The stage is set for a Xiaomi vs OnePlus face off in the value flagship segment- Tech Reviews, Firstpost

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In India, Xiaomi is synonymous with affordability above all else.

Ever since the Mi 3 launched in India back in 2014, Xiaomi has been all about disrupting any price segment that it’s chooses to operate. In the last few years, we have seen Xiaomi using this playbook successfully not just in the smartphone segment, but also for smart TVs, fitness bands, power banks and other device categories. More recently, Xiaomi’s Mi Notebook has received a lot of positive press thanks to its pricing.

Xiaomi Mi 10 5G

So when the Xiaomi Mi 10 was announced at a starting price of Rs 49,999, it naturally must have taken many Xiaomi followers by surprise. Having reviewed smartphones over the years, I didn’t find the move surprising at all, as this is a trend which was a long time coming. You just have to look at OnePlus device pricing over the last few generations. With Snapdragon 865, 5G, and a 108 MP camera as its ace marketing terms, it would be naive to expect the Mi 10 to be selling in the sub Rs 30,000 price range. For all practical purposes, Xiaomi has dominated the sub Rs 20,000 price segment. OnePlus has been doing that in the Rs 35k to 50k price range over the years. While the high volume-low margin game carries on the sub Rs 20k price range, Xiaomi now wants to battle it out in the high margin, value flagship space. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

With the price touching Rs 50k, Xiaomi is now competing not just with OnePlus but also Samsung, Oppo and of course, Apple (the new iPhone SE is under Rs 50,000). In this price segment, specs matter only up to a point. It’s not so much about which phone performs better, but rather about whether a phone buyer spending Rs 50,000 will even consider the Xiaomi brand for that sort of outlay.

In this review, that is the question I will try and answer. But if your argument is roughly “Xiaomi phone for Rs 50,000?! What nonsense!”, then prepare to be schooled. Let’s start with the first thing that grabs your attention. 

Build and Design: Easily the most well-designed Xiaomi phone this year

The last premium Mi device that sold in India was the full-screen Mi MIX 2. With the Mi 10, Xiaomi has ensured that the device screams ‘PREMIUM’ from the get-go. The Mi 10 comes in two colour variants; I received the ‘Twilight Grey’ one for testing. The glossy back is protected by Gorilla Glass 5. The shiny surface resembles a mirror, and is expectedly, a fingerprint and smudge magnet. Thanks to the protruding vertical camera section, dust does tend to collect in the corners around the module. Xiaomi has provided a transparent silicone cover in case you find the phone too slippery. I didn’t. The glass at the back curves around the edges to afford a better grip.

Mi 10 5G display

Xiaomi has provided a transparent silicone cover in case you find the phone too slippery.

The rear and front glass — both Corning Gorilla Glass 5 — sandwich the metal frame which has a clean edge on the left hand side, with the volume rocker and power/standby button on the right hand side. The tactility of both these buttons is quite good, but with the silicone case on, you have to press in a bit harder than usual. At the base, you have the USB Type C port surrounded by the speaker grille on the left hand side, a microphone slot and a dual SIM tray on the right hand side. This isn’t a hybrid slot, so there is no expandable storage option. On the top edge, you have another speaker grille, a microphone and an IR blaster. There are two antenna cuts on each side and only one on the top edge.

Mi 10 5G ports-1280

At the base, you have the USB Type C port surrounded by the speaker grille on the left-hand side.

The front is 6.67-inches of Super AMOLED display with a punch-hole front camera on the top left hand corner. The display is curved on both sides, but it’s a gradual curve. A very thin bezel runs around the display and you get an impressive 90 percent screen-to-body ratio. While one-handed use will be a problem for most users, the weight distribution of this 205 gram device is good. Still, the phone does feel a bit on the heavier side. Thanks to the curvature on the front and back, it measures around 9 mm thick on its edges. One glaring omission for the Mi 10 is the lack of any Ingress Protection rating, aka, IP rating. It boasts of a ‘P2i coating’ which can handle water splashes. But don’t go about shooting underwater photos with this.

