Xiaomi Mi Watch review: sporty smartwatch impresses

A budget smartwatch that has real appeal
Xiaomi Mi Watch
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After a long wait to the Xiaomi Mi Watch is now rolling out across the world, and is a serious contender in the budget smartwatch market.

Despite dominating the budget fitness tracker world for years, Xiaomi has been slow to get a smartwatch out in Western markets. But now it has two: the Mi Watch and Mi Watch Lite. You can read our Xiaomi Mi Watch vs Mi Watch Lite comparison.

Unlike the Chinese version that was announced more than a year ago with a square look, this Mi Watch is round, classy, boasting beefy specs and a gorgeous screen.

There's a heavy emphasis on sports and health tracking with plenty of tracking modes, built-in GPS, a swim-proof design all wrapped up in a lightweight, workout-friendly design. It sits at the more affordable end of the market, at half the price of an Apple Watch SE or Samsung Galaxy Watch 3.

At £119, the Mi Watch sits closer to devices such as the Amazfit GTR 2e, Huawei Watch Fit and the impressive Huawei Watch GT 2e. While it's made it onto European and UK shores, a US launch has yet to be confirmed.

So, does the Xiaomi Mi Watch hold its own against its sporty, affordable smartwatch rivals? We've been putting it to the test to find out.

Xiaomi Mi Watch: Design and screen

  • 1.39-inch, 454 x 454 resolution AMOLED touchscreen
  • 5ATM water resistance
  • Blue, black and beige

Xiaomi Mi Watch: Design and screen

If you asked to sum up the design of smartwatches at this price range a few years ago, the overriding feeling would be that they felt cheap and you had to make sacrifices in materials and screen quality.

That's all changes. Devices like the Mi Watch have jumped in quality, and Xiaomi's done a pretty good job of making this smartwatch look good on your wrist.

It's packing a 45mm polyamide plastic case, so that's a little bit smaller than the one on something like the Huawei Watch GT 2e. That case comes in your pick of navy blue (which we tested), black or beige and that's partnered up with 22m TPU band. That can be removed if you want to change up the look.

It measures in at 11.8mm thick, so it's a bit more portly than a 44mm Apple Watch Series 6 (10.7mm) and the case weighs just 32g. It's a light watch and certainly doesn't feel cumbersome to sleep with or to exercise with. The combination of the matte look case and band makes for a simple look with an attractive quality.

Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite (left) and Xiaomi Mi Watch (right)

Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite (left) and Xiaomi Mi Watch (right)

There are two physical buttons on the right side of the case. The top button summons the home screen, and Amazon Alexa when held down. The bottom button reveals workout tracking modes.

Front and center is a lovely 1.39-inch, 454 x 454 resolution AMOLED touchscreen. What's not so lovely is the large big black bezel that surrounds it, but the quality of the screen on the whole is great. It's bright, vibrant, the colors really pop and viewing angles indoors and outdoors on the whole are good.

Xiaomi Mi Watch apps

There's the option to put in always-on mode if you want the screen on 24/7 and you can adjust brightness or let the watch automatically do that, if you're worried about the effect cranking the brightness right up will have on the battery life.

As a package, it's been slapped with a 5ATM water resistance rating, which means it's safe to swim with and shower and we look forward to jumping in the pool with it when we're allowed to do so when restrictions lift in the UK.

Overall, the Mi Watch offers a great look for the price, it hasn't cause us any issues or discomfort and for something designed for exercise, it's a nice weight and has a high quality display to glance at to check in on your stats.

Xiaomi Mi Watch: Software and smartwatch features

  • Custom OS
  • Basic notifications
  • iOS and Android supported
  • No payments or built in music
  • Amazon Alexa works well

Xiaomi Mi Watch notification

So what exactly is running on the Xiaomi Mi Watch? Is it Wear OS? Is it Xiaomi's own in house software? Is it a combination of the two?

The answer is that Xiaomi has gone solo for the operating system, despite using a skinned version of Google's OS on its square Mi Watch.

It uses its own Xiaomi Wear companion app that's available for Android and iOS devices and offers its own interface to shape your on-watch interactions.

We'll start with the watch software first, which on the whole is pretty straightforward to get on with. From the watch face, you can swipe and left for widgets like activity stats, music controls, weather updates and most recent sleep data.

Swipe down and you'll see your notifications stream with the only actionable option available is to clear them when they stack up. The notification support is pretty standard fare. When they land, you can tap to expand and it does work with third party apps so you can quickly tell where they've come from.

