The Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer edition clearly and quite justifiably soaked up all the spotlight within Xiaomi‘s latest flagship lineup. However, as the smoke clears, the value Mi 8 SE is the one gathering fan gazes, left and right. Indeed, on paper, it offers quite the package, without breaking the bank. In some ways, it’s almost too good to be true.
Whether you like Xiaomi or not, it’s hard to deny the Chinese OEM’s rise to prominence over its relatively short eight-year lifespan. As far as celebrations go, the number-skipping Mi 8 lineup is pretty impressive, for more than a few reasons.
The top-tier Explorer edition, with its under-display fingerprint reader and advanced laser facial scanning tech, sadly hasn’t made a visit to the office, thus far. Still, we got to review its vanilla Mi 8 sibling, which left a pretty good overall impression.
Enter the Mi 8 SE – the proverbial “Lite” variant in the lineup, with a pretty heavy punch.
Xiaomi Mi 8 SE specs
- Body: Metal frame, Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on front and back; 147.3×73.1×7.5mm, 164g.
- Display: 5.88″ Super AMOLED, 2,244×1,080px resolution, 18.7:9 aspect ratio, 423ppi; HDR 10 and DCI-P3 compliant.
- Rear camera: Primary 12MP, 1.4µm pixel size, f/1.9 aperture, dual pixel PDAF, gyro-EIS; Secondary 5MP, f/2.0 aperture, 1.12µm pixel size, no autofocus, depth sensor. 2160p/30fps, 1080p/120fps slow motion.
- Front camera: 20MP, 1.0µm pixel size, f/2.0 aperture; 1080p/30fps video recording.
- OS: Android 8.1 Oreo; MIUI 9.5 custom overlay.
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 710: octa-core CPU (2×2.2 GHz Cortex-A75 & 6×1.7 GHz Cortex-A55), Adreno 616 GPU.
- Memory: 4GB/6GB of RAM; 64GB storage; no microSD slot.
- Battery: 3,120mAh Li-Po (sealed); QuickCharge 3.0 fast charging.
- Connectivity:Dual-SIM; LTE-A, Cat.15/13 (800Mbps/150Mbps); USB-C; Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; GPS; Bluetooth 5.0, IR blaster
- Misc: Rear-mounted fingerprint reader; single down-firing speaker; no 3.5mm jack.
Ticking away, under the hood, is Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 710 chipset – the first in a new lineup of silicon, positioned right below the flagship 800 series and above the 600 one, while heavily borrowing connectivity and advanced features from the former. This is the first time we are seeing this chip in action and initial performance results already have us pretty hyped for its potential. With little to no obvious hardware omissions, modern features and plenty of performance to go around, for all intents and purposes, the Snapdragon 710 can deliver a flagship-level experience, aimed at the masses.
The same goes for the rest of the Mi 8 SE package. Sure, some cutback have been made, to step down from the regular Mi 8 and the Explorer edition, but what is left can still easily qualify as flagship-grade. The trendy, extra-tall, notched panel is present, even if a bit shrunken down, at 5.88 inches. Never the less, its of the Super AMOLED variety, even complete with HDR10 support.
The primary camera has also seen a bit of a downgrade. You still get a pair of snappers, but the second 5MP one has a purely supplementary role, for depth sensing in portraits. The fancy new dual-band GPS radio is notably absent, as well. To be perfectly frank, however, that’s still a Mi 8 exclusive feature, at this point, s owe can’t really be sore form its absence on the Mi 8 SE.
All things considered, the Mi 8 SE offers an amazing package, complete with Xiaomi‘s exciting new trendy design and an equally exciting fresh chipset setup. All this and more, without breaking the bank, at an MSRP of just around $350.
Obviously, there is a lot of ground to cover with the new Mi 8 SE, so let’s dig right in, starting with the retail box and its contents.
Xiaomi‘s retail box of choice is quite simplistic, in a very Apple-esque way. That is, white all around, with the exception of a sizeable eight figure on the front, in all colors of the rainbow. We can only imagine Xiaomi liked Apple’s approach to bringing some attention to the punchy AMOLED color pallet of its device.
Anyway, the box is a standard two-piece affair. Nicely thick and really durable, which is all we really look in a container. Inside – a proper plastic cradle, to keep the MI 8 SE that little bit more secure. Also, a fairly rich accessory package, including a very compact 18W wall charger, certified for Quick Charge 3, just like the phone itself. Also, a Type-A to Type-C USB cable and a type-C to 3.5mm audio dongle.
Yes, not even the Mi 8 SE was spared the “courageous” treatment. Not really a surprise, though, looking back at the Mi 6. At lest, unlike its siblings, the MI 8 SE did have enough room left to fit in an IR blaster.
Also inside the box, a pretty nifty soft silicon case, so you can start using the Mi 8 SE right away, with some extra piece of mind.
