This affordable, stylish fitness tracker is letdown by the clunky and, at times, unresponsive software plus flawed heart rate readings
- Looks more expensive than it is
- Fairly large screen
- Has full GPS
- Clunky interface
- Intermittently unresponsive screen
- Flawed heart rate sensor
- Review Price: £59
- Up to 9 days' battery life
- 1.4in 320 x 320 pixel LCD screen
- Heart rate sensor
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite is the best-looking wearable I’ve used at this price. In fact, from its looks and feel, you’d never guess at its affordable cost.
It’s cute, it’s slick and it isn’t too thick. In addition, battery life of around a week – for, say, tracking a 5K run twice a week – makes the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite easy to live with too.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite’s interface doesn’t offer smooth transitions to its interface, making it appear like the software of an ultra-budget fitness band has been grafted onto a device that looks like a smartwatch.
In addition, the software is intermittently unresponsive, refusing to register touchscreen presses.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite is one of the best smartwatches in terms of looks, but I can’t help but feel we may see a much better take on a pretty-but-simple tracker in a future generation.
Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite price and availability
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite is the cheaper alternative to the Mi Watch. It’s a little over half the cost, at £59. It’s not available in the US, but a currency conversion puts it at roughly $82.
Both watches were introduced in March 2021, but were available to buy in China towards the end of 2020.
Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite design – The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite offers high class at a low price
- Looks great, particularly considering the low cost
- Poor responsiveness
- Lacks the fluid feel of Honor rivals
Perhaps I’m too easy to please, but in my opinion the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite is almost as good-looking as some of the best smartwatches around, such as the Fitbit Versa 3 or Apple Watch SE. Those watches are four or five times the price of this Xiaomi.
This alone should reveal Xiaomi’s aim with the Mi Watch Lite.
The Mi Watch Lite is for those who really want a smartwatch, but whose budget would only really extend to that of a basic fitness tracker band. At this price, other options inlcude the Samsung Galaxy Fit2 and Huawei Band 4 Pro. There’s nothing from Fitbit here, since even its relatively basic Inspire 2 costs significantly more.
The design success of the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite isn’t just down to its relatively large screen. Its curved glass top looks genuinely good. Its soft-touch plastic casing has a minimalist appearance that appears more stylish than “basic”. And the side button is metal rather than plastic, which is a nice touch.
There’s a good chunk of empty space around the actual 1.4-inch display panel, but it isn’t too obvious because the black background to your watch face sinks into the black surround. I didn’t expect this, because the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite features an LCD screen, not an OLED one.
LCDs have a backlight rather than light-up pixels, which can make black sections look slightly blue or grey. The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite’s blacks still look black, even in a dimly-lit room.
This screen also has an automatic brightness sensor, one of the features I miss most in basic tracker bands. It means the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite’s display can amp up automatically when you head outdoors for a run.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite’s 1.4-inch screen is a 320 x 320 pixel panel. As such, it isn’t quite as colourful or punchy as the OLED display of the non-lite Mi Watch. But if the aim is to get you a smartwatch-like screen at an ultra-accessible price, then Xiaomi has accomplished its mission.
However, the overall great first impression does fall apart slightly when you start using the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite.
Most noticeable is the fact that it doesn’t offer the smooth-scrolling software of the Xiaomi Mi Watch. Flicks and screen presses take you between interface pages without a single frame of animation, making the rival Honor Band 6 feel more advanced and slick.
A low-gloss approach might work okay here if there wasn’t a slight delay between input and the software’s reaction. The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite also regularly fails to register presses at all. This seems likely to be the result of software or performance issues, rather than capacitive touchscreen problems.
It may be improved following a software update or two, but the interface will likely always be stilted compared to the Mi Watch, Honor Watch ES or Honor Band 6.
This watch doesn’t make great use of its larger screen size, either. Where the non-lite Mi watch offers graphs that display your stress and heart rate readings throughout the day, the Mi Watch Lite shows only your current heart rate and current step count.
Nevertheless, the screen remains useful for viewing multiple stats as you go for a run, and for better-looking watch faces. But this does feel in large part like the content of a basic fitness band blown up onto a bigger screen.
Still, the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite’s face selection is excellent. There are five preinstalled, and a further 169 to download freely in the Xiaomi companion app at the time of review. These span a huge range of characters and styles, with the majority quite attractive.
Cutesy, stat-rich, analogue or digital? You can choose.
Here’s the list of extra features you’ll see in the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite app menu:
- Activity history
- Today’s activity data
- Heart rate
- Sleep tracking
- Breathing exercises
- Air pressure
- Music control (of music played on your phone)
- Find my phone
What’s missing? The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite doesn’t have stress tracking, blood oxygen readings, or a few of the more unusual extras seen in the step-up Mi Watch. These include Amazon Alexa support and a feature that estimates your energy reserves.
None of these are a great loss if you want a fitness tracker for actual exercise tracking, however.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite can receive notifications from your phone. They look much better here than on most fitness trackers at the price because of the larger screen. But you can’t reply, even with canned responses.
Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite Fitness tracking – Solid GPS, questionable heart rate stats
- GPS works well, lets you map runs phone-free
- Heart rate tracking isn’t very good
- A basic array of modes, but covers the essentials
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite has one important tracking feature you don’t always get in a watch or band this cheap: GPS. At this sort of price, it’s quite normal for trackers to have Connected GPS, where location data is taken from your phone – or no GPS at all.
