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The Mobile World Congress is upon us and it’s shaping to be one of the most exciting ones in recent years. But the first flagship for year 2019 is now out and it’s not coming from Spain but China instead as the Xiaomi Mi 9 just landed.
The Mi 9 is the company’s first smartphone to pack Qualcomm’s latest chipset – the Snapdragon 855. The new processor and graphics are pretty exciting even if 5G isn’t part of the package.
Just like the Mi 8, the Mi 9 employs the dual-glass sandwich design with a metal frame sitting between two sheets of Gorilla Glass. The AMOLED screen grew taller, while the notch and the bezels have shrunk. And now there is an under-display fingerprint sensor on all versions, previously available only on the Mi 8 Pro.
Probably the most interesting bit of the Mi 9 is its main camera – the first triple setup on a Xiaomi phone ever. It’s the most versatile kind too – a regular snapper, an ultra-wide cam, and a 2x zoom shooter.
The Mi 9 supports faster wired charging than the Mi 8, but more excitingly it comes with the fastest wireless charging of any phone to date, rated at up to 20W. The software package befits a flagship too – Android Pie with MIUI 10. Before we continue let’s have a closer look at all the Mi 9 highlights.
Xiaomi Mi 9 specs
- Body: aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass 6 front, Gorilla Glass 5 back;
- Display: 6.39″ Super AMOLED, 2,340×1,080px resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 402ppi; HDR 10 and DCI-P3 compliant.
- Triple rear camera: Wide – 48MP f/1.75, 1/2″, 0.8µm pixel size, laser and PDAF; Telephoto – 12MP, f/2.2 aperture, 2x zoom; Ultra-wide – 16MP, f/2.2 aperture, 1.0µm pixel size; 2160p@60/30fps.
- Front camera: 20MP, 0.9µm pixel size, f/2.0 aperture; 1080p/30fps video recording.
- OS: Android 9 Pie; MIUI 10.
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855: octa-core CPU (4×2.84 GHz Kryo 485 Gold & 4×1.7 GHz Kryo 485 Silver), Adreno 640 GPU.
- Memory: 6/8GB of RAM; 64/256GB storage; no microSD slot.
- Battery: 3,300mAh Li-Po (sealed); 27W wired (Charge Turbo) and 20W wireless fast charging.
- Connectivity: Dual-SIM; LTE-A, 4-Band carrier aggregation, Cat.16/13 (1Gbps/150Mbps); USB-C; Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; dual-band GPS; Bluetooth 5.0
- Misc: Under-display fingerprint reader; single down-firing speaker; no 3.5mm jack
Xiaomi has never launched a certified waterproof smartphone and if you expected the Mi 9 to have an IP rating – we have to disappoint you. The other less than ideal bits are the lack of a 3.5mm audio port and stereo speakers. Even the Pocophone F1 had two speakers, so why the cutting-edge Mi 9 lacks those is rather hard to explain.
Xiaomi was never big on memory expansion so the lack of a microSD card slot is more or less expected.
Xiaomi is going to sell the super fast 20W wireless charging mat bundled with a 27W wired charger. The 2-in-1 bandle will cost just $20 and will let you maximize the charging potential of your new Mi 9, so it sounds like a great deal.
Plus the 27W charger is not sold separately there’s no other way to get the fast 27W wired charging even if you don’t care about the wireless mat.
The Xiaomi Mi 9, like most flagships these days is made of glass, with thin metal frames. It is available in Piano Black, Ocean Blue, and Lavender Violet, as well as in faux Transparent Edition. The blue and violet models have some nice gradients on the back, while the transparent looks kind of futuristic though the chips you see are actually a cool looking plate under the back glass and not the real chips.
Some might say our Piano Black option is a boring one having all of its rear panel in flush black, but it’s a looker nonetheless. Glossy, prone to fingerprints and smudges, and yet mesmerizing.
The whole back is made of a Gorilla Glass 5 piece bent towards the frame. There are ups and downs with these rear curves – they do make the Mi 9 look and feel thinner than it actually is, but it hurts the grip big time.
