The Xiaomi Mi Watch is an affordable fitness tracker that looks like a smartwatch. It costs £99.99, but could easily be mistaken as a direct rival to the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 or Apple Watch SE.
That’s not what it is, since it has simpler software that doesn’t run third-party apps. But this also means a single charge can see it last upwards of two weeks.
In this respect, the Xiaomi Mi Watch is a lot like the Huawei GT2E and Amazfit GTR 2e. However, its heart rate sensor isn’t particularly reliable, which has an impact on several of the watch’s core features.
Performance may improve with software updates, but this isn’t enough to earn the Xiaomi Mi Watch a qualified recommendation.
Xiaomi Mi Watch price and availability
The Xiaomi Mi Watch will retail for £99, which roughly converts to $136. There is no current official US price and any hint we’ll see the Watch released in the States.
Xiaomi Mi Watch design and screen – What you’d expect for the price
- 5ATM water-resistance
- 2.5D glass screen covering
The Xiaomi Mi Watch is part of a wearables category of which I’m a big fan: watches that cost maybe £/$90-150, but look pretty similar to the top-end best smartwatches.
Their existence is thanks to an effect we saw take place in the phones market a while back. Screen panels used in stacks of products tend to get cheaper, allowing companies such as Xiaomi to include them in relatively affordable watches such as the Mi Watch.
This is a 1.39-inch AMOLED screen, identical to the in the Huawei Watch GT2e. As such, colour is bold, contrast is fabulous, and brightness isn’t only high enough to handle runs on sunny days, you have an auto-brightness sensor that changes the intensity level automatically.
But does the Xiaomi Mi Watch present a better all-round design than its arch-rival, the Huawei Watch GT2e? I’m not so sure.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch loses the numbers etched under the circumference of the display glass, which leads to a lovely minimalist look on watch faces with a dark background. But the effect has been ruined by Xiaomi’s decision to place signposts by the two buttons, like plaques at a museum.
This device has two buttons. You can’t change what they do – and it won’t take too long to remember what their jobs are: the top one is “home”; the lower one takes you to the Workout screen.
I imagine the design team may have brought up a render of a text-less Mi Watch at a meeting, and everyone decided it looked too generic.
As you can see from the images, the Mi Watch reviewed here is the black version, so the text may well fade into the background somewhat on the cream model. Xiaomi also makes a blue watch.
The above is my only real criticism of the Xiaomi Mi Watch’s design. Elsewhere, it offers lovely curved display glass over the top of the screen, a simple but good-looking matte plastic frame, a plain silicone strap and plastic underside.
You won’t see the stainless steel of a more expensive watch, or a protective display border. But this is an affordable fitness tracker that wants to look more like a smartwatch – and in this regard, Xiaomi has done very well.
For the first few days I wasn’t a fan of the screen. This had nothing to do with display quality; it’s a sharp-enough, bright OLED, and you couldn’t ask for much better. However, the Mi Watch’s default setting is set to a slovenly “wake up” style. You need to flick your wrist in too deliberate a manner to get the display to turn on.
It’s a battery-saving technique. Thankfully, you can change its sensitivity in the Xiaomi Mi Watch’s settings – and I’d certainly advise that you do.
There’s also an “always on” screen mode, which lets you choose from eight faces that display when the Mi Watch is idle. As ever, this roughly halves battery life, but makes the band a better watch. Some of these watch faces also display metrics such as your step count. They aren’t as barebones as some.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch also has access to a great library of normal watch faces, the ones you’ll see when actually using the device. There are stacks of them, and since there doesn’t appear to be a user-generated faces platform (yet), the level of quality is actually pretty good. Plus, you don’t have to pay for any of them (yet).
Xiaomi Mi Watch features and performance – It isn’t much of a smartwatch
- Handy, if limited, Alexa support
- Fitness tracker, not smartwatch, feature set
- Responsive software
The Xiaomi Mi Watch is not a full smartwatch. It doesn’t have an app store, nor does it have Wi-Fi. And if it had a remotely powerful processor, you wouldn’t get close to the 16 days of battery life that Xiaomi claims here.
However, it will receive notifications from your phone — which is the purpose for which I use a smartwatch most often – and support for Amazon Alexa.
The latter is an interesting one. You talk into the Xiaomi Mi Watch’s mic, and it communicates with Alexa via your phone, using the Bluetooth connection between phone and watch.
It’s a little slower than a proper smartwatch with a baked-in assistant, but remains usable, enabling you to set timers via voice command and even ask trivia questions. You’ll see answers on the Mi Watch screen.
It doesn’t offer the full Alexa experience, then, but it isn’t a terrible one either. You long-press the top button to bring up Alexa, which makes it seem a proper part of the Mi Watch rather than a tacked-on extra.
Not surprisingly, the Xiaomi Mi Watch interface is most similar to its arch-rival, Huawei. Left and right flicks from the watch face take you to widget pages for core features such as your activity stats, last night’s sleep score, your heart rate and music controls.
Press the “Home” button from the watch face and you get to the app menu, which initially seems a confusing mass of icons. These link to those widget homescreen features, plus additional ones such as the stopwatch and barometer. Here’s the full list:
- Workout History
- Activity stats
- Heart Rate
- Breathing exercises
- Music (remote control, not local playback)
- Camera control (for your phone)
- Find phone
Many of these micro-apps display information in a graph, making the most of the fairly large OLED screen. Huawei watches do the same thing.
These screens also have proper smartwatch-style fluid transitions, not the jerky cut-aways you get with the simpler Xiaomi Mi Lite. The watch is responsive, too, although the slower refresh rate of the OLED screen means it doesn’t look or feel as smooth as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, for example.
You see the same effect in all of Huawei’s watches, as a lower refresh rate reduces battery consumption.
Xiaomi Mi Watch Fitness tracking – Lacking somewhat in a few areas
- Solid, if not perfect, GPS
- Unreliable HR sensor
- More tracking modes than a basic band
There’s only one major problem with the Xiaomi Mi Watch – and, unfortunately, it leads to knock-on effects in other areas. Its heart rate sensor readings just aren’t very accurate.
Through testing, I found it had a habit of dramatically overestimating your resting heart rate, and “walking around the home” heart rate, when passively recording. While this doesn’t spoil the actual resting heart rate figure Xiaomi spits out, since it’s based on the lowest figures recorded, it does ruin the Stress feature.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch often shows far too high stress levels, because the Mi Watch seems to think my heart rate is far higher than it actually is. Presumably, this also affects the “Energy” feature, which uses an algorithm to balance the quality of your sleep with activity during the day to work out if you might be pushing yourself too hard.