Mi Mix uses an ultrasonic distance sensor that sits behind the display rather than a standard proximity sensor, and instead of an earpiece there is ‘cantilever piezoelectric ceramic acoustic technology’ to transmit sound. We have no idea what is cantilever piezoelectric ceramic acoustic technology, but we can tell you that mid-call the Mi Mix's audio is just as clear as any other phone we've tried.

The gorgeous design extends beyond the edgeless screen with a full ceramic body designed by Philippe Starck. Turn it over and on the rear you'll find 18K gold trims to the camera and fingerprint scanner surrounds - a fancy finishing touch for a very fancy phone.

Performance is staggering, with what is currently the best flagship smartphone processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 running at 2.35GHz (also see our piece on the forthcoming Snapdragon 835, which should make an appearance in the Galaxy S8). This is paired with a very generous 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM and a massive 256GB of UFS 2.0 storage. There's no microSD support but, honestly, do you really need it?

Mi Mix review

Battery life is also amazing, and even with heavy use the 4,400mAh cell inside the Mi Mix showed more than 50 percent capacity remaining when we went to bed at night. This phone would easily last us two days, and for some users potentially even longer. Quick Charge 3.0 support means it's also very fast to recharge when required.

A second version of the Mi Mix is identical save for smaller helpings of memory and storage, at 4GB and 128GB respectively, and the loss of the 18K gold detailing. Both phones come only in black - for now. At CES 2017 last night Xiaomi announced a new white version of the Mi Mix, but unfortunately it wasn't unveiled in a Global edition and is exclusive to China - see Mi CES 2017 recap.

The lack of a Global edition of the Mi Mix is a real shame. Up until the release of the Mi Note 2 (for which there are standard and Global editions), all Xiaomi phones lacked support for 4G FDD-LTE Band 20, aka 800MHz or the one band used by O2 and any virtual mobile operators that piggyback its network (GiffGaff and Sky Mobile, for example) for 4G connectivity in the UK.

This rules out customers of those networks being able to receive anything faster than 3G connectivity, but it may at times also present problems for users of other mobile networks - Vodafone and Three both use the 800MHz frequency alongside either 1800MHz or 2600MHz. Only EE uses all three. (For more see How to tell whether a phone is supported by your network.)

The Global Mi Note 2, by comparison, supports 37 bands including full UK 4G support.

However, while we'd like to see 800MHz 4G on the Mi Mix, I can tell you I haven't experienced any loss of connectivity on the Vodafone network, and have always been able to get online and make calls or texts. It does feel as though I haven't been connected to 4G as often as I would on my previous phone, although this is difficult to prove without having two Vodafone accounts and carrying both phones with me at all times.

Mi Mix review

In February, the Mi Mix was unveiled in India and North Africa in partnership with distribution partner TASK FZCO. Along with the Redmi Note 4 and Redmi 4A, the Mi Mix is available across the UAE through e-commerce and retail outlets of Etisalat and Carrefour.

Mi Mix review: Price and UK availability - how to buy the Mi Mix in the UK

Xiaomi is looking to enter the global market, and in 2017 we should see its phones begin to go on sale in the US. However, for now the UK is not on its list. Xiaomi phones are not officially sold here, which means you need to import them via Chinese grey-market sites such as GearBest, which supplied our Mi Mix for review.

This presents a number of issues, which means some UK consumers will choose to look elsewhere for their next mobile phone. The brave among you will be rewarded, though, provided nothing goes wrong and your device is delivered in full working order. And this has been the case for us with every Xiaomi phone (and other Chinese phones) we've reviewed.

Chief among the risks of buying from China is the fact you are not protected by the same consumer laws as you are when buying from the UK or Europe. That's not to say you won't be able to get a refund on a faulty product, but you should know that obtaining one may require you to jump through some hoops. GearBest recommends that people take advantage of the insurance option when buying from its site.

And while delivery to the UK may be free, there will likely be import duty to pay before you can receive the item. This is calculated using whatever pricing information is given on the shipping paperwork (20 percent), plus an admin fee of £11 (via DHL). You should factor this into the total purchase price. Check out our advice on buying grey-market tech.

All these phones, including the Mi Mix, are sold SIM-free, which has both its advantages and disadvantages. You can add whatever SIM you like and won't be tied down to a 24-month contract where you pay over the odds for the phone but in more manageable monthly payments (also see Best SIM deals). However, it also means you must pay for the phone in full up front. And that could be an issue here.

