The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro.
Xiaomi had a clear business strategy over the past few years: offer phones that were on paper as powerful and feature-packed as the best from Apple, Samsung or Huawei, but at about half the price.
I say “on paper” because even though previous Xiaomi phones matched most of the important specs such as processor and screen ratio as the big dogs, closer examinations revealed several omissions of less noticeable features/components—such as a good haptics engine; large camera sensors; or stereo speakers—that ultimately betrayed their more modest roots.
That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing—a phone that was something around 90-95% as good at 50-60% of the price is a good compromise for most consumers other than the diehards. Over the years, when friends or family ask me for a phone recommendation, I told them either OnePlus or Xiaomi.
With the Mi 10 Pro, Xiaomi is no longer holding back. This is the Beijing-headquartered company’s first real attempt to go the full 100%: there isn’t a single notable component or feature missing in this package. But this also has bumped up the price to territories Xiaomi has never ventured before. Will consumers accept this new step into premium category?
Hardware: premium all around
The glass sandwich design with a curved front and back glass that blend seamlessly into an aluminum chassis is not unique in 2020, but it is still quite stunning to look at. And Xiaomi’s is one of the best constructed ones.
The Mi 10 Pro has a premium look and finish.
I love the matte glass back that does not attract fingerprints, and the coating on my white unit gives off this subtle pink flourish when light hits it at certain angles. The lack of a bulky rectangle camera bump is preferable to my eyes too, since that’s what Samsung, Huawei and many others will give us this year.
I must say, however, in terms of in-hand comfort, the Mi 10 Pro falls short of the Huawei P40 Pro (which has, in my opinion, the most comfortable in-hand feel of any phone in recent memory), because the Mi 10 Pro’s curves on the sides result in a slightly pointy and thin sides, whereas Huawei’s more drastic curves helps even the sides.
The 6.6-inch display panel has a resolution north of 1080p and refreshes at 90Hz. Technically speaking, it falls short of the 120Hz panel of Samsung’s and Oppo’s latest, but it’s very hard to see the difference. As I said in another article, I think I’d take 90Hz over 120Hz if battery improvement is big enough, and it is the case here—the 4,500 mAh cell lasts longer than the 5,000 mAh cell in Samsung’s S20 Ultra.
Under the hood is a Snapdragon 865, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage.
There are two areas of major improvements: the Mi 10 Pro has a much-improved haptics vibration engine. Typing on this phone is a joy, as each tap of a key provides a tactile feedback on the screen, and Xiaomi’s software has added little touches to show off the new motors too: whenever an app is uninstalled, it explodes into bits, with a gentle rumble of the phone coinciding with the blast. These are little touches I appreciate.
The stereo speakers set-up at the top and bottom of the phone.
The other big bump is audio: the Mi 10 Pro has stereo speakers, but not just with one end coming out of a tiny earpiece like other phones; instead the Mi 10 pro has real speaker grilles on both the top and bottom of the phone (or left and right sides when held sideways). This is a balanced audio set-up we usually only see in gaming phones. Needless to say, audio output is the best of all recent releases.
So what puts it above other recent releases?
I’ve said plenty of good things about the Mi 10 Pro’s hardware already, but every recent Android release lately has good looking and powerful hardware. And the fact that they share many of the same features (high refresh rate screen; new Qualcomm chip; same 108-megapixel sensor) could further make them all feel the same. So which parts of the Mi 10 Pro stands out from, say, the Oppo Find X2 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra?
Why you may want the Mi 10 Pro over the Huawei P40 Pro: the Mi 10 Pro has a much smaller cut-out in the corner of the screen, because it only houses a single 32-megapixel selfie camera and not the more complicated infrared facial scanning system Huawei uses. I have seen a fair share of complaints about the supposedly unsightly cutout of Huawei’s latest, so for them, Xiaomi’s screen simply looks better. Also, Xiaomi’s phone can run Google Mobile Services.
More on Forbes: Huawei P40 Pro Review: My Favorite Hardware In Mobile Right Now
The hole-punch cut-out is smaller on the Mi 10 Pro than on the P40 Pro.
Why you may want the Mi 10 Pro over the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: the Mi 10 Pro has better battery life due to less power-hungry screen; and its 108-megapixel camera does not suffer from the auto-focus issues that have plagued Samsung’s release. Ironically, Xiaomi’s camera is sourced from Samsung, but it would appear Xiaomi has done a better job of fine-tuning.
Why you may want the Mi 10 Pro over the Oppo Find X2 Pro: this one is close, because the Oppo Find X2 Pro is arguably the most well-rounded and flaw-free release lately. But one major win for Xiaomi is the Mi 10 Pro supports wireless charging, whereas Oppo’s device does not.
More on Forbes: Oppo Find X2 Pro Review: Samsung S20 Ultra’s Biggest Challenger
The Mi 10 Pro has a quad camera system like many phones, but it differs in approach from Samsung/Oppo/Huawei when it comes to zooming. Instead of using a Periscope zoom lens for enhanced zoom performance, the Mi 10 Pro uses two telephoto lens: a 12-megapixel short tele lens that has a focal length equivalent to 50mm, and an 8-megapixel long tele shooter that uses various data to produce a near-lossless 10X zoom.
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro’s quad camera system.
Official product renders of the Mi 10 Pro’s camera system from Xiaomi.