The notification experience certainly works better with some apps than others, in terms of what you can view from the watch. They do at least feel well optimised to the screen and if you just want basic notification support, there were no major problems to report here.

Xiaomi Mi Watch notifications

Swipe up and you'll get access to settings, so basically the opposite of where they live on Wear OS. It's the place where you can do things like adjust brightness, turn on the do not disturb mode and offer a way to access Amazon Alexa. The smart assistant needs to be set up in the companion phone app first and while it won't bark responses to your queries, we found the onboard microphone handled most of questions on the first attempt. So it's a thumbs up on that front.

Hit the top physical button and that'll push you into the main app screen. There's no labelling here so it's really down to recognising what those icons represent as a feature. Some are certainly easier to distinguish than others. Like the leaf icon, which represents energy levels or the guided breathing icon, which we are still not entirely sure what it's meant to be.

The Xiaomi Wear app

  • No apps or third party support
  • Workout review
  • Health data

The Mi App

Flipping things over to the phone app and the first thing you'll meet is a quite nondescript avatar that takes up quite a fair amount of screen space. On the first Status page you can see your most recent data. Next up is Workouts, letting you track outdoor activities from the app as opposed to the watch.

Last up is the Profile screen where you can browse through a nice array of watch faces to sync over to the watch. You can also adjust widgets, incoming notifications and calls.

When you need to review workouts, you can see a stream of them including a summary of time, distance and active calories burned. Expand any individual activity and you can see a further breakdown with all of the stats you can see on the watch present inside of the app. That includes training effect insights.

If you want to push this data out to other places, sadly you're out of luck. There's no third party app support so if you're hoping to hook it up to Strava or training apps like TrainingPeaks, it's not happening.

As a smartwatch, the Mi Watch does a good enough job. Notification support and features like music controls and Alexa integration works well. You're not going to get payments, apps or the kind of rich communication features you get on pricer smartwatches, What it can do though it does well. You can find a richer smartwatch experience elsewhere though.

Xiaomi Mi Watch: Fitness and sports tracking

  • Steps
  • Sleep tracking a little over generous
  • Energy tracking
  • Stress tracking
  • GPS

Xiaomi Mi Watch Fitness and sports tracking

Xiaomi is billing this watch as one built for tracking your health and fitness and it certainly seems to offer all the things you'd want to be able to do that. On the sensor front, you've got a heart rate monitor, standard motion sensors for indoor tracking and an air pressure sensor for additional environmental data.

There's built-in 'high end' GPS chip along with further support for GLONASS, Galileo and BDS satellite systems for greater mapping coverage.

You've got 117 workout modes with 17 core modes offering richer metrics like running, cycling and swimming (pool and open water). There's automatic exercise recognition support for select activities and it also uses Garmin-owned Firstbeat's algorithms to offer training effect and recovery insights commonly found on Garmin and Huawei's watches.

On the health and wellness front, you can take blood oxygen measurements, monitor heart rate continuously, track sleep, monitor stress, check on energy levels similar to Garmin's Body Battery monitor feature and access guided breathing exercises. So there's a lot here.

Step tracking compared

Step tracking compared: Xiaomi Mi Watch (left) and Garmin fitness tracker (right)

As a fitness tracker, you've got a dedicated widget to view daily progress and quite animated inactivity alerts to make sure you stay active during the day. Accuracy-wise, it was generally within 200 steps of a Garmin fitness tracker on most days.

Unlike Garmin or even Samsung's wearables, it's pretty light in the way of features to motivate you to keep moving. Idle alerts aside, there's no suggested workouts or exercises that might prompt you to get on your feet or even do some stretching from your desk.

You're not getting an equivalent to Zepp Health's PAI Scores or Fitbit's Active Minutes to shift the emphasis away from steps. It does those core tracker staples well though on the whole.

Xiaomi Mi Watch sleep

Sleep tracking compared: Xiaomi Mi Watch (left) and Fitbit Sense (centre and right)

For sleep monitoring, it usually took a little longer to determine when we'd fallen asleep compared to a Fitbit Sense smartwatch and usually recorded an extra hour of sleep time. Breakdown of sleep stages though was roughly in the ballpark of the Sense though usually recording slightly longer light sleep periods.

Xiaomi will also generate a sleep score, along with an insight on whether you slept well, and some basic advice on what you should do to fix it. Telling us to sleep for a longer time isn't all that particularly useful compared to the insights rival platforms offer, and Fitbit is still the leader here. Amazfit and Huami also offer a lot more actionable data, even if they do tend to over-estimate sleep.

