Xiaomi Mi 8 review — a great budget flagship!

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Introduction

Every year, Xiaomi releases a flagship with the simplest naming they can think of. Mi . This is not the 8th Xiaomi flagship though It’s actually the 7th. There is no Mi 7 not because there was a certain device bearing the number 7 that had somewhat explosive tendencies, but because the Xiaomi Mi 8 was actually launched on Xiaomi’s 8th anniversary. We have been playing with the Xiaomi Mi 8 for a week or two right now, and here’s our opinion about the device.

Unboxing

The Xiaomi Mi 8’s packaging is very minimal, yet just premium enough to draw your attention. It seems like only the flagships from Xiaomi deserve a black box. The 8 is chromed, and as you can see, can reflect light in interesting ways. Over on the back you get the usual sticker with the IMEI numbers and some basic info about the variant you are getting. We have here the 6GB + 64GB variant, or the base variant of the Xiaomi Mi 8 here in Malaysia.

Just like the exterior of the packaging, the contents are quite minimal. You don’t even get a pair of earphones, something which the competition is bundling with mid-range devices. Earphones aren’t even that expensive, and Xiaomi has a really great range of budget earphones. Perhaps selling them separately is still more profitable? The included charger here is an 18W QuickCharge 3.0 adapter.

Appearance

The screen takes up most of the device , but  there is still a sizeable notch and chin.

The back is glossy glass, which as you might expect, collects fingerprints prodigiously. The back is curved around the sides for a better grip, while the rear camera bulges out just a bit. This camera hump design is in many Xiaomi devices, but I must say I am no fan of it. At least this one here isn’t nearly as prominent as the one on the Mi A2. That one sticks out like nobody’s business.

The USB Type-C takes the center of the bottom edge, flanked by two arrays of holes hiding the microphone and loudspeaker. The antenna lines are not perfectly flush here though, detracting from the whole premium feel and appearance. No 3.5mm jack anywhere to be found.

Since the back glass curves around the back a little, the sides taper down to a rather narrow edge. You get all the buttons on the right and the SIM tray on the other.

Specifications

CPU/Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (4 x Kryo 385 Gold @ 2.8 GHz + 4 x Kryo 385 Silver @ 1.8 GHz), 10nm FinFET
GPU: Adreno 630 @ 710 MHz
RAM: 6GB LPDDR4X
Display: 6.21″, FHD+ (1080p) AMOLED display, DCI-P3 color gamut, HDR support, 600-nit brightness (High Brightness Mode)
Storage: 64GB UFS 2.1
Camera: Main Camera(s)
Primary: 12MP f/1.8, Dual Pixel AF, 1/2.55″ Sony IMX 363 sensor, 1.4μm pixel pitch, standard angle (28mm (35mm eqv.))
Secondary: 12MP f/2.4, 2x zoom (56mm (35mm eqv.))
Dual LED flash, AI HDR, portrait mode, AI scene recognition, AI Beauty, filters, Pro mode, 4-axis OIS (primary camera only), [email protected], [email protected] (slow-mo), [email protected] (high frame-rate)
Front Camera
20MP f/2.0
AI portrait mode, AI scene recognition, Beauty mode, screen flash, HDR
OS: MIUI 9.6 based on Android 8.1 Oreo
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), supports WiFi 2×2 MIMO, MU-MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0 (AAC, aptX, aptX-HD)
NFC
LTE-FDD: Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/20
SIM: Dual nanoSIM
Battery: Li-ion 3400 mAh (non-removable)
Dimensions: 154.9 x 74.8 x 7.6 mm
Weight: 175 g

The specfications are well in line with recent flagships. We get all the niceties we want here, except maybe we would love to have expandable storage considering the limited 64GB storage we have here.

Performance

It is faster than the POCOPHONE F1 and ZenFone 5z (without AI Boost), but loses out to the ZenFone 5z once the latter’s boost kicks in. The OPPO Find X and vivo NEX scores much higher for some curious reason though.

In Geekbench the Xiaomi Mi 8 scores well too, but actually loses out to its cheaper brethren.

Graphics performance is where we see the Mi 8 falter. In fact, it does slightly worse than its cheaper brethren, yet again.

Here we see yet another benchmark where the Xiaomi Mi 8 comes in behind the POCOPHONE F1.

Battery life is great, with the Xiaomi Mi 8 lasting longer than the OPPO Find X which had a bigger battery for some reason.

Battery life in my daily usage was good, with it lasting more than 16 hours away from the plug with nearly 6 hours of us, with mostly mobile data connection, as well as some GPS navigation thrown into the mix before it hit the 15% mark. Connecting it to the included QC 3.0 charger juiced up the battery by 45% in just 30 minutes. Good numbers all around.

Day-to-day performance with the Xiaomi Mi 8 was great, never did I run into stutters or lag with the device. 6GB of RAM is definitely sufficient for me and my light multi-tasking, while the Snapdragon 845 chipset ensures that every game runs smoothly. Speaking of games, the Xiaomi Mi 8 does heat up when playing PUBG Mobile, but it doesn’t start to lag later in the game or anything. It’s just warmer than I would like it to be.

