When making a successor to a company’s flagship device, you either make it radically different or refine the hell out of it. Xiaomi chose the latter when coming up with the Mi Mix 2.

As trendsetting as the original Mi Mix was, there were drawbacks to being the first mainstream “borderless” smartphone to hit the market. The screen ratio was between too tall and too wide; shaving off too much of the top bezel led to an awkward magical earpiece; and there simply wasn’t enough attention given to the cameras.

Xiaomi went as far as calling it a prototype to lower everyone’s expectations of a perfect handset. But now that the Mi Mix 2 exists and it’s surrounded by new-age smartphones, there’s less room for error.

While we were fortunate enough to experience the Mi Mix 2 when it was first unveiled two months ago, our hands-on time with the phone brought up more questions than answers.

This full review builds on our first impressions and looks into both the strengths and weaknesses of the Mi Mix 2 after a more extensive testing period.

Is it easier to use this time?

Although most people agree that the first Mi Mix is a stunning device, there’s no point in owning one if it’s too difficult to wield. Now with a more manageable 6-inch 1080p LCD and narrower 18:9 aspect ratio, the Mi Mix 2 has comparable dimensions to that of the LG V30 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro.

It’s also a lot rounder and easier to grip this time. The back is made of the same slippery ceramic material as before, but Xiaomi once again bundles a protective case in the box. While not as grippy as the leather case of last year’s Mi Mix, it’s a lot slimmer and doesn’t add to the overall bulk.

Because of the reduced surface area, reaching for buttons and the fingerprint scanner at the back isn’t as much of a chore anymore. It simply doesn’t feel like a minituarized tablet now, and those with smaller hands (and pockets) no longer have to do finger gymnastics.

The biggest omission is the 3.5mm audio port, so you’ll again have to reach into the package to pull out the fix: a USB-C dongle. Ugh.

Have the cameras been improved?

My biggest gripe with the original Mi Mix was its sub-par cameras for a smartphone deemed as the brand’s flagship. Both the front and rear shooters often produced blurry outputs, and shots at night were nearly unusable.

As soon as I learned that optical image stabilization was added to the Mi Mix 2, I had some hope for a better turnout — even though Xiaomi peculiarly decided to omit a dual-camera setup despite placing one in the cheaper Mi 6 and Mi A1.

These are what the 12-megapixel rear and 5-megapixel front cameras gave me:

The difference is night and day compared to the predecessor. Noise control is a lot better, and the main camera isn’t as prone to shaky hands. I also find the color vibrance and saturation to be much more pleasant, and selfies are actually worth sharing now.

And yet, the quality isn’t on par with rival smartphones. This has a lot to do with HDR (high dynamic range) processing being excruciatingly slow at times, and there are no special modes or secondary camera to beautify selfies and add background blur — things that other brands have already mastered.

Can its performance keep up with other premium smartphones?

This is a definite yes. With a flagship Snapdragon 835 processor coupled with 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage on our review unit, the Mi Mix 2 is at the very top of the smartphone hierarchy. Performance is as flawless as can be, and not once did I feel like there wasn’t enough power while switching through the heaviest of apps.

Depending on where you decide to purchase this, you can also opt for a cheaper 64GB storage variant or a more generous 256GB storage version — both of which still offer 6GB of memory.

Software-wise, the Android Nougat-powered MIUI 8.5 operating system is still a pleasure to interact with, as long as you’re wiling to go through the early trouble of customizing the interface to your liking after first powering it up. As mentioned in my previous Xiaomi reviews, it takes a lot of patience to go through each setting to get notifications and quick toggles to your liking. But once you do, there’s nothing like it.

Since beginning this review, Xiaomi announced that MIUI 9 will arrive on the Mi Mix 2 and other recently released handsets. We’ll update this space if there are significant improvements or downsides to the new version.

Does it last longer than a day?

To my surprise, lowering the battery capacity (3400mAh from 4400mAh) didn’t significantly reduce battery life. A full charge still gets me more than six hours of screen-on time over a day’s usage. That’s more than what the Galaxy Note 8 and OnePlus 5 gave me.

And the advantage of having a smaller battery is faster charging times. I can easily fill up the total capacity in less than one and a half hours using the bundled fast charger. Getting that much mileage after such a short charge is so satisfying!

What are the drawbacks this time?

Although Xiaomi managed to insert a real earpiece instead of high-tech vibration tech this time, there was nothing done about the awkwardly placed front-facing camera. It’s still on the bottom chin, meaning you have to rotate the phone to avoid blocking it with your palm, and anything except the built-in camera app won’t adjust the interface for you.

Apple and Essential got around this limitation by creating unsightly notches at the top of their phones. Xiaomi decided to stick to their signature style and choose aesthetics over intuitiveness. Which implementation is ultimately better depends on user preference and how much of a selfie taker you are. Rotating the unit multiple times in a day can admittedly get cumbersome.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Mi Mix 2 doesn’t feel as groundbreaking as its predecessor, but that’s only because there are so many of these so-called borderless phones in the market now. But refinement is key in creating a sequel, and this product has a near-perfect mix of features and design choices.

The clearest edge, however, is the Mi Mix 2’s fair price tag. It’s noticeably more affordable compared to its closest competition, making this the most physically attractive phone in its range.

It retails for CNY 3,299 (US$ 505) for the 64GB storage version, CNY 3,599 (US$ 555) for 128GB of storage, and CNY 3,999 (US$ 615) for the largest 256GB configuration in China.

The 128GB storage variant also retails for INR 35,999 (US$ 550) in India, HK$ 4,299 (US$ 550) in Hong Kong, and NT$ 16,599 (US$ 550) in Taiwan.

SEE ALSO: Purported images of a Xiaomi Mix Mix 2s show up online

SEE ALSO
Purported images of a Xiaomi Mix Mix 2s show up online