Excellent camera with three lenses
Snapdragon 855 is blazingly quick
Useful shortcut, gestures, and added button
No expandable storage
Concerning battery size (though it's not as bad as you might think)
So-so display resolution
I’ve been using a Xiaomi Mi 9 review unit for just over a week now, and have come to the conclusion that it is a charming smartphone. Xiaomi’s Mi line has gotten some stick in the past for being somewhat derivative. The argument goes that Xiaomi is very much following the pack here, rather than leading in any meaningful way
Not that Xiaomi isn’t capable of trend setting — the Pocophone F1 and Mi Mix 3 both demonstrated innovation lately. The Mi 8 though? Very safe. And it’s true for the Xiaomi Mi 9 for sure. Everything from the triple lens camera, to the embedded fingerprint sensor, to the tiny dew-drop notch, has been done elsewhere already.
But the question to ask yourself is, does that matter? When the end product is expertly made and performs brilliantly, who really cares if it was first?
In fact, while you can hardly call it innovation, the Xiaomi Mi 9 will at least be among the first to receive the Snapdragon 855 — which makes it one of the best performing phones available right now. There are one or two other neat tricks it has up its sleeve too.
Xiaomi’s new flagship does have a couple of shortcomings that I’ll get to in this review, but overall, I have come away extremely impressed with the Mi 9.
This is Android Authority’s Xiaomi Mi 9 review.
Starting with the design, the Xiaomi Mi 9 is a really beautifully made piece of kit. This is a slim, weighty metal frame covered entirely in glass. It has a gorgeous 6.3-inch AMOLED screen with an excellent 90.7 percent screen-to-body ratio. It’s only FHD+ (2,340 x 1,080) rather than Quad HD+ like some of the competition, but you would never notice looking at it. Like the best Samsung phones, the display looks almost like a sticker and that notch is really unobtrusive.
For consuming media, the Xiaomi Mi 9 is lovely. Pinching to zoom on media playback means any app can take advantage of the large screen, and audio is just fine despite coming out of a single speaker down the bottom. The screen is also covered in Gorilla Glass 5, which is great news because I keep dropping my review units and getting into trouble.
The tapered back of my Xiaomi Mi 9 review unit was a shiny gunmetal grey (though it’s officially called black). Xiaomi is also offering a host of other, more interesting colors with a funky sheen (called holographic spectrum) in blue or purple. There’s also a transparent version available, which looks awesome just like that old transparent Gameboy.
The Xiaomi Mi 9 feels so great in the hand that it makes you want to use it.
But I like my grey-black version. The Xiaomi Mi 9 feels so great in the hand and looks so striking that it makes you want to use it. That’s something I haven’t felt about a piece of tech since the early days of the Surface Pro or maybe the Nokia 8 Sirocco, which was weird but very nice to hold. Of course, opinions vary here — this device just happens to appeal to my own sensibilities — but the Mi 9 feels premium and slick.
This is why you might buy the Xiaomi Mi 9 over the inevitable Pocophone F2, when one will launch later this year.
Read more: Pocophone F1 review
I’m just going to come out and say it: I actually prefer how this looks and feels to the Samsung Galaxy S10. By quite a margin in fact!
That’s a shame because the version I’m testing here is only sporting 64GB of internal storage — some of which is already taken up by the OS. There’s a 128GB version available too but, either way, you’ll need to be careful about running out of storage.
There’s no water resistance and what’s also a little lacking is the battery, which is only 3,300mAh. It’s lacking on paper at least — during actual use I found it to be adequate. I was able to use the Mi 9 a fair amount throughout the day, including video playback and gaming, and only needed to top up come evening. A bigger battery would of course be nice in a 2019 flagship, but it’s not as much of a kick in the crotch as you might think — which I think is likely down to the 855 at least in part.
The Xiaomi Mi 9 unfortunately does not sport a headphone jack or an SD card slot
The good news of course is that you get some impressive 20W wireless charging here. Xiaomi also sells a bespoke wireless charger to take full advantage of this, and it excels at quickly and conveniently charging your device. This isn’t included in the box as is the case with the Mi Mix 3 however.
