Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro full review
Xiaomi is a relatively new brand to the UK, but the world's a lot bigger than our little island and this 10-year-old company is actually the fourth largest phone vendor in the world. When its Mi 8 Pro was among the first devices to launch in the UK in November 2018, market leaders Samsung and Apple had every reason to be worried.
Now this is even more the case, with Xiaomi having announced its Mi 9 in February 2019, which has a matching retail price of £499. It adds the in-display fingerprint sensor we saw in this Mi 8 Pro as standard, as well as a faster Snapdragon 855 processor, and bumps up camera credentials with a triple-lens assembly that has a 48Mp lens headlining. There's 20W wireless charging, too, making it a significantly better deal than Mi 8 Pro - at least at its full price of £499.
Actually, if you shop around you can save £250 on the Mi 8 Pro's retail price, and that changes things somewhat. Laptops Direct has it for just £249.97.
So it doesn't have a waterproof casing, nor wireless charging support. And its display is only Full-HD+. But it's difficult to hold any of these things against the Mi 8 Pro when you consider its incredible value.
Transparent By Design
Today's flagships all follow a similar design: a high screen-to-body ratio with a large, high-quality panel adorning the front, often with a notch in which the sensors and selfie camera are placed to maximise the available screen area; a glass rear with gently sloping edges curving in to meet a skinny metal frame; and at least two cameras at the back. Check, check and check.
But tested here in Transparent Titanium, which is the only version to go on sale in the UK, the Mi 8 Pro has one feature we've not seen elsewhere - and the name kind of gives it away.
It looks as though the Mi 8 Pro's internal components are on view, but it's actually a fake board with no working parts according to teardowns. That doesn't make it look any less special (and actually if it were the real components it probably wouldn't be half as pretty.
It's not just the fact you can see through the rear cover and all the flashes of gold and metallic red that extend to the outside with the dual-lens surrounds and power button, but the text labels Xiaomi has added: it's all kinds of cool.
Some are descriptive, others less so. We're pretty sure the MIUI 10 operating system isn't hidden behind a screw, for example, and in fact our review sample is running MIUI 9.6.3 because Xiaomi didn't want to give us a phone running new software that could still contain bugs.
"Innovation for everyone," Xiaomi's slogan, is emblazoned across its belly. Down at the bottom you'll find a couple of nods to its huge community of users, which are always kept in mind by this fan-first company. "MiFans" is one, and the other is its promise to "Be the coolest company in the hearts of our users."
"Sincerity, passion" and "Always believe that something magical is about to happen" are visible toward the top. Also here is a "<5%", which we presume is reference to the fact the company makes no more than 5% profit on any of its devices - a key reason behind it being able to undercut its rivals on pricing.
Roughly half the view from the rear is concealed by the phone's 3,000mAh battery, which has a carbon-fibre design that looks amazing under the glass.
Putting Xiaomi's Best Tech On Display
Something you won't find at the back is a fingerprint sensor, and that's because it's built into the display - an increasingly popular trend in new flagship phones. The Mi 8 Pro is Xiaomi's second smartphone to have this feature, with it being in essence the same phone as the limited-edition Mi 8 Explorer but without its 3D facial recognition (it uses an IR camera instead).
The Mi 8 Pro is certainly not the first phone to integrate the fingerprint sensor in the display, but it's far from a common feature. Samsung, the market leader, has yet to add it to any of its phones, for example.
This is a pressure-sensitive fingerprint scanner, and you don't need to wake the screen in order to use it but we often found it worked better if we did (you can double-tap to wake the screen, though this gesture is turned off by default).
Probably eight times out of 10 the Mi 8 Pro correctly recognised our fingerprint and instantly unlocked the phone, but if the screen is a bit dirty - perhaps covered with fingerprints or make-up where you've held it against your cheek - it can fail to recognise your fingerprint, and after the third attempt will prompt you to enter your backup PIN, password or pattern.
The pressure-sensitive area is reasonably small, but when you tap the display or wake the screen it flashes up so you know exactly where to press.
The screen itself is a 6.21in AMOLED panel, exactly the same as on the standard Mi 8. We are big fans of AMOLED with its vibrant, punchy, saturated colours, and rich, deep blacks. Although it has the same Full-HD+ resolution as the cheaper Mi 8 Lite, the difference between AMOLED and IPS is clearly visible when these two phones are held side by side. (You'll also like our Mi 8 vs Mi 8 Pro vs Mi 8 Lite comparison.)