Design and 360-degree spin
As you can probably imagine, the Mi 8 SE borrows a lot of its design from the vanilla Mi 8 and the Explorer edition. However, it’s more than a simple scaled-down version. The overall build follows the conventions of the day – a metal frame, inside a glass sandwich.
The most notable difference in the profile of the Mi 8 SE seems to be the chamfered edges along the metal frame. Those definitely add a little bit of flair to the design, somewhat setting the 8 SE apart from its siblings.
That very same chamfer comes with another, somewhat adverse, visual effect. Even though the bezels around the display are comparable in scale to the ones on the vanilla Mi 8, they somehow appear bigger. Since we tend to associate notched panels with the latest wave of bezel-free devices, the extra perceived thickness from the chamfers looks like we have a permanent case on the phone with its added visual bulk. Of course, bulky this phone definitely isn’t.
The design of the Mi 8 SE definitely strikes us as modern. The choice of materials also doesn’t seem to disappoint. Xiaomi has used Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and the back of the device. It should be durable enough for everyday use even without a case.
While on the topic, we have to mention the back feels incredibly slippery and it’s a fingerprint magnet. Still, that’s hardly news about any glass surface. Xiaomi‘s choice of color deserves a mention. Our review unit is technically marketed as Gold, but the best way to describe the particular shade of the back panel is “creamy pink”. It’s a pretty interesting look.
The rounded fingerprint reader blends in nicely with its surrounding. Keeping up with its solid track record, Xiaomi made sure the biometric sensor is snappy and reliable. Good news, given the lack of an advanced laser face scanner, to play around with instead. At least, Xiaomi fitted a notification LED inside the notch.
The metal frame is matte and really clean on all sides. Unless you dent it, that is. Unlike the regular Mi 8, there’s no 7000 series aluminum here, so a little bit more care and attention are required.
On the right side you will find a textured power button and a volume rocker, both metal.
On the right – a dual nano-SIM card slot. Sadly, no micro SD cradle in sight. You are stuck with the on-board memory. For now, Xiaomi only offers a 64GB version, so keep that in mind, if you like to carry around a lot of multimedia.
The top and bottom sides both have a pair of small antenna inlays. These share the color of the back of the device and don’t really blend in much. Perhaps, hiding them would have been a better design route to explore.
Anyway – the two grills on the bottom hold the main microphone and the speaker.
On the opposite end – the secondary mic and an IR blaster. The latter is becoming harder and harder to find on a modern device, so we appreciate the extra convenience it offers.
Extra-tall, notched OLED panel
Chopping a flagship phone down to a more modest price bracket in a “Lite” version is no easy task. The display is usually, pretty high up on manufacturer lists, as one of the first and easiest things to get a downgrade treatment and cut back on costs. The Mi 8 SE proves it can, in fact, be done quite sensibly.
We appreciate that Xiaomi turned to Samsung again to source the 5.88-inch screen. This must have brought the costs up, but the OLED panel benefits are numerous and Samsung’s models are typically the best around. The one in the Mi 8 SE makes no exception.
|Display test||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio|
|Motorola Moto G6 Plus (Max Auto)||0.564||776||1376|
|Motorola Moto G6 Plus||0.418||610||1459|
|LG G6 max auto||0.277||564||2036|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) max auto||0||559||∞|
|Huawei P Smart||0.356||531||1492|
|Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera||0.28||530||1893|
|HTC U Ultra (max auto)||0.564||507||899|
|Huawei P20 Lite||0.27||482||1785|
|Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017) Max Auto||0||482||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018) (Max Auto)||0||482||∞|
|Huawei Mate 10 Lite||0.257||476||1852|
|Huawei Honor 7X||0.236||458||1941|
|Xiaomi Mi 8 SE||0||455||∞|
|HTC U Ultra||0.539||428||794|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)||0||413||∞|
|Motorola Moto Z2 Force||0||376||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)||0||348||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)||0||336||∞|
As far as brightness goes, we have little to complain. The panel in the Mi 8 SE performs about as expected from a Samsung OLED. Xiaomi did, however, skipped on brightness overdrive mode in Auto. Instead, it apparently elected to push the regular brightness ceiling further and set 100% on the slider a bit higher than most competing Galaxy devices.
Still, that’s a rather small omission, which doesn’t really take away that much from the overall legibility of the panel. Sure, you might want to avoid blinding sunlight, but, otherwise, the Mi 8 SE does just fine outdoors.
Color reproduction and accuracy is really great on the Mi 8 SE. The Samsung panel at hand is certified for HDR10, as well as DCI-P3. Indeed, running our standard color checker tests shows the Mi 8 SE is really accurate in Standard contrast mode, with a maximum deltaE of 4.6, in the white and average of only 2.7. Both numbers are low enough to consider the display color calibrated.
