You have to be doing something good when you have been the top smartphone maker in India for over 2 years with a market share hovering around the 30% mark. You have to be doing something special when you have consolidated your success in smartphones with success in smart TVs by becoming the number 1 player in that segment as well. Of course, I’m talking about Xiaomi. Despite all this success, the one thing Xiaomi hasn’t been able to crack has been the premium segment of the smartphone market which admittedly is the lucrative and sexy stuff most people aspire to be part of. In its 6 year stint in India, it has risen to the top very quickly and held its own, but the premium segment of the market is elusive with it crashing and failing at least three times.
Its success has been mostly hedged on the success of its affordable Redmi brand of smartphones. These phones have captured the fancy of the growing Indian population which is starting to discover the internet as 4G exploded in the country with the launch of Reliance Jio. And this is where some of the earlier overtures towards the high-end segment of the market failed. In the case of the Mi 4, they didn’t have 4G support, in 2015. In the case of the Mi 5, by Hugo Barra’s own admission, there wasn’t enough storage in the SKU they launched in India. And by 2017, when Xiaomi got around to launching the Mi Mix 2, OnePlus had pretty much taken over the premium Android mind space alongside Samsung and Apple.
The challenge for Xiaomi was so steep that in 2018, it just didn’t bother launching a high-end phone. Its focus had shifted on other categories like smart TVs where it found a lot of success, alongside the gaming-focused Poco brand which now it has spun-off. Even in 2019, it rebranded the Mi 9 as the K20 Pro in India where it did find some success. So at the start of 2020, Xiaomi’s executives Raghu Reddy and Sumit Sonal told reporters and reviewers that it was refocusing its energies towards the Mi brand hinting towards the launch of the Mi 10 and other Mi branded devices like the laptop they have been promoting off late.
And after testing the Mi 10 for over a week, I can tell you I’m pleasantly surprised, if not shocked at how good the Mi 10 is. In ways, it is just not competing to have a say in the premium smartphone market, but also telling us all that “you know we know how to make great phones”. And if you want the best phone, then Mi 10 is the best in many ways more than one.
- The build quality of this phone is just incredible. Xiaomi’s phones are usually very well built, but this is just another level. The fit and finish of the Mi 10 is just top class. But then Xiaomi has also worked on the ergonomics and looks of the phone. The Mi 10 to me is a love child between an OnePlus and Huawei phone; combining the best bits of the two brands have brought to the fore in the realm of smartphone design. That makes the Mi 10 look gorgeous, a phone that’s worthy of anyone’s attention. From the front, you get the typical OnePlus all-screen look, while from the back you get this stunning blueish-green gradient colour combined with a vertical stack of cameras on the left side of the phone. It all looks very nice. The screen also curves seamlessly into the main spine of the phone which makes it narrower making it more comfortable to hold the phone.
- That display in all its 6.67-inch glory is one of the best smartphone displays on the planet. Centred at 1080p with a 90Hz refresh rate this screen provides incredible visual fidelity. It has a peak brightness level of upwards of 1100 nits and it can look very vivid and bright, coupled with deep inky blacks that are typified by the fact it has an OLED screen. HDR10 content shines on this screen and basically, it is delightful for any kind of purpose. At the same time, its dual speakers provide even more immersion as these speakers are clean and they sound loud.
- With its massive 4,780mAh battery life, this phone is the second longest-lasting Xiaomi phone I’ve tested outside of the Redmi Note 9 Pro. Even if one discounts that fact, it is one of the longest-lasting flagship phones you can buy. Its battery life is better than the iPhone 11, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and even the OnePlus 8. More importantly, it’s a phone which will regularly give you more than 24 hours of use on a single charge with it having more than 7 hours of screen on time. The cherry on the cake is the fact that it can be fully charged within 90 mins via a wired connection or wirelessly thanks to 30 watt charging protocols. The 30-watt wireless charging thing is a game-changer. It even supports reverse wireless charging at 10 watts which is the fastest I’ve seen on a phone so far.
- The performance of this phone is ginormous. Fundamentally, the combination of the Snapdragon 865 processor with 8GB DDR5 RAM and 128GB of UFS 3.0 storage is a great package for any Android phone worth its mettle. When coupled with a responsive software layer, it works quite seamlessly. You know you’re dealing with one of the fastest phones around. It can handle high-resolution games without much trouble and also it can multitask like a champion. And it does all this while not getting hot as it has a vapour chamber for cooling it down. It’s a pretty sophisticated package because apart from this, the phone also supports high-resolution audio which shines through while using lossless audio using apps like PowerAmp. Web browsing is also super fast on this phone and you can even edit and process RAW photos from its 108-megapixel camera quite expertly.
