Review, Smartphone

Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro Review: Style, with a Splash of Substance

Xiaomi smartphones, more often than not, offer incredible value for money. Those who are looking to get the most bank for their buck, regardless of price point, will likely consider at least one device from the Chinese company.

However, the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro takes a slightly different approach. While it still offers decent value for money, it’s one of the most expensive Xiaomi devices released thus far – can it justify its higher than usual price tag? Let’s find out.

Specifications

Display6.21-inch FHD+ AMOLED (2248 x 1080)
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.8GHz octa-core
GPU
Adreno 630
RAM8GB
Storage128GB, non-expandable
Camera (rear)
12MP f/1.8 + 12MP f/2.4 telephoto, dual pixel AF, OIS
Camera (front)20MP f/2.0
Battery
3,000mAh
Dimensions154.9 x 74.8 x 7.6 mm
Weight
177g
OSMIUI 10 based on Android 8.1 Oreo
ConnectivityLTE
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
USB Type-C

Without a doubt the Mi 8 Pro is a high-end smartphone. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s fast Snapdragon 845 chipset, it has a generous amount of RAM at 8GB, and 128GB of fast UFS storage. On top of that, it even has an in-screen fingerprint sensor.

These are respectable hardware for a flagship smartphone, but there is one oddity: the 3,000mAh battery. It’s a very modest capacity, and as a result, the Mi 8 Pro’s battery life…could’ve been better.

Nonetheless, let’s move on to design – it’s arguably the Mi 8 Pro’s best quality.

Design

Unlike most conventional smartphones in the market now, the Mi 8 Pro comes with a unique see-through glass back. Underneath the glass is a very sleek-looking design, which shows the different “components” of the phone. Although this is merely a plastic panel covering the actual parts, it’s still a very unique and appealing design.

Turn the Mi 8 Pro around, and you’ll be greeted with the wide notch and noticeable chin. In fact, it’s quite similar to the Pocophone F1‘s design, for better or worse. I’m not particularly fond of the bottom bezel’s size, and the wide notch takes up so much space, there’s no room for notification icons.

Basically, I don’t know if I’ve received any notification until I pull down on the notification shade. This is not intuitive, and it negatively impacts the user experience.

On a more positive note, I do like how the Mi 8 Pro feels in my hands. It has a nice heft to it (the phone weighs 177g), the glossy metal frame and the slightly tapered glass back feel nice to the touch, and it has solid build quality. I also love the red accent on the power button – a nice, small touch.

All in all, the Mi 8 Pro is a well-designed smartphone. While I do wish the front design isn’t quite as generic, I do love the rear panel’s design. It’s sleek, unique, and no other phone in the market looks quite like it.

User Experience

Software remains one of the biggest shortcomings of Xiaomi devices, and unfortunately enough, the Mi 8 Pro is no exception. Not only is the phone’s MIUI 10 software still based on Android 8.1 Oreo, it has some quirks here and there too.

For one, notifications still cannot be dismissed with a left swipe; it can only be cleared with a swipe to the right. Swiping left on notifications will reveal the snooze option instead, which – in my opinion – is rarely a feature most consumers actively search for.

Besides that, notifications on the lock screen are not interactive either. If I want to see more information, I’d have to unlock the phone to do so. These are not huge issues by any means, but it does show a need for refinement on Xiaomi’s part.

MIUI 10, of course, still has its good qualities. It’s fast and responsive, and I love the fact that the Mi 8 Pro has an always on display. It’s not as functional as I would’ve liked – notifications from certain apps don’t appear on the always on display – but it’s still better than nothing.

And then we have the in-screen fingerprint sensor, which works pretty alright. It’s largely accurate, but like most sensors of this type, it’s not as quick as a conventional fingerprint sensor. Thankfully, the Mi 8 Pro’s face unlock works very well. It can even recognise my face in complete darkness, thanks to the infrared module.

When it comes to performance, the Mi 8 Pro doesn’t skip a beat. Multitasking on this phone is seamless, gaming on it is very enjoyable, and there’s no noticeable lag at all throughout my time reviewing it. The Snapdragon 845 powering the Mi 8 Pro is without a doubt a very capable chipset.