Xiaomi claims a contrast ratio of 60,000:1 and a maximum brightness of 600 nits, though we weren't able to achieve quite this level in our own tests with our Spyder tool hitting a maximum 406 nits. Even so, this panel is easily visible in all lighting conditions, even in direct sunlight (where we can find it).
Having covered Xiaomi phones for several years now, it's no surprise to us that it would launch a flagship phone with a display that maxes out at Full-HD+ (2248x1080). Xiaomi intends to keep down costs, and is clearly sitting on the side of the fence that thinks Quad-HD+ on a phone is unnecessary, having never fitted such a panel on any of its phones. Even Samsung has back-peddled here, allowing the display to hit that super-high resolution when required but setting it to Full-HD+ by default to save on battery power.
In common with the likes of Samsung and LG it supports an Always-On Display, though with less control over what is visible here: you get the time, date and notification icons, or you don't. You can schedule the AOD to switch off at certain times if it's keeping you awake at night, though you won't be forced to do so for its minimal impact on battery life.
Sometimes, while getting ready for work in the morning, we found the AOD didn't always update in real time. So it might jump from 7:31 to 7:38 and then we'd have to hurry up and leg it out the door. It's never far out, but when every minute counts it's annoying.
The Mi 8 Pro has incredibly slim bezels and a tall 18.7:9 aspect ratio, which not only looks futuristic but helps Xiaomi to cram such a large screen into a device that is narrow enough to hold in one hand. Curved edges at the rear and a slim 7.6mm body help here, too. Though we wouldn't go so far as to say you can achieve all tasks without resorting to a second hand, there are some software features of note that can make doing so more manageable.
One-handed mode shrinks the screen to 4.5-, 4- or 3.5 inches, and can snap the smaller display area to the left- or right-hand side of the device to serve all users equally well. There's also a Quick Ball feature, which places anywhere onscreen quick access to common functions.
By also utilising a 'screen notch' - and rather a large one at that, much wider than on the Mi 8 Lite - Xiaomi is able to achieve an 86.68% screen-to-body ratio. That's about as close to full-display as you can get without completely removing the selfie camera and sensors from the front, which is exactly what it has done with its Mi Mix 3, a phone that achieves a 93.4% ratio by utilising a sliding-screen mechanism and tucking away these components out of sight.
There's Gorilla Glass 5 protection front and back, which is handy given that transparent rear is so pretty you're not going to want to add a case.
Xiaomi's Mi 8 Pro might cost significantly less than its UK rivals, but the hardware is well up to scratch. Inside is the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor as we see in all 2018 flagships, an octa-core processor built on the second-generation 10nm process that is optimised for both speed and efficiency. It's integrated with the Adreno 630 GPU and comes with a colossal 8GB RAM - the only time we've seen more is in a special-edition version of the Mi Mix 3, which has 10GB.
It's also paired with 128GB of fast UFS 2.1 internal storage. It can't be expanded using a removable microSD card as you can with the Mi 8 Lite, but you can make full use of cloud storage with both Google apps and Mi Cloud. Few people will need more than 128GB in any case.
Before we get on to the benchmarks, let us tell you this phone is quite simply fast. The Mi 8 Pro never once showed any signs of not being up to the job in any of the tasks we threw at it, nor in any of our general usage.
It's got all the power you need for gaming, and we found even an hour of Helix Jump (which, to be fair, probably isn't the most intensive game) failed to stump the battery.
There's a 3,000mAh battery inside this Mi 8 Pro, which is 400mAh lower in capacity than that in the standard Mi 8, and 350mAh lower than in the Mi 8 Lite. Housed inside the exact same size case as the Mi 8 we presume this has been necessary to squeeze in the in-display fingerprint scanning tech, since there are few other major differences in the spec.
In our fairly heavy usage, which includes an hour of gaming on our daily commute and hundreds of incoming Slack messages and emails throughout the day, we found the Mi 8 Pro would easily last until we laid down in bed at night.
This came as a surprise following its Geekbench 4 battery time of 6 hours, 45 minutes - we thought battery life would fall short. Fact is, synthetic benchmarks are useful but don't always paint a true-to-life picture of performance.