Design-wise, this is easily the best-looking device Xiaomi has released this year. While the vertical camera module placement is a tad boring, the Mi 10 manages to impress with its design.

Specifications

 Display: 6.67-inch Super AMOLED display with 2340 x 1080 pixels

Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865

Graphics: Adreno 650 GPU

RAM + Storage in GB: 8/128, 8/256 with LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.0 storage

Expandable storage: No

Primary Camera: 108 MP with f/1.7 aperture with sensor size 1/1.33-inch

Secondary cameras: 13 MP Ultrawide with f/2.4 aperture + 2 MP Macro with f/2.4 + 2 MP depth with f/2.4 aperture

Selfie Camera: 20 MP with f/2.0 aperture

Battery: 4,780 mAh

Cooling: LiquidCool 2.0 Vapor Chamber + 6 Stack Graphite + Graphene Cooling System

Software: Android 10 with MIUI 11

Colours: Coral Green, Twilight Grey, Peach Gold

Display: Don’t fret about the FHD+ rating, the display is gorgeous

The Xiaomi Mi 10 sports a 6.67-inch Super AMOLED display with a FHD+ resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels. Now, many of you may wonder: “a Rs 50k phone with FHD+ resolution? Why not QHD+?” That is a decision that only Xiaomi can answer for. But having used the phone, I did not feel like I missed the extra pixel count. The 19.5:9 aspect ratio, almost edge-to-edge display which can go really bright, and a pixel density of 386 PPI do well on the Mi 10. It’s also got a refresh rate of 90 Hz, which has become par for the course at this price range.

Mi 10 5G display-1280

The Xiaomi Mi 10 sports a 6.67-inch Super AMOLED display with a FHD+ resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels.

In terms of performance, the display shines. Things can get a bit too bright and painful for the eyes, if you watch a movie or YouTube video on full brightness. I know, no one really does that, but for the purposes of testing I tried it out for 10 minutes and it was bright enough to be annoying. The contrast levels of the Super AMOLED display are top notch. There is HDR10+ to enjoy supported content. In the display settings, you can change the way your display looks – Default, Warm, Cool, Saturated or Auto (which adjusts the display settings based on ambient lighting). Else, you can enter the Advanced Setting mode which lets you set the display to Enhanced, Original, P3 or sRGB modes with finer settings further down the menu. I kept the phone at P3, and with dark mode on for the majority of the testing period. Once you are used to system-wide dark mode, you will rarely use the default non-dark mode. But with the regular mode, I did not notice any colour tingeing, unless I tweaked the Display Settings to Warm or Cool. There is an option for an always-on display as well, which has some animated templates too. But beware, it can eat close to 6-8 percent of the overall battery charge.

I enjoyed my time binge-watching Netflix and Prime shows. The wider aspect ratio can take a bit of getting used to when you are watching in landscape mode. With the new season of Dark expected on 27 June, I binged through earlier seasons. While the display was able to show details in poorly lit scenes, I noticed that the glossy nature of the display would turn it into a mirror in such scenes. If you watch with no ambient light on, it’s a much better experience. YouTube videos could only be enjoyed at 480p due to the current COVID-19 restrictions.

Thankfully, the full-screen mode is implemented in a way that the punch-hole does not come in the way of viewing. And the non-illuminated parts have no light bleeding, so it’s a great overall video viewing experience. The same is true for gaming as well. The palm rejection on the curvature of the display is quite good. I rarely had any issue with the display while holding it to watch a movie or taking photographs — an issue I have faced with quite a few other smartphones with curved edge displays.

The 90 Hz refresh rate works great on apps such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube as well as Asphalt 9. But then, while I was browsing through the ‘Coming Soon’ section of Netflix, every scroll was accompanied by a speed breaker which was annoying.

Blazing fast performer, but MIUI does throw up some issues

With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 SoC paired with 8 GB of LPDDR5 RAM, blazing-fast performance is what you get. I threw a lot of apps and games at the Mi 10 and everything ran without any lag. The benchmark numbers are in line with other Snapdragon 865 SoC smartphones. I got to test the 8 GB RAM + 128 GB storage variant and things were buttery-smooth.