The polished metal frame, also curved, isn’t helping the handling greatly either, but it surely boosts the looks. Safe to say then, that Xiaomi favored beauty over practicality – and those feeling that’s the wrong way to go about things can just use the case included in the box.
The back of the Mi 9 has the phone’s standout feature – the company’s first triple-camera. The Mi 9 camera hump holds the primary 48MP sensor with Quad-bayer array that spits 12MP images, the 12MP telephoto camera, and the 16MP ultra-wide camera. None of these snappers have OIS, which is a bummer – the Mi 8 had 4-axis OIS.
The camera is bulging a lot and the Mi 9 will wobble if you place it without a case on a flat desk or table. It’s just the way things are – large sensors require space and there’s no way they can fit in modern slim flagships without creating a bulge. As long as the quality of the shots is worth it, we would be more than happy to live with that.
A nice accent is the thin reflective ring around the 48MP sensor. Its color changes as it catches the light from various angles and it looks really cool.
The whole front is home to the Super AMOLED screen, this time 6.39″ in diagonal, but still 1080p+ in resolution. It is taller than the 6.21″ unit on the Mi 8, but the Mi 9 grew very little in size. Instead, bezels were cut, and the notch has been shrunk to the trendy waterdrop-shape.
There is no special face unlock for the Mi 9 as the small notch can’t fit the extra hardware required for it. The cutout contains the 20MP selfie camera and nothing else.
As you can see, the earpiece grille is long but very thin, etched in the edge of the screen’s Gorilla Glass 6. And while you can’t really see it when it’s off, there is one very small white LED for notifications just below the right end of the earpiece.
The ambient light sensor is concealed beneath the screen around the top left corner, in case you were wondering.
Also hidden under the screen is the fingerprint scanner. That’s right, the Mi 9 has a UD reader, which is quickly becoming the norm these days.
Configuring the scanner is easy, it works quite fast and we found it very accurate. Sure, it’s not as blazing-fast as those conventional scanners we often see on the back of the smartphones, but it comes close enough so it doesn’t make a great difference in daily usage.
Infrared blaster is available, at the top, making a return after the Mi 8 didn’t have it.
The Mi 9 doesn’t allow for memory expansion, the card tray can take two nanoSIM cards and nothing else.
Finally, there is a side AI button, which launches the Google Assistant on international units and the company’s own Xiao AI. You can reassign its press-and-hold and double-click functionalities but you have little to choose from – open front or rear camera, the flashlight, switch to reading mode, or go to previous app.
The Mi 9 looks great, no two words about it. The glass design has long lost its novelty factor, but its sleekness and simplicity are timeless. And the build quality is excellent, which combined with the AMOLED with an UD fingerprint give a nice premium vibe to it. It’s very slippery and a smudge magnet, though, which is something you should keep in mind if you don’t plan on putting a case on it.
The Xiaomi Mi 9 packs a 6.39″ Super AMOLED screen of 1080p resolution with a waterdrop-like notch. The panel has a resolution of 1,080 x 2,340 pixels that makes up for a very decent density at 402ppi. It is also one of the tallest screens around with an aspect ratio of 19.5:9. That’s not the highest number of pixels we’ve enjoyed but the display looks great and its punchiness makes every picture spring to life.
The display is protected by the latest Gorilla Glass 6 by Corning – the most shatter-resistant glass in the smartphone world. We are yet to see how it will pass the test of time, but seeing already other GG6-featuring phones, it is indeed doing great in drops, although it’s rather prone to scratches.