“Full” GPS lets the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite record fairly accurate distance and map routes, even if you like to run without your phone. It’s another factor that makes the watch seem an unusually good buy.
Location tracking accuracy is good – and, if anything, it seemed to follow a zig-zagging run route slightly better than the more expensive Mi Watch.
I don’t think the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite has a particularly good heart rate reader, though. It regularly thinks my heart rate is twice what it actually is during “passive” recording throughout the day, resulting in bizarre spikes in the results graph in the Xiaomi app on your phone.
I saw the same effect when actively tracking walks. The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite appeared to indicate that, in almost every tracked walk, there were points my heart rate reached at least 175bpm. If your heart rate reaches 194bpm – the maximum it recorded during one of these instances – when you walk around casually, you should probably book an appointment to see your doctor.
Despite some promising results during my 30-60 minute runs, the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite seems to suffer the same issues as the Mi Watch. And, at a guess, I’d conclude the heart rate algorithm identifies the two main “bumps” in your sinus rhythm as separate heartbeats, and this often seems to happen in line with a slight increase in pace. Or when you go from working at your desk to getting up to make a cup of tea.
These misfires end up looking quite dramatic in the Xiaomi app on your phone, too, since the graph uses a fairly limited number of data points compared to a Huawei or Garmin wearable.
The failure to offer graphs for data nerds to scroll through to see exactly how their heart responds during tight interval training I can shrug off. But I take issue with the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite seeming to tell you that your heart is about to explode when you go for a leisurely walk at the local park.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite has 11 exercise modes. Here’s a quick run-down of what you get.
Outdoor running is fully featured, covering the basics such as distance, heart rate, steps and time, and your pace, of your previous kilometre, your current pace and your average pace for the session.
Trail Run is similar, but adds elevation gain and loss stats, plus altitude.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite’s two walking modes, Walking and Trekking, are similar to the run modes. There are multiple pages of stats, with an added focus on stride length and cadence. I’d actually prefer the “walking” mode’s front page to the running one for my own runs, since it puts current pace centre-stage, which is arguably more important than the step count.
I wonder if this was a mistake, since surely step-counting is more a thing for walkers?
Treadmill is just a single page of stats, since naturally it can’t use GPS. There’s an accelerometer-based guess on the distance covered, alongside your current heart rate, calories burnt and the duration.
Outdoor cycling offers more in-depth data. It shows a GPS-based estimate of your speed, your distance, heart rate and ride duration on the first page. A second page shows the pace of your previous kilometer, your average speed and calories burnt.
Indoor cycling, Cricket and Freestyle are effectively the same, showing the duration, your heart rate and a calorie-burn estimate. They can’t do much more as the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite doesn’t have the hardware to offer any more.
Step-up bands such as the Mi Watch and Honor Watch ES have stacks upon stacks of modes, but I don’t think they’re particularly useful since none of these watches can really track a “yoga” session effectively. The most you’ll get is the use of a slightly different algorithm to estimate the calorie burn.
As is the norm for an entry-level fitness watch, the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite can’t connect to other equipment such as a bike power meter or chest strap heart rate monitor.
Xiaomi Mi Watch battery life – More than a week of light use
- Good battery life
- ~9 hours of GPS use
- Should last the claimed nine days with light use
Xiaomi says the Mi Watch Lite lasts for up to nine days of normal use. This is excellent for a watch with a fairly large screen, and better than the six days of the Fitbit Versa 3.
That claim is based on the following, according to Xiaomi’s website:
“The watch was set to default factory settings. Sleep monitoring, 30-minute interval heart rate monitoring and non-stop step counting were enabled. Bluetooth received and displayed 100 notifications every day, two alarms were set a day, the locked display was turned on 50 times a day, and the watch data was synced with a phone once a day. The watch also monitored one outdoor exercise session a week, lasting 35 minutes.”
I found the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite loses 10-15% charge a day, so Xiaomi’s claim shouldn’t be too far off the mark if you don’t use the watch a lot. An hour of GPS tracking takes 11% off the battery. It can easily last through a marathon, or a long hike.
Of course, if you go for runs regularly then the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite is more likely to last five to seven days, rather than nine. The device uses a little clip-in dock to charge; it’s less slick than a magnetised charge plate, but does hold the watch in place securely.
You should buy the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite if…
- You want a cheap GPS watch
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite offers excellent features for the money. GPS is the standout, since it’s still the norm to offer only Connected GPS at the price. Full GPS lets you run, walk or cycle without your phone, and you’ll still see a fully mapped route of your journey.
- You want smartwatch style for less
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite presents a smartwatch-like display for fitness band money. You get a big stack of watch faces to choose from, it’s sharp and offers automatic brightness.
You shouldn’t buy the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite if…
- You want a slick and smooth watch
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite’s software is more clunky than you might hope, with no transitions between screens. It’s frequently unresponsive, too, which makes the watch much less enjoyable to use.
- You demand good HR tracking accuracy
You’ll see fairly frequent heart rate misfires using the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite. It has a habit of showing your resting heart rate at a far higher rate than it actually is, and the same effect is seen when you do light exercise such as walking.