A ‘concept phone’. Those were the words I heard when Xiaomi unveiled the Mi MIX — something I thought they wouldn’t sell because that’s what the term ‘concept’ usually means. Then the presentation continued and my jaw hit the floor.
Wait, they’re going to sell it?!
If you forget the ‘concept’ label and think about it, it’s not that hard to believe. It’s got a standard flagship processor with RAM, internal storage, and a regular battery. It’s not powered by harvested unicorn tears. It’s still a smartphone with a camera at the back and a camera in front for selfies. It’s got buttons too!
Then you really think about it. It doesn’t have an earpiece. It has an absolutely humongous screen that is basically — wait for it — bezel-less. The front camera is a tiny little spec at the bottom where it’s easily blocked by your palm. And it’s made entirely out of ceramic which is as slippery as a fish out of water.
Is it really a smartphone then? Should Xiaomi have put it on sale at all or left it as a proof of concept? Well, that’s what I spent the past few days finding out.
[nextpage title=”It’s just mad enough”]
When the word ‘concept’ hits my ears, it’s not something I’m usually particularly impressed with. Being an avid follower of cars, when I hear concept, I know it’s not something that goes on sale to the mass public. It’s something manufacturers use to prove that they can do something. An elaborate way to call ‘dibs’ if you will and there’s a very good reason for that.
Most concepts are ludicrous. Take cars for example: Concept cars usually have 30” wheels, no door, no steering wheel and a gaping front grille that’s supposed to mimic your jaw when you see it. They’re terribly impractical because they’re also usually a centimetre off the ground and are the length of a locomotive.
In contrast, what usually gets sold to consumers usually get toned down to just ‘crazy’. Stuff that’s insanely good, fast, practical, precise and concise. Stuff you usually find getting pushed out of Porsche, Ferrari or McLaren. In smartphone terminology, these are the sort of like the flagships you find out of Apple or Samsung — also practical, powerful, fast, precise, concise and incredibly good.
And then you have the Mi MIX.
It’s certainly fast. A Snapdragon 821 processor (clocked at a higher 2.35GHz), 4GB (the gold one has 6GB) of RAM and 128GB (again, the gold one has 256GB) of internal storage will have you whizzing through tasks no problem.
Everything also looks amazing on that 6.4-inch 1080p ‘edgeless’ display — viewing angles are good, colours pop quite well and, despite the size, everything’s nice and sharp.
Since it’s all screen, you don’t get a conventional earpiece or proximity sensor. Everything is cleverly taken care of by a motor behind the screen that vibrates to produce sound and an ultrasonic proximity sensor. The end result? Well, I honestly didn’t notice any significant difference in normal usage except for the fact that the whole phone buzzes a little. Oh and you can listen to your call from almost any part of the phone though the volume drops significantly the further you move away from where the earpiece is supposed to be. Makes for a sick party trick.
Besides that, battery life is fantastic too. Its powerful 4,400 mAh cell easily lasted me through the most intensive of days with about six hours of screen-on-time and while most average days I end up with a 30% charge by the end of my 15-hour day. What’s more, it’s got support for Quick Charge 3.0 too (via its USB Type-C port) which tops up your battery in just over two hours — which is pretty good for such a huge battery. It charges pretty linearly, though, so 30 minutes on the plug from 0% will give you about a 33% charge.
One little dent in this otherwise excellent flagship’s armour is the fact that the camera isn’t the best thing in the world…neither the front nor the back.
For the main 16-megapixel shooter, I’d say that the image quality is comparable to the Mi 5, but it’s a far more pleasant shooting experience because it’s much snappier, much more reliable and it focuses accurately for a change.
However, I’m personally not a big fan of the front-facing 5MP snapper. When you hold it in normal orientation, the only thing you’ll be taking a selfie of is your palm (because I take selfies with my right hand). Xiaomi says that you can easily just turn the thing around, but I found trouble gripping the phone that way because of the bezel-less screen. Also, since everything is at the bottom (including the notification LED) it took me awhile to get used to picking the phone up the right way. Still, a day later and I got used to it, I’m sure you would too.
All that being said, make no mistake, this is not a practical phone and a lot of that has to do with what makes it a unique device — its bezel-less screen. In fact, I thought the entire idea of a bezel-less display is rather silly because where on earth do you put your hands? The bezel is there for a reason: To give your paws something to hang on to. Once you remove that, I found out that the only thing you’re left with is a bunch of accidental touches.
And building the entire phone out of shiny, glossy ceramic? Preposterous! It’s the slipperiest phone I’ve hung on to ever and that’s only made worse by how incredibly heavy the whole handset is. Most of my review period was spent worrying that I’ll drop this bar of soap Xiaomi calls a smartphone.
Also, did I mention that having a 17:9 aspect ratio on a display is really, really self-defeating? Yeah, you have a bezel-less screen that’s gorgeous to watch videos on theoretically, but if all the widescreen content you watch is 16:9, what you end up with are a bunch of black bars on either side of the display. Plus, since it’s an LCD display, you can see the black bars at night!
So, no, if you’re a practical human being, this isn’t the flagship smartphone you want to buy. But you know what? I don’t care about that at all. If I had RMB3,499 (about RM2,200), I’d pick this handset up in a heartbeat simply because it makes me feel incredibly special. It’s something I can’t describe to you in words.
It gives me that same “oh my goodness” feeling I get when I stare, drooling, at a gorgeous concept car that’s 99% heart and 1% practicality. Only it’s better because the MIX isn’t a ‘concept’ phone per se. You can actually buy one! But it wouldn’t be a practical purchase.
I think the MIX is somewhere between a ‘concept device’ and ‘production device’. It sits at a crossroads where mad design and innovation meets just enough practicality for the handset to make it past the drawing board. It’s bonkers yet attainable, insane yet logical. It’s…well, it’s a big V12 Lamborghini.
You won’t get very good mileage with a V12 Lambo. Nor will you be able to park it, or see out the back of it, or drive it in narrow town streets. Plus, it might catch fire in a traffic jam. But you’ll love a big V12 Lambo and I think love is the best way to describe my feelings towards the Mi MIX.
Here are more photos from the Xiaomi Mi MIX’s 16-megapixel camera. Click on each one to view the full resolution.