Xiaomi has a simple smartphone strategy: Focus on the features people really want, and offer that at the lowest possible price. The company's latest smartphone, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, takes this approach to the extreme. It's a phone that outmatches expensive flagships with its 108-megapixel, penta camera and a massive battery. At the same time, the Mi Note 10 has a mid-range, Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor, no face unlocking capabilities, and no water resistance.
Design and hardware
Xiaomi has been making high-quality hardware in recent years, but until now none of its handsets has had the extra flourish of a high-end Samsung or Huawei phone. Xiaomi’s display panels, for instance, were almost always entirely flat, leading to a somewhat abrupt edge where the screen meets a phone’s aluminium chassis. The screen measures almost 6.5 inches and produces gorgeous colours, with a fast optical fingerprint sensor underneath the panel. The back has a shiny, reflective finish that looks great when clean, but attracts fingerprints and smudges easily. There’s a large 5,260 mAh battery that will be just about impossible to drain in a single day, and a headphone jack to boot. The only disappointment here is the Snapdragon 730G processor, which is a class below the Snapdragon 855 and 855+ processors being used in other Android phones.
Software and features
The Mi Note 10 is still stuck on Android 9 – rival OnePlus has offered the newest Android 10 mobile operating system for a couple of months now – but it does have the newest version of Xiaomi’s MIUI Android skin on top, version 11. While MIUI 11 keeps the momentum of the excellent MIUI 10 going with a stylish interface and a host of customisation options, the software is perhaps too new right now, as it’s buggier than usual.
Starting with Mi Note 3, Xiaomi abandoned the idea of installing top-quality solutions from Qualcomm in Mi Note series. Once in Note 3 they put the best mid-level SoC at that time - Qualcomm Snapdragon 660. The trend has not changed since then, because Xiaomi Mi Note 10 has a top-end (at the time of its release) mid-level platform - Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G.
This is a pumped version of the standard Snapdragon 730 platform, in which they improved gaming performance by about 15%. The system is built on an 8-nm process technology and consists of 8 cores: 2 Kryo 470 Gold cores with a maximum clock frequency of 2.2 GHz and 6 Kryo 470 Silver cores with a clock frequency of 1.8 GHz. Adreno 618 accelerator handles the graphics.
There are 6 LPDDR4x gigabytes of RAM, which is enough. The smartphone copes with multitasking. If for some reason you want more, then look towards Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Pro, with 8 GB of RAM.
You get 128 GB of storage. 99.08 GB are free for the user, but there is no possibility to expand the storage via microSD cards. This is a more compelling reason to consider the Pro version, because of 256 GB of storage. This smartphone is all about photo and video files, so storage matters.
The star of the show – that 108-megapixel camera – was developed by Samsung in collaboration with Xiaomi. Users can shoot in full 108-megapixel mode if they choose, and if there’s enough lighting; the extra pixels allow users to zoom in closer than usual on a subject. Xiaomi’s digital zoom system no doubt pulls data from this 108-megapixel sensor, despite the existence of a dedicated telephoto lens.
There are, of course, downsides to having such a high megapixel count. The more pixels you pack into a sensor, the more light you need to light them. While the 108-megapixel camera has a relatively large 1/1.33-inch image sensor, because it has 108 million pixels, the size of each pixel is only 0.8 microns, smaller than that of camera sensors on the iPhone 11 Pro, Google Pixel 4 or Huawei Mate 30 Pro. What this means is that the Mi Note 10’s camera hardware struggles in low light, its dynamic range does not match that of any of the top Apple or Huawei phones, and it tends to overexpose lights at night, although using night mode can improve photo quality. The 108-megapixel sensor is ultimately more a specialist lens – if you’re using it to take photos with a lot of texture on a sunny day, then it brings more details than other cameras, but if you’re inside a dimly lit bar or shooting on a gloomy, overcast day, photo quality drops off unless you use night mode.
The other lenses do their jobs as advertised, but it’s worth wondering to what extent they are needed. The macro lens, for example, captures objects at closer range and produce depth-of-field effects, but other brands such as Huawei and Oppo have incorporated a fully functional macro sensor into their wide-angle camera.
It is dubious about whether this phone needs two dedicated telephoto cameras and a depth sensor, as the 108-megapixel lens already captures enough details for a credible digital zoom, and other phones can pull off convincing bokeh images without a dedicated lens. Still, the Mi Note 10 can produce sharp and clear 2x and 5x zoom images.
The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 is powered by a massive 5,260 mAh battery - 30% larger than the Mi 9 Pro's 4,000 mAh cell and 60% larger than the Mi 9's 3,300 battery. The Note 10 supports 30W fast charging based on USB Power Delivery and the 30W adapter ships with the phone by default. The 30W charger refills about 57% of a dead battery in 30 mins, while it takes about 65mins for a full charge - exactly what Xiaomi is promising.
Of course, let’s start from the top, as usual. The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 supports dual SIMs, but there’s unfortunately no support for microSD cards here. Not too big of a surprise as Xiaomi has never been one to offer microSD card support on their higher end Mi devices.
The screen here is really fantastic. While specifications wise it might be in need of dem pixels, in practice it’s perfectly fine. It’s nothing new though, and doesn’t offer the whopping 1000-nit brightness some recent flagships are touting, but the curvature adds a whole lot to the experience, especially when swiping to go back via the gesture navigation.
With that said, the palm rejection algorithm needs a bit of work as there were multiple cases where palm supporting the phone was registered as a touch and caused the phone to seem unresponsive. Moving on, Xiaomi also baked in a fingerprint sensor under the display. Xiaomi claims that this is the latest technology available in the market, with improved detection of dry fingers and at low temperatures. MIUI 11 still looks pretty similar to older MIUI versions, although some optimizations under the hood for OLED displays are definitely present. Among them is the always-display presets, which also now come with a new animation when notifications come in. It’s however worth noting that the Mi Note 10 is still running Android 9 Pie under MIUI 11, with an update to Android 10 expected pretty soon.
The Xiaomi Mi Note 10 is markedly different from the rest of Xiaomi’s lineup. While their smartphones generally serve up a balanced package that offers amazing bang-for-buck at every price point, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 offers a camera that’s better than any flagship they have released, and possibly one of the best in the market till date. They also successfully pull it off at a price point that’s lower than many of the flagships it outperforms in terms of camera performance.
You do have to deal with the relatively slow chipset and limited storage, but it isn’t hard to transfer images out of the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, making it the ideal camera phone for you without breaking the bank. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for those who prioritizes the cameras over everything else, this is the best you can get in this price range.