Unless your smartphone of choice is Apple or you’re still desperately clinging on to a Microsoft phone, the chances are that your handset is made by an Asian company. In the UK, that probably means Sony, LG, HTC or Samsung. Maybe Huawei or OnePlus at a push.
But the list of smartphone manufacturers doesn’t begin and end in Carphone Warehouse, and if you were to visit China, you’d see an awful lot of Xiaomi handsets. “Who,” you might reasonably ask, “is Xiaomi?” Well in 2014, the company was crowned the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. Not just in their native China: the world.
Not too shabby for a company that doesn’t ship to Europe or the US, and the Xiaomi Mi 6 is a good insight into what we’re missing out on. Not only is the handset every bit as powerful as the latest releases from Samsung, HTC and Sony, it also comes in at around half the retail price. Unless you get caught by customs, then the price may rise, although even the toughest hike won’t put it level with the Samsung Galaxy S8.
It’s a risk worth taking if you want the contract-free life of the SIM-only buyer.
Xiaomi Mi6 review: Design
When a smartphone sells for half the price of flagships on British shores, you immediately begin looking for which corners have been cut, and how sharply. But picking up the Xiaomi Mi 6 for the first time one thing becomes very clear very quickly: it’s not in the build quality department.
Sure it’s not going to win any prizes for originality (when was the last time a smartphone did?), but as examples of the shiny black rectangle genre go, it’s up there with the best of them. Owing more than a passing debt to the Jet Black iPhone 7 and the Honor 9, it’s all polished glass and smooth edges. If you’re worried about not having a big name brand, you’ll be pleased to know that the Xiaomi logo is pretty small and hard to spot.
It’s not all high praise though. The glossy back, though shiny, is one of the most slippery things I’ve ever held. Fortunately, Xiaomi has plans for the butter-fingered amongst you, and has included a rubbery case right there in the box. It takes away some of the nice aesthetic but does mean you’re less likely to be Googling “how to fix cracked Xiaomi Mi 6 screen” within a week.
Otherwise, it’s broadly business as usual with one unfortunate drawback: there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack. Add Xiaomi to our naughty list, which comprises Apple, HTC and Lenovo. An adapter is included in the box but it’s no substitute for having the port in the first place.
Xiaomi Mi6 review: Screen
So if the corners haven’t been cut in the design, where have they been cut? Well, on paper the 1080p 5.15in IPS screen may not appear too inspiring compared with Samsung’s 2K or Sony’s (pointless) 4K equivalent. But big numbers aren’t everything, and if you dig a little deeper you’ll find one of the best screens you can get in this price bracket.
Not only does it reach a searing maximum brightness of 645cd/m2, but it’s also a very accurate display, covering 99.2% of the sRGB colour space. It’s crisp, too, with a good contrast ratio of 1,266:1.
If those numbers are lost on you, all you really need to know is that this isn’t just a good screen for a mid-range handset. This is pushing the high end. Okay, it’s IPS rather than AMOLED and the resolution is on the low side, but on a screen this size that’s completely acceptable. This really is all you need in a phone screen.
Xiaomi Mi6 review: Performance
Okay, so no corners cut in design, and only reasonable ones cut in the screen. The performance must be weak, right?
What you’re looking at is pretty much on par with the latest and greatest from Samsung, Sony, OnePlus and HTC. In other words, the specs are headlined by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 backed by 6GB RAM and 64GB of storage.
This means you’re getting just as much raw power as the phone that currently tops our best smartphones guide. In Geekbench 4, it tots up a single-core score of 1,923. Its multi-core result matches the Samsung Galaxy S8 with a score of 6,729. And this performance is matched by graphical prowess. In the GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 test, it achieved an average frame rate of 57fps.
And the 3,350mAh battery? Respectable. In our looped video test in airport mode with the brightness locked to 170cd/m2, it managed 13hrs 48mins. That should be fine for most people, although it’s a little disappointing that fast charging isn’t supported.
Xiaomi Mi6 review: Camera
If you flip the phone over, you’ll spy not one, but two camera lenses. This means different things to different manufacturers, with LG including a wide-angle lens in the G6 and Huawei including a monochrome sensor with the P10. The Xiaomi offers the same combination as Apple and OnePlus: one regular camera and a 2X telephoto.
They’re different specifications. The main sensor has optical image stabilisation and a wide f/1.8 aperture to let plenty of light in. The second one is a dimmer f/2.6 affair.
If you’re thinking that this is where the Xiaomi Mi 6 falls down, you’re in for a disappointment. It’s great. In good light, images are crisp and well defined. As you’ll see from the example below, even complex patterns like brickwork come out packed with detail.
In low light, it also copes competently. Some shots suffered from a little too much warmth and some unnatural processing, but in general, detail is maintained even in tricky environments. Good job, Xiaomi.
Xiaomi Mi6 review: Verdict
Honestly, it’s tough to find fault with the Xiaomi Mi 6. At £450, it would be a nailed on five-star performer. Given you can import one from Gearbest for a very tempting £340, that five-star rating is gold plated.
There have been sacrifices made, but they’re in all the right places. No fast charging is a pity, but the battery life is strong. The screen is 1080p and IPS rather than AMOLED but it’s a great display and anything over 1080p is overkill for 90% of use cases anyway; and that’s assuming you intend on spending 10% of your time in VR, which is already a generous estimate.
The only fly in the ointment I see is how hard it is to get hold of. If you’re nervous about importing and getting taxed on the way, then go for the Samsung Galaxy S8 which has fallen in price lately, or look at the OnePlus 5. Equally, if you prefer to buy via sky-high contract prices, this won’t be for you either. For everyone else, though, you owe it to yourself to give Xiaomi some serious consideration.
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