Hands-On

Mi MIX 2S hands-on: Xiaomi’s pride and joy

A little change goes a long way

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Xiaomi has had a great year and the launch of the Mi MIX 2S in Shanghai this week is a milestone for a number of reasons.

During his keynote, Founder and CEO Lei Jun was quick to point out that like a dark horse, Xiaomi came back to the world stage in 2017 — climbing back to the top five and nearly doubling shipment growth while the rest of the top smartphone manufacturers’ numbers suffered.

Xiaomi also reached its target revenue of CNY 100 billion (US$ 15.8 billion), after just seven years of operations.

Lei Jun says this was possible not just because of Xiaomi’s solid fanbase, but also because of their relentless commitment to innovation. Xiaomi was able to acquire more than 6,000 patents by the end of last year, with more than half being global patents. And of course, who could forget, Xiaomi popularized the now mainstream full-screen display.

While fans will always argue that Sharp did it first, it was Xiaomi who opened the doors for other OEMs with the original Mi MIX. At the time, Google’s Compatibility Definition Document said that all Android devices must conform to the 16:9 aspect ratio. But Xiaomi challenged that and changed the Android world forever with the original Mi MIX and its 17:9 ratio.

In December 2017, the Mi MIX and Mi MIX 2 have been added to the permanent collection of the contemporary art museum Centre Pompidou in France

And if innovation is the core of Xiaomi, design and quality are its life. Xiaomi is now the Chinese company that has won the most number of industrial awards not just in China but in other parts of the world.

But among its growing ecosystem, Xiaomi is proudest of its award-winning MIX line, with the Mi MIX and MIX 2 also parts of European art museum collections.

Same beautiful design

It comes as no surprise then that Xiaomi retained the same beautiful form factor in this S update. Despite everything we’ve seen so far, the Mi MIX 2S is still one of the most beautiful phones out there.

Xiaomi Global Spokesperson Donovan Sung says the MIX 2S represents the company’s dedication to cutting-edge innovation and top-notch quality design. No pun intended.

The only compromise and the one thing we haven’t liked since the original MIX is the awkward front camera placement.

Sure it makes the design unique and now iconic, but it’s still the sore point in a phone that would otherwise be great.

If you’re like our managing editor Marvin or account manager Alven who don’t take a lot of selfies, this shouldn’t really be a problem. Rotating the phone is always an option if you have to. But if you use Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and video calls a lot like the rest of the population, this might be a deal-breaker.

While most brands have opted to put their own versions of the notch to achieve a full-screen display, Xiaomi is choosing a rather uncomfortable route for the MIX line for now.

The 5MP selfie camera on the white Mi MIX 2S can trigger your OCD

Unlike the Mi MIX 2, the MIX 2S will not come in special edition unibody ceramic versions. Instead, we’re getting two colors by default: black or white.

Black is the more seamless of the two, especially when turned off — even the front camera has a black coating.

Sung says the ultimate vision for the MIX line is for the phone to become one unblemished piece of glass — no notch, no bezels. He says the black version of the Mi MIX 2S is the closest we have to that vision and as for me, I personally can’t wait for that future.

Xiaomi Global Spokesperson Donovan Sung says the black Mi MIX 2S is the closest we have to the future of an unblemished piece of glass

But me and the rest of the GadgetMatch team really like the white version even if the front camera sticks out. Having reviewed hundreds of smartphones, it’s a refreshing sight in a sea of black devices.

It’s also less of a fingerprint magnet, comes with a really nice matte case that doesn’t make the phone look cheap, and most importantly, matches my outfits better if I must say so myself.

That notch-free display

Not everyone gives users the option to hide the notch, hence the hesitation among Android fans. It can be distracting especially when watching videos or playing games.

On the Mi MIX 2s, that’s not a problem. Videos fill up the entire screen as long as the app supports taller aspect ratios.

Watching Android Authority‘s Mi MIX 2S video on the white Mi MIX 2S

One caveat though is Netflix doesn’t support beta ROMs, which most of our Xiaomi units are on. It doesn’t even show up on the Google Play Store. There are, of course, do-it-yourself fixes available online, but like most users, I would rather have my favorite apps like Netflix available at my disposal without much tinkering, especially for a phone designed perfectly for content consumption.

Other than that, Xiaomi kept the same LCD display from the previous generations. It’s not the brightest we’ve seen but it’s bright enough for use under the sun.

