Xiaomi Mi 6 review: A new beginning

If you're willing to look past the lack of a 3.5mm jack, the Mi 6 is a fantastic phone.

Quick take:

The Mi 6 gets a lot of things right — powerful hardware in the form of a Snapdragon 835, dual rear cameras with 2x optical zoom, and a gorgeous metal-and-glass design, all at a price that's nearly half that of the Galaxy S8. The phone isn't without its drawbacks: availability is limited to China, and there's no 3.5mm jack. That said, the Mi 6 is Xiaomi's best showing yet.

The good

  • Snapdragon 835
  • Excellent display
  • Great design
  • Exciting dual cameras
  • Android 7.1.1 Nougat

The bad

  • No 3.5mm jack
  • Availability
  • No microSD slot
  • Limited LTE bands

Xiaomi Mi 6 Full review

Xiaomi saw a resurgence in 2016 on the back of strong sales in India and China from its entry-level Redmi series. Eager to continue the momentum, the manufacturer course-corrected its strategy at the end of last year, now focusing on offline sales to boost growth.

OPPO and Vivo relied on a similar strategy to amass millions of customers over the last two years, with the two manufacturers accounting for over 13% of the global handset market. Xiaomi doesn't have the production line facilities or the resources to make its phones available at thousands of retail stores, so the brand is being smart about its offline strategy. Over the next two years, Xiaomi is looking to establish over 100 Mi Home stores in China, exclusive storefronts showcasing the best the brand has to offer.

One of the reasons Xiaomi can sell its devices for so low is because of its manufacturing process. Instead of making millions of devices at a time, it makes phones in smaller production runs, giving the brand the ability to eke out more profits over the course of a phone's lifecycle as component costs come down.

While this strategy has paid dividends in the budget segment with the Redmi series, Xiaomi hasn't fared so well in the mid-range tier with the Mi and Mi Note devices. The manufacturer is looking to change that with the Mi 6, a phone that according to the brand is a culmination of over seven years' worth of effort. Has it paid off? It's time to find out.

Xiaomi Mi 6 Specs

Category Features
Operating System MIUI 8.2 based on Android 7.1.1 Nougat
Display 5.15-inch 1080p (1920x1080) IPS LCD panel
3D curved glass
428ppi pixel density
SoC Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Four Kryo 280 cores at 2.45GHz
Four Kryo280 cores at 1.90GHz
10nm
GPU Adreno 540
RAM 6GB
Storage 128GB/256GB
Rear camera 12MP camera with 4-axis OIS and f/1.8 lens
Second 12MP camera with f/2.6 lens and 2x zoom
dual-tone LED flash, PDAF
4K video recording
Front shooter 8MP
1080p video recording
Connectivity LTE with VoLTE
Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS, GLONASS
USB-C, IR blaster
Battery 3350mAh battery
Fast charging (5V/2A)
Fingerprint Front fingerprint sensor
Qualcomm Sense ID
Dimensions 145.2 x 70.5 x 7.5mm
Weight 168g
Colors Black, Ceramic Black, Blue, White

About this review

I (Harish Jonnalagadda) am writing this review after using the Xiaomi Mi 6 for two weeks in Hyderabad, India. The phone is a Chinese retail unit provided for review by Xiaomi and comes with the requisite LTE bands for India.

I relied on Jio's 4G network for cellular connectivity throughout the duration of the review. The phone came with the Chinese ROM out of the box, and I flashed the global beta MIUI 8 ROM — based on Android 7.1.1 Nougat — as soon as it became available. Xiaomi rolled out several updates over the course of the review period, with the latest build (MIUI 8 7.6.8) bringing several stability fixes.

Xiaomi Mi 6 Hardware

From the back, the Mi 6 looks stunning. Xiaomi switched to a glass back last year with the Mi 5 — and then moved to a metal finish with the Mi 5s — but the design aesthetic of the Mi 6 is the most polished yet from the manufacturer. The 3D glass curves on all sides, merging with the stainless steel frame to create a seamless transition. The effect is more pronounced on the ceramic edition, but the black color variant I'm using also looks great.

The 5.15-inch screen, placement of the power and volume buttons, and the rounded edges make it easy to hold and use the Mi 6 one-handed. An interesting addition with the Mi 6 is a speaker that's embedded in the earpiece. As is common on most Xiaomi phones, there's an IR blaster located at the top of the device.

The Mi 6 finally has a decent amount of heft to it, and it feels great to hold. The one downside of the glass finish is that the phone is prone to sliding off surfaces. Three days after I started using it, the phone slid right off my nightstand and fell to the floor f4 feet below. Thankfully, it came away without any damage to the glass back — Gorilla Glass 5 hard at work there.

