When we first moved into the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro, an unexpected thing happened: despite having come from the wonderfully designed Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ flagship, the Xiaomi didn't leave us with a hint of disappointment. Because this phone's asking price is a mere £399 (at launch - it can be found for even less now), which was enough to make our jaw hit the floor, all things considered.

We might as well cut to the chase right here: at this asking price you probably won't find a better phone on the market. The 9T Pro is Xiaomi out-OnePlusing OnePlus, creating a phone with majority flagship specs and design for a cut of the price. It's a very impressive next-gen update of the original Mi 9.

However, the Mi 9T Pro isn't quite perfection. So what corners have been cut in order to create such a serious phone for such a price?

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Design & Screen

  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Under-screen fingerprint scanner
  • Aluminium frame with Gorilla Glass front/rear
  • Dimensions: 156.7 x 74.3 x 8.8mm / Weight: 191g
  • 6.39-inch Super AMOLED display, 1080 x 2340 resolution, no notch
  • Finishes available: Carbon Black (as reviewed), Red flame, Glacier Blue

There seems to be a trend for large phones of late, the megalith that is the iPhone 11 Pro Max being one such example. Although the Mi 9T Pro isn't massive by any means, it does have a slightly burly build and weight about it, so don't expect the sveltest slab in your pocket.

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But Xiaomi has bucked the trend elsewhere by including a 3.5mm headphones jack up top, so you can plug in headphones to listen to your tunes. And, of course, there's Bluetooth too, if that's your preferred way of listening.

Speaking of Bluetooth, we've found it to be a little hit and miss in terms of connectivity. The same can be said of intermittent mobile signal when out and about. Both could be attributed to software handling, perhaps, but we'll get to that stuff later. It's little nitpicks such as this that hold the Mi 9T Pro back from perfection.

In terms of design our carbon fibre-esque review handset - that's 'Carbon Black' by Xiaomi's word - looks rather fetching. The rear isn't too glossy so doesn't adsorb fingerprints like most other phones these days, while the protruding cameras offer up a single red highlight around the top lens to add a lick of accent colour. Having used the phone for many weeks, however, the edging of the camera unit has lost some paint work - something that's no bother for the main glass-clad body.

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To look at you wouldn't think this is a £400 phone. From the front the minimal bezel surrounding this 6.39-inch Super AMOLED panel (the same that Samsung uses, as that's where it's sourced) makes the screen look dominant - it's got a higher screen-to-body ration than many flagships because there's no notch. How come? Because the front-facing camera is a pop-up one, hidden inside the body.

Being a fancy-named OLED panel, the Mi 9T Pro offers deep blacks and plenty of colour. Most competitors at this level are LCD, so that's a big tick in the pros box for this handset. The resolution isn't the highest going, but with a Full HD+ panel it's got enough pixels crammed into there to make good; any more and the battery life might not last out so long really. It's all about balance.

Performance & Battery

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB or 8GB RAM configuration
  • Google Android 9.0 (Pie) OS; Xiaomi MIUI 10 software
  • 4,000mAh battery; 27W fast-charging via USB-C

In terms of day-to-day performance we think the reason the Mi 9T Pro has impressed us so much is because its battery life digs its heels in and just keeps on going. There's no drama getting a 15 hour day out of this phone when using it heavily, including gaming, which is a lot more than we could say about the aforementioned Samsung Note 10+.

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So you might expect this Xiaomi to have a lightweight, middling processor to help that battery along. Not so. Instead, there's a top-spec Qualcomm chipset under the hood, the Snapdragon 855, which is the same level you'll find in many current flagships. Only the beefed-up Plus version, which has made its way into many gaming phones of late, is a whisker beyond this.

Having an SD855 under the hood at a sub-£400 price point is a revelation really. Coupled with the 6GB or 8GB RAM - the latter only going to the top-end storage version, if you pay extra, admittedly - it really flies along when it comes to loading apps and games. Playing South Park: Phone Destroyer has been a breeze on this device, despite its mid-level price point. So if you're into PUBG Mobile or any other such demanding title, this phone has got your back.

The performance gripes only really come from the software. While the Mi 9T Pro does run Google's Android 9.0 operating system, it's been heavily reworked with Xiaomi's MIUI software. This is typical of a Chinese brand, because Google isn't a thing in China, thus each company has to have its own gateways into getting apps, to protecting its products and services, and to offering its own akin-to-Google applications too.

