Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi is a jack of all trades. It does a number of connected gadgets, including TV, toothbrushes, scooters and even kettles. Nevertheless, we know it most as a smartphone maker, and it is now the fourth largest in the world. It has reached the high altitude thanks to a single promise: Quality hardware at rock bottom prices, and the flagship Mi 8 series is a good example of it.
Now that Xiaomi officially sells products in the UK (in front of a possible attempt to do it in the United States), it means we can take a closer look at the phones. Mi 8 starts at just £ 459, with the Pro model running at £ 499. Compared to one base model OnePlus 6T (£ 499), Mi 8 offers many of the same specifications ̵
I used the most Mi8 Pro during this review, but you can assume all the same points for the cheaper model unless otherwise stated.
Hardware, Design, What's in the Box
Aside from the Mi Mi-Series Limited Edition, Xiaomi is known to copy the best design options for its rivals. This is something cultural since Chinese consumers intend to buy phones that look like iPhones, but cost a lot less. The Mi 8 Series phones keep some borrowed features, such as general aesthetic and camera module designs, but that's not to say they are not great phones.
Even the eye-catching transparent back showing the supposed internals of Mi 8 Pro has been done before. However, it looks good, even though we know it's only an illusion than the actual components we see. Cringeworthy slogans like "Be the coolest company in the hearts of our users" and "Always believe that something amazing will happen" adorns some of these items, but fortunately, it's small enough to go unnoticed unless you point them. The subtle, handy shade on the sides goes nicely with the red power button, giving a finer finish than any newer phones. The same red color exists around the camera lenses and inside the Type-C port – both fine touches. Unfortunately, only one of the two loudspeakers on each side of the gate is functional – the other is just for symmetry – and there is no earpiece speaker that offers stereo sound. It's not super loud, but it's enough.
Mi 8 Pro from all angles.
Although it's unoriginal in design, the building quality here is impressive. The Mi 8 Pro is a bit thicker because of the fingerprint sensor and the fake components, but both feel slim and have a good weight on them. Despite all that glass, there is no wireless charge. The front of the phone will put many off, but the big notch can be explained by the IR face-locking device that is wrapped in it, while the big hook may be less excusable. Still next to a Pixel 3 XL, it does not look so good.
Left to right: Mi 8, Google Pixel 3 XL, Mi 8 Pro, Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
The screen on both phones is the same 6.21 inch AMOLED panel (2248×1080, 402 ppi) with an unusual ratio of 18.7: 9. It can obviously be up to 600 nits and it's definitely bright enough. The display is of decent quality without imperfections that I can make. If there is a big negative point for design and construction, there is a lack of waterproofing. Not having an IP rating is one thing, but Xiaomi does not mention water or dust protection at all, which is a concern.
The regular Mi 8, which was quite difficult to photograph thanks to the shining back.
Both phones come with the same accessory in the box, consisting of an 18W charger adapter, USB Type A to Type C cable, and headphone jack adapter. It's also a TPU case that's thin and transparent, and shows Mi 8 Pro's quite a bit.
Google, Huawei and Samsung are still leading the way in the case of phone cameras, but the subsequent package has closed the gap significantly over the last year or two. Naming OnePlus 6T This year's Smartphone is a testament to its imaging enhancements, and the Mi 8 cameras (the same on both phones) are additional examples that cheaper hardware produces good results. Take a look at some of my photos below.
Xiaomi put two 12MP sensors on the back, with the secondary telephoto lens offering 2x optical zoom. The cameras really shine in well-lit environments, delivering a surprising level of detail along with good contrast and color rendering. As long as you do not have the setting settings turned on, the finishing touch is not too heavy-handed. Automatic HDR and AI scene selection also help ensure you make the most of a given scenario, and photos in low light also come out much better than I'd ever expected them.
As you may have noticed, my first few pictures had an annoying watermark that should not really be on the standard. Whole manual settings are there for those who know what they are doing, and for the Instagram generation, there are plenty of bokeh and front camera change options available. Video recording (up to 4K at 30fps) uses OIS well, and slow recordings of up to 240fps are on board as well. All in all, the cameras are a triumph, especially when considering the price of these phones.
