Xiaomi Mi 9 SE full review

The Mi 9 SE was announced in China alongside the Mi 9 (reviewed) and Mi 9 Explorer back in February 2019, but was not officially launched in the UK until 6 June. It is in essence a Mi 9 Lite, successor to the Mi 8 SE and Mi 8 Lite (reviewed), more compact and with some lesser specifications to meet a lower price point, but with the same key features and design as Mi 9 itself.

In common with Mi 9 it has a full-display AMOLED panel with waterdrop-style notch and new in-display fingerprint sensor, a triple-lens camera that headlines with a 48Mp lens, and the same holographic glass body. To keep down costs it swaps out the Snapdragon 855 for a mid-range 712, and loses the wireless charging. With a fractionally smaller screen it is also more compact, and more comfortable for use in a single hand.

Since its release we've also seen the launch of the Mi 9T, notable for its pop-up selfie camera, though it is yet to officially be announced in the UK.

Learn more about the upcoming Mi 10. Also see Best Xiaomi phones

Where to buy Mi 9 SE in the UK

Now that Mi 9 SE is officially available in the UK you can buy direct from Xiaomi or eBuyer, with other retailers coming soon. There are two versions, with 64GB or 128GB of storage, priced at £349.99 and £399.99 respectively. By comparison, Mi 9 costs £499 with 64GB of storage.

Both capacities are available in Piano Black and Ocean Blue (we tested the latter here), though outside the UK Mi 9 SE is also available in Lavender Violet.

Mi 9 SE Ocean Blue

It's worth discussing those 'outside the UK' options, since they are significantly cheaper than buying Mi 9 SE in the UK. Our review sample was supplied by GearBest, where you can find the 64GB model for just £227.08, and 128GB model for £43.30.

There are two things to watch for if you do buy from GearBest, however: first, you want a Global model, which will have Google Play services and an English keyboard and interface preinstalled; second, GearBest has warehouses all over the world, and if you are shipping to the UK from China rather than Europe you may incur import duty, which is calculated at 20% of whatever value is printed on the shipping paperwork.

See all the best Xiaomi deals.

Mi 9 SE Build & Design

The Mi 9 SE is a gorgeous handset, and immediately recognisable as a sibling of the Mi 9. Though more compact it takes on the same overall shape, with similarly slim screen bezels and waterdrop notch, the same antenna, ports and button placement, and an identical (at least to the naked eye) vertical triple-camera assembly with dual-LED flash below.

There is actually one big difference here that you might not immediately realise, and that is the absence of the dedicated AI button on Mi 9 SE's left side. Used on Mi 9 to call up Google Assistant, on the SE this is instead achieved with a long-press of the onscreen home button, or by saying "Okay Google" within any app (dependent on your Google settings).

Missing on both phones is a headphone jack, with the Mi 9 family leaning on USB-C for personal audio, and there's an adaptor in the box. You can alternatively use the SE's mono speaker, which we found delivered seriously good quality at this price point, loud and able to handle a variety of audio types with only a small amount of distortion.

Mi 9 SE bottom

Although the screen itself does not sound significantly smaller on paper (5.97in vs 6.39in) the difference it makes to the phone's overall size is impossible to ignore.

The SE is much easier to manage in a single hand, notably narrower and shorter against Mi 9. Lighter, too, at 155g. At first glance it appears a little thicker, but this is merely an illusion created by the Mi 9's more aggressively curved rear, and the flatter-backed SE is just 7.45mm thick. 

In common with Mi 9 it has an all-glass design, protected from damage with tough Gorilla Glass 5, though neither phone is waterproof. Nonetheless this feels like a sturdy handset, and though it will still smash if mistreated it doesn't feel overly delicate.

Build quality on the whole is very decent, with the only slightly sharp edge found where the curved display edge meets the metal frame - it's more noticeable than on Mi 9, but that makes it sound a much bigger deal than it is, and in truth some users will like this as it stops them running their finger right off the edge of the display. 

Mi 9 SE rear

Although it's not obvious from the front, turn over the Mi 9 SE and it has the same iridescent design as Mi 9. Xiaomi calls this "holographic", flickering from various shades of blue and purple into green as you move it in the light. It's seriously good-looking. The fingerprints this glass surface attracts are less attractive, of course, so you might want to use the clear case provided in the box.

The display is the same as what you find on Mi 9, only smaller. It, too, is a Samsung AMOLED panel, which is capable of producing the saturated colours, rich blacks, bright whites and high contrast we love of this technology.

It's a very bright panel for a mid-range phone, and we recorded a maximum 415 nits with our Spyder test, which is down on Xiaomi's claimed 60 nits but in line with our own testing for Mi 9 itself. That should mean it's easy to see in all lighting conditions, even direct sunlight.

