This is the Xiaomi Mi MIX Alpha review, we’re talking a device with a 360-degree wraparound display, 108-megapixel camera and materials straight out of a spaceship. So, you might be wondering what on earth would it be like to use. I spent a full day trying to push this limitless phone to its limits and I’ve got some answers.
First of all, though as you might have guessed for something so ridiculous, the unboxing experience is just nuts inside the outer cardboard. There’s an inner layer made of what feels like incredibly soft touch plastic. The very first thing you see is a card embossed with alpha written in Greek and right under that the Xiaomi Mi MIX alpha itself and Wow this is a heavy phone. There’s a little cardboard cutout and then right at the bottom is the final package containing all the accessories, and this whole thing is literally boxes inside boxes like some sort of Russian doll situation.
There’s a USB-C cable a 40-watt power brick for pretty fast charging and then finally an envelope. It’s just got this card in it and I’m not actually sure what it says but overall this is at least nine out of ten packaging for a smartphone but now it’s time to use it. So, let’s get a few things out the way. This is the coolest looking phone I’ve ever used putting practicality aside for a second. The feeling of holding a phone that is almost entirely screen is a genuine novelty. It feels definitively new in a market where a lot of people complain about a lack of differentiation. Anyways quite a few things became clear even in just my first 20 minutes of using it.
The whole thing is one continuous display. But the way the software has been designed you can kind of treat it as having four separate displays, the primary one on the front what you’re used to on a smartphone, but then flip to the left and you get the things that you want to check quickly and often so time, date and notifications, and then on the right you’ve got what would usually be in your status bar battery life, Wi-Fi and signal and plus further down virtual power and volume keys and finally if you turn the whole thing, it’s a rear display with all sorts of quick access widgets, but I’m going to come back to this. The total screen size comes to 7.92 inches which sounds colossal, but that’s actually the size of the longest diagonal going all the way round. So, when you’re just dealing with the front. It’s bigger than average but still kind of manageable.
Now because at all times you’re touching some part of the display going into this I was initially worried that I’d be triggering applications left right and center, but actually this was a
non-issue, a combination of sensors means that when you’re using Mi Mix Alpha from the front, the rear can be prevented from registering touches and vice versa. So anyways these were the kinds of thoughts that were going through my head on first impression. But I was also curious what other people thought. So, I asked them and their responses could be roughly split into three categories.
The first was just that this is really cool. It looks different. It’s the phone of future.
The second type of comment was that actually, more than anything else.
This design is just a little bit inconvenient.
To some extent, I’d agree with the impracticality the Xiaomi Alpha it’s heavy and it’s chunky and people are rightly worried about the fragility. Xiaomi Mi Alpha is coated in strengthened Gorilla Glass five untold. But the way it’s been put together is using two large curved glass sheets that meet on each side. So, the worry is that this creates a sort of seam going down the middle which is an obvious point of vulnerability.
To my surprise there actually is a working case for the Mi Alpha is just not hugely protective.
And not to mention the other concern about battery life a 360-degree display is naturally going to suck more battery than a flat one. So, I get it. The practicality of the whole thing is
Questionable. But that’s not really the purpose here which leads us on to the third set of responses which was essentially a whole load of people asking this question what is the purpose.
The general consensus seems to be that yes, the phone is cool but there are some serious inconveniences and because the benefits of the design aren’t particularly clear people can’t see why they should put themselves through those inconveniences. I should remind you though that the Mi MIX alpha is a concept phone this isn’t Xiaomi saying, ‘oh look come and buy our ultra-high-end flagship phone for $2000.’ this is them saying, ‘here’s a cool experiment let’s see if it has any potential.’ And having spent an entire day with it I generally think it does. It’s just that the concept of this phone, almost feels like it’s ahead of what our current technology can actually make. This will hopefully make more sense towards the end of the video. So anyways the display although remarkable is actually only one of the things that I wanted to look at here. I actually wanted to take Mi Mix Alpha to the top of The Shard at night. That’s the tallest building in the entire country with the goal of taking a 108 megapixel night photo across London.
And to get there we had a pretty unconventional form of transport. The only thing was we were kind of late, so we were just pacing it to this pier where we were going to board and I was trying to call the boat company. And I noticed something else.
See because this phone is almost entirely screen there’s no room for a physical earpiece. It’s the display glass itself that vibrates to send sound waves into your ears. To be honest though, it wasn’t great to my experience. Because the whole display is vibrating the sound tends to be more scattered. Versus a normal ear piece that fires sound directly into your ear.
Anyways when it came down to, we had like three minutes to leg it to our boat, so you could probably imagine when we made it. It felt like literally something out of a like a low-budget mission Impossible movie. This was fun, things started slow the boat just kind of sailed along. I got some nice footage from Mi Mix Alpha, and it became apparent very quickly that the camera here is beastly I was actually only recording this at 1080p resolution. The footage looks so clean the dynamic range is good.