The screen has a very decent brightness for an OLED panel of 430 nits – exactly what Xiaomi promises. But it can go as high as 620 nits in bright light if you leave it on Auto.
|Display test||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio|
|Xiaomi Mi 9||0||428||∞|
|Xiaomi Mi 9 (Max Auto)||0||620||∞|
|Xiaomi Mi 8||0||458||∞|
|Xiaomi Mi 8 (Max Auto)||0.002||624||312000|
|Xiaomi Mi Mix 3||0||445||∞|
|Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 (Max Auto)||0||633||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy Note9||0||367||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy Note9 (Max Auto)||0||658||∞|
|Oppo RX17 Pro||0||455||∞|
|Honor Magic 2||0||433||∞|
|Huawei Mate 20||0.347||491||1415|
|Huawei Mate 20 (Max Auto)||0.554||778||1404|
|Apple iPhone XS||0||660||∞|
|LG V40 ThinQ||0.002||323||161500|
|LG V40 ThinQ (Max Auto)||0.008||638||79750|
The sunlight contrast on the Xiaomi Mi 9 is excellent, and we expect nothing less from an AMOLED screen of that brightness.
The screen supports the DCI-P3 color space and its color reproduction is extremely very accurate with an average deltaE of 1.5 and a maximum deviation of 3.1. These are the measurements we took in Standard Contrast mode.
If you leave it on Adaptive Contrast – it’s on by default – the phone automatically adjusts colors based on the surrounding light so any measurements here would be irrelevant. Finally, the Increased Contrast mode makes for a more saturated look, mostly boosting greens and reds, but going a little easier on the blues.
The Xiaomi Mi 9 is powered by a modest 3,300mAh battery – that’s 100mAh less than the cell inside the Mi 8. The good news is the Mi 9 supports both wired and wireless fast charging. But here comes the tricky part.
The Mi 9 ships with an 18W charger within its box and by all means – it’s doing a decent job with the 3,300 mAh battery. It can take a depleted battery to 45% in half an hour. But if that’s not enough for you, for some extra $20 you can get yourself an even faster charger.
The Mi 9 supports 20W wireless and 27W wired charging called Charge Turbo. You can get both those goodies as part of the Xiaomi Mi 9 wireless charger bundle. You can’t buy those pieces separately, but at that price, we’d say that’s pretty understandable.
So, if you obtain this optional accessory and use the 27W charger inside its box, then you will charge your Mi 9 up to 70% in just 30 mins. It takes only 65 minutes to fully charge the Mi 9 with this adapter.
The wireless charger part of this bundle features a nice soft finish and is very lightweight. It’s worth noting, that when using it, you can almost hear a slight hums during use because there is a small fan to cool the thing. We managed to charge the Mi 9 up to 30% in 30 minutes with this mat, not impressive and nowhere near the 45% we got with the 18W wired charger. Maybe it depends on the room and battery temp, but still, the quoted power output of 20W seems rather far-fetched.
And now, let’s see how the Xiaomi Mi 9 and it’s Snapdragon 855 chip did in our battery test.
Update, Mar 1: We’ve retested the Xiaomi Mi 9 after we found some issues with the original test data. The scoresheet and the test description below has been updated to reflect the changes. In short – the video test result went down, the web browsing test went up and the standby went a bit higher up, too. The end result is a slightly higher Endurance rating from 91h to 95h.
The Mi 9 posted an excellent endurance rating of 95 hours and great scores across the board. The screen-on-times are great – you can use it for 12 hours of web browsing and 16 hours of video playback.
The standby has improved noticeably since the Snapdragon 845 chipset and that helped the Mi 9 outscore the Mi 8 in this respect.
A lot of things have changed since the Mi 8, but the loudspeaker is not one of them. We were disappointed to find out that the Mi 9 doesn’t boast stereo speakers. Instead, it has the same bottom-firing loudspeaker as the Mi 8 and it even scored the same Very Good mark at our loudness test.
|Speakerphone test||Voice, dB||Pink noise/ Music, dB||Ringing phone, dB||Overall score|
|Xiaomi Mi Mix 3||67.9||71.6||73.7||Good|
|Xiaomi Mi 8||68.1||72.3||82.2||Very Good|
|OnePlus 6T||67.2||72.5||84.5||Very Good|
|Xiaomi Mi 9||70.1||74.2||81.6||Very Good|
|Apple iPhone XS||71.5||75.7||78.9||Very Good|
|Samsung Galaxy Note9||71.2||74.9||80.2||Very Good|
|Xiaomi Mi 8 SE||70.5||74.1||85.2||Excellent|
|Honor Magic 2||72.5||73.6||85.2||Excellent|
|Xiaomi Redmi Note 7||69.8||71.5||90.5||Excellent|
|Huawei Mate 20 X||71.4||73.5||91.1||Excellent|
|LG G7 ThinQ||78.3||76.4||82.3||Excellent|
Xiaomi Mi 9 did well with an active external amplifier, delivering an output of above average loudness and flawless clarity.
