If you ask Xiaomi’s executives, they will always say that the “Mi” brand of smartphones represents their cutting edge. However, that will confuse you if you’d go through marketing for their current flagship smartphone in India, the Redmi K20 Pro. Firstly, it uses the Redmi branding, secondly, in some markets in Europe, this phone has been rebranded with the Mi branding and thirdly, it is a pretty cutting edge phone. So if you want to understand what its executives are smoking, then you need to see their Mi Mix Alpha, which they insist on calling a concept phone but it is more a completely wild phone that only people in China can buy. Behind closed doors, Xiaomi’s India team allowed me some alone time with this gadget of the future which they claim brings Minority Report to life, though they didn’t let me touch the phone.
What makes it a crazy concept
1. It can’t be argued the hero of the Mi Mix Alpha is the plastic OLED foldable screen which wraps 180-degrees around the frame of the phone. There is no bezel, no edge but instead, all the components of the phone are sandwiched inside the 180-degree fold of the phone only separated by a sheet of ceramic which houses the three cameras and antennas of the phone. It is a very unique take on traditional foldable phones. Yes, now, there is a tradition in foldable, when you see this phone in action.
2. There is some heavy-duty innovation in UI happening with this phone. There are elements of the user interface in the side spine, like pressure-sensitive volume keys which are software-defined by the touch screen and even an AI-powered dynamic screen on the backside of the phone which will automatically tell you if your Uber has arrived while you’re using another app on the front of the phone. Of course, this is a wild rework of Android and there is nothing Google has built in the platform which means Xiaomi needs developer support for it, which it has achieved to a limited degree in China.
3. There is the 108-megapixel camera coupled with optical image stabilisation and two other cameras. This is one of the largest sensors to be ever put on a smartphone and it can allow for incredible detail especially with Xiaomi’s new algorithms. While we didn’t see the camera in action, there was some image Xiaomi showed looked impressive. Xiaomi has also made another phone called the Mi CC9 Pro which also uses this camera module with inferior processing and that according to the folks at DxOMark is their highest-rated camera of 2019 along with Huawei’s Mate 30 pro. The Mix Alpha should be better thanks to the Snapdragon 855+ chip and its ISP.
4. Xiaomi is using some unique materials in the construction of this phone. For starters, the entire screen is glass and as most of the phone, even the back, is just screen, then we have perhaps the first true all-screen smartphone. For the area where they have placed antennas, Xiaomi is using ceramic, special heated and hardened ceramic. The cameras also now get a special sapphire crystal glass which makes things clear from a lens point of view but also protects the cameras.
Why it is still a concept
1. Xiaomi states that this phone can only be manufactured on one belt in China as of now. More than the innovation inside the phone, there was some major innovation done on the manufacturing process to produce this phone. For it to come to India, this phone will need to be imported which will drive its price upwards of Rs 2,00,000 which will make no sense as it will be more expensive than even an iPhone.
2. While being expensive, this phone will also be slightly outdated considering it is based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ chip with 5G rather than the new incoming Snapdragon 865. For such a phone, it needs to be on the latest SoC. Xiaomi may probably scrape technologies from this phone and add them to the Mi 10 which likely come to India.
3. The user interface is so crazy that it needs developer support, especially for the rear screen. Now, since this phone will never sell in volumes and may not even touch levels that the Samsung Galaxy Fold has hit, it will be unlikely that many developers will make custom solutions for this phone.
4. As impressive the screen technology looks, it uses hasn’t been figured out fully and its durability is problematic as an all-glass phone can get brutally damaged very easily. Compound this fact with the pricing of the phone, and we have an expensive lemon at our hands, especially if you drop it.