Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review
It’s nearly two years since Xiaomi unveiled its Mi Note and Mi Note Pro, and a lot has changed in that time. More akin to the recent Xiaomi Mi5s Plus than the original Mi Note, the Mi Note 2 was somewhat overshadowed at its launch by the awe-inspiring bezel-less Mi Mix (review coming soon), but it is nonetheless a fantastic Android phone. We see how it stacks up in our Mi Note 2 review. Also read our Xiaomi Mi5s review
Not as revolutionary as the bezel-less Mi Mix with which it shared its launch event, and with much in common with the now discontinued Galaxy Note 7 in terms of its design, the Mi Note 2 has in the most part been wrongly overlooked by the technology media. That’s a real shame, because this is a really nice phone and, leaving aside its ‘only’ full-HD but still brilliant flexible OLED panel, a true competitor to better known flagships.
The Xiaomi Mi Note 2 will prove a great buy for those looking for a big-screen phone with lots of power and a nice design, but unfortunately Xiaomi is releasing it only in China. Those in the UK and elsewhere can still buy through Chinese importers such as GearBest, from which we received our Piano Black review sample, but international buyers should be wary over cellular connectivity. Also see: Best phones 2016
Actually that’s one of the things that most excited us about the Mi Note 2 upon its release: it’s the first Xiaomi phone to come with global LTE connectivity, but not as standard and sadly not in our review sample. The Global Mi Note 2 supports 37 bands and has full UK 4G LTE connectivity for bands 3, 7 and 20. It also matches the top-end Mi Note 2 version with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. If you are buying outside China this is the Mi Note 2 to go for, and it currently costs £497.04 ($619.99) at GearBest.
As well as Piano Black, the Mi Note 2 comes in Silver and Gold. According to a Weibo user there may also be a cherry pink version coming soon.
Our review sample is the entry-level 4GB RAM, 64GB storage Mi Note 2 with support for UK 4G LTE bands 3 and 7. That means it won’t be a great buy for O2 and Giffgaff customers, which rely solely on band 20 for 4G connectivity, but for other users it’s a great phone. This version costs £595.90 ($743.31) from GearBest, meaning the Global edition is currently cheaper. We'd recommend UK users buy the Global model instead.
Do consider that upon arrival in the UK you may be asked to pay import duty on the Mi Note 2 (20 percent of the value on the shipping paperwork plus an admin fee of around £11). Read more advice on buying grey market tech here.
Even if you do go for the Global version of the phone, one thing you should note before you buy is that because these phones are not officially sold outside China they are sold with the Chinese rather than International ROM. This means Google Play and any associated services with which you are familiar will not be preinstalled, and there will be some Chinese-language apps and a Chinese-character keyboard to contend with. All these things are fixable, as we’ll explain below, although we wouldn’t advise non-techies attempt to do so. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2016
Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review: UK setup - how to install Google Play on Mi Note 2
When you first turn on the Xiaomi Mi Note 2 you will be given the option to choose United Kingdom as your region, but when it boots into the UI you’ll notice there is more setup to do before you can get going.
First you should change the time and date, since by default this will be set to GMT+08:00. Open the Settings app from the home screen and choose Additional settings, Date & time. Disable Automatic time zone and tap on the time zone field below this, then scroll to and select GMT+00:00 Greenwich Mean Time. The time at the top left of the screen should automatically update.
Next, there’s no Google Play support, so you’ll need to sideload the Google Installer. In order to do so go to Settings, Additional settings, Privacy and then enable Unknown sources. Now head to Xiaomi Ninja to download the Google Installer APK. Launch the downloaded file and, once it has installed, press the big blue button to begin installing the necessary Google services. Tap Install and Okay when prompted until the installer has finished.
Next go to Settings, Permissions, Auto Start and give autostart permissions to all the Google apps you’ve just installed. Then go to Settings, Permissions, Permissions and give each of those apps any reasonable permissions they require (tap on a permission and choose Accept).
Google services are now ready to go on the Mi Note 2, so launch the Play store and add your Google account details when prompted. If you have any problems reboot your phone. You can also try going to Settings, Installed Apps, Google Play Store, clearing the cache and data and trying again. Sometimes it can take 30 minutes or so for a Google account to register on a device.
One of the first apps we recommend you download is Google Keyboard. Launch the app and set it as the default to remove the existing keyboard with Chinese characters. Keep in mind that no Google apps are preinstalled on this phone, so you might also wish to download those you probably take for granted such as Gmail. If you wish to install a WhatsApp backup from an old phone you will also need Google Drive, and we recommend using Google Photos in order to back up and sync all your old and new photos between phones. YouTube is another favourite, and don’t forget Google Maps.
Lastly, go through the apps on the home screen (there is no app tray in MIUI 8.0) and uninstall any Chinese-language apps you don’t wish to use. Those that cannot be uninstalled can be dragged on top of each other to create a new folder in which to hide away apps.
The Mi Note 2 is now reasonably well set up for UK use, but you will still get the odd Chinese notification pop up. In our experience these can be ignored, so simply swipe them off the screen to delete. Also see: Best Android phones 2016
Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review continues on the next page >>