When it comes time to recharging the Mi 8 Pro its support for Quick Charge 4.0 means it's back up and running in minutes. We are told there is an 18W charger supplied in the retail box, though we weren't provided with said box or charger. Using a 15W charger the Mi 8 Pro managed 35% on a 30-minute charge, so expect even better results with the supplied kit. There is no support for wireless charging, which is a little odd given that it features in the Mi Mix series, but we guess it helps keep down costs.
Geekbench 4 isn't used only for battery testing, and we also run its CPU benchmarks. The Mi 8 Pro turned in a multi-core score of 8334 points, and 2333 single-core. That's a below some flagships running pure Android, and even Xiaomi's other phones running the same processor, as you'll see in the performance chart below, but not so different that a real-life user would be able to notice a difference.
In games benchmarks the Mi 8 Pro really showed us what for, and this is almost certainly because it has a Full-HD+ rather than Quad-HD+ display and therefore fewer pixels to push around. It achieved superb, perfectly playable framerates in all GFXBench's onscreen tests.
Ports & Connectivity
Taking a look round the Mi 8 Pro's edges we find a USB-C port at the bottom, and there's another nice touch here as a red metal prong is visible inside, tying in with the flashes of red and gold seen throughout the design.
This USB-C port is not only used for charging and data transfer, but also audio. Again, we're informed that a USB-C- to 3.5mm adaptor is provided in the box. This is quickly becoming the norm for flagship phones, freeing up space inside the chassis for either extra tech or a more compact design.
To either side of this USB-C port is a line of drilled holes, hidden behind which is a mono speaker. We heard minimal distortion at full volume, which as it happens is pretty loud. We found it performed well with pop music and ballads, and was even up to a bit of bass. It's a good all-rounder for audio.
Moving on to the left-hand side we find a pin-operated SIM tray. That's pretty standard for Android phones, or in fact any phones these days, but less standard is the fact it accepts two SIMs.
Almost all phones in China accept two SIMs, but often when they are brought to the UK they are sold as single-SIM variants. Not so with the Mi 8 Pro. It supports dual-SIM dual-standby, and either Nano-SIM can connect to 4G networks. This makes it easier to balance work and play, or local and foreign SIMs. As we noted earlier you cannot replace one of these SIMs with a microSD card, as you can in the Mi 8 Lite.
Connectivity all round is good. There's dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0 and dual-frequency GPS. We used the Mi 8 Pro as our navigator in the car with Google Maps, and it always knew exactly where we were - it's super-accurate.
Take Mi Photo
The Mi 8 Pro takes the same cameras as the standard Mi 8, which means a dual-lens assembly on the rear that comprises a 12Mp Sony IMX363 and 12Mp Samsung S5K3M3, and a 20Mp Samsung S5K3T1 at the front. AI is built into each, enabling the Mi 8 Pro to intelligently select the scene (one of 206 presets) and automatically configure appropriate settings. The second lens is also useful for achieving the popular bokeh (blurred background) effect.
The specs of these cameras are good, with the primary lens able to draw in more light with an f/1.8 aperture and 1.4um pixels. The selfie camera supports huge 1.8um pixels, and performs particularly well in low light. There's also 2x optical zoom and four-axis OIS, while for video it can shoot 4K at 30fps or full-HD at a super-slo-mo 240fps, and there's a Time Lapse mode.
The app itself is clean and easy to use, with a selection of real-time filters and various modes including Group Selfie and Beautify. In Manual mode you get control over white balance, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and which of the two lenses you use - wide-angle or telephoto.
There's a Beautify mode for the front camera too, but perhaps something is at fault with the software on our review sample because none of the adjustments made a slight bit of difference. If working correctly you should be able to set one of five preset beauty levels, or enter a remodeling mode in which you can tweak how slender is your face and the size of your eyes, nose, chin, lips and risorius.
We had to Google that last one, and learned that "The risorius is a muscle of facial expression which arises in the fascia over the parotid gland and, passing horizontally forward, superficial to the platysma, inserts on to the skin at the angle of the mouth." Thanks Wikipedia, though we are actually still none the wiser.
It transpires that several software features will be delivered after the launch via an OTA update, so it's possible this may be one of them.
We took a selection of test shots and found the Mi 8 Pro to be an excellent camera phone, able to reproduce vibrant colours and plenty of detail, sharp right to the edges. From our seventh-floor roof terrace we could pick out individual bricks on the building opposite and even read the ground-level road signs.
Indoors and especially in low-light it does a fantastic job of lighting the scene, and noise - although present - is reasonably minimal. Text is well defined, Shades of black easily distinguishable, and colours accurate.
