Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro Review: A Lot of Phone for a Little Price

By Kim Snaith on at

Xiaomi is probably not a brand name that means much to you – at least at the minute. The Chinese company has just officially launched in the UK , so it’s a name you can expect to start seeing more of. Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro is their latest handset, and it's being released here before any other country that isn't called China. Oh, and it has specs to rival leading brands’ flagship handsets – but without a known name emblazoned on the back. The Mi 8 Pro also happens to be much more reasonably priced: £499, in fact.

I’ve had a week with the Mi 8 Pro, and I’ve got to say, I’m pretty impressed with what it offers. The question is, is it good enough to rival the likes of Samsung, Google, Huawei or even OnePlus? It might just be.

Specs

  • 6.21” AMOLED display, 2248 x 1080p
  • 159.4 z 64.8 x 7.6mm, 177g
  • 8GB RAM, 128GB storage
  • Snapdragon 845 chipset with Adreno 630 GPU
  • Dual rear cameras, 12MP + 12MP, 2x optical zoom, f/1.8 and f/2.4
  • Front 20 MP camera, f/2.0
  • Pressure-sensitive in-display fingerprint scanner
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Dual SIM support
  • 3,000 mAh battery with quick charge
  • USB-C charger

Design

The most striking part of the Mi 8 Pro is its translucent case. The back is plastic, but semi see-through in design, allowing you to see what appears to be some of the phone’s innards underneath the cover. Unfortunately, it turns out it’s just a mock design – the phone’s actual processor is tucked away – but it’s still a very nice touch that makes a welcome change from a boring plain glass or plastic reverse.

On the front, there’s not a whole lot to see except the phone’s pretty impressive 6.2-inch screen. There’s a bezel around the screen – it’s not an edge display like many other leading Android handsets are these days. But with no physical button on the bottom – hey, I was previously using a Samsung Galaxy S7 so it’s quite a novelty for me – the screen appears impressively large even though the handset doesn’t feel oversized to compensate for it.

There’s a notch, of course, which will no doubt be bad news to some of you. It houses the front-facing camera and the speaker, so it’s not the smallest notch in the world, but it’s also not particularly obtrusive. Having the notification icons in what’s essentially an extra bit of the screen is seriously handy. But if you do find it offensive you can negate the notch by adding a black bar across the top of your screen.

Actually, at a glance it looks most like an iPhone X - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Mi 8 Pro certainly does look like a quality handset despite its budget price.

Software

Xiaomi’s software implementation might be the hardest pill to swallow for some; like Huawei, it uses its own Android skin – MIUI. I’ve got used to it pretty quickly, but there are a few annoying niggles compared to regular Android.

Firstly, it’s based on Android 8.1 (Oreo), not the latest build of Android, Pie. Whether an upgrade to Pie will come in the future remains to be seen, but since not all handset manufacturers have made the leap yet anyway, it’s not a major deal. MIUI isn’t bad, but the most frustrating change from standard Android is the lack of an app drawer. It seems to want to be like Apple in more ways than just its design. Huawei’s EMUI does the same thing, but the latest version at least allows you to toggle an option to bring an app drawer back. No such option exists in MIUI 9.6, the version of Xiaomi’s software running on my handset. So you’re stuck with no option but to scroll through numerous home screens to find the app you’re looking for. Not a major problem if you only have a handful of apps – and of course you can organise into folders – but if you’ve a lot of software installed on your phone and can’t be bothered to spend time organising, it can be a pain to find stuff. Thank god Android supports third-party launchers, eh?

What is pretty nifty, though, is that you’re given the option to use either on-screen buttons to navigate as normal, or swap them out for gestures. The gestures were pretty foreign to me at first, having been used to physical buttons, but they’re pretty intuitive once you become accustomed to them. And it means you get slightly more screen real estate for your apps when a strip at the bottom of your screen doesn’t have to be taken up with navigation controls.

Swiping from the left or right of the screen acts as ‘back’, while swiping from the bottom of the screen will take you back to the home screen. Swiping from the bottom and holding your finger in place for a split second will show you your open apps. From this open apps screen, you also have access to a “split screen” function, allowing you to view two apps at once. I’m not sure actually how useful it is – a 6-odd inch screen might sound large for a phone but it’s not exactly big enough for multi-tasking. Still, if you want a browser and your emails open at the same time, or perhaps want to keep an eye on Twitter while playing a game, the Mi 8 Pro gives you the option to do that.