While the glass itself is fairly resilient to tumbles, it doesn't weather scratches the same way. Over the course of the last month, the phone managed to pick up a litany of microscratches, both on the back and front. The standard color variant hides the scratches fairly well, but you'll need to buy a case if you want your Mi 6 to continue looking pristine.

The Mi 6 is Xiaomi's best design to date.

While more and more vendors are switching to QHD panels on their flagships as a way of differentiation, Xiaomi is more than content using Full HD screens. We've seen that last year on the Mi 5, Mi 5s, and the 5.7-inch Mi Note 2, and the situation is no different this time around with the Mi 6. For a device with a 5.15-inch screen, Full HD is more than adequate — a QHD panel would have created undue strain on the chipset and would ultimately be detrimental to battery life.

The LCD panels Xiaomi uses are some of the best currently available, boasting excellent brightness (it hits 600nits in Auto mode) and color accuracy. However, it just doesn't match the latest AMOLED panels from Samsung when it comes to color saturation.

The screen also manages to get sufficiently dim for night-time reading — there's a blue light filter included to prevent strain on your eyes, and you can configure the feature to work on selected apps. As is always the case with Xiaomi phones, you get plenty of options to customize the display to your liking — there are three modes to choose from for the color saturation and contrast levels.

You can also set up a double tap gesture to power up the screen. One issue with the display is the lack of polarization — if you're using the phone outdoors with sunglasses on, you won't be able to see the screen.

Xiaomi was the first to roll out Qualcomm's Sense ID last year in the Mi 5s, and the Mi 6 continues that trend. Unlike a traditional fingerprint sensor — which scans in 2D — Qualcomm's implementation utilizes ultrasound to take a 3D map of your fingerprints, leading to a higher degree of accuracy.

The system had its quirks on the Mi 5s, but there were no such issues on the Mi 6. The always-on sensor was always quick to authenticate, and the benefit with Sense ID is that it works even when your fingers are wet or moist.

Performance

Running Qualcomm's latest chipset under the hood, the Mi 6 has no issues when it comes to everyday performance. The phone blazes through everyday tasks with ease, and there's more than enough power available for even the most demanding games. The phone comes with 6GB of RAM as standard, and while you don't necessarily need that much memory, it helps in making the phone future-proof.

You'll be able to pick up the Mi 6 with either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage, and the options available should make up for the fact that there isn't a microSD slot on the phone. That means you do get slots for two SIM card slots. You also get Wi-Fi ac with 2x2 MIMO, with a maximum throughput of 867Mbit.

Read: Xiaomi Mi 6 benchmarks

The Mi 6 has Qualcomm's Category 16 LTE modem, paving the way for Gigabit LTE speeds on mobile. The Mi Note 2 was the first Xiaomi phone to offer global LTE bands — over 37 bands for worldwide LTE coverage. While it would have been great to see the Mi 6 offer similar connectivity, that isn't the case. The phone has just nine LTE bands — 1/3/5/7/8/38/39/40/41 — so if you're interested in using the Mi 6 outside of China, make sure the phone supports your carrier before making a purchase.

It looks like global LTE bands will be limited to the Mi Note series, as Xiaomi revealed that it would launch another device later this year with global LTE coverage.

USB-C audio

And now for the elephant in the room — the Mi 6 doesn't have a 3.5mm jack. Xiaomi says that it got rid of the jack to make room for a larger battery and to make the device splash-resistant. Samsung and LG have managed to offer IP68 water resistance with their phones with the 3.5mm jack intact, whereas the Mi 6 doesn't even have an IP rating in spite of the removal of the audio jack.

To make matters worse, the brand doesn't make any USB-C headphones yet. At least when LeEco ditched the headphone jack last year in the Le Max 2, it offered a pair of decent quality USB-C earbuds. With the Mi 6, all you get is a USB-to-3.5mm adapter that you'll lose in about 3 seconds if you're not careful.

The issue isn't as dire if you've already moved to wireless audio, but if you have a lot of wired audio products lying around, get ready to use a dongle to enjoy your tunes. It's not an elegant workaround, and the removal of the 3.5mm jack is the one major drawback in an otherwise great phone.

Battery life

I had a lot of issues with the battery life on the Mi 5 last year, but thankfully that isn't an issue on the Mi 6. The phone manages to last a day on a full charge, with usage spread across a few hours of web browsing, streaming music and videos, and navigation on cellular data.

I routinely saw over four hours of screen-on time from the Mi 6, a considerable improvement over both the Mi 5 and Mi 5s. Of course, the uptick in battery life is directly attributable to a larger 3,350mAh battery, 150mAh more than that of the Mi 5s. When you do need to top up, you'll be able to leverage Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 to get a 50% charge in just over 45 minutes.