Mi 10 3D Mark

Mi 10 3D Mark

Games such as PUBG and Asphalt 9: Legends ran without a hitch. While Xiaomi claims that the Mi 10 has ‘LiquidCool 2.0 vapour chamber and six-stack graphite’ to cool things down, I still did find the phone warm to hold after playing 15 minutes of PUBG. I had faced similar issues when out testing the camera while shooting images and videos. The Mi 10 certainly wasn’t unbearably hot to hold, and at no point did the warming of the phone shut down any apps or cause any unexpected behaviour. But if a brand is highlighting cooling systems as one of its highlights, it feels somewhat incongruous that the back of the phone should warm up so quickly. Heat has to go somewhere, I suppose.

Geekbencch multi score test

Geekbencch multi core test

Call quality is great despite the slit of the earpiece speaker being just above the display. When it comes to unlocking the device, the face unlock was quite fast, but the under-display fingerprint scanner was slow. God forbid, if you have even the slightest amount of moisture on your thumb — which there will be many instances of with the approaching monsoons — the phone won’t unlock.

Geekbench Single core test

Geekbench Single-core test

Audio on the Mi 10 is pretty darn impressive. With the dual speakers, I never felt the need to snap on the earphones — which have to be routed through the USB Type C to 3.5 mm audio jack adapter. If you are holding the phone horizontally, the gap between the speakers and your palms works in favour of the audio, but if you grip the edges, sound comes out muffled. Things can get really loud, but at no point did I notice any cracking. When gaming with wired headphones on, your grip gets affected due to the adapter on one side.

Mi 10 PC Mark 2.0

Mi 10 PC Mark 2.0

You get Android 10 with the MIUI 11 skin atop it with the 1 March 2020 patch. The software looks the same as it would on a Redmi device. Mi 10 has gone with Google Dialler and Google SMS which means call recording functionality goes out the window — in case that matters to you. While Xiaomi says it’s working hard not to spam you with unnecessary ads, the Mi Video app kept sending me random videos till I disabled notifications from its settings. There are quite a few preloaded apps which include system apps that can’t be uninstalled, random games that can be uninstalled and other apps such as Facebook, Gaana, Amazon which you may find useful. I still feel it would do a world of good if Xiaomi just enlisted the apps during the phone setup stage and let users select which apps they really want and which ones they don’t, rather than forcing all these apps down our throats. On a Rs 50k device, you don’t want to deal with the same MIUI tactics that you must endure on a sub-Rs 10k phone.

Camera: It’s all about that One-oh-eight MP camera!

This is the headline feature of the Mi 10. Everything else is secondary. While Xiaomi had announced its plans to come up with a 108 MP camera-sporting smartphone last year, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (with the same MP count) already started selling earlier this year in India. The 108 MP camera inside the Mi 10 comprises the Samsung ISOCELL Bright HMX sensor with a sensor size of 1/1.33-inch and a max aperture of f/1.7. The 108 MP camera also comes with 4-axis OIS and a 7P lens setup.

Mi 10 5G cam

Mi 10 5G comes with a 108 MP quad camera setup.

Like most high-megapixel count cameras, the Mi 10 also uses pixel-binning, where four pixels are merged into one large pixel. Ideally, for the 108 MP sensor with a 4:1 ratio of pixel-binning, you must get a 27 MP image, but with the Mi 10 you get 25 MP images. Don’t be surprised if when your casual shots are larger than 10 MB in size. There is a dedicated 108 MP mode for non-pixel binned photos. Use it only if you want to really capture the finest details, as the image resulting from a 108 MP shot can reach as much as 30 MB per image in some cases.

This primary camera is also capable of shooting up to 8K videos, but most of us should be fine with 4K @ 30/60 fps and 1080p @ 30/60 fps. A LOG mode is available as well for professional videographers who would rather adjust colours in post. You also get some video editing options on the device, which are good to have.

