Xiaomi Mi Note 2 XDA Review: A Capable Flagship and a Solid First Step Onto the World Stage

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 XDA Review: A Capable Flagship and a Solid First Step Onto the World Stage

Xiaomi’s worldwide launch has been heralded for years, and with the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 it looks like the final pieces are falling into place. As Xiaomi’s first flagship phone to offer a model with worldwide frequency band support, the Mi Note 2 offers an exciting look into what we can expect from Xiaomi as they continue to expand internationally.

In this review, we’ll take an in-depth dive into the Xiaomi Mi Note 2. Rather than listing specs and talking about how the experience felt, this feature attempts to provide a thorough look with contents relevant to our reader base. At XDA, our reviews are not meant to tell a user whether a phone is worth buying or not — instead, we try to lend you the phone through our words and help you come to the decision by yourself. Before getting started, let’s get the specification sheet out of the way:

XDA VIDEO OF THE DAY
Device Name Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Release Date/Price Available Now, Starts at CNY 2,799 (USD 400)
Android Version 6.0.1

2017-05-01

8.5.3.0

Display 5.7 inch 1080p P-OLED (386 ppi)
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 MSM8996 Pro-AC: Quad Core, 2×2.34 GHz Kryo + 2×2.19 GHz Kryo, Adreno 530 GPU Battery 4070 mAh, Quick Charge 3.0
RAM 4GB | 6GB LPDDR4 1866 MHz Sensors Fingerprint, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Compass, Barometer
Storage 64GB | 128GB UFS 2.0 Connectivity USB 2.0 Type-C, 3.5mm audio jack, Dual-SIM slot (nanoSIM), IR Blaster
Dimensions 156.2 × 77.3 × 7.6 mm (74.2% screen-to-body) Rear Camera 22.5 MP Sony IMX318 sensor, 6.9 mm sensor (Type 1/2.6), 1 μm pixels, EIS, PDAF, ƒ/2.0, 4k 24 Hz Video, 720p 120 Hz Slow Motion
Weight 166 g Front Camera 8 MP Sony IMX268 sensor, 4.9 mm sensor (Type 1/3.61), 1.12 μm pixels, ƒ/2.0, Auto Focus

Index

 DesignSoftware – UISoftware – UXPerformanceReal World UXCameraDisplayBattery LifeAudioDeveloper RelationsFinal Thoughts


Design

Design is always one of the hardest things to describe about a phone, and that especially holds true for devices that will often be ordered without seeing them in person. To give someone an idea about what the tactile feel of a device is from across the internet requires comparisons to other popular devices to create an understanding of what the device looks and feels like. Thankfully, in the case of the Xiaomi Mi Note 2, there is a device that feels almost identical in the hand that you can probably find in your local cell phone stores.

While the curved front and back appears to be an almost eerily close match with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the feel in hand reminds me more of the slightly older Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ (Samsung’s 5.7” device with a curved screen from the year before).

The curved back definitely helps with gripability, however it just doesn’t feel quite as pronounced as the curve on the S7 and S7 Edge, which makes a noticeable difference. The S7’s back curves in much further, allowing it to rest in your hand more easily, in turn helping you wrap more of your hand around the phone for a tighter grip.

The volume rocker and power button are positioned on the right side of the device, and are a bit further up the device than we have come to prefer. They are just high enough to require most people to reposition their hand in order to press the volume keys if holding the device in their right hand, and to require complete repositioning to hit any buttons with your left hand. Thankfully, the device can be woken with both Double Tap To Wake (DT2W) and by pressing the home button (which houses the fingerprint sensor).

The buttons generally feel solid, with firm tactile feedback and a soft audible click. On our testing device, the home button can sometimes get stuck if you press on the left side of it, however so far unsticking it has been as simple as pressing down on the button again. This isn’t something wholly exclusive to the Xiaomi Mi Note 2, as other devices with home buttons can get “stuck” in a similar fashion. While it is not really a cause for concern, it does happen more frequently on our device than we would like to see.

The SIM card tray can be found opposite the volume rocker, and would be almost unnoticeable if not for the SIM ejector hole, as it sits flush with the frame. The top of the device houses the 3.5 mm jack (which is missing on the Xiaomi Mi 6), a microphone, and the IR blaster, while the bottom houses another microphone, the speaker, and the USB Type-C 2.0 port.

