Apple iPhone 6s Plus vs Xiaomi Mi Note: the weigh-in

When heavyweights collide, it’s only fair that we pit them against each other

There was a time when taking a call with a phablet that covers nearly 90% of your face would draw looks of ridicule.

Not anymore. Especially since Apple, once a staunch supporter of small-sized displays, have upgraded its lineup with the massively sized Apple iPhone 6 Plus. And this year, we have the iPhone 6s Plus. Same size, same design, with a little bit more extras to differentiate it from its predecessor.

Perhaps not much has changed, but there’s still a stark difference to its competitors. One that comes to mind is Chinese company Xiaomi’s Mi Note. This isn’t a David vs Goliath story, for Xiaomi’s premium flagship device has a fighting chance against Apple’s latest and greatest.

How much of a fight will it be? We’ll ring the bell and let the sparring between the two phablets begin.

Why didn’t we match the Mi Note Pro versus iPhone 6s Plus?

Simple - there’s still no official note from Xiaomi about the availability of its supercharged version of the Mi Note. More pixels, a faster processor and more RAM would be a notch above what the iPhone 6s Plus has to offer.

That would be our top contender when it comes to a fist fight between high-end phablets. But for now, the Mi Note is the closest match, and we’ll update with another one-on-one fight between the Mi Note Pro and iPhone 6s Plus when the former is available.

Glass, metal and all that jazz

One thing Xiaomi did right? The Mi Note’s glass and metal body is miles apart from what we’re accustomed to with its affordable Mi phones, all wrapped in lightweight plastic. The glass body is a constant reminder of what the iPhone 4/4s used to be. Except for the much larger screen and that natural 2.5D curve at the back that’s a perfect fit for your contoured palm.

Nothing has changed for the 6s Plus exterior. It dons the same full metal jacket and rounded edges. Yes, even that protruding camera lens, just because Apple wants to keep the phone 7.3mm thin. It’s not that bad though. Remember, we loved the cool, metallic feel of the 6 Plus, so it makes sense that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There’s also the matter of the metal body, now equipped with a hardier 7000 series aluminum, or so claims Apple. Bendgate 2.0? Less likely to happen, we think.

The Mi Note ain’t heavy at 161g, considering that the iPhone 6s Plus weighs a hefty 192g weight. That’s the downside to buying a phablet. Or perhaps an upside since the heftier weight gives both phablets a solid feel, whether it’s in your pockets, bags or hands.

But with all that said, it hurts less when you see a dent in an all-metal body versus one that has two exposed glass panels that could crack if you aren’t careful. You’ve probably guessed what our design preference is for the phablets. But just to put this on the record.

Winner: Apple iPhone 6s Plus

Winning through sheer number of pixels

It’s easy to see why the iPhone 6s Plus has a slight advantage. On paper, that is. From day one, when the earlier iPhone 4/4s and later iPhone 5/5s went hard on more pixels equating to higher pixel density on a smaller screen, not many smartphones can match its pixel offering.

But with great size, comes lower ppi. In the case of the iPhone 6s Plus, it retains the same resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels as its predecessor, translating to a 406ppi display density. It’s still slightly higher than the Mi Note’s 386ppi due to its 5.7in full HD screen.

But after spending nearly two weeks staring at the Mi Note’s screen, we realised the rich colours and sharp fonts gave even the iPhone 6s Plus’ predecessor a good match. Logically speaking, with no major change to the screen resolution and size, we’ll have to say this is a pretty close fight.

Winner: Tie

Different yet very similar performance

Now this is still up in the air, as we’ll have to run the new iPhone through an abusive testing phase to determine how well the new Apple A9 processor fares. But judging from what Apple is saying, a 70% speed bump compared to its A8 processor is going to make the 6s Plus a speed demon.

For Xiaomi’s Mi Note, it’s safe to say the phone delivers one of the smoothest user interface we’ve seen on a Xiaomi device. Let’s not forget that all-too-familiar looking MIUI, which bears an awful lot of resemblance to its competitor’s iOS user interface. Whether it’s Xiaomi’s software engineer’s magical touch or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 processor that created this amazing experience, we don’t care. Because at the end of the day, we just want a smooth, no-frills day with the phone.

For multi-tasking, we’ve seen the smooth moves executed by the Mi Note with its 3GB RAM. Unfortunately, there’s still no confirmed details of the iPhone 6s Plus’ memory size. However, given that its predecessor has 1GB of RAM and didn’t stutter when it was running multiple apps, it’s safe to say the 6s Plus shouldn’t be too far off the mark.