This short and long telephoto approach allows the phone to keep an optical zoom (or something similar to it) throughout various degrees of zooms between 2X and 10X. Other phones tend to struggle in the “in between spots.” For example, the Galaxy S20 Ultra lens shoot 5X lossless using the Periscope lens, but if you drop the zoom to 3X, it actually uses a digital crop (a.k.a. digital zoom), making for a technically inferior photo than the 5X.
The Mi 10 Pro’s two lenses covers the full spectrum of focal length from 1X all the way to 10X. At 2X, it uses the “Portrait” lens. Any higher, it uses a combination of the hybrid tele along with data from the main sensor.
In general, Xiaomi’s approach works. I find the Mi 10 Pro’s 10X zoom images can match those taken by the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, and in some cases, even wins. Once we move past 20X, however, then the Periscope lens’ unique technology starts pulling ahead. But it’s good to know the Mi 10 Pro is capable of all the usual zoom ranges.
Xiaomi’s 10X zoom beats Samsung’s 10X zoom.
Xiaomi’s 20X zoom.
Speaking of the main camera, it is the same 108-megapixel lens Xiaomi first used in last year’s Mi Note 10 Pro. But while hardware remains unchanged, I find performance to have improved drastically, likely due to superior software algorithms.
The previous 108-lens often over-exposed lights at night, and had a slight lag whenever I zoomed. That’s been fixed. Night images are now much better balanced in even point-and-shoot auto mode, with the computer-assisted night mode further improving matters. Due to the large 1/1.33-inch sensor (one of the largest, but still smaller than what’s in the Huawei P40 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra) low light performance is really good on the Mi 10 Pro.
Below are some night shot samples, all were shot in auto mode. Only the last (fourth) picture showed overexposure; the first three are well balanced and detailed with low noise.
Samples taken with the Mi 10 Pro.
Night shots with Mi 10 Pro.
By default the 108-megapixel camera shoot pixel-binned 27-megapixel photos, but there is an option to shoot in full 108-megapixel, but I’d say the benefits are minimal. Stick with the standard mode and let Xiaomi’s improved computational photography do the trick.
A wide-angle image captured by the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro.
Another area of improvement is bokeh shots; I’m impressed by the edge detection whether it’s day or night—that portrait 2X tele lens really does the job.
Portrait bokeh shots with the Mi 10 Pro.
More bokeh images.
The Mi 10 Pro supports 8K video recording, but shoot at 1080p for the best stabilization. I’m also a fan of the vlog mode which lets users shoot a series of clips, and then the phone’s software will automatically edit them together into one stylish vlog. For more in-depth camera analysis, watch the video below.
Software and performance
Xiaomi’s MIUI 11 is clean.
Running on top of Android 10, Xiaomi’s MIUI 11 is a vibrant and playful software. As mentioned earlier, there are little animation flourishes such as an app “exploding” into bits during uninstallation (as seen in the far right image above) make the overall experience a bit more fun than vanilla stock Android.
Xiaomi does do some things different from Google’s vision, however. The app overview layout are in a vertical list instead of horizontal like on all Android phones now, and while I think both ways work fine, it does take getting used to if someone is jumping to a Xiaomi device for the first time. However, the lack of an app tray—meaning all our apps must sit on the home screen like on an iPhone—is something myself and just about every English phone reviewer do not like.
Overall, the software experience is good. Animations are fluid, especially at the 90Hz refresh rate, and I haven’t encountered major bugs despite heavy use.
Overall performance is excellent as to be expected from a phone running the newest Qualcomm chip. And battery endurance is good too, although not as beastly as Huawei’s devices. In general, the Mi 10 Pro will last an entire day for me, but on some heavy-use days, it did veer towards the dangerous sub-10% mark before my night ended.
But the phone can be topped up very fast—50W, to be exact. This can pump about 2-3% of battery into the phone per minute. Plug the Mi 10 Pro in a socket for 15 minutes in the late afternoon and the phone is all but guaranteed to last until the next morning even for all-nighters.
Conclusion: Xiaomi is going big
There’s been minor backlash about Xiaomi’s 999 euro asking price in Europe, since Xiaomi phones had previously been much cheaper. But I think that’s unfair. As mentioned, previous Xiaomi phones made subtle compromises to reach the lower price point, the Mi 10 Pro does not cut any corners. It has every feature imaginable right now in 2020. I think in general, smartphone fans have been spoiled by the constant evolution and improvement of the tech.
A 2020 smartphone makes a 2018 smartphone look outdated and clunky. Screens today zip around faster, the bezels are nearly all gone, and there’s a fingerprint reader underneath the screen. Remember just a few years ago we had to press into a giant button to scan our digits?
Few other industries innovate at this pace. A 2017 car isn’t going to look much different from a 2020 car. A top laptop from 2016 can still hang with today’s machines. Almost all other luxury items like watches and handbags have seen no real innovation. But smartphones? They just keep getting better.
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro and the Huawei P40 Pro.
For those who can’t accept Xiaomi’s now premium price, the company still offers plenty of really good mid-tier or budget handsets.
Plus there’s one final bonus: the Mi 10 Pro will almost certainly be a couple hundred dollar cheaper in Asia than the 999 Euro price.
The decision to choose between the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, Oppo Find X2 Pro, or Samsung Galaxy S20 Pro comes down to preferences and needs. All four are excellent, and this is the first year Xiaomi can legit go against Samsung and Huawei and not come up short.