Mi 10i Review

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Xiaomi has surprisingly slowed down over the past year in terms of smartphone launches, though of course the events of 2020 threw a lot of things out of gear for everyone. While there have been fewer new models in the fast-moving sub-Rs. 15,000 space than expected, the company revitalised its premium Mi lineup with the ambitious Mi 10 and Mi 10T models, priced ranging from around Rs. 35,000 to Rs. 45,000. According to the company, it had also planned to launch another model called the Mi 10i, but it got delayed. Now, Xiaomi says it’s ready to complete the family.

The Mi 10i comes in at a lower starting price of just Rs. 20,999 but still features a 108-megapixel camera and 5G connectivity, which are supposedly the hallmarks of the Mi 10 series. Xiaomi tells us that the “i” stands for India, because this model has been customised specifically for our market. That might be a bit of a stretch, since there are only minor differences between this device and the units sold as the Mi 10T Lite and Redmi Note 9 Pro 5G in other markets.

It’s immediately clear that Xiaomi wants to put its stamp on the sub-Rs. 25,000 space here, and the Mi 10i is going to have to take on some heavy hitters including the popular  OnePlus Nord (Review), Samsung Galaxy M51 (Review), and Vivo V20 (Review). The camera specifications alone are sure to grab some attention, but I’m going to examine the entire package. Here’s my full review of the Xiaomi Mi 10i.

 

Mi 10i price in India and variants

The base price of the Mi 10i in India is Rs. 20,999, and you get 6GB of RAM plus 64GB of storage. This variant is not currently listed for sale, and will be available later. Oddly, you can get the same phone with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for Rs. 21,999 which is just Rs. 1,000 more, making the base variant seem quite pointless. If you want to step up to 8GB of RAM with 128GB of storage, you can choose the third variant which is priced at Rs. 23,999.

Xiaomi has managed to undercut the  OnePlus Nord (Review), but doesn’t offer an option with 256GB of storage which is a little disappointing, especially considering that you’ll lose the space for a second Nano-SIM if you choose to use a microSD card. With such minor price differences, many people will choose the top-end variant.

Mi 10i design

Despite its name, the new Mi 10i has very little family resemblance to the Mi 10 (Review) or Mi 10T series, apart from the fact that these are all large, heavy phones. The Mi 10i is 9mm thick and weighs 214.5g. One thing that all the Mi 10 siblings have in common is their 6.67-inch screens, though the Mi 10i has a completely flat panel without rounded sides. There’s a hole for the front camera at the top-centre of the screen, and it’s slightly larger and more distracting than what we’re now used to seeing.

Three finishes will be available – the glossy but understated Atlantic Blue and Midnight Black, and the much more attention-grabbing Pacific Sunrise, which has a matte finish and colour gradient that moves from blue at the top, through white, to orange at the bottom. This is the version that Xiaomi will be using for its marketing push, and it’s what I have for review. It does look somewhat like a beach or horizon landscape. I found that it isn’t too susceptible to fingerprints or smudges, but that might not hold true for the other colour options.

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The Pacific Sunrise option has a multicolour gradient that extends to the frame of the Mi 10i

The camera module on the rear is rather large but doesn’t protrude much, which Xiaomi says is due to its choice of sensors – more on that later. There’s a fingerprint sensor on the right, integrated into the power button. It’s slightly recessed and wasn’t always easy to use when the Mi 10i was in the plastic case that comes in the box. The volume buttons are above it, and weren’t always within easy reach. There’s a hybrid dual-SIM tray on the left which means you’ll have to choose between a second SIM and extra storage.

One of the most interesting little touches is the inclusion of a 3.5mm audio socket for wired headsets, a feature that nearly all manufacturers these days seem to think is dispensable for premium phones. Another rare feature is the tiny notification LED next to the earpiece that lights up when the phone is charging and you have call or message alerts. The earpiece works with the speaker on the bottom to deliver stereo sound.

Although this is a pretty bulky phone, it isn’t too hard to hold and use thanks to the rounded edges. A bit of shuffling in the hand will be necessary but at least the rear isn’t too slippery. There’s Gorilla Glass 5 on the front, rear, and camera module. Another point worth noting is the IP53 water and dust resistance rating, which you don’t often see at this price level. It isn’t the best in the industry, but the OnePlus Nord in particular lacks any sort of official water resistance. My review unit also had a pre-applied adhesive screen protector on the front.