It handled headphones well with a contained hike in stereo crosstalk the only notable change. Loudness remained above average too, adding up to a solid, if not quite spectacular performance.
|Test||Frequency response||Noise level||Dynamic range||THD||IMD + Noise||Stereo crosstalk|
|Xiaomi Mi 9||+0.02, -0.01||-93.9||93.1||0.0015||0.0066||-91.9|
|Xiaomi Mi 9 (headphones)||+0.05, -0.04||-92.6||93.5||0.0026||0.072||-58.7|
|Xiaomi Mi Mix 3||+0.02, -0.02||-93.2||93.2||0.0014||0.072||-90.6|
|Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 (headphones)||+0.09, -0.07||-92.7||92.6||0.0033||0.151||-60.9|
|Huawei Mate 20||+0.02, -0.16||-92.1||92.0||0.0017||0.013||-85.6|
|Huawei Mate 20 (headphones)||+0.07, -0.07||-92.1||92.4||0.0021||0.106||-66.5|
|Samsung Galaxy Note9||+0.01, -0.03||-93.7||93.7||0.0017||0.0074||-94.1|
|Samsung Galaxy Note9 (headphones)||+0.03, -0.02||-93.6||93.5||0.0033||0.046||-93.2|
MIUI 10 and Android 9 Pie
Xiaomi Mi 9 runs on the latest MIUI 10 launcher on top of Android 9 Pie. MIUI 10 improves further the system looks, gestures, and performance, while retaining the MIUI logic and any returning users would feel right at home. But while lightweight and intuitive, MIUI is no vanilla Android, so it will take a couple of hours for the purists to get the handle of it.
The most notable visual changes in MIUI 10 include refined system icons, Android Pie-styled volume sliders and brightness sliders, notification shade, and quick shortcuts.
MIUI 10 also brings a few functional additions – native support for navigation gestures, a brand new Recents menu – also with gesture support, Picture-In-Picture mode (for certain compatible apps), native autofill support, enhanced AI (because of course it does), improved screen recording and better app management.
The Mi 9 supports Always-on display and you can schedule it or leave it on/off all the time. There are various themes you can choose from and make it yours.
We’ve already seen those system navigation gestures – swipe for Home, swipe and pause for Recents, swipe from the edge for Back. You can also swipe and hold from the edge to go back to the previous app. Those work buttery-smooth on MIUI 10, sure, but most of us still prefer the onscreen keys. Still, if you like them, they are on the Mi 9.
Another new feature – the Picture in Picture mode – has to be enabled for each compatible app from the Additional Privacy Settings. Currently it works on Google Chrome, Movies, Maps, YouTube, Duo, Instagram, Opera, Messenger, and VLC.
Xiaomi Mi 9 introduces a Dark mode – it will switch all system colors from white to black and this way you can save lots of battery juice thanks to the AMOLED screen. Note that not all apps support the dark mode, but the majority do.
The Mi 9 also comes with various live wallpapers including the cool 24-hour wallpaper – it changes depending on the time of day and is quite nice, indeed.
There is no app drawer in MIUI so all your apps are just sitting there on your homescreen, but you can still add them to folders. Of course, you can always install a third-party launcher if you really miss the app drawer.
You can unlock the screen via the under-display fingerprint scanner. The reader is very easy to set up, although it requires a bit more pressure than regular readers. The accuracy is superb, while the recognition is quite fast, making it good enough to use for your daily unlocking. It’s not as fast as the latest conventional sensors, but about as quick as the first-generation Touch ID on the iPhones.
