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Xiaomi Mi Watch review: This should be your first smartwatch

I like to think that I’m somewhat of a smartwatch expert—sort of, I guess. I do really like them, and as a result, I’ve spent hours and hours researching, testing, and simply talking about them to anyone that’ll listen. But the question I get asked the most is very often: what smartwatch should I buy if this is my first smartwatch?

That brings us to today. If you’re looking for an easy entry-point into the vast smartwatch world—this might be the perfect watch for you. Today, we’re talking about the Xiaomi Mi Watch!

The gist of it

The Mi Watch is Xiaomi’s latest smartwatch in Malaysia, and at a price of RM469, it’s a relatively affordable smartwatch—or rather, pseudo-smartwatch. Let me explain: the pseudo-smartwatch is my own categorisation of wearables, and it basically covers smartwatches that don’t give you the option to install additional apps from an app store, or online. Instead, what you get out of the box—and via future OTA updates—is what you get.

The Mi Watch is a round-faced, simple-looking smartwatch, and it doesn’t look too different from the plethora of models that are already on the market. But I have to say, the understated look has certainly grown on me, and I like that Xiaomi kept things simple.

Upfront, you get a 1.39” AMOLED display pushing a resolution of 454×454 pixels, and 450 nits of max brightness. The screen looks bright and colours are vibrant, and you shouldn’t have too many issues viewing information on the screen, even under sunlight. In fact, the display of the Mi Watch is one of its major strengths, particularly considering its size and price tag.

For its build, the Mi Watch feels rather plasticky, but it still feels pretty well-built. There aren’t any squeaky, creaking bits on the watch, and overall, it has a very dense, compact feel to it. Xiaomi calls it one of world’s lightest at 32g without strap, but this isn’t exactly featherweight compared to options like the Mi Watch Lite (29g), or the Amazfit GTS 2 Mini (19.5g).

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Still, for a watch with a large display like this, Xiaomi’s wearable does feel light on the hand—I hardly noticed that I was wearing such a large smartwatch for most parts of the day.

What can the Mi Watch do?

Battery life is one of the strengths of the Mi Watch, with up to 16 days on a single charge. This is an impressive figure, particularly when taking into account the size of the screen. This means that you only need to charge the watch twice a month on average, unlike more expensive, and capable smartwatches like the Apple Watch Series 6 or Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3.

Meanwhile, the Mi Watch has a sports, fitness-focused approach, and it comes with a dedicated “sport button” so you’ll have easy access to around 117 fitness modes. That pretty much covers every sport I can think off—although I’m the furthest thing from an athlete/sportsman, so take that with a pinch of salt. Regardless, I put the Mi Watch through its paces (pun intended) with an outdoor run or two, and for the sake of the review, I even wore the watch through a match of futsal as well.

Here are a couple of screenshots from the Mi Wear app—which works pretty well, although I ran into connection issues when switching between multiple phones to pair with the Mi Watch. Basically, when switching between phones on the same Mi Wear account, your data is synced across multiple devices. However, the smartwatch seemingly runs into problems when attempting to connect to a new smartphone on the same Mi account.

Xiaomi also equipped the Mi Watch with SpO2 tracking capabilities, thanks to the optimised PPG heart rate sensor. SpO2 is the measurement of oxygen saturation in your blood, and it’s supposed to offer a better overall picture of your health. Compared to its little brother, the Mi Watch Lite, this is a significant upgrade, along with the larger display on the Mi Watch.

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There’s also built-in GPS, which is important for runners and hikers. Without this, you’d have to bring a paired phone whenever and wherever you go on runs/hikes, so built-in GPS is a must-have on a sports-focused smartwatch. 5ATM also means that you can take the Mi Watch on swims; the certification means that the watch will be able to withstand pressures down to 50m of submersion.

On the software side of things, features are pretty comprehensive on the Mi Wear app. Sleep tracking, stress tracking, and even a metric that monitors your energy levels work well enough, and health data is displayed in an easy-to-understand format on the app. For example, sleep tracking information is broken down into the various stages of sleep throughout a night—a level of detail that isn’t available on the Apple Watch’s sleep tracking function, for comparison.

So, is this the perfect entry-point into the smartwatch world?

It’s certainly a strong contender, although the affordable Mi Watch Lite at RM249 is also one to keep your eye on. However, the Mi Watch offers a bunch of upgrades over its smaller brother, including SpO2, and a larger display. The interface on the Mi Watch also offers a vastly superior experience—it’s a lot nicer, a lot smoother, and in general, a lot more… smartwatch-y.

The Mi Watch Lite, on the other hand, is more of a fitness band within a smartwatch body. You’ll need to live with a simple interface that’s functional, but lacking in animations or anything else to improve the experience.

There is a drawback to all of this. You won’t have access to a voice assistant via the Mi Watch. The XiaoAi assistant is only available in China, while Amazon Alexa isn’t supported in Malaysia at the moment—which is a major disappointment to me. A representative of Xiaomi tells me that the company has pushed an OTA update for Alexa support in Malaysia on their side of things, but Amazon Alexa is still not supported in our region at the moment.

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All in all, the Mi Watch is certainly right up there with the best of them in the pseudo-smartwatch category. You have, of course, a whole range of smartwatches from Amazfit, where models like the GTR 2e offer a lot of same specs for a slightly higher price—or you can consider the GTS 2e if you prefer a square-faced design. Both of these are costlier, though.

But for me, the Mi Watch has a little bit of everything, and as I said above, I really, really like how it couples a simple, understated design with a full set of features—at a very affordable price. Before you consider an expensive smartwatch like the Apple Watch, or Samsung’s Galaxy, this might already tick all the boxes for you.

Photography by Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.