Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review: Close to perfection

Quick take:

The Mi Note 2 is the first Xiaomi phone with global LTE bands, setting the stage for the company's expansion in the future. With a dual curved display, excellent internal hardware, and high amount of customizability, the Mi Note 2 has a lot to offer for its $420 price tag.

The good

  • Gorgeous design
  • Excellent build quality
  • High-end internals

The bad

  • Limited availability
  • Average camera

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Full review

Xiaomi rolled out the Mi Note 2 alongside the futuristic Mi Mix, and as a result the phone was overshadowed by its bezel-less sibling. Although it doesn't have a cantilever piezoelectric driver for making calls, the Mi Note 2 is plenty capable and is the first from Xiaomi to feature global LTE bands. And while the dual curves at the front and back make the Mi Note 2 look like a Galaxy Note 7 knockoff, the design is an evolution from the original Mi Note which made its debut in 2015.

The Mi Note 2 signifies an important step for Xiaomi as it looks to maximize revenues in its home market. With the likes of OPPO and Vivo gaining ground in tier 2 and tier 3 cities on the back of a well-connected (and well-funded) retail distribution network, Xiaomi is looking to the mid-range segment to boost profits.

With a generous 6GB of RAM and 128GB storage along with global LTE bands (37 in total), the Mi Note 2 is the showcase device for Xiaomi's ambitions, and while the phone isn't selling in the millions like those in the Redmi series, the goal for Xiaomi is to show that it can hold its own in the mid-tier category.

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Specs

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Operating SystemMIUI 8 based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Display5.7-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) OLED panel386ppi pixel density
SoCQuad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821Two Kryo cores at 2.35GHz, two Kryo cores at 2.15GHz14nm
GPUAdreno 530
Rear camera22.5MP with f/2.0 lensdual-tone LED flash4K video recording
Front shooter8MP with f/2.0 lens1080p video recording
ConnectivityWiFi ac, Bluetooth 4.2 (A2DP), NFC, GPS, GLONASSUSB-C, 3.5mm audio jack
Battery4070mAh batteryQuick Charge 3.0
FingerprintFront fingerprint sensor
Dimensions156.2 x 77.3 x 7.6mm
ColorsBlack, Gold, Silver

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Design and display

The first thing you'll notice about the Mi Note 2 is the dual curves at the front and back of the device. The symmetrical curves are near-identical to those on Samsung's ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, and combined with the availability of global LTE bands, the Mi Note 2 is seen as an ideal replacement for those looking for a large-screened device with a dual-curved display.

The Mi Note 2 fits that bill, but there are a few notable differences — the 5.7-inch display only sports a Full HD resolution, there's no stylus, and the camera is strictly average.

What the screen lacks in resolution it makes up for in vibrancy. The Full HD LG-made OLED panel offers saturated colors, deep blacks, and high contrast levels. As is the case with all Xiaomi phones in this segment, there are plenty of options to tweak the color temperature, and you get a reading mode that acts as a blue-light filter. There's also a Sunlight Display mode that selectively boosts contrast and brightness, allowing you to view the screen while outdoors.

While the phone has a dual-curved display, the screen doesn't extend outward to the edges of the panel. There are noticeable bezels on the side that serve to minimize accidental touches, which is a welcome addition. The back of the device is sparse, sporting a round camera lens and LED flash module along with the Mi logo, which is located at the bottom. The build quality is excellent, and right up there with the best that Samsung and LG have to offer.

The phone definitely stands out in the Piano Black finish, but the downside is that the glass panel at the back attracts a lot of fingerprints. You'll have to carry a microfiber cloth if you want to keep the Mi Note 2 looking pristine.

Xiaomi has been offering an IR blaster in its handsets for several years now, and the Mi Note 2 also has an emitter up top through which you can control a myriad of TVs and set-top boxes. The Mi Note 2 also offers USB-C connectivity, and the port is flanked by symmetrical grills that house a bottom-firing speaker and a microphone. The headphone jack is located at the top, and Xiaomi has bundled a DAC that allows for 192kHz/24-bit playback.

The fingerprint sensor located in the home button is an extension of what we've seen on the Mi 5. Xiaomi dabbled with various implementations last year, like Qualcomm's Sense ID on the Mi 5s, and trying out a fingerprint sensor at the back in the Mi 5 Plus. The Mi Note 2 has a standard home button up front, and the surface area is thankfully larger than that of the Mi 5. The home button also doubles up as a capacitive key, allowing you to go back to the home screen with a quick tap.

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Hardware

Like the Mi 5s, the Mi Note 2 has top-notch hardware in the form of a Snapdragon 821 SoC. You're not going to notice any issues with the device when it comes to real-world performance, with the Mi Note 2 holding its own next to the likes of the Pixel and OnePlus 3T.

