Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 Indian Launch: First Impressions and Hands-On with Xiaomi India’s Most Expensive Smartphone

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 was launched a month ago in China amid much fanfare. The Mix 2 attempted to perfect what Xiaomi started with the original Mi Mix, bringing the same edge-to-edge display down to smaller screen size and an even smaller chin. The eye catching design of the Mix 2 is complemented by a powerful combination of specs, making the Mix 2 a true flagship in all regards.

After the Xiaomi Mi A1, the Mi Mix 2 has landed on India. Xiaomi has been going strong in the Indian market as far as budget and early mid-range smartphones are concerned, but the company barely has any presence in the flagship space (or budget flagship space, for that matter) against competition from the likes of OnePlus and Samsung. The Mix 2 is a venturous move from Xiaomi India, as it is their most expensive smartphone to be launched officially in the country, coming in with a price tag of ₹35,999 ($552) for the 6GB RAM and 128GB storage variant.

We had a chance to try out the new Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 at the launch event in New Delhi. And just like one would expect, the Mi Mix 2 is as beautiful in person as it is in renders and images.

The 5.99″ LCD panel, with its 18:9 aspect ratio, 2160 x 1080 resolution and rounded corners, is the main attraction on the device. Xiaomi chose to continue on with a chin design and three minimal bezels, instead of adopting other design features like notch cutouts (seen on the iPhone X and the Essential Phone) and balanced top and bottom bezels (like on the Samsung Galaxy S8).

The original Mi Mix was a concept phone brought to life, but the Mi Mix 2 is no longer aiming to be known as just a concept. The Mix 2 tackles a few key issues found on the original Mix. The piezoelectric speaker on the earpiece of the Mi Mix, although an innovative (or, at least clever) solution by itself, did not perform to the standards expected out of a modern smartphone; so Xiaomi switched it out in favor of a guided sound channel design. The earpiece is just about visible on the front of the device as a narrow slit, as it otherwise blends in well with the rest of the device aesthetic. We had to overexpose our image to allow the earpiece to be visible:

The front camera finds its way onto the chin of the device. The positioning may take some time getting used to, but it does work out in the end. You can either click selfies while holding the phone the right way up, or you can simply rotate the phone to bring the front camera to a more conventional position. There is no real downside to its placement, barring the occasional inconvenience when taking one-handed selfies..

The back of the device is made of ceramic, and this aspect of the phone also stands out for a few reasons. The ceramic back is scratch resistant (though it is common sense to avoid intentionally subjecting your phone to scratches) and it is also very shiny. The shine and the 18K gold plated ring on the camera give the device a very premium look and feel.

But the back of the device is also extremely prone to fingerprints — so much that Xiaomi’s representatives in the experience zone wore microfiber gloves to regularly clean up the devices.

The mid-frame of the device is made up of an aluminum alloy and has a matte finish to it. This allows us to hold the device firmly and not worry about losing grip on the sides. The aluminum mid-frame also serves to provide greater protection to the device (as opposed to an all-ceramic body). Xiaomi is also including a case inside the Mi Mix 2’s retail box that should further help your ability to securely grip this device, and also help you avoid fingerprints on the ceramic back.

The Mi Mix 2 does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack, and this is worth mentioning in our opinion. While the Mix 2 is not the first device from Xiaomi to skip out on this, its exclusion affects Xiaomi’s own accessory business as the company has been selling several models of earphones based on the traditional jack. Xiaomi India’s Lead Product Manager, Mr. Jai Mani, did announce Xiaomi’s new USB Type-C earphones during the Indian launch event, and these would be coming to India for a high price of ₹2,999 ($46). Still, this decision arguably makes even less sense in the Indian market than it does in Western countries.