I did try using another wireless charger I had lying around and strangely it wouldn’t work. This might have been due to the slight camera bump preventing it from sitting in the sweet spot.
Another interesting feature that we’re seeing more of these days is the in-display fingerprint sensor. This of course lets you unlock your device by pressing a thumb on the bottom of the screen, with a little image guiding you to the right spot. It has a nice animation, and you can even long-press the sensor to access useful app shortcuts.
This works really well, though it’s not quite as quick as an old fashioned fingerprint sensor — especially seeing as you’ll need to adjust your finger positioning sometimes. Still, it’s actually quite fun and that almost makes up for the slight lack of speed. Whether you’ll feel that way in a year is less certain. You can use other methods though of course — including facial recognition — but it’s not the ultra-secure 3D facial recognition seen on the Mi 8.
Another handy shortcut is the dedicated assistant button up on the top left which will trigger Google Assistant — no annoying Bixby here! If you want to, then you can also map this to a bunch of other things like the flashlight, or your previous app. Disappointingly though, you can’t map it to an app of your choosing. You can get around this limitation with Tasker and a little ingenuity — but it’s definitely a missed opportunity.
While we’re on the subject of software, let’s dive a little deeper into what you’re getting here. Of course, the Xiaomi Mi 9 is packing the latest version of MIUI (which is version 10.2), on top of Android Pie.
The result is actually pretty good. Xiaomi began life as a custom ROM maker, so they should know what they’re doing in theory. I’ve never been particularly fond of the look of MIUI myself — which takes a few too many cues from iOS — but the Apple-inspired look as been toned down a lot lately and now has a pleasantly minimalist aesthetic. Everything is quick and snappy and while I have seen one or two bugs (related to launching the camera and switching orientation), they were rare and minor.
It also brings a bunch of genuinely useful features, like additional security when installing new apps, and gesture navigation. Gestures can be used in the place of the software keys down the bottom, but also for a bunch of other actions like taking screenshots. It takes some muscle memory to get used to, but once you do it’s another handy feature. Dark mode is a must-have for me as well.
I love that you can actually uninstall the pre-packaged software too.
MIUI still has a thriving community that is constantly contributing to its evolution. I love that you can actually uninstall the pre-packaged software too. That is such a refreshing change. The file manager is actually good too — it’s nice not having to install ES File Explorer for a change.
Performance though is where it is at when it comes to the Xiaomi Mi 9.
That’s because this is one of the very first devices to sport the Snapdragon 855 chipset, which means it is more than capable of annihilating whatever you throw at it in theory. In AnTuTu, the Xiaomi Mi 9 managed to beat 99 percent of other users. Gary is currently putting it through its paces using Speed Test G, which it is also acing.
Anyone who has watched a few of my reviews by now will know what my own personal benchmark for performance is: the Dolphin GameCube and Wii emulator.
I was impressed by the Nubia Red Magic Mars, because it was able to run Metroid Prime at a playable framerate on the Snapdragon 845 through a combination of cooling, overclocking, and bags of RAM.
But this is a whole generational upgrade and boy does it show. Now, pretty much any Gamecube game will run at a silky smooth framerate, and you can even tackle Wii emulation. This improvement could also be down to the emulator itself rather than the Xiaomi Mi 9 only, but it’s still pretty impressive to see. I thought I’d give PlayStation Portable emulator PPSSPP a go too, and once again I came away extremely impressed. It doesn’t even get hot!
You may or may not have an interest in doing this kind of thing, but the point is that if it can handle those demanding tasks, it should be able to trounce anything from the Play Store with ease. Right now, the Xiaomi Mi 9 will outperform any current ‘gaming phone’, which seems crazy in a device so slim.
It goes without saying that navigating the UI and browsing the web were super quick and responsive affairs too. Of course, we will see more devices introduced over time that can outperform the Mi 9 and in that regard some people might prefer to ‘wait and see’. But to be honest, I can’t see you needing more power than this for a while.