Chinese phones are well known for undercutting their western rivals, offering similar specifications at a much lower (sometimes half) the price. Don't get your hopes up just yet, though...

Consider that you would pay £919 for the iPhone 7 Plus with 256GB of storage. That phone comes with just 2GB of RAM, no edgeless display and no gold. The Xiaomi Mi Mix does undercut the 256GB iPhone 7 Plus, but not by as much as you might have hoped. The 6GB RAM, 256GB storage model we reviewed (the Ultimate edition) cost £799.91 ($887.78) from GearBest, but has since been discontinued.

Where to buy Mi Mix with 4GB RAM/128GB storage

• £594.49/$724.99 at TomTop
• £613.45/$739.99 at Coolicool
• £658.87/$799.99 at Geekbuying

Where to buy Mi Mix with 6GB RAM/256GB storage

• £655.99/$799.99 at TomTop

Where to buy Mi Mix 6GB RAM/256 storage/18K gold detailing

• £654.90/$789.99 at Coolicool
• £683.58/$829.99 at Geekbuying

Where to buy white Mi Mix

We haven't found anywhere the Mi Mix is available in white just yet, although GearBest has published an arrival notice for both the entry-level and standard models in white. You can opt to get an email when the phone is available to pre-order, at which point pricing will be available. Click here to pre-register your interest in the white Mi Mix. 

Although you'll need to have deep pockets to purchase the Mi Mix, we must point out that right now there is no other phone like it on the market. If you want to own the type of phone where people look over your shoulder and say "Ooh, what's that?" or "Wow, that's cool!" then this is absolutely it.

It's been a long time since a new phone announcement got us as excited as has the Mi Mix. This revolutionary new phone gives a taster of what to expect from the smartphone market over the coming years.

Mi Mix review: Build quality and design

You've already heard us gushing over the design of this phone a number of times in this review, and it truly does have a really cool, absolutely unique look. But (and that is admittedly a little but), it's actually not all good.

The Mi Mix is big - way too big for comfortable one-handed use at all times - and heavy (256GB of storage and a huge 4,400mAh battery will have that effect, unfortunately). More often than not, immediately following the "Wow, that's cool" comment came another: "Gosh, that's heavy."

At 158.8x81.9x7.9mm, the Mi Mix is roughly the same height as the iPhone 7 Plus, but a touch wider and thicker. It's also 23g heavier at 211g, but combined with the extra width that 23g could be 230g. Okay, we're exaggerating, but this is not a phone you won't feel in your pocket, and if you have small hands you'll want to grip its slippery ceramic surface tight. (Preferably in the same place since fingerprints can be an issue, but pleasingly these are more easily wiped away from the Xiaomi's screen and ceramic rear than they are most smartphone glass.)

Of course there are silver linings, and you're unlikely to lose a phone you can feel at all times. The huge 6.4in full-HD screen is also fantastic for viewing media and playing games, though we should point out that you don't get to enjoy all 2040x1080 pixels at all times. Also see: Best Android phones 2017

Mi Mix review

Most full-HD screens have a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, so here you have an extra 120 pixels on the height. This is roughly the amount of space that is gained by removing the top bezel, and in most cases on the Mi Mix it is used to display the bottom navigation bar. This bar is customisable and can be hidden from view, but that extra 120 pixels is not then used by all apps. When playing a game or watching an iPlayer show, for example, you get a black bar to the right of the viewable image. The visible display area in these apps is still just 1920x1080 pixels, with the Mi Mix offering a 17:9 screen ratio.

We're surprised to find the resolution of the display is just full-HD given how revolutionary is this former-concept phone. We've been seeing Quad-HD and even 4K Ultra-HD screens on rival smartphones for a couple of years now, so the Mi Mix is decidedly low-res by comparison. It seems we've longer to wait before we see a Quad-HD Xiaomi phone.

However, as many reviewers will tell you, although a difference is visible between full- and Quad-HD, for every use we can think of full-HD is a perfectly acceptable resolution for a smartphone screen. With a pixel density of 362ppi (above the 326ppi 'Retina' specification quoted by Apple, but a little below the 401ppi of its own iPhone 7 Plus), everything shown onscreen is crystal clear and entirely free from fuzz.

Using IPS tech, we found the display to offer lifelike colours and excellent viewing angles. The screen is very bright, and we like the ability to alter both contrast and colours in the display settings. The Mi Mix also has a reading mode that can prove easier on the eyes by reducing glare.

