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Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review: Move over OnePlus, there’s a new mid-range champ

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
399
inc. VAT

It’s hard to use the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro for an extended period and not conclude the price was a typo

Pros 
Lovely design
As fast as Android devices get
Incredibly priced
Cons 
Xiaomi’s Android skin isn’t great
The Pixel 3a’s camera is marginally better
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Update: Good and bad news for those holding out for a Xiaomi Mi 10. The good news is that it exists and is available to buy right now. The bad news is that only applies if you live in China. The ongoing spread of the Coronavirus has meant that with MWC cancelled, Xiaomi has delayed the launch of the phone in the rest of the world, only saying that it will follow at a "later date".

We know the specs, though. The Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro will both come with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor backed by at least 8GB RAM. Both will have four cameras, led by a 108-megapixel lens, but the Mi 10 Pro will have more useful snappers, with a portrait and telephone lens replacing macro and depth-sensing ones.

In terms of pricing, it looks like it'll be similar to the original Mi 9, which began life at £499. The Mi 10 will sell for 3,999 yuan, which is around £440, while the pro model goes for 4,999 yuan – or about £550.

None of this makes the excellent Xiaomi 9T below a worse buy, by the way. But fans of the latest and greatest available may want to wait a little longer.

My original review of the Xiaomi Mi 9T continues below.

Back in April, the Xiaomi Mi 9 became the first smartphone to emerge with Qualcomm’s brand-new Snapdragon 855 processor. While that chip now powers almost every flagship Android phone, the Mi 9 had one big advantage: OnePlus aside, the company still undercuts everyone, selling it for just £499.

Well now the Mi 9T Pro is here, and it’s going to go one better – or rather, £100 better. This Snapdragon 855-powered handset sells for just £399. So where’s the catch?

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review: What you need to know

The Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro certainly doesn’t scrimp on other internals, that’s for sure. Alongside the Snapdragon 855, there’s 6GB RAM, 128GB of built-in storage, a 6.39in AMOLED screen, a 4,000mAh capacity battery and some intriguing stuff going on with the cameras: not only are there three on the back, but the selfie camera pops up to avoid any unsightly notch.

It even betters the Mi 9 by throwing in a 3.5mm headphone jack, although it lacks wireless charging or expandable storage.

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review: Price and competition

For all this, you’re looking at only £399. Smartphones in the same price bracket with similar specs are basically non existent, so this shouldn’t be a hugely long section.

In fact, arguably your best bet is the OnePlus 7, and that costs £100 more. This comes with the same processor but with only a depth-sensing second camera. You’ll need to splash out an extra £150 on the OnePlus 7 Pro to get a triple camera array. The OnePlus 7T is another alternative that we’ve only just reviewed, but we don’t have a price for it just yet.

But the chances are you’re looking to save money, so what is there for £399? The best of the bunch is the Google Pixel 3a, which sees a drop to a Snapdragon 636 processor, but maintains the Pixel 3’s best-in-class photography.

Finally, the other budget pick also comes from Xiaomi, but this time it’s the Pocophone sub-brand. The Xiaomi Pocophone F1 started life at £330 last year, but can now frequently be found for well under £300, and features last year’s still very powerful top-end Qualcomm chipset, the Snapdragon 845.

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review: Design

While the Pixel 3a managed to cut the price on the original Pixel 3 in part via design compromises, there’s no sign of any of that from Xiaomi. The plastic back on the 3a isn’t matched by the Mi 9T Pro, which is glass coated all the way around, from the 6.39in AMOLED display to the slightly curved back.

That screen, by the way, takes up almost the entire front of the device. Such is Xiaomi’s dogged determination to rid the world of bezels, that it can be measured in millimeters all the way round: about 1mm on the top three edges, and around 3mm at the bottom.

The parts that once might have been housed around the screen – a fingerprint reader and a front-facing camera – now have secret hiding places: the former is embedded within the screen, while the latter pops up from out of the shell with a cheery jingle and a bright blue light when called upon. To be honest, I’m of the school of thought that thinks this is all a bit of an overreaction to a tiny bit of bezel, but you can’t really object to the Mi 9T’s Pro resultant look, which is undeniably classy.

I do object slightly to the colour scheme of our review model, which seems to owe a debt to the dubious tastes of the pro gaming community and its love of LED light strips. Xiaomi describes these as “bold flames that flicker to life” when the light hits its otherwise “graceful and contemplative” design. I’ll let you make your own mind up, but it does also come in a more demure black if you have a semblance of taste.

There are a couple of drawbacks if you’re hoping for all the bells and whistles. There’s no microSD card slot to start with, which means you’re stuck with the (pretty generous) 128GB of internal storage, and there’s no wireless charging to speak of. There is a 3.5mm headphone jack, so considering the £779 entry-level iPhone only offers two out of three of these, you can’t really complain too much. Still, it’s no Galaxy S10 in terms of little extras.

