Xiaomi makes budget smartphones. Well, at least in India. So when the budget smartphone maker launched a premium smartphone, everyone expected it to be priced like the “flagship killer” that’s taken voluntary retirement… OnePlus.
But fans and critics were disappointed when Xiaomi announced a premium phone with premium pricing (how dare they?). So when I received the review unit. I wanted to find out just two things. Whether it was a proper flagship and whether it can take on the smartphones in the premium segment head on.
My findings were quite surprising.
For a “budget smartphone maker”, Xiaomi has impressed with every possible feature including its flawless design that’s free of rough edges (even though it skips on an IP rating). The headline-grabbing 108MP camera clicks photos a lot better than the Galaxy S20 Ultra (it’s the same sensor). You can charge the phone with the optional (and affordable) Mi wireless charger at OnePlus 8 Pro-like speeds (30W). It packs in a clear and loud dual speaker setup and the hole-punch AMOLED display is top notch stuff. It even packs in Android 10 with the latest security patch and stock Google apps that you won’t even get on a OnePlus. More importantly, it does not oversell itself with lame gimmicks. At ₹49,999, what else do you want?
108MP+13MP+2MP+2MP. It’s all in there and you can add a 20MP selfie camera to that.
And the details are all in there! This is very unlike the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (which sells at almost double the price BTW). Images have just the right amount of sharpness, and pack in a lot of detail whether it’s the bright afternoons, sunsets, or street lighting. The autofocus (AF) system, very unlike the problematic AF on the S20 Ultra, is spot on and does not hesitate.The HDR feature (switched off by default) does a good job of keeping the dynamic range just right. Just don’t switch on the AI mode! Why? Well, it does a bang up job of detecting what’s in your scene (dog, hooman, food, monuments, etc.), but it makes the photos look a bit exaggerated by boosting the saturation levels to extremely blue skies, greener than usual grass. Well, you get the point!
Portrait photos both from the rear camera and the selfie camera look nice too. They are sharp and the edge detection is spot on thanks to the dedicated 2MP depth sensor. There’s no telephoto camera here, so a bit of adjustment is required to get the perfect portrait photo. And there’s also some neat studio lighting effects… if you are into that kind of stuff.
Wide angle camera looks good in daylight, but don’t bother shooting anything after sunset.
Details take a hit when you shoot in auto mode in low light settings. But in most cases, it’s completely usable if you don’t like over brightened night mode photos. Thankfully, the Mi 10’s Night Mode does not turn day into night, but seems to have found that fine balance. But boy! Do they pack in a ton of detail! I have yet to come across a smartphone that makes such good use of a 108MP sensor in such bad lighting conditions.
And for the first time ever, you do get good video quality from a Xiaomi smartphone. Details are crisp whether you shoot at 720p, 1080p, 4K or even 8K. And the frame rates hold up. Surprisingly, low light video recording does not look as bad as it does on other premium smartphones.
Why bother with a 2MP macro at all?
There’s a 2MP Macro camera too. It takes mighty good shots with good detail and packs in autofocus too. So you can get really close to your subject (and even possibly bump into it at times). While these are good for sharing, you really cannot pixel-peep into a 2MP image, so the details will depend on the lighting (needs to be good) and your patience to get the focus spot on (it takes a bit of getting used to). But at the end, you can make everyday objects look very interesting.
There’s a good reason why there’s a Macro camera on the Mi 10. The main 108MP camera, thanks to its sheer size, has a very shallow depth of field. So when you focus on objects up close (or not perfectly parallel to your camera), you end up with a very minimal area to focus on with half of the object getting blurred. This was a similar scenario on the S20 Ultra; unfortunately, it was not equipped with a macro camera or better software processing.
DESIGN AND BUILD
The phone features a slick-looking design that will remind you of the older Galaxy S9 series. There’s a hole-punch 3D curved display on the front and the construction consists of sandwiched glass and metal, which is pretty much the norm. There are, however, no noticeable rough edges and the fit and finish is top notch. The only sound you will hear is of that gigantic 108MP rattling away in its OIS system. I like the Coral Green colour, and it stands out pretty well all by itself. But it does catch fingerprints, although these are easy to wipe off and not as bad as Samsung’s S20 series.