A few small adjustments to the white point could potentially bring those values down even further. Unfortunately, the Mi 8 SE only supports custom white point in Adaptive contrast mode. That one, however, sets various display parameters dynamically, based on external lighting conditions. Not really what we are after.
In this default Adaptive contrast mode, the reds, and greens tend to be very overblown. All the while, the blues are left a bit low, in comparison. The look you end up with is rather odd – a bit too warm, if that makes any sense. If vibrant, punchy AMOLED colors is what you want, just go for the Increased contrast mode and probably skip the adaptive one altogether.
The Xiaomi Mi 8 SE packs a 3,120 mAh battery – a little less than the vanilla Mi 8 and a little bit more than the Mi 8 Explorer edition, with all its extra hardware. While not spectacular in pure number terms, this is still a very decent capacity on a fairly compact device (147.3 x 73.1 x 7.5 mm).
And then, there is the energy-efficient Super AMOLED panel, which should, pretty much, sip power. But most interestingly of all – there is the new Snapdragon 710 chipset on board. Looking past the performance aspect of things (spoiler alert, it beats out the Snapdragon 660), the SD710 is well geared for providing excellent battery efficiency. Just like the flagship 800 series chips, it is based on a 10nm fabrication process while packing lower power cores. In this particular case, the arrangement is rather odd – six, efficient 1.7 GHz Kryo 360 Silver (Cortex-A55 based) ones and only a pair of 2.2GHz Kryo 360 Gold ones (Cortex-A75 based).
This arrangement should lower the overall power consumption, compared to a symmetrical 4 + 4 arrangement. And that’s without even considering the improvements to the CPU cores themselves. Or the fact that the current Snapdragon 600 and 400 series efficient/mid-ranger chips are almost exclusively based on a 14nm process. Using the extra wiggle room the ongoing minification provides from efficiency, rather than raw power is a godsend for battery endurance. A bonus, we still believe average users care a lot more about than number-crunching potential.
The X15 LTE modem, inside the Snapdragon 710 is a newcomer as well. The standby numbers were quite respectable. Call time is a bit more impressive, especially compared to Snapdragon 660 devices, with a bigger battery, like the Nokia 7 Plus. Still, nothing ground-breaking.
We did experience some odd issues with the default video player and our pretty generic h.264 mp4 test video. For some reason, the clip just choked the player on occasion and actually crashed the app. This looks like a software bug – one, which Xiaomi will hopefully address quickly. Hence, we were forced to resort to using an external third-party video player to get our battery life measurements.
Even so, at just over 9 hours, it still seems to be the weakest link in the endurance chain. In contrast, the web browsing, with the default browser managed an impressive 15 hours+. 86 hours, overall, is a pretty good showing, especially considering the battery pack capacity.
The Xiaomi Mi 8 SE only has a single, bottom-firing speaker at its disposal. It can get really loud.
|Speakerphone test||Voice, dB||Pink noise/ Music, dB||Ringing phone, dB||Overall score|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)||66.4||66.2||78.0||Good|
|Huawei Honor View 10||68.6||69.9||77.8||Good|
|Oppo R15 Pro||69.7||73.5||76.6||Very Good|
|HTC U Ultra (Theater)||67.3||73.1||80.6||Very Good|
|HTC U Ultra (Music)||61.7||73.1||86.7||Very Good|
|Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)||67.8||71.2||83.1||Very Good|
|Huawei P Smart||65.9||70.8||85.8||Very Good|
|Xiaomi Mi 8||68.1||72.3||82.2||Very Good|
|Huawei Honor 7X||66.4||71.1||85.1||Very Good|
|Huawei P20 Lite||66.3||71.5||84.9||Very Good|
|Huawei Mate 10 Lite||67.8||71.0||84.5||Very Good|
|Lenovo Moto Z2 Force||68.2||70.2||86.1||Very Good|
|Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera||68.4||71.6||84.8||Very Good|
|Xiaomi Mi 8 SE||70.5||74.1||85.2||Excellent|
|Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)||76.3||73.4||81.1||Excellent|
|Xiaomi Mi A1||74.0||73.9||90.4||Excellent|
|Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)||76.4||72.1||91.6||Excellent|
|Motorola Moto G6 Plus||82.2||76.1||86.8||Excellent|
Unfortunately, sound quality is another story. There is quite a bit of distortion, especially in higher-pitched sounds. It’s serviceable, but not really great for anything beyond a ring tone.
The Xiaomi Mi 8 SE had high volume when hooked to an active external amplifier, but its output was plagued by high distortion, which is rather disappointing for a flagship these days, even a Lite version such as the one we are dealing with here.