As with every other Xiaomi phone before it, Mi 9 SE maxes out at a Full-HD+ resolution of 2340x1080 pixels. Though some phones use Quad-HD+ resolutions, we think this is a good compromise between clarity and efficiency, and it's certainly sharp enough with a 432ppi density.

You'll notice these numbers point to a taller display, with Mi 9 SE adopting the same 19.5:9 aspect ratio as other Mi 9 models. It's not just trendy, it also aids usability, as taller screens allow phone makers to create larger displays without the handsets themselves becoming unwieldy.

Mi 9 SE front

Moreover, you get to see more of that display than ever, with the chunky screen notch that houses the selfie camera and sensors swapped out for a waterdrop-style ('Dot Drop') notch that is only slightly larger than the selfie camera itself. The result is a 90.47% screen to body ratio. The earpiece is found above the display, between the phone's frame and bezel, but blink and you could easily miss it, tucked away as it is at the extreme edge.

It's turned off by default, but Mi 9 SE also has an Always-on Display, the idea behind which is you can save battery life by not having to wake the screen every time you want to check the time or whether or not you have a message (which probably happens a lot more than you realise).

Xiaomi calls it an Ambient Display, and as with Mi 9 it now supports colour, with a range of designs to choose from, and a scheduler so you can switch it off at night when it might otherwise disturb you. Though Mi 9 SE lacks a notification LED, you can see notifications on the lock screen and Ambient Display.

Mi 9 SE

Another screen feature of note is the new in-display fingerprint sensor. Both Mi 8 Lite and Mi 8 SE before it relied on rear-mounted physical fingerprint sensors, so this is all change for Mi 9 SE, and brings it closer into line with its siblings.

It's the upgraded version seen in Mi 9, rather than the original from the Mi 8 Pro (reviewed) and Mi 8 Explorer. It was responsive and worked first time probably nine times out of 10 in our tests. You needn't wake the screen to use it either, just press down on that general area. 

Mi 9 SE Core Hardware & Performance

Xiaomi's mid-ranger is the first phone to use Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 712 processor, a 10nm chip here clocked at 2.3GHz that comprises a Kryo 360 CPU, 610MHz Adreno 616 GPU, Hexagon 685 DSP and X15 LTE modem. It's an upgrade over the Snapdragon 710 with a 10 percent improvement in performance. Other highlights of this chip include improved battery management, smarter, faster AI, and the ability to shoot stunning 4K video.

Whereas Mi 8 SE was fitted with its predecessor, the Snapdragon 710, we never actually saw that phone in the UK (instead we got the Snapdragon 660-powered Mi 8 Lite). We have seen the 710 previously in the Oppo RX17 Pro, Oppo Reno and Lenovo Z5 Pro, however.

Xiaomi pairs the Snapdragon 712 with 6GB of LPDDR4X RAM and either 64- or 128GB of non-expandable UFS 2.1 storage. Performance is very good at this price point, faster than last year's Mi 8 Lite and Mi A2, and also beating the Snapdragon 710-toting Oppo RX17 Pro which costs an additional £200.

Mi 9 SE

In Geekbench 4 the Mi 9 SE recorded 1885 points single-core and 5971 multi-core. It's a long way off the performance of flagships - for example, Mi 9 managed 11292 in the same test - but for most users it will prove extremely capable for day-to-day tasks. It's also comfortably above the performance of arguably better-known UK affordable phones, such as the £269 Moto G7 Plus, which recorded 4925 points.

We also ran AnTuTu, in which the Mi 9 SE achieved 179500 points. To put that into context, Mi 9 recorded 371894 in the same test, with Mi 9 SE much closer to the Redmi Note 7 Pro in performance (179675). The Redmi Note 7 Pro is not officially available in the UK, though the non-Pro version costs from £179.

In our GFXBench graphics tests Mi 9 SE excelled, at least in the less-intensive components. We run the onscreen tests since that better replicates real-world usage, so here the full- rather than quad-HD display acts in its favour, with fewer pixels to push. The Snapdragon 712 with Adreno 616 put in a significantly better showing than the 710, too, recording a playable 58fps in T-Rex, and 33fps in Manhattan.

We've compared these results in the chart below.

Performance isn't all about power, of course, and a decent phone also needs a decent battery to keep it going all day long. Mi 9 SE does exactly that with its 3070mAh battery. It is a touch lower in capacity than the 3300mAh cell inside Mi 9, as you would expect given the smaller chassis, but its less power-hungry hardware means it keeps going just as long.

Unfortunately, one of the cost-cutting exercises here has seen Xiaomi remove the Mi 9's fast (20W) wireless charging, though the SE can still charge over a wired connection at an impressive 18W.

