Review: Xiaomi Mi Mix 2s - a little of this, a little of that

Half the Price - double the mystery

Wow. I know the words “wow” sounds silly but this is a really well designed device.
— My First Impressions

Click here to read my Unboxing and First Impressions where I have also written about the company, Xiaomi, and my experience of importing the Mi Mix 2s from China to Sweden. 


Here goes, this is my full review of the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2s. I have been using it for 2 months as my daily driver and overall the experience have been really good.

Index:


Hardware  

Design And Build Quality

Even though Xiaomis software is good, more on that later, the hardware is where the Mi Mix 2s really shines. In my first impressions, I used the word wow. Xiaomi "kind of" started the bezel-lezz design trend that we see everywhere today with the original MI Mix in 2016, beaten by another Chinese company called Sharp that released the Aquos Crystal already in 2014. At the time, Sharp had the record-breaking screen-to-body ratio at 78,5%, the Mi Mix 2s comes in at 81,9% in 2018. Both phones feature similar design ideas on how to remove the bezel, with the Xiaomi model doing it in a more refined fashion. 

While Samsung and LG utilized the same idea of making the side bezels minimal with symmetrical top and button bezels fitting cameras, speakers etc. Xiaomi made the top bezel as small as possible, as well as the side bezels. The bottom bezel is larger and fits the front-facing camera and proximity sensors and so on. Personally, I like this design a lot. But, it's hard not to question if the bottom bezel couldn't be just a little bit thinner.

The back is made of Ceramic, same as the Essential Phone. Xiaomi advertises the Mix 2s as having the first Ceramic backing supporting wireless charging. A great addition to us users, but it doesn't impress a lot more than phones with wireless charging in glass backs. There just aren't any Ceramic phones to compete with. 

The device is perceived to be heavier than average, weighing in at 191 grams, mostly thanks to the ceramic backing. The Samsung Galaxy s9+ weights in at 189g. The OnePlus 6, on the other hand, comes in at 177g, but the 5T before it was so light that it felt cheap and fragile at 162g. It's a hard balance, smartphone weight. I have no issue with the Mix 2s' heft as it makes it feel premium (that is a weird thing to think) but I know that others find it too heavy. While trying to give you an overview comparison here, for me the weight is a non-problem.

The buttons are placed to my liking with the power button positioned below the volume rocker on the right side. They feel solid and are satisfyingly clicky. There is a small amount of wiggle if you try to move them up and down, but I have yet to own a phone without said wiggle-room.

This should come as no surprise but there is no headphone jack on the Mi Mix 2s. I have been using wireless earbuds from Jaybird for a few years now so it is not much of a loss. But I was in the car with my family, my father's car lack support for Bluetooth audio playback so the aux cable had to do, and I was asked to DJ when I suddenly realized that my phone is missing a headphone jack. Normally I would not care and it is easy to just pass the cable along. But it still made me realize that the world still is not quite ready for the removal of ports. Not fully. Since I use Bluetooth headphones I am not about to start carrying the dongle just in case.

Display 

The technology behind the Mix 2s screen is LCD. There are a lot of heated debates on the subject of LCD vs. OLED which I have mostly stayed clear of. I am drawn to say that I prefer OLED displays but I think that mostly depends on the technological fascination. Sure the blacks are deeper but color accuracy has never been an overwhelming issue for me. I am drawn to the claimed improvements it can bring to battery life but at the same time, my Mix 2s beats the OnePlus 5T, which had an AMOLED display, in battery life anyway.

The display is, however, pleasant to watch. Colors are vibrant and you get the ability to customize color calibration pretty much to your liking. You can pick between Automatic contrast, Increased contrast or Standard in addition to the temperature presets Default, Warm and Cool.
I have kept it on Automatic contrast with the Default temperature, mostly because I am too boring to dive into these settings. I am also satisfied with the display as is. 

Specifications: 

upload.png

The specifications will satisfy any spec-hungry Android user. In 2018 there is really not that much to comment on as you get the same flagship processor, a normally large battery capacity, and a Full HD+ resolution. That is not to sound disappointed, there is just not that much to highlight. 

Considering the Mix 2s' price point however the specifications are impressive and follow along with the same route as OnePlus and Asus are doing with their flagship phones packing in almost everything that the LG G7, Galaxy s9, and HTC U12+ do.

Hardware Conclusion

The Mix 2s has an overall pleasant in hand feel. It is heavier than most phones and the ceramic is slippery on cloth and most furniture. But in hand, I do not perceive it as slippery nor too heavy. I am able to use it in one hand, but for typing, it is wide enough to be considered a two-handed device for a lot of people. You will most likely also need to do some thumb gymnastics to reach the notification bar and I am sad that there are no fingerprint-gestures to be found. I read that OnePlus also removed these and I am curious to find out why. The software does, however, present an old-school fix for this by letting you swipe down on the home screen.

