Android Hardware Phones Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: a premium screen for a bargain price?

Xiaomi Mi 8 review

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  • Build quality
  • Camera quality
  • Speed & battery

Verdict

Xiaomi doesn’t make any big mistakes with the Mi 8, but it has forgotten to add any wow factor

Overall
4.2

Xiaomi is fantastic news for anyone wanting to buy a powerful phone but not spend a fortune. It’s already the fourth biggest phone manufacturer in the world, principally based on sales in its native China, and has now set its sights on the UK and beyond. It’s also not shy of churning out new phones, with the Xiaomi Mi 8 one of many. So how good is it?

BTQ: Brief Tech Questions

How do you say “Xiaomi”?Shee-ow-me. Like Shee-ow-me the money
Can I trust Xiaomi?It builds solid, reliable phones
But can I trust it?You mean is it spying on you? Who knows
Is the Mi 8 fast?Yep. There’s a fast Snapdragon 845 chip here
Can it cope with games?No problem. Expect high frame rates
Is it “stock” Android?Sadly, no. Xiaomi uses its own overlay
Security?Facial recognition plus a fingerpint reader

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: who’s it up against?

This is the big question for the Mi 8. We’d identify three key rivals:

Xiaomi Pocophone F1 – £330 – very similar phone that has the same top-end components but only includes an IPS screen (so not quite as vivid).

OnePlus 6T – £499 – yes, it’s more expensive, but OnePlus is a more established brand in the UK and its camera is superior.

Samsung Galaxy S9 – £465 – Samsung’s flagship phone launched at around £900, but has since dropped down to a seriously tempting price.

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: what makes it special?

There are several fine things about the Xiaomi Mi 8. The first is the power packed within: a top-end Snapdragon 845 processor is as fast as things currently get in Android phones. Well, almost: the Kirin 980 chip inside Huawei’s top-end phones is a tad quicker.

Then there’s the generous 6.2in AMOLED screen. Again, that’s the kind of display we’re used to seeing in flagships costing £700+, not a phone you can pick up for around £400.

Finally, there are all the other “flagship phone” touches. The thin, classy, glassy curved body. The face-unlock with infrared, so it works in the dark. An “AI-enhanced” dual camera. If you place the Mi 8 next to any other flagship phone, there are no obvious areas where it will come up short.

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: where does it fall short?

However, sheer force of logic tells us Xiaomi must have cut a few corners. What isn’t it telling you?

First, this isn’t a super-top-end panel. It’s fine, passing all our technical tests without a problem, and it’s likely to be better than the screen on your current phone. Place it next to the iPhone XS or Huawei Mate 20 Pro, however, and it looks flat.

Note there’s no way to expand the built-in storage either. There are a few versions of the Mi 8 on sale, and we’d avoid the 64GB version because that confined space will prove problematic after a few months’ use.

You also lose out on waterproofing features found on the Galaxy S9, and this isn’t because Xiaomi still includes a 3.5mm audio jack. All you get is a USB-C to audio converter, so no charging whilst listening to your favourite speakers.

Are any of these deathly sins? No, they just all chip away at the Mi 8’s feeling of specialness.

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: camera

Compared to the crazy specs we’re seeing on some cameras, the Mi 8 appears modest. A mere two 12-megapixel units on the rear? How 2018. But there are lots of reasons to like Xiaomi’s camera implementation.

We like the Mi 8’s camera: it captures natural colours and avoids over-saturation

I don’t claim to know as much as the experts at DxoMark, so I’ll bow to their overall rating of 99 for the Mi 8’s rear cameras. That’s a high score. Its strength is stills photography, with excellent results in both bright and low light.

Brick walls always pose a challenge for phone cameras – above, the non-cropped image…
And here’s the cropped image. On the left, the Mi 8; on the right, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Both capture details well

The second 12-megapixel camera is also put to good use when capturing bokeh effects, but its main purpose is to add an “optical” 2x zoom. It makes this a versatile camera and capable of replacing a compact in most situations.

It isn’t quite so strong when producing video, in part because it only records at 30 frames per second (fps) at 720p, Full HD and 4K. Compared to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro I normally use, that lacks smoothness. The only plus is that you can capture slow-motion video at 240fps (at 720p and 1080p) and ten-second 1080p videos at 120fps.

