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Perfecting the budget fitness band formula

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Xiaomi made a name for itself in the budget phone market, but the company has also made a big push into wearables. Xiaomi’s affordable but capable Mi Band series (actually made by certified partner Huami) has always been a prime example of making great products that don’t break the bank. The latest iteration, the Mi Band 6, is a considerable step up, both in price and in functionality. The question that begs to be answered — is it still worth buying at $60?

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

When you take the Mi Band 6 out of its box (which also contains a charging cable and the strap), you’ll instantly notice the big 1.56-inch color OLED screen that stretches across the pill-shaped front of the device. Its only blemish is the slightly bigger bottom bezel. The whole display is about 50% bigger than previous models, and its improved 152×485 resolution will make it hard to spot individual pixels at normal viewing distances. Despite the larger screen, the Mi Band 6 grew by a mere fraction of a millimeter. Paired with bigger fonts across the system, the new model makes it much easier to process information at a glance.

While the whole front of the Mi Band 6 is covered by curved 2.5D glass, the rest of the device is made of plastic. On the back, you’ll find a two-pin magnetic connector for charging and the usual array of health sensors. The device can survive swims and showers with ease thanks to 5ATM waterproofing. The TPU strap appears to be the same that Xiaomi shipped with the Mi Band 5, which means that you should be able to use any straps you’ve purchased for that model. The included strap feels alright on my skin and doesn’t itch, but I’ve has it come loose several times. This hasn’t happened with my Mi Band 5, so I suspect this is a defect with this specific band.

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Despite the bigger screen, the Mi Band 6’s battery has the same 125mAh capacity as its predecessor. It doesn’t last as long as the Mi Band 5, especially when you activate all available features. I’m reaching about five to seven days of battery life, while I used to consistently get more than seven days of battery life with the Mi Band 5. These stats depend a lot on your personal tracking preferences, though. When you only use the band as a “dumb” notification buzzer, you should make it almost a month on a single charge.

Software and performance

Due to its big screen, the Mi Band 6 doesn’t have a capacitive home/back button like previous Mi Bands. Instead, it relies on a swipe from the left edge of the screen as a back gesture in most menus, much like Android and iOS do these days. The only place where that’s not the case is the homescreen. Here, a swipe to the right reveals audio/media controls while a swipe left lets you view the current weather conditions by default, though both actions can be switched out for multiple other actions in the Mi Fit app.

The bigger screen makes navigating the watch much easier, but overall, moving through the menus feels rather janky, with lots of dropped frames and delayed touch responses. Since you probably won’t be finding yourself interacting with the screen as much as with your phone it should be fine, but a responsive interface would still be preferable.

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It’s also a bummer that both the Mi Band’s menus and the Mi Fit app remain outright dissonant, with weird omissions in functionality. For example, you can’t view your sleep stats right on the band itself, and some settings are exclusive to either the watch or the app. Fine-tuning the band’s software to your liking is a process of trial and error.

It’s hard to believe, but Mi Bands haven’t supported emoji until the Mi Band 6. It’s the first in the series to display them out of the box in notifications, though it looks like there are still quite a few missing compared to what Android offers, especially more outlandish ones. Either way, it’s a step in the right direction.

Mi Fit
Mi Fit

While there are dozens of watchfaces available in the app, I personally don’t like most of them. Many are based around fandoms or popular culture, and the rest are either over-the-top designs from the 2000s or just plain ugly. At least you can add your own backgrounds to a handful of pre-defined layouts, giving you some customization options out of the box. For anything else, you’ll need to rely on third-party software like Amazfit.

The Mi Band 6 introduces oxygen saturation measurements to the Mi Band series, and while you need to manually start the process to get readings, they seem to be pretty accurate. I compared some of the results I got to those of a medical SpO2 meter, and they weren’t far off. If you were to have too little oxygen in your blood, the band should be able to tell (but keep in mind that it’s not a medical device).

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The Mi Band 6 comes with automatic walking, running, cycling, elliptical, and rowing machine recognition. It’s rather good at spotting these activities after a few minutes of ongoing movement, and the workout data looks accurate. Unfortunately, these workouts weren’t always automatically synced to the Mi Fit app for me, and I haven’t been able to make out the reason.

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When it comes to heart rate tracking, I feel like Xiaomi is finally closing in on Fitbit. When I glance at my wrist, the heart rate seems much more consistent and in line with what my Charge 4 says. I still feel like the Mi Band readings are high but only by a little now. Looking at longterm stats, these inaccuracies appear to be statistically irrelevant, with my resting heart rate close to Fitbit’s readings.

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The Mi Band 6 is also significantly better at sleep tracking than previous iterations and other models in this price range. While older Mi Bands used to think I was sleeping as soon as I laid down in bed, the Mi Band 6 understands that sometimes I’m just lying there surfing the web. It even accurately recorded a few nightly sleep interruptions. The Mi Band additionally supports sleep breathing quality analysis to help spot sleep apnea and other problems, but this is a beta feature that you need to opt into specifically.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Mi Band 6 is the perfect fitness band for the budget conscious consumer who wants a basic overview of their health status. It’s much better than its predecessors and there are barely any inconsistencies and inaccuracies left, with most of the tracking on spot for me, allowing me to give it a wholehearted recommendation — despite some of the software quirks I’ve experienced.

Compared to other fitness trackers, the Mi Band is still missing a few features. Some Fitbit products have built-in GPS and NFC for payments, both of which you don’t get on the Mi Band (NFC is available in the Chinese version, for what it’s worth). But these devices are also much more expensive. At $50-$60, there’s not much competition for the Mi Band 6 in the US, especially now that it nails the basic fitness features.

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Buy it if…

  • You want a reliable budget fitness tracker
  • You don’t care much for customizable watchfaces

Don’t buy it if…

  • You need more accurate readings
  • You want to sync your stats to Strava without workarounds
  • You want to leave your phone at home when you go running

Where to buy

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