There's no comparative data with other users so the focus really here is making sure it can track sleep duration reliably along with your sleep breakdown.

Extras like guided breathing doesn't bring anything revolutionary to the party and while the SpO2 monitor delivered similar results to a dedicated pulse oximeter, it's not a feature that is used for medical purposes.

On the spot measurements are supported only, which is viewable in the Xiaomi companion app. It just feels like it's on there as a feature just because it's the on-trend sensor feature to put on a smartwatch right now.

Xiaomi Mi Watch SpO2

The Mi Watch will, like Huawei and Amazfit smartwatches, use heart rate variability measurements to provide that stress monitoring continuously throughout the day.

From the watch and app you can see an insight into your stress ratio, whether you've spent time in high, moderate, mild stressful periods or relaxed periods.

It's all presented in a easy to digest manner, although it could be better integrated with its onboard breathing exercises to make it feel less of another ticked box.

Energy is a feature that seeks to help you better understand really, whether you're ready to smash a training session or could do with a rest day. If it sounds familiar, that's because Garmin's Body Battery Monitor works in the same way. Xiaomi breaks this energy insight into recovery, energy consumption and activity tracked.

The energy tracking is based on sleep, logged workouts, heart rate and HRV measurements, and we're fans of the way Xiaomi is dipping into multiple sensors and features to create this new metric.

You can view energy levels on the Mi Watch itself or the companion app. The concept is really nicely executed, though ultimately as it's relying on sleep and heart rate data that we've found to be lacking accuracy. However, consistent data should at least be useful as a baseline for your energy levels.

As a fitness tracker, the Mi Watch handles tracking staples well. As far as rivalling the likes of Huawei and others around this price for offering useful health monitoring tools, the foundations are there. It just needs to be built upon with more actionable insights and reliable data.

Sports tracking and accuracy

  • Good GPS accuracy
  • Reps counted well
  • 117 exercise modes
  • In-depth fitness data from Firstbeat

Running accuracy

Run tracking compared: Xiaomi Mi Watch (left) and Garmin Enduro (right)

When it's time to up the intensity, there is a barrage of sports modes onboard here. We decided to focus one indoor and outdoor activity where there was a promise of metrics beyond tracking duration and heart rate as is the case for a lot of the modes here.

In our runs, it performed generally well from a GPS accuracy point of view, particularly on shorter runs. It was quick to lock onto a signal and distance tracked, splits and pace metrics were generally close to what we tracked with Garmin's Enduro run.

When we stretched that running beyond an hour, the distance tracking accuracy difference was a little bigger. It wasn't terrible, but a 16.13km run came out just short as 15.9km.

rowing accuracy

Indoor rowing compared: Xiaomi Mi Watch (left) and Garmin Enduro (right)

Moving indoors, we put it to the test for a series of indoor rowing sessions. We used some dedicated rowing classes on Apple Fitness+ and tested it with our own interval rowing sessions. What we found is that while stroke count pretty well matched up with the tracking on the Garmin Enduro and the rowing machine itself, the average stroke counts and maximum stroke counts were way off from an accuracy point of view.

When workouts are done, you'll get a nice breakdown of the watch itself. Swipe down and you can see core metrics and those more advanced metrics including graphs to display heart rate, heart rate zones and training effect insights. It feels very similar to Huawei's approach, letting you scroll if you want more data or just focus on the basics.

Xiaomi does let you set target distance, calorie burn and duration for most activities as way to keep you motivated, but beyond that it's pretty basic. There's no training plans to tap into or recommended workouts, which is something you will find on Huawei's watches around this price.

Xiaomi Mi Watch review: sporty smartwatch impresses

What it does include, which you will also find on Huawei's watches, is advanced biometric analysis of workouts, particularly if you're using it to train for an event or race.

After you've tracked an exercise, whether it's a run or an indoor workout, you can view your Training Effect with a score from 1-5. The bigger the number, the harder you've worked your body. That then helps generate your estimated recovery time and also fuels VO2 Max scores.

These insights are fuelled by Firstbeat, the company now owned by Garmin that uses heart rate data to shape those scores. Those are heavily based on the heart rate monitor, and that monitoring delivering accurate information. While these insights are nicely provided on the watch and in the app and recovery insights seemed reasonably reliable and VO2 Max scores were in the same ballpark as Garmin, which came out top in our test vs a true VO2 Max test.