READ NEXT: Best cheap smartphone

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review: Screen

The Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro’s screen is nothing short of fabulous. It’s a 6.39in AMOLED number, with a Full HD+ resolution of 2,340 x 1,080. Some might argue that it should be QHD in resolution, but I’m not one of them: the 403 pixels per inch are perfectly sharp, and anything more on a screen this size is wasted in my book.

More importantly, on its standard mode, it achieves 99.7% of the sRGB gamut with a volume of 103.4%. In short, that makes this a pretty spectacular display with colours that are both accurately reproduced and really pop. Being AMOLED, contrast is perfect, and the max measured brightness of 422.5cd/m2 is good enough for sunny weather, even if we have seen brighter elsewhere.

In other words, it’s a fabulous screen that’s up there with the best of them.

READ NEXT: Oppo A5 review

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review: Performance

A quick reminder of the specs before we talk about performance. For your £399, you’re getting Qualcomm’s latest and greatest mobile processor – the 2.84GHz octa-core Snapdragon 855 – backed by 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, although an 8GB/256GB variant is also available.

Those specs, as you might imagine, make it absolutely fly – especially when compared to others in the same price bracket. It’s basically the equal of the original Mi 9 and OnePlus 7, and streets ahead of both the £399 Pixel 3a and the £330 Pocofone F1:

You'll be unsurprised to see that the pattern is repeated in the graphical performance: the Pixel 3a is left in the dust, with about half the frame rate of the Pocophone F1 in the GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 test. Significantly ahead of that are the three Snapdragon 855-toting devices, though the onscreen performance between everything but the Pixel 3a is basically a dead heat.

These benchmarks back up how the phone performs in the real world, with nothing you can throw at it causing any problems at all. But at the risk of being a slight stick in the mud, I will say that the MIUI 10 skin that lives on top of Android 9 takes a lot of getting used to. From the way it insists on scanning every download for nasties, to its irritating preference that you use its own browser rather than the pre-installed Chrome, it’s full of annoying little quirks that will probably leave you longing for a cleaner Android experience.

This isn’t helped by the apps Xiaomi bundles with it, which includes – deep breath – AliExpress, Feedback, Mi Calculator, FM Radio, Scanner, ShareMe and others, alongside Xiaomi-flavoured versions of the gallery, browser, compass and video players.

Powering the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro is a 4,000mAh capacity battery and it does a stellar job of keeping things ticking over. In our looped video test at 170cd/m2 screen brightness in airplane mode, the Mi 9T Pro lasted an impressive 18hrs and 53mins before running out of juice. You can’t really argue with that.

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review: Camera

Finally, there’s the camera and, on paper, Xiaomi has another winner here. It’s a triple-camera array comprising of a 48-megapixel, f/1,75 aperture affair, supported by an 8-megapixel optical zoom lens and a 13-megapixel snapper for ultra-wide shows of 124.8 degrees. Both of these supporting lenses have an aperture of f/2.4.

On paper, that seems to wipe the floor with the Pixel 3a’s single lens 12.2-megapixel f/1.8 rear camera, but that’s a good illustration of why there’s more to phone camera technology than just raw numbers.

As you can see from the outdoor picture above, the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro does a good job of taking in the scenery of an overcast day in London, but when zoomed in and compared to the Pixel 3a, it just isn’t getting quite the same level of detail – particularly on the engravings above the windows. Worse, the colour palette is very much on the dull side, as the camera fails to take in the bright colours that can be found on even the greyest winter day.

It’s a closer call on the low-light shots, with both getting a little bit of artifacting as they try to cope with the lack of light. But in all, both phones do a good job, though once again the Xiaomi shots are certainly a little bland-looking, lacking the warmth that Google’s clever processing tech provides.

To be clear, though: both are significantly above what you’d expect from the camera in a £400 phone, so it’s undoubtedly a positive, no matter which handset gets the nod here.

And what about the front-facing camera that pops out of the phone’s shell when required? Well, it’s a 20-megapixel, f/2.2 affair that takes a pretty good shot. Pleasingly, the beautifying features aren’t overbearing, and don’t give that weird alien-like sheen that the Instagram vanity crowd seems weirdly oblivious to.

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review: Verdict

You may notice I’ve barely had a bad word to say about the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro, and that’s because it’s a lot more phone than you should realistically expect to get for £399 in 2019. Yes, I have mild issues with Xiaomi’s heavily skinned version of Android, but for a saving of over £100, I’d happily suck it up.

Everything else – the power, the screen, the camera, the design – shoots well above its pricing. If you’ve been left irritated by OnePlus’ gradual price inflation over the years, the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro might be your new home.

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