(Pocket-lint) - What a difference a year makes. The Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro follows on from the year-old Mi 9T Pro - which we thought was excellent for its asking price - with the newer device bringing an even higher specification and more flagship aspirations.

It's a step-change for the series really, with a bigger asking price in tow, adding a certain amount of pressure to expectation. The price is justifiable given the variety of features - the super-fast refresh rate screen, the ultra-resolute camera, and more - but does this jump from one tier to the next actually make sense?

Design & Screen

  • 6.67-inch LCD display, punch-hole camera, 144Hz refresh rate, 1080 x 2400 resolution
  • Finishes available: Cosmic Black, Lunar Silver, Aurora Blue
  • Dimensions: 165.1 x 76.4 x 9.3mm / Weight: 218g
  • Aluminium frame with Gorilla Glass front/rear
  • Side-positioned fingerprint scanner
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack

With the Mi 9T Pro the focus was on the screen: it featured no notch, thanks to a fancy pop-up selfie camera, and was an AMOLED panel too. The Mi 10T is a total change from that: it does feature a punch-hole cut-out for the front camera, so no mechanised pop-up to be seen here, while the panel could be seen as a 'downgrade' as it's LCD this time around.

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However, that LCD panel crams in some headline-grabbing features, most prominent being the 144Hz refresh rate. That's on par with current gaming phones, meaning a refresh of up to 144 times per second, compared to the typical 60 times per second of most phones (although other flagships are pushing 90Hz and 120Hz as big selling points too).

Does 144Hz really matter? Well, it's a yes and no answer, really. Yes, in the right circumstances, there's an added degree of smoothness, so scrolling is less taxing on the eyes. Some games, too, will be able to tap into the phone's raw power and get more out of this kind of refresh - or an aspect of it, at perhaps 90/120Hz instead of the full 144Hz - for a better play experience.

But, no, it doesn't always matter - because certain sections of software won't comprehend this faster refresh. Our banking app, as one example, stutters more on the Mi 10T than it does on a 'standard' device from the year before. Plus there's an argument as to when you can really, truly see and feel the benefit of higher refresh - it's not always obvious, making it a nice-to-have rather than absolute essential.

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Some people's thinking is also that an OLED panel with lower refresh rate would be preferable to LCD with higher refresh rate. Having lived with this device for a week, however, we really don't think many people will turn their noses up at this LCD. It's sharp, it's bright, it's colourful without overdoing things, and it's a flat panel too - meaning no accidental touches and no contrast drop-off towards the edges, as you might find on a curved screen.

All in all, then, the Mi 10T Pro has a great screen. Just don't read into the 144Hz and the LCD parts too much. It's the experience that matters. Shame there's a punch-hole notch - which we've sometimes seen 'leaking' beyond the main black-out top bar - but that's now very much the norm for 2020 and hardly a massive distraction that you'll worry about it. It's more that the Mi 9T Pro was without such a notch interruption that makes it stand out more here.

In terms of other features, that step change from Mi 9T Pro to Mi 10T Pro is apparent: the 3.5mm headphone jack of the older device is absent in the newer model; the under-screen fingerprint scanner has upped and moved itself to the side on the power button; and the overall size of the design - largely down to the rear protruding cameras unit and increased battery capacity - is much larger in the Mi 10T than its predecessor.

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Many of those points could be seen as downgrades, really, but we've found the fingerprint scanner perfectly responsive and well positioned, and the absence of that headphone jack hasn't been something we've missed at all - Bluetooth is king these days, after all.

Performance & Battery

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 8GB RAM configuration
  • Google Android 10 OS; Xiaomi MIUI 12 software
  • 5,000mAh battery; 33W USB-C fast-charging

In terms of power, the Mi 10T Pro is a powerhouse, thanks to the top-spec Qualcomm SD865 processor and a decent 8GB RAM. Just as we've said of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and plenty of other devices of late, this chipset brings a lot of positives to gaming and app experiences - and it's no different in the Mi 10T Pro.

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That Qualcomm platform is more demanding on battery life, though, which we suspect is why Xiaomi has opted to ramp up the battery capacity in this device - at 5,000mAh it's a good 15-20 per cent more capacious than many flagships on the market - and given enough thickness within the design for everything to breathe and avoid overheating.

Our use over a week has shown the battery to be pretty astonishing too. With the 144Hz screen active at all times - you can adjust this in settings if you wish - we've only been cutting though 45 per cent or so in around 15 hours of use. That's included an hour of Strava tracking and an hour of gaming, too, so it's not as though we've been crossing our fingers for it to last - you could easily stretch to two full days from this battery, even with that top-end chipset on board. That's impressive.

What's a little more conflicting, however, is the software. Here it's Xiaomi's MIUI 12 over the top of Google's Android 10 operating system. There's full access to Google Play Services and the Play Store for apps, but Xiaomi does also have its own store for its own apps. And it has rather a few of its own apps take precedence - even if you're transferring from another phone and don't want that to be the case.

