iPhone X lookalike or not, Xiaomi’s Mi 8 Explorer Edition — that’s the version with the transparent glass back — is one stunning phone.
The Mi 8 has sparked some controversy since it was announced at the end of last month. While it’s true its back is see-through, some of the exposed components — such as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip and the accompanying modules — aren’t actually real; they’re dummies for aesthetic purposes.
Some people are calling Xiaomi out for being deceptive, but after getting some hands-on time with the phone, I can tell you, real or not, who cares?
As smartphones become more and more similar — every new phone’s a glass-and-metal sandwich with a screen that’s got a notch — the race is on to differentiate.
For OnePlus, that means applying a special layering process to the Midnight Black and Silk White OnePlus 6 phones to give their glass backs a matte, frosted finish. For other phone makers, like HTC and Xiaomi, it’s going transparent. HTC’s U12+ and the Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition both sport clear glass backs.
It’s an aesthetic I wouldn’t mind seeing become a trend. Who doesn’t like gadgets with transparent cases? In fact, some of the most iconic gadgets let you see through the device and gawk at the insides. Apple’s original iMac, Nintendo’s Game Boy Color, and Nintendo 64 are three that come to mind.
Hell, people want transparent gadgets so badly they’re swapping out the default cases with aftermarket mods. If you haven’t seen the transparent Nintendo Switch mod, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
The problem people have with the Mi 8’s transparent design is that it’s kind of a lie. You can see some real phone parts, like the battery, but the cluster of chips toward the top aren’t actual components.
As Engadget noted, what you’re looking at is likely the RF shield decorated with fake chips to give it a unique and revealing design.
A Xiaomi spokesperson couldn’t confirm what I was looking at, but pointed out that the company didn’t technically ever say that they were the real chips.
Beyond the design, the Mi 8 does come with one mobile innovation no other phone has: a pressure-sensitive in-display fingerprint sensor.
Other phone makers, like Vivo, were the first to market with a regular in-display fingerprint reader. But Donovan Sung, Xiaomi’s director of product management and marketing, told me the Mi 8 Explorer Edition’s pressure-sensitive sensor is better because it isn’t constantly sucking up power by lighting up the screen.
On Vivo phones with the in-display sensor, the OLED screen lights up the pixels around the embedded reader to illuminate your fingerprint and then authenticate. On the Mi 8 Explorer Edition, the in-display sensor activates when it detects pressure.
There’s a notch — a larger one! And there’s a chin! But will it really bother you? Probably not. I didn’t even notice them after a few seconds.
Overall, the phone felt pretty fast. The Snapdragon 845 chip and 8GB of RAM is a great combination for top performance.
I can’t say how well the dual cameras on the rear are yet, but Sung was quick to boast that the phone received a higher DxOMark score (99) versus the iPhone X (97). I’ll have to wait to try the phone for a full review to determine if it takes good photos or videos.
The only downside I can find to this phone is that it won’t be available in the U.S. This is the same story for all of Xiaomi’s phones, and that’s a real shame.
The sooner Xiaomi starts selling its phones in the U.S., the more heat the company will put on companies like Apple and Samsung to be more daring with their phone designs. I can’t wait.