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Xiaomi Mi 9 hands-on: Flashy, not fussy

The Xiaomi Mi 9 delivers a Snapdragon 855, triple camera, 6.39-inch AMOLED display, and an in-display fingerprint scanner. What more could you want?

Published onFebruary 20, 2019

Xiaomi Mi 9 blue back panel

Just 10 months after the Mi 8 launch, Xiaomi has announced its successor: the Xiaomi Mi 9. While no one could ever say Xiaomi doesn’t put out enough phones, a few things make the Mi 9 stand out: it adds a third camera to the back, has some impressive new charging tech, and it’s among the first phones to launch with the Snapdragon 855 mobile platform. This is the Xiaomi Mi 9 hands-on.

See also: OPPO K1 hands-on  |  vivo V15 Pro review

Xiaomi Mi 9 design

Xiaomi Mi 9 blue, black, purple in hand

Like many recent phones from China, the Xiaomi Mi 9 has an attractive and colorful glass body. There are no gradients here, but the curved Gorilla Glass 5 back panel gives off a holographic vibe and displays lovely color shifts, depending on the way the light hits it. The phone comes in blue, black, or purple and there’s also a special Transparent Edition (replacing last year’s Mi 8 Pro or Explorer Edition), which once again shows purely decorative “components” under a frosted glass back.

The front of the Mi 9 is pretty unassuming, with a small teardrop notch at the top of the Gorilla Glass 6 screen. Like the Mi Mix 3, there’s a tiny earpiece speaker along the top edge of the display. Twin speaker grilles appear on the bottom edge on either side of the USB-C port, although only one emits sound. On the top edge, you’ll still find a trusty IR blaster, something Xiaomi seems loathe to remove. If only we could say the same about the headphone jack, which is once again absent. There is a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter included in the box.

The Mi 9 has a dedicated voice assistant button. In China it will call up XiaoAI, but in global markets it will default to Google Assistant. If Assistant isn’t your preferred assistant you can easily remap it to whatever you want. Xiaomi also lets you assign some additional shortcuts to this key.

All Mi 9 versions have a Goodix in-display fingerprint scanner.

There’s no fingerprint scanner on the back this year because all Mi 9 versions now use a Goodix in-display fingerprint scanner. Xiaomi has also added three shortcuts when you long-press the scanner. For now, these shortcuts are locked to scanning a QR code, performing a web search, and adding a calendar event, but Xiaomi says a future update will allow you to remap them.

Xiaomi Mi 9 display

Xiaomi Mi 9 - Finger Print Shortcut

The Xiaomi Mi 9 display is a 6.39-inch AMOLED panel with Full HD+ (2,340 x 1,080) resolution and 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Xiaomi says to expect 430 nits of peak brightness which should be enough for decent outdoor brightness, even if it’s far from best-in-class. There’s also support for an always-on display and AI face unlocking. The Mi 9 we saw ran a stable MIUI 10 global ROM and Android 9 Pie.

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Xiaomi Mi 9 camera

Xiaomi Mi 9 triple camera detail purple 3

The Xiaomi Mi 9 camera is perhaps the biggest deal here, with three cameras on the back in a vertical array. The top one, with the decorative halo surrounding it, is a 12MP 2x optical zoom lens with f/2.2 aperture and 1-micron pixels. The bottom one is a 16MP sensor with an f/2.2 ultra-wide angle lens with 117-degree field of view and 1-micron pixels.

Of the three cameras, the new Sony IMX586 48MP sensor with f/1.75 aperture lens is where the action is.

The middle one is where the action is: the exciting new Sony IMX586 48MP sensor with f/1.75 aperture lens. You can manually switch to 48MP shots in the settings for when you want large, detailed shots in good lighting, but by default, it will pixel bin to 12MP using 4-in-1 Super Pixels at 1.6 microns. All three rear cameras are covered by Sapphire Glass.

Up front, you’ve got a 20MP f/2.0 aperture camera with 0.9-micron pixels. As usual, you can expect some AI bokeh effects with the front-facing camera and slightly more realistic-looking bokeh using the triple camera on the back. If the Mi 9’s AI scene recognition detects you’re about to snap a photo and lose part of your subject, it’ll suggest you switch to the ultra-wide angle lens to get everything in frame.

Xiaomi Mi 9 battery

Xiaomi Mi 9 Mi logo blue

The other most exciting part of the Mi 9 comes in the battery department. The 3,300mAh cell won’t get anyone too excited, but as we all know it’s not the size that counts, it’s how fast you can charge it. On the Mi 9, Xiaomi is introducing a new battery charging tech called Charge Turbo.

