(Pocket-lint) - Right now there's a bit of fisticuffs among phone makers to make the most affordable 5G phone. Motorola is at it, with the Moto G 5G Plus. Xiaomi is playing the game too, with the very phone on review here: the Mi 10 Lite.
Thing is, if the Mi 10 Lite is an all-singing and all-dancing speedy-connectivity phone, what business does the 'Lite' have at the end of its name? Really, the Lite is much like the 'normal' Mi 10 - albeit with watered-down camera and processor specs.
As we said of the Mi 10 Pro - yes, there's too many models in this range - the problem Xiaomi is making for itself is littering the market too many phones which hold similar names. Because, on its own merits, the Mi 10 Lite is a super 5G phone for a super price.
Design & Display
- Dimensions: 163.7 x 74.8 x 7.9mm / Weight: 192g
- 6.57-inch OLED display, 1080 x 2400 resolution
- Finish: Aurora Blue, Cosmic Grey, Dream White
- Under-screen fingerprint scanner
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- Dual SIM
There's one aspect about the Mi 10 Lite that looks a little yesteryear: the teardrop notch where the front camera lives. But once you get used to that little black-out dip - and it's really not difficult - there's a heap of stuff to applaud about this phone.
In context: the Moto G 5G Plus doesn't have an under-screen fingerprint scanner. This Xiaomi does. The Moto G 5G Plus doesn't have an OLED screen for super deep blacks. This Xiaomi does. In that regard, there's not a lot of minus points to the Mi 10 Lite's specification.
Shown here in its Cosmic Grey finish, the grey-blue rear has a nice sheen that catches the light (and, admittedly, fingerprint smears), while a slightly protruding camera unit houses no less than four lenses.
That camera unit's design is different to the strip-like design of the Mi 10 Pro, condensing everything together in a more contained section. We prefer the Pro, but there's nothing offensive about either's looks - and at least it doesn't protrude a million miles away from the phone body either.
The finish feels quality for a mid-level phone, it's only small giveaways that let you know it's not a top-of-the-line flagship. Details like a little more bezel around the screen for example - but by mere millimetres, nothing drastic.
The screen specification is spot on overall too. That it's an OLED means deep blacks, punchy colours, and always-on display features in the lock screen. You can't get all that with LCD. Plus, Xiaomi has squeezed enough resolution in here that there's little to no drop down in quality compared to a flagship handset. It's rather impressive, ignoring that dated notch.
Elsewhere there's a 3.5mm headphone jack, which after a period of absence in most phones is now back in a big way. The SIM tray caters for two cards, but not microSD expansion - you'll need to pay out for the storage version you desire (it starts at 64GB in the base model).
Performance & Battery
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 processor, 4GB RAM
- 4,160mAh battery, 20W fast-charging
- Android 10 OS, MIUI 11 software
- Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- 5G connectivity
That word 'Lite' has been niggling at the back of our minds when using the Mi 10 Lite. Simply because it doesn't feel appropriate here: there's nothing that jumps out and makes you think "oh, this phone isn't a performer". In every regard, from our week living with it as our own device, it's passed various tests with flying colours.
In context: the 2020 LG flagship, the Velvet, has a Snapdragon 765 processor. So does this Xiaomi. We're ultimately spoiled with just how good processors in phones have become - to the point that, much of the time, the top-end ones such as the SD865 Plus aren't always necessary.
Of course there are differences between best of best and lower-end handsets, but as this Xiaomi is designed to sit in the higher middle section it delivers on its expectation. If anything it overdelivers. Gaming on this device is no problem. Wi-Fi isn't slow. You're not left hanging due to the software - although the MIUI 11 setup here does have its downsides.
We said much the same about the Mi 10 Pro: Xiaomi's takeover of Google's Android OS, which is called MIUI, has a number of duplications that you won't need. This is what happens with most Chinese phone makers - because there's a self-appointed brand store, here the Mi Store, which has next to no value in the west when the device is also running Google Play Store. Sometimes apps will update via here. Sometimes the security software will scan an app downloaded via Google Play and throw an advert in your face for the pleasure.
