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Hands on: Xiaomi Mi Note 10 review

Xiaomi’s play for a slice of the premium phone action

What is a hands on review?
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

On paper the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 looks like a compelling device. On closer inspection the corners Xiaomi has cut in order to make it quickly become apparent, but there are enough impressive features here for many of those compromises to be overlooked.

For

  • Wide range of camera features
  • Huge battery
  • Fantastic front-facing camera

Against

  • Sub-par processor
  • Illogical camera modes
  • Looks suspiciously like the Huawei P30 Pro

The Xiaomi Mi Note range petered out in 2017 with the Mi Note 3, but now, in late 2019, Xiaomi has rebooted the series with the Mi Note 10. Is the Note 10 monicker intended to bring it up-to-date in terms of the Mi series, with the Mi 10 expected in early 2020, or to compete with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10? Well, a bit of both, probably.

The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 isn’t just another generic affordable device, as the other Mi Note phones were; it’s assuredly a front-runner, bringing heaps of energy to Xiaomi’s portfolio with an unexpectedly high count of premium features.

The Mi Note 10, then, is Xiaomi’s version of the OnePlus 7 Pro, which revitalized OnePlus’ portfolio by being its most high-end device to date. Saying that, this phone is more comparable to the Huawei P30 Pro, at least in appearance – Xiaomi’s device doesn’t share a design bone with Huawei’s photography powerhouse as much as it shares a whole skeleton.

With a premium-looking curved screen, five rear cameras, a massive battery and a 108MP main camera – which is really the phone’s biggest draw – the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 takes on both the OnePlus 7 Pro and the P30 Pro, as well as the Oppo Reno 10x Zoom.

These are all phones with plenty of high-end features but more mid-range price tags, making them tempting alternatives to the best that the 'old guard' of Samsung and Apple have to offer.

Xiaomi Mi Note 10 price and availability

(Image credit: Future)

Read the rest of our Xiaomi Mi Note 10 review and take a guess at how much this phone should cost. Do its features suggest that it should command a $1,200 / £1,000 / AU$1,500 price tag like a top-end iPhone or Samsung Galaxy Note device, or do you think Xiaomi will try to price it more competitively?

Well, your guess is as good as ours, because all we know is that the Mi Note 10 will cost €549 – that converts to roughly $610, £470 or AU$880, but pricing for the device outside Europe is up in the air. However, if those converted prices are anything to go on, it won’t cost nearly as much as some of those competitors mentioned above.

There’s also no word on a global release date, although the device is already out in China under a different name – there was a gap of several months between Xiaomi announcing the Mi 9 and actually putting it on sale though, so don’t hold your breath.

Design and display

As mentioned, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 bears more than a passing resemblance to the Huawei P30 Pro – it’s got a big screen with curved edges and a small ‘tear-drop’ notch, a rather large build, and a camera array at the top-left of its rear.

The full dimensions are 157.8 x 74.2 x 9.67mm, and it weighs 208g, so it’s not huge, but it’s a little thick and heavy, which is probably because of the massive battery. The phone feels big in the hand, and the thickness is palpable, although unless you have small hands most of the display is accessible with one hand.

The volume rocker and power button are both on the right edge of the device, and on the bottom are a USB-C port and also a 3.5mm headphone jack – the latter isn’t exactly common in premium devices these days, so fans of wired headphones will be glad of its inclusion here.

(Image credit: Future)

The screen is a 6.47-inch AMOLED display, and, as you’d expect with such top-end screen tech, images look fantastic, with great contrast, vibrant colors and masses of detail.

The screen is curved at the edges, in the style of the Huawei P30 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10, which is one of the key indicators of its premium status. In practice though, there’s very little curved area, and most of it is taken up by a fairly substantial bezel around the screen, but it does makes the phone feel comfortable to hold.

Camera

If there's one feature we need to talk about on the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 it's the camera, as this is the first smartphone to rock a 108MP sensor. For some context, that’s nine times the resolution of the main camera in the iPhone 11.