The headphones somewhat alleviated the distortion issues, but caused a rather big drop in loudness – all the way to below average. They also made the stereo quality rather average and caused slight shakiness in the frequency response. A mediocre overall showing if we ever saw one.
|Test||Frequency response||Noise level||Dynamic range||THD||IMD + Noise||Stereo crosstalk|
|Xiaomi Mi 8 SE||+0.06, -0.02||-96.0||96.0||3.266||0.980||-95.9|
|Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (headphones)||+0.30, -0.32||-95.4||95.3||0.016||0.473||-56.4|
|Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)||+0.07, -0.03||-89.7||89.9||0.0060||0.201||-91.7|
|Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018) (headphones)||+0.22, -0.21||-91.6||91.0||0.016||0.305||-56.2|
|Oppo F7||+0.01, -0.10||-92.5||92.7||0.0019||0.0077||-91.2|
|Oppo F7 (headphones)||+0.50, -0.20||-91.4||91.8||0.0079||0.402||-51.5|
|Honor View 10 (headphones)||+0.17, -0.03||-92.0||92.1||0.0023||0.092||-52.8|
|Nokia 7 Plus||+0.02, -0.31||-38.8||81.7||0.0013||4.690||-95.9|
|Nokia 7 Plus (headphones)||+0.25, -0.23||-93.3||90.4||0.0045||0.227||-53.9|
MIUI 9.5, on top of Android 8.1
Just like its siblings, the Mi 8 SE ships, running the latest Android 8.1 OS, complete with MIUI on top. For now, that’s MIUI 9.5, but MIUI 10 is right around the corner and the Mi 8 SE is on the official waiting list. Overall, Xiaomi‘s popular UI offers a pretty consistent experience across devices, as well as versions. It’s a very successful and deliberate way of hiding away the Google core and building a recognizable OS experience.
That being said, however, it is worth noting that Xiaomi is pretty liberal when it comes to modifications and flavors of MIUI. Some major retailers take it upon themselves to translate and tweak Chinese ROMs, primarily to ship to international clients, prior to a proper Global release of a given device.
Our review unit is one such case. Functionally, it’s perfect, since it’s based on current Chinese MIUI builds. You do have to go through an automated installer to get Google Play Services, but that’s not really a major issue. Plus, it leaves you with the option to try and live your life without them and save on some battery.
The only real issue with such a ROM is that it is often left stuck on an infrequently updated software branch. Thankfully, Xiaomi offers the option to unlock your phone’s bootloader and there are pretty convenient tools for hopping over to an official OS branch. If you are importing the Mi 8 SE from China, it’s an important consideration you need to keep all this in mind, so as not to miss out on future updates. But, we digress.
Moving on to the actual OS, there are some new features, like an always-on display, with a clock, date, and notifications. You don’t get anything in the way of settings for different styles – it is what it is. You do get the option to schedule when it turns on and off, or keep it on all the time.
There’s an entire Full screen display menu where you get options for gesture navigation. Effectively, you can replace the navigation bar with a set of swipe actions – swipe up from the bottom for Home, swipe up and hold for the task switcher, and swipe in from either edge to go back. And if you think that last bit would interfere with apps that use the swipe in gesture to access a drawer menu, it doesn’t – just swipe in a little higher and you’ll get the drawer.
There’s a lot less going on within the top notch of the MI 8 SE than the regular Mi 8. The facial recognition system has been stripped down even more. The more expensive regular Mi 8 gets an infrared illuminator along with the camera. The Mi 8 SE only has the latter to work with. Still, even in its basic form, the facial recognition works well enough in good light. Naturally, accuracy and speed deteriorate with low light.
The Mi 8 SE‘s face recognition isn’t as secure as fingerprint recognition, so it’s a good thing then that the phone has that too. The sensor is on the back, enrollment is quick, and unlocking is nearly instantaneous.
Once you unlock the Mi 8, you go to the homescreen, which is where all your apps are – MIUI adopts a home-screen only approach to Android, opting out of the app drawer. The quick toggles and notification area have remained unchanged in MIUI for quite some time, unlike Google’s own which get a redesign for every version. Recent apps look very much like the iOS app switcher. Apps are aligned next to each other and you flick them up to close them. The split-screen toggle resides here as well.
A swipe to the right reveals the App vault pane (also called Guide) with shortcuts to frequently used apps and a peek at Mi Notes and upcoming calendar events. According to MIUI forums, this page can only be disabled on the Chinese version of the ROM. Since ours is the Chinese version, a bunch of the default cards is rather… foreign to us. Translations aren’t great overall in this part of MIUI, but we are happy to report that this is an isolated occurrence.
The Security app is a hub that offers you options to scan your phone for malware, manage your blacklist, manage or restrict your data usage, configure battery behavior, and free up some RAM. It can also manage the permissions of your installed apps and allows you to define the battery behavior of selected apps and applies restrictions only to the apps you choose. It’s all pretty in-depth, yet quite convenient. We particularly appreciate the shortcuts to the app, positioned within the settings menu.
