Xiaomi’s PC Mode works well enough that Samsung must include on-device DeX in the Galaxy Z Fold 3
Xiaomi’s Mi Mix Fold can be called many things, but “original” cannot be one of them. From the remote control-shaped form factor, to the plastic T-caps that are used to prevent small particles from entering the hinge, to the fact it’s named “Fold,” there are just way too many resemblances to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold series.
But if there was one thing that set Xiaomi’s foldable apart from Samsung’s (and any other foldable released so far, for that matter), it was “PC Mode,” which transforms Xiaomi’s MIUI phone interface into a layout that closely resembles a Windows home screen. As a foldable enthusiast and someone who enjoys working on-the-go off portable devices, I was very excited about this feature. In fact, I’ve been baffled by Samsung not having designed such a mode for its Fold series yet. After all, what’s the point of having a larger screen if the UI remains the same as a small phone? Samsung does have Wireless DeX, but that is not on-device for its phones and foldables — it works only when extended to an external display. It is on-device on the Galaxy Tab series, though.
It took longer than expected — PC Mode was inexplicably not available at launch — but it’s finally here courtesy of a software update.
The PC Mode software update for the Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold
Over the past week, Xiaomi pushed a software update (V220.127.116.11.RJTCNXM) that enabled not just PC Mode, but also “Second Space” (which is similar to setting up a second user account on a computer).
Interestingly, the “What’s new” section of the software update page actually downplays the significance of this update: it only mentions “increased system stability” and “reduced system lag,” with no mention of PC Mode or Second Space.
To activate PC Mode, swipe on the large unfolded screen with three fingers inwards from the right edge of the screen (a right-to-left swipe), and the responsiveness is quite good — I’ve launched it at least 25 times now and haven’t experienced any stutters or lag. I was worried about potentially triggering PC Mode by accident, but a three-finger right-to-left swipe from the right edge of the screen seems unique enough.
Xiaomi’s PC Mode: UI overview
If you’ve used a Windows PC before, you will be familiar with the Mi Mix Fold’s UI in PC mode. You have a menu bar that runs across the bottom of the screen housing, from left to right, a start menu button, search button, a row of running apps, battery indicator, time and date, and notification window button.
The new additions that aren’t from a Windows layout are self-explanatory: there’s an upward arrow next to the battery icon that when tapped brings up the equivalent of Android’s shortcut toggles that are normally housed in the notification panel. To the furthest right of the bar are three buttons that represent Android’s three-button navigation.
Just like on Windows PC, tapping on the time and date section of the taskbar will pop up a full month calendar; tapping on the start menu button in the lower left corner will bring up a vertical row of all the phone’s apps.
Using Android apps in PC Mode on the Mi Mix Fold
Apps open in PC Mode in a vertical rectangular (aka phone slab) shape, and the Mi Mix Fold supports up to four apps maximum. Try to open another app with four apps running already and the phone will simply close the first app before launching the new one.
As to be expected, most Android apps aren’t optimized specifically for this desktop-style layout. In fact, some apps are less optimized for PC Mode than without. Spotify in PC Mode, for example, opens in a rectangular smartphone layout instead of the square-ish, multi-paned tablet layout that you get on iPads or even the Mi Mix Fold when it’s not running PC mode.
Some app windows can be resized freely, including YouTube, the Photo Gallery, and Google Docs. Others can either show in rectangular shape or maximized to fill full screen, like Google Chrome. Specific apps like Instagram can only show in rectangular shape and can’t be maximized at all.
Using PC Mode for work
I paired the Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold to a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and everything worked as expected — in fact, I typed part of this article with this setup. Both Google Docs and WordPress via Chrome worked without issues — although I do find apps don’t launch as zippily as they do in regular phone mode. It’s not slow per se, it’s just no longer at super-fast 2021 flagship speeds.
I enjoyed being able to open a second window on the fly to fact-check or respond to WhatsApp messages directly while keeping my main WordPress window open. However, the 8-inch screen is ultimately a bit cramped for real extended work sessions.
The good news is the Mi Mix Fold can cast wirelessly to a smart TV — there is an option to do so in the shortcut toggles. However, I don’t have a smart TV so I have not tested it. Wireless casting seems to be the only way, as plugging in a USB-C or HDMI cable (via a dongle) to an external monitor doesn’t seem to work.
PC Mode is a good start and should be essential in the future
Is the Mi Mix Fold’s PC Mode in its current form a game changer for me, someone who sometimes work off a phone at coffee shops? No. As I said, the screen is a bit cramped in this layout, and even Xiaomi’s MIUI, in standard phone UI mode, already has a robust multi-tasking system that allows for floating app windows. So it’s not like it made the Mi Mix Fold a much better work machine than it was before.
But Xiaomi’s inclusion of such a feature is still a great thing. In the future, when foldable phones presumably get bigger (either via a tri-fold form factor or maybe a rollable) to say, 10-inch or 11-inch screens, I can see having a desktop layout to come in very handy. Also, now that Xiaomi has introduced PC Mode for its foldable, the pressure is on Samsung to implement a similar on-device DeX setup to the Galaxy Z Fold 3.
In fact, I’m willing to bet that Samsung will include it, just like I’m lowkey confident Samsung will also put a Periscope zoom lens into the Galaxy Z Fold 3 since Huawei successfully pulled it off with the Mate X2.
These brands are all watching each other’s work and there’s no way Samsung’s going to sit idle as Huawei and Xiaomi introduce new features to foldable phones. Like I always say, when brands compete, we as consumers win.