Connectivity is also strong in other areas, and along with many of Xiaomi's other phones Mi 9 SE includes an increasingly rare IR blaster. There's also NFC for mobile payments with Google Pay, dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 and GPS.

The Mi 9 SE is also a dual-SIM phone, and stands out for the fact both SIM slots can support 4G. There is no 5G version of the SE, of course, and so far the only Xiaomi phone that can connect to the next-gen network is the Mi Mix 3 5G. With widespread availability not expected until some way into 2020, we wouldn't consider this a major factor in your purchasing decision in any case.

Do note that unlike some dual-SIM phones the Mi 9 SE does not have a hybrid tray - you cannot substitute one of the SIM cards for a microSD card, so if you think 64GB of internal storage is not going to be enough for you then buy the 128GB model.

Mi 9 SE Cameras & Photography

Mi 9 SE Camera

One of the headline new features in Mi 9 is its triple-lens AI camera, which combines a 48Mp wide-angle with 16Mp ultra-wide and 12Mp telephoto lenses. The result is one of the best camera phones money can buy, with Mi 9 only slightly trailing the Huawei P30 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus.

In Mi 9 SE Xiaomi has also replaced the previous dual-lens camera with a triple-lens version. It's not exactly the same, instead comprising 48Mp (f/1.75, 1.6um), 13Mp (f/2.4, 1.12um) and 8Mp (f/2.4, 1.12um) lenses, but that primary 48Mp lens is the same, and it's the real star of the show in both Mi 9 and SE. Using a pixel-binning technique it groups pixels into four, averaging colours and other information across them to create one standout 12Mp image.

Exposure is excellent, colours are natural and detail is sharp, particularly in low-light. As you'll see in our test shots below, Mi 9 SE does a great job in a darkened room in the normal Photo mode, but in Night mode it produces a shot that looks almost as good as if it were captured in daylight.

Mi 9 SE Auto

Mi 9 SE Auto

Mi 9 SE HDR

Mi 9 SE HDR

Mi 9 SE Low Light

Mi 9 SE Low-Light 

Mi 9 SE Night

Mi 9 SE Night

Video is a strength, with stabilisation available even in the top-quality 4K @30fps mode, allowing the SE to provide smooth and detailed footage. Slow-motion video is also available at 960fps.

The Mi 9 SE has the same 20Mp selfie camera as Mi 9, too, which does a great job of portrait shots. This is down from the 24Mp lens in the Mi 8 Lite, but it doesn't suffer for it. 

Mi 9 SE Software

Mi 9 SE MIUI

Xiaomi phones run MIUI 10, which is a custom interface based on Android 9 Pie. For those who have never used it before it can take some getting used to, but once you're up to speed you might actually prefer it to standard Android.

Google is introducing a system-wide Dark Mode in Android 10 Q this summer, but in MIUI 10 - at least on Mi 9 and Mi 9 SE - it's already here. It helps to significantly reduce the screen's impact on the battery, but it's also one of the latest trends for apps to include a Dark mode, and some people prefer the way it looks.

Another feature you won't find in normal Android is Dual Apps, which does exactly what you would expect, allowing you to run more than one instance of an app on your phone. That might be useful if you're using two SIM cards, or if multiple people are using the phone.

Second Space is similarly useful, allowing you to portion off a dedicated space on your phone in which only certain apps and media are accessible.

Other Xiaomi-specific features include One-handed mode and Quick Ball, though both are less likely to be necessary on this more compact model.

There's a split-screen mode, accessible from the recents button, or if you like you can remove these buttons entirely and rely on gesture-based navigation for a truly full-screen experience.

Mi 9 SE Conclusion

At £349 there's very little out there to compete with Mi 9 SE. It looks and feels like a flagship, only with a mid-range processor and without wireless charging and waterproofing. A gorgeous smartphone with a fantastic camera, you won't go far wrong with Mi 9 SE.

Specs

Xiaomi Mi 9 SE: Specs

  • 5.97in AMOLED FHD+ (2340x1080, 19.5:9) display with Gorilla Glass 5
  • MIUI 10 (based on Android 9 Pie)
  • 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 712 10nm octa-core processor
  • Adreno 616 GPU
  • 6GB RAM
  • 64GB/128GB storage
  • Dual-SIM, dual-standby with Dual-4G
  • Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • NFC
  • In-display fingerprint sensor
  • 13Mp (f/2.4, 1.12um) ultra-wide + 48Mp (f/1.75, 1.6um) wide-angle + 8Mp (f/2.4, 1.12um) telephoto triple-lens AI camera
  • 20Mp (f/2.0, 1.12um) AI selfie camera
  • 3,070mAh battery, 18W wired charging (USB-C)
  • 147.5x70.5x7.45mm
  • 155g
  • Available in Ocean Blue, Piano Black (in the UK)

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