Xiaomi Mi Note: Not just one of the best value phablets, one of the best phablets, period

Xiaomi Mi Note: Not just one of the best value phablets, one of the best phablets, period

Overview

Xiaomi's latest phone is something of a departure from its usual fare. The 5.7-inch Mi Note phablet is a cut above the wallet-friendly offerings Xiaomi has offered in the past, and its premium design, build and specs put it in the same league as the flagship phones from Apple, Samsung and other smartphone giants.

But can Xiaomi compete at the very highest level?

Xiaomi CEO, Lei Jun, certainly thinks so. He wasn't afraid to take more than a few jabs at Apple during his unveiling presentation, declaring "Our phone is lighter, thinner, narrower and shorter than the iPhone 6 Plus. But we have a bigger screen."

To be fair, maybe Lei Jun has a right to boast. Backing him up is an array of impressive features, including a 13MP Sony camera with optical image stabilization (and without the protruding camera bump visible on the iPhone 6 Plus), a 3,000mAh capacity battery, a dual- nano and micro SIM card tray slot, and an onboard ESS ES9018K2M stereo DAC (digital-to-analog converter).

So far, it sounds impressive. But is the Mi Note more than just an impressive spec sheet?

The Mi Note will be available in two storage capacities - 16GB and 64GB - and priced at 2,299RMB (~S$495) and 2,799RMB (~S$600) respectively. Both models will be on sale in China on 27th January, with international availability expected in Q2 this year.

Here's a closer look at the Mi Note's specs:

Design

While Lei Jun was quick to compare the Mi Note to Apple's iPhone 6 Plus, to the surprise of many, and to the credit of Xiaomi's design and engineering teams (and unlike some other Xiaomi devices), the phablet isn't actually a complete Apple ripoff (although we imagine Samsung can't be too happy about Xiaomi hijacking the 'Note' brand name). The overall design of the Mi Note actually borrows elements from many places - the rear glass resembles the iPhone 4 and 5, or Sony Xperia Z line, the chamfered bezels look like older iPhones or newer Samsung phones, and the curved glass back reminds us of the display on the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. Ultimately, while there will be no awards for design innovation here, there's enough to make the end result feel new and fresh.

For a more in-depth visual comparison of how the Mi Note compares to the iPhone 6 Plus, refer to this article.

The front of the device is dominated by its 5.7-inch display. True to Lei Jun's word, despite boasting a larger screen size, the Mi Note is indeed narrower and shorter than the iPhone 6 Plus. The phone measures 155.1 x 77.6mm, making it 3mm shorter and 0.2mm narrower than the 6 Plus. Impressively, it also has thinner bezels, and it's about 11g lighter too. The Gorilla Glass 3 front panel is very slightly curved at the edges, just like the iPhone 6 Plus, but it's harder to appreciate on the Mi Note as the glass runs right up to the chamfered bezel.

An aluminium frame with chamfered bezels runs around the edge of the device, tapering down to about 4mm at the sides, and widening out to 6.95mm at the top and bottom edges. At the thickest section, this makes the Mi Note 0.15mm thinner than the iPhone 6 Plus (which is insignificant) and 1.55mm thinner than the Galaxy Note 4 (which is).

The back of the device is arguably more interesting than the front. Xiaomi's '3D curved glass' rear panel has a dramatic taper, curving drastically at the left and right edges - the curve actually reminds us a lot of the front of the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge (without the underlying display of course). In hand, the rear curve feels good and handles well. It's somewhere between the blocky slab feel of the Galaxy Note 4, and the often slippery, rounded edge of the iPhone 6 Plus. Comparing all three phablets, we would say that Xiaomi has actually found the best balance between aesthetics and handling: curving just the back edges of the device gives you a soft, ergonomic curve for your palm to wrap around, and yet still leaves a flat side edge for your hand to grip onto.

With glass on the front and rear, there are understandably concerns regarding the durability of the Mi Note, but the phone feels solid enough, and both the front and rear panels seem sturdy and strong. Additionally, during Lei Jun's presentation, he showed a video clip of the phone being dropped and having a steel ball dropped on it, which should help allay some fears. Nevertheless, Xiaomi is offering users a 199RMB annual insurance to cover screen damage plus glass damage for both sides of the phone, as well as accidental liquid damage for clumsy users.

At the bottom of the Mi Note, you'll find the speaker grille, which looks a bit like the old iPhone 4 and 5 speaker grille, comprising of rows of small holes. You'll also find the micro-USB port here.

Unlike the iPhone 6 Plus, the headphone port can be found at the top of the device.

Both the volume rocker and power button can be found on the right side of the Mi Note. The rounded, oblong buttons are thinner than the buttons on the 6 Plus (to fit into the skinny side edge) but are otherwise very similar in style, although the Mi Note does use a one piece volume rocker, rather than the individual up/down volume buttons favoured by Apple.

On the left side you'll find the dual- micro and nano SIM card tray. While dual-SIM phones are nothing new, a 2-in-1 micro/nano SIM card tray is fairly novel. Both SIM card slots support TDD-LTE and FDD-LTE cellular systems, so you'll be able to use Singapore's LTE network using either SIM card. Within the settings menu, you can toggle between SIM cards or turn each on/off individually.

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