As Brexit put a halt on speedy tech deliveries, I’m late to the Mi Band 6 party. Now that the latest sports tracker is with me (or was with me for the past 3 weeks) I’m ready to pass my verdict. Is Mi Band 6 a tracker you should get? This review might change your mind.
From Mi Band 2 to Mi Band 6
I had the pleasure of experiencing the evolution of Mi Bands in person. My first tracker was the Mi Band 2 (review) and I was excited about what the band could offer at a very attractive price point. It’s 2021 and Mi Band 6 is no longer the budget tracker I remember. Over time the list of features increased, and so did the price of the tracker. The price is still accessible (comparing to more expensive tackers like Amazfit GTR (review)) but it’s no longer one of the cheapest trackers out there.
Xiaomi iterated on Mi Band 5 (review), improving the specification of the latest band just enough to tempt you into upgrading. The feature gap between each iteration has gotten smaller and smaller, to the point that going from Mi Band 5 to Mi Band 6 resembles going iPhone11 to iPhone 12 – yes, it’s a new toy, but there is nothing particularly wrong with the previous generation.
- 1.56″ AMOLED touch display 152×486 pixels
- Heart Rate and SpO₂
- 50m water resistance
- phone notifications
- 14-day battery life
- Various sport modes and sleep tracking
The screen got bigger and marginally brighter, SpO₂ measures the blood oxygen and new sport logging modes include throwing darts while standing on the right leg. I might not be 100% accurate about the last part, but you get the idea.
Mi Band 6 – Pointless upgrade
Mi Band 5 took the feedback from the 4th generation and perfected the display of the tracker. The latest Xiaomi’s tracker has a bigger screen with similar brightness. It’s all great, except there is nothing wrong with 5th gen display. Perhaps the screen is nicer to look at, the battery life improved a bit, but inside, it’s still the same sports tracker that will do whatever the previous generation would. If you are excited about the features like SpO₂, Sleep Breathing, I will spoil that for you.
SpO₂ requires manual measurements, which means you have to pause everything, stand still for 20 sec to get the result that will likely tell you that you are fine. It’s a useless feature unless you go climbing a lot. Your body will alert you about oxygenation issues well before Mi Band 6 will.
Sleep tracking is also somehow imperfect. You can’t access the sleep quality on the tracker, you need to open the app for that, nap detection doesn’t exist and mid-sleep wake-up detection is far from stellar. Having hurt my back, I found it hard to sleep in one position, and with many nights of interrupted frequently sleep, Mi Band 6 was not registering 50% of the wakeup events.
What makes it even more confusing, is the fact that Xiaomi offers Mi Watch for £99, a smart tracker that resembles a smartwatch. Mi Watch had no problems logging my night wake-ups. You would think that coming from the same brand, they would have the feature figured out. Instead, their fitness ecosystem is fragmented and torn apart between Mi Watch and Xiaomi Wear and Mi Bands with MiFit app.
Xiaomi vs Huami
You are forgiven for not knowing Huami, the brand behind the Mi Bands developed for Xiaomi. They released their own iteration of Xiaomi Mi Band 5 (Amazfit Band 5), which incorporated SpO₂, but also Alexa integration and improved battery life. They were rumours about the NFC version of the band as well. Knowing this, one would wonder why Xiaomi released Mi Band 6 without these features. Perhaps Huami held the tech patents and decided to focus on making their own Amazfit/Zepp devices instead. The agreed cooperation between the brands should last another 3 years according to their press release.
On top of that, Mi Band 6 is listed as a supported device in the Xiaomi Wear app, but you can only add it if your account locale is set to China. Don’t you hate the lack of uniformity?
Personally, I find little reasons to upgrade, but there are things that Xiaomi did better this time. The biggest change is in the notification handling. Thanks to the bigger display and some work under the hood, the notifications are clear, easy read and access. I haven’t experienced issues with missing special characters and Mi Band 6 finally supports emojis.
While you can’t reply to notifications, it’s clear now what was the originating app, time and contact and the notification is presented in full without truncating the content. Something tells me that this could be applied retrospectively to Mi Band 5 – as these are framework changes.
