Although relatively unknown in Europe, Xiaomi is one of the largest smartphone manufacturers in China. The Xiaomi Mi Note is the current flagship, which was launched just a month ago. We have secured one of the first units in Shenzhen and tested it extensively.
Xiaomi Mi Note specs
- 5.7-inch NEGA LCD display 1080p (Gorilla Glass 3)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
- 3 GB RAM
- 16/64 GB of internal storage
- Sony 13 MP sensor rear-facing camera
- 4 MP front-facing camera
- 151.1 × 77.6 × 6.95 mm
- 161 grams
- 3000 mAh battery
- 16 GB for 315 euros officially / 64GB for about 385 euros
Brief History on the Mi Note: You ca get the 16 GB, white version of the Xiaomi Mi Note for €455 (3250RMB) in Shenzhen. Those who look at the Xiaomi website will find a price of 2299 RMB, This would be about a 30% price increase! The Mi note is actually sold out, you can still get it in the official shops, but at a significantly higher price.
First impressions: build quality & design
The Xiaomi Mi Note is shipped in a plain, recycled cardboard box that surprisingly carries very little content. If you are expecting accessories like remote controls or stylish headphones like like with the OPPO N3, you will be disappointed.
Included in the package is, of course, the Xiaomi Mi note, a Quick Start Guide in Simplified Chinese, a SIM card pin, a charger and a MicroUSB charging cable. That’s it. The charger comes with a flat American plug, and therefore, provides an output of 2 amperes at the usual 5V, which can bring the smartphone to a full charge within 2 hours.
Holding the Xiaomi Mi note for the first time offers a great impression. The curved glass on the front and back of the device feels wonderful in the hand, while the classy aluminum frame offers the necessary stability. The aluminum frame is also sanded and polished, so that it sparkles in the sunlight.
Overall, the design is very simplified and elegant. On the front you can find the speaker and a 4-megapixel camera on the top, along with sensors in the left corner and the usual three Android buttons below.
The matte polished aluminum frame accommodates a 3.5 mm headset jack on the top of the device, while the left side houses a dual SIM card slot and the right side has the volume rocker and a power button. There’s also a large speaker grill and the MicroUSB port. On the back you can find a 13 MP camera with dual LED flash.
Compared to the very simple iPhone, the Mi Note seems to be even simpler. Everyone who held it was impressed by the build quality and design. Hats off, Xiaomi! The Mi Note is a masterpiece of design and you can be proud of it!
But slow down your horses! I found a major design flaw. The smartphone is quite slippery, especially if you happen to have sweaty hands. This results in some dangerous issues while charging. If the Xiaomi Mi Note is on the table, you can watch as it slowly slides toward the edge, thanks to the pulling force the cable places.
I learnt after the first time and decided to put the device on the floor, on top of the cardboard box, while charging. I look over two minutes later only to find out the phone is on the floor… again.
The Xiaomi Mi Note has a good build quality, but the screen happens to be a little delicate. We did an involuntary drop test and the screen cracked, creating a web in the glass. The rest of the phone remained intact.
The 5.7-inch screen on the front is a colorful and bright IPS panel with a resolution of 1080×1920 pixels, resulting in a 386 PPI pixel density. Even when compared to devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or the iPhone 6, resolution is still surprising – individual pixels can not be seen. Text looks crisp, so it is a joy to read on this display. This display is also special in that it is laminated, so reflections are kept to a minimum.
Viewing angles are great, but they don’t quite match what the iPhone 6+ offers. The saturated colors make images look especially bright and lively. Compared with the color-accurate display of the iPhone 6 Plus, the Xiaomi Mi Note screen is much more saturated, especially when emitting reds.
What’s really awesome is the high contrast the display showcases, which the NEGA LCD (negative LCD) is responsible for; Xiaomi has a contrast ratio of 1400:1. The contrast is noticed especially for apps that use a lot of black and white elements, such as the Spotify app. Blacks look dark and white font stands out a bit more. Both the contrast and the white balance can be customized, by the way, but not the color saturation. The automatic contrast control works pretty well for me, so I let it do its job.
What I personally find important is whether the phone brightness can be set to a comfortable level when reading an something in the dark. I found that this device provided a very pleasing experience for reading in the dark, as the lowest brighness is still very pleasing to the eye. What I did find annoying is that auto-brightness keeps the brightness at about 60%, so I had to set brightness to the lowest, manually.
At full brightness, the Xiaomi Mi Note is not ahead of the iPhone 6+ or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but they also don’t win by much. It’s a pretty good phone for navigating around the city in direct sunlight, or maybe reading a book at the beach.
In short, the display is great and is on par with the current top smartphones from major manufacturers. It almost looks as through the increased color saturation, good brightness and contrast are printed out.
Hardware and performance
The Xiaomi Mi Note comes equipped with a 2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor. It also carries 3 GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. This sets the performance of the Mi Note at the same level as the OnePlus One.
All tasks run smoothly and without any delay, whether you open apps or switch between them. Even if Android 4.4.4 is not the latest version, there is still no stuttering while using the MIUI interface. Whether you are using it in normal mode or in Performance mode, the Xiaomi Mi note provides a constant high power.
In benchmarks (in Performance mode) the Xiaomi 801 smartphone is comparable to other powerful Snapdragon devices, but there is some room for improvement. What matters here is that the Xiaomi Mi Note has a Full HD display, which has significantly fewer pixels to push compared to, say, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The device does very well with games like Real Racing 3, Modern Combat 5 and Leo Fortune.
The display is large enough to enjoy games very well. The only issue we found was with the speaker, which can be easily covered with your hand while gaming.