The only battery-related feature that isn’t conveniently accessible from multiple locations seems to be the Smart scenes menu, Currently, it only has an optional Sleep mode, which is reminiscent of Android’s deep sleep functionality. We can only assume, it works on top of that.
Some other advanced features, include second space, as well as dual apps, depending on whether you need a whole other environment or just a second instance of an app. App lock is pretty self-explanatory. There is also a MIUI lab menu for testing certain features that are not necessarily ready for prime time just yet.
MIUI also offers proprietary Gallery, Music, and Video player. If you are running on a Chinese ROM, then the Music and Video app will also allow access to local (paid) streaming services. A ton of handy apps come pre-loaded too – voice/screen recorders, barcode/document scanner, compass/level, file manager, notes.
We already mentioned on several occasions, that the new Snapdragon 710 has us pretty excited and with good reason. It is the he ambassador, of sorts, to Qualcomm’s fresh lineup of 700 series chips, unveiled back in February.
Among other things, this new chip family is marketed for advanced AI capabilities. However, for true AR gains, we might have to wait for the rumored the Snapdragon 730. It will likely be based on a Samsung 8nm LPP manufacturing process, use different cores and even feature a dedicated NPU 120 chip for on-device machine learning tasks. It looks like a different beast altogether and is unlikely to show up before the end of 2018. For now, we only have the Snapdragon 710 to explore and the Xiaomi Mi 8 SE is first, of what will likely be many, to actually bring the chip to market.
First, some specs are in order. The Snapdragon 710 Mobile Platform, as Qualcomm calls it, sits above the Snapdragon 660 and below the Snapdragon 835 and 845, aiming to trickle flagship functionality down to midrangers. Some of those advanced features, in question, include a Spectra 250 image signal processor that can perform multi-frame noise reduction in images and has some depth-sensing AI smarts, baked right in.
There is also the new X15 LTE modem, which delivers 4X4 MIMO and nearly gigabit (800 Mbs actually) downlink speeds. Also, it comes with QuickCharge 4+ support, which should make for really snappy top-offs once those chargers really start showing up in stores.
It’s pretty clear that the Snapdragon 710 brings a lot more bells and whistles to the table than the 600 series, top-dog Snapdragon 660. But, rocking a rather unconventional CPU core setup, comprised of pretty new ARM cores, it’s pretty interesting to see just where it sits in the mobile food chain.
The Snapdragon 710 is a 10nm chip, just like the 835 and 845 flagships. However, it uses new Kryo 360 cores, separated into two clusters and designated as Gold and Silver, according to their overall performance. These are not your typical symmetrical clusters, but rather a two, plus six arrangement. 2 + 6 Octa-core (2.2 GHz Kryo 360 Gold – Cortex-A75 derivative + 1.7 GHz Kryo 360 Silver – Cortex-A55 derivative).
This, combined with the improved tech in the Kryo cores themselves, has facilitated Qualcomm’s claims of 30% power efficiency on the Snapdragon 710, compared to the Snapdragon 660.
We kick things off with some pure CPU loads and GeekBench. Just to get the best possible picture, we made sure to include a wide selection of alternative chips in the chart. These go as far up as the ex-flagship Snapdragon 835, the Huawei’s Kirin 970 and even the Snapdragon 845 and the Exynos 9810. Also, some interesting current mid-rangers, like the popular Kirin 659, and various Snapdragon SoCs, like the Snapdragon 660, 630, 625 and even the Snapdragon 450 and the Exynos 7880 and 7870. We even threw in the dated Snapdragon 821 in the mix.
Plus, for the sake of ultimate thoroughness, we also ran all the benchmarks on the Mi 8 SE with an active cooling solution and included the results as well. Speaking of which, this is a great time to commend Xiaomi on the excellent cooling job it did on the Mi 8 SE. There was no sign of any thermal-related CPU \throttling even after repeated runs of the benchmarks.
CPU-wise, it is clear that the new Kryo 360 cores can’t keep up with the beefier and higher-clocked, even if older Kryo 280 units in the Snapdragon 835. However, the Kryo 260 cores inside the Snapdragon 660 fall short, despite their overall higher clock rates. It is particularly interesting to see the Snapdragon 710 come out ahead, ever so slightly, in multi-threaded workloads, where one could naturally assume that having only two higher-tier cores would be a handicap. Turns out it’s not.
Over at team Huawei, we find the Kirin 970 churning out just enough power to match the Snapdragon 835 in single-thread tests. Interestingly enough, the Snapdragon 710 and its new Cortex-A75-based units are on par as well, despite their lower clock speed. As for the Helio P60 – it clearly lags behind in single-core tests, but does make up quite a bit of ground with multi-threaded loads.
