Mentioning the Xiaomi Mi5 evokes different sentiments from people. There are those who point out that the phone did not quite do as well as expected in spite of a high-profile launch at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2016, and some even blame it for the brand’s relatively lean run in the Chinese market. Others, however, point out to the eye-catching (if rather slippery) design of the phone and the fact that it was the first to spot the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and after a few software fixes, was one of the most compact and consistent performers in the Android flagship segment. There is, however, no doubting that the phone did not exactly have the sort of impact that the Mi3 and (to a lesser extent) the Mi4 had in different markets.
Will its successor, the Mi6, be more successful? The phone was recently launched in China and while we have no idea when it will make its way to Indian shores, we did manage to spend some time with it, thanks to the good folks at Mi. No, the software that was running on it was for China, so we could not really evaluate it as we would have liked to, but that apart, this was as close to the Real McCoy as Spock was to Leonard Nimoy.
Handy, handsome and not Honor-able at all!
Familiarity, the wise would have us believe, breeds contempt. Balderdash, we say. For while there is no doubt that the Mi6 looks very similar to its predecessor, the Mi5, the similarity does not make us feel in the least uncomfortable. Personally speaking, I had always loved the compact form factor of the Mi5, and the Mi6 is largely cut from the same cloth. Or rather, blend of glass and metal. Mind you, rather interestingly, it is actually slightly larger than the Mi5 even though it has the same display size – it is 145.2 x 70.5 x 7.5 mm as compared to the 144.6 x 69.2 x 7.3 mm of the Mi5. And at 168 grams (182 grams for the ceramic model), it is much heavier than the 129 gram Mi5. The difference in size did not hit me the moment I held the phone, but the weight did – a consequence of the larger battery and the use of steel in the frame, we believe.
In terms of basic design structure, however, it sticks close to the Mi5, with glass in front and back, and a steel frame holding both together, with a slightly elongated oval fingerprint scanner beneath the 5.15-inch display which is impressively bright and colorful to the point of overdoing it a mite (a sin we think the Mi4 shared). The volume rocker and the power/display buttons are on the right, with the other sides being relatively plain. The back has the most outstanding feature of the device – the dual cameras, but we think an equal amount of notice must be accorded to the dual speakers (the earpiece acts as one of the speakers) flanking the USB Type-C port.
I used the black version of the device and while it was gorgeous and did not pick up fingerprints easily, we think Xiaomi has done well to include a cover in the retail pack (for China). For take it from us, no matter how much we brushed and polished the device, small specks of dust kept showing up on it. No, it is not as bad as the iPhone 7 Plus Jet Black in that department, but this is a phone that, if uncovered, will drive the OCD crowd over the edge.
What also struck me was that the rumors of the device’s similarities with the Honor 8 have been exaggerated, to say the least. Yes, both phones have dual cameras that are flush on the back, but apart from that, they look and feel very different. Actually, if we were to say the one thing that really struck us about the Mi6, it was the comfort of holding it in one hand. The additional weight actually makes it feel a little less fragile and well, it certainly did not seem as slippery as the Mi5. Yes, those who expected Xiaomi to get into bezel slashing mode after the Mi Mix will be disappointed, but take it from us, the Mi6 is a handsome device – the only thing you will be hiding it from is dust.
Well specced, of course!
Xiaomi’s flagships have tended to be on par or close to the best Android flagships in tech town and the Mi6 seems to be no exception. The display is full HD, and powering the phone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip, with 6 GB RAM and storage that comes with 64 GB and 128 GB variants. The dual camera set up on the back is of 12.0-megapixels apiece, with one being a telephoto lens, giving you the option of 2x optical zoom, and also a portrait mode, a la a certain phone from a certain brand that Xiaomi is rumored to draw inspiration from. There is also an 8.0-megapixel front facing camera and well, we have mentioned the stereo speakers. Round that off with a 3350 mAh battery and stacks of connectivity options (4G, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and NFC), and Android Nougat running on top of it all with Xiaomi’s own MIUI interface and you have a device that can take on pretty much all comers in the spec sheet wars.
We did not get to use the phone for an extended period of time but for the hour or so for when we had it, it operated very smoothly. The dual camera setup did some very good background blurring and the optical zoom actually worked too – just how consistently it delivers on both fronts is going to be crucial, we suspect.
Can it turn the tide?
The Mi6 starts at 2499 RMB (about USD 362), which would make it – in best Xiaomi tradition – one of the most affordable flagships out there. But contrary to what some believe, Xiaomi will not be slugging it out with the likes of the Galaxy S8 and the LG G6 (consumers looking to spend close to Rs 50,000 on a phone are unlikely to consider a phone that costs half as much, no matter what it brings to the table), but will instead be mixing it up with the likes of the OnePlus, Honor and Lenovo, which have cloned its “high specs, relatively low price” formula to an extent. And while Xiaomi has forged a formidable reputation for itself in the sub-Rs 15,000 (about USD 250) market in India, the going in segments above that one has not been easy. The Mi6 is also likely to find itself going up against the OnePlus 5 that is expected in the coming weeks. Given that the Force of the critics has been with OnePlus of late, the Mi6 has its task well and truly cut out.
We cannot help but feel that the Mi6’s success will rest to a large extent on that dual camera set-up on its back. Cameras a couple of years ago used to be Xiaomi’s forte, but of late, the brand’s devices have not shipped with the sort of cameras that many customers were expecting (although we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the snapper on the budget Redmi 4A). Yes, it is, without a doubt, a very good looking phone with a very good spec sheet, but then we said that about the Mi5 also. Just how well the Mi6 does could well depend not just on how well it performs, but how it responds to a single word uttered by many of its customers:
Mi – and we – expect the world. No pressure.