As you can imagine, even the largest hands will have difficulty reaching a thumb all the way across to the far corner of the screen. Here the One-handed mode comes into play, which is a feature of the MIUI custom operating system on all Xiaomi phones.

By tapping the home button and swiping across to either the back or recents button you can reduce the active screen to a more comfortable size. By default it will shrink to 4.5in, but if this is still too large you can opt for 4- or 3.5in in the Settings menu. You then tap any area outside the visible screen to return to the normal full-size view.

Mi Mix review

Another feature of MIUI can also be useful if you're having difficulty managing the large screen, and that is the Quick Ball. On the Mi Mix you can add a toggle to the bottom navigation bar for activating Quick Ball, which makes it easier to launch when required without ploughing through the settings. 

Quick Ball is in essence a movable dot that you can place anywhere you like onscreen. When tapped it reveals options to go home, back, open the recents menu, lock the screen or take a screenshot.

These software features are handy in use, but they don't change the fact that the Mi Mix is a very big phone. On the bright side, it is a big and very beautiful phone.

Mi Mix review

Part of the reason for this is Philippe Starck's input in the Mi Mix's design. Starck is a French designer who first became known back in the 1980s for his interior, product, industrial and architectural designs. He quickly caught the attention of Pierre Cardin and it was while working for him that he set up his own design company, formerly Starck Product and then Ubik. He went on to design everything from hotels and restaurants to kitchens and motorbikes. Interestingly, it was Starck who designed Steve Jobs' yacht Venus.

None of that matters, though. What we're getting at here is the man knows his stuff - and it shows. Aside from the fact it is quite big and heavy and can attract fingerprints, it's very difficult to fault the Mi Mix's design.

This phone is an entirely flat slab, where the cameras, fingerprint scanner and everything else sit flush to the body - a high-gloss, jet-black ceramic shell with a mirror-like surface. The corners and far edges are ever so carefully rounded, and even though there is a break between the front and back panels and centre frame the highly polished effect means you could almost miss it. Meanwhile, the missing earpiece and sensors above the screen allow it to have a smooth, unbroken appearance that stretches nearly the entire length of the phone with an impressive 91.3 percent screen-to-body ratio. Quite simply, the Mi Mix looks as though it's worth every penny of its asking price.

Aside from the awkwardly placed selfie camera (until you turn the phone upside down) everything is exactly where you would expect to find it, with an (also ceramic) power button and volume rocker on the right side, pin-operated dual-SIM tray on the left, 3.5mm headphone jack on the top and USB-C port with speaker grilles on the bottom. 

Mi Mix review

On the rear there's none of that nasty designed in wherever scrawl, simply a 'Mix designed by Mi' legend in gold, with matching 18K gold camera and fingerprint scanner surrounds. The fingerprint scanner sits down the phone just low enough that you can easily reach it with a forefinger when picking up the phone, and it works very well in use - it can even be used to wake the screen when a fingerprint lock is not in use.

It's been a long time since a new phone announcement got us as excited as has the Mi Mix. This revolutionary new phone gives a taster of what to expect from the smartphone market over the coming years.

Mi Mix review: Core hardware and performance

Until the next batch of annual flagship smartphone upgrades arrive at MWC at the end of February 2017, the Mi Mix has a hardware specification to match any rival. There's the powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core processor running at 2.35GHz, with integrated Adreno 530 graphics and 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM. This matches the specification of the OnePlus 3T, with very similar performance. 

In real-world use the Mi Mix is a speed demon in everything it does. Nothing seems to tax it, and it doesn't get even warm in use. You simply can't fault the Mi Mix on performance. No user will pick up the Xiaomi and think it's slow when navigating menus, launching apps or multitasking and, thanks to the full-HD screen, its gaming performance is also very good.

We use Geekbench 4 and AnTuTu to measure overall processing performance, and in the former test the Mi Mix gave the best result we've seen yet with its 4301-point score a touch higher than the OnePlus 3T's 4257. It also gave the highest result we've ever seen in AnTuTu 3D, with 144,430 points (unfortunately we don't have results for the OnePlus 3T here).

GFXBench is used to test graphics, and the Mi Mix didn't let us down here. With scores of 60fps in T-Rex, 46fps in Manhattan, 32fps in Manhattan 3.1 and 20fps in Car Chase its gaming performance is incredible, and right up there with all the other 2016 flagships.

