Xiaomi once again sets the bar for value, but the decision to remove the 3.5mm jack could backfire.
Over the course of the last year, we’ve seen phones in the mid-range segment close the gap on flagships from Samsung, LG, and HTC. The likes of OnePlus 3T, Honor 8, and Xiaomi’s Mi 5 showed that you don’t necessarily have to spend big to get access to high-end internals and dual camera tech.
Xiaomi has built its entire business model on selling phones that offer great value for money. The manufacturer doesn’t make much profit from initial sales, but gets a bigger cut over the lifecycle of a handset as component costs come down. The strategy has worked very well for the Chinese company over the last three years, and the Mi 6 represents its boldest move yet.
The Mi 6 has everything you’d expect in a high-end phone in 2017: a sharp display, Snapdragon 835 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 128GB storage, dual 12MP cameras, and a 3350mAh battery. What sets the phone apart is that it offers all of these features for just $420 (¥2,899), or half the cost of traditional flagships like the Galaxy S8.
The marquee feature on Xiaomi’s 2017 flagship is the dual camera setup, which includes a standard 12MP f/1.8 lens augmented by a secondary 12MP f/2.6 sensor that acts as a telephoto lens. The setup is similar to what Apple introduced in the iPhone 7 Plus, but Xiaomi’s implementation is far more elegant as there’s no ungainly camera bump at the back of the Mi 6.
The design is an evolution from the Mi 5 and Mi 5s, with Xiaomi adopting stainless steel to reinforce the frame and add much-needed heft to the device. The curves now extend out to all corners in what Xiaomi calls “four-sided 3D glass,” leading to a design that belies its price tag.
It’s hard to justify the price of an $800 phone when you can get 90% of the features for half as much.
The home button on the Mi 6 uses Qualcomm’s Sense ID, and is identical to that used in the Mi 5s. The sensor takes a 3D map of your finger’s pores and ridges using ultrasound technology, resulting in a much more detailed picture of your fingerprint.
On the software front, it’s great to see Xiaomi using Android 7.1.1 Nougat. There isn’t a global ROM for the Mi 6 yet, and as such I’ll only be able to talk about the software intricacies in the review. For now, the phone runs on MIUI 8, and other than the new camera modes to take advantage of the dual camera tech, there isn’t a whole lot that’s new from earlier this year.
Xiaomi is introducing several color options for the Mi 6 — the phone is available in blue, white, and black. There’s also a limited edition silver variant with a mirror finish that will be available in limited quantities, as well as a ceramic black option with 18K gold accents around the camera sensors.
Combined with stereo speakers up front, top-notch internal hardware, and a 5.15-inch Full HD display that’s one of the best in this segment, you’re getting a lot for your money. What you don’t get is the ability to plug in your headphones. With the Mi 6, Xiaomi is joining the USB-C audio bandwagon, and while the standard may well be the future of audio, in 2017, there’s no justification to ditch the ubiquitous 3.5mm jack.
LeEco was the first manufacturer to get rid of the 3.5mm jack last year in the Le Max 2, and Lenovo, Apple, and HTC followed suit. In that time, we haven’t seen any compelling audio products that are based on USB-C, so if you’re looking for good headphone options on devices that don’t have a 3.5mm jack, you’ll have to spring for Bluetooth-enabled products or use a USB-C to 3.5mm dongle. The former includes an added investment, and the latter is just clunky to use.
It is particularly surprising that Xiaomi chose to ditch the 3.5mm jack, as the company makes a host of affordable audio products designed in collaboration with 1More. Like its phones, Xiaomi’s headphones deliver excellent value for money, and they’re the few accessories the manufacturer sells directly to consumers in Western markets.
Talking about distribution, Xiaomi has stated that it will not sell the Mi 6 in the U.S. or Europe. The company is a few years away from making its debut in Western countries, and that means that if you want to get your hands on the Mi 6 outside of Asian markets, you’ll have to do so from resellers.
For now, the Mi 6 is limited to China, but with Xiaomi looking to consolidate its position in India, the phone should make its debut in the subcontinent in the coming months. Xiaomi has seen a resurgence in the budget segment with the Redmi Note 4, and with the Mi 6, it will be looking to get some much-needed momentum going in the mid-range category.