According to Xiaomi, its latest smartphone, the Mi Mix Alpha, is literally more screen than ought to be possible according to the laws of physics. The Mi Mix Alpha is, according to the company, sigh, 180 percent screen. 180.6 percent screen, to be exact.
The Mi Mix Alpha is using a special “Surround Screen” technology that might be left over from an effort to build a foldable phone. The phone includes a 108 MP camera — not that increased megapixel ratings are intrinsically better as my colleague David Cardinal has explored, though shooting in 12,032 by 9,024 is unusual if nothing else. It has a 20MP ultra-wide camera, 12 MP telephoto lens, and lacks physical buttons, opting instead for pressure-sensitive sides. The top and bottom are made out of titanium. The fingerprint reader is hidden in the screen, and it uses ultrasound tech for proximity sensing.
The guts of the device are impressive — Snapdragon 855+, 12GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage, with 5G radio bands for major Chinese carriers already implemented and a 4,050mAh battery with 40W fast charging. Sounds like a sweet piece of kit, all the way around.
The back of the phone, showing the camera strip. 180 percent screen, baby!
And it’s yours, for the low, low price of 19,999 yuan, or ~$2,800 USD.
I’m a tough sell when it comes to new technology and I sometimes try to be less pessimistic about things — journalists and reviewers tend to be unimpressed as a more-or-less chronic condition. For the life of me, however, I’m blanking on how this device makes sense.
Have you ever dropped your phone? I have. I have the approximate coordination of a palsied 90-year-old. When you drop a device, there’s always that moment when it’s in the air and you are desperately hoping the universe has encoded a “phones land screen-side up” rule into this particular iteration of The Matrix. Now, imagine feeling that same frantic hope as you watch a nearly $3,000 device spiral towards unforgiving concrete only to realize, you have perfectly own-goaled yourself. It’s 180 percent screen. There is more screen in this device than the universe can handle. The laws of physics are screaming for their due. Phones don’t do VTOL landings. It’s not a Falcon 9 returning to the loving embrace of Elon Musk’s barge; it’s an ungainly-yet-delicate monolith that’s about to crunch.
The standard argument in a situation like this is to use a phone case. Good idea! But that’s going to make it impossible to use the edge of the device for notifications. It also makes you wonder what the point of putting a screen on the back of the phone is. Using both sides of the display is going to require not using a case.
Screens, no matter how efficient they are, chew into battery life. Wrapping a display around the entire device fundamentally makes no sense for the simple reason that you’re always paying (electrically speaking) to light up pixels that you literally cannot observe. This kind of device would make far more sense if the phone could detect which side of it you were actually looking at and preferentially light up that side of the panel. Alternately, I suppose two people could sit across from each other and watch different content (hope it supports multiple audio connections). But you can’t put any important UI elements on the back or you’d continuously be whacking those buttons with your fingers as you tried to hold the phone. Images seem to show different applications pinned to both sides of the phone. But there’s no data on how the device avoids accidental touch recognition on the backside or how back apps are treated.
Companies seem to often confuse technological breakthroughs with good products. Xiaomi’s “180.6 percent” screen phone with a full-body wraparound screen is unquestionably unique. It’s got a lot of bells and whistles as far as alternate control methods. I’m not sold on the need for a 108MP camera because I’ve never had to photograph a back mole on someone in New York City while standing in Los Angeles, but I’m willing to be convinced that this is a useful feature. But taking the most fragile component of the entire assembly and then building the entire phone out of it?
Xiaomi is calling this a concept smartphone and they aren’t planning to build very many of them. But looking at the thing, I’m wondering what the original concept was supposed to be. Conceptually, it looks like an extremely expensive product likely to wind up smashed on the sidewalk.
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