Moving on to some more compound benchmarks, and AnTuTu, in particular, paints a pretty flattering picture for the MI 8 SE. Apparently, its overall hardware setup is potent enough to noticeably outperform the likes of upper mid-range offers, like the Oppo R15 Pro, or the Meizu 15. It still doesn’t really have what it takes to match flagship devices, like the Mi 8, the Galaxy S9+ or even ones with the older Snapdragon 835. Not in raw power, at least. In terms of feature sets, they are all pretty close. It seems the Snapdragon 710 really is filling in a niche, left behind by the rapid recent advances in ARM performance.
Basemark OS 2.0 appears even more generous towards the Snapdragon 710. Still, the middle ground standing, we mentioned earlier is clearly visible.
Moving on to graphics, Qualcomm managed to position the graphical prowess of the Adreno 616 inside the Snapdragon 710 quite neatly in-between the Adreno 512 (Snapdragon 660) and the Adreno 540 (Snapdragon 835). Once again, filling the same performance niche between mid-range and flagship chips.
Looking at the off-screen rendering results (since we don’t want any pesky native resolution differences, getting in the way), we clearly see the Adreno 616 outperform lower-end offers from the previous generation, like the Adreno 512. However, much like on the desktop GPU scene, a powerful platform, like the Adreno 540, inside the Snapdragon 835 and even the Adreno 530, in the Snapdragon 821, remain potent and competitive.
That being said, the Adreno 616 does have the benefit of a newer, more efficient design, as well as cutting-edge APIs. Thus, making it a potentially more sensible investment in futureproofing, compared to an older flagship chipset.
As for some real-world impressions from the MI 8 SE, it handled any game we threw at it with ease. In fact, any heavy load in general, was no task for the Snapdragon 710 and perfectly adequate 4GB of RAM, in our review unit.
Frankly, on a specs comparison basis alone, without looking synthetic loads, the Mi 8 SE could easily pass for a true flagship offer.
Qualcomm set out to create a new middle-ground offer, sitting between the power-houses of the day and the popular mid-range silicon and accomplished the mission with flying colors with the Snapdragon 710. It’s a great performer that takes proper advantage of new ARM technologies and efficient manufacturing processes. All while borrowing most advanced features and connectivity options from the top-tier Snapdragon 800 series.
Judging by the Xiaomi Mi 8 SE, the pricing strategy for the SoC appears to be exactly on point as well. Could this be the basis of a whole new breed of affordable almost-flagship devices? The industry seems to already be showing a lot of interest towards the new 700 series chip: There is the vivo NEX A – the already announced little brother to the popular NEX S. A Nokia might already be on its way too. And perhaps even a Google Pixel device. This all makes us even more interested in the Snapdragon 710. We’ll keep a close eye on things, but we definitely like what we’ve seen so far.
Toned-down dual camera setup
We’ve been raving on about the flagship nature of the Mi 8 SE, for a less than flagship price, pretty hard, thus far. However, as you can imagine, Xiaomi didn’t manage to break the economy of smartphone manufacturing in some mysterious way. Corners had to be cut to get to the $350 price point. Noteworthy among these is the main camera setup – a noticeable step down from the regular Mi 8.
Instead of a symmetrical dual camera setup with optical zoom capabilities, the Mi 8 SE gets a 12MP main shooter, accompanied by a much simpler 5MP, f/2.0, 1.12µm secondary camera, dedicated to depth sensing alone. Still, the main camera is not all that bad and has a few extra perks. For one, it is positioned behind a decently bright f/1.9 lens and has a pixel size of 1.4µm. It is quite reminiscent of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera’s setup, but with a gyro-EIS for stabilization added on top.
The camera has the modes arranged side by side for you to change by swiping left and right. Sadly, swiping up/down doesn’t switch between front and rear camera – there’s a button for that. There are toggles for flash mode, HDR, and AI (sigh…), a set of filters and a hamburger shortcut to the settings.
A manual mode is at your disposal too, and in here you can adjust white balance (presets and light temperature), pick a shutter speed (1/1000s to 16s) and ISO (100-1600). You can also set your own focus (in 1-100 ‘units’ between close-up and infinity). Unfortunately, focus peaking is oddly missing on the Mi 8 SE, whereas the regular Mi 8 has it.
Judging photo and video capture quality on mid-rangers is probably one of the hardest tasks nowadays. Generally speaking, “potato cameras” are thankfully a thing of the past and most phones, even budget ones, produce serviceable results – which are good enough for social media purposes. That being said, the Mi 8 SE captures perfectly satisfactory stills – definitely good enough for the average user and just about what can be expected at its reasonable value price point.
As for some particular issues we have with the samples – noise is a bit too much, even in good lighting conditions. You can clearly see the suppression algorithms working over-time and while they appear to be doing a generally good job, the overall amount of corrections, needed across the frame, leaves to soft photos.