You can also set up face unlock in addition to it – it’s equally fast as the Mi 9 wakes up the moment you pick it up. Note that the face unlock option isn’t available in all regions.
Here are the default home screens on Mi 9. There’s a weather widget in the upper right corner across from a large clock widget. There is a Quick Card pane, the leftmost one. It contains different cards with relevant information – recent apps, step counter, notes, calendar events, the weather, and favorites, among others. You can configure what shows up here, or you can disable this altogether.
The brand-new task switcher felt a bit awkward at first, but we’ve grown to like it. It shows all of your recent apps in two columns. Tap and hold on a card for the split-screen shortcut, or just swipe it left or right to close it.
Themes are supported on the Xiaomi Mi 9, but the app appears only when the phone is set to a supported region, say India.
MIUI also offers a Security app. It can 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.
MIUI also offers proprietary Gallery, Music, and Video player. In some regions the music and video app include paid streaming options.
The Mi Remote app is also on board to turn your Mi 9 into a universal remote control via its IR blaster. The accompanying app is quite good, supporting a huge number of devices and offering an intuitive setup interface.
Meet the Snapdragon 855
Xiaomi is the first global smartphone packing the latest Snapdragon 855 by Qualcomm and it’s also the first one we get to put through our usual benchmark tests.
The Snapdragon 855 is built on a high-end 7nm manufacturing process and it’s promising plenty of power and efficiency gains over its predecessor.
The new chipset uses an 8-core CPU design with 1x ultra-high-performance Kryo 485 Gold core (Cortex-A76 derivative) running at 2.84GHz, 3x high-performance Kryo 485 Gold at 2.42GHz, and 4x power-efficient Kryo 485 Silver cores (Cortex-A55 derivative) that go up to 1.8GHz.
There is a new Adreno 640 GPU, of course, which supports Vulkan 1.1, HDR Gaming, and Physically Based Rendering. And it should offer some nice performance bump over the 630 in the Snapdragon 845.
There is a new dedicated vision processor that can now process depth mapping at 60 frames per second, which should greatly improve augmented reality applications. The new image processor also allows for 4K HDR capture at 60 fps, all while using 25% less power than its predecessor.
As for 5G, well, Qualcomm isn’t putting an X50 modem into every new Snapdragon 855 chip it’s making. Instead, some including the one in the Mi 9 will come with the new X24 LTE modem, capable of theoretical download speeds up of to 2Gbps. So Xiaomi Mi 9 doesn’t support 5G, while the upcoming Mi Mix 3 5G model will be the company’s first to cater to the next gen networks.
The regular Mi 9 comes with 6 GB of RAM and you can choose between 64 and 128 gigs of storage. There will be more premium transparent and Explorer (Pro editions), which feature up to 12GB RAM and 256GB storage.
Finally, the Mi 9 has a Full HD+ screen, which means it has an edge over the 1440p+ phones when it comes to graphics.
And now, let’s run some benchmarks.
We start off with some GeekBench torture on the CPU. The new Kryo (Cortex-A76) clocked at 2.84GHz outperforms the A76 cores @2.6GHz within the Kirin 980 (Huawei Mate 20 bunch) – as expected, while comes close to Samsung’s custom Mongoose M3 but still can’t beat it. Apple is still the leader as far as single-core performance is concerned even if the usual disclaimer for cross-platform comparisons not being perfectly fair is needed here.
When all those new Kryo cores work together, the Mi 9 with its Snapdragon 855 managed to outperform the whole Android bunch and matched the Apple’s A12 CPU score. More importantly, the Snapdragon 855 CPU turned out 50% faster than the Snapdragon 845’s.
Moving on to some GPU tests, then. The raw performance of the Adreno 640 comes on top of every other GPU we’ve seen so far in Android smartphone. It demonstrates between 10% and 20% performance bump over the Adreno 630 in the previous Snapdragon (Mi 8 and Mi Mix 3).
And thanks to its 1080p screen resolution the Mi 9 gains even more lead in the onscreen benchmarks.