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Which might be great if you're based in China and Mandarin if your main language. Not so much elsewhere, where we don't care for the duplication of app stores - yep, Xiaomi has its own, alongside Google Play - because it just muddies the water. We've had the phone update some apps from its own store, others from Google Play, then pause and hesitate while it security checks and scans apps - a potentially great way to add a layer of security, but unnecessary for when Google Play Protect is in place.

So that's the main hurdle of this Xiaomi phone: its software. There's no app drawer. Notifications work a bit differently, too, so if you delete an email from your inbox the notification about it won't go until you separately delete that. Doesn't sound like a biggie, but these small things just feel different from the usual Android experience and so take a bit of adjusting for; eventually you'll be used to it all, however, and it'll just be your new more.

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In the same breath, MIUI adds some desirable additions, including dual apps, so you can run two versions of Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, and so on, across two different SIM cards. So it's not all bad. Plus it's very adept at handling battery useage, including per app, where there's a lot of customisation to ensure everything keeps on working as you see fit.

Cameras

  • Rear triple camera system
    • Main: 48 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (equivalent)
    • 2x zoom: 8 MP, f/2.4, 53mm (equivalent)
    • Ultra-wide: 13 MP, f/2.4, 12mm (equivalent)
  • 4K video at 30/60fps, Full HD at 30/120/240fps
  • Pop-up selfie camera (motorised)

The final major part of the Mi 9T Pro's puzzle is its camera arrangement, which differs from the original Mi 9 by using different sensors and specifications and, of course, hiding that front-facing camera behind a motorised pop-up mechanism.

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To obtain a triple camera phone for under £400 would have sounded like a mistake just a couple of years back. Having a number of lenses adds versatility to such a system, with this phone embodying a standard wide lens, an ultra-wide (0.6x) and a 2x zoom so you can capture a variety of scenes.

Interestingly the main unit is a 48-megapixel one, which uses four-in-one pixels to deliver 12MP shots with greater clarity - as it has four sites rather than one to draw from in terms of colour and information. It works well, too, with images having enough snap to them when viewed at 100 per cent on a screen. Whether under limited light when we were shooting lobsters on ice, or when out in the bright Berlin sun, there's ample detail on show.

Things aren't always totally on the money though. The wide-angle, which is lower-resolution, suffers with detail loss to its edges, while image processing is a bit heavier here - groups of trees, for example, lack that real definition and become a green mush.

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And when it comes to low-light, the wide-angle and zoom lenses are a bit of a write-off - only the higher-res main camera can cope to some degree here, using its night mode, but even then it's not a patch on the offerings you'll find from Apple, Google and Huawei. Can't have it all, we suppose, but even for shooting in limited light the Mi 9T Pro punches above its competition at this price point.

Then there's that all-important front-facing camera, which pops-up, including a light-up red outer edge, when hitting the selfie button in the camera app. It take a little moment for that camera to reveal itself, but it's fairly speedy to get into place. It's a logical way to avoid a notch on the screen, although it removes the possibility of facial recognition sign-ins too.

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We're not the biggest selfie fans in the world - ok, so we took a bunch of snaps with our friend's dog in Chicago because, well, why not? - and find this 20-megapixel shooter to do the business. It also goes a bit over the top when it comes to facial smoothing and beauty modes (because, er, Xiaomi), but many will be looking for such a solution anyway.

Verdict

It's quite simply bonkers the Mi 9T Pro sells for the price it does, given its flagship specification, which makes for very fluid use and ensures no task will be a problem. The screen is decent, even the cameras are pretty good, while battery life lasts for a solid innings too.

It's not a perfect phone, though, as we've had a few quibbles with the MIUI's software quirks, along with some intermittent connectivity issues, and the calls quality is poor given the limited speaker space on the front of the phone.

Overall, however, we struggle to think of a better £400 phone than the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro. It's even undercutting OnePlus by £100+, which alone should be enough reason to at least look at this Xiaomi.

This article was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated to reflect changing market context

Also consider

OnePlus 7T

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The original 'half-price flagship' brand. OnePlus' more recent handsets have gotten pricier based on their specs being ramped up significantly, with the 7T here offering a faster refresh-rate screen. There's a notch rather than a pop-up camera, but we far prefer the OnePlus software experience, which is what might make you want to spend a couple of hundred extra on this device instead.