The 108MP main sensor – which we'll come back to shortly – is one of five rear cameras, and unlike on the Nokia 9 PureView, which had the same number, these all have a distinct role.

There’s also a 12MP sensor with telephoto lens, which is mainly for portrait shots, although it supports 2x optical zoom too. Pictures taken with this looked great, with the subject picked out accurately and appropriate levels of background blur, but we’ll need to test this in a range of settings, especially when using the zoom.

(Image credit: Future)

Then there’s a second telephoto lens, this one paired with a 5MP sensor, which allows for 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid zoom and 50x digital zoom. From our brief testing, optical zoom images look fairly good, although they can be a tiny bit grainy. If you go to max zoom (as you inevitably will do, if only for the novelty factor), you’ll find the pictures incredibly grainy, although that’s to be expected at such extreme zoom ranges.

Camera number four is an ultra-wide lens with a 20MP sensor, which is one of the highest-resolution sensors we’ve seen paired with an ultra-wide lens. Again, ultra-wide pictures looked good, with less distortion towards the edges than we’ve seen with other ultra-wide snappers.

Finally, there’s a 2MP macro camera, which is for close-up shots of things like food or textures. We had a bit of trouble with this mode, as it’s hard to take pictures when you're just 2cm away from your subject (as Xiaomi suggests you can) without totally blocking out the light. From our brief testing, though, macro images look okay, although the camera didn’t always capture all the texture in a subject, probably due to the small size of the sensor.

Round the front there’s a 32MP camera, although you can’t actually take 32MP shots with it; instead, Xiaomi's 4-in-1 Super Pixel tech takes a really great-looking 8MP selfie. Great-looking is an understatement, actually, as these are some of the best selfies we’ve seen from a smartphone (and it’s not just because of our radiant smile). Photos had lovely background blur and were nicely exposed, and the camera didn’t take ages to focus.

(Image credit: Future)

Now onto the 108MP camera itself – and it’s good. Pictures taken in its default mode are 27MP, although there’s an easily-selectable mode to switch to 108MP, which we appreciate, since on some smartphones you have to delve into the menus to change mode.

Of course, on a smartphone screen you won’t be able to see 108MP pictures in all their glory, but the advantage of this sensor is that it gathers vast amounts of light, so pictures look brighter, more vibrant and richly detailed.

It seems like all this camera power comes at a cost, though, and the Mi Note 10’s Achilles heel is its processor, which frankly isn’t good enough. We’ll get into this more in the next section, but the biggest knock-on effect is in the camera UI – the app frequently froze, and sometimes even crashed, during our short hands-on time.

When you take a 108MP, night picture, or any snap that requires any large degree of processing, the Mi Note 10 won’t let you change modes or take another picture until the processing is complete, which can often take a while. The sub-par processor is the only thing standing in the way of the cameras on the phone being great.

Indeed, in other respects the camera app performs well – autofocus is surprisingly quick, as is AI scene optimization, and in general it was easy to take a great picture, thanks to the camera tweaking settings appropriately.

There are, however, some bizarre combinations of camera modes and options. For example, a feature Xiaomi touts is Vlog mode, which helps you capture video blogs easily by shooting each segment in sequence, essentially cutting out the editing stage; however, this option is only available for the rear cameras, rendering the mode useless for vlogging.

Similarly, there’s ‘movie mode’ available in portrait mode, which lets you take a 21:9 aspect ratio snap (that’s the aspect ratio of most movies). However, this mode isn’t  available in video mode, so you can’t actually shoot movies in 21:9, only still pictures. Isn’t the point of moving pictures that you take more than one?

So, while we managed to take some great-looking snaps with the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, we found its app frustrating and confusing in equal measure. We’ll need to test the phone for a longer period to get a better feel for what it's like to use, and how it fares in different scenarios, so look out for our full review to see if you do really need a 108MP camera on your phone.

