Xiaomi Mi6 Quick Review

The Xiaomi Mi6 is the Chinese manufacturer's brand new flagship smartphone and comes with an impressive spec sheet all around. The Android 7.1.1 operating system is powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 835 top-end chipset and a generous 6GB of RAM. Our test unit comes with 128GB of built-in storage. A 64GB version is available as well, but unfortunately the Mi6 lacks a microSD-slot.

The Mi6 is also one of the first Android phones to feature an iPhone 7 Plus-style dual-cam that combines a 27mm-equivalent wide angle with a longer 52mm lens. In the camera app, you can switch between the two by pressing a zoom button. Both lens modules come with a 12MP resolution sensor, but have otherwise different specifications. The wide angle module features a 1/2.9" sensor, an F1.7 aperture and optical image stabilization. The longer lens comes with a smaller sensor and has to make do without optical stabilization. At F2.6, the aperture is considerably slower as well.

Images can be viewed on a 5.15" Full-HD display and all components are wrapped up in a splash-proof, sleek looking and very solid feeling body with metal frame and a shiny plastic back plate. The stock camera app comes with a manual mode that allows for manual shutter speeds down to 1/4 sec but unfortunately the device does not support DNG Raw-capture. A portrait mode that simulates a shallow depth-of-field is on board as well.

Thanks to retailer Gearbest.com, which ships Xiaomi devices worldwide, we've had the chance to try the Xiaomi Mi6 and its dual-camera, shoot a wide range of samples and see how it performs in the hands of a mobile photographer.

Key specifications:

  • Dual-camera
  • 27mm wide angle: 12MP 1/2.9" CMOS sensor, 1.25 µm, F1.7, 4-axis OIS
  • 52mm tele: 12MP, 1.0 µm pixel size, F2.6
  • 4K video
  • Slow-motion video at 720p and 120fps
  • Dual-LED flash
  • Hybrid-AF with phase detection
  • 8 MP front camera
  • 5.15" Full-HD IPS LCD display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset
  • 6 GB RAM, 64/128 GB storage
  • Android 7.1.1
  • Li-Po 3350mAh battery

Image quality in bright light / 27mm

In bright light, the Mi6 wide angle camera generally captures good exposures and colors that are just a touch on the warm side and vibrant, though may be a little too saturated for some tastes. The lens is usually sharp across the frame, but occasionally softness becomes noticeable in varying areas of the image, probably due to the optical image stabilization overcompensating for camera shake.

When viewing at a 100% magnification some smearing of fine low-contrast detail is noticeable but overall the camera captures good textures and well-defined edge detail. Luminance noise is very visible in dark blue skies, though.

As you can see in the samples below, the Mi6 camera unusually adds by default a watermark to its images. This can be turned off in the settings.

ISO 100, 1/1213 sec

Skin tones tend be very slightly warm but pleasant.

ISO 100, 1/230 sec

Overall the Mi6 is doing a pretty good job at keeping highlight clipping under control but, as with most smartphones, in some high-contrast scenes it is unavoidable. The Mi6 is also a little sensitive to red tones, which sometimes can lead to channel clipping on bright red subjects in a scene.

ISO 160, 1/688 sec

Luminance noise and grain are quite noticeable in areas of plain color, such as blue skies.

ISO 100, 1/1739 sec

Image quality in bright light / 52mm

In bright light the 52mm is a great option to have. It allows you to vary your angle of view and get closer to the subject at the press of a button. It also offers a perspective that is more suitable to portraits than the wide angle.

As you would expect, image processing looks very similar to the wide angle camera but the longer lens module is just a touch more prone to highlight clipping and also shows higher levels of luminance noise at base ISO and slightly softer textures.

ISO 100, 1/641 sec

The 52mm lens comes with less distortion than its 27mm cousin which allows you to get closer to human subjects and capture more pleasant and natural portrait images.

ISO 125, 1/120 sec

In overcast conditions both fine detail and edges looks softer than on the 27mm lens module. Due to the slower F2.6 aperture, the longer lens often uses slower shutter speeds in auto mode, which can lead to motion blur on fast moving subjects, as you can see on the skater in the image below.

ISO 100, 1/120 sec

Image quality in low light / 27mm

The Mi6 wide angle camera performs well in low light. Exposure and color remain good down to very low light levels and noise is generally well-controlled. Fine textures and detail are suffering as the ISO value is increased but the Mi6 maintains a good balance between noise reduction and detail retention.

ISO 400, 1/30 sec

Luminance noise is visible in the ISO 800 exposure below but the grain size is pleasantly small and high-contrast edges still show very good definition.

ISO 800, 1/24 sec

For very dark scenes the Mi6 uses a multi-frame night mode which does an admirable job of achieving good exposures, even in very dim conditions. At a 100% view there is a lot of noise and smeared fine detail, but the images are still more than usable at smaller viewing sizes, for example on social media.