Outdoors in good lighting the results are even better.
Check out some of our test shots below:
Above: Mi 8 Pro close-up (indoors)
Above: Mi 8 Pro auto settings
Above: Mi 8 Pro HDR mode
Above: Mi 8 Pro in low-light test
MIUI is Android... but better?
Running the MIUI 9 Global ROM (on our review sample, the retail unit will run MIUI 10), the Mi 8 Pro has full support for Google Play and many Google services preinstalled out of the box. You'll also find a selection of Xiaomi's own apps, though not as many as you would find on the Chinese ROM. All are suitable for a UK audience, but you may prefer to stick to the Google apps with which you're familiar.
One notable difference between MIUI and pure Android is there's no app tray, which means all app shortcuts are found on the home screen, as you'd find on an iPhone. At first this approach seemed alien to us, but it's easy to tuck away in a folder the apps you don't want to use all the time, and we quite like the fact nothing gets forgotten on the twentieth screen of the app tray.
Pull down from the top of the screen and you'll also find the quick-access shortcuts look different, but not bad different - it's very easy to use, and you can choose which toggles are displayed here. Tap the Settings cog and you'll find all the same settings as you would on standard Android, but some are in different menus - there's a search function for anything you can't immediately find.
Swipe in from the left of the home screen to access the 'App Vault'. It's a bit of a strange name for the feature, but it works just as on any other Android phone - a screen that offers quick access to your most commonly used apps, notes and calendar events. You'll also be notified here if any updates are available.
MIUI has many of the same features as standard Android, in fact it is a custom version of Android 8 Oreo. So you'll find functions such as Split Screen in the multi-tasking menu. MIUI will eventually be updated to Android Pie, though no timescale has been given.
MIUI also has other features you won't find in other Android phones, such as Second Space and Dual Apps. The latter is particularly useful if you're using two SIMs, allowing you to run two individual instances of any app installed on your phone.
Mi Mover is useful if you're moving from another Xiaomi phone, while Mi Drop allows file sharing without an internet connection.
There are some really decent backup options in MIUI, which are similar to the System Restore feature in Windows - at any point you can create a backup point, including system settings, account info and apps, and later restore to this point (even after a factory reset). You can also access standard Google backup options, and Mi Cloud.
The Mi 8 Pro also supports full-screen gestures, so you can remove the onscreen buttons from the display and swipe up to go home, swipe up and pause to access the multitasking menu, and swipe in from the right or left edge to go back.
In either mode there's also an option to hide the screen notch, in essence by filling in black the space to either side. The time, signal strength and remaining battery capacity icons are still visible in the same space, so it's purely an aesthetic thing.
There's a Themes option in the Settings menu, and whereas you would usually get a dedicated Themes app on Xiaomi phones from which you can download a number of themes, here you have a choice of only Default or Limitless.
One complaint we do have with MIUI concerns the volume settings: you cannot independently control call and notification volume: you have just three sliders, for rings, alarms and media. In MIUI 10 the volume sliders are displayed as vertical bars, as seen in Android 9.0 Pie, but that is not the case for our review sample.
Mi 8 Pro Verdict
We've admired Xiaomi phones for some time, and now the rest of the UK will get a look in too. This Mi 8 Pro is the best of Xiaomi and, we think, as good as any other flagship phone on the market - even those costing double the price.
Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro: Specs
- 6.21in Full-HD+ (2248x1080) 18.7:9 AMOLED Always-On Display, 60,000:1 claimed contrast, 600nit claimed brightness, 86.68% screen-to-body ratio, Gorilla Glass 5
- 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor
- Adreno 630 GPU
- 8GB RAM
- 128GB storage (no microSD expansion)
- pressure-sensitive in-display fingerprint sensor
- dual-SIM dual-standby
- 4G LTE (all UK bands)
- dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 5.0
- dual-frequency GPS
- USB-C (inc audio, with 3.5mm adaptor supplied)
- 12Mp Sony IMX363, f/1.8, 1.4um pixel + 12Mp Samsung S5K3M3 f/2.4, 1.0um pixel dual-lens AI camera, 2x optical zoom, 4-axis OIS
- 20Mp Samsung S5K3T1, f/2.0, 1.8um pixel selfie camera
- IR Face Unlock
- 3,000mAh battery, Quick Charge 4 (18W charge supplied)