You can see clear details in the bright sky and the dark buildings but probably the most notable improvement here versus most phones that we are used to is that the camera sensor is quite literally multiple times the size. So, when you’re focusing on closer objects it means you get a strong at DSLR like background blur effect. Then the boat picked up some pace it started moving at around 55 kilometers an hour which when you’re on choppy water you feel it.
Considering we were getting tossed around like noodles in a stir fry at this point I was quite impressed with the inbuilt optical image stabilization too. It turned the shuddery jumpiness of the boat into an almost glide like experience, one of the few obvious advantages of having a 360-degree display like this, is that you can use your main set of cameras for the front. So just by turning Xiaomi Alpha around I could now use my ultra-wide camera to get wide selfie video and it’s good footage. We also got around 50 portraits mode selfies.
The people on this boat must have thought I really liked myself. Now I’m just probably headed up to The Shard for our 108-megapixel nighttime photo, we had to kill some time it wasn’t quite dark enough yet. So, I decided to have a real good think about the back of Mi Alpha. For starters, in terms of the materials Xiaomi have spared little expense.
You’re looking at a titanium alloy frame supposedly three times stronger than stainless steel which is in itself stronger than aluminum. There’s some pieces of ceramic and a sapphire glass coating to protect the cameras.
So, when you turn Xiaomi Mix Alpha over, Xiaomi has put a whole number of widgets on the back, things like a music player, a step counter, a voice recorder. And this I think is Xiaomi biggest misfire. Think back that you don’t need a rear display because you can only look at one display at once.
And there’s some truth to that the biggest benefit of having a display that goes all the way around Xiaomi Mi Mix Alpha is nothing to do with apps or widgets that you can only use on the back. There’s nothing you can run on the back of Mix Alpha that you couldn’t just pull up on the front.
But this concept still has merit. I just think that the company needs to do a better job of communicating the possibilities, you’ve got the obvious perk we talked about earlier of being able to turn your phone around and use your main rear set of cameras as your selfie cameras. But there’s so much more. So, here are some ideas that I literally thought of in the last 20 minutes.
Dual profiles, what if you could have one set of accounts that have permanently logged in on the front of Mi Mix Alpha, and another set for the back one for work one for home for example. And add to that this is a dual SIM phone. So, you could even configure it say that calls made from the front use one of the sims and then we flip it over calls made from the back might use the other SIM. It’s just a random example, but that effectively gives one phone the functionality of having two phones.
What about multitasking? say there was a game that you wanted to keep open and keep checking every now again. You could just pin it to your rear display and then flick back to your front and work on that.
You’ve got gestures you could be using the front of your phone but also set up the back to respond to gestures like double tapping for screenshots. Or notifications, whichever side of your phone you set on a table facing upwards can flash when you get an incoming call or a message.
Versus normally having to put your phone facing up only, because nothing’s going to pop up on the back.
What about virtual buttons?
Admittedly the implementation of them here is still very prototype. But when it gets better, I’ve got no doubt that virtual buttons will replace physical ones. They’re just far more practical for the same reason that virtual keyboards replaced physical keyboards. There’s also just the fact that this screen can show more information. You can watch a full screen video on the front while still being able to see the time in notifications on the sides. This is all stuff that Xiaomi hasn’t really talked about instead choosing to focus on specific applications that could be shown on the back. There’s also an optical fingerprint scanner built into the display but that’s a pretty standard affair nowadays and a single speaker on the bottom.
Anyways, reflection period over night was coming and it was time to head to that final location and as someone who doesn’t actually live in London it is genuinely shocking how many people, they can fit into one underground station. Anyway, we arrived at the shot where you take a combination of stairs and lifts to get you to the 72 floors from here, of course London is little more than a blur the view is absolutely spectacular. But so dark that even my main camera was struggling. So, I took Mi Mix Alpha out, snapped a full resolution photo and this is what we got completely unedited.
And if we zoom in obviously it’s not daytime level crisp but you can see the features of each and every building and landmark.
I probably sat there for 10 minutes just zooming in and around that photo seeing what I could find. It really is something.
Now a couple of final things before I bring this all together, I wanted to see if you could apply a normal desktop wallpaper to this 360-degree screen. So, I popped over to Google Images downloaded one and yeah, you can.
And finally, the phone is powered by a Snapdragon 855 plus chip 12 gigs of ram and 512 gigs of fast UFS 3 storage. So, the performance is a little behind phones with the latest Snapdragon 865 chipset but it’s still bordering on that cutting edge with a 5g modem inside. So, that was the Xiaomi MI MIX alpha and my current conclusion is that I think it’s almost a little bit ahead of its time. The idea of everything being a display that’s what we’re moving towards but the manufacturing methods and the software solutions needed for it, they aren’t good enough to make it viable yet. Like right at this moment in time I think a form factor like this create more problems than it fixes. But looking forwards, I think it gets a lot right and as a concept for the sake of leading the way guiding the market in a sense. I’m glad the Alpha exists and you’ve got to applaud a company that’s willing to experiment like this. If nothing else it’s exciting.