The 3D Mark SlingShot Extreme Unlimited is quite like AnTuTu – it gives one ultimate score for easy GPU prowess comparison. And the Mi 9 has beaten all other phones we’ve tested confortably. It scored about 20% more than the Mi Mix 3 and its Adreno 630 GPU.
And now, it’s time for the world’s most popular compound benchmark for mobiles – AnTuTu. Here, the Mi 9 has channeled all of its power to reach a new record in our database and beat every smartphone, including Apple’s, we’ve tested to this very day.
And now, it’s time for the world’s most popular compound benchmark for mobiles – AnTuTu. Here, the Mi 9 has channeled all of its power to reach a new record in our database and beat every smartphone, including Apple’s, we’ve tested to this very day.
The triple camera has arrived
The Xiaomi Mi 9 introduces the company’s first triple-camera setup. There is a huge 1/2″ 48MP sensor behind f/1.75 lens on the back that spits 12MP images – this is your main camera. Then there is a 12MP telephoto snapper for 2x optical zoom, as well as a 16MP ultra-wide-angle shooter.
The Sony IMX586 48MP sensor uses a Quad Bayer arrangement, which essentially acts as a 12MP sensor with very large 1.6µm pixels and real-time HDR. If you capture 48MP photos with this camera though, a lot more interpolation will need to be applied and you wouldn’t gain much extra detail.
The 48MP sensor is behind f/1.75 lens and is not stabilized. In fact, none of the three snappers features optical stabilization.
The 12MP telephoto shooter has 1.0µm pixels and f/2.2 lens.
Finally, the third camera that’s brand new for the Mi series is an ultra-wide-angle 13mm 16MP snapper behind a f/2.2 lens and surprisingly for an ultra wide camera offers auto focus.
The default camera app hasn’t changed much. Swiping left and right will shuffle through the camera modes and you will find additional settings in the tab above the viewfinder. It lets you adjust some settings like beautification, HDR, AI, video mode and picture quality. There is a dedicated 48MP mode available from the hamburger menu, but we already explained why using it is not such a great idea.
Night Mode is also available on the Xiaomi Mi 9 for those long-exposure hand-held shots when light is really limited.
The default (wide-angle or 1x) photos come from the 48MP sensor, and after the phone works its magic on them, end up in 12MP resolution. And the ones we captured during the day are as really great. There is plenty of detail, impressive dynamic range, lively and accurate colors, superb contrast, and, overall, very nice processing. The images have just the right amount of sharpening applied so detail is highlighted, but there are not too many artifacts.
The HDR effect is not over the top and most people will be happy with the improved dynamic range.
If you really need to shoot in 48MP you can do it, but the samples you’ll get are far from impressive. The resolved detail is nothing special, the images are soft and noisy, and while they get to keep the great dynamic range, there’s really not much to show for the increase in file size. We shot a couple of 48MP images as well, and you can see for yourself why you shouldn’t use this option. And the files often ended up 20MB in size.
The 12MP tele camera may not benefit from any special technologies, but it still produces great images with plenty of detail. They are a little noisier than the main camera one’s but as far as tele shooters go this is one of the better ones out there.
There is noticeable corner softness and visible chromatic aberrations, but it was to be expected with such a wide lens. The dramatic perspective those ultra-wide cameras give you for some shots are more than worth the trade-off.
Finally, we snapped some 16MP shots with the ultra-wide-angle camera. It’s per-pixel quality is slightly lower than the other two, but the colors are still nice and the noise levels tolerable.
There is a distortion correction option enabled by default for the ultra-wide-angle camera. If you opt to turn that off, you’ll get a little bit more detail in the corners at the expense of bent buildings and stuff (duh!). And we think Xiaomi has done a pretty good job with that distortion correction, so you should keep that most of the time.
Xiaomi has an AI toggle, which is a simple scene recognition and doesn’t do much. But it can offer suggestions for which camera you should use in some scenes, so if you are new to this multi-camera stuff, you might what to give the AI a try.