The specifications will satisfy most users and with wireless charging included there is really only ingress protection, or water resistance, left to desire. 

 Xiaomi has put the earpiece and second speaker in the top bezel, in an impressively tight spot. It is the little dent visible in the middle.

Xiaomi has put the earpiece and second speaker in the top bezel, in an impressively tight spot. It is the little dent visible in the middle.


Software

Speaking of software I get the urge to call MIUI mystical. I mostly prefer stock Android but, Xiaomis skin is really smooth and mostly as stable as can be. The design is different but remains coherent, and it's no doubt packed with most of the features you can imagine. I do however have an issue with the region locked features. It's weird to me that the theme store is hidden if I chose Sweden, but US or India region settings get full access. The same goes for face unlock which is a feature I expected. 

I mentioned earlier that the front-facing camera is positioned in the bottom bezel. Thanks to software, however, this does not hinder selfies. When using the stock camera app you will be prompted to turn the phone upside down giving the camera a more traditional location. This will flip the entire interface on its head.

The position of the front-facing camera is different and even if this is a hardware thing, it is relevant for software as well. If you use say, the Instagram or Snapchat app to take photos the position is pretty horrible. This is due to software limitations though. If you use the stock camera app it's really a non-issue as you just rotate the phone upside down to utilize the camera fully. It is a very simple action and it requires very little of me as a user. For me, it is a small sacrifice for the design and screen real estate. In other apps, however, this usually does not work, os you will have to lift the phone a lot or use photos taken beforehand with the stock app. 

Disclaimer: During this review, I have mostly been using the Global version of MIUI 9.5 that the phone ships with. I have also tested Xiaomi EUs version of MIUI 10 and the official Global beta of MIUI 10. In this review, however, the stable version of MIUI 9.5 is primary.

Different versions of MIUI 

When it comes to software updates Xiaomi does things differently than other manufacturers. Firstly they celebrate their software updates with forum contests, giveaway and feature posts. I kind of see similarities with OnePlus here and communicating with the so-called fans are perceived as important to the company. A software update from MIUI 9 to MIUI 10 does not guarantee an update in Android versions. Simply speaking some devices getting MIUI 10 will still be at Android version 7.0 Nougat. The question is, if Xiaomi still includes most of its features, does this matter to you?

Bloatware 

Now here is a term with many definitions. Back when I started looking into Android a lot and OnePlus was known to be bloat-free I remember Switfkey on Cyanogen OS being labeled as unwanted bloat. Now I don't know about you, but that is one of the first apps I install on any phone. During the past years, I have noticed the term being used a lot for dual apps. Like the critique that Samsung is getting for having an alternative installed for every app that Google ships Android with. Xiaomi does this as well. Now some apps like the standard Microsoft office package can be removed, thankfully. I had to create a folder on my home screen called MIUI stuff though, and my Tools-folder includes pre-installed apps as well.

Features

The Home Screen, or launcher, is a reminder of the iOS copycat critique that Xiaomi has gotten over the years. There is no app drawer so all your apps are laid out on different screens. It is easy enough to create categorized folders of course. But if you dislike this you might want to install a third party launcher. A lot of people do so even on Google's phones anyway. I did not. Somehow I feel like that collides with the rest of the UI. It also removes the animation when closing an app with full-screen gestures. The app will locate its icon if it is on the current home-screen and fade into that icon. This is also very iOS-like, but it looks so good.

In a recent update, Xiaomi added an extra screen to the Home Screen called App Vault which, if you read my OnePlus 5T review, is basically the same thing as the Shelf in Oxygen OS. Only less useful and developed. 

The settings menu in MIUI is full of customization and things to adjust. Additional features include:

  • Dual Apps: The ability to clone apps like Instagram or Facebook to use two different accounts at once. This is especially handy for someone like me who operates a private account as well as one for this site.

  • Full-Screen Gestures: The ability to pick between Gesture control and traditional buttons.

  • App Lock: Pick certain apps to be locked by Password- or fingerprint authentication.

  • One-Handed Mode: You might know this useful feature from other Android vendors. Basically, it shrinks the display area being used to either 4.5, 4, or 3.5 inches to enable easier one-handed usage. This is activated by swiping on the virtual navigation buttons. If you are using navigation gestures you seem to be out of luck.

