(Pocket-lint) - Xiaomi's international expansion has now been running for a good couple of years. The Mi 8 was its introductory device when it entered the UK and Europe - and here we are in 2020, two years on, with the latest iteration of Xiaomi's flagship, the Mi 10 (reviewed here in its 'Pro' guise).
The company has always offered good value for money, delivering devices with specs that are hard to match at their price points. However, sometimes the approach is confusing: often flagship devices are undercut by updates and different versions from the Xiaomi family, while regional availability varies considerably.
So how does the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro stack up?
- Dimensions: 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.96mm / Weight: 208g
- Finishes: Coral Green, Twilight Grey
- In-display fingerprint scanner
- Dual stereo speakers
- Punch-hole display
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro follows the design of previous Mi devices, perhaps owing more to the Mi Note 10 (see what we're saying about confusing?) than it does the Mi 9 family of devices.
The Pro sits alongside the Mi 10, with both devices sharing a lot: they both have the same overall design, dimensions and core hardware, but they differ in cameras, battery capacity and charging.
The overall build of the Mi 10 Pro is good, but there's no official IP rating. Instead, Xiaomi has been working with P2i to add a water-repellent nano-coating to its devices (similar to how Motorola offers protection minus the IP rating). That should keep it protected from water ingress, although this protection isn't widely mentioned on Xiaomi's website and we're double-checking that it is indeed present on this device.
With nicely curved edges to the front and the rear of this phone, the Mi 10 Pro looks a little like it's been popped out of the flagship mould for many 2020 devices - Oppo, OnePlus, Samsung - it only seems to be Sony, with the Xperia 1 II, that actually has a phone that's radically different in design.
One thing that's very welcome, however, is the Mi 10 Pro's addition of another speaker grille on the top of the phone. The absence of this was one of the points we criticised about the Mi 9. With its stereo speakers the Pro is now much better placed as an entertainment device - and it certainly delivers that separation and volume to bring games and movies to life.
Xiaomi has chosen a punch-hole for the display, to the top left corner, which is slightly awkward in that when you rotate the phone into landscape, your hands almost immediately cover those new speakers. We've been cupping our hands slightly to let the sound out, but it's certainly an improvement over previous Xiaomi phones.
- 6.67-inch OLED panel, 2340 x 1080 resolution (386ppi)
- 800 nits brightness, 90Hz refresh, HDR compatible
When it comes to the display, we've mentioned the curves to the edges and the punch-hole for the camera, but this 6.67-inch OLED panel is also vibrant, detailed and well appointed. It's a great screen that's capable at turning its pixels to all content and looking good while doing it.
As seems to be typical of Xiaomi, this phone sticks to a Full HD+ resolution (think elongated 1080p). There's no jump to Quad HD as you might get from Samsung, although we can't say we miss those extra pixels. Yes, it's possible to achieve finer details with a higher resolution - but in standard everyday use we don't find it makes a huge difference (except, negatively, to battery life).
But those peeking at the specs might think that the Mi 10 Pro will fall short. It has a faster refresh rate at 90Hz - again short of the 120Hz you get from the likes of the OnePlus 8 Pro - but, again, we don't find that makes a difference in our eyes as the visible benefits of faster refresh rates on everyday use of devices are questionable.
The Mi 10 Pro's display is pretty bright too, so we've found it to remain perfectly visible when used in bright conditions. For us, it's pretty much all the display we could want, successfully delivering great colour punch and plenty of detail with aplomb.
Sitting in the display you'll also find the fingerprint scanner. These in-screen scanners have become fairly commonplace, but Xiaomi's iteration is notable for the success rate we've had from it. We've been fans of Samsung's efforts recently and the Mi 10 Pro seems a little more reliable, which is great.
Flagship hardware and performance
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 8GB RAM
- 4500mAh battery, 50W fast-charging
- 5G connectivity
If you're picking up a flagship phone in 2020 then it's likely you'll be looking at the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865. There's a couple of exceptions - some Samsung phones use its Exynos hardware and Huawei uses its Kirin hardware - but elsewhere, Snapdragon 865 rules.
For the Mi 10 Pro that's paired with 8GB of RAM and 256GB storage, resulting in typical - and powerful - loadout and that's reflected through the device. Everything happens at pace, you can fire up demanding games like Call of Duty Mobile or PUBG Mobile, with rich fluid graphics and a great experience delivered together with that boosted sound. It's a real pleasure to play on.