Display is also another strong point for the Mi 8 Pro. The phone’s 6.21-inch 1080p AMOLED panel has vibrant colours, great viewing angles, and excellent black levels. Sure, this display is not as impressive as a higher resolution 1440p panel, but it’s still plenty sharp. Plus, the 1080p resolution will help with the phone’s…average battery life.

Yes, the Mi 8 Pro does not have very good battery life. On average, I can only get between four to five hours of screen on time out of the modest 3,000mAh battery. Getting through a typical work day with the phone isn’t too hard, but it can get quite difficult on busier days.

It doesn’t have awful battery life, per se, but the Mi 8 Pro’s 3,000mAh battery certainly shows its limitations. Thankfully, its charging rate is quite decent. Within 30 minutes of charging, the phone charged up to 55%.

All things considered, the Mi 8 Pro provides a relatively pleasant user experience. MIUI 10 still isn’t my favourite version of Android, but looking beyond its small shortcomings, it’s still a competent software with good performance.

Now, let’s get to my personal favourite aspect of this phone: the camera.

Camera

Featuring a dual camera system made up of a 12MP f/1.8 sensor and a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto shooter, the Mi 8 Pro has great camera performance. The camera’s dual pixel autofocus is fast, the optical image stabilisation makes it easier to get sharp-looking images (especially in low light conditions), and the camera app – while not perfect – is pleasant and intuitive to use.

Shooting in broad daylight with the Mi 8 Pro is a non-issue, which is expected of a flagship smartphone. But what particularly impressed me is the camera’s low light performance. Even in challenging lighting situations, the phone can still capture great-looking shots.

Low light images are properly exposed, noise level is kept in check pretty well, and while there are some lost details here and there, the shots still look impressive as a whole. However, the Mi 8 Pro’s camera performance still isn’t quite up to par with the best shooters in the segment, which include the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 Pro.

But that doesn’t take away the fact that this phone is a very competent shooter.

Competition

Officially retailing at RM2,399 in Malaysia, the Mi 8 Pro is one of the most costly Xiaomi devices launched in recent times. At this price point, it has to compete with a number of other equally competent devices; some of which are more affordable.

OnePlus 6T

Even though it costs ever so slightly more, the OnePlus 6T is a very good alternative to the Mi 8 Pro. It comes with a slightly larger 6.41-inch 1080p Optic AMOLED display, the same Snapdragon 845 chipset, an in-screen fingerprint sensor, a smaller display notch, and superior software experience.

In terms of pricing, the base model of the OnePlus 6T with 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM retails at RM2,458 – slightly less RAM than the Mi 8 Pro, but 6GB RAM is still more than enough for most consumers.

On the flip side, the Mi 8 Pro does have a sleeker-looking, much more unique design. On top of that, the larger notch of the Pro houses a more sophisticated hardware for the face unlock feature, which works even in the dark. You can’t do the same with the OnePlus 6T’s face unlock.

Xiaomi Mi 8

If you want a more affordable variant of the Mi 8 Pro, you can always consider the standard Mi 8. For the most part, it has similar hardware as the Pro model, right down to the camera hardware. On top of that, the Mi 8 even comes with a larger 3,400mAh battery, which should translate to better battery life.

While you don’t get the Mi 8 Pro’s sleek design or in-screen fingerprint sensor with the regular Mi 8, you do get to save a considerable amount of money: the 128GB Mi 8 with 6GB of RAM is currently going for only RM1,829. That’s well below the Mi 8 Pro’s dearer asking price.

Conclusion

There are no devices in the market now that look quite as unique as the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro, and this differentiates it from the rest of the pack. But as sleek as it is, the phone falters in key areas like battery life and software experience. It has style in spades, but it’s lacking substance.

If you can overlook its average battery life and live with the quirks of MIUI 10, you will be very happy with the Mi 8 Pro. However, you’ll have to then consider the phone’s steeper than usual asking price for a Xiaomi-made smartphone.

While the Mi 8 Pro is not quite as expensive as other flagships, it’s not exactly an affordable device either. You’re essentially paying a premium for the phone’s design and in-screen fingerprint sensor, and if you minus these two features, you have yourself…well, the standard Mi 8.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t consider the Mi 8 Pro at all, of course. The phone’s unique see-through design is its biggest appeal, and this reason alone may be enough for consumers to pick it up.