Another small, but very impactful fix, is adding the ability to control the music playback during the exercise. Previously, you were locked to the workout screen, now you can swipe on the screen to bring the music playback menu. It’s a shame that the improvements don’t extend further and you cannot initiate the playback from the tracker.
Mi Band 6 – Still brilliant tracker
If you don’t own a smart band, Mi Band 6 is still a great choice. Priced in line with the previous generation it makes perfect sense as your 1st fitness tracker. It’s small, lightweight and I hardly notice it on my wrist. At the same time, the touch controls are intuitive and the band is easy to use, check notifications on and interact with.
HR & Steps
Wrist-based heart rate sensors are far from perfect. They are comfortable in use, but the reliability will depend on the exact placement and the number of hairs presents between your skin and the sensor. Shave your wrists (if needed) and fit the band tight for exercises and it will report as accurately as a chest strap, but give it a wiggle room and Mi Band 6 will misreport the readings.
I tested this against my trusted ROX 10 computer with a chest strap and both devices were showing readings within 2-3 heartbeats apart. Considering shorter polling rate on my ROX, that’s an acceptable error difference.
Steps are measured more accurately throughout the day than the HR, and I didn’t find myself question the results. With sensors from the tracker and GPS from your phone, you will get all sort of tracking information in the MiFit app – from workout times to calories burned and stride of your steps.
With a long list of workouts, you can track pretty much every exercise you may think of. In my tests, I limited these to cycling and walking (I cannot run at the moment due to back issues). Distance and speed reporting is handled by your phone’s GPS, while other metrics are delivered by the tracker.
The workout screens are clean and readable even in the direct sun, but you can’t modify what information is present on the band. MiFit app provides you with complete post-workout metrics. There is an option (hidden in the Mi Band 6 settings) to enable automatic activity detection (walking/running/cycling/rowing/elliptical) which works fine.
What’s missing is the ability to export data to other services. At the time of the writing sync with Google Fit is the only 3rd party integration. Considering that we are on Mi Band 6, I don’t think this will change any time soon.
Mi Band 6 is good enough to track basic exercises. If you are into a specific sport and you want to keep a log of your training, you will probably find better options (especially for cycling). It is an all-around tracker that lives on your wrist, and that’s ok.
Support for mobile notifications is probably Mi Band 6’s biggest strength. It’s easy to get this for granted, but early trackers struggled with that. I think Mi Band 6 has finally perfected notifications, to the point where checking them is second nature – not a chore. The associated vibration is strong for regular use, but I found myself wishing for a more pronounced vibration during my workouts. It was hard for me to notice a notification while cycling due to associated vibrations from the handlebars.
Other fitness functions like sleep, stress, PAI tracking give you an overview of how active your days are and the steps you should take to live your life in a healthier way. There is enough feedback there to stop you from sitting at the desk (thanks to reminders) and make you go for a stroll to complete the step challenges.
Time of falling asleep is precise, and the same goes for the wake up, but the band will miss your naps and some “middle of the night” wake up moments. I’m not sure how reliable are metrics for REM and deep sleep – as I frankly speaking, have nothing to compare it with. The sleep score usually corresponds with how crappy I feel in the morning. I take it as a plus!
Thanks to 7-day battery life, charging isn’t problematic, although a 10% warning may not last you through an entire day. A 20% battery warning would be desired to top up or take the charging lead with you.
Females will appreciate the cycle’s tracking to keep on top of their period schedules, and custom display options in the MiFit app assure that you will only see the features on your Mi Band 6 that you really need.
Personally, I found the watch faces for Mi Band 6 to be disappointing. The selection of 113 (and growing) displays may sound like a lot, but in reality, I found 2 I didn’t hate. Your impressions may vary. With the 3rd party adopting Mi Band 6 quickly, we should see more custom display faces soon.
Perhaps I’m jaded and spoiled by a $170 Amazfit GTR (which now goes for about $120) and its 25-day battery life. Just like Mi Band 5, the 6th gen tracker is a great iteration and brilliant choice as your 1st smart tracker but it lacks compelling reasons to upgrade. If you are stuck on 4th gen – you could consider it, otherwise, give it another year and see what else Xiaomi will come up with. Perhaps they will finally introduce NFC payments for western consumers – as this would be a major game-changer for Mi Bands. Do you agree? Let me know in this Reddit thread.