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: speed and battery life

I’m not going to go into great detail about the Mi 8’s speed, because it’s in line with every single other phone with a Snapdragon 845 inside. It’s fast enough for any current app, including games, which is surely the crucial thing.

Of more interest is the battery life, with Xiaomi including a 3,400mAh unit. That compares well against the 3,000mAh battery of most phones, and means that you should get a full day’s use from it and more.

During my time with the Mi 8, I’ve had zero complaints about battery life. It’s also great to see that it has Quick Charge 4+ support, which means a five-minute charge, say, will boost it from 10% to around 30%.

It’s a shame that Xiaomi includes a slimline 18W charger in the box, which only supports Quick Charge 3, so consider investing in a Quick Charge 4.0 charger such as this Tronsmart device.

One thing to note is that having a super-quick charger on my Mate 20 Pro has changed the way I keep my phone going. I used to charge it every night, but now I tend to pop it on the charger for 20-30 minutes to take it back up to the 80% mark. I simply don’t worry about my phone’s battery like I used to.

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: software

The final thing to consider before buying this phone is whether you’ll be happy with the software overlay. It’s too simplistic for my tastes, adding nothing of note to Android 9’s stock interface.

It’s also weird that Xiaomi puts the “switch apps” button on the left rather than its normal place on the right, with the Back key switching from left to right. Why, Xiaomi, why?

You lose Google’s news stream when you swipe left from the home screen, instead being taken to a customisable set of blocks (middle screen above). For instance, you can make a note or view your calendar.

Note that Xiaomi pushes you heavily towards its own software, so here when I say “calendar” I don’t mean Google Calendar but Xiaomi’s equivalent – although it will synchronise all your details.

I also became annoyed by all the ads integrated into Xiaomi’s apps. For instance, when you finish running its Cleaner app it will play a video ad. And you can see the TikTok ad in the Facebook Cleaner above. That’s not what I expect from a phone I’ve paid good money for.

I’m sure I’d get used to Xiaomi’s overlay after a few months, and I can live with the ads, but I don’t have any desire to do so.

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: should you buy it?

xiaomi mi 8 review

I haven’t been won over by the Mi 8, in the main because I’m not sold by its supposed big benefit: the AMOLED screen. Why is difficult to pin down, but it lacks any wow-factor – and that huge notch doesn’t help.

Plus, as I mentioned at the start, the Mi 8 has some mean opposition. With the world’s biggest “phone show”, Mobile World Congress, happening at the end of this month, that competition is only going to get tougher.

If I had to buy a phone right now, I’d opt for the Xiaomi Picophone M1 or the Samsung Galaxy S9. And if you’re looking for a bargain, take a look at the Huawei P20 Lite, which has dropped to £229.

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: specifications

  • 6.21in 2,248 x 1,080 AMOLED display
  • Dual 12MP cameras (f/1.8 wide-angle lens, f/2.4 telephoto/portrait lens)
  • 20MP front camera
  • IR face unlock, rear fingerprint sensor
  • 3,400mAh battery
  • USB-C port, supports Quick Charge 4+
  • Dual SIM (nano-SIM cards)
  • Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth 5
  • 74.8 x 7.6 x 155mm (WDH)
  • 175g

Xiaomi Mi 8 review: test results

3D/gaming (GFXBench)

  • Aztec Ruins Open GL (High Tier), on-screen: 22fps
  • Aztec Ruins Open GL (High Tier), 1440p: 14fps
  • Car Chase, on-screen: 32fps
  • Car Chase, 1080p: 33fps
  • Manhattan 3.1, on-screen: 50fps
  • Manhattan 3.1, 1440p: 32fps
  • Manhattan 3.1, 1080p: 53fps
  • Manhattan 3, on-screen: 50fps
  • Manhattan 3, 1080p: 53fps

Geekbench 4

  • Single-core: 2,389
  • Multicore: 9,011

Screen test

  • Max brightness: 430cd/m²
  • Contrast: N/A (AMOLEDs are either on or off, so it’s “perfect” contrast)
  • sRGB coverage: 100%

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About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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