Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S front

Xiaomi unveiled the Mi Mix 2 in China back in September, and six months later, we're getting a mid-cycle refresh in the form of the Mi Mix 2S. With the Mi Mix 2S, Xiaomi is retaining the same design aesthetic while introducing upgrades in key areas. Initial rumors hinted at a device with a cutout at the top of the display, but thankfully that isn't the case. The Mi Mix 2S has the same design up front as its predecessor — with ultra-thin bezels on three sides and a bottom bar that houses the camera module.

The back of the phone is still made out of ceramic, but you'll notice a few differences here, starting with that dual camera. The sensors are arrayed vertically — much like the Redmi Note 5 Pro — but they don't jut out nearly as much from the body. The Mi Mix 2S also features, wireless charging based on the Qi standard, a first for Xiaomi.

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If you've used a Mi Mix 2 or even the first-gen model, you'll feel right at home on the Mi Mix 2S. The overall design hasn't changed much in the last two years, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Mi Mix 2S is still one of the best-looking phones in its category, but with 18:9 panels becoming more mainstream, it doesn't evoke that "wow" factor anymore.

Like Xiaomi flagships in years past, the Mi Mix 2S features the latest hardware available today. The phone is powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 845, and based on when it makes its way to India, it could be the first device to offer the Snapdragon 845 in the country (the Galaxy S9 in India is powered by the Exynos 9810). I've been using the phone for just over two days, and it's right up there with the Galaxy S9+ in terms of performance.

Xiaomi is also offering the Mi Mix 2S with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage, becoming one of the first Android manufacturers to do so. There's also a standard variant that comes with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Technically, 64GB of storage should be more than adequate for most users, but if you're looking to future-proof your phone, the 256GB option should do the trick.

Like Xiaomi flagships of years past, the Mi Mix 2S offers top-notch hardware.

Like the Mi Mix 2, the Mi Mix 2S also has global LTE connectivity, with the device offering 43 bands in total. Xiaomi is eventually going to make its debut in the U.S., stating earlier this year that it was targeting a launch sometime by the end of 2018 or early 2019, but if you're interested in the Mi Mix 2S, you can import the device and use it on U.S. networks. With the brand now having an official presence in Spain, the Mi Mix 2S should also make its way to European markets in the coming months.

The Mi Mix 2S inherits its predecessor's strengths, as well as its weaknesses — there's no 3.5mm jack, so you'll have to use the provided dongle or pick up wireless audio gear.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S

With the Mi Mix 2S, Xiaomi is rolling out MIUI 9.5 based on Android 8.0 Oreo. It's great that the manufacturer is finally including Oreo out of the box, but there's much more to get excited about. The introduction of MIUI 9.5 is a pivotal moment for Xiaomi as the ROM finally feels polished. There aren't any glitches, and the interface doesn't feel bloated anymore.

In short, the Mi Mix 2S is the fastest Xiaomi phone I've used by some margin. Just using the Mi Mix 2S next to the Snapdragon 835-powered Mix 2 is enough to see the leaps and bounds by which MIUI has improved in six months.

Xiaomi also rolled out a host of new features in MIUI 9.5: there are gestures similar to what you'll find on the iPhone X, and there's finally a new multitasking pane. There are three gestures that let you navigate the interface — a swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go to the home screen, swipe up from the bottom and hold to surface the multitasking pane, and a swipe right or left from either edge to go back.

There's a tutorial built into the device settings that shows you how to use the gestures, and it usually takes a day to get acclimated to using them. The multitasking window in MIUI 9.0 looked like something out of the KitKat era, and that's because it was. In MIUI 9.5, however, you get a card-based interface that looks much more modern. Oh, and you can now set animated backgrounds on the lock and home screens.

I had no idea MIUI could be this fast.

MIUI 9.5 also fixes one of the main issues I've had with the ROM over the last two years. Instead of offering the ability to restore from a previous Android phone via your Google account, Xiaomi had its own solution in place that relied on Mi Cloud. So if you were making the switch to a Xiaomi phone from another manufacturer, you had to effectively start from scratch.

Thankfully, that has changed with MIUI 9.5, as you can now use your Google account or another device to configure your Xiaomi phone. The global MIUI ROM for several years has just been an offshoot of the China ROM with the Play Store and Google services built-in, but we're finally starting to see differentiation on this front. That's a huge deal as Xiaomi tries to venture into Western markets. MIUI is finally at a place where it doesn't feel like a disadvantage anymore.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S

Xiaomi stated at the start of the year the camera was a key area of focus going forward — we've already seen the same in the budget segment with the Redmi Note 5 Pro — and now the Mi Mix 2S builds on that. The phone has dual cameras at the back, with a primary 12MP sensor augmented by a secondary 12MP telephoto lens.

Xiaomi is touting AI capabilities as a differentiator on the Mi Mix 2S. The AI-assisted feature automatically tweaks filters and picks the ideal shooting mode — similar to what Huawei and others have been doing in this segment. It also lets you create GIFs for portraits, with options to tweak the settings after taking a photo.

The primary camera is interesting as it is the first to feature Sony's IMX 363 imaging sensor. It also has 1.4 micron pixels, which lets in more light. Xiaomi also overhauled its image processing algorithms, and the result is that the Mi Mix 2S may just have the best camera ever on a Xiaomi phone, including the excellent Mi Note 3. In fact, it may even be as good to take on the likes of "true" flagships like the Galaxy S9+:

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S camera sample Galaxy S9 camera sample

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S to the left, Galaxy S9+ to the right.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S wireless charging

Rounding out the lengthy list of features is wireless charging. Xiaomi has retained the ceramic back, but included Qi-compatible wireless charging with the Mi Mix 2S, and the manufacturer also rolled out a $15 charging mat. I didn't get my hands on Xiaomi's wireless charging mat yet, but the phone works flawlessly with Samsung's wireless charger.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S front

The Mi Mix 2S doesn't look all that different from its predecessor, but it comes with a slew of meaningful updates to make it stand out from the standard Mi Mix 2. The software experience in particular is the highlight, and Xiaomi has pulled out all the stops to make MIUI feel rock-solid. Then there's the camera, which has the potential to be the best in this category.

With more and more Android manufacturers going with the notch, it's great to see Xiaomi not follow suit with its latest flagship. The phone will be going up for sale in China from later this week for $530 for the variant with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage will retail for $640, and we should be hearing more about global availability in the coming weeks.

I'll be pitting the Mi Mix 2S against the Pixel 2 XL and the Galaxy S9+ and go into detail over how the AI-assisted features work over the coming weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the Mi Mix 2S in the comments.