Now, let’s move to the low-light image quality. The pictures we snapped with the regular camera turned out fine, but the overly aggressive noise reduction resulted in the loss of a lot of fine detail. Indeed, the noise is pretty low but so is the detail. The colors are true to life, but in spite of the f/1.75 aperture the Mi 9 often fails to get the exposure correctly since the lack of optical stabilization forces it to keep shutter speeds above 1/33s.
The photos from the ultra-wide-angle camera are worse. The noise reduction is as aggressive, but the darker f/2.2 aperture and much smaller sensor are just not fit for environments with little light.
You can’t use the zoom camera for night shots. If you switch to 2X, the Mi 9 would snap a regular photo and then digitally zoom it. But because it does this with the 48MP camera, the images turned out somewhat better than we expected.
If you use HDR at night it will restore some of the clipped highlights, but won’t do much about the undeveloped shadows.
The new Night mode (available in Normal and 2X) really makes a difference by being able to get the proper exposure even in the darkest environments. The result is nicely balanced, and subjects look more detailed. It’s not the best implementation we’ve seen, but it works a lot faster than, say, Huawei. The 12MP resulting images don’t quite have the same per-pixel detail as the daylight shots, naturally, but they are not too bad either and much better than you’d achieve with the regular shooting mode at night.
The same goes for the 2X images, expect they are actually produced with the main camera once more and digitally zoomed so you are better off avoiding zooming in night mode.
And here you can see how the Xiaomi Mi 9 cameras compare against other snappers in our extensive pixel-peeking database.
The Xiaomi Mi 9 has three cameras on its back and would have been inexcusable if Portrait Mode wasn’t present. It it here, though and you can even adjust the blur strength – there is an aperture scrubber set by default on f/4.5 and it can vary between 1 and 16.
The portraits are shot by with the telephoto camera by default, though you can opt for the full-body view if you prefer them this way. The subject separation is among the best we’ve seen, and the background blur looks rather nice.
Then there are Portrait Lighting effects, which have ok subject separation, but nowhere near what regular portrait mode does. Or rather, the dramatic effect just highlights even the minor inaccuracies and make then far harder to tolerate.
The Xiaomi Mi 9 features a 20MP f/2.2 snapper with fixed focus for selfies at the front and it can do portraits with various effects.
We’d gladly trade half of those megapixels for autofocus any time, or at least for a focus sweetspot that’s further from the phone, because as things stand right now, you need to shoot your face from pretty close for it to be sharp. As long as you take the extra effort to stay within the camera’s fixed focus sweet spot, the level of detail is amazing. Colors are correctly reproduced, and dynamic range is good for a selfie camera.
Whenever you need better dynamic range the HDR will do a fantastic job at recovering the blown background at the expense of some minor loss of detail in your face.
The front camera has the same Portrait mode as the main one, but the subject separation is far inferior – expected since there is no second camera or autofocus to help measure the distances. Still, those are still pretty good selfie portraits and you can even adjust the strength of the blur if you like.
And you can, of course, use Portrait Lighting effects, but chances of getting usable images are low to non-existent.
The Xiaomi Mi 9 captures videos up to 4K @ 60fps, and all other common modes are available – 4K@30fps and 1080@30fps. You can’t record zoomed in videos, though. Well, technically you can zoom in with a pinch gesture, but even when you hit the 2x spot, it still won’t switch to the tele camera and resort to cropping, so that’s a ‘no’ in our book.
But you can record ultra-wide-angle clips – the same resolutions are available, but the framerate is fixed at 30fps.
Slow-mo video are available – 1080 @120 and @240fps, and 720p @960fps.
EIS is available for both cameras and all common resolutions (4K, 1080p and 720p), but it works only for the 30fps modes. The digital stabilization does a great job smoothing the camera shake at the expense of minor loss of FoV.
The video bit rate is 40-42Mbps in 4K – both 30 and 60 fps, and about 20Mbps in 1080p – once again both 30 and 60 fps. Audio is recorded in stereo with a low 92Kbps bit rate. That’s when using the h.264 codec, though you do have the option to switch to the more efficient h.265 where the bitrates drop to 38Mbps for 4K and 15Mbps for the 1080p clips.
