Xiaomi Mi Note Pro review: checking the right boxes
An ongoing trend that we’re seeing lately is manufacturers releasing better spec’d versions of their current flagship, usually taking the “Pro” or “Plus” moniker. Xiaomi is somehow different, as the up and coming Chinese company announced its Mi Note and Mi Note Pro at the same, although the Note Pro arrived to market a few months later.
With Xiaomi basically taking the Mi Note and putting it on steroids, does the Mi Note Pro bring enough to the table to compete with the current crop of Android flagships? We find out, in this in-depth review of the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro!
The Mi Note Pro can be considered the bigger brother of its namesake, but that is true mostly in terms of the specifications, with things remaining largely identical when it comes to the physical appearance and build quality. The Mi Note Pro features the same metal and glass construction, with a 2.5D glass up front and its gentle curves along the edges, as well as the 3D glass on the back, that brings with it a more pronounced curve along the left and right sides. All of this is held together by a metal frame with chamfered edges. The most noticeable difference in terms of design has to do with the metal frame, which has been treated with a gold finish, compared to the silver finish of the Mi Note. The ring around the camera and the Mi logo are also coming with the matching gold color. The design isn’t overly flashy, and overall, the Mi Note Pro is a beautiful, elegant looking device, that also feels great in the hand.
That said, like most phones with a glass panel on the back, the device does tend to feel slippery, and is very prone to smudges. The chamfered edges along the metal frame do help with grip though. One handed usability is also surprisingly good, despite what the display size of 5.7-inches might suggest. Of course, there’s no denying that this is a large smartphone by any standard, and some hand gymnastics will be required to reach every corner of the display, but the thin bezels along the sides of the display and the thin profile of the device allow for a better handling experience than you may think.
Taking a look around the device, the power button and volume rocker are located on the right side within easy reach. The buttons are also made of metal, and are easy to press with a good tactile feedback, adding to the high-end nature of the device. The headphone jack is up top, the microUSB port and single speaker unit is placed at the bottom, and the SIM card slot is found on the left side. Up front are the capacitive keys below the display, with a multi-colored LED notification light next to the front-facing camera, earpiece, and other typical sensors, at the top.
As mentioned, the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro comes with a 5.7-inch display, which is a good size for media-consumption and playing games. The resolution has been bumped to Quad HD as well, with a pixel density of 515 ppi, making for a screen that is extremely sharp. The display also offers rich and vibrant colors, high contrast, and some very deep blacks beyond what you’d generally expect from an IPS LCD display, along with really good viewing angles. While the default, out of the box settings are already good, Xiaomi has included some color calibration settings to tweak the display more to your liking, but in all likelihood, you won’t find the need to make many changes.
There is a reading mode available that helps reduce the strain on your eyes if you are planning to look at the screen for long periods of time. The screen also does a great job at reducing glare, making the display very easy to see in broad daylight. This can be attributed to what Xiaomi calls a “Sunlight Display,” which actually makes adjustments at the hardware level to each individual pixel, for better real time contrast and outdoor visibility, as opposed to the otherwise standard practice of just ramping up the brightness of the display.
Performance and hardware
Under the hood, the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro is packing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, clocked at 2 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 430 GPU and 4 GB of RAM. The Snapdragon 810 has received a bit of flak since its launch when it comes to overheating, but regardless, is still one of the most powerful chipsets currently available. The Mi Note Pro is also one of a handful of devices to boast 4 GB of RAM, which is of the LPDDR4 variety, said to be almost twice as fast and more power efficient when compared to the older DDR3.
High-end flagships are getting so fast nowadays that it is really hard to notice much of a difference from one to another in terms of performance, and the Mi Note Pro can also more than hold its own against the best of the competition. In day to day usage, the device was extremely fluid and responsive, despite this particular review unit still running software in its beta iteration. Everything from navigating around the various elements of the UI, opening, closing, and switching between applications, and playing games is a pleasant experience. Of course, multi-tasking is an absolute breeze as well, as you would expect with the 4 GB DDR4 RAM that the device is packing.
It has to be mentioned though that when playing games, or while watching a lot of videos, the Mi Note Pro did start to get a little warm, and you can definitely feel the heat dissipating through the metal frame. It doesn’t get to the point where the device becomes uncomfortable to hold or downright unusable, and is not necessarily a huge concern, but rather something to be aware of.
The Mi Note Pro comes with 64 GB of on-board storage, which is the only configuration available, and should be more than enough for most users. That said, expandable storage via microSD card is not an option, if you were hoping for it to be available. The device also comes with a standard suite of connectivity options, including 4G LTE support, but is unfortunately not compatible with the LTE networks in the US. While internet access was restricted to HSPA+ on the T-Mobile network, that still proved to be fast enough.
Speaker quality from the bottom mounted speaker is also quite good, as it gets plenty loud for a single driver without sounding distorted. As with any other bottom firing speaker though, it can be very easy to muffle when holding the device in landscape orientation, and the sideways firing audio does create a lopsided listening experience.
