Remember when Xiaomi kicked off the trend for skinny screen bezels with the Mi Mix? Shame it was a limited-run deal. And a little pricey.
You don’t need to worry if you missed out, though. Six months down the line, you can snap up any number of budget alternatives that do the same job. Just about.
Case in point: the DooGee Mix. I’m guessing you’ve never heard of DooGee, but all you really need to know is the Mix is an absolute steal. Here’s what £135 (plus import duty) will buy when you’re not fussed about brand names.
SCREEN & SOUND
Pick up the Mix and it’s impossible to miss that massive screen - it almost fills the entire front of the phone. The panel doesn’t sit quite so close to the edges as Xiaomi’s Mi mix, but it still falls into bezel-busting territory.
The AMOLED panel pumps out colourful hues, with exceptional contrast for the cash. Viewing angles are pretty good, and brightness is decent, in the right light - it's not bright enough to see clearly outdoors on even overcast days, but is fine for just about everything else.
Resolution isn’t all that great, though, topping out at 720p. It’s noticeable in text and photos, leaving things looking pixelated even before you get right up close to the screen. But then what do you expect for less than £150?
It’s not a bad screen, but your money is definitely being spent on slimming down the bezels, rather than boosting the pixel count.
The speakers are potent enough, too - they don’t get loud enough to burst your eardrums, and sound best a few notches below maximum volume, but are clear and concise for a budget handset.
Importing a small-brand phone from China might sound dodgy, but it doesn’t have to be. Websites like https://willmyphonework.net/ let you check the 4G modem will play nicely in the UK once you drop your SIM card in it.
You may also have to pay import duty on anything that comes from overseas, so factor this in before pulling the trigger. That bargain might not be quite so good once the extra taxes get added on.
DESIGN & BUILD
Look beyond the screen and the Mix still manages to keep up appearances. It might not use fancy ceramics, but DooGee’s mix of metal, glass and plastic doesn’t feel cheap. A glossy fingerprint magnet, sure, but not cheap - especially in the fetching blue colour seen here.
It feels suitably hefty at 193g, but comfortably sits in your hand thanks to the rounded frame. Doogee has squeezed an earpiece into the top edge, just below the screen, rather than mess about with vibrating ceramic plates - which were all too quiet on the Xiaomi Mi Mix.
There’s room underneath the display for a fingerprint reader, but it doesn’t double up as a home button - you have to switch to the onscreen keys once you’ve got past the lock screen. There’s a headphone jack up top - because Apple doesn’t get everything right, so there’s no point trying to copy them.
The only disappointment is the microUSB port at the bottom - it feels like cost-cutting, even on a phone as cheap as this. USB-C for the sequel, please!
PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE
The MediaTek CPU at the heart of the Mix is the other big indicator we’re dealing with a budget phone. Even with eight cores ticking along at 2.5GHz, there’s a slight delay between tapping an app icon and it springing into life. It’s not massive, but it’s noticeable.
Performance is slightly down on the Snapdragon 625 you’d find in a Moto G5 Plus, but then again, that phone costs over £100 more. Apps and most simple games are perfectly smooth once you’re in them, but more demanding 3D games can’t run at a silky smooth frame rate. Multi-tasking can slow things down a bit too, even with 4GB of RAM behind the scenes.
At least battery life is respectable, if not outstanding. I lasted all day away from the mains, with some web browsing, podcast and YouTube streaming, some light gaming and snapping a few photos. You’ll want to plug in once you get home, or it’ll be dead phone city when you wake up the next morning.
With a 16MP RGB camera paired with an 8MP monochrome sensor, the Mix should be capable of decent photos - which is why it’s a shame the camera app feels a bit hokey. Icons are pixelated, text is too small, and useful settings are buried away in the menus.
Ignore all that, though, and the results are respectable. Detail really is up there with the best budget phones, it's fairly quick to focus, and contrast is pretty good too. Colours are a little on the muted side, but as long as you don’t zoom in to your shots, they’re perfectly usable for filling up your social feeds.
It’s just a shame the Mix struggles so badly with dynamic range - brightly lit skies are frequently over-exposed or blown out completely. The HDR mode doesn’t really help out, either. It’s not a deal-breaker, but you’ve got to be careful with how you line up your shots on sunny days.
SOFTWARE & OS
On the surface, the Mix seems to be running a fairly stock version of Android 7. The icons look familiar, and there’s even an app drawer - a bit of a rarity in phones coming out of China.
A bungee-jumping cartoon cat popping in from the top of the screen, though? That’s definitely not vanilla. Thankfully you can turn it off, but there’s no ditching the news feed hiding just a swipe away from the home screen, unless you install a different launcher.
There’s not much in the way of bloat, just a handy file manager, backup tool and app-doubling second space for using multiple accounts when apps don’t support them.
The one big gripe is the dodgy translation sprinkled throughout the UI. Some settings make absolutely no sense (Smart somatosensory, anyone?) but thankfully these are the exception, not the rule.
DOOGEE MIX VERDICT
It might sound like a Neil Patrick Harris character, but DooGee is no joke - keep your expectations realistic and the Mix will pleasantly surprise you.
No, it’s not going to give the Galaxy S8 a run for its money. That screen might fill up most of the front of the phone, but it’s still only a 720p panel, so loses out to plenty of mid-range rivals from bigger names.
The twin cameras really aren’t much cop, and battery life is only so-so, but you’re still getting an eye-catching handset that mostly nails the basics - and for less moolah than a Moto G5.
If you want to stand out on the cheap, and don’t mind a few compromises, this could be the kooky left-field phone that fits the bill.