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April 10, 2018

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S review: A great alternative to the notch

by John_A

The Mi Mix 2S runs the fastest chip available today and offers a new powerful new dual camera setup.

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Xiaomi unveiled its first bezel-less phone back in 2016 with the Mi Mix, introducing a radical design that saw the front camera module moved to the bottom bar, with three sides of the display featuring ultra-thin bezels. The Chinese manufacturer refined that design with last year’s Mi Mix 2, sticking to a similar design aesthetic but decreasing the screen size to a more manageable 5.99 inches (from 6.44 inches).

Xiaomi also got rid of the piezoelectric driver that was used in the first-gen Mi Mix, instead rolling out a regular earpiece that doubled up as a secondary speaker.

Now in its third iteration, the Mi Mix 2S features the same design as its predecessor, with the phone introducing a new dual camera setup, Snapdragon 845, increased storage options, and an Oreo-based build of MIUI. Xiaomi is traditionally known to launch a flagship in its Mi series around this time of the year, but it looks like the Mi 7 will feature a radical overhaul from its predecessor, key among them being an 18:9 panel with an in-display fingerprint sensor.

In that context, it makes sense for Xiaomi to roll out a mid-cycle refresh of the Mi Mix 2. The individual changes may not seem all that significant, but cumulatively they lead to a device that’s the best Xiaomi has produced thus far. This is the Mi Mix 2S.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S What you’ll love

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The Mi Mix 2S shares a lot of commonalities with its predecessor, including the 5.99-inch Full HD+ (2160×1080) display backed by Gorilla Glass 4. Like last year, three sides of the panel feature razor-thin bezels, with a bulk of the sensors crammed into the bottom bar. The rest of the design is identical — you get a ceramic back with an aluminum mid-frame — but the curves at the back are more pronounced, leading to better in-hand feel.

The thin bezels up front make the overall experience that much more immersive, and the screen itself is one of the best in this category. Like its predecessor, the Mi Mix 2S lets you adjust the font size along with the color temperature, and there’s a blue light filter that can be configured to kick in according to a particular schedule.

The Snapdragon 835 in the Mi Mix 2 wasn’t necessarily short on power, but the Snapdragon 845 builds on that — this is the fastest chipset in the world today. Apps load instantaneously, and I never saw a slowdown even when playing visually-demanding titles. Xiaomi is also rolling out increased storage options, with the Mi Mix 2S coming with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The phone is available with 6GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of storage as well.

The major new addition to MIUI 9.5 is user interface gestures — which transform the way you use your phone. Gestures are the way forward as screens get taller, and for better or worse Android manufacturers are emulating what Apple has done on the iPhone X. We’ve seen that last year with OnePlus, and now Xiaomi is following suit.

Like the iPhone X, you’ll be able to swipe up from the bottom of the display to go to the home screen, swipe from the bottom and pause to access the multitasking pane, and swipe from either edge to go back within an app. It takes a few days to get acclimated to the gestures, but they do offer a more natural way of interacting with the phone, and you get extra screen real estate.

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The interface itself hasn’t received a major cosmetic update, but thankfully the multitasking pane has been updated and finally looks like a part of the UI. You’re not going to see a lot of changes from previous versions of MIUI, but the interface doesn’t feel as bloated as before.

In fact, after using the phone for two weeks, I can confidently say that this is the most stable MIUI experience I’ve had in several years. The sheer number of features that have been added to MIUI over the last four years made it feel bloated, and although MIUI 7 introduced a fresh coat of paint, the UI didn’t feel cohesive. Xiaomi tackled that issue with MIUI 9, focusing on optimizing the interface and making it faster, and MIUI 9.5 is a huge step forward.

The new gesture-based navigation transforms the way you use MIUI.

The interface itself still offers enough customization options that it’ll take you a better part of an afternoon to set up the device to your liking. Xiaomi was one of the first manufacturers to offer a dual apps feature — which lets you run two instances of an app simultaneously — and with MIUI 9 the company is making the global version of the ROM much more enticing for a wider audience.

