I have been a proud owner of Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 6P, Pixel and now Pixel 3. Since the first Pixel phone, I fell in love with the form factor, camera and the stock Android experience. I don’t consider myself a Google fanboy, but having the latest Android on your device first always felt premium to me. You can picture the system shock, I went through trying out Xiaomi Mi 9 with MiUI10 interface! It’s not Google phone that’s for sure.
Xiaomi Mi 9 review
On paper, Xiaomi Mi 9 comes with, jaw-dropping specs for the price (around $400 depending on a promotional offer going at the moment). Xiaomi managed to cram all the latest bells and whistles into a device that does not come with a “flagship” price.
- Display (6.39″ Samsung AMOLED 2340 x 1080 FHD+ 403 PPI)
- CPU Snapdragon™ 855 Octa-core processor, up to 2.84 GHz
- RAM: 6GB LPDDR4x 2133MHz dual-channel
- Sony 48MP ultra wide-angle AI triple camera (12MP/16MP/48MP &20MP)
- 20W wireless charging
- dual SIM cards
- GPS:L1+L5 | Galileo:E1+E5a | GLONASS:L1 | Beidou:B1
This reminds me of the NEXUS times where Google’s phones would come with impressive stats and an attractive price point. I can’t help the feeling of being shafted after I spent nearly twice as much on a Google Pixel 3. At first worried, I won’t be able to root the phone – but turns out – the root was available very quick (root guide)!
Hardware that impressed me most
Excel lists with specs neither tell the full story or make for fun articles, so I would like to focus on things that impressed me most.
Going with Samsung’s AMOLED was a great choice, the display is brighter than Pixel 3, with superb colours and decent PPI count. The associated display options will apply the brightness and tint based on time of the day, light intensity and custom rules.
Camera, or should I say all 4 of them…
Wait, a Pixel 3 owner impressed with the camera? That’s a bold claim! I talked before about how good is Pixel 3 camera vs other Pixel phones, but now that I was able to test Xiaomi Mi 9 against Pixel 3 (see results) I’m a massive fan of what Xiaomi did with the Sony’s 48MP sensor and 3 other lenses.
- 48 MP, f/1.8, 27mm (wide), 1/2″, 0.8µm, PDAF/Laser AF
- 16 MP, f/2.2, 13mm (ultrawide), 1/3.0″, 1.0µm, PDAF/Laser AF
- 12 MP, f/2.2, 54mm (telephoto), 1/3.6″, 1.0µm, PDAF/Laser AF, 2x optical zoom
- 20MP, 0.9µm pixel size, f/2.0 aperture (selfie camera)
That’s a list and a half when it comes to your camera options! The images are comparable (and better) than the ones produced by the Pixel 3 with the 4K video (especially at 60FPS) blowing the Google’s phone out of the water!
The camera app alone is very easy to use, and the PRO mode (full manual control over all sensors) is just a cherry on the top of that photographic cake.
I still prefer sensor at the back, but the in-screen fingerprint sensor is ultra-fast. It’s quicker than Pixel 3, but you won’t be able to use it once the phone is unlocked. You can add and customise shortcuts associated with the unlock action, but that’s about all you can do with the sensor.
It’s hard at times to align the finger correctly since there is no sensual feedback, so unlocking via fingerprint may be frustrating at times.
This is where the face unlock comes in. If set to respond to “raise phone” options, you can barely even glance at the lock screen before the phone is unlocked. It’s just instant! Also works with sunshades!
Assistant button and customisation
On the right-hand side, you will find your volume rocker and the power button (sadly, neither is textured) and on the other side – a customisable button which by default comes with Google Assistant assignment.
Speaking of customisation MIUI 10 comes with more toggles and options that I could ever think of. Two weeks into my tests I still keep finding options to change a setting or UI to suit my needs better.
I’m not going to cover these options but I will talk about two features I’m excited about and I have not used before.
Dual Sims, Dual Apps, Second Screen
This is the first phone with dual SIMs I get to play with. I use a spare number to test Tasker WhatsApp profiles, and use the phone in a private and professional manner.
Dual Apps allow you to clone the app and use it in parallel. I no longer have to use 2 phones or WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business to test my Tasker creations, now I can clone the WhatsApp and use it with 2 different numbers on the same phone.
It gets better – the Second Screen is Xiaomi’s take on user accounts. Apart from creating a stand-alone space, essentially creating a new phone, spaces notify each other about notifications (optional) and you can use a specific pin to access each space directly from the lock screen!
That’s a perfect solution for anyone looking to use the phone in the professional capacity and not to mix it with your private stuff.
Enough with the praise, what’s wrong with Mi9
No device is perfect, Xiaomi Mi 9 comes darn close to the perfection expected from a $400 device, but there is one thing that is simply not acceptable right now, and a couple of other design choices that I personally find annoying.
This is fixed in the beta channel, but I’m not 100% sure why this ever ended up in the official ROM. Currently, when a notification is received, it appears in the notification bar for a couple of seconds and disappears. The notification is still present when you pull down the notification shade, but not in the top bar (watch the video review for the example).
A bug like this could not go unnoticed, which makes me wonder, what’s the issue? The fix is already in the beta channel, but to do this, you have to flash the beta image or use an app that fixes this “for now”. Seriously, Xiaomi? This is such a letdown!
It’s bad. It feels like the included speakers are a token gesture. Located on the bottom, not only sound incredibly positional, but the sound coming from the speakers is unimpressive, to say the least. The phone is as loud as Pixel 3 but the sound coming out from the device feels “cheap”. I think they cut this corner way too much!
NavBar is locked! [resolved]
It shows how easy is to miss some of the customisation options, but thanks to Maciej, I was able to find the option in “Full-Screen Display” to mirror the buttons.
Below, no longer applies – I’m even happier now!
I mentioned that Mi9 comes with so many customisations that it simply blows my mind. Every day I discover another setting or toggle that I can use to change the way I can interact with the device, but I cannot rearrange the NavBar buttons without using mods.
This is especially annoying if you are coming from the Pixel series when the back button is on the completely opposite side. I’m not sure if I can use to this or will I give up and mod the NavBar with some root enabled tools.
No App Drawer
Yes, I know, a Pixel fanboy complains about things that Pixel does Pixel way and other phones do not. I could install a 3rd party launched, but considering the other options, I have at hand, not giving me a choice of how to interact with the apps is a flaw.
Notch – not a big fan, not much I can do about it.
Bloat – some system apps I could live without, especially, that I would need the root to remove the baked into the image apps. Security app comes with ads, and the folder with suggested apps got that too!
No Android One version – seriously, give me Android One version with this camera app – and I’m sold!
The price of the phone is an obvious factor. This is what I would consider a very affordable “flagship” device. It’s what the Nexus line stood in the past for. Incredibly good specs, with some sacrifices made to give you a premium mobile experience at a reasonable price.
After many iterations of the Google Phones, Xiaomi Mi9 feels fresh, different and comes with new exciting ways the device can be used. Since I already switched to the Beta channel, figured out the root and made the Android Pay work – I think I will be sticking with this phone for a while. If you have any questions – ask it in this Reddit thread.