You may have noticed, I haven’t spoken at all about the other three cameras. That’s because they pale in comparison. You have a 13 MP ultra-wide-angle camera with an f/2.4 aperture and 16 mm equivalent field of view. Additionally, there is a 2 MP macro camera and a 2 MP depth camera. There are many discussions online as to how the macro camera could have been replaced in favour of a better-specced telephoto camera, but Xiaomi claims that the 108 MP sensor lets you crop an image which gives you a feeling of telephoto images. The digital zoom feature on the Mi 10 results in terrible image quality. Also, the 2 MP macro camera works well only if there is enough light around, and it requires some amount of patience.
Xiaomi Mi 10 5G

When it comes to image quality, daylight shots are packed with detail. Centre and edge sharpness were on point with the primary camera, but with the ultra wide-angle camera you notice edges getting softer. I did face issues with tricky lighting conditions. For instance, in the shot below, you will notice that not much detail has been extracted from the shadow region — I shot it in regular mode as well as with HDR and AI modes activated, but the harsh lighting was too difficult for the camera to resolve. Barring this, most other daylight photos I made didn’t face any issues.

Mi10 (48)
The auto-focus does tend to act funny at times, where it would constantly be hunting despite tapping an area which had enough contrast for a focus lock. This was an issue I faced on rare occasions, and won’t be an issue with everyday shooting. Colours come out well, but at times I noticed that the sensor would overdo reds and greens, despite AI mode being off.

Portrait mode works great in most instances. Yes, you do have issues with edge detection, but that is a problem with most smartphone cameras apart from those on the Pixel devices. I like that Xiaomi has additional features for post-processing of portrait shots, which let you tinker around with the shallow depth of field portion behind the subject.

Shooting in low light results in comparatively noisier images, but not unusable ones. In fact, in most cases, the noise control was impressive. Yes, on 100 percent crop, you do notice excessive smoothening and things tend to lose their texture. But if you want to share low light photos on social media platforms, the Mi 10 more than delivers. However, when shooting a 108 MP image in low light, be aware that noise will be exaggerated as well.

The Mi 10 lets you shoot up to 8K videos, but it makes sense to shoot at such high resolution only if you have the phone fixed on a tripod, else even the smallest movement will result in a jarring video. Thanks to Snapdragon 865, the phone supports 4K @ 60 FPS, but shooting in 4K @ 60 FPS while walking results in jarring footage. I wouldn’t bother unless I am shooting from one position or have a gimbal on me. Here’s what 4K @ 60 FPS looks like:

Mi10 (3)

When shooting at 4K @30 FPS though, you get nicely stabilised footage, even when you are walking and shooting. Here’s what it looks like:

Mi10 (4)
It’s a pity that the steady shooting mode is only available for 1080p resolution. A pity because daylight 4K footage is of really good quality. In the steady mode, you do get good, stable footage even when you are walking and shooting, although it does crop the frame a tiny bit. Panning while shooting doesn’t result in very evident rolling shutter. The cinematic zoom feature results in a smooth zooming experience, which is well thought out.

For the audio, while the onboard microphone is good for most instances, there were times when I had to speak loudly to record some decent audio. With the current reality of wearing masks, audio recording with the onboard microphones has taken a hit. Video footage gets noticeably softer as the light levels drop. Footage shot at dusk or at night — with the street lights as the only light source — wasn’t that impressive. Usable for sure, but not with as much detail in shadow regions.

Video footage from the front camera is shaky, as there is no EIS or OIS here. This may annoy vloggers who love shooting Instagram Stories on their selfie cameras.

Mi10 (1)

Features such as VLOG Mode are interesting if you just want to make short videos with a particular format. I would like to see more presets here, perhaps some from the Mi community.

Mi10 (10)

Great battery life, blazing charging speeds, but battery drain is a concern

With a flagship Snapdragon 865 onboard and a massive 6.67-inch display, Xiaomi decided to equip the Mi 10 with a large 4,780 mAh battery. Xiaomi has bundled a 30 W fast charger in the box, and it also supports up to 30 W fast Wireless Charging as well. You can also use the phone to reverse-wirelessly charge (10 W) other devices such as your earbuds.