We found 4K videos sharp enough and detailed, though not class-leading when you stare on a pixel level. Noise wasn’t an issue either. Contrast is excellent and color rendition is pleasantly vivid, without being over the top. The dynamic range is pretty decent, too.
The 1080p capture is excellent, and this is one area, where the Mi 9 could possibly outperform many competitors – all too often we see 1080p video recording optimizations neglected by manufacturers.
Both 4K and 1080p videos at 60fps are negligibly less detailed than their 30fps versions, but they share the rest of their good qualities.
The ultra-wide-angle 4K videos are softer than the regular ones and less detailed. Their color rendition turned out a bit better, though. The 1080p videos taken with the ultra-wide-camera are on par with the ones from the main snapper but keep the better colors.
As usual, we’ve provided samples straight out of the camera for you to download and examine as you wish – 2160p@30fps (10s, 52MB), 2160p@60fps (9s, 50MB), 1080p@30fps (10s, 24MB), 1080p@60fps (10s, 25MB), 2160p@30fps ultra-wide-angle (10s, 53MB), and 1080p@30fps ultra-wide-angle (10s, 26MB).
Finally, you can use our Video Compare Tool to see how the Xiaomi Mi 9 wide and ultra-wide cameras stack against others when it comes to video capture.
Xiaomi is the one to kick off this flagship season and also the first one to show off a Snapdragon 855-featuring smartphone intended for the global market. It builds successfully on the Mi 8 by expanding the OLED screen and adding a third camera on the back. The battery life and charting experience have improved, too.
But the trump card, which Xiaomi always plays against its competitors, is always the low price. And the Mi 9 doesn’t disappoint at that. It’s price for China starts at CNY 2,999, which will translate in Europe at something around €500 (with VAT). And for at least a couple of more months we doubt anyone will be able to match this with a feature set anywhere close to what the Mi 9 offers.
We think the Huawei Mate 20 is probably the one to come closest to challenging the Xiaomi Mi 9. It has a similar screen even though it’s an IPS LCD one, larger battery and a triple-camera with Leica optics. The setup is a match to the Mi 9‘s – regular, telephoto, and ultra-wide-angle with even more available shooting options and even better Night mode. The Mate 20 currently retails at €500, so the Mi 9 should be on the watch out for this one.
Now we turn to those considering an upgrade from the outgoing Mi 8. Long story short – we see no real reason to do so as the Mi 9 contains mostly incremental upgrades that can hardly justify the upgrade cost. Unless you are very keen on participate in that wide-angle action.
Xiaomi Mi 9 is a thoughtfully designed and nicely executed flagship, but we can’t shake the feeling most of the upgrades are incremental at best. The Mi 9 is settings no trends the way the Mi Mix 3 was. Instead it’s all about Xiaomi catching up to market moods and trying to beat competitors at their own games. And that’s fine, the Mi 9 indeed has one of the most versatile snappers around with great image and video quality and it easily undercuts most direct rivals on pricing too.
The rest is pretty much what anyone would expect – strengthen glass design, smaller screen notch, faster chipset, expanded connectivity. But a lot of things did not change one bit – the battery didn’t grow, there is still no water protection, nor stereo speakers and despite the choice of chipset, there is no 5G.
And while the Xiaomi Mi 9 isn’t the best flagship you’ll see this season there’s no escaping the fact that it the first Snapdragon 855 for global markets, and it will also be the cheapest with Qualcomm’s latest for a while. And since you are also getting a great screen and one of the best available camera setups it’s an easy decision to make.
- Flagship-grade OLED screen with tiny notch
- The under-display fingerprint scanner works great
- Excellent battery life, 27W wired and 20W wireless charging
- Bleeding-edge chipset and performance
- Up to date software
- Top-notch camera quality, versatile skills
- Videos are great too
- Cheaper than most rivals
- No waterproofing
- Slippery design
- No audio port and no stereo speakers
- No microSD slot
- Limited LTE bands
- Lacks optical stabilization
- No Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) support even though the chipset supports it