What's also apparent is that Xiaomi has been working to improve the experience thoughout its MIUI software. The Mi 10 Pro launches with MIUI 11, although a MIUI 12 update is expected at some point in the future. While we can't comment on MIUI 12, it's obvious that bloat and interruptions are being reduced to make this software more appealing to a wider audience - and that also means there are fewer barriers to a fast and fluid experience.
What you might notice, however, is that the battery in this phone is slightly smaller than in the Mi 10. At 4,400mAh, it's becoming common to reduce the battery capacity slightly in devices that support faster charging. There's a 65W charger in the Mi 10 Pro's box, which is generous because many manufacturers, like Apple, are rather miserly, asking you to buy a more powerful charger to get the charging speeds proclaimed for their phones.
That charger enables 50W charging for the Mi 10 Pro, while also supporting 30W wireless charging too (you will have to buy the wireless charger separately, however). When you're connected to a faster charger you'll get two charging icons next to the battery indicator, which is a nice touch. Sadly, because our review device didn't come in the retail packaging, we weren't able to test those fast charging speeds with Xiaomi's charger.
The battery life is, however, in line with our expectations. There's now a lot of mid-range devices that have larger cells and lower demands that will stroll through two days of life - and flagship phones can't compete with those. Instead, getting through a typical day on a single charge is the expectation - and that's exactly what you get from the Mi 10 Pro.
The truth is that the abundance of power and that display will push through the battery fairly quickly. Based on our experience with the Samsung Galaxy S20+, the Xiaomi has better battery life and is less prone to flatlining before the end of the day. Typically, we get to the end of the day with about 30 per cent remaining.
Lots of cameras
- Quad rear cameras:
- Main: 108-megapixel, f/1.69 aperture, 0.8µm pixel size
- Portrait (2x zoom): 12MP, f/2.0, 1.4µm
- Zoom: 8MP, f/2.0, 1.0µm
- Wide: 20MP, f/2.2
- 20MP front-facing selfie camera
There are four cameras on the rear of the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro. Unlike some other quad systems each camera here appears to have a function. It's a slightly odd, though, with a nominated "portrait" lens that doubles as the 2x zoom lens - but at least it does something.
Talking of zoom, the headline figure here is a 50x digital zoom, but that comes from a 5x optical lens. Xiaomi calls it "hybrid zoom" as is often the case, saying that it's a 10x hybrid zoom lens.
That doesn't give you those headlines that Samsung was hunting with the 100x zoom on the S20 Ultra, but it's also a lot more practical, so don't be fooled into thinking that this is a lesser version. In reality, it has the same practical benefits, offering excellent zoom quality over those middle distances, but at the far end things drop in quality and you need to hold things steady, so it's a bit of a challenge to actually use.
Having mentioned the S20 Ultra, there's a 108-megapixel main camera on the Mi 10 Pro too. In the default photo mode this uses pixel combining to take four pixels and make them act as one - so you end up with a 25-megapixel photo. Just like you'll also find in the Mi Note 10.
The idea behind having a high-resolution sensor is to bring with it the potential to capture more detail and to aid hybrid zoom with additional information. For most mobile photographers that detail is never really manifest, because you're looking at it on a small screen. The argument has always been that you'll have better images should you choose to print or show on a larger screen, which is true, but it can also allow closer cropping.
That all works in theory and looking at a 108-megapixel photo on the phone will let you jump into 108MP Preview with a double tap. It's a fun way of letting you know that you can zoom in to see a lot more and it's certainly true that in good light, there's more detail than in the 25MP output.
What you can't do here - which Samsung will allow - is zoom in to re-frame and save a cropped image, so Xiaomi is missing a trick. The higher resolution photos can be slightly duller by comparison too. We've put some 100 per cent crops in the gallery below so you can see the difference.
Note that we say "in good light" because in low-light or dim conditions, the full 108-megapixel resolution doesn't really work, boosting the ISO sensitivity and losing detail to get an image. There is a night mode that's pretty effective, taking longer exposures and cleaning things up to get usable results from dark scenes. It's not as good as Huawei's developing exposure night mode, but it will get you an image from seemingly impossible situations. The regular camera will take low-light photos too (through ISO boosting) so you can just point and shoot and indoor results are fine like this.
