Xiaomi's first foldable phone has a shape-shifting 'liquid lens' camera

Galaxy Z Fold 2, please meet your other Chinese cousin.

Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold (Xiaomi)

It turns out that the Mi 11 Ultra isn't the only weird phone coming out of Xiaomi this week. In the second part of its two-day keynote, the Chinese company unveiled its first foldable phone, the Mi Mix Fold, which follows the same inward-folding, dual-screen form factor as Huawei's Mate X2 and Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2. What makes this device stand out, though, is the "liquid lens" on one of its rear cameras.

Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold

The Mi Mix Fold packs an 8.01-inch 2,480 x 1,860 (4:3) foldable panel, which supports Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and a maximum brightness of 600 nits. Xiaomi said it picked this particular size and resolution, as the combination offers the highest screen-to-body ratio for regular videos — 75 percent for a 16:9 video, versus 70 percent on the Samsung and 63 percent on the Huawei. The company also claimed that this flexible screen has been tested to last for at least 1 million folds, whereas the precision hinge is good for at least 200,000 bends.

Unlike Xiaomi's earlier foldable prototype, this large panel folds inwards, at which point you get to use the smaller exterior screen. This 6.52-inch AMOLED panel offers a narrow 2,520 x 840 resolution, along with Dolby Vision support and a higher 700-nit brightness. You'll find a 20-megapixel punch-hole selfie camera at the top right corner here, too.

Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold

The Mi Mix Fold features a camera island similar to the ones on the Mi 10 Ultra and Mi 10S, but rather than having four shooters, this foldable uses just three — a 108MP main camera (using Samsung's ISOCELL HM2 sensor), a 13MP ultra-wide camera (123-degree FOV) and an 8MP "bionic" camera — to offer four photography modes.

This is achieved by the "bionic" camera's liquid lens, which uses a motor to precisely manipulate a packet of fluid, in order to switch between telephoto mode (3x optical zoom or 30x hybrid zoom) and macro mode (down to 3cm). Xiaomi added that this fluid works fine in temperatures ranging from -40°C to 60°C (or -40°F to 140°F). Of course, the image quality of this camera remains to be seen, so hopefully we'll get to play with a Mi Mix Fold soon.

Liquid lens

To help boost image quality across all the cameras, Xiaomi also developed its own image signal processor, the Surge C1, which the company claimed delivers faster autofocus, auto white balance and auto exposure. This is the company's second in-house chip, which has been a long wait since the Surge S1 mobile processor featured on the Mi 5c from 2017.

At its core, the Mi Mix Fold has pretty much all the ticks for a modern day flagship, with one or two bonuses thrown into the basket. You get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G processor, up to 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage. There's also a generous 5,020mAh battery with 67W turbo charging support, with both being the highest figures in the current foldable market. To get the most out of the big flexible screen, this phone comes with not two but four speakers, and these are tuned by Harman Kardon.

Xiaomi also boasted a "butterfly-type" cooling system which, in addition to vapor cooling chamber, thermal paste and graphite sheets, consists of a "micro airbag" structure that somehow boosts heat dissipation across the entire device.

Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold desktop mode

On the software side, Xiaomi's MIUI 12 (based on Android 10) here offers a "Desktop Mode" that hopes to boost one's productivity on the large screen. This turns the usual Android home screen into a Windows-like desktop, which comes with a "start menu," a command center and multi-window support.

Even back in the usual Android interface, there are apps that support drag-and-drop in split screen mode. For instance, in Weibo, you can look at a weibo post on the left and have the comments shown on the right. You can even drag photos from the gallery app on the left to a WeChat conversation on the right. Alas, given that this phone is destined for just China, it's unlikely that the everyday apps for the rest of us will get to fully utilize these handy features.

Last but not least, the Fold offers a one-click Stealth Mode to ease your mind. When toggled, this force-closes all the cameras, microphones and GPS tracking.

Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold Ceramic Special Edition

Xiaomi is already taking pre-orders for the Mi Mix Fold ahead of the April 16th launch, starting from 9,999 yuan or about $1,520 for the 12GB RAM + 256GB storage model. That's a significant drop from Galaxy Z Fold 2's $2,000 mark, let alone the Mate X2's 17,999 yuan ($2,740) base price. There's also a 10,999 yuan ($1,670) model with double the storage.

But if you want something extra special, there's a Ceramic Edition (pictured above) decorated with Kevlar texture, and it packs a whopping 16GB of RAM plus 512GB of storage. The price? 12,999 yuan which is about $1,980. Note that due to the material, this one is a little heavier — 332g (11.7oz) instead of 317g (11.2oz).

Alas, all Mi Mix Fold models will only be available in China, so good luck finding one.

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