Xiaomi Mi 10i Review: Demolition of Expensive Features
Xiaomi is making a strong start to 2021 with the launch of Mi 10i. The phone comes squarely in the mid-range segment currently governed by OnePlus Nord. The Mi 10i comes with a number of features that are typically only found on more expensive devices such as the 108MP primary camera, a display that goes up to a 120Hz refresh rate and also supports an IP53 rating. But does the on-paper number make a value for the money device? We have the answer.
Mi 10i performance
The Mi 10i is powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G chipset. With it, you’ll get 2 performance cores up to 2.2GHz and 65 efficiency cores that will stay on the watch up to 1.8GHz. Our review unit comes with 8GB RAM, though a cheaper 6GB variant is also available. Now Qualcomm has launched several chipsets in the last one year. We have OnePlus Nord (Review) with Snapdragon 765G, Oppo Reno4 Pro (Review) with Snapdragon 720G and now Mi 10i with 750G. The Snapdragon 765G remains the top-end SoC in this lineup, with 750G slotting between 765G and 720G. We see this reflected throughout our experiments as shown in the chart below.
As expected, the OnePlus Nord continues to lead performance for most CPUs and GPUs, falling behind the Mi 10i in just a few tests. In real world usage, the experience is a little different. While using the phone for everyday activities was smooth, playing games like the CoD mobile on the Mi 10i was not as smooth as playing Nord. This, we see reflected in significantly lower frame-rate stability. While the OnePlus Nord had 98 percent frame-rate stability at 60fps, the Mi 10i was able to maintain 73 percent stability of the same game, while delivering 58fps. The matrix was recorded using a gamebench.
Mi 10i camera
The Mi-10i’s star-feature is a 108-megapixel primary camera. However, Xiaomi is using Samsung’s HM2 sensor instead of the HM1 used in the Mi 10 (Review), which has a slightly smaller pixel pitch (0.7 microns vs. 0.8). However, the results are still impressive. The color and dynamic range is much more comparable to the binned results, an amazing feat. However, larger resolution files have less sharpness than binned files. Additionally, when shooting in 108 megapixel mode, the AF slows down significantly and the time between two shots increases to 4 seconds. The latter is probably due to the large amount of processing power required to merge and tone-map a 108 megapixel file instead of dealing with 12 million pixels (a bound image).
Note: All images embedded below have been resized for the web. To see the full size, original JPG, visit our Flickr page here.
When considering binned results, the obvious advantages here are speed (fast AF, negligible time between shots) and significantly sharper images. One could argue that a 108MP image can be sharpened in post production, but adding sharpness to the post yields similar results compared to the native sharpness added by the ISP.
The Mi 10i’s ultra-wide camera provides decent sharpness in the center, with a noticeable drop towards the edge, above average. The lens also shows noticeable distortion, which is difficult to control if you are close to the subject. The lack of automatic focus makes creative framing impossible and the focus of the lens is infinitely locked so you are limited to shooting things from a distance.
The macro lens of the Mi 10i is surprisingly good, if you can ever take the shot correctly. This allows you to get very close to the subject, but unfortunately, the closer you get to a subject, the more noticeable the shock. Even the act of inhaling or exhaling can change the distance between the lens and the subject, resulting in shots out of focus. There is no image stability to tell if your shot is in focus and there is no way to tell. This is not a unique problem for the Mi 10i, but because it makes a camera module virtually useless, its high-end manufacturers begin to focus on making it better, or eliminate it altogether.
In the case of low light, we see that the Mi 10i is consistent with Nord’s performance. Shooting in low light in normal camera mode results in less-exposed images with full-blown shadows and contrast. However, switch to night mode, and the frame becomes brighter, allowing for more detailed capture of shadow areas while maintaining a balance of contrast. Interestingly, a low light shot takes approximately the same amount of time, whether in normal mode or night mode, but the results are apparently better in night mode.
Mi 10i display
The Mi 10i has a 6.67-inch IPS-LCD panel with a refresh rate of 120Hz. To make it more profitable for gamers, Xiaomi is using a panel with a 240Hz polling rate, which means that every swipe and every movement of your finger is going to be registered with all its accuracy. This we were able to support during our gaming sessions. 120Hz is something you can never use in-game, but it makes navigating the UI more enjoyable. It’s also great that you get Xiaomi’s AdaptiveSync on this phone, it will automatically change the frame rates to match the content.
The panel comes with an HDR10 + certification, but at the time of writing this review, Netflix did not recognize the phone as an HDR companion, although the YouTube HDR worked just fine. We hope that Netflix will soon certify the Mi 10i for HDR playback, this phone has WideVine L1 certification.
The maximum brightness we’ve tested is limited to 350 nits, which is definitely a downside, especially for displays with HDR10 + certification. However, the brightness of the low-competition peak is not the real problem, its reflection. The panel is rather reflective and if you don’t see it directly, your clarity is going to be a problem. When shooting outdoors, it was difficult to tell what was on display because of the heavy reflections. I think removing a screen protector can help, but it’s detrimental to the idea of having a screen protector in the first place. We don’t see this kind of problem in other smartphones like Oppo Reno4 Pro or OnePlus Nord, both are pre-installed with a screen protector.
Overall, the choice of IPS over AMOLED obviously has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is the high refresh rate without a cost penalty, but the downside is the significantly lower peak brightness. The good thing is that it is entirely possible to increase the maximum brightness through a software update, but only to a point. It is possible that Xiaomi could solve this, so we will return to the issue of top brightness in a few months.
Mi 10i Battery Life
Excellent battery life on the Mi 10i is a 4820mAh battery that supports a medium 33W fast charging. A modified carbon streaming view through Netflix costs only 8 percent of the battery for an episode (starting at 100 percent) whereas a round of CoD Mobile’s battery costs only 6 percent (starting at 80 percent). The phone easily lasts a whole day of overuse, including about an hour and a half of CoD Mobile, about 4 hours of phone calls, and almost all day music playback via Bluetooth. Xiaomi’s 33-watt fast charging battery is also very helpful for quick shutdown, going from 0 to 50 percent in about 35 minutes where a full top up takes just 58 minutes. Honestly, there is nothing to complain about the battery life of this phone.
The Mi 10i has a surprisingly good balance between performance and imaging. While the 750G doesn’t match the performance of the Snapdragon 765G found in the OnePlus Nord, it does come in fairly close. In terms of imaging, the Mi 10i has outperformed the Nord overall, thanks to a better description. The display could have been better, and on paper it seems like when checking the right boxes, the relatively low peak-brightness with high reflection makes it difficult to use outside. If you already love MIUI, then MI 10i will not be unfamiliar to you. If you prefer a clean, no-fuss flavor to Android, Nord is a much better bet, as if you’re looking for a gaming-centric smartphone. The Mi 10i checks a lot of boxes and we hope that the Xiaomi update will continue to improve the performance of the SoC and the camera.