There's still a sense that there's gimmickry at play here though. Zoom in to 100 per cent on the 108-megapixel images and things are pretty mushy - we just can't see, in the real world, why you'd ever really want to do that resolution, except for bragging rights. But, in flagship smartphones, bragging rights seem to be completely on trend.
Putting all that to one side, what is impressive is how well Xiaomi's AI (artificial intelligence) and HDR (high dynamic range) system will deal with the scene to create a great image - and this is especially noticeable on the ultra-wide angle camera when taking landscapes or nature scenes. Sure, there's a sense that things might look a little more perfect than they were, with richer blue skies and lush greens, but it just about stays on the right side of things so it doesn't become unnatural.
That all works until it encounters something that's full of colour, at which point it's a little too "enhanced" and no longer looks the way it should - for example in the red of a rose or the pink of a fuchsia flower. Those are then far too vibrant, losing the detail and realism.
The Mi 10 Pro's front camera is pretty good too, again with a high-resolution sensor. It's capable too - only really struggling with backlit selfies - coping with low-light well and doing a good job at blurring backgrounds. The edge detection is good on both front and back cameras resulting in some pleasing bokeh (background blur), with that "portrait" lens delivering what you expect from it.
It all adds up to a system that impresses. The Mi 10 Pro certainly has one of the most consistent and high-quality smartphone cameras of 2020, rivalling and surpassing some of the market leaders. There are some gimmicks, but we've also snapped some great photos.
- MIUI 11 moving to MIUI 12
- Android 10
The oft-cited weakness of Xiaomi's phones - as it is of phones from Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and other Chinese manufacturers - is the level of customisation that changes the base Android system, alongside the addition of many apps. There's no escaping that Xiaomi's MIUI customisations are among the most comprehensive, but through recent iterations, Xiaomi has improved the experience.
There's still duplicated apps - in many cases offering an alternative to the Google services that you will preferentially use - but many of these preinstalls you can't remove. There are some useful additions, but most things could be bundled up into a folder and forgotten about. What's important is that they are causing fewer problems getting to what you want - the experience of using Xiaomi's devices is getting better.
Invariably review devices have software versions that differ slightly from retail editions. In the case of the Mi 10 Pro we reviewed there didn't seem to be any option to restore an apps tray, leaving all apps on the screen. Yes, this is only a launcher issue and easily bypassed by using a third-party launcher, but the stock launcher on the Mi 10 Pro is a little basic - even the Redmi Note 9 we reviewed was better.
MIUI isn't as refined as Samsung's One UI in terms of the visual appearance, it's not as fast and Android-like as OnePlus' Oxygen OS - but if you're spending most of your time in apps, you can learn to live with it. The Mi 10 has also found itself on the Android 11 beta which we're hoping is a statement of intent, because speedy upgrades for new features would certainly be welcome in the future.
The Mi 10 Pro leaves little to complain about when it comes to the flagship experience, except some software bloat. It has a great build, great display and an excellent camera, paired with competitive battery life.
Perhaps the biggest question is why there's a sibling device that's almost on a par when it comes to the spec, differing only mildly in the camera department. The UK price for the Mi 10 Pro is still to be confirmed, but we suspect it's going to be somewhere in the region of £999 based on the European price of €999 or US price of $1100 - and that's on the high side compared to a phone like the OnePlus 8 Pro.
Indeed, it's almost double the price of the Mi Note 10, which offers much of the same experience. And that circles back to our original point: how long will it be before Xiaomi comes out with a new phone that severely undercuts the Mi 10 Pro price?
We're happy to recommend the Mi 10 Pro, as it's a great phone in many areas, but it's definitely a phone where you'll want to keep an eye on the deals.
OnePlus 8 Pro
If you thought OnePlus was expensive, you only have to look at the experience to see that it's value for money when comparing to the likes of Samsung. The software is cleaner and there's a proper IP rating, but the camera isn't quite as strong as the Mi 10 Pro.
Samsung Galaxy S20+
Samsung delivers software refinement borne out of experience and pared with hardware that delivers in all areas. The Mi 10 Pro might be better in the camera, but Samsung's display delivers more resolution if you want it.