Xiaomi Mi 9 specs
|Xiaomi Mi 9|
|Display||6.39-inch AMOLED panel
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
19.5:9 aspect ratio
|Processor||7nm octa-core Snapdragon 855
Up to 2.84GHz clock speed
Adreno 640 GPU
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|
Included USB-C to 3.5mm adapter
FDD LTE: B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/20/28
TDD LTE: 38/39/40
|SIM||Dual-SIM (dual 4G)|
|Software||Android 9 Pie
|Dimensions and weight||157.5 x 74.67 x 7.61mm
|Colors||Piano Black, Lavender Violet, Ocean Blue, Transparent Edition|
The last piece of the puzzle is that camera, which should be pretty impressive — clocking in with its combination of huge 48MP f/1.75 primary lens, 12MP f/2.2 telephoto, and 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide lens. That primary lens is the Sony IMX586 sensor, and it goes toe-to-toe with 48MP offerings from the likes of Huawei and Honor. It’s not all about pixel count, but the Xiaomi Mi 9 follows rival 48MP phones by delivering four-in-one pixel binning to ensure you get the very most from its shooter. You can easily switch between pixel counts too if you want to keep your file sizes down.
The good news is that it performs pretty much the way you hope it would. Photos are sharp and detailed, with punchy colors, and great dynamic range. Those sensitive pixels also ensure noise is kept to a minimum in low-light settings. Auto-focus works well and the relatively large aperture on the main lens is excellent for depth effects. There’s also a pro mode in there if you want to play around with the settings yourself.
Bokeh effects also work well and do a great job of isolating the subject without cutting off ears. Photos do have an ugly watermark at the bottom by default, so you’ll want to turn that off in the settings right away. It’s a minor inconvenience at worst, but I wish companies wouldn’t pull that crap in the first place.
The ultra wide angle lens is also something that’s very welcome. With a 117 degree field of view, it’s not quite up there with the 123-degree lens on the Galaxy S10, but it’s still plenty wide. This opens up lots of possibilities, from group shots and filming yourself for vlogs, to getting nice wide-angle vistas. Having a zoom lens also comes in handy for the occasional extreme close-up and snapping things in the distance without losing quality. The combination of these features basically gives you plenty of options for messing around and getting the perfect shot for the situation.
It’s not all perfect though, as the post processing added a bit of unwanted saturation (though this can be circumvented). On the whole however, it’s a fantastic shooter that’s a great choice for amateur photographers or social media lovers. It rivals the very best out there.
Speaking of social media aficionados, the 20MP selfie lens will no doubt make that audience happy, as will the variety of modes and features on offer here (e.g. short video mode, slow motion). There are plenty of beauty features too, and it goes so far as to remodel your chin and apply makeup if you so wish. A lot of these features are things that I personally won’t be using, but it’s nice to have more options.
Video is also good on the whole — capable of shooting up to 4K at 30fps and taking advantage of all those lenses. There’s no OIS but the EIS is actually really good here. And in fact, DxOMark has rated the Xiaomi Mi 9 as best in class when it comes to video due in part to that stabilization, along with low noise and great low light performance. Video on the selfie camera is excellent too, offering fantastic quality for any vloggers out there.
I am very impressed with the Mi 9, and I don’t really want to give it back. Is it the most exciting device of the year? Of course not. The Samsung Galaxy S10 line will grab more headlines for packing in so many different features and offering crazy things like 12GB of RAM. Earlier triple camera phones like the Huawei P20 Pro likewise garnered more attention for being first.
But with that said, the Xiaomi Mi 9 does a fantastic job of picking and choosing those features in order to offer a really refined, crisp, and very enjoyable experience for much less — the 6GB/128GB option will set you back 499 euros (~$566). It actually performs better than the Huawei Mate 20 Pro in terms of gaming prowess (Snapdragon 855 > Kirin 980).
Really, there’s nothing out there that can compete with this proposition right now. Normally the super-expensive devices get there first with features like the latest processor, but in this case you’re getting the very latest tech at a very reasonable price. Of course that competition will come in time, but for now the Xiaomi Mi 9 is in a league of its own.
Unless there’s something missing that you just can’t live without — like a headphone jack, higher resolution, or a bigger battery — then it is a hearty recommendation. If you really want a device that can turn heads, go for the transparent model.