ISO 6400, 1/12 sec

Image quality in low light / 52mm

In low light the Mi6's 52mm module suffers from the same issues that we've also seen on the iPhone 7 Plus. With a smaller sensor and slower aperture the longer lens' image quality deteriorates much faster in low light than the wide angle's.

Like the iPhone, the Mi6 switches from using the longer lens to digitally zooming the wide angle when things get too dark, usually dimly-lit interior spaces. Unfortunately, the system is unpredictable and sometimes even uses the digital zoom in pretty bright conditions. On other occasions it leaves the telephoto module activated for quite a long time. You'll only find out when looking at the image on a large screen or checking the EXIF data, though.

For the shot below, which was taken in a well-lit interior, the camera still used the long lens but had to increase ISO to 1000, resulting in high noise levels and little detail.

ISO 1000, 1/60 sec

In darker scenes than the one above, the camera uses the digital zoom of the wide angle sensor instead of the longer lens. As you can see below this reduces detail quite noticeably. That said, images are still usable for social sharing and similar purposes.

ISO 500, 1/24 sec, digitally zoomed wide angle image

For the night shot below the camera again zoomed digitally on the wide angle instead of capturing the image on the longer lens.

ISO 1250, 1/17 sec, digitally zoomed wide angle image

Portrait mode

The Mi6 comes with a portrait mode similar to the one found on the iPhone 7 Plus. Like on the iPhone, the Mi6's longer lens offers a perspective that is better suited to portrait photography than the wide angle lenses on most competitors. However, as you can see in the sample below, in terms of background separation the Xiaomi doesn't come close to the iPhone. There are very noticeable artifacts around the hair of our foreground subject.

ISO 160, 1/120 sec, portrait mode

Panorama mode

The Mi6's panorama mode captures panoramic images with the device held in portrait orientation. The capture angle is only just over 180 degrees but the images are fairly large and show decent detail. The Xiaomi panorama mode is not quite on the same level as its equivalents on Apple or Samsung devices, but delivers good results in most situations.

Panorama, 14336 x 3776 pixels

HDR mode

HDR mode can be activated on the main screen. The Mi6 is pretty good at maintaining highlight detail but on those occasions when some clipping is unavoidable, HDR mode is not of much use. It focuses on lifting the shadow areas, which leads to a brighter overall impression than the standard exposure.

Given it also causes a noticeable processing delay and some moving subjects show ghosting artifacts, most users should probably leave it deactivated most of the time.

ISO 160, 1/991 sec, HDR off
ISO 160, 1/991 sec, HDR on

Video

In video mode Xiaomi Mi6 users are limited to the wide angle lens as the longer lens is not available for movie recording. The 1080p footage shows decent detail across all light levels and, as you can see in the sample below, panning is quite smooth. Video stabilization doesn't keep things quite as steady as on the best in class, but overall the Xiaomi performs well in video mode.

The 720p slow-motion mode offers a smooth 4x slow motion effect but in terms of image detail cannot quite keep up with the best in class, such as the iPhone 7 or Google Pixel.

Conclusion

When I first got the Xiaomi Mi6 into my hands I was hoping it could be an alternative to the iPhone 7 Plus and its dual-cam in a considerably smaller form factor. Depending on your requirements it can be such a device, but the Xiaomi also comes with a few niggles you should be aware of.

The wide angle camera's image quality is good across the board but not quite on the level of the best in class. Like on the iPhone, the longer lens is only really useful in bright light. As soon as the light levels drop image quality deteriorates very quickly and the camera soon switches to digitally zooming the wide angle instead of using the 52mm. The latter occasionally also has trouble focusing in lower light and, unlike on the iPhone, cannot be used for shooting video. Unfortunately, the results of the Xiaomi's portrait mode noticeably lag behind the Apple version as well.

Those who like as much control as possible over the capturing process should be aware that the Mi6 is one of very few current flagship models to not support DNG Raw capture and in manual mode the slowest selectable shutter speed is 1/4 sec.

However, if you can live with those limitations, then the Mi6 dual cam offers - in good light - a lot of flexibility in terms of framing and gives the Xiaomi a clear advantage over most competitors in the Android camp. Given its premium look and feel and high-end components, for example Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 835 high-end chipset, the Mi6 is currently also an extremely good value proposition. At $460 for the 64GB version currently (with coupon code MiF4G) and $520 for the 128GB variant (with coupon code GMi64G) it saves you a sizable sum when compared to similarly specced devices from the more established manufacturers.

What we like:

  • Decent detail across the ISO range on wide angle camera
  • Well-controlled noise at higher ISOs
  • Dual-cam offers great framing flexibility in bright light
  • Good detail and stabilization in video mode
  • Premium build quality and look
  • Very responsive in general operation
  • Value

What we don't like:

  • Longer lens of limited use in lower light
  • Very noticeable luminance noise at base ISO
  • Occasional softness on wide angle and focus errors on longer lens in low light
  • Inefficient HDR mode
  • No Raw file format
  • Slowest shutter speed of 1/4 sec in manual mode
  • Long lens cannot be used in video mode
  • No microSD slot