Review, Smartphone

Xiaomi Mi 9 Review: More Than Just Value for Money

Xiaomi’s range of flagship smartphones are always known for their excellent value for money, but unfortunately enough, that’s the only reason consumers would go for a Xiaomi-branded flagship. Other aspects of the company’s high-end phones simply weren’t up to snuff when compared to their competition.

Well, the Xiaomi Mi 9 aims to change. Not only does it still retain the phone maker’s competitive pricing, it finally feels like a good enough flagship smartphone. It definitely has what it takes to go against the best in the segment.

Specifications

Display6.39-inch FHD+ AMOLED (2340 x 1080)
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 855 2.84GHz octa-core
GPU
Adreno 640
RAM6GB
Storage64/128GB, non-expandable
Camera (rear)
48MP f/1.75
12MP f/2.2 (telephoto)
16MP f/2.2 (ultra wide)
Camera (front)20MP f/2.0
Battery
3,300mAh
Dimensions157.5 x 74.67 x 7.61 mm
Weight
173g
OSMIUI 10.2 based on Android 9 Pie
ConnectivityLTE
NFC
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)
USB Type-C

Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, the Mi 9 is as fast as it gets for a 2019 flagship smartphone. It also has reasonably good storage and RAM capacities at up to 128GB and 6GB respectively. Unfortunately, however, there’s no support for expandable storage.

What else is missing? Well, there’s the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as any form of water and dust resistance. The rather average 3,300mAh battery also raises some concern, but surprisingly enough, it can actually return very good battery life.

Design

Depending on which colour you get, the Mi 9 can look really minimalist or eye-catching; the Piano Black model I have for this review fits the former. If you want something more striking, the Lavendar Violet and Ocean Blue models have iridescent effects on the back.

Naturally, the Mi 9 feels great in the hands, thanks to the metal frame and glass back. It looks and feels premium, just like a flagship smartphone should be. However, I do find the back panel a tad too slippery. Thankfully, a casing is bundled together with the phone.

On the front, you have a “Dot Drop” notch at the top of the Mi 9’s display. I would’ve preferred for there to be no notch at all, but I didn’t find it all that intrusive throughout my time with the phone. I also like the small bottom bezel of the phone: it gives the device a more modern-looking design.

While I don’t mind the Mi 9’s notched display, the presence of the notch does negatively affect the user experience of the phone. More specifically, the software experience, which I’ll get to in a bit.

Overall, the Mi 9 is a great-looking phone that feels equally good to hold. I also love the iridescent look of the Lavendar Violet and Ocean Blue colourways, but if you want something more traditional, there’s the Piano Black model here.

User Experience

MIUI 10 on the Mi 9 is largely similar to the software experience of previous Xiaomi devices I’ve reviewed, including the Redmi Note 7 and Mi Mix 3. It’s a functional, lightweight version of Android, and I didn’t run into any serious bug throughout the review period.

But remember the software issue I had with the notch? Yeap, just like how it was with the Redmi Note 7, notification icons are not shown on the status bar despite the fact that there are plenty of empty space. It doesn’t matter if the notch is small; MIUI 10 will still treat it like a conventional, wide notch.

Besides that, notifications can only be dismissed with a right swipe, and I cannot interact with notifications on the lock screen. Small, niggling issues that have plagued MIUI 10 for the longest time. It’s also worth noting that recording videos on Instagram Stories haven’t been a very pleasant experience either: all the videos I took with the app stutter quite badly.

That being said, there are some software features that I really like with MIUI 10. I love that the always on display shows the different positions of the sun throughout the day – even though some apps are not shown there – the AI button on the left side of the phone is customisable, and I really appreciate the dynamic wallpaper that changes according to the time of day. These are small, but very nice touches.

Another thing that I really like is the Mi 9’s in-screen fingerprint sensor, which works incredibly well. This is by far one of the best in-screen sensors I’ve ever used, even in comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S10+‘s more sophisticated ultrasonic sensor. It is fast, accurate, and consistent.

Performance, as expected, is excellent with the Mi 9. The Snapdragon 855 is a blazing fast chipset, and it does not skip a single beat. I can multitask seamlessly, the phone feels very quick, and gaming on this phone is extremely enjoyable.