 

Despite having two equally-sized speaker grilles on the bottom of the phone, only one of them houses a speaker, with the other one (which houses the microphone) being the shape that it is primarily for design reasons (a very popular practice nowadays). This ends up not being an issue however, as the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 still can be quite loud at times. The noises for locking and unlocking the phone in particular are ridiculously loud in their default configuration, however the speakers do run into some issues with audio clarity when playing music, which we talk about a bit more in the audio section below.


Software – UI

We’ve written extensively about how MIUI differs from AOSP in previous reviews (such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 and the Xiaomi Redmi 4), from the iOS-like homescreen to the differences in the notification shade, so for this section we will be focusing heavily on device specific performance.

While the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 officially supports English (one of just five languages offered on the Chinese ROM), there are still substantial portions of the UI that have not been translated on the build we are using. The resulting UX leaves you with a tantalizing glimpse of what the phone could be (and possibly what it is under other language settings), but which simply isn’t at the level expected from flagship phones.

It doesn’t stop on the device itself however. The english language page for the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 on Xiaomi’s website has numerous spelling and grammar errors, the majority of which could be caught with a single read through by a native speaker. It really is a wonder that Xiaomi doesn’t hire someone to go over their global website at the very least, if not the device as well. They could quite literally spend a couple bucks on a freelancer website to get someone to quickly proofread their product page, and they would end up creating a substantially more user friendly and polished experience (although ideally they would want to work with someone consistently who is familiar with the technology).

As this is Xiaomi’s first phone with “Global LTE band” support, it thankfully has received a Global ROM as well, which ideally brings better support for other languages and support for more languages, in addition to other changes like having a different set of preinstalled apps. If Xiaomi still intends to enter the North American market, they will need to have a seamless experience in the local languages (including English, French, Spanish, and many others). Small irritations can quickly build up to create a negative experience, and untranslated popup boxes where you can’t tell what either option is are more than just a small issue.

Substantial portions of the settings menu on our device have not been translated either, including the settings for the stock lockscreen. By default, the lockscreen cycles through different sets of pictures, which are curated by Xiaomi. You can select which sets you are interested in, however as they have not been translated to English, you are left with just an abstract picture and the translation software of your choice to try to guess what each category is for.

The hyperlocalization of the device continues on into the built in browser, which ships with a couple options that you can choose between for the search engine in the omnibar, all of which are Chinese language websites. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be possible to set a custom option for the omnibar, leaving you with a lackluster search experience in other languages.


Software – Features & UX

I’ve mentioned previously how I can be quite picky about how Halo-style navigation features are implemented, and Xiaomi seems to have hit the mark. Quick ball is a proper implementation of floating controls. It opens up quickly, and lets you access what you wanted and get back to what you were doing. It is smooth, it is fluid, and it is fast.

One kind of nice feature is that the phone wakes up from being powered off to play alarms, which is both good and bad. It’s good in that you won’t miss your alarm if you do something like shutting the phone off overnight to save power, but it can potentially cause problems if you meant for it to stay off and forgot about the alarm (for example, if you meant to turn it off long term, or if you turned it off to avoid all noises while you are in a meeting, or if are in a room where you are not allowed to have your phone on). Of course, being keenly aware of this behavior goes a long way and can minimize or neutralize any issues you might otherwise encounter.

As we mentioned above in the UI section, Lockscreen pictures often have descriptions, but they are all in Chinese. There is not even an automatic translation into the language of your choice, despite Xiaomi partnering with Microsoft, who are heavily pushing Bing Translate’s abilities, and holding it up as an alternative to Google Translate. Microsoft clearly thinks that their translation capabilities are ready for prime time, having partnered with Facebook to bring automatic translation to Facebook posts, so it is interesting to see the lack of it here. It’s not clear if this was a conscious decision to leave it out due to the possibility of errors, or if it was simply a case of not realising that it was a possibility.

Lockscreen pictures are questionable at times. By default, some of the lockscreen images appear to relate to ongoing news stories, and can occasionally have some not safe for work images attached. For example, when the Victoria Secret fashion show was happening, our device cycled to some pictures which probably shouldn’t have been enabled by default. The images were fine if you’re expecting them, but being surprised by someone wearing just their underwear at the wrong time can be… frustrating, and can result in awkward explanations.