AI in Cameras

Like most phones this year, the biggest upgrade on the Mi MIX 2S has to do with the cameras. Not only does it have dual 12-megapixel cameras, they’re also now equipped with AI, largely thanks to the high-end Snapdragon 845 chipset found inside.

Mi MIX 2’s single rear camera vs Mi MIX 2S’ dual cameras

The unit I’m using doesn’t have the final software yet so I didn’t really get to test all the new features, but at the event, Xiaomi showed off what it can do. The camera adjusts settings depending on your subject and scenario. It can detect 206 (yes, 206!) different scenes, including different settings for thinner leaves and Instagram-worthy succulents.

Some of the different scenes that can be detected by the Mi MIX 2S’ AI cameras

There’s real-time translation and currency conversion, which would be really useful in China for tourists like me. There’s also depth effect even on the selfie camera, and probably what I’m most excited to try: dynamic bokeh.

That said, the camera improvements don’t stop with the AI features. Compared to the Mi MIX 2, the MIX 2S’ cameras are noticeably better at handling dynamic range resulting in better color accuracy.

Photos are also more detailed and sharper without being oversharpened.

Selfies are not as mushy as before but still too tight for our liking, making group selfies almost impossible.

Although low-light photos have always been a weak spot for Xiaomi phones, improvements can be seen on the Mi MIX 2S on the main rear camera. It still has optical image stabilization, but now has a bigger 1.4µm pixel size on its new Sony IMX 363 sensor.

The second camera on the Mi MIX 2S is a telephoto lens for zoomed-in shots and portrait mode, which works surprisingly well — a far-cry from the Mi 6 and Mi A1’s crooked cutouts — even with my usually challenging wavy hair.

DxOMark gave the Mi MIX 2S an impressive photo score of 101 and an overall score of 97 — the same overall score as the iPhone X and Huawei Mate 10 Pro’s. I didn’t get to do a comparison with those two but here are more sample photos I took around Shanghai:

Despite the high photo score, DxOMark gave the phone a lower 88 for video performance, which is usually the case for a lot of smartphones. Even with OIS, videos shot on the Mi MIX 2S can still be a little shaky. Although I had way too much fun using the built-in time-lapse feature on the camera.

Efficient battery

Apart from powerful chipsets coupled with cheaper price tags, battery life on Xiaomi phones is usually what we’re most impressed with, and the Mi MIX 2S is no exception.

After a 10-hour day of taking photos and videos, checking emails, writing, a lot of social media, I still managed to get a little above five hours of screen-on time. Although again, the phone I’m using doesn’t have the final software yet so it can still improve or regress from here.

I didn’t do a charging test, but I got to try the white wireless charger that matches my new phone. Yes, the Mi MIX 2S now supports the standard Qi wireless charging and Xiaomi will be selling its own wireless charger for CNY 99 (US$ 15).

It only charges at a maximum of 7.5W, which is faster than most wireless chargers, but still a little slower than Samsung’s wireless charging pad that maxes out at 9W. A full charge of the Mi MIX 2S on the Xiaomi wireless charger takes less than three hours.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It’s hard to say given I haven’t tried the phone’s new features and full potential. But there’s one thing I know for sure: While more and more manufacturers are increasing prices for their devices recently, Xiaomi is proud to stay true to its brand.

Whenever asked whether they can maintain the same value proposition, Xiaomi’s response is always a resounding yes; they have been doing it for seven years and there’s no changing that.

The Mi MIX 2S is proof that Xiaomi’s reputation of building high-quality products for much less is here to stay. It will be available in China starting April 3 and pricing is as follows: CNY 3,299 (US$ 525) for the 6GB + 64GB model, CNY 3,599 (US$ 573) for the 6GB + 128GB model, and CNY 3,999 (US$ 573) for the 8GB + 256GB model.

Although if there’s one thing that’s changed about Xiaomi, it’s that they’re no longer the same Chinese startup that disrupted the smartphone space in 2011.

Their expansion in Western Europe and launching not in Beijing but in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai signify that Xiaomi recognizes they’re now a global company, ready and confident to be compared with the rest of the world.

With Xiaomi leading the way, and the MIX line as their pride and joy, Lei Jun says together with other Chinese companies, they are embarking on a transformation — changing the way the world perceives their products — shifting from the derogatory made in China to a proud label of designed in China.

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