Sporting a 6.39-inch 1080p AMOLED display, the Mi 9 has a good screen too. AMOLED panels are known for their punchy colours with deep blacks, and these qualities are all present on the Mi 9. Naturally, viewing angles and brightness level are great as well.

Even though the Mi 9 only comes with a 3,300mAh battery, it has surprisingly good battery life. On average, I can get about five hours of screen on time. On a good day, it can even go up to six hours. Needless to say, this is very good battery life.

Charging rate of the Mi 9 isn’t all that bad either. Within 30 minutes of charging, the phone got up to 57% from completely empty. Reasonably good charging rate.

Although the software experience of MIUI 10 isn’t particularly great, I had a lot of fun using the Mi 9 as my daily driver for the past few weeks. Now, let’s get to one of the phone’s best qualities: camera.

Camera

Featuring a 20MP selfie camera on the front and a triple camera system (48MP + 12M telephoto + 16MP ultra wide) on the back, the Mi 9 has excellent camera performance. You have a choice to take pictures in 48MP with the camera, but by default, the phone shoots in 12MP with pixel binning.

Using pixel binning improves the camera performance of the Mi 9 quite a bit, so I left it at its default setting throughout the review period. After all, it’s not exactly practical to shoot in 48MP – there’s only so much space this phone has.

Anyway, let’s get back to the camera performance. Even though there’s noticeable shutter lag in between shots, the camera does not feel sluggish. More importantly, the image output is excellent in all lighting conditions.

That being said, the disparity in image quality between the three sensors is worth pointing out; just look at the difference above. Most folks probably won’t mind it anyway, and the flexibility the different lenses offer may outweigh this disadvantage.

There is also one other feature I have to talk about: the camera’s night mode. Depending on the shooting condition, you can either get a really impressive shot, or…one that looks quite artificial. Nonetheless, it’s certainly a nice feature to have, and it’s quite fun to experiment with.

Xiaomi devices from a couple of years ago weren’t exactly fun to photograph with, but more recent devices from the phone maker really changed this. However, does the Mi 9 have class leading camera performance? Not exactly. Samsung and Huawei still hold on to that title, and the Mi 9 isn’t quite there yet, despite its impressive camera system.

Competition

Retailing at only RM1,699 and RM1,999 for the 64GB and 128GB models respectively, the Mi 9 is priced extremely well. At these price points, no other device can offer the same bang for your buck, but there are certainly noteworthy alternatives to the phone.

Samsung Galaxy S10e

Even though the Samsung Galaxy S10e costs considerably more at RM2,699, it is still the most affordable device in the S10 series. For that kind of money, the Galaxy S10e offers a more impressive – though smaller – Dynamic AMOLED display, water resistance, support for expandable storage, and better overall camera performance.

Opting for the Mi 9, however, will get you a telephoto sensor, which is not available on the Galaxy S10e. On top of that, the 128GB model (the same storage capacity as the S10e) of the Mi 9 only costs RM1,999. Of course, you will get more features with the S10e, but you’ll have to ask yourself if it’s worth paying RM700 more.

Black Shark 2

If you absolutely want a Snapdragon 855 smartphone, the Black Shark 2 is your only other option in Malaysia. Besides having the same SoC as the Mi 9, the Black Shark 2 also has a bigger 4,000mAh battery, a cleaner version of Android, a notch-less display, and a more sophisticated vibration system.

Then again, you would have to pay RM2,499 for the 128GB variant of the Black Shark 2. The Mi 9, on the other hand, costs RM500 less, and you will get a more minimalist, subdued-looking phone, as well as superior camera performance.

Conclusion

No other phone in the market right now can rival the Xiaomi Mi 9’s sheer value for money. Until we see more 2019 flagship smartphones hit the market, this phone will be the default choice for those who want the absolute best smartphone for the least amount of money.

Yes, MIUI 10 still has room for improvement, but it’s not like the software suffers from any serious fault. Plus, other aspects of the phone more than make up for this, especially the camera system.

The Xiaomi Mi 9 is a testament to Xiaomi’s immense growth over the past couple of years. It is a refined, premium flagship smartphone that isn’t just competitively priced anymore. The Mi 9 is a high-end offering through and through, and I reckon most owners will be very happy with this smartphone.