The Mi 8 SE also has some issues with properly determining and maintaining a consistent white balance from frame to frame, even when there are no changes to the outside lighting conditions. Most colors come out a bit over-saturated to our eye. The dynamic range is also pretty limited. HDR does help with that quite a bit, but we have a few grudges with the way it works.
While there is an HDR Auto mode, it rarely triggers when it’s needed. You could go ahead and use the manual mode instead. However, there might be a better option – AI camera. The way it works is by analyzing the scene and then tweaking quite a few camera settings accordingly. We aren’t sure how many “scenes” Xiaomi‘s AI officially recognizes, but clouds, foliage, pets, flower, and scenery are definitely in there, so the basics are covered. You can tell that the AI has stepped in when the AI icon in the camera UI gets replaced by a different icon indicating the recognized scene.
The best part in our books, however, is that AI camera appears to be toggling HDR on and off as well and doing a distinctly better job than the Auto HDR mode. In fact, in 90% of the cases, AI mode managed to improve our shot, so we would just advise you to leave it on constantly.
Low light shots came out fine, but not really impressive in any way. Like you have probably guessed, the general noise issues with the Mi 8 SE are even worse in these conditions. AI mode does appear to help a bit, even if through a slightly higher exposure and color saturation, on average.
Low-light photos are a bit on the noisy side as well. Without any OIS at its disposal, the Mi 8 SE does need a slightly steadier hand, to avoid blurry shots – every second shot or so was blurry due to camera shake.
AI mode seems to be your best bet for auto HDR and other corrections in low light, as well.
Panoramas are a mixed bag. On the one hand, the resolution is plenty and the level of detail is OK. However, stitching is pretty lackluster.
Once you’re done looking at our real-life samples, be sure to check out how the Mi 8 SE renders are test posters in the studio. We chose the vanilla Xiaomi Mi 8 and the Nokia 7 plus, as initial competitors, but feel free to browse the extensive camera database.
The Mi 8 SE takes pretty decent portrait shots. The effect is convincing enough, but not really as precise and consistent to merit a second, dedicated camera. To be fair, Google definitely set the bar very high with its single-camera, software-only portrait implementation. Still, since the tech is definitely out there, we don’t think it’s an unreasonably high bar to set.
Frankly, the biggest issue we had with the MI 8 SE and portraits has to do with inconsistent face detection. Any slight alteration to the framing or a manual exposure tap on the user’s end can ruin the placement of the effect. Your best bet is to be persistent enough and to convince the subject to stay still for a few shots.
Just like its vanilla sibling, the Mi 8 SE has a pretty nice 20MP, f/2.0 selfie snapper at its disposal. Oddly enough, this one is even rocking slightly larger 1.0Âµm pixels. Not that that really helps much in low-light conditions.
Before you get too excited and run off to pick up a Mi 8 SE exclusively for Instagram selfie use, it is still a fixed-focus camera. If you do manage to position yourself within the fairly generous focus place, however, the resulting shots are very sharp and detailed, with realistic colors.
There are plenty of beauty filters in the selfie mode, as well. The AI option seems to do a fairly decent job, if you are into that sort of thing. If not, be sure to go in and disable it, since it is on by default. Beyond that, you can also fiddle with the strength of the enhancements to your facials shape, skin and eyes. Nothing too over the top, even when you crank the filers to the max.
The selfie cam can take portrait shots as well and pretty decent ones at that.
The Xiaomi Mi 8 SE can capture videos at either 4K@30fps or 1080p@30fps. Unfortunately, there is no 60fps mode, regardless of resolution. We can’t really expect the former from a mid-ranger, but the latter would have been a nice addition.
4K clips have a standard AVC plus stereo AAC stream configuration, inside an MP4 container. You can choose between the older and more compatible h.264 encoder and the more efficient h.265 one. The former outputs a video stream of just over 41 Mb/s and a framerate hovering pretty close to the 30 mark. 1080p gets recorded with around half the overall bit rate, which was more was still enough for Xiaomi to shine, even at FullHD.
That’s an area that often gets neglected on modern, 4K-capable handsets. With the Mi 8 SE, you still get plenty of detail and good dynamic range, even at FullHD.
Naturally, things only get better at 4K resolution. A lot more fine detail makes it into the final video. The only real criticism we have towards the two samples has to do with the slightly over-saturated color pallet. Still, many people do prefer that punchy look. And it definitely showcases the Super AMOLED panel on the Mi 8 SE.
Other than that, the Mi 8 SE captures flagship-grade video. Well, minus the optical stabilization of its bigger sibling, that is. Unfortunately, that also got stripped out in the pursuit of cost-saving. Xiaomi did leave in EIS.