Our final benchmark is the JetStream JavaScript benchmark, and here the Mi Mix turned in scores in line with its rivals with an average of 53.787.

You can compare the Mi Mix's performance to other top phones of 2016 in the chart below. Also see: Fastest phones 2017

A highlight of the Mi Mix is its 256GB of fast UFS 2.0 storage. There's no microSD support on this phone, but with such a huge amount as standard plus the flexibility of cloud-storage services such as Google Photos, Google Drive and even Xiaomi's own MiCloud, running out isn't going to be an issue.

Battery life is incredible, and way beyond that of the Mi Mix's closest rivals. Even with heavy usage we can get two days of life from this phone thanks to its 4,400mAh battery, and with lighter use you could potentially get longer. There's Quick Charge 3.0 support too, which when paired with a compatible charger can charge the battery four times faster than a standard charger. Combine the two, and the vast number of power banks we've collected over the years is here largely redundant. If we had to complain, there's no support for wireless charging and the battery is not removable.

Mi Mix review

Mi Mix review: Connectivity

The Mi Mix supports UK 4G bands 3 and 7, but not 20 (also known as 800MHz). According to GearBest its cellular connectivity is as follows: GSM: B2/B3/B5/B8, CDMA: 1X/EVDO BC0, WCDMA: B1/B2/B5/B8, TD-SCDMA: B34/39, FDD-LTE: B1/B2/B3/B4/B5/B7/B8, TD-LTE: B38/B39/B40/B41.

All the main UK mobile operators own bandwidth in the 800MHz frequency, but only O2 uses it exclusively for 4G. What this means is all users might find they are unable to connect to 4G in some places it was previously available to them, and 4G won't be available at anyone on the O2 network. This also applies to customers of virtual mobile operators that piggyback O2's network, such as GiffGaff and Sky Mobile.

Using a Vodafone account we haven't found connectivity to be an issue with the Mi Mix. It seems as though we are able to access 4G less often than we were with a previous phone that supported the 800MHz band, though it's impossible to tell for sure without running the two side by side. We have always been able to access 3G or a nearby Wi-Fi connection in any case, so calls, texts and mobile data usage haven't been a problem.

Mi Mix review

While you probably wouldn't want one of them to be an O2 SIM for obvious reasons, the Mi Mix is a dual-SIM dual-standby phone, which means you can add and operate two SIMs (both are Nano-SIMs). Only one can be used for mobile data, but you can choose which you want to use for calls and texts and accept them in return on either SIM. This is ideal for business users who want separate phone numbers for work and home, and also for those venturing abroad and wish to take advantage of a local SIM.

MIUI 8 supports dual apps, which means you can run two instances of the same app with both icons displayed on the home screen. For apps that require a phone number to sign in - for example WhatsApp - this can be very handy and would allow you to have separate accounts for each of your SIMs. Also see our dual-SIM phones buying advice and Best dual-SIM phones round-up

In other respects all connectivity bases are covered, with dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, USB-C, GPS and GLONASS. Although Google Maps isn't preinstalled on the phone it's very easy to quickly install from Google Play.

It's been a long time since a new phone announcement got us as excited as has the Mi Mix. This revolutionary new phone gives a taster of what to expect from the smartphone market over the coming years.

Mi Mix review: Cameras

The camera setup on the Mi Mix is a little different than it is on most phones, given that we've lost the top bezel of the phone. Instead the selfie camera is located at the bottom right corner of the phone, which is, to be honest, plain weird. 

When you launch the selfie camera the focus is completely wrong, capturing you from the chin (or chins - it's not a flattering angle) up and with you appearing to look into the sky. The only way around this is to turn around the phone, which places the camera at the top left of the phone. It's annoying, but we don't see a better solution - and clearly neither did Xiaomi.

The selfie camera itself is as good as any, rated at 5Mp and with many of the same features as the main camera app. You can access real-time previews that allow you to apply Lomo, Color pop, Rustic, Icy, Vivid, Analog, Matte, Mono and B&W filters, as well as a handful of fun effects including Sketch, Spread, Squeeze, Stretch, Fisheye, Mosaic, Mirror and Tunnel. There's a countdown timer, an audio mode that will pick up when you say "Cheese" (or whatever comes to mind) and countdown from three, and a GroupShot mode.

