Xiaomi's iPhone challenger
CHINESE handset maker Xiaomi's latest phone departs somewhat 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 specifications put it in the same league as the flagship phones from Apple, Samsung and other smartphone giants. But can Xiaomi compete at the highest level?
Xiaomi chief executive Lei Jun certainly thinks so. He was not afraid to take more than a few jabs at Apple during his presentation, declaring: "Our phone is lighter, thinner, narrower and shorter than the iPhone 6 Plus. But we have a bigger screen."
The Apple iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch screen.
The Mi Note has impressive features: a 13MP Sony camera with optical image stabilisation (and without the protruding camera bump visible on the iPhone 6 Plus), as well as a dual nano and micro SIM card slot.
The device will be available in two storage capacities - 16GB and 64GB - and priced at 2,299 yuan (S$500) and 2,799 yuan respectively. Both models went on sale in China on Tuesday, with international availability expected in the second quarter of the year.
It is the most expensive device Xiaomi has ever made. But the Mi Note, with its flagship specifications, is potentially half the price of an iPhone 6 Plus or Samsung Galaxy Note 4. In China, the 6 Plus starts at 6,088 yuan.
The Mi Note borrows elements from many places.
The rear glass back resembles the Apple iPhone 4 and 5, or Sony Xperia Z line - the chamfered bezel looks like older iPhones or newer Samsung phones - and the curved glass back reminds us of the display on the Galaxy Note Edge.
Despite boasting a larger screen size, the Mi Note is 0.2mm narrower and 3mm shorter than the 6 Plus. It has a thinner bezel and is 11g lighter.
The Gorilla Glass 3 front panel is slightly curved at the edges, like the 6 Plus.
An aluminium frame with a chamfered bezel runs around the edge of the device.
The back of the device is arguably more interesting than the front. The rear panel has a dramatic taper, curving drastically at the left and right edges.
In hand, the rear curve feels good and handles well. It is somewhere between the blocky slab feel of the Galaxy Note 4 and the slippery, rounded edge of the 6 Plus.
The Mi Note boasts a 5.7-inch full high-definition 1,920 x 1,080 (386ppi) pixel display. The screen is crisp - pictures look fantastic, with deep contrast and vivid but not over-saturated colours.
If there is one complaint, it is that viewing angles could be a bit better.
The device is armed with a 13MP rear camera with a Sony CMOS sensor and an f/2.0 aperture. It also has a Philips dual-LED warm/cold flash and optical image stabilisation.
Up front, there is a 4MP camera with 2µm pixel size, which is ideal for selfies in low light.
Image quality of photos shot on the Mi Note is very good and rivals that of other flagship phones. The optical image stabilisation works well, and low-light shots retain detail and sharpness.
The Mi Note runs on the Android 4.4 operating system with the MIUI 6 interface installed. MIUI 6 seems to take several cues from iOS 7 in terms of design, functionality and app layout.
Drag down from the top of the screen and there is a notification centre with a pseudo-transparent screen effect.
Even specific apps like the calendar and calculator bear a striking resemblance to Apple's own. Nevertheless, MIUI 6 works really well. It is fluid and responsive, and everything is easy to navigate and use.
As with many phablets, there is also a one-handed mode that shrinks the size of the display.
The device is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz quad-core processor with 3GB RAM. This should give it performance equal to other flagship smartphones like the Galaxy S5, Xperia Z3 and LG G3.
For the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test - which looks at a device's graphics processing unit and central processing unit - the Mi Note's "Performance" mode was selected. This mode boosts performance for running games or other processor-intensive apps.
The Mi Note was again impressive in this benchmark - it was just slightly behind the Galaxy Note 4 and easily beat the G3 and 6 Plus.
In "Balanced" mode, the Mi Note scored just slightly behind the 6 Plus.
One point to note is that, after running benchmarks on Performance mode for around 20 minutes, the rear glass of the Mi Note was quite hot to the touch.
The Mi Note is armed with a 3,000mAh battery, which puts it around the same level as other flagship phablets.
We tested the Mi Note in Balanced mode, and it lasted just under 101/2 hours in our video looping battery benchmark, which is quite respectable, but falls short of the Galaxy Note 4. It lasted significantly longer than the 6 Plus.
The Mi Note performs just as well, if not better than, other flagship devices. It boasts an excellent display, good battery life, and a superb camera with all the features - like optical image stabilisation and dual-LED flash - that you would want in a high-end smartphone.
With the Mi Note, Xiaomi can now challenge the likes of Apple and Samsung at the highest levels, and the upcoming release of the even more powerful Mi Note Pro could well put Xiaomi firmly on top.