While it works really well in 1080p, toggling it in 4K appears to have absolutely no effect. The frame doesn’t get cropped at all and the clips objectively don’t become any smoother. Yet, the Mi 8 SE does leave the EIS toggle available at both resolution settings. The vanilla Mi 8 had the same issue when we reviewed it, so, perhaps, its a shared software bug, or rather omission on Xiaomi‘s part.
Finally, be sure to check out how the Mi 8 SE‘s rendition of our studio charts compares to that of other phones we’ve tested.
The Xiaomi Mi 8 SE definitely checks a lot of boxes. Better yet, it does so at a pretty affordable price point. It is also first out the gate with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 710 chipset, so far. This all makes the task of finding direct competitors to match the Mi 8 SE pretty difficult.
It is not entirely impossible, though you need to get your specs priorities straight to keep things in the budget realm. If the crispy Super AMOLED panel is high up on your list, then there’s no better place to look than straight at the source. The new Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018) instantly springs to mind, but since it is a bit pricier than the Mi 8 SE, the regular Galaxy A6 is your next best bet. That being said, you will be sacrificing quite a bit in the way of performance, from the dated Exynos 7870 chipset. Also, the 720p native panel resolution isn’t as crisp as FullHD. And if you are looking to save a few bucks, why not consider the Galaxy J7 (2017), oddly based on the same chipset.
Browsing through online listings, we couldn’t help but notice a steep dip in the price of the Motorola Moto Z2 Force. We realize it is a rather niche product by nature, with its shatterproof but not much scratch-proof front and relatively small battery. Still, for a few bucks more than the Mi 8 SE, you are getting the comparably powerful Snapdragon 835, and a high-resolution P-OLED display. Not to mention access to the Moto Mods ecosystem. While on the topic of Motorola, if the Z2 Force is a bit small for your taste. The G6 Plus might be worth considering.
Huawei and especially the related/unrelated (depending on who you ask) Honor brand seem to have quite a few models in around the $350 price point. A “few” might be an understatement on our end. Even upon first look, there are the Huawei Honor 7X, Huawei P20 lite, Huawei Honor 9 Lite, Huawei P smart, Huawei Mate 10 Lite, Huawei Honor View 10 and Huawei Honor 10. Now, some of these won’t be available everywhere worldwide. Prices will also vary from market to market. Most of these are based on the same Kirin 659 chipset and only vary slightly in display and camera setups. If we have to choose one form each brand, these would probably be the Huawei Honor 10 and the Huawei P20 lite.
Then there are a couple of other interesting ex-flagship options, that might be worth considering as well – the LG G6 and HTC U Ultra. Both have spacious 5.7-inch displays and are based on the older, but still potent Snapdragon 821 chipset. Opting for one or the other could net you some interesting bonus features, like MIL-STD-810G, Dolby Vision/HDR10 compliance or a secondary ticker display. If you can stretch your budget a bit, there are the Oppo R15 Pro and Meizu 15 Plus to explore, as well, both rocking spacious AMOLED panels.
Categorizing the Xiaomi Mi 8 SE turned out to be a particularly daunting task. It’s not exactly a flagship offering. At least, no by current standards. Yet, it is only a few feature cut-backs away from one and can outperform top models from only a few months ago. Its price point screams mind-ranger, yet, it easily outperforms most of its peers. After spending quite some time with the Mi 8 SE and the brand new Snapdragon 710 chipset, our best assessment is that Xiaomi‘s “Lite” flagship is just first to the party. An initial taste of the kind of upper mid-range offers we can expect to see in the upcoming months – handsets that reflect the rapid recent improvements in ARM performance, combined with an increasingly competitive 2018 smartphone market scene, continually pushing value boundaries.
- Excellent Super AMOLED display, with HDR support
- Long battery life, fast charging
- The new Snapdragon 710 is a great performer, comparable to the ex-flagship Snapdragon 835 in CPU
- Solid, if not amazing, camera experience
- MIUI is feature rich and has a good update track history (MIUI 10 should be around the corner)
- No 3.5mm jack, no microSD slot
- Audio output is loud, but unimpressive
- Slight issue with video playback and battery efficiency in current MIUI build
- 4K video recording lacks EIS, despite what the menu claims. Auto HDR mode is kind of broken. Stills are a bit noisier than we would have liked.
Marketing analysis and future predictions aside, the Xiaomi Mi 8 SE is an excellent device. Even if it is an ambassador, of sorts, there is nothing uncertain, unfinished or unpolished about it. Xiaomi did a wonderful job of reaping the benefits from a new generation of mobile chips and wrapped that in a thoughtfully picked out package of appealing hardware components. Not the best money can buy, but a great value selection. The cherry on top – the company’s popular and highly-regarded MIUI environment and the thriving ecosystem and community that come with it.
If you can get your hands on the Mi 8 SE for a reasonable price and especially with a Global ROM, we recommend picking it up wholeheartedly.