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The key upgrade with the Mi Mix 2S is the camera, with the phone now featuring a dual camera setup at the back which sees two 12MP sensors positioned vertically. The primary 12MP sensor has an f/1.8 lens and 1.4 micron pixels, and the secondary telephoto 12MP camera comes with an f/2.4 lens and 1.0 micron pixels. The larger pixels and improved software processing algorithms lead to much better photos, and the Mi Mix 2S particularly shines when it comes to low-light shots.

The interface is largely unchanged from previous years, but there’s a new AI feature that automatically sets up the ideal shooting mode for a particular shot. The AI-assisted feature is similar to what we’ve seen from the likes of Huawei, and it works by gauging the lighting conditions and the subject to offer the optimal shooting mode. It works seamlessly, and you see a tangible difference with the feature, once again in low-light conditions.

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Xiaomi’s phones offer class-leading battery life, and that’s true for the Mi Mix 2S as well. Although the phone has the same 3400mAh battery as its predecessor, it manages to deliver two days’ worth of use consistently. It’s particularly great if you connect to cellular data networks primarily, as the idle battery drain is almost negligible.

Unlike Xiaomi’s budget phones, its flagships offer Quick Charge 3.0, and with the Mi Mix 2S, the company is also introducing wireless charging. The Mi Mix 2S features the Qi wireless charging protocol, and I didn’t have any issues charging the phone on Samsung’s fast wireless charging mat.

Xiaomi also rolled out a $15 charging mat for the phone, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on it. Xiaomi has always been about lowering the barrier for entry for new technologies, and it’ll be interesting to see what its wireless charger has to offer.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S What you won’t

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As good as the Mi Mix 2S is, there are a few drawbacks. Starting last year, Xiaomi decided to get rid of the 3.5mm jack on its flagships, and as a result the Mi Mix 2 and now the Mi Mix 2S do not feature the analog connector. And although Xiaomi makes a decent $35 pair of USB-C earbuds, they’re not included in the box — all you get is a 3.5mm to USB-C dongle.

Xiaomi’s decision to not follow the rest of the pack and include a notch at the top of the display is commendable, but the downside is that the front camera is positioned at the bottom. It doesn’t affect me nearly as much as I don’t use the front camera, but you’ll ideally have essentially turn the phone upside down whenever you want to take a selfie.

For me, the tradeoff is worth it — by moving the camera to the bottom bar, Xiaomi is able to offer an immersive screen that looks stunning.

The main issue with the Mi Mix 2S is availability — for now, the phone is limited to China, and while it is likely to make its debut in other Asian markets, there’s no clear timeline for the same.

Should you buy it? Yes, if you can

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The Mi Mix 2S starts off at $540 in China, and it’s likely the phone will debut at around the same price point in India and other Asian markets. Right now, the only way to get your hands on the Mi Mix 2S is via a reseller site like Gearbest or Honorbuy, where it starts off at $650. Accounting for customs, you’re looking at spending north of $700, and that makes the phone a non-starter in Western markets.

For that price, you’re better off picking up the Galaxy S9+ or the Pixel 2 XL. Both offer higher-res screens, better cameras, and you won’t lose out on after-sales service should your device run into any issues.

The Mi Mix 2S is the ideal alternative if you’re not sold on the notch.

Xiaomi hasn’t revealed when it will bring the Mi Mix 2S to India, but if the phone launches at around the ₹36,999 price point as its predecessor, it will be one of the best devices in this category. OnePlus is set to roll out its upcoming flagship, which we’ll likely see over the course of the next month considering the OnePlus 5T is sold out.

OnePlus dominated this segment in India last year, but the Mi Mix 2S has the ingredients to mount an effective challenge this time around. More importantly, the phone is an alternative to those that aren’t sold on the idea of a notch yet, and that may turn out to be the key differentiator for potential customers.

See at Gearbest

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