  • The Quick Ball: This little floating ball is an alternative to navigation buttons and gestures. It is basically a ball that tapers itself to the edge of the display. You can customize 6 different shortcuts that appear when activating it. The ball can also hide automatically after 3 seconds, giving you a small pill on the edge to activate, and you can drag it around in real-time to place it where you please.

  • Double tap to wake the screen: The old fan favorite can be enabled/disabled in display settings although with the lack of face-unlock I find it less useful.

  • Theme Store: MIUI can be customized with the help of user-made themes. Remember the region lock though. Luckily you can change your region, add another theme, and change back to your region.

  • Second Space: Create another virtual "user" on your phone. I guess this comes in handy if you want to give your kids access to only a few games, if you want a work profile, or for other shady practices. You can hide the Second Space behind another password or fingerprint, the phone will then open the space associated to that unlock.

  • MI Mover: Just like with OnePlus, Xiaomi also has its own app for transferring data from your old phone to your new phone. This is called the Mi Mover. Additional: You can also create local backups of your phone in MIUI to install on newer devices.

 
 

This skin is really pleasantly smooth, and just as the hardware, it does not leave a lot to be desired. I could imagine seeing an app-drawer in the future. Xiaomi could also do with something other than the shelf-replica that is App Vault, an inclusion of the Google Feed would feel more useful. 

In my initial impressions, I mentioned that enabling double tapping the power button to open the camera was not working very well. Well, that is still the case. You can enable this shortcut but the phone locks before the shortcut is activated leaving you to unlock it again. For me, this defeats the entire purpose of a shortcut. 
There is still no way to open the Google Assistant if you are using the Full-Screen Gestures unless you use your voice with "Ok Google" recognition. Actually, that is the only thing App Vault is useful for as it enables you to have an icon for the Google Assistant. 


Battery Life

Battery life on the Mi Mix 2s has been mostly great. At times I have found it a bit uneven and there was a period of time when I rebooted the phone every morning to get the most out of it but most days I now find that to be unnecessary.

The phone is at around 40% when I get home from work with in between 2 and 3 hours of screen on time. That is about 9 hours of total battery time. It lasts me until at least 11 pm and usually remains at least 10% with between 4 to 5+ hours of screen on time.

The included charger comes with Qualcomm's quick charge 3.0 which allows you to regain some battery backup in no time. This is not the fastest quick charging on the market, but it gets the job done and in a pinch, it absolutely can be a lifesaver. The charger itself is a rather bland white power-brick with a white cord. There are no design details here and the cord seems to wear easily.

IMG_20180729_143939.jpg

Camera

The primary updates presented in the Mix 2S over the regular Mix 2 comes in the Camera. Xiaomi added a second camera to the 2S as well as giving it some AI capabilities. 

The dual camera setup on the Mix 2s is pretty traditional. One normal-width 12 MP shooter and one telephoto, also at 12MP.  However, only the main camera comes with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS).

In this camera test I will include pictures taken in auto mode which will include samples taken with- and without the AI mode activated, an AI mode comparison, a 2x zoom test as well as Portrait mode shots, Night shots, and some selfie samples.

Primary Camera - Auto Mode

Let us start off with the basics, snapping a picture without over-thinking. The following pictures are taken in Auto Mode with hdr on Auto.

The primary shooter is capable of capturing good detail and beautiful pictures. It might not be the one camera to rule them all, but it will satisfy most users.

One thing to note while looking at the Mi Mix 2S is the addition of lens flare which seems to be more prominent than on other phones I have tested. A good example of this is in the first image. I have however noticed that it mostly occurs when the lens has smudges on it. 

Second Camera - Telephoto zooming

As previously mentioned the second camera is a zoom lens at 2x. This is the same trend that came with the iPhone 7 Plus in 2016. This is my first phone featuring this setup and to be completely honest I see very few situations where I would find this useful.

The second camera might not feature OIS, but it is able to utilize the same AI enhancements and HDR as the main camera.

I can appreciate the possibility to zoom in without losing a lot of quality, but I do not see myself using this feature without someone telling me to do so. The lack of OIS is unfortunate as it is hard to hold a phone steady enough for zoomed images. 

Low Light

The pinnacle of smartphone photography comparisons. 

Looking at the first shot (the apple) the Mi Mix 2S exceeds all of my expectations. The colors are accurate, and whilst the background is lacking in details I am quite happy with the foreground. The second picture was hard, and if the phone had feelings it would call it unfair as there are no lights to help here. Still, the carts branding is visible and while on the cold side, colors are still accurate. 

All in all, the Mi Mix 2s exceeds what I had expected in the low light department. It might not challenge the P20 Pro's night mode, but it holds its own in my testing. 