The Xiaomi Mi 8 has a dual GPS system in it, but I didn’t see much difference in my normal usage when driving. It does seem more accurate when I was on foot versus other devices though, not spinning around erratically as I walked. If you frequently use GPS to guide the way when you walk, this is definitely a nice upgrade to improve your navigation experience.

User Experience

Xiaomi has never disappointed when it comes to the display, and while the Mi MIX 2S stays with an IPS panel coming from the Mi MIX 2, the Xiaomi Mi 8 adopts a new AMOLED panel which supports the DCI-P3 color gamut. This brings with it vibrant colors, the deepest of blacks and even HDR support with a maximum brightness of 600-nits. Holding on to the device is really comfortable too with the curved edges, but I was quite wary of its slipperiness.

The AMOLED display also lends itself to another cool feature that I love, Always On Display (AOD). Unfortunately the Xiaomi Mi 8 doesn’t really have the most feature rich AOD out there. It doesn’t show you your battery life, nor does it have that many supported notification icons. Telegram notifications doesn’t show up here, and that is my main instant messaging app. No customizable background either. But at least I can see what time it is.

Above the display is the sizeable notch which is home to the infrared facial recognition system, selfie camera, necessary sensors and the earpiece. The infrared recognition system works very well, but this does not do 3D mapping, so it is a little weaker compared to what you will get with the fruity phone. What it has is seamless quick unlocking even in total darkness. It works so well that I am suddenly unaccustomed to using fingerprint scanners.

With the huge notch in the middle of the screen, MIUI 9.6 does not show any notification icons in the status bar. I don’t really like the fact that I have to swipe down on the notification shade to see a whole list of notifications I have yet to respond to. The overall UI is easy to get used to, but you don’t get the option of an app drawer for a neater homescreen. MIUI has one of the best gesture navigation system out there. It borrows heavily from the iPhone X, but it works so well I ain’t even mad. Better than an original idea that doesn’t work, right?

The camera on this thing is definitely flagship class. You get a 12MP f/1.8 primary camera, and a secondary 12MP f/2.4 zoom camera. The primary camera does most of the heavy lifting, even handling zoom shots in lower light conditions. Which is a pretty good idea, as much as it may seem redundant. The secondary camera lacks OIS, has a smaller aperture and a smaller sensor. All of which isn’t good for low light photography.

Software wise it’s also very full featured. I am still annoyed by the fact that I have to swipe through the modes to reach the manual mode, but other than that it’s nice to use.

Shooting with the Xiaomi Mi 8 was easy. The AI scene detection does an amazing job, getting most of the shots right. It’s fast, without unnecessary shutter delay and images in good lighting turn out great. Low light images are slightly noisier than I would like though. But on the plus side the OIS does a great job and I almost never had any shots that turned out blurry. You can check out the full-sized samples on Flickr.

We also tested whether using the wide-angle sensor when zooming in low light is a good idea. While it happens automatically in the Photo mode, switching over to manual mode allowed me to choose which camera I wanted to use. Both photos were taken at 3200 ISO, and the shutter speed I used for the telephoto and standard angle shots were 1/8 and 1/13 respectively. That’s really slow without OIS, making it near impossible to get sharp shots without any additional support.

But the Xiaomi Mi 8 actually did a horrible job with the automatic 2x zoom on the primary camera, delivering unusably grainy shots. Perhaps Xiaomi should work on their noise reduction algorithm a little there. We understand that users expect to have easy-to-use auto mode, but these grainy shots are pretty horrible. If you have a tripod or something to help you steady your hand, use the manual mode and fire away with the telephoto lens.

Conclusion

The battery life is great, and the dual GPS can come in handy. Performance is faultless here, and MIUI is one of our favorite custom Android skins in the market. The cameras delivers great images too. For RM1679, you would be hard pressed to do better.

But it isn’t perfect though. If it came a few months earlier, it might have bagged our top accolade. But now the “budget flagship” market sees a few new contenders in the ring. Like most of the flagships we tested recently, it lacks a lot of the fancies we would expect from a flagship. No wireless charging and ingress protection, and you are out of luck if you want to hoard movies or music on the Xiaomi Mi 8 without support for microSD cards. The notch is also a bit too wide for my liking. I wish they could have gone with a smaller notch, or no notch at all like the Mi MIX 2S.

At this point, you might be thinking, why the Xiaomi Mi 8 over the POCOPHONE F1? Well, you are getting a camera setup which is a lot better, a much more premium design, NFC, dual GPS and also support for more LTE bands. Whether the extra features are worth RM420 is worth it to you, that’s for you to decide.

Our thanks to Mi Malaysia for provisioning the Xiaomi Mi 8 we used in this review. To support us, check out the Xiaomi Mi 8 on Lazada via the following link: