Xiaomi’s Mi 10 is an unusual phone for the company -- it’s expensive, it doesn’t have the level of buzz that some of its other products have and it is bleeding edge. Most people didn’t expect the Mi 10 to be as good as it is - including me. This happened because of a couple of reasons - its launch time coincided with the arrival of the iPhone SE and the OnePlus 8 Pro -- and it didn’t have the cut price that normally makes Xiaomi’s products run away from the pack like Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
But after using this phone as my primary phone for over two months now, I am surprised and happy to let you in on a little secret. If you are looking for the best all-round Android smartphone right now, probably the Mi 10 is the king in India, unexpectedly so, with stalwarts like the OnePlus 8 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra being around. This is quite fascinating because this phone doesn’t just do the basics right but it also manages to nail it in terms of display and camera tech, usually the two things that separate the big boys from the rest.
But even going beyond the usual, there are things in the Mi 10 which make it so far, the most complete flagship Android phone to have launched in India this year. In fact, it is so good that I feel that it will be hard to beat for any other phone considering the derivative nature of upgrades that Android phones get in the latter half of the year.
The reason I say this is because there is only one phone on the horizon which has the ability to outflank the Mi 10 in terms of all-around specifications. That’s the Samsung Galaxy Note 20+. The Mi 10, as good as it looks, perhaps only makes the cut above the Galaxy S20 series thanks to Samsung’s issues with the camera system. If it is able to fix those issues on the Note 20 series, then only the Mi 10 will fall behind. But mind you, the Note series has always been a niche device which will still ensure that the Mi 10 remains the phone to beat on the Android side of the equation even if it doesn’t have a minor processor update for the second half of the year.
It all starts with the design. Xiaomi hasn’t been known for unique designs which are eye-catching -- the Mi 10 is eye-catching, even if its design is slightly formulaic. In fact, this is one of the most well-made phones I’ve tested all year and it is going to be hard to improve. It doesn’t have IP67 water and dust resistance, but the good news is that there is the bare minimum P2i coating which will protect the phone in most scenarios.
The more amazing thing to me is that Xiaomi was able to match Samsung in display tech. Yes, it is an AMOLED screen with a 90Hz refresh rate, upwards of 1000 nits of brightness and a full HD resolution. In terms of numbers, Samsung has got the Xiaomi beat, but in terms of the real-world use, I found the Mi 10 to have an equally effective and gorgeous panel. I would say the same, even if put up against an iPhone 11 Pro or OnePlus 8 Pro. They have not just focussed on the specs of the panel, but also the quality of the screen and it is up there with the best in the business.
Performance-wise, it is amongst the best around. Certainly, it can be fair to say that it’s a bit faster than anything Samsung sells in India considering the Exynos chips aren’t as efficient as the Snapdragon 865 on the Mi 10. On top of this, when this is coupled with 8GB DDR5 RAM and UFS 3.0 storage, things are going to be fast. They will be even faster if Xiaomi’s skin was trimmed down -- which again to a degree it was for this phone. It also has a heat sink thermals and it never overheats. Sure, it doesn’t feel as fluid as an OnePlus 8 but comes close enough for most and that’s what is important.
For people, who care about gaming, this phone is right up there with the OnePlus 8, and can even hold its own with some gaming-centric devices like the Asus ROG Phone 2.
The one area where many believed that the Mi 10 would be found out to be lacking is where it surprisingly pushes ahead of the competition. On balance, the Mi 10 has the best overall camera system on an Android smartphone, perhaps, even better than the iPhone 11 Pro. The combination of the large 108-megapixel sensor, stabilization, pixel binning and a brand new camera app turns the photography experience on the Mi 10 to be magical. This phone just spits out spectacular looking photos almost every time.
This is the genius of Xiaomi’s new pixel binning algorithms that the Mi 10 is able to exhibit almost mirrorless and range finder camera like image quality at many times, with insane levels of detail, vivid colours and shallow depth of field in the most basic of shots. Then all of this topped up with a reliable night mode and general excellence in capturing photos in dim light, alongside some of the best 4K videos I’ve seen on an Android phone, for once rivalling the iPhone and also clear audio.
The Vivo X50 Pro will be better in the night and be more stable with video, or the Samsung’s would do slightly better with video and daylight photography, but none get it all together in such a robust package. It almost an iPhone-like trait. In fact, it is also supported with a decent wide-angle, good zooming abilities thanks to the resolution and also good selfies. No one expected this level of performance from this phone which is what pushes it ahead of the competition. Magic isn’t in the eye of the beholder but in the hands of the Mi 10 camera.
Actually, since the Mi 10 has come out, perhaps the only phone that has given it a run for its money is the Vivo X50 Pro. In fact, on many accounts it is better, however, it isn’t powered by a flagship chip. It software user experience is inferior. I also personally prefer the pictures that come out of Mi 10. I like the way the camera just works out of the gate. It is overall a better phone which closes the deal.
Similarly, Mi 10 is excellent in terms of battery life. It just trounces the competition thanks to the aggressive battery management built into MiUI, the massive 4,780mAh battery and the fast charging technologies on tap in wireless and wired forms. Depending on how you use it, this phone will give you around 17-20 hours of screen on time and will mostly last you around a day on a single charge. Mind you, this is on a device which has one of the fastest processors ever made and one of the fastest and brightest displays that’s ever been put on a phone. Add the fact it supports 30-watt charging both wirelessly and wired, you can top up this phone in an hour. It can also reverse wirelessly charge phones at speeds of up to 10 watts. No other phone in India can match this combination. It also helps that Xiaomi’s wireless charger doesn’t use proprietary tech which means it plays well even with the other phones that support wireless charging, unlike the new OnePlus solution.
This phone also comes with other niceties that you usually don’t find in most phones. The IR blaster is a start which helps one to control appliances that use an IR remote. That’s almost everything in your household. It supports Hi-Resolution audio and has powerful dual speakers. Xiaomi has really worked on the haptic input of the phone which is also now top tier right up there with the OnePlus 8 and Samsung.
Software-wise, as I mentioned before, Xiaomi has decluttered a lot of the bloat that has been usually on its phones. In fact, it also is one of the few Xiaomi phones to not throw up advertisements; another hallmark of a premium smartphone. Over the two months, I am happy to report that the phone’s software hasn’t degraded and it remains as smooth as day one.
A smartphone is a sum of its many parts -- and on balance, the Mi 10 is generally excellent in every department while being outstanding in terms of camera and battery life. That’s why it becomes the unexpected king of Android in India and I don’t see it being toppled as the king unless Samsung is able to drastically improve its camera tech on the upcoming Note 20 series.
First Published: IST