Camera samples

Image 1 of 7

A 108MP picture of bread

A 108MP picture of bread
(Image credit: Future)


Image 2 of 7

Probably the world's first 108MP of a tomato stuffed with strawberries, cheese and asparagus

Probably the world's first 108MP of a tomato stuffed with strawberries, cheese and asparagus
(Image credit: Future)


Image 3 of 7

A final 108MP snap

A final 108MP snap
(Image credit: Future)
Image 4 of 7

Night mode makes leaf shades clearer

Night mode makes leaf shades clearer
(Image credit: Future)
Image 5 of 7

The macro camera shows its 2MP nature

The macro camera shows its 2MP nature
(Image credit: Future)
Image 6 of 7

A portrait pic of T3's Matt Evans

A portrait pic of T3's Matt Evans
(Image credit: Future)
Image 7 of 7

Taken with the front-facing camera

Taken with the front-facing camera
(Image credit: Future)

Battery life

The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 packs a 5,260mAh battery, which is pretty huge even for a premium smartphone – the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus and iPhone 11 Pro Max had 4,300mAh and 3,969mAh batteries, and both were considered impressive. 

We didn’t get to test how long this giant power pack keeps the Mi Note 10 running for, but Xiaomi estimates two days of battery life, which seems plausible – we’ll be sure to test this thoroughly during our full review process.

(Image credit: Future)

For powering this battery up, the Mi Note 10 supports 30W fast charging, facilitated by a 30W charger that Xiami says will be included with the device; that’s one of the fastest charging speeds you can get in a phone, with most handsets charging at around the 15W / 22.5W mark.

Again, charging speed is something we’ll need to test for our full review, but 30W is an impressive spec. Saying that, given the size of the battery, 30W could just mean the Mi Note 10 takes the same amount of time to charge from 0% to 100% as any other flagship phone.

Features and specs

If you’ve read the whole of this review, and are now thinking "Sounds great – what’s the catch?", here it comes: the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 chipset is far weaker than it should be for a phone with such lofty aspirations. Yes, we've already talked about this in the Camera section, but it can’t be understated how noticeable the effect of this chipset is elsewhere. 

There’s no high-end Snapdragon 855 chipset here, which would really make the Mi Note 10 a killer handset, even though that chipset was first used in Xiaomi’s own Mi 9. Instead we’ve got the Snapdragon 730G, a mid-range chipset that’s optimized to be great for gaming, but which is weaker in other areas.

So while you might play a game and have an experience indistinguishable from playing on another phone, in other areas, like video rendering, the aforementioned photo processing, and some other intensive tasks, you may notice a difference. If you’re going to be processing pictures with more than 100,000,000 pixels, it shouldn't be asking too much to expect a suitably powerful processor.

(Image credit: Future)

The chipset is paired with 6GB RAM which, again, feels on the light side given the specs elsewhere.  We would have liked to see at least 8GB, or even 12GB to help process those high-res photos.

The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 runs Android 9 Pie (which will likely be upgraded soon to Android 10), overlaid with Xiaomi's own MIUI. While MIUI has a relatively inoffensive aesthetic – it’s got muted colors and large ‘squircle’ icons, which can seem a bit babyish, but it’s not too bad – whether or not you're a fan is a matter of personal taste.

A big issue here is the sheer amount of bloatware – the Mi Note 10 comes with three games preloaded, as well as a load of apps that you’ll probably spend a while deleting before you install your own.

The interface feels smooth to navigate though, so the processor isn’t falling down in this respect, as some phones with even worse chipsets can feel clunky to use.

Early verdict

(Image credit: Future)

The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 has some great features, but each has its weakness too. The premium-looking design is tainted by a significant notch, the great camera can be sluggish in use thanks to the weak chipset, and the impressive battery capacity means the phone is fairly thick.

The Mi Note 10 will likely be relatively affordable though, so you may feel that you're able to overlook one or two of these issues in the grand scheme of things.

The real trump card here is the 108MP camera, and we’re going to spend a good long time with this beast, and put it through its paces in as many ways as possible. If it's as good as we hope (and as it seems, from our brief hands-on time), then camera app issues notwithstanding, this could be one of the best camera phones around.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.