- Affordable price
- Impressive camera setup
- Powerful chipset
- Gets hot rather easily
- Odd-looking UI
Xiaomi is still relatively new to the mobile market outside China – the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro was the first phone to be launched in the UK, for example, of 2021 – but it’s a serious competition to establish brands with the Xiaomi Mi 9, its latest flagship. The Mi 9 looks like an incredible jack-of-all-trades; it has a powerful processor, impressive camera setup, and supports up to 20W of fast charging – and it’s a whole load cheaper than phones with a similar specification. This is our Xiaomi Mi 9 Review.
It’s not without its drawbacks – Xiaomi had to put some effort into getting a fantastic chipset and camera setup into the handset at such a low price, and his attempt to design his UI for the Mi 9 is unlikely to please everyone. Since the release of the Xiaomi Mi 9, competitors have emerged, notably the Huawei P30, a three-camera camera powerhouse with a streamlined design and impressive chipset, and it’s at a price point only slightly higher than the Mi 9.
But overall, the Mi 9 is an impressive mid-range device, with internals that is surprisingly good for its relatively low price – so is this phone, and the Xiaomi brand is overall, a serious threat to established mid-range Android smartphone makers like Huawei and OnePlus?
Xiaomi Mi 9 Review – Design and Display
The Mi 9 has a slightly curved glass back, giving it a distinctive look and comfortable feel. Xiaomi says this creates an attractive holographic effect; we haven’t noticed this with the Piano Black handset we’ve tested, but the colors Ocean Blue or Lavender Violet may do this effect a little better. The Mi 9 has a 6.39-inches AMOLED display, with a resolution of 2340 x 1080 Full HD+, providing vivid colors with a wide range of brightness – it was a treat to watch movies on and a complement to the fantastic camera design.
This screen is equipped with a small top edge that contains the camera at the front, but otherwise, the screen is uninterrupted, with no top edge to talk about and with a minimal chin. The Xiaomi Mi 9 measures 157.5mm x 74.67mm x 7.61mm, so it’s a medium-sized device, but at 173g, it does feel a little on the heavy side – it’s undoubtedly not Moto G7 Power, but we did start to notice its weight after long game sessions or photoshoots. At the bottom of the device, you’ll find a USB-C port – though not a 3.5mm headphone jack – while the volume and power buttons are on the right, and the re’s a Google assistance button on the left.
These buttons are quite pronounced – we often accidentally pressed the Google Assistant button when we dropped or picked up the phone on its side, which became annoying after a while. On the back of the phone is the tri-lens camera, which we’ll look at in detail later – we often scraped our finger on it when we moved the phone in our hand. Overall, however, it’s an excellent device to hold – the side buttons and fingerprint sensor on the screen is low enough to be easily accessible, the curved glass back feels comfortable in hand for long periods.
The Google Assist button is usually out of the way – although the large display does mean that the top of the device can be challenging to reach. Inside the box is a plastic case that fits snugly into the handset and conveniently hides how hot the smartphone can get – more on that later. While this is useful to protect the device, it does add some extra bulk, so it may not be for everyone.
The Mi 9 doesn’t have the worst battery in the world, but at 3,300mAh, it’s a bit on the small side for a device with such powerful specifications, and in practice, we found it a bit disappointing. The battery level dropped rapidly with moderate use – scrolling through social media and checking the news on an hour-long commute consumed between 10% and 20%. The phone normally didn’t last a day without a top-up at any given time.
Usually, games and movies consume the power of a phone faster than regular use. Still, when playing high-end games and streaming shows on Netflix, we didn’t notice a very significant change in the amount of battery usage. When we passed the Mi 9 battery test, playing a 90-minute video at full brightness with accounts syncing on Wi-Fi in the background, the battery dropped only to 85%. That’s a bit better than last year’s Samsung Galaxy S9, which finished at 84%, but not as good as the iPhone XS, which dropped just 11%.
We did find that the phone charged incredibly fast – with the included charger, it only took 45 minutes to reach 90%, although the charging rate dropped noticeably for the last 10%. Wireless charging was just as impressive – with a 10W charger, the handset reached 80% in only 30 minutes, and the Mi 9 supports up to 20W charging, which would charge the phone even faster. Those are some impressive speeds, and it was a bit annoying to have to charge the phone often, but we preferred a larger battery, so this wasn’t a problem.
Xiaomi Mi 9 Review – Camera
The camera is one of the most important features of Xiaomi Mi 9. On the back, there are 48MP f/1.75 wide-angle, a 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle, and a 12MP f/2.2 telephoto lens, which together take pretty great photos, and which are complemented by a collection of AI functions to help you take photos. At the front, there is a 20MP f/2.0 selfie camera, which is in the small ‘tear’ notch. The images taken with the camera looked great, with fantastically well-rendered colors – certain tones are enhanced, especially red and green, that seemed incredibly vivid on screen.