It's a great experience for those that are serious about training, however the accuracy of the heart rate monitor may undermine that – which we'll get more into below.

Based on our experience, the Xiaomi Mi Watch like many smartwatches that claim to be great sports trackers are okay on the surface. Dig a little deeper or go a little further and you start to see the issues creep in.

Xiaomi Mi Watch: Heart rate accuracy

  • Problematic HR accuracy
  • Spikes and drops during workouts
  • Resting heart rate reported too high

Xiaomi Mi Watch heart rate tracking

Xiaomi's heart rate sensor powers a whole host of features on the Mi Watch. Whether that's the continuous monitoring, monitoring during exercise or producing recovery insights and VO2 scores. There's also energy monitoring, which uses heart rate variability measurements to offer an insight into your body's reserves to take on the day.

So, is that heart rate monitor up to the task? Sadly not for us. It's definitely not the worst, but if you're hoping for a wrist-based sensor with great accuracy, that's not what we experienced.

Xiaomi Mi Watch heart rate accuracy compared

Continuous HR monitoring compared: Xiaomi Mi Watch (left) and Garmin Enduro (right)

We'll start with the continuous monitoring with the above screenshots just a sample of the kind of data we usually captured on a daily basis. The comparison data is from a Garmin watch, which we've found pretty reliable for resting heart rate having compared to a chest strap monitor.

Resting heart rate in general was higher, while you can see that maximum heart rate for the day was higher (more on that in a moment). The graphs generally tell the tale of a much higher resting heart rate, which we come to know isn't quite right.

Xiaomi Mi Watch heart rate during exercise

Running with heart rate: Xiaomi Mi Watch (left) and Garmin HRM Pro chest strap (right)

When it's time to rely on that sensor for reliably telling the story of effort levels during exercise, it's a case of those spikes or dramatic drops, which skew the usefulness of the data. Like the sample run above, a very steady run where the maximum heart rate was well off what was recorded by Garmin's HRM Pro chest strap monitor.

heart rate intervals

Interval rowing session: Xiaomi Mi Watch (left) and Garmin HRM Pro chest strap (right)

It was a similar story for our interval rowing sessions against a chest strap monitor where average heart rates were generally lower and maximum heart rate was higher and enough to put us in a different heart rate zone.

In terms of the heart rate-based performance and recovery features, it did produce in general, similar VO2 max scores compared to a chest strap. Ultimately though, those spikes during exercise and during the day make it a tough one to rely on the whole for the many features that heart rate sensor powers.

Xiaomi Mi Watch: Battery life

  • Quoted 16 days battery life
  • Quoted 50 hours of GPS tracking

When it comes to battery life, the Mi Watch is packing a 420mAh capacity battery that's designed to deliver 16 days in battery life in typical usage mode, which is defined by having features like continuous heart rate monitoring enabled and tracking a couple of 30 minute workouts a week.

That jumps to 22 days if you choose to disable features like heart rate monitoring, tracking vitals and not tracking any exercise at all. There's also the promise of 50 hours when you're putting the GPS to good use and Xiaomi says is good for 20 marathons. Though that's based on running an average of a 2.5 hour marathon.

Those numbers are invariably based on usage, though we're glad to say there isn't any horrible, concerning drop-off on a daily basis. With notifications enabled, the screen not quite at maximum brightness and using the GPS for an hour it generally dropped off 10-15%. For a shorter 30 minute tracked run or indoor workout, it was around 3-4%.

Use that GPS for longer and that will inevitably dent the battery life too. Our more intense usage made it suitable for a solid week of use and it clearly has the capacity to go to double digit days of battery life, if you're willing to sacrifice some features.

When it is time to power back up, there's a pretty standard-looking charging cradle that magnetically clips onto the back of the watch case. There's no fast charging tech here.


Xiaomi Mi Watch
By Xiaomi
In the Xiaomi Mi Watch, you're getting a whole lot of watch for the money. It looks good, has a nice mix of health and fitness features and smartwatch features, even if some are a little on the basic side. Accuracy of resting heart rate and sleep needs work to make this one of top picks, but for casual fitness users there's still a lot to like here. Huawei's Watch GT 2e will get you better sports tracking while Huami's Amazfit watches at around this price offer more solid health features. But plenty will find the Xiaomi Mi Watch right on the mark.

Hit
  • Light, smart sporty design
  • Good battery life
  • Feature-rich for the price
  • Firstbeat analytics on board
Miss
  • Sports tracking iffy when pushed
  • Basic notification support
  • Heart rate accuracy
  • Third party app support