Software, Performance, Battery Life
The biggest weakness of the Mi phones is the software. MIUI is simply not as intuitive or well organized as Google's Android (Pixel or Android One), and it's not as easy on the eye as OnePlus Oxygen OS or other lighter skins. Mi Fans will no doubt disagree, having seen MIUI improve immensely in recent years, but it still has a way to go.
Left to right: Mi 8, Google Pixel 3 XL, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Mi 8 Pro.
Since I started using Mi 8 Pro, I have had a big update to MIUI 10, but it is still built on top of 8.1 Oreo Pie is apparently soon on its way. As it is now, I have had to struggle with no warning icons, just see lock screen alerts for the latest alerts, and an alarm that can not be rejected without unlocking. Since the last update, the display turns off and on again, the alarm will appear without unlocking, but this is not consistent at all.
To compose the alarm problem, the fingerprint sensor is not accurate enough. It's worse than both OnePlus 6T and Huawei Mate 20 Pro. It's fast enough when it works, but it does not often fade my tablet – which is crazy when you just woke up and desperately try to silence the alarm. Face locking via IR sensors is a bit more consistent, but it still fails in some light and lacks a setting that lets you see your lock before turning up to open the phone.
Why are these player notifications so big? Why the brightness of iOS style?
Messages have certainly improved since the phone got MIUI 10, but it's still a first class experience. You can eventually turn off notifications for later, but only if you swipe left; Swiping right rejects and nothing else, and since I mostly swipe my alerts to the left, it took me a long time to realize that snoozing was another option. Others bugbears in no particular order: You can not uninstall or hide duplicate apps (such as Xiaome's own calendar or contacts apps), the DND Quick Settings icon makes it look like Night Light, and it's all about changing for quiet and vibrant (like not reset to previous status when using DND), face lock was not available out of the box, the last update made up customizations for things like fast settings and always on screen does not work at all. I could go on with problems with MIUI, but fortunately, Rita has already written an entire post on some of the worst aspects of it.
My many criticism aside, this is still Android under it all and many good things shine through. Overall performance everything is incredibly nippy and with 6 or 8GB of RAM, there will never be a memory problem. The battery life could, and probably be better, though. Mi 8 Pro has a capacity of only 3000mAh, which led to a few touch-and-go moments where I thought it would die before I got home late in the day – after much use it has to be said. On average, battery life was just ok. It's probably not a selling point, but it could get worse. Mi 8 has a 3,400mAh cell that is far better, so if battery life is an important concern for you, it may be the one to go.
Should you buy it?
Maybe. It is impossible not to compare with Mi 8 and Mi 8 Pro for OnePlus 6 and 6T prices and the specifications make it inevitable – so that has been my biggest rating. Both OnePlus phones are undoubtedly better out, at least from the front. If you really dig the transparent back of the Mi 8 Pro, it may be enough to get it. Xiaomi's software is undoubtedly worse, but not to the extent that most people will have a problem with it. If you use other Android phones a lot, as I do, the issues will be magnified. The performance is strong in both camps, and the cameras are good enough, but battery life is certainly better in the OnePlus models. I would say that if you're used to other Android brands, OnePlus is the easy option. If you have owned Xiaomi phones earlier, you would be more than satisfied with either Mi 8 or Mi 8 Pro – they represent the company's most refined flagship yet.
Finally, it's possible to come down to price and standard Mi 8 is the cheapest of the party, do not rely on the inconsistent fingerprint reader on the screen and have better battery life than the Pro model. For that reason, I would recommend Mi 8 in front of his precious sibling. Sincerely, even if you can save extra pennies, OnePlus 6T is probably the best choice right now. In fact, OnePlus 6 has been greatly reduced since Black Friday (£ 399 in the UK right now), so it represents the best value for money in this segment at the moment. If Xiaomi can build on these efforts, the future looks pretty pink.
- You want a cheaper flagship with decent cameras, futuristic biometric features and eye-catching transparent back design
Do not buy if:
- You want a better software experience than MIUI, or you can afford to buy OnePlus or better.
Where to buy
Mi 8 – (£ 459)
Mi 8 Pro – (£ 499)