- The star of the Mi 10 show is the camera system. It’s a camera system that’s not been hyped the way Samsung hyped its device. That’s probably the reason why most people have been quite sceptical about this 108-megapixel sensor, but on the Xiaomi, boy it is the real deal. In more ways than one, this phone reminds me of the legendary Nokia PureView 808 which kickstarted the pixel binning revolution on smartphones around 8 years ago. The 108-megapixel camera actually shoots photos at 27-megapixels which have an individual size of 1.6um which makes them nice and big, while also leaving massive headroom for resolution. The end result is fantastic imaging. Photos come out rich and detailed with vivid colours and lush depth of field that one associates with rangefinder cameras. In other words, I’ve not seen a smartphone camera click as attractive photos as the Mi 10 ever. It’s the best camera phone I’ve tested since the Huawei P30 Pro and I’d say up against it wins. Because there is so much natural depth because of the sensor size, it also takes tremendous portrait mode photos. Nighttime photography is also very impressive, but its speed is what enchants me the most as other phones take a longer exposure time, in turn, resulting in blurred shots. Professionals will appreciate a very detailed pro mode which allows them to capture even better photos by manipulating the settings in a more granular way. Other than this, it also has a pretty decent wide-angle camera for landscape shots but seriously, you’ll be mostly using the main camera because it is so good. Also, since there is tremendous headroom for details, you really don’t need a telephoto lens as you can just crop into photos without losing detail.
- As good as this phone is at still photography, its capabilities become even more impressive when one talks about the video. Like the Galaxy S20, this phone also shoots 8K video which is some technical achievement. But what’s really impressive is the quality at which it is able to shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second or really cinematic 1080p video which is also super stable. The quality of the video is astounding. So much so that I shot a review of the iPhone SE and captured a lot of the b-roll footage from this phone apart from doing an Instagram live stream of DJ performance and it came out brilliantly. The genius of this video camera is that it is able to capture pristine audio which is a big deal when you are trying to bootleg a music performance. So far, I’ve found that on the iPhone has had the propensity to shoot video that can be used professionally — but I’d say for the first time, I have used an Android phone which is able to deliver a similar calibre of performance. This makes the Mi 10 the best Android camcorder right now and overall makes the Mi 10 the best Android camera phone, if not the best all-around smartphone camera available in India. I’m sure the Mi 10 Pro which hasn’t been launched in India will go one step further.
- There are other little things that make this phone quite sublime. For instance, the front-facing camera is also super good for selfies and even stuff like vlogging. The call quality of this phone is incredible — I managed to get a strong signal on a Jio connection in areas where I didn’t get a strong signal on a phone like the Galaxy S20 with the same SIM. At the same time, they have added an IR blaster which allows you to control your home appliances. For instance, while I was reviewing this phone — I found that one of my Hitachi ACs had a malfunctioning remote. Instead of buying a new remote, I just reverted to controlling it with the Mi 10. No other flagship phone can do this little trick. Last but not the least, are the haptics. They are a massive improvement over what Xiaomi has had on its phones, but I still feel the haptics aren’t as precise as on the Galaxy S20; but great regardless, better than even the OnePlus 8.
- The biggest problem with this phone is MiUI itself. While it is visually appealing and snappy for the part – there are traits that make it inferior to phones like the OnePlus 8 and the Samsung Galaxy S20 in certain ways. For instance, Xiaomi still preloads the mechanism to push ads on the phone. You get it on the setup and then you have to go deep into the settings to remove it. Even if you have it disabled, there are tons of Xiaomi apps like their own App Store which sends out ads as notifications. All of this is ungainly and on top that the user interface also doesn’t feel as smooth as a phone like the OnePlus 8. That shouldn’t be an issue with a phone that’s so expensive and being pitched as a flagship.
- The phone is super heavy. Usually, a product is all about trade-offs — if it’s built as well as the Mi 10, then it is bound to be heavy at 208 grams and it’s also quite chubby at 8.96mm of thickness. It isn’t a portable phone by any measure and at the same time, this means one-handed usage is out of the question. On top of this, Xiaomi has missed out on IP67 water and dust resistance which is there on a more affordable phone like the iPhone SE. Thankfully, Xiaomi does provide basic splash protection with a P2i rating.
- Considering the thickness of the phone and the fact that the phone supports high-resolution audio, I would’ve preferred having a 3.5mm jack. Sure, Xiaomi is pushing its Mi true wireless earphones which admittedly are top-notch, but they aren’t a replacement for a high fidelity wired headphone. I feel it’s pointless to have high-resolution audio and not have a headphone jack as most people don’t have a USB Type C to 3.5 jack adaptors and some adaptors have issues handling impedance levels of different headphones. On top of this, the speakers also don’t support Dolby Atmos which has a pretty nice spatial audio effect on a ton of content.
- Xiaomi’s MiUI 12 update is incoming but there is no word on when the Android 11 update will come. Traditionally, Xiaomi’s phones haven’t been the fastest out of the block to get the latest updates, though they started to turn a corner with the K20 Pro, so there is some hope.
Should you buy it?
If you’re into photography, then recommending the Mi 10 is a no brainer. In fact, even if that’s not the case it’s rather easy to recommend this phone to most people. It checks all the boxes — it’s gorgeous and fast, coupled with incredible cameras and long-lasting battery life. The only stain on this phone is the software situation as it can push out ads which is something most premium smartphones aren’t known to do. If you can ignore these ads or figure out a way around them, then you will be very happy with the Mi 10. In fact, you will see Xiaomi in a new light — a more sophisticated light because they have made a phone that can outmatch almost every smartphone that’s been released in India in the last two years. What’s wild is that this isn’t even their best phone as there is a Mi 10 Pro in China which they haven’t brought to India.