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The Mi 10i has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom, which will make many people happy

Mi 10i specifications

Front and centre, we have a 6.67-inch full-HD+ (1080×2400) 120Hz HDR10+ LCD display. Some people might be disappointed that Xiaomi didn’t go with an AMOLED panel. The maximum brightness is only 450nits and colour reproduction is limited to 84 percent of the NTSC gamut, which isn’t too great. Still, I didn’t have any trouble with everyday use and the display is of a high enough quality for enjoying videos and games on. You probably won’t feel that you’re losing out on too much, especially if you don’t like very saturated colours.

One neat feature is the adaptive refresh rate, which can scale between 30Hz and 120Hz in six steps. According to Xiaomi, the panel will automatically match whatever content you’re playing, for example it will switch to 48fps if you’re watching a 24fps movie. There’s TÜV Rheinland certification for blue light emission, and you can not only choose your preferred level of colour saturation but also set the white balance manually.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G is a relatively modern SoC, and the only other phone in India that uses it so far is the Moto G 5G. This chip is newer than the Snapdragon 765G and has some advantages in the form of more modern high-performance Kryo 570 cores based on the ARM Cortex-A77 design rather than Kryo 475 cores based on the Cortex-A76. There are two of these cores plus six more efficiency Cortex-A55 cores. In terms of graphics power, the integrated Adreno 619 GPU is a step lower than the Snapdragon 765G’s Adreno 620. Both chips have the same integrated Snapdragon X52 5G modem.

The 4,820mAh battery might not seem like much by today’s standards, but real-world use will depend on multiple factors including the efficiency of the SoC. The Mi 10i supports the USB-PD standard, and a 33W fast charger is included in the box. The battery is actually two cells in parallel, which Xiaomi says will allow for a 100 percent charge in under an hour, and a 68 percent charge in 30 minutes.

One feature that all Mi 10 models have in common is 5G. The Mi 10i works with sub-6GHz networks as well as all the usual 4G, 3G and 2G bands. There’s support for dual-band GPS and also the Indian NavIC positioning system, plus Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi ac. Xiaomi also says it has added custom hardware to support both Google Assistant and Alexa, but this will be enabled with a future software update.

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The Mi 10i has a 6.67-inch full-HD+ screen with an adaptive refresh rate of up to 120Hz

Mi 10i software and usage

The Mi 10i comes with Android 10 and Xiaomi’s heavily customised MIUI 12.0.3 interface. My unit had the November 2020 security patch, but received the December update which retail units should ship with. The initial setup process is fairly straightforward, and you can adjust all preferences later no matter what you choose.

Xiaomi does go heavy on the bloatware and promotional content (despite promising a “clean MIUI 12 experience with Google apps”). The lock screen shows sponsored content by default and it takes a bit of digging in the Settings app to turn this off.

I was pleased to see that there were no attempts to make people download promoted apps during the setup process, but the very first thing you’ll see when the phone is ready to be used is a big prompt to use Xiaomi’s GetApps app store, plus there were several notifications from it in the first few days of usage. I also counted multiple Mi and third-party apps preloaded on the phone, though thankfully many of these can be uninstalled.

MIUI 12 has plenty of neat features and customisation options. You can choose whether or not to have an app drawer, which has tabs for different app categories. The search bar is at the bottom, within thumb’s reach, which is convenient. The home screen grid spacing and icon size can be tweaked. If you want to do something simple like change the wallpaper though, you have to go through Xiaomi’s Themes app which is packed with options.

There’s more to discover in the Settings app – battery saver modes, shortcuts and gestures, a secured Second Space for private data, a simpler Lite Mode UI, Game Turbo optimisations, a floating Video Toolbox with assorted picture and sound enhancement options, and Google’s parental controls and Digital Wellbeing features.

 

Mi 10i performance

There’s really no question about whether today’s mid-range and premium phones perform well – the Mi 10i is well beyond the point where this is even in doubt. Usage is extremely smooth and you shouldn’t have any trouble at all in day-to-day use. The screen refresh rate is set to 60Hz by default, and switching to 120Hz does make a slight noticeable improvement when scrolling and swiping around. The only impediments are the bulk and weight of this phone. I definitely felt a little wrist fatigue after holding it in one hand for a few minutes.

The fingerprint sensor is pretty narrow, and the size of this phone makes it very awkward to use if you’re left-handed. I only rarely had a problem when using my right thumb, but my left forefinger just never lined up comfortably. Face recognition was also quick, but the setup UI warns users that it’s less secure than using a PIN or pattern, and that a photo of you could potentially be used to unlock the phone.

Benchmark performance was a mixed bag. The Mi 10i managed to post an impressive score of 3,29,286 in AnTuTu, but Geekbench 5 crashed despite repeated attempts to run it. Graphics benchmarks also simply refused to run. These issues are perhaps due to pre-release software on review units. Xiaomi has used fast UFS2.2 flash, and Androbench’s storage benchmark showed sequential read and write speeds of 929.54MBps and 459.47MBps respectively. 

