It’s already difficult to avoid people claiming that Apple invented the zero-bezel mobile phone with the iPhone X. They are, of course, talking nonsense. The current craze for ‘all screen’ smartphones is largely down to Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, which released a smartphone called the Mi Mix in November of last year.

Now Xiaomi has released a new version called, with some predictability, the Mi Mix 2. To get your hands on a Mix 2 you need to buy one outright from a Chinese reseller such as GearBest, who supplied our review unit. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that you will only be paying around £450 (inc. VAT) when you do: the Mi Mix 2 is less than half the price of the £999 iPhone X and barely two-thirds the price of the £689 Samsung Galaxy S8. For the money, only the somewhat more conventional OnePlus 5T comes close.

The general consensus is that ‘bezel-free’ means having a screen that takes up more than 80 percent of the device’s front surface area. In a traditional design that number is much lower — 72 percent for the Samsung Galaxy S7, and a lowly 65 percent for the new iPhone 8.

All of the top contenders in the zero-bezel stakes — the iPhone X, the Mix 2, LG’s V30 and Samsung’s Galaxy 8 and Note 8 — have screen-to-body ratios in the 81-84 percent range.

The Mi Mix 2 succeeds Xiaomi’s Mi Mix, which kicked off the minimal-bezel smartphone trend. The 5.99-inch ceramic and aluminium Mix 2 is an elegant device, designed by Philippe Starck.


Image: Xiaomi

Despite its skinny bezels, the first-generation Mi Mix was still a bit of a big lump. No matter how much you minimise the screen surround, a 6.4-inch display still makes for a big phone. The new model uses a 5.99-inch screen, which along with the 12 percent reduction in the depth of the ‘chin’ makes it easier to hold. In particular, the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner is easier to reach.

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Note the 18-carat camera lens surround.


Image: Xiaomi

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Designed by the renowned Philippe Starck, the curvaceous Mix 2 has a ceramic and aluminium body and looks every inch the cutting-edge flagship smartphone. The 18-carat gold highlight surrounding the camera lens is a particularly nice touch.

It may not be quite as stunningly elegant as the Special Edition Mix 2, which has an entirely ceramic unibody shell, but it’s still one of the best-looking smartphones on the market.

Measuring 151.8mm tall by 75.5mm wide by 7.7mm thick and weighing 185g, the Mix 2 is slightly bigger than the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S8, although both of the latter have smaller 5.8-inch displays.

The Mix 2’s 1,08-by-2,160-pixel IPS display is very easy on the eye. Colour saturation and contrast levels are excellent and there’s plenty of brightness available. The screen is covered with a layer of toughened Gorilla Glass 4, so you don’t need to be too gentle with it.

The Mix 2’s pixel density of 403ppi can’t quite match the iPhone X’s 458ppi on paper, but it’s almost impossible to tell the difference using the naked eye. And remember, the more pixels the battery has to illuminate, the faster it drains.

To further help matters the Mix 2 packs a big battery — 3,400mAh compared to the iPhone’s 2,716mAh and the Galaxy S8’s 3,000mAh. Getting a full day of heavy use from a Mix 2 is a cinch.

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An extra 2GB of RAM helps the Mi Mix 2 beat Samsung’s Galaxy S8 in benchmark tests.


Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

Xiaomi has managed to stretch the screen right to the top of the device without recourse to the unsightly ‘notch’ seen on the iPhone X. However, this has meant moving the webcam to below the screen, which takes some getting used to — not least because if you hold your phone in your right hand it’s all too easy to cover the camera lens with your thumb.

Luckily the camera interface rotates through 180 degrees even if the screen rotation is locked. This lets you take selfies or make video calls with the phone upside down and the webcam at the top.

One thing the Mix 2 does give away is waterproofing. Both the iPhone X and Galaxy S8 are water resistant (IP67 and IP68 respectively), but Xiaomi’s flagship is not. Having never dropped my phone in a puddle or down the toilet I’m not too bothered about this, but if you regularly use your phone in the bath or out in the pouring rain you may be.

Usefully Xiaomi bundles the Mix 2 with a high-quality silicone bumper case to protect it against drops and scrapes.

Instead of a conventional earpiece speaker, the first-generation Mix used something called a ‘cantilever piezoelectric ceramic acoustic device’. This caused the body of the phone to resonate as a loudspeaker and frankly sounded a bit strange.

Thankfully the Mix 2 has a conventional but impressively compact speaker squeezed in above the display. This speaker works in conjunction with the larger driver at the bottom to generate almost-stereo audio.

The Mix 2 runs Android 7 Nougat, but Xiaomi phones run Google’s mobile OS alongside its own customised MIUI (pronounced ‘me-you-eye’) overlay. And while MIUI v9 giveth, it also taketh away.

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Autostart restriction is a MIUI feature that can extend battery life (left). Dual Apps lets you run two apps in different accounts at the same time (middle). Split screen is a new feature with MIUI v9 (right).


Images: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

On the plus side, you get the option to create two distinct workspaces (Second Space), run two instances of the same app (Dual Apps) and also restrict which apps can start automatically. There’s even a rather handy split-screen option, plus excellent security and file manager apps.

On the downside the backward compatibility of MIUI with earlier versions of Android all the way back to 4.4 slightly limits what you can see in — and do directly from — the notifications bar in comparison with the most recent versions of Google’s mobile OS.

I’ve been using MIUI on my Xiaomi Mi6 for several months now and on balance I find it adds more than it detracts from the Android experience. Currently, MIUI runs on top of Android 7.1.1, but an upgrade to Android 8 Oreo will arrive in the new year.

Thanks to Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 835 SoC and 6GB of RAM, the Mix 2 is a very powerful device that returns benchmark test results on a par with the most expensive flagship devices. There’s no space for a MicroSD card, but with either 64GB, 128GB (as tested), or 256GB of internal storage, that’s really not a problem.

More contentiously there’s no 3.5mm audio jack. Xiaomi does supply a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter, but I’d still suggest investing in a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

The 12MP rear camera — lifted from the Xiaomi Mi6 but lacking the 6’s x2 optical zoom — is nothing special, but it focuses quickly and has 4-axis image stabilisation. Daylight images look superb and it works reasonably well in low light. It can also record 4K video at 30fps. The 5MP front camera is also efficient rather than outstanding.

The Mix 2 supports just about every 4G LTE band there is — 24 of them by my count, so it will work with all UK 4G services — as well as Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and dual-band 802.11ac wi-fi. If you travel frequently, the Mix 2’s support for dual SIM cards is obviously worth having.

Conclusions

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Image: Xiaomi

For the money — less than half the price of an iPhone X and two-thirds the price of a Samsung Galaxy S8 — Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 2 is a stunning smartphone. It looks and feels fantastic, performs well and represents a near-miracle of packaging. And on top of all that, you’ll have a phone that none of your friends or colleagues have.

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