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This has been a bit of an issue with some simple things such as the Google Clock not being allowed to sound an audible alarm to override DND or Silent mode. Only the Xiaomi Clock app can do that. The variety of noise/vibration/haptic alerts/feedback and what happens when can be very perplexing in the menu setups too, and will take a lot of tweaking to get how you want it to be - by default 'Silent' will buzz and vibrate at just about anything otherwise.

But that's not all. Xiaomi's MIUI, nice as it looks, just has rough edges here and there. Close an app and watch the shortcut transform from rounded-off square to circle. Swipe right for the Google dashboard and YouTube will alert to tell you it's crashed after just a few seconds - and often on repeat. Load up a folder of apps and you'll have promoted ads in what it wants you to download. We also had trouble with Android Auto not being accepted - "device not supported" - on a test drive, which was frustrating (note: in a second vehicle it wasn't a problem, so perhaps that's down to the car's OS instead).

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All these small issues add up to a more irksome whole. It's not end of days stuff by any means, it's just less refined than it ought to be - especially when MIUI looks neat and tidy and allows for a lot of control over your layout, settings, apps, themes and so forth. Spend time with it and it can be crafted into the form you'll want, but there are hurdles to get there.

Cameras

  • Rear triple camera system:
    • Main (26mm): 108-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, 0.8µm pixel size, optical stabilisation (OIS)
    • Ultra-wide (13mm): 13MP, f/2.4, 1.12µm
    • Macro: 5MP, f/2.4
  • 8K video at 30fps, 4K at 60/30fps, 1080p at 120fps
  • Selfie camera (27mm): 20MP, f/2.2,  0.8µm

The last major component of this device is the triple rear camera setup. The main difference between the standard Mi 10T and this Pro model is the ultra-resolute camera in the latter. At 108-megapixels it's certainly not mucking around when it comes to grabbing those headline specs.

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Although, really, you don't need a camera this resolute - and it uses four pixels in one to produce 27MP results as standard anyway. The 64MP unit in the standard Mi 10T model would be fine enough. But we get it, it's all a bit of a game, with the big boys playing off against one another in which brand can offer 'most' - Samsung is at it too, with the S20 Ultra.

By throwing so much into that main camera unit, however, the other two optics that make up part of the trio - there's not five, despite it looking like there is! - don't get quite the same treatment.

There's an ultra-wide, which is a fun camera to use to cram extra into a scene - although it's not the sharpest by any means - and is fairly standard on many multi-camera devices these days. And then there's a macro camera, which is low resolution, used for close-up shooting, and - just as we've said of other phones with this extra - is a largely pointless venture.

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The clear omission is any kind of true zoom or telephoto lens. Where's the 2x or 3x optic to really sell the 'Pro' name of this device? It's been foregone for the sake of that expensive main sensor, we feel. That said, as there's so much resolution available, a 2x, 5x, 10x, 30x digital zoom is available through the app - which is a nice idea, but the camera app is poor at focusing on anything specific when in this digital zoom. A true optical zoom resolves more detail and with more creative control over focus, so it's a shame that Xiaomi hasn't pushed that angle here.

But what about the images? It's not the first time we've seen this 108-megapixel sensor at work - the Mi Note 10 (CC9) was the first Xiaomi phone with it inside. In the newer Mi 10T we think Xiaomi has made better on its actual camera app, which feels quicker and slicker in MIUI 12, while the actual results are generally decent too.

The main sensor delivers shots with plenty of detail and colour (not that there's much colour in the rain-soaked UK as it enters autumn). So when there's light available the Mi 10T is able to deliver strong results. Its low-light performance isn't amazing though, which is a tell-tale sign of this sensor being so high resolution. 

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Overall, we feel the Mi 10T's 108-megapixel is strong - but a bit of an oversell. The standard handset has a lower resolution camera, but we don't feel you'd be missing much by having that. What's really absent here is any true optical zoom lens. Can't have it all, though, eh? And at least the camera app is nice and responsive with lots of features and modes this time around.

Verdict

The Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro is a game of two halves. There are lots of positives at first - the battery longevity, 144Hz fast refresh screen, and heaps of power being the obvious points - but then some of the less positive aspects - the software irks, the absence of a true zoom camera, the bulk of the rear camera unit - begin to creep in.

Take on board, too, that the Mi 10T Pro is a step up in price compared to the Mi 9T Pro and it needs to be considered in a slightly different way. It's €599 asking price is astonishingly good value for all that's on offer - keenly undercutting the Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition - but by adding that ultra-resolute camera this device is no longer under than critical €400-500 point.

If you're looking for a flagship that dares to be a bit different, the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro has plenty of accolades under its spec-heavy belt. It'll give the OnePlus 8 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 FE some sleepless nights, that's for sure.

Also consider

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OnePlus 8 Pro

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If you really want that AMOLED display, a better software experience, and a more versatile camera setup - albeit without the massive resolution - then OnePlus has a whole lot to offer here.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

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Yes, it costs more, but it also has a better software experience and a zoom camera thrown into the mix. The screen isn't as fast on the refresh and the battery less capacious, though, which gives Xiaomi a strong platform to work from.

Writing by Mike Lowe.