Flagship for Less
If you want top-end hardware in the cheapest possible smartphone, you should look no further than Xiaomi’s Mi line. Last year’s Mi 5 packed all the best hardware, including top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs and high quality cameras, in a sub-$400 package, undercutting pretty much every device on the market, including the OnePlus 3.
In 2017, Xiaomi has updated their flagship product line with the Mi 6, and the story remains largely the same. You’ll be getting top-end hardware – including a Snapdragon 835 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage and a dual 12-megapixel camera solution – in a package that costs around $430 when imported. With phones like the Galaxy S8 costing over $700, and the LG G6 setting you back $550 for largely last-generation hardware, the Xiaomi Mi 6 is an absolute bargain at this price point.
The only downside to purchasing the Xiaomi Mi 6 is, as with all Xiaomi devices, its lack of availability in Western markets. That didn’t stop us from obtaining one, though: Gearbest will happily ship one anywhere in the world for a very competitive price.
Let’s talk about the design of the Xiaomi Mi 6, because I know the company has spent a lot of effort creating what they describe as a premium chassis. In fact, Xiaomi was quick to inform everyone during their announcement presser that the Mi 6’s stainless steel construction requires a 50-step manufacturing process and over 270 individual operations. This sounds like a fair bit of work, and the fact the chassis is stainless steel presents a point of difference compared to other phones that tend to use aluminium.
Unfortunately for users, the Mi 6 is barely a stainless steel phone at all. The entire front and rear panels are constructed from glass, with only the edges giving you that metal look. The build quality here is fantastic, with extremely swooshable glass and a near seamless transition from glass to metal edges. Xiaomi has also ensured that every element is symmetrically aligned, which is a touch of polish not often seen among Android OEMs.
While the build quality is great, I’m not a fan of the general Mi 6 design for several reasons.
First, the Mi 6 is ridiculously slippery. The glass back panel repels your fingers in a similar way to the Galaxy S8, while the metal edges appear to be coated with the same glossy finish as the rear. At times, the Mi 6 can be a difficult phone to hold, though its relatively compact 5.2-inch size does help somewhat. The Galaxy S8 is a more slippery phone due to its slim edges, but the Mi 6 comes in a close second.
Luckily for buyers here, only the rear glass panel is curved to either edge, and even then, the curve is minimal compared to the Galaxy S8. The front panel is entirely flat, which protects the display from shattering when you drop it on an edge. Having glass on either side is always a bit of a risk, though I suspect the Mi 6 won’t be as fragile as the Galaxy S8 due to its more sensible display design.
One of the other issues with the Mi 6’s design is just how glossy it is. I received a black model to review, and this variant attracts noticeable fingerprints like nothing else. You’ll be cleaning this phone 10-15 times a day if you want it free from fingerprints, as it gathers grime literally as soon as you touch it. I tend to think glossy finishes give expensive phones a cheap-ish feel, and while I appreciate the minimal style of the Mi 6, it doesn’t strike me as a ‘premium’ build.
The premium design issue is compounded by the enormous bezels above and below the display.
Just before I received the Xiaomi Mi 6, I was testing out the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8+, both of which pack extended displays and reduced bezels in their premium bodies. Obviously the Mi 6 is a far cheaper device, but it’s hard not to notice the overwhelming last-generation bezels on this handset.
Part of the reason this phone’s bezels are so large is to accommodate the fingerprint sensor below the display. Like most phones these days, the Mi 6 fingerprint sensor works extremely well, and functions as a home button without any struggle. Flanking the sensor are capacitive navigation buttons on either side, which are configured to back and the app switcher. Rather than printing specific icons on the phone for these functions, Xiaomi has just used dots as you can switch the order in the software.
Xiaomi joins the list of companies, which include Apple, HTC and Motorola, that have decided to remove the headphone jack from their flagship phone in favor of just USB Type-C. I hate everything about this. There is no advantage to having just a USB-C port compared to having a USB-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead all we’re left with is pain – dongle pain – whenever we want to use headphones with a standard 3.5mm jack. At least Xiaomi includes a dongle in the box.
The Mi 6 implements stereo audio by combining the in-call speaker above the display, and a speaker along the bottom edge. Stereo audio is always better than mono on smartphones, so I appreciate the inclusion here. Dual front facing speakers are typically the best implementation, as the speaker along the edge can get blocked and tends to produce unbalanced sound. However, with the I’ll take any form of stereo audio.
Xiaomi claims the Mi 6 is “splash proof”, although the company did not provide an IP rating, so it’s hard to say just how splash proof it really is. Clearly it isn’t water resistant, otherwise Xiaomi would boast about this capability, though I suspect its splash proof in the sense that it’ll be fine if you spill some water on it. I wouldn’t recommend gaming on the Mi 6 in the shower or dropping it in a bath.
The Mi 6 includes a SIM card tray on the left edge that supports two SIMs, however there is no microSD expansion available here. This is the same as with the Mi 5, however this time, 64 GB of storage is standard rather than 32 GB. I tend to find 64 GB is perfectly fine for most users without expandable storage, though expandable storage is always a nice feature to have. For those that need more space, Xiaomi does provide a 128 GB option for around $70 extra.