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Hands-On with Xiaomi Mi Note 2

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Oct 25, 2016, 8:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Mi Note 2 is Xiaomi's new flagship handset. It combines premium design and materials with top-notch specifications and capabilities. If you're looking for a big-screen device that has it all, the Note 2 from Xiaomi certainly impresses. Here is Phonescoop's first look.

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The Note 2 is Xiaomi's way of saying, "Hey, look, we can create beautifully designed and technologically advanced hardware, too, ya know!" It takes the metal-and-glass design aesthetic to its logical end point with two, attractive pieces of curved glass, an aluminum frame, class-leading specifications, and a killer price point to boot.

If only Samsung hadn't gotten there first.

There's no nice way to say this, so I am just going to get it out of the way: the Mi Note 2 is a facsimile of the Galaxy Note 7 in almost every possible way (but hopefully not the fiery death kind of way.) From a distance, it is almost indistinguishable from the Note 7. The curved glass and thin, aluminum frame are practically identical in terms of size, shape, layout, and appeal. Now, Xiaomi's Hugo Barra insists the company was first-to-market with a curved glass back panel (January 2015) and that the curved front panel has been in the market for a while. In other words, Xiaomi didn't copy anything, it just brought the familiar curved front and its curved back together in a single device. (Mhmm, okay.)

That said, the Note 2's resemblance to the Note 7 shouldn't take away from its beauty. The device is gorgeous. The glass and metal are flawless and fitted together perfectly. I can't speak highly enough of the quality of the materials. The glass is silky smooth under your skin and feels marvelous as you slide your thumb across the display. The whole handset is strong, thin, and the right weight to give it that "I cost a lot" feel. The aluminum frame is not chamfered but has some personality just the same.

The Note 2 looks great and feels great, there's no getting around that.

White Note 2  

The front of the Note 2 features a 5.7-inch full HD AMOLED display. This is one of the first OLED screens Xiaomi has ever used, according to Barra, and it was essential in order to make the curved screen work. There are modest bezels above and below the display, but the sides are nearly bezel-less. Below the display you'll note the double-purpose home button and fingerprint sensor. The buttons is easy to find and use, and the travel and feedback are quite good. The display itself is fine at 1080p full HD. Rumors has suggested the screen might be as high-rez as 4K, but those turned out to be incredibly inaccurate. I was pleased enough with what I saw in person, though I can't help but wonder why Xiaomi didn't kick it up a notch to 2k (quad HD) — especially considering the company's new VR headset.

The screen lock button and volume toggle are on the right edge of the phone, with the screen lock closest to the middle. Both these controls have micro chamfers that help them stand out visually, and the physical profiles are very good, too. I was definitely happy with travel and feedback. The SIM card slot is on the left edge, while the 3.5mm headphone jack is on top and the USB-C port is on the bottom. There are some holes drilled into the bottom for the speaker.

Black Note 2  

Xiaomi didn't give the rear panel too much personality. It's a solid slab of glass from top to bottom. The camera module is rather small — perhaps the size of a nickel — and is perched closer to the top. A dual-LED flash is to the camera's right. The module has a nice little chrome rim to help set it off visually, but it's certainly not the prominent camera hump we saw on the Note 7. As to be expected, the glass rear panel cannot be removed. Not that you'd need to; there's a 4,070mAh battery buried under there, which is more than enough for most people to get from breakfast to bedtime.

Speaking of specs, the Mi Note 2 has a competitive bunch of innards. To start, there's the Snapdragon processor with either 4 GB or 6 GB of RAM. It comes with either 128 GB of storage or 256 GB of storage. Xiaomi selected Sony's Exmor IMX318 camera module with 23-megapixels, f/2.0 aperture, and EIS (no OIS). It captures 4K video, too, of course. The user-facing camera is interesting because it has autofocus; most selfie cams are fixed focus. The selfie cam doesn't have it's own flash. Other notable specs include NFC, GPS, high-quality audio, and so on.

A few words about US availability. The Mi Note 2 comes in three variants and one of them supports 22 LTE bands. 22!!! That includes all the major US LTE bands, at least as far as AT&T and T-Mobile are concerned. That means the Mi Note 2 would be a perfect device for Xiaomi to use as a launching point for US sales. That's not to be the case.

Xiaomi's Hugo Barra says the Mi Note 2 is strictly to be a Chinese phone. It won't even be sold anywhere else in Asia. So why bother giving the phone such awesome US LTE support? According to Barra, Xiaomi's customers often travel to the US with China-specific phones and are stuck browsing the web on EDGE when they get to the States. In other words, the Mi Note 2 World Edition was made with Chinese citizens who often travel to the US in mind. Bummer, that.

The Mi Note 2 is a respectable phone, there's no question there. It's a shame Xiaomi (still) has no ambitions to enter the US market. If you're an ex-pat who lives in China and often travels home to the US to visit family, the Mi Note 2 may be all the phone you'll ever need.


About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.



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