[2016-11-09] Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Review: More Than Just A Galaxy Note 7 Lookalike

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Xiaomi’s Mi Not 2 hasn’t been getting the respect it probably deserves. After all, the phone was overshadowed at its own very launch event by Xiaomi’s other new phone, the bezel-less Mi Mix. And even when media and reporters (including myself) wrote about the Mi Note 2, we mentioned how much it looked like a Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Let‘s address the “Note 7 ripoff” issue first. Yes, just like Samsung’s now dead phone, the Mi Note 2 has a 5.7-inch display with dual curved screens and back that meets in the middle for a perfectly symmetrical look. But it’s not fair to just dismiss Xiaomi’s product as copycat, because Xiaomi was actually the first phonemaker to introduce a curved glass back (before Samsung did it with the Note 5). And as Hugo Barra told Engadget, there’s really only one way you can do a curved screen, so this “curved front and back meet in the middle” design was just the logical next step for the company. Also, the Note 7 was introduced just two months ago — it’s almost certain that Xiaomi had begun development on the Mi Note 2 already.
The dual curves on the front and back of the phone gives it a really slim feel.

I’ve been using the Mi Note 2 for four days and much like Xiaomi’s last flagship phone, the Mi 5, this is a beast of a phone with fast performance, solid camera and great build quality. And yes, while the Mi Mix is way more intriguing as a device (I’ll have a review of that coming later this week too), the Mi Note 2 is probably a more usable day-to-day phone.

That’s because while the Mi Mix is eye-catching, it’s a concept phone in every sense of the word (more on that in my review later). The Mi Note 2, however, is like the many great flagship phones of 2016 — except it’s got the latest and best Snapdragon chip, the 821. In both real world usage (like zipping between apps and editing videos via Viva Video) and benchmark testing, the Mi Note 2 comes out at the top of every Android phone I’ve tried so far this year. Oh, and I’m on the lower tier 4GB RAM version, not the maxed out one with an extra 2GB of RAM.

(The Mi Note 2 scored a 1828 on Geek Bench’s single core test and 4039 on the multi-core, that beats both the Galaxy S7′s 1589/3795; Google Pixel XL’s 1607/4147, but falls short of the iPhone 7 Plus’ 3464/5688).

As I mentioned in my Mi 5 review from earlier, Xiaomi’s custom Android skin, named MIUI (now in its 8th version), is a lot cleaner than people in the west give credit for. I particularly love that it allows you to customize the phone’s hard buttons. For example: the phone comes with the back button assigned to the right of the home button, but I can swap it to the left. And the home button/fingerprint sensor, although it’s “clickable” like Samsung phones and older iPhones, Xiaomi gives the option to activate via touch. I much prefer this because having to press down on a physical button feels outdated in a world of touch buttons (even Apple’s done away with that on the iPhone 7. Samsung phones are the only ones left).
MIUI 8 has a cleaned up notification shade. Toggles and notifications are no longer separated.

MIUI 8 has a cleaned up notification shade. Toggles and notifications are no longer separated.

The back of the Mi Note 2, much like the Galaxy line of phones, is an absolute fingerprint and dust magnet. I’m not sure why Xiaomi and Samsung love these shiny glass backs — it looks nice brand new, but within six seconds of using it’s filled with smudge. Going matte black, like the iPhone 7 Plus or HTC 10, would have looked much better in my opinion. Still, the Mi Note 2, much like the Note 7, is a gorgeous device. Them curves, man.
The glossy back of the phone collects dust and fingerprint easily and is so shiny it's almost like a mirror. I would have preferred a matte finish.

The glossy back of the phone collects dust and fingerprint easily and is so shiny it’s almost like a mirror. I would have preferred a matte finish.

Despite the Mi Note 2 having the same type of curve as the Note 7/S7 Edge, I had virtually no erroneous touches on the curved screen during my four days of use. This is amazing, because I had serious problems using the S7 Edge without accidentally tapping something on the screen. I think part of this is due to the curves on the Mi Note 2 not being as drastic, and partly because MIUI’s palm rejection software is just much smarter than the one on Galaxy phones.

One of the new additions to the MIUI 8 that’s very useful is the “second space” feature, which essentially partitions a portion of your phone away from the main device’s hard drive, so you can store sensitive information you might not want other people to see. Much like the Note 7′s Secure Folder, you can download second copies of apps onto the second space, and it’ll behave like a completely separate app from the first copy. That means you can have two Google Play accounts, or two WeChat apps (logged onto two different accounts) on the same phone. Switching back and forth between the “main” phone and the second space takes only a tap, and everything is locked via password, PIN or fingerprint scan.

Speaking of fingerprint scanning, holy crap, the sensor on the Mi Note 2 is fast. This might be the fastest fingerprint sensor I’ve ever used, topping even the former king, Huawei P9. It’s so fast, I never see the lockscreen when I press on the sensor when the phone’s in a sleeping state — it just goes straight to the home screen instantaneously.
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