I have not reviewed a Xiaomi smartphone for years, but with the need to review true wireless earphones that support Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo Plus chips, I had to get my hands on a smartphone with Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or 855 processor. After doing some research, it appears the Mi 9 is the most affordable smartphone with the flagship processor. Upon further scrutiny, I got really excited at the specs sheet and decided to buy one.
The Mi 9 officially retails at S$699 for the 6GB/128GB variant (S$579 for 64GB). At this price, most smartphones will come only with mid-range specs. But Mi 9 comes with almost everything you expect from a flagship smartphone above S$1000.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
This processor is the fastest in the market, and Mi 9 happens to be the fastest smartphone on Antutu benchmark.
Triple Camera: Ultra Wide Angle to Telephoto
The Mi 9 comes with 48MP Sony IMX586 primary camera (26mm equivalent) with f/1.75 aperture, 16MP f/2.2 117-degree ultra-wide angle (17mm equivalent), and 12MP 2X optical telephoto f/2.2 camera (50mm equivalent). It earns an impressive DxOMark Mobile score of 107 points.
What I like about the camera app is the clean UI with small fonts. The portrait mode allows post-shoot bokeh adjustments, which includes studio lighting and light trails. The latter can even be saved as video showing the animation of the light trail filter.
Ultra-wide angle shots appear to be well-controlled without observable distortion.
The camera also supports 960fps super slow-motion. I would prefer the ultra wide angle mode can be auto-switched among the lenses when I pinch in and out of the preview screen, but apparently, the lenses are fixed, even during video mode, unlike other smartphones.
Low light is above average, though still cannot compare to Huawei P30 Pro.
HD Audio Codec
The Mi 9 supports LDAC, aptX HD, aptX, AAC, Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo Plus formats. With premium audio player apps like Neutron, the Mi 9 can playback DSD formats.
The single speaker is nothing spectacular, but good enough for normal listening.
6.4-inch Samsung AMOLED Display with Corning Gorilla Glass 6
The AMOLED display achieves deep black while at the same time provides tamed saturation. The glass surface feels silky to the touch. The display appears sharp and contrasty. A small teardrop notch appears on top, but I have no qualms about that. In fact, I find that bezel-less display is overrated, and I am fine with having some borders. Pop-up mechanical camera systems are a no-no for me.
Premium Features: NFC, In-Screen Fingerprint Sensor, Facial Unlock, AI Button, IR Port
NFC is a must-have for contactless payment. In-screen fingerprint sensor is a slower technology than traditional sensors, and the facial unlock is way faster. Still, it is necessary for online banking authentication, so it’s good to have it in-display for occasional use. The A.I. button on the left is under-utilised, but at least I can assign other actions for long-press and double-click. And the IR port is a great accessory for home owners.
20W Wireless Charging
It’s not just any wireless charging. Mi 9 supports 20W charging speed, which is even faster than normal 10W cable charger (5V 2A). But Mi 9 supports QC 4.0 charging speed of 27W (the bundled QC 3.0 charger charges at 18W). I’m not a big fan of wireless charging, because I find that sometimes due to placement, the charger fails to charge halfway through the night. But wireless charging is great for office setting where you can leave the phone on the wireless dock whenever you are at your desk. The battery capacity is 3300 mAh, which is not that huge in today’s standard. The phone can last me the whole day, but if I have a long night of entertainment, I better charge it before I leave the office.
No Micro SD Card Slot, No 3.5mm Audio Port, Not IP-Rated
For that price, there are bound to be some drawbacks. Fortunately, the package comes with USB-C to 3.5mm adapter, as well as a transparent silicone casing.
After dwelling into all the hardware specs, let’s talk about real experience. The phone is fast in everything I do with it, and I just enjoy it, with no unnecessary pause in between screen loads. I do find occasional glitches for unknown reasons. For instance, some apps would fail to connect to mobile data, and it did not appear to be a network issue, as some apps could still load content while others couldn’t. I had to restart the phone to get things back to normal.
The default launcher is not to my liking. One, it does not have app drawer. Second, the grid layout is fixed to four columns. The theme packs are also too elaborate. I installed POCO Launcher which I feel is cleaner. I then installed icon packs to further customise to my liking.
To me. there are features I look for that make a smartphone user-friendly. First of all, I love phones that wake up the display intuitively when I pick up the phone. Mi 9 does that and recognises my face for instant unlock. I also like to turn on and off the display by tapping the screen without clicking the power button, and Mi 9 supports that too.
Another important setting for me is the ability to change the menu into black background to reduce glare and make the UI more subtle. It’s important that the OS comes with it natively as it is impossible to install third party apps to change that. Mi 9 also has that.
The always-on display is something that I somewhat appreciate too, and Mi 9 supports that. However, it does not offer advanced incoming notification display options like what other smartphones offer, so I turned it off to save battery.
Mi 9 also has the option to change the navigation buttons to full-screen gestures, but its gesture is not the same as stock Android, so kept the 3-button option.
Reading mode is also a feature that is nice to have, especially at night. It serves as a reminder for me to sleep, and Mi 9 support setting a schedule to turn on and off the mode.
When making phone calls, Mi 9 has a native option to do call recording. Although there are third party apps that can support this, it’s always good to have it built-in as it is more efficient. Another great-to-have feature is screen recorder, so that I can capture on-screen interactions in video.
There are negatives about pre-installed MIUI apps, like display of adverts. What I did was to install my own replacement apps, like messenger, file manager, music player, calendar, mail, etc. I also disabled some of the background apps like the security app to prevent excessive background clean-ups. After all, the Mi 9 has 6GB RAM, so there is really nothing to worry.
The Mi 9 has a lot of premium features that are found in most flagship smartphones that cost double. It’s quite unbelievable that the fastest smartphone benchmarked by Antutu is the cheapest among the rivals.
The camera quality might not be competitively the “best”, but it is definitely above average and covers from ultra wide-angle to telephoto. I am very happy to use Mi 9 to capture my daily life.
Many consumers will be wary of a flagship-spec smartphone this cheap. So am I. But I bought it to see how much value this phone could deliver. There may be other new technically-better “value” smartphones like Pixel 3a, OnePlus 7, Honor 20 that are vying for this segment, but for me, the Mi 9 gets most of the ticks that I need.