And keeping that chubby 108MP camera in mind, it’s also quite slim and fits perfectly in your hand thanks to its curved edges, even though it feels heavy at 208 grams. But use it with the in-box case as things can get slippery.
Sadly, there’s no IP rating, but you do get a P2i coating on the internals to protect them in case your phone gets wet in the rain.
DISPLAY and AUDIO
There’s a 6.67-inch FHD+, AMOLED, 90Hz display to keep you entertained and a proper, dual stereo speaker system that is more than enough to satisfy your gaming and streaming audio requirements. While I would have preferred a less reflective flat display, it does not curve too much into the sides, so it is acceptable and does not really get in the way of your HDR10+ video streaming experience, just like that hole-punch camera. Colours and saturation levels are quite nice and natural and the most accurate display setting is ‘Original’. But ‘Auto’ is recommended as it adapts to the surrounding lighting.
90Hz is just about fast enough. But not as fast as a 120Hz display on the OnePlus 8 Pro. Still, Xiaomi’s MIUI 11 does a good job with transitions and animations and it all looks smooth and feels fluid. 240Hz touch sensing works wonders for gaming, but there’s more on that.
Audio is a fantastic experience. You do have to keep in mind that this phone, unlike most others, packs in a proper dual speaker setup instead of using the receiver speaker as the secondary one. The results are damn good! The audio is as clear as things can get and there’s a nice soundstage to it as well, because you have the same speaker on both ends. What worried me is their placement on the sides while gaming, but you can just flip the phone over and blast the volume.
PERFORMANCE, SOFTWARE AND FEATURES
If you thought the OnePlus 8 was high on features despite its unusually high price, think again. At about ₹5,000 higher than the 8, you get a P2i coating, well-calibrated 90Hz AMOLED display, stock Google apps (Dialer, Contacts, Messaging, etc.), no compromise dual speakers, 30W wireless charging, 10W powershare, 20MP selfie camera, 108MP rear camera with 8K video and a bigger battery. There’s really no beating the Mi 10 in the features game.
As mentioned above, you do get plenty of stock Android apps, it’s a mix of MIUI and stock Android 10, which was a bit of a shocker, considering that this is a Xiaomi smartphone. With Google’s Contacts, Dialer, Messages, Podcasts, Google One and Assistant pre-installed, you really won’t miss your stock Android apps much. There’s tonnes of customisation as well, from the wallpapers to the themes, the fonts and even some snazzy AOD styles that look really fancy even when your phone’s idle. Well-tuned haptic vibrations play a nice role in the UI as well, and you get plenty of bumps, nudges all-though the interface.
There are NO ads because this is a Tier 1 smartphone, but you do get nudged by promotional content from Xiaomi’s apps, which can be switched off from notifications. And in case you were worried, no Mi Browser either.
Performance is top notch, and the phone remains cool no matter what you throw at it and for how long you keep playing. What’s cooler, though, is Game Turbo’s ability to tweak the display touch sensitivity, letting you crank up the touch sampling rate to max when slaying your friends on Call of Duty: Mobile. This can be set for individual games and you can also customise the sensitivity to repeated taps, display contrast and since it’s a curved edge display, touch-resistant areas as well!
With a 4780mAh battery inside, the Mi 10 held up quite well on a regular work day with multiple email accounts on sync, WhatsApp, plenty of calls, about 10-20 photos, an hour of music via Bluetooth and an hour of gaming. With all of that I usually ended up with 20-30 percent battery left, which is quite nice, but I did want to place it on the Mi 30W Wireless charging cradle (sold separately at ₹2299) at the end of the day. Juicing it up from 0-50% battery takes about 25 minutes and 0-100% barely takes a little over an hour, which is similar to what you get on the OnePlus 8 Pro. One detail to note is that you will need to plug in the in-box 33W charger for Turbo charging on the Mi 10. And if you're not the wireless charging types, there’s the usual 33W wired charging also available.
With no Huawei and Google Pixel on sale in India, Samsung with its overpriced S20 series had it going for a while. And then OnePlus showed up with the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro. The Mi 10 dominates the 8 on paper, but we have to wait and see how it stacks up against the bigger 8 Pro even though it packs in better specs in some areas. In short, Xiaomi randomly showed up with a premium smartphone and it has the grit to make the existing players go back to their drawing boards. And that’s before you check out that attractive price tag!