The Mi 10 battery lasted for a good day and half on regular usage. With over an hour of gaming and video streaming, the battery may run out within just over a day. No surprises on the battery front at all — you get a reliably long-lasting device.

I wasn’t too impressed with the standby discharging. One night — before going to bed — I had fully charged the phone, only to wake up to 85 percent of battery life in the morning. A 15 percent drop overnight, even with mobile internet on, was a lot. Xiaomi needs to fix something in MIUI to correct this — it’s not desirable to have such a noticeable battery drain when you aren’t doing anything on the phone.

With the bundled charger, it took around 65 minutes to go from 0 to 100 percent charge — that’s impressively quick. Even a 15 minute charge takes the phone from 0 to 30 percent — enough to last you for half a day.

Xiaomi also sent me the wireless fast charger, which sells separately for Rs 2,299 and it is a surprisingly quick charging unit as well. It comes with a built-in fan to ensure the phone stays cool as it’s charging. I noticed that I couldn’t place the device with the silicon cover on for fast charging, and removing the phone from that cover is a bit of a task. While Xiaomi claims this is the world’s fastest wireless charger, I didn’t have any other wireless chargers on hand to test the claim. Having said that, it took me around 110 mins to charge the Mi 10 from 2 percent to full charge.

Verdict and Price in India

Having used the Xiaomi Mi 10 for close to ten days as my daily driver, I can safely say that Xiaomi has announced its entry into the value flagship segment with great poise. The design is excellent, display is great, battery life wonderful and the camera does perform well on most fronts. But things such as lack of IP rating, some MIUI apps still spamming you with notifications, some firmware niggles, heating issues on certain operations despite the vapour chamber, will make you think a while before dropping Rs 50,000 on the Mi 10.

Let’s get one thing clear — the 5G part of the device is redundant, as by the time 5G becomes mainstream in India, there will have been two more successors to the Mi 10 5G.

Should you spend Rs 50,000 on the Mi 10? I’d wait till the OnePlus 8 review is out, as that will be its true competition. The iQOO 3 5G, Realme X50 Pro 5G are definitely priced lower, but the Mi 10 certainly races ahead of them on many fronts. Over those two phones, I’d certainly recommend the Mi 10.

The more pertinent question is this: Would you be willing to drop Rs 50,000 on a Xiaomi-branded flagship device? If this question were asked of me two years ago, my answer would have been a strong no. But having seen Xiaomi deliver on its product quality and after-sales services all these years, it looks ready to change the stakes in the value flagship segment. OnePlus has owned this segment over the last few years, and let’s face it, the OxygenOS experience is a far superior experience to MIUI. The decision is nuanced and depends on the compromises you’re willing to make.

Apart from the OnePlus 8, you also now have the Apple iPhone SE to contend with. While it may not have the camera chops of the Mi 10, and sports a design language that is a couple of generations old, for many new buyers with a Rs 50,000 budget, the prospect of owning a new Apple device is tempting. So even though it’s an apples to oranges comparison (I regret nothing), the new iPhone SE will still be solid competition. Samsung’s last-gen flagships such as the Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10e are also selling around the Rs 50k mark. Those are still very capable devices, and could be contenders.

Bottomline: Unlike the sub-Rs 20k segment where Xiaomi devices come highly recommended, the answer is not as crystal clear in this new bracket that the Mi 10 is operating in.

Objectively speaking, the Mi 10 ticks most boxes you would expect from a flagship device. I don’t think Xiaomi is expecting to sell the Mi 10 in the same volumes as its sub-Rs 20,000 phones. Especially not in the post-lockdown world we are living in, where consumer spending will certainly be hit. The Mi 10 certainly comes at an interesting time. But the question remains: Will Xiaomi be able to continue its disruption juggernaut in the value flagship segment? We shall find out in a few quarters.

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