Charge Turbo supports up to 27W wired charging and 20W wireless charging.

Charge Turbo supports up to 27W wired charging and 20W wireless charging with optional extra chargers. That means you can go from zero to 100 percent in an hour and four minutes when wired, or an hour and forty minutes wirelessly using the optional Charge Turbo wireless pad. You’ll get a standard 18W wired charger in the box, but the 20W wireless charging pad includes the 27W brick, so it’s definitely worth picking up.

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Xiaomi says the new Charge Turbo wireless charger will cost around $25 in China, so expect to add a couple of extra dollars to that when you include local taxes if you’re buying one internationally. The Mi 9 is also compatible with standard Qi chargers but they’ll only recharge it at 10W.

Xiaomi also has a couple new accessories including a Charge Turbo car charger and a 10,000mAh portable battery that is also a 10W wireless charger. No prices on those yet, but they’re pretty nice pieces of kit.

Xiaomi portable battery pack wireless charger and in-car charger

Xiaomi Mi 9 specs

Xiaomi Mi 9
6.39-inch AMOLED panel
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
19.5:9 aspect ratio
7nm octa-core Snapdragon 855
Up to 2.84GHz clock speed
Adreno 640 GPU
6GB/8GB/12GB (China)
6GB (global)
128GB/256GB (China)
64GB/128GB (global)
48MP f/1.75, 0.8/1.6μm, PDAF, 4:1 pixel binning, Sony IMX586 +
16MP f/2.2, 1.0μm ultrawide +
12MP f/2.2, 1.0μm telephoto

20MP f/2.0, 0.9μm
18W standard wired charging
27W wired charging with optional charger (bundled with 20W wireless charger)
Wireless charging
20W wireless charging (with optional charger), 10W charging on Qi chargers
Water resistance
No IP rating
Bluetooth 5.0
Included USB-C to 3.5mm adapter
GSM: B2/3/5/8
WCDMA: B1/2/4/5/8
TD-SCDMA: B34/39
FDD LTE: B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/20/28
TDD LTE: 38/39/40
Dual-SIM (dual 4G)
Android 9 Pie
Dimensions and weight
157.5 x 74.67 x 7.61mm
Piano Black, Lavender Violet, Ocean Blue, Transparent Edition

The only real surprise on the Xiaomi Mi 9 specs sheet is the absence of a variant with 12GB or even 8GB of RAM for the global market. The Xiaomi Mi 9 Transparent Edition, codenamed Battle Angel, will be a China exclusive at launch, packing 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Xiaomi said it might release the Transparent Edition outside China if there’s sufficient demand, but there is no guarantee on that.

Don’t miss: The full list of Xiaomi Mi 9 specs

The blue, purple, and black versions destined for global markets only come in two versions: a base model with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage and another with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. You’ve also got NFC, Bluetooth 5, and dual 4G support, but sadly no microSD expansion or IP rating.

All Mi 9 units come with the Snapdragon 855 mobile platform, so expect all the usual improvements over the 845 you’d expect: 45 percent faster CPU, 20 percent increase in GPU performance and three-fold increase in AI performance. We weren’t allowed to run any benchmarks on the unit we saw, but stay tuned for our full Xiaomi Mi 9 review to see how it performs against the competition.

Xiaomi Mi 9 gallery

Final thoughts

What the Xiaomi Mi 9 lacks in superfluous “gimmicks” it makes up for in functional features we can all appreciate. Adding a third camera and introducing faster charging tech is a great addition to the Mi family. While it may not be the most attention-seeking choice among some aggressive competition, the Mi 9’s unassuming list of attributes is sure to still win over plenty of fans.

The Xiaomi Mi 9 price starts at 1,999 yuan (~$297) for the SE version with 6GB/64GB and 2,299 yuan (~$342) for the 6GB/128GB variant. The regular Mi 9 version offering 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage goes for 2,999 yuan (~$446), the 8GB/128GB model costs 3,299 yuan (~$491), and the Transparent Edition Mi 9 with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage will set you back 3,999 yuan (~$595).

Pricing for the global version of the Mi 9 will be revealed at MWC 2019, when Xiaomi will also announce some 5G news you will want to know about.

Hit the comments and let us know your thoughts on the Xiaomi Mi 9. Would you buy the Transparent Edition if it came to your local market?

Next: Xiaomi Mi 9 pricing, availability, and release date

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