The Mi Note 2 is available in two configurations — a base variant with 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage, and a global version with 6GB of RAM and 128GB storage. The latter variant is particularly interesting as it is the first Xiaomi phone with global LTE coverage, but the downside is that it is limited in supply. Furthermore, as the Mi Note 2 is officially sold in just one country (China), you'll have to resort to picking it up from reseller sites if you want to get your hands on the device outside Xiaomi's home market.

The variant with 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage is available for as low as $420, making it a very enticing option in this segment. The Mi Note 2 doesn't have a microSD slot, but the generous internal storage should be more than sufficient for most users. The global variant with 128GB of storage is available for $100 more.

Both variants offer dual-SIM support, along with NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS with GLONASS and Beidou.

Battery life

Xiaomi has been including massive batteries in its devices of late and the situation is no different in the Mi Note 2. The phone has a 4070mAh battery in a chassis that's just 7.8mm thick, and when combined with the Full HD display the Mi Note 2 provides all-day battery life without breaking a sweat.

You'll easily be able to get a day and a half's worth of usage out of the Mi Note 2, and when you need to top up the battery, you'll be able to rely on Quick Charge 3.0.

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Software

There's not a lot to talk about on the software front when it comes to the Mi Note 2, as it runs the same MIUI 8 skin that is present on the Mi 5s, Redmi Note 4, and other recent Xiaomi phones. For better or worse, MIUI offers a ton of customization, and there's a high learning curve. If you're one to dig into the settings to customize every single facet of your phone, then there's plenty to like in MIUI 8. The interface has picked up a host of new features over the course of the years, and it takes a while to explore them all.

Notable additions include Dual Apps, which let you run two instances of the same app on the phone, Second Space, a sandboxed zone that lets you create a second profile, and a built-in video editor. MIUI 8 doesn't have an app drawer, so if you're like me and have lots of apps installed, you can install a third-party launcher like Nova to switch to a more familiar-looking interface.

MIUI 8 offers a ton of customizability, but it takes a while to get accustomed to the interface.

MIUI is designed primarily for Chinese users, and as a result a lot of those elements pop up in the global ROM which is installed on Mi Note 2 units sold on reseller sites. Unlike the Chinese variant, the global ROM includes the Play Store as well as other Google apps, making it easy for you to get started with using the phone.

Xiaomi rolls out regular updates to MIUI 8, delivering new features and security updates, but the one area where the manufacturer has lagged behind is platform updates. The Mi Note 2 is still running Marshmallow, and there's no word on when the Nougat update will be available for the device.

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Camera

Although the Mi Note 2 has a 22.5MP imaging sensor, the small 1-micron pixel size negatively affects its performance in low-light conditions. The Mi Note 2 takes good images for the most part, but when it comes to artificial lighting or night-time shots, the phone fails to deliver.

Taking photos with the Mi Note 2 is an easy affair, with the camera app offering several shooting modes and filters with previews. There's also the option of shooting 4K video, but as is the case with images, the final quality is passable but not great.

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review

Xiaomi Mi Note 2 Bottom line

The Mi Note 2 shows how far Xiaomi has come. The company has consistently put out great phones in the mid-range segment, and the Mi Note 2 is its best showing yet. The Full HD display may not be the densest in this segment, but it gets the job done. The only downside is the camera, which while decent at outdoor shots struggles when it comes to low-light imagery.

However, the biggest drawback with the Mi Note 2 — and recent Xiaomi flagships in general — is its availability. The phone is limited to China, and while you'll be able to pick up the global version with 6GB of RAM and worldwide LTE bands for $529 (or $15 more than Xiaomi's retail price), there's no recourse should you run into any issues with the handset. The standard variant at $419 is also a lucrative deal considering you're getting a phone with Snapdragon 821 and a dual-curved panel, but once again, there's that uncertainty when it comes to after-sales service.

The availability of global LTE bands signifies the company's move to expand its horizons, and while there's no specific plans on when it will enter Western markets, the Mi Note 2 sets the stage for such an eventuality.

Should you buy it? Yes

It'll be at least a month before Xiaomi's 2017 flagship, the Mi 6, goes up for sale at reseller sites, and even after it does, the Mi Note 2 will continue to be a very compelling option. For one thing, Xiaomi isn't offering a variant of the Mi 6 with global LTE bands, and for now, the Mi Note 2 is the only Xiaomi phone that lets you access LTE networks around the world. You're getting a lot for its $529 asking price.

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Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is Android Central's Senior Editor of Asia. In his current role, he oversees the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, networking products, and AV gear. He has been testing phones for over a decade, and has extensive experience in mobile hardware and the global semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.