Another aspect that stays identical between this device and the Mi Note is the capacity of the battery, with both devices coming with 3,000 mAh units. The bump in screen resolution from 1080p to Quad HD, as well as the general bump in specifications, without an increase in the battery capacity to compensate means that the battery life of the Mi Note Pro leaves a lot to be desired. A full day of use is possible with light to moderate use, which includes staying away from activities like gaming or watching a lot of videos, but for the most part, you may find yourself reaching for the charger around halfway through your day. On the bright side, the Mi Note Pro does comes with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 support, which promises a charge up to 70% in just an hour.
The Mi Note Pro also comes with the same 13 MP rear camera with OIS as the standard Mi Note, and Xiaomi is quite proud of the fact they were able to keep the camera unit flush with the body, despite the phone being just 7 mm thick.
The camera application is quite simplistic, with a simple swipe down or to the left revealing a slew of filters that you can play around with. A swipe in the opposite direction is where you’ll find the list of standard shooting modes, that include a manual mode and panorama, along with a few others like Beautify and Refocus, that lets you refocus your shot after the fact. You can tap on the viewfinder to change the point of focus, just like with any other smartphone, but being able to adjust the exposure at the same time through the on-screen exposure dial is definitely one of the most intuitive aspects of Xiaomi’s camera UI. The camera software also allows you to make adjustments to the exposure settings, contrast, saturation, and sharpness, for more granular control over the image quality.
Speaking of image quality, it’s just as good as it was on the Mi Note, which isn’t really surprising, given that it is the same sensor and camera software. The shutter speed is nice and quick, allowing you to easily take a shot, and the images in general are vibrant, rich in color, with a good amount of contrast and dynamic range in both indoor and outdoor situations. The camera is also capable of taking some rather impressive macro shots, with a very clear subject of focus in the foreground, and a nice and clean bokeh effect in the background. Auto HDR is also available on this camera to help take out the guess work on when to use HDR, and the HDR processing itself does a great job of bringing out some extra details in the shadows, while adding a nice boost in saturation, without appearing unnatural.
Where this camera struggles the most is in low light and night time photography. The increase in digital noise is to be expected, but there’s just a lot of noise reduction going on in the post processing, that results in softer details, and highlights that tend to get blown out. The camera also tends to hunt for focus more often than I’d like, and many of the images will have some noticeable artifacting. Overall though, this is really not a bad camera to have in your pocket. 4K video recording is also possible with the Mi Note Pro, and the OIS does the great job of keeping the footage stable when you’re walking or moving around. The continuous autofocus is very quick when moving between close and far away subjects, and manual control over focusing is also available by just tapping on the viewfinder.
With the front camera Xiaomi chose to not go with a higher megapixel count, and instead took HTC’s approach by going with a lower resolution 4 megapixel sensor with a larger pixel size of 2 microns. This allows for more light to enter the camera and better quality images, so if selfies are your thing, than the front camera is not going to disappoint.
On the software front, the Mi Note Pro runs the MIUI OS based on Android 5.0 Lollipop, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any material design elements in this user interface. The UI is actually quite similar to what you’d see from most Chinese OEMs, with colorful square icons, and the noticeable lack of an app drawer, which can take some getting used to and leaves users dependent on folders to stay organized.
There is actually not much in the way of pre-installed bloatware though, and while MIUI is a distinct departure from Google’s vision of Android, it does add more to the experience than it takes away. It will understandably be a very different experience for first time users, but Xiaomi’s take on Android isn’t overbearing in any way. More than that, the UI brings with it a handful of useful features, such as HiFi audio, that allows for better quality audio when listening via headphones, and a one-handed mode that lets you shrink the screen from anywhere between 3.5-inches to 4.5-inches, just by swiping outwards on the home button in either direction.
MIUI also offers one of the most robust theme engines available on any Android skin. There are hundreds of different themes to choose from, so you’re bound to find at least a few that suit your tastes. These themes alter pretty much every part of the OS, from the System UI, lockscreen, icons, wallpapers, and even the default applications like the Dialer and the messaging app.
|Display||5.7-inch IPS LCD|
Quad HD, 515 ppi
|Processor||2 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810|
Adreno 430 GPU
|RAM||4 GB DDR4|
|Camera||13 MP rear camera with OIS and dual LED flash|
4 MP front-facing camera
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, WiFi Direct, hotspot|
Bluetooth 4.1, GPS + GLONASS
|Networks||3G / 4G LTE (only in select markets)|
|Software||Android 5.0 Lollipop|
|Dimensions||155.1 x 77.6 x 7 mm|
Pricing and final thoughts
The Xiaomi Mi Note Pro is currently available in China for the equivalent of around $480, but that is the only market the device has launched in so far, and you will likely end up paying a hefty premium to import the device. It will also be wise to first check for LTE compatibility with your home networks, if you do decide to pick it up. Until the Mi Note Pro is officially available in other markets, opting for the other flagship devices may be the more viable option.
So there you have it for this in-depth look at the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro! Xiaomi claims that the Mi Note Pro is the best smartphone in the world, and while that statement is certainly subjective, the device does manage to impress in key aspects, with regards to build quality, performance, the camera, software, and the overall user experience. The Xiaomi Mi Note Pro is definitely a worthy competitor to the current crop of Android flagships, and it is actually quite a shame that, at least for now, more people won’t be able to get their hands on it.