As for gaming, I got through a few rounds of Call of Duty Mobile and while the Mi 10i did get a bit warm, it wasn’t too much to handle. The game ran smoothly at the High quality and frame rate settings. Metal Madness was also quite enjoyable, and ran well.

The screen is fairly bright and vivid, despite misgivings thanks to the spec sheet. Videos and photos look good enough, and colours are quite saturated even at the “natural” display setting. Sound is a bit tinny and muffled but having stereo speakers somewhat makes up for that.

Battery life didn’t prove to be a problem, as the relatively low battery capacity might have suggested. The Mi 10i ran for a day and a half with ordinary use before it needed to be recharged. Our HD video loop test ran for a very respectable 18 hours, 22 minutes. Charging is also very quick, and Xiaomi’s claim of a 100 percent charge in under an hour proved to be roughly accurate.

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The quad-camera module doesn’t protrude too much from the back of the Mi 10i

Mi 10i cameras

The 108-megapixel primary rear camera is of course the star of the show, with its Samsung HM2 sensor and f/1.75 aperture. On the other hand, it’s quite disappointing that the other three are so pedestrian. The 8-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide camera, 2-megapixel macro camera, and 2-megapixel depth sensors are more like what I’d expect to see on a phone that costs roughly Rs. 10,000. These seem to have been shoehorned in only because “quad camera” is such a selling point these days. Video recording goes up to 4K 30fps and slow-motion video goes up to 960fps but at 720p.

Photos are shot at 12 megapixels by default, with the sensor combining nine pixels in one. Shots taken in the daytime with the primary rear camera were decent, though detail seemed a little lacking sometimes and there was evidence of oversharpening. Exposures weren’t always right and textures came out looking odd. It’s possible that these issues will be ironed out with software updates, but quality overall was somewhat disappointing. Portrait mode didn’t seem to offer better quality than just taking a close-up in the default photo mode, but you can at least adjust the background blur at any time in the gallery app.

Mi 10i daytime photo samples (top: primary camera, bottom: ultra-wide camera). Tap to see full size

It takes a second or two to save each shot in 108-megapixel mode, and photos aren’t displayed at full resolution unless you specifically tap to see them, just to ease the load on the phone. The sheer size of these shots by is pretty remarkable, but don’t expect super crisp details at maximum magnification. The primary advantage of shooting at this resolution is that you get more freedom to crop photos as you like, but it isn’t a replacement for optical zoom. The ultra-wide and macro cameras take decent enough shots but there isn’t much to get excited about. Colours are duller and detail is poorer.

Mi 10i daytime portrait photo sample. Tap to see full size

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Mi 10i daytime 108-megapixel photo sample, 1:1 crop

Photos taken at night were less sharp and even slight hand shake tended to cause some blurring. Night mode definitely increases brightness and contrast, but objects at a distance don’t come out looking very natural.

Video recorded while standing still was smooth enough at full-HD and 4K, but there was a lot of jerkiness when moving. 4K video had a very warm tone and oversaturated colours, and this was especially distracting and unnatural in low light. Stabilisation is lacking, which is a big disappointment. You can’t switch between cameras while shooting.

Mi 10i low-light photo samples (top: standard, bottom: night mode). Tap to see full size

For selfies, there’s a 16-megapixel f/2.45 camera, and results are fairly good. Skin smoothening is enabled by default and there are some other filters and options to play with. Quality isn’t fantastic, but you can share these photos to social media without any problems.

Xiaomi’s camera app has a lot of options and customisations. There are plenty of modes including short video and vlogging modes for creating quick social-media-ready packages, alignment and framing guides, and more. It can be hard to find exactly what you need, and some of the modes need better explanations.

Mi 10i daytime front camera sample. Tap to see full size

Verdict

Xiaomi is clearly being very aggressive about the premium price band. All three variants of the Mi 10i are priced under Rs. 25,000, and the company clearly has the OnePlus Nord in its sights. On paper, the specifications are highly competitive, and when you start using the Mi 10i, you’ll notice lots of convenient features and design touches. There’s more than enough power for entertainment and gaming, plus battery life is great.

However the main selling point here is the 108-megapixel camera, and it’s in this department that things slightly fall apart. I hope that software updates can improve overall camera performance, but in my experience, I found Xiaomi’s choices to be limiting. The secondary cameras are all weak, and even the main one is disappointing in many situations. This review will be revised if camera performance improves following software updates.

The Mi 10i is a great phone for showing off, and you certainly get very good value for money. If you aren’t too fussy about photo quality, it could be a great option, but honestly cameras are the main differentiating factor for high-end phones these days.

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