As mentioned, until we’ve gone through a few rounds with the new iPhone, we are still undecided on the performance showdown. So for this round, let’s call it an even match until further notice

Winner: Tie (for now)

Perfect iSight

Apple has done what many thought wouldn’t happen - it gave the rear camera a megapixel bump. Clocking at 12MP now, the iSight camera is also packed with a new image signal processor to suss out the noise and improved the tone mapping for more accurate colour reproduction. Other than those, the same optical image stabilisation and f/2.2 aperture for better low light photography remains intact.

Xiaomi comes with an equally strong offering too. The 13MP rear camera means images are loaded with more pixels, all the better to blow them up. Similarly, optical image stabilisation plays a crucial role for better imaging results. And while we’re playing the numbers game, we noticed that the sensor size on the 6s Plus is now 1.22 micron, compared to its predecesor’s larger 1.5 micron that sucks in more photons. Still, it’s a smidge larger than the Mi Note’s 1.5 micron size, so you might find Apple’s smartphone performing slightly better in low light.

Selfies is apparently a big deal, since Apple added a new front flash dubbed Retina Flash. It uses its existing front screen as the flash, which matches the ambient light based on a pre-flash of the screen. Score one for Apple, since Xiaomi doesn’t have this particular front-facing flash. Numbers-wise, it get a 5MP camera, while the Xiaomi phablet’s front camera is a 4MP snapper. Not a huge difference, and really, selfies aren’t meant to be blown up to an A3-size.

One more thing - 4K video recording. Apple’s playing catch-up with this, deploying a camera that records video in ultra high definition format. The Mi Note has this since day one, but it brings us back to the point - will 4K really make a difference? Sure, it’s nice to have, and if you have a 4K TV lying around that’s waiting to load your 4K masterpiece.

The sum of all the features each phone is capable of seems mighty impressive, but the winner in the war of photos is pretty clear cut in this case.

Winner: Apple iPhone 6s Plus

The numbers game

16, 64 and 128GB. It’s the same number sequence with Apple’s storage options. One that has admittedly given you more choice. Whereas with the Mi Note, you’re resigned to a mid-range 64GB internal storage. Oh, and you get no expandable memory too, for both the 6s Plus and the Mi Note. So they’re on equal ground in this aspect.

Then there’s the battery capacity, which clocks in at a massive 3000mAh for the Mi Note. Right now, there’s no indication if Apple has bumped up the battery size, and what we do know is that its predecessor’s battery capacity is 2915mAh. That little bit of difference probably won’t mean too much.

But remember, a smaller screen means there’s less light required to keep the screen lit. That’s where the 5.5in iPhone gets the advantage, compared to a larger 5.7in screen for the Mi Note. And when you consider the fact that both devices run a full HD resolution show, the paper trail leads to one conclusion

Winner: Apple iPhone 6s Plus

Bells and whistles

So, the point about an s upgrade to the iPhones is that it has a few bells and whistles to grab your attention. That, it did, with Live Photos and 3D Touch. The former is a nice touch for someone who values a bit of finesse with the user interface, adding animation effects by taking more shots before and after 1.5 seconds when you press that shutter button.

3D Touch is essentially Force Touch, only much better. Varying degrees of pressure gets you different interaction methods, including Peek which lets you sneak a preview of the app you’re using. Say, playing a track on the music app or watching a video on Instagram. Press harder and you’ll Pop right into the app, showing the full view.

With Xiaomi, you get a customisable MIUI with an endless stream of themes to choose from. Plus, deep levels of control for apps, right down to whether it can access your mobile data, which of them will always be running. All practical features, but really, we’re really more of the fun crowd. So this is going to the cool kid.

Winner: Apple iPhone 6s Plus

Initial Verdict

While it might seem unfair to pit the insanely affordable (S$569) Xiaomi Mi Note against the ridiculously priced (S$1218) Apple iPhone 6s Plus, it’s not that far off of a comparison. Specs-wise, the Mi Note is a close match, and at times even better than the 6s Plus.

Each phone has its unique features, designed to cater to the masses. But when you bring everything together, the whole package shows. In this case, while the 6s Plus doesn’t seem to get a huge change, everything about it has changed. For one, you’ll use it differently with 3D Touch, take photos differently with Live Photos and the front Retina Flash for selfies.

The weigh-in is almost complete, once we’ve finished our full review of the 6s Plus. But for now, purely on what we’ve seen so far, it’s looking quite good for Cupertino’s latest smartphone.