By default a Smart Beauty filter is set to Medium, and you can alternatively set it to Low, High or off. If you want more control the Pro mode offers a sliding scale for skin smoothing, face slimming and eye widening.

All these options are also available for the Mi Mix's primary camera, plus you get modes for Panorama, Manual, Straighten, Square, HHT and Tilt-Shift. Both HDR and the Flash can be on, off or set to auto, and are available from the top of the screen. Meanwhile, pressing and holding the shutter button triggers a burst mode - you can also use the volume buttons to take a photo - and in the settings you'll find options for adjusting contrast, saturation, sharpness and exposure.

This camera is unsurprisingly better specified, and as well as 16Mp stills (by default at 4:3) it can capture 4K video at 30fps. It supports EIS, phase-detection autofocus and is paired with a dual-tone flash but, to be frank, at a time when others are offering phones with fancy features such as dual-cameras on paper at least it's nothing special.

What really counts, though, is the quality of the photography. And the Mi Mix does a pretty decent job given adequate lighting. As you'll see from our standard test shots of the St Pancras International Renaissance Hotel below, in auto mode and with HDR engaged, photos are dripping with colour - these images were shot in the UK in January! Detail is very good, even capturing ground-level road names when shot from our seventh-floor roof terrace, but there is some blurring - particularly in HDR mode. Also see: Best camera phone 

Mi Mix review

Mi Mix review

Mi Mix review: Software

Many readers will be unfamiliar with the MIUI 8 operating system running on the Mi Mix. It's a custom version of Android Marshmallow, but one of the largest departures from it.

The most obvious difference between MIUI and vanilla Marshmallow is the lack of Google apps. With most Xiaomi phones we review, we would be talking about a complete lack of Google apps and Google services - if you wanted to even add a Google account you'd need to sideload the Google Installer APK and install the Services Framework and any other necessary services. Fortunately, the Mi Mix we received from GearBest is running the International ROM, so although we still had to add our own apps such as Maps and Drive and set up their permissions to allow them to run smoothly it did at least come with the Google Play Store and the ability to add a Google account out of the box.

Mi Mix review

In another nice surprise, the Mi Mix came with no bloatware preinstalled, and we saw no Chinese-language apps and notifications. Although we'd like to have the ability to uninstall some of the original apps that now duplicate functionality for our preferred Google apps, we can hardly say they are junk. The difference between MIUI and Android is you don't need a Google account as long as you have a Mi account - everything you need is here. Also see: Best custom Android UIs

Another big change from Marshmallow is the removal of the apps tray. As it is in iOS, everything installed on the phone is displayed on the home screen. We used to strongly dislike this approach and the resulting mess of apps cluttering the display, but then we found folders - the virtual equivalent of chucking everything in a cupboard and tidying it another day. We're still not entirely convinced, but it does make it easier to find things which may otherwise have lost their home screen shortcut following an update.

Mi Mix review

Finding things can be an issue with MIUI 8, simply because the Settings menu is so different to that of standard Android. Not everything is where you might expect to find it, so it's great that there's a search bar at the top of the Settings menu: type in what you're looking for and you never need know in which Settings option it is actually located.

One of the new features in MIUI 8 is the circular quick-access toggles for frequently used features (mobile data, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and so on) when you pull down the notification bar at the top of the screen. You'll also find new features such as double-tap to wake, Second Space (which creates a separate space on your phone), individual App Lock and support for Mi Wallet, plus all the other handy features we've mentioned throughout this review.

Read next: Best new phones

Specs

Xiaomi Mi Mix: Specs

  • 6.4in full-HD (2040x1080, 362ppi, 17:9) edgeless IPS LCD with 91.3% screen to body ratio
  • MIUI 8 (based on Android 6 Marshmallow)
  • 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core processor
  • Adreno 530 GPU
  • 6GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 256GB UFS 2.0 storage
  • ceramic body designed by Philippe Starck with 18K gold fingerprint scanner and rear camera surround
  • ultrasonic distance sensor
  • cantilever piezoelectric ceramic acoustic technology
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Nano-SIM)
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
  • NFC
  • USB-C
  • 192kHz/24bit audio
  • 16Mp rear camera, f/2.0, EIS (gyro), phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • video recording: 2160p at 30fps, 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 120fps
  • 4400mAh lithium-ion battery, non-removable, with QC3
  • 158.8x81.9x7.9mm
  • 211g
  • 4GB RAM/128GB storage model also available