There’s also something called ‘Second Space’, which lets you have a completely separate setup on the phone. Both spaces can be password protected, each has their own home screen, and apps installed on one won’t affect the other. If for some reason you share a phone, it’s pretty nifty – and perhaps most useful for parents who want to create a safe place for their children to play games without the fear of them snooping where they shouldn’t belong.

Separately, you can also have ‘Dual Apps’, allowing you to have two instances of the same app working alongside each other. You could have two WhatsApp accounts, for instance, or have one Facebook app logged in for work and another for your personal account without needing to switch between them. I’m not sure how useful each of these functions are for the average person who doesn’t need to share their phone with anyone, but it’s there should you ever need it.

Biometrics

One fancy piece of tech that the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro sports is a pressure-sensitive in-display fingerprint reader. And… actually, it’s pretty cool. The last two phones I’ve owned have both had fingerprint scanners on them but it’s a feature I’ve never particularly bothered with. It’s always been an extra layer of faff, but now the scanner is right in the screen – the same area I’d have to tap or swipe to unlock anyway – it seems a hell of a lot more convenient.

Our main gripe with the OnePlus 6T, that also boasts this feature, was that you had to activate the screen first before it’d accept your fingerprint, making the unlock process that much longer. That’s not the case with the Mi 8 Pro. Pop your finger in the right area of the screen – which is marked with a dim fingerprint icon even when the screen is off – and you’re good to go. If you touch the wrong part of the screen, it’ll illuminate the correct area to touch. Obviously finding the right area of screen to put your finger over isn’t as easy as feeling for a physical scanner, but at least for me it’s in the area of the screen where my thumb naturally rests, so it’s pretty easy to locate.

There's currently no face unlock function available, so if you don't want to use a fingerprint unlock, you're left with the choice of a password, a pin, or a pattern unlock (or nothing). Xiaomi have said, however, that face unlock functionality will be coming to the Mi 8 Pro at some point via an update, so that's something.

Camera

Cameras on smartphones are a big deal these days. On paper, the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro has all the bells and whistles – dual cameras, 2x optical zoom and AI features. But in terms of functionality, it's a bit of a mixed bag. Shooting photos in decent light settings produces some nice results, but some of the apparent advanced features left me wanting a little.

Living in suburbia means I have no exciting cityscapes on my doorstep to take pictures of, so my limited test subjects include Lego minifigures, my cats, and my back yard. You're welcome.

Click on images to enlarge

Shooting a standard photo in AI mode produces decent results. Here's my cat, Molly, pretty annoyed at having a phone shoved in her face:

But she's sharp and nicely in focus. An extreme crop shows the image is still pretty sharp. Overall, not bad results.

However, that isn't always the case. My next subject, L-Lloyd, didn't fare so well. Zoomed out, the image looks pretty nice: Lloyd appears to be in focus, and there's a nice depth of field with the foliage behind him. However, zooming in close and you can see that the camera has had trouble focusing on a smaller object; the minifig is pretty blurry and grainy, even though there's good lighting outside.

The Mi 8 Pro's Portrait mode also produces mixed results. Here's a statue – the first shot in standard Photo mode, and the other shot in Portrait mode:

In this instance, the results are pretty nice. Portrait mode seems to use the phone's alleged optical zoom, but it's sharp enough, and gives a nice softness to the background compared to the image shot in standard photo mode.

However, trying out the same Portrait mode on my cats provided slightly less pleasing results:

The depth of field and focus is, once again, pretty nice. But there's a noticeable loss of detail in the main subject – it's clear the AI in the phone applies some kind of softness filter, which doesn't really work on cats' fur.

I'm also not convinced by the phone's 2x optical zoom. Any image zoomed in appears to be much less detailed and more grainy than its standard zoom counterpart. It's achieved by the phone's dual camera setup, so either it's not actually a true optical zoom at all, or the telephoto lens' sensor is noticeably worse than the standard, wide lens.

Even without seeing the picture large, it's noticeably noisy. Compare this to a similar image, taken at 1x zoom (just moved closer in to compensate):

It's a much cleaner image with much less noticeable noise. Some is still visible in the background, but it's minimal compared to the 2x zoom image.

Unfortunately, the camera didn't perform great in low light, either. I've been unable to test it out against a decent nightscape, but taking a picture of cat #2 (Ned) at nighttime produced a pretty dark and grainy image (not to mention a cat annoyed that he wasn't being left alone to sleep...):

However, what I do like is that the Mi 8 Pro's camera allows for full manual control should you prefer to use that over the supposed 'optimised' AI settings. There's full adjustments for white balance, focal length, shutter speed and ISO. So if you've got a bit of photographic know-how and some time on your hands to tinker around, I expect some pretty nice results can be obtained.