Along the same lines, many of default the lockscreen images that the phone cycles to are of Chinese models posing in magazine-style images, which stands in stark contrast to how many other similar services such as Windows Spotlight and Chromecast Backdrop are avoiding having any individual person as their main focus, and instead prioritizing beautiful landscape or urban photography and macro images.

Pictures appear to be chosen without any regard to how they will interact with the text on the lockscreen, which can unfortunately cause some readability issues at times. That being said, for the sake of fairness, only Microsoft seems to be doing that properly, and even then, primarily for Bing search, not their Windows Spotlight.

One particularly annoying thing that the phone does is that the display keeps flashing on seemingly without reason if you leave it sitting for a bit. It appears that it may flash on when the lockscreen image changes, although we are not sure at this point in time.

Many of the built-in apps require authentication in order to use, which Xiaomi has chosen to do by having the phone send an international text to their servers to verify the number. This is quite strange, as most SMS based device authentication systems instead have the system send a text to the phone, specifically to avoid problems with international texting and devices that can’t send texts (such as landlines and data-only lines). The authentication is pervasive throughout the phone, with many apps requiring it that probably shouldn’t.

One that jumps to mind is the built in Virtual SIM card app, which requires you to verify a separate SIM card via SMS in order to use it. The Virtual SIM card app is designed to allow you to buy cellular connectivity packages directly from your phone, in preparation for ESIM (which will allow phones to join the cellular network of your choice through software, instead of physically inserting a SIM card, which in turn will reduce the number of openings on the phone and allow OEMs to waterproof phones more thoroughly). Unfortunately the Virtual SIM card app is entirely in Chinese, despite the international focus of the app. It is understandable that it is meant primarily for people temporarily traveling internationally from China, but it would have been nice to see it formated in a way to be usable for international customers as well.

Xiaomi has included some nice features that help with navigation on the Xiaomi Mi Note 2, like the ability to swap the back and recents buttons to fit the order that you prefer, as well as the ability to switch to having them mapped to swipes of the fingerprint sensor. The swiping method was surprisingly useful, helping prevent accidental button presses and making both back and recents easy to reach.

The fingerprint sensor is extremely quick to authenticate and is remarkably accurate. It is easily one of the best fingerprint sensors that I have used to date. While it would be nice to see further development of fingerprint sensors in multi-factor authentication for Android (as a fingerprint is a username, not a password), the speed and accuracy make it convenient to use, which is critical for a convenience feature, and something that not all fingerprint sensor implementations have caught up with yet.

Performance

The Xiaomi Mi Note 2 is not going to be breaking records for a Snapdragon 821 device, but it doesn’t perform poorly either. It performs just as it is expected to, and that is fine to see from a device running on a popular platform like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821.


CPU & System

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 inside of the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 behaves exactly how a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 is supposed to behave, and that is fantastic. It has great performance across the board, which can result in fantastic results when combined with a software stack that isn’t overly bloated. The Xiaomi Mi Note 2 also saw very low variance in our testing, which helps deliver a consistent user experience.

This shows up in both Geekbench 4 and PCMark 2.0, where the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 keeps up with the rest of the pack when it comes to flagship devices. The Xiaomi Mi Note 2 does particularly well in the PCMark 2.0 Photo editing test, where it pulls well ahead of the Pixel XL, OnePlus 3, and LG V20, but falls behind the latter two in the PCMark 2.0 writing test.

Sustained performance is quite good as well. In our Geekbench 4 throttling test, the performance drop from the first run to the lowest run is less than 7% in multi core, and less than 3% in single core performance. The Xiaomi Mi Note 2 got a bit hot over the processor in the top corner, however at the midframe and by the base of the phone, temperatures drop to a reasonable level.


GPU & Gaming

Just like with the CPU, GPU performance on the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 is quite good. The phone performs right where it should with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821’s Adreno 530 GPU, and it provides a reasonable gaming experience as a result.

In both 3DMark and GFXBench the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 stays right with the rest of the pack. While performance is quite good, it falls well behind the Google Pixel XL in terms of variance, resulting in a less consistent experience.

In our sustained performance testing, the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 gets up to its maximum heat very quickly, and throttles accordingly. In our 3DMark test, one run is enough to get within reach of the maximum temperature, resulting in a score drop of 25%, but it levels out quickly after that, leaving you with acceptable sustained performance.

Testing sustained performance with GFXBench shows similar results, with one large drop after the first run, before it mostly levels off for the rest of the test.