The camera didn’t do so well for low-light photos, where the quality suffered from the fact that there wasn’t a lot of natural light. However, the colors in these settings were still amplified, resulting in some interesting images. The Night camera mode fixed this to some extent, but the photos still didn’t look as good as we would have liked. A new feature of the camera is the ultra-wide-angle mode, which uses the 16MP ultra-wide-angle lens, with a 117° angle of view, to take panoramic photos.
This was useful for some photos, as it allowed us to include more of our subjects in the image, but because of the larger angle, the image seemed a bit squashed. But perhaps the camera’s strongest point is its depth sensitivity, thanks to the 12-megapixel telephoto lens. It was quick enough to focus on subjects and accurately measure the depth to apply the right amount of background blur, without even having to select the phone’s bokeh or beauty modes.
The re’s also a manual focus mode, where you tap your subject on the screen to focus, and this, too, was quick and effortless to use. The front camera was also reliable and quickly focused automatically with reasonable color accuracy. However, it’s not surprising that they don’t meet the standard of photos taken with the primary camera. There are several pre- and post-production functions, including Beauty Mode, which allows you to add bokeh effects to photos, add smooth skin tones and other inflorescences, and Pro Mode, which gives you control over shooting settings such as aperture and shutter speed.
Both of these features were great to use – they let us perfect our shots when we needed to take artistic-looking photos. The rear camera also supports up to 4K video recording, which was a bit difficult to set as the option was buried in menus.
A remarkable part of the Xiaomi Mi 9 is the user interface, which Xiaomi calls MIUI and which runs over the top of the Android 9 Pie UI – but we’re not too excited about the way it looks. MIUI app icons are not a uniform shape – third-party apps were square with rounded corners. Still, there were also circles, custom shapes, squares with corners more or less rounded than third party icons, and squares with pointed corners, and the lack of consistency left us untouched.
Besides, the large icons, with pale colors for the first-party apps, looked a bit unsupported, so sometimes we felt like we were using a children’s phone instead of a cutting-edge flagship. A remarkable part of the Xiaomi Mi 9 is the user interface, which Xiaomi calls MIUI and which runs over the top of the Android 9 Pie UI – but we’re not too excited about the way it looks. MIUI app icons are not a uniform shape – third-party apps were square with rounded corners.
But there were also custom shapes like squares, circles with corners more or less rounded than third party icons, and squares with pointed corners and the lack of consistency left us untouched. Besides, the large icons, with pale colors for the first-party apps, looked a bit unsubstantiated, so sometimes we felt like we were using a children’s phone instead of a cutting-edge flagship.
Xiaomi Mi 9 Review – Performance
The Xiaomi’s Mi 9 is one of the first devices powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipset, which is also found in the Samsung Galaxy 10 and is probably the most advanced mobile processor available today – and it shows. When we did a benchmark test on the Mi 9, it yielded an impressive multi-core score of 10,316; that’s one of the highest ratings we’ve seen, only slightly better than the iPhone XS and Galaxy S10 Plus – and you won’t be able to pick up those phones for anything close to the price of the Mi 9.
Despite having only 6GM RAM, where many flagships now pack 8GB, the handset is a calculating powerhouse enough to compete with its high-end competitors. The user interface was impressively smooth and responsive, even when we had multiple apps open, and also demanding games ran smoothly – we played PUBG Mobile at its highest settings. The phone didn’t break any shrinkage. Even the camera, which on some handsets can be the weak link in an otherwise efficient setup, was fast and responsive.
However, the above heating is not just a problem when you’re gaming or watching movies – we also found that when we used the camera for some time, the handset heated up. During long photoshoots, we could see that this became a problem, as it could lead to damage to the battery or other parts of the phone – when we were testing the camera, the battery reached 42C, over an average operating temperature of around 29C, which was quite alarming.
Xiaomi Mi 9 Review – Conclusion
The Xiaomi Mi 9 is a powerful device with some great features – and at such a relatively low price, it’s unexpectedly fantastic. With a chipset and a camera set up to compete with top brands such as the Samsung Galaxy S10, but with a price tag that is about half as big, it is a device worth considering if you want a sturdy handset from a less well-known brand. That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect phone, and the corners Xiaomi has cut to keep the price of the Mi 9’s low are becoming more evident the more you use it.
Gaming and photography can cause the phone to heat up a little too much – never to a level that slows the phone down, but more than most other handsets would do under similar conditions. The battery capacity is also a bit disappointing – a device so suitable for battery-intensive activities really should be able to last longer when used for those activities.
Specification: Xiaomi Mi 9