Is the software such a bother that it's a hindrance? No, it's got everything you'll need: app drawer, full screen display, widgets, custom layouts and themes, per app notification tweaks, and everything in-between. It may just have the odd quirk here or there due to two apps trying to do the same thing.
The mixture of software and hardware, paired with a 4,160mAh battery, also delivers a pretty good innings per charge. Moderate use will see you use half the battery over 12 hours. Therefore a 16 hour day with some more pressing app sessions and on-screen time should see you easily with above 25 per cent in the tank by the end of the day - ensuring there's always enough for those extra asks and tasks.
- 'Quad' rear camera setup
- Main: 48-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, 0.8µm pixel size
- Wide (120˚/15mm): 8MP, f/2.2, 1.12µm
- Macro: 2MP, f/2.4
- Depth: 2MP, f/2.4
- Front-facing notch camera: 16MP, f/2.5, 1.0µm
The one area where the Mi 10 Lite does reveal its 'Lite' nature is in the cameras department. Maybe that's a bit unfair, as while the so-called 'quad' camera rear is a total oversell - and very common that is too - the main camera is actually very capable. It's just that even fewer cameras and more cost savings here would be preferable.
So what is there on that rear four-lens unit? A main 48-megapixel sensor leads the charge, which outputs four-in-one 12MP shots by default; there's a dedicated wide-angle lens, too, although it's only 8MP; then there's two 2MP sensors - one for macro and the other for depth - that probably aren't necessary at all, as the macro is poor and the depth could be devised with the other two cameras anyway.
What we would much rather have present here is a zoom lens. That's because the Mi 10 Lite's camera app offers a '2x' symbol in its camera app, but that's digital zoom only - and because there's no optical image stabilisation, handshake is considerably exagerrated in this mode, which can make getting a digi-zoom shot all the more problematic. Sure, optical stabilisation costs money, and the Lite isn't a pricey phone, but some sort of zoom/stabilisation setup would be far better.
After taking a few lockdown snaps, however, we can see the quality from the main camera. That's what speaks volumes here. In outdoors daylight it offers plenty of detail. Its Night mode is fairly impressive too, capable enough to avoid the worst of image noise and produce decent-looking shots even from handheld situations when there's not a lot of light to work with.
It's got the other typical modes too - Portrait for software-blurred backgrounds; 48MP for ultra-resolute shots using all those pixels; Pro for taking control over all the settings - to offer a fairly compelling set of tools. You might not be that likely to dig into them, but at least they're on hand.
Overall, then, while the macro and depth sensors aren't necessary and make the 'quad camera' a total oversell, the main lens delivers the goods, and while the wide-angle isn't nearly up to the same sort of quality - edge softness and more pronounced image noise, as is typical from such a setup - it's great to be able to pinch outwards on the screen in order to expand the horizon of how much can squeeze into the frame.
As the market hots up to deliver a more affordable 5G phone, Xiaomi's offering is high up the scale and with little compromise. It's only Motorola that's really come knocking - and even then not with as strong an overall specification as this Mi 10 Lite offers.
The Mi 10 Lite commits a couple of wrongdoings though: it oversells its rear camera setup; and it undersells just how great a device it is by plonking the word 'Lite' in its name. Having used the phone for a week it's anything but lightweight in its delivery.
The hardware here is plenty capable, the build is of good quality - there are some notch/bezel foibles - the main camera delivers solid results, while the OLED panel is a step above what you might expect.
Ignore the name for a moment and focus on what matters: the Mi 10 Lite delivers class-leading spec in a well-priced and altogether tempting package.
Moto G 5G Plus
The other big contender in this market sector will have cleaner software and there's a bigger battery capacity too.