Other notable features of the Mi Mix 2 include the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, 6GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 128GB of internal storage. The rear camera on the Mi Mix 2 is the 12MP Sony IMX386 with 4-axis OIS. The Mi Mix 2 also comes with support of 43 Global LTE bands, allowing the device to be used at most places around the world. There are also inclusions like multi-function NFC support and Bluetooth 5.0 that add onto the value of the device. So while the Mi Mix 2 is priced outside of what Xiaomi usually aims for in the Indian market, it does pack in enough to satiate the appetite of consumers in this price range.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 goes on a special preview sale on 17th October 2017 on mi.com and Flipkart. Regular sales commence from the first week of November.

Jai Mani, Lead Product Manager, Xiaomi India

After the launch event, we had an opportunity to sit down and talk with Mr. Jai Mani about a few topics. Here is a brief summary of the conversation:

  • The Mi 6 is likely not launching in India as Xiaomi could allocate resources towards the release of one product, and they chose the Mi Mix 2 over the Mi 6.
  • The Mi Mix 2 is of course aimed towards buyers looking for an affordable flagship, but it also serves a secondary purpose of propagating Xiaomi beyond budget devices. The Mi Mix 2 also works towards a broader goal of marketing the brand as an OEM that can serve varied needs.
  • Xiaomi does realize that the Mi Mix 2 is priced beyond what Indian consumers have grown accustomed to with “Xiaomi” as a smartphone brand. This is one of the reasons why the company has provided an option for 0% EMI for the Mix 2.
  • The company does wish to inch towards more premium devices as an addition to its portfolio. The next point of focus for the company will likely be camera performance.
  • The Mi Mix 2 only gets a single storage variant in India because of supply constraints. Memory and displays for electronics have been facing supply crunches for a while, so Xiaomi chose to focus on one single variant for India. The combination of 6GB RAM and 128GB storage will be plentiful for practically all of Mi Mix 2’s users.
  • The White color variant of the Mi Mix 2 will also not be coming to India because of supply issues and its inherent difficulty in manufacturing.
  • MIUI 9 is coming soon. No specific timeframe was given for this during this talk, as the company is undertaking a few changes with how the Chinese MIUI version works as against the English MIUI. One example provided by Mr. Mani is how big notifications are handled. In China, apps like the super popular WeChat do not support big notifications at all, so consumers in China have different expectations as opposed to consumers in other parts of the world. More concrete details on this will be shared in the future.
  • Xiaomi does not intend to give up on MIUI at this stage, according to Mr. Mani. So while Android One devices like the Mi A1 do exist, they exist in harmony with MIUI devices and are not intended to be seen as an indication of being a complete replacement.

  • When asked whether Xiaomi would offer a software update promise or a timeframe for software support, Mr. Mani mentioned that Xiaomi does not have plans to make such promises (at the moment). Xiaomi’s track records for MIUI updates for its devices speaks for itself, with several older devices getting new MIUI versions officially in varied forms. Software updates depend on several factors, and these factors have high variability, so a blanket statement towards the future was impractical. So Xiaomi would instead prefer letting its work speak for itself, rather than make a promise on that end and backtracking on it.
    • When asked about the status of kernel sources for its devices (with a specific mention of the Mi A1 from our end), Mr. Mani commented that Xiaomi’s focus is on providing quality kernel sources and not just uploaded for the sake of it (we assume he meant complying with the GPL…), like several OEMs in the lower budget market tend to do (if  they release sources at all). The internal goal of the company is to release kernel sources within three months. Mr. Mani also commented that unlocking the bootloader of Xiaomi devices does not void warranty.
  • When inquired whether Xiaomi would take steps to make it easier for users to unlock their devices, Mr. Mani commented that the several of complications inserted were done so consciously, to tackle resellers loading adware-filled custom ROMs on Xiaomi devices before selling them. Such a practice ultimately harmed the brand image. The unlocking procedure as it currently stands has seen refinements from what it was launched as, and Xiaomi’s aim is to make it relatively easy for a normal consumer to unlock a device while still maintaining a certain level difficulty for bulk unlocking by resellers. It’s a fine line to balance for Xiaomi.

What are your thoughts on Xiaomi’s latest smartphone in India, the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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