Xiaomi Mi 6 Software

Xiaomi doesn't have the best track record when it comes to platform updates, but in the case of the Mi 6, the manufacturer is offering Android 7.1.1 Nougat out of the box — a noticeable improvement from the Mi 5.

MIUI 8 has a ton of enhancements from last year, and while the version number hasn't changed, it feels much more fluid and stable. That's mainly due to the slew of updates Xiaomi continues to roll out on a bi-weekly basis. For all of its advantages, MIUI doesn't have an app drawer, and Xiaomi isn't likely to add one any time soon.

MIUI has picked up a lot of polish over the course of the last 12 months.

That said, there are a ton of features that augment the core Android experience, like the spam protection for calls and messages that's built into the dialer and messaging apps. Usage models in Asia vary wildly from those in Western countries, and as a result you'll see a lot of stuff in MIUI that won't make a lot of sense if you're using the phone in the U.S.

One such instance is the camera app, which tries to guess your gender and age in selfie mode. The feature has been present for several years, and while it doesn't work all that well outside of China — it offered wildly varying estimates for me — it is baked into the camera app.

As for features that do work well, there's a one-handed mode that you can easily access with a left-to-right swipe across the navigation keys, the ability to switch out the position of the back and overview buttons, scrolling screenshots, and more. A key utility is Dual Apps, which lets you run two instances of the same app. With the phone offering dual-SIM support, you'll be able to use two WhatsApp or Facebook accounts from the same device.

Second Space offers similar functionality, but the feature allows you to set up a secondary profile with its own cache of data, allowing you to separate your work and private data. Overall, the user interface has picked up a ton of stability fixes, and all the issues I had with the Redmi Note 4 and last year's Mi 5 have been fixed. Gmail notifications actually show up, and while MIUI continues to aggressively manage the memory, you can easily whitelist apps to run in the background. In short, this is the best iteration of MIUI in years.

Xiaomi Mi 6 Camera

The Mi 6's biggest improvement over its predecessor is in the imaging department. The primary shooter holds its own next to the best cameras available today, and the secondary telephoto lens delivers 2x optical zoom.

The primary shooter is a 12-megapixel Sony IMX386 sensor with f/1.8 lens,1.25-micron pixels, and 4-axis OIS — the same that was used in last year's Mi 5. The secondary 12MP camera uses Samsung's S5K3M3 ISOCELL sensor, and offers an f/2.6 lens along with 1.0-micron pixels — there's no OIS here.

The camera interface has toggles for HDR, 2x zoom, Portrait Mode, flash, and switching between still and video shooting modes. You get 12 live filters with live previews, and a bevy of shooting modes — Panorama, Beautify, Tilt Shift, Group mode, and Selfie. There's also a manual mode that allows you to adjust the white balance, focus, exposure, and ISO.

Like the Mi 5, the Mi 6 takes detailed images in bright conditions. Where the camera on Xiaomi's latest flagship differs is when shooting in low-light conditions — it's no longer a hit-or-miss affair. The Portrait Mode is particularly interesting, as it allows you to leverage the dual camera system to blur the background, putting the subject in focus.

Xiaomi Mi 6 Bottom line

Simply put, the Mi 6 offers incredible value for its price. The phone has a stunning metal-and-glass design, along with build quality rivaling the best that Samsung and LG have to offer. It has powerful internals that outmatch flagships twice its price, and 6GB of RAM along with 128GB storage should be more than enough for most customers. The dual cameras add a new dimension, and the uptick in battery life is a welcome addition.

However, the same issues that plagued the Mi 5 also affect its successor — the Mi 6 won't be available in Western markets, and the limited LTE bands make it a non-starter in the U.S. That said, the phone should be heading to India later this year — Xiaomi's largest market outside of China. The lack of a 3.5mm jack is going to be a dealbreaker for potential customers, but as an overall package, the Mi 6 is one of the best Xiaomi phones to date.

Should you buy it Yes!

The Mi 6 is a well-designed phone with top-notch internals and a capable dual camera system. Combine that with the best iteration of MIUI we've seen in years and all-day battery life, and the Mi 6 continues Xiaomi's tradition of offering great value-for-money phones.

The phone retails for the equivalent of $360 for the 64GB model and $420 in China for the 128GB model, but with sales limited to Xiaomi's home market, you'll have to rely on a third-party retailer to get your hands on one outside the country. Thankfully, GearBest is running a sale, where you can pick up the 64GB variant for $406 by using the code EGMI64.

See at GearBest