Overall then, the camera produces mixed results. In good light for simple snapshots, you can get some nice images. But the AI doesn't seem to be the best implementation, the zoom isn't great, and it doesn't produce the best quality photos in low-light.

Audio

The Mi 8 Pro uses just one speaker, so the sound quality isn’t the best. It’s serviceable and goes loud enough for the odd YouTube video, but if you plan to use it to listen to music with, don’t expect much.

The sound from the Mi 8 Pro was pretty comparable with a Samsung Galaxy S7, which isn’t saying much considering that handset is now two generations old. It has a surprising amount of bass for a phone, which is something, but the overall quality of sound is a little tinny – without having stereo speakers, that’s to be expected.

Battery

The battery capacity is probably the most disappointing thing on the Mi 8 Pro. It’s not bad, but it certainly lags behind other leading handsets in terms of capacity. 3,000 mAh isn’t a lot compared to other handsets. The Samsung Galaxy S9 has 3,500 mAh, the recently-released OnePlus 6T has 3,700 mAh, and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro has a whopping 4,200 mAh capacity.

The Mi 8 Pro comfortably lasts a full day with moderate to heavy use, though. Even after constantly checking notifications and emails, scrolling through Twitter, logging into Pokémon Go several times and playing my latest guilty pleasure Android game (currently a picross title, if you must know) for a good two hours, there’s still at least 15 per cent battery left when it comes to bedtime. I don’t go to bed early, so it lasts easily a good 16-17 hour day.

However, doing our standard movie playback test, it didn’t fare so well. Ramping the brightness up to max, I streamed The Girl on the Train on Netflix - a run time of 1 hour and 51 minutes. From a full charge, the battery drained to a worryingly low 66 per cent. Going by that, the battery will be completely drained after about five and a half hours of streaming video. Not at all impressive, so if you like to regularly play video content on your phone, it may be something to bear in mind. Note though that I’ve never needed the screen’s brightness anywhere near max in regular use – it’s still pretty vivid and bright for indoor use even at about a third. Outdoors, I had to move the slider about half way.

Other points

Since Xiaomi is a new brand to the UK, it means that some network features aren’t supported on the handset. I’m on EE, and despite the network boasting “the best 4G coverage in the UK”, I barely get a signal in my area – a suburban area that’s about 15 minutes away from a major city, I add. Basically it means to make calls when I’m at home, I’ve had to rely on Wi-Fi calling. None of the major networks currently support Wi-Fi calling on any Xioami handset. Hopefully this is something that will change as the brand becomes more established in the UK, but if signal is an issue in your area, it’s something to be mindful of.

The brand’s newness means that accessories and phone cases are hard to come by – unless you want to import from China, of course. There was only one case available on Amazon UK for the Mi 8 Pro – a bulky faux leather flip case – so again, if you like to accessorise your phone, don’t expect a great deal of choice any time soon. Let's just hope this is something Xiaomi will sort out when its Mi store opens up on 18th November.

There's no SD card slot for expandable storage either, but since the Mi 8 Pro comes with 128 GB built in as standard, it's not too much of an issue. Not unless you plan to download a hefty library of films to your phone, anyway. There's also no headphone jack, like a lot of modern phones, so if you want to use your standard old earphones, you'll have to use a USB-C adapter.

Overall

There's a lot to like about the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro. It's a great looking phone with a lot of power. Everything runs smoothly, the quality of the screen is excellent, and considering its price point, it feels like you're getting a lot of phone for your money. It's slightly let down by a low-capacity battery that, while adequate for general use, didn't perform very well when we tested it by streaming content from Netflix.

The camera is probably the most disappointing function. While it performs adequately in decent light situations, and despite boasting some advanced features on paper, it failed to impress in action. It may well be its camera alone that stops it truly competing with the leading handsets – but when it's nearly half the price of a Huawei Mate 20 Pro or a Samsung Galaxy S9+, it seems like a fair trade-off.

TL;DR

  • A very impressive handset, especially considering its £500 price point
  • 128GB storage built-in as standard is nice, but it does mean there's no card slot
  • The camera is decent in daylight but disappointing in low light and AI functions leave a lot to be desired
  • With only a 3,000 mAh battery it lags behind competitors
  • The in-screen fingerprint scanner is excellent
  • The screen is beautiful
  • Xiaomi use their own skin over Android - MIUI. It's okay, but there's no app drawer.
  • The Mi 8 Pro's translucent case is lovely
  • Available to buy from Three, Amazon, Argos, John Lewis, Carphone Warehouse and Currys.