Hands-On, MWC 2019, Smartphone

Xiaomi Mi 9 Hands-On: Super Promising, Super Affordable

Xiaomi’s range of flagship smartphones always had one thing in common: they’re very affordable. However, not all of them are memorable, and some of them – despite their affordable price tags – were eclipsed by other flagships that offer better features, or simply better value for money.

But this has been steadily changing over the past couple of years, especially with the introduction of the Xiaomi Mi 8 series of smartphones last year. Now, we’re looking at the Chinese company’s most refined smartphone yet: the Xiaomi Mi 9.

It’s sleek, it offers excellent performance, and most of all, it retains Xiaomi’s competitive pricing. I took the Mi 9 for a spin over at MWC 2019, and I absolutely cannot wait to put it through its paces.

Design wise, the Mi 9 further improve upon its predecessor’s looks. Yes, the phone still has a notch, but it is much smaller now. The bottom bezel of the phone has been reduced quite a bit too, lending to a much more modern-looking, more aesthetically pleasing design.

On the back, nothing much has changed. The Mi 9’s camera module – now a triple camera system – is still placed at the top left side vertically, and it still has a sleek glass panel. Paired with the phone’s glossy metal frame, you have a phone that looks and feels very premium.

There is one new design element of the Mi 9: iridescent colourways. Available on the Lavendar Violet and Ocean Blue colour options, the colour of the back panel changes depending on what angle you’re looking at it. It’s a small, but very nice touch. If you’re not a fan of this, you can always opts for the Piano Black variant I’ve got my hands on here.

When it comes to performance, the Mi 9 features Qualcomm’s latest and fastest Snapdragon 855 chipset paired with 6GB of RAM and up to 128GB of fast UFS 2.1 storage. Rest assured, you’re getting very good performance with the Mi 9. After all, the Snapdragon 855 will be powering the majority of flagship smartphones this year, and it will be the default choice for any Android phone maker that wants flagship-tier performance.

Much like its predecessor, the Mi 9 also features an in-screen fingerprint sensor, and it has been improved immensely. In my review of the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the speed and accuracy of the sensor. Thankfully, the Mi 9’s in-screen sensor is much faster, and much more accurate now.

I wouldn’t say it’s quite as fast as the Samsung Galaxy S10’s ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensor, but hey, the Mi 9 is considerably more affordable than Samsung’s latest crop of flagship smartphones.

Compared to its predecessor, the Mi 9 now sports a slightly larger 6.39-inch 1080p Samsung-made AMOLED display, and it’s pleasant to look at. Colours are punchy and vibrant, viewing angles are great, and thanks to the inherent property of AMOLED panels, you’re getting excellent black levels too.

I also like the redesigned “multi-colour” always on display of the Mi 9. Contrast this with other smartphones’ always on displays, which are usually shown only in white. There are some exceptions, of course, like the Asus ROG Phone’s always on display with some red accents.

Packing a 3,300mAh battery, the Mi 9 should be able to return reasonably good battery life. It’s not a very generous battery capacity, but Xiaomi’s power management is one of the best I’ve tested – I’m confident the Mi 9 can deliver good battery life.

And now, we have perhaps the Mi 9’s most impressive feature: camera performance. It comes with three rear cameras: a primary 48MP f/1.75 sensor, a 16MP f/2.2 ultra wide-angle shooter, and a 12MP telephoto camera. it’s a complete selection of camera sensors, and on the front, it has a 20MP f/2.0 shooter.

Photographing with the Mi 9 is a pleasant experience. There’s no noticeable shutter lag, the autofocus speed is fast, and the camera has little to no difficulty adjusting for exposure quickly and accurately. It’s no wonder the Mi 9 has a DxOMark score of 109, pulling ahead of the iPhone XS Max and Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Of course, as with most hands-on, I only had a limited amount of time with the Mi 9, so I couldn’t assess the camera’s low light performance. Once I have a review unit of the device, this would definitely be the first thing I would test.

The Xiaomi Mi 9 is a sleek, fast, affordable smartphone that shows a lot of promise; extra emphasis on its affordability. In China, the Mi 9 retails from 2,999 yuan, which comes up to only RM1,820. At this price point, the Mi 9 is one of the most affordable smartphones with a Snapdragon 855 chipset.

If Xiaomi Malaysia can price the Mi 9 below the RM2,000 mark in Malaysia (this is an optimistic estimate), I reckon it will be a highly sought-after flagship smartphone. But even if it carries a higher asking price, I still think the Mi 9 is worth considering.

The feature set the Mi 9 offers is simply that good, especially when it comes to mobile photography. I’ve said it at the beginning of the article, and I’ll say it again – I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on this phone.