Benchmarks & games
The speaker in the Xiaomi Mi Note is loud. Louder than the iPhone 6 Plus or Huawei Ascend Mate 7. It also seems to have a little more bass, but is by no means like the top-of-the-line HTC One M8. The position of the speaker (on the bottom side) is also not optimal. If you hold the device in landscape mode when viewing videos or playing games, it’s easy to cover the speaker with your hand. It’s good for the quick YouTube video or gaming session, but for prolonged listening I would recommend headphones, or an external speaker.
Speaking of headphones, they will not be included, so you must look for your own pair. The sound through the headphones is clear and loud. Xiaomi advertises the best HiFi audio decoder that can play 192 kHz and 24-bit sound.
Voice quality is clear and noise cancellation works well. You can choose whether you want to use one or two built-in microphones. The point is that you will be understood clearly at the other end.
Storage & dual SIM
The Xiaomi Mi Note can be obtained in both 16 or 64 GB versions (in Shenzhen there is also a 32 GB version). The memory can not be expanded can not be expanded via MicroSD, unfortunately. Xiaomi has included a memory overview in the Security app, allowing you to easily manage your space. It is especially handy when trying to manage your cache memory. It builds up pretty fast, and only 1.5 weeks into this review I got about 500 MB of used up cache memory.
The pity is that the dual-SIM card slot can hold no microSD cards, as is the case with the OPPO N3. Both SIM card slots (NanoSIM and microSIM) can take advantage of LTE Spark. You should first check if your LTE frequencies are supported, though. As it usually goes with dual-SIM smartphones, you can set which card is primarily used for phone calls and which one to use for data.
For the camera, I have already published an extensive review that I have done on a short trip to Hong Kong:
The camera in the Xiaomi Mi Note was a stunning performer in Hong Kong and comes surprisingly close to the iPhone 6 plus. The camera app is simple and intuitive to set up, so you quickly get to good results. If that’s not enough, you can turn to expert mode. Both in low-light and lit/shadow compositions, details remain intact, so images are very suitable for editing with Snapseed and other apps. Overall, the Xiaomi Mi Note has one of the best cameras on the market. These three days in Hong Kong were very fun, and I can partly thank the Xiaomi Mi Note’s camera for that.
More on the camera at our Xiaomi Mi Note camera review
Let’s take a look at the MIUI interface
The Xiaomi Mi Note runs Android 4.4.4. It is, however, completely changed by the MIUI interface. Honestly, the changes go so deeply into the system that there is no evidence of the Android version under Device Info. The Google Play Store, as well as all other Google apps and services, do no come pre-installed. In addition, the system language needs to be converted from Chinese to English.
Home screen & alerts
Let’s start with the home screen, which has a very simple and elegant interface. There is no app drawer, so all apps are stored on the home screen (much like iOS). At the top right you can find some indicators that are very small, contrary to what other manufacturers do.
The battery indicator can be either a battery that represent a percentage or a thin bar. If you press & hold the multi-tasking button, you can be presented by the options, which allow you to modify the launcher. You can drag and drop apps and widgets to your convenience. It’s also possible to change the background and pick your transitions.
However, the adjustments to the Home Screen go further. The Theme Store offers countless themes that change the look of the menus significantly. Many are free and some cost Mi credits, which can be purchased.
I like that you can swipe down on the home screen from anywhere and display your notification window. At this point I must praise Xiaomi for this, as it’s hard to reach for the notification bar in such a large smartphone. Other manufacturers should really consider using a technique like this one.
Notifications can be cleared out by sliding them left to right (swipes in the opposite direction will lead you to the quick settings). Even notifications can be changed in the settings. You can choose whether they should pop up above, be displayed in the status bar with small icons, etc.
Xiaomi installed various apps and services that work more or less like their stock Android counterparts. All are designed with flat and modern accents, which makes for a very pleasant experience. I particularly enjoyed the music player, which can stream music from Baidu, without an account and for free. Even some western artists can be found.
The Weather app features a very female-oriented design, as well as the calendar. Other apps are probably not useful, such as Chinese-language news, Baidu Maps and other bloatware. On the positive side, all of this can be easily uninstalled.
Those who rely on Google apps will be sad to find that not even Google Contacts and Calendar syncing is available without some tinkering. It’s not too hard to get these services, though. Everything is located in the Mi Store as an app called Google Installer. It loads it all into your smartphone, including the Google Play Store.
Equipped with a large 3000 mAh battery and Quick Charge 2.0 technology, the Xiaomi Mi note can be taken from 0-100% in just 2 hours. The discharge time is fortunately much longer. We used LaptopMag’s battery test and saw the battery last 9 hours after loading a series of websites in loop. The display was set to a constant 65% of brightness, which is more than adequate in a well lit room, as well as outside, in the shade. It was connected to the internet via WLAN.
In everyday life, I hardly experienced over 4 hours of screen-on time, switching between 3G and 4G speeds. A typical day included approximately 1 hour of Spotify streaming, managing two email accounts, half an hour of browsing the Web, half an hour in Youtube and the rest in various social networks… in Balanced mode, mind you. It will make it through a whole day, but those who want insane battery life will have to look elsewhere.
The Xiaomi Mi Note represents what the Chinese leading manufacturer is capable of. The Xiaomi Mi Note not only looks classy and is an excellent piece of craftsmanship, but it’s also fast, has a good camera and is a pure joy to use. I do have a couple of complaints. I would like to see the housing being less slippery, the auto-focus faster and the battery more long-lasting.
One main factor that I would say you absolutely need to consider is compatibility. Will this phone’s Chinese LTE bands be compatible with my network’s? You surely don’t want to be stuck on 3G. Or even worse… EDGE.
This review was originally written by Daniel Matzkuhn and translated from our German website.