Portrait Mode

With a little help from the telephoto lens, the Mi Mix 2s can separate the subject from the background and apply an artificial Bokeh background effect, like most flagships in 2018.
I would have preferred a normal length second camera for Portrait mode, instead of one that forces a 2x zoom leaving me to back up. 

Most of the time, the results are good. When the phone manages to separate the edges well it looks really good. Sometimes though, there are parts of the subject being blurred as well. Also, the foreground does not blur. 

Portrait effects

The Mix 2S also comes with some Portrait mode after-effects for you to chose from, including adjusting the blur amount or warping the blurred area with so-called Light Trails. 

Now, this is a fun addition and I have found myself playing around with it. But it depends a lot on how well you captured the portrait and how good of a job the edge detection did. In a lot of cases, it is a nice feature to have. Unfortunately this only works with the primary camera so you cant spice up those selfies. 

AI Comparison 

Xiaomi advertises the Mi Mix 2s' ability to identify up to 206 scenes to adjust the processing accordingly using AI. This might sound a lot like what Huawei advertised in the Mate 10 Pro released late 2017. How does the feature stack up?

At times I really appreciate the feature, but at times it also has a tendency to overdo the effect. I think Linus over at Linus Tech Tips said it best when he said it delivered "Neon Trees".

Front-Facing Camera - Ok Selfies

The Selfie shooter is a 5 MP camera. With the help of software, this single camera is able to produce Portrait shots with background Bokeh as well. In MIUI 10 Xiaomi claims that AI will aid single-camera setups with portrait mode so this feature might be improved further when the update hits.

I do not utilize the front-facing camera a lot, but overall it does an acceptable job. It is, however, prone to over-exposure and the background might be overly bright, or your face will be way too dark. In my usage Portrait shots have been surprisingly good with the lonely selfie camera.

Other Features

There are other features like a Pro Mode, but being an average camera user I have not tested these enough to really comment on the ability.

Camera Conclusion 

Overall I have enjoyed this camera a lot. It takes capable auto shots, and the AI enhancements are good - if not a little bit too much at times. I don't feel like a 2x zoom lens is necessary though and I have only used it for review purposes. It also takes away from the pleasures of Portrait Mode as it requires a 2x zoom, meaning you have to back up every time you are taking that bokeh shot. Of course, the subject might appreciate that you are further away.

Low light shots are quite impressive and exceeded my expectations. 


Pricing and Availability 

Now as you might know Xiaomi is still primarily selling in Asia, mostly China and India actually. Now, this is not necessarily an issue, it just makes it harder to walk into a store and buy one. I had mine shipped to Sweden from Hong Kong thanks to Gearbest.com for the particularly impressive price of $565.38 (that is £431 or 5000 Sek). Undercutting the OnePlus 6 by approximately $100 or £80. Of course, in the US this price for the OnePlus flagship might seem crazy but you know, import taxes.

Amazon also sells the Mi Mix 2S if this is your preferred retailer.

It arrived here on the 4th weekday after I placed my order which is pretty great. Of course, warranty issues might be problematic. In Sweden, you can purchase the Mix 2S from Swedish retailers, but at an import premium, placing it in the same price category as the OnePlus 6. The Asus ZenFone 5Z is clearly the budget price winner, remaining at the same price as the Mix 2s in China($565), even if purchased directly in Sweden.

Your choice between these devices should depend on Software and Camera preferences mostly.


Conclusion

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 2s covers a lot of ground, especially for the price. There is something exciting about using a phone that stands out like this one.

The exceptional build quality, thanks to minimal bezels in an original design as well as the ceramic backing really sets this phone apart from the rest. The Gold colored accents around the camera along with the subtle "Mi Mix Designed by Xiaomi" also in gold. Already during the unboxing, you will feel like there is something exclusive about the phone, and in many regards, the feeling lingers. Shout out to Xiaomi for managing to throw in wireless charging in the Mix.

The software is, while not stock Android, surprisingly well made and stable. The interface is smooth, and you can tell that Xiaomi puts a lot of effort on the inside as well as the outside. With the upcoming MIUI 10 release, it only gets better. 

The camera is a good all-rounder, but I would have preferred a normal length second camera for portrait mode instead of a 2x zoom one. The AI processing is more hype than win and usually resembles a light Instagram filter, but I see good potential here. In low-light, the camera is no reigning champion, but it manages to provide you with visible pictures with realistic colors and competitive sharpness.

So, for $575 I think the Mi Mix 2s is an absolute contender to both flagships like the Samsung Galaxy s9 and other budget-friendly devices like the OnePlus 6 or Asus Zenphone 5Z.