Xiaomi Mi 10i sets bar high for other midrange smartphones to come

Xiaomi Mi 10i - Pacific Sunrise

The year 2021 is finally here, and opening the account for many more smartphones to come this year in India is the Xiaomi Mi 10i. It is a midrange smartphone in the Chinese electronics maker’s premium Mi 10-series line-up. The Mi 10i is a 5G smartphone with a quad-camera set-up on the back, featuring a 108-megapixel primary sensor. It boasts a frosted glass build (Review unit: Pacific Sunrise colour model) with a reflective gradient design on the back, a screen of 120Hz refresh rate, stereo speakers, big-capacity battery with fast-charge support, and Android 10 operating system-based MIUI 12 user interface. Starting at Rs 20,999, the Mi 10i seems yet another value-for-money smartphone from Xiaomi. Let’s find out how it fares on all key parameters that determine a smartphone’s utility:

Mi 10i: Design

The Mi 10i looks nothing like the Mi 10T Pro (review) and Mi 10. The different looks are the result of new gradient paintjob, frosted glass design, and the circular camera module on the back, instead of the elder siblings’ vertically-aligned one on the top-left corner. It looks different but is not novel: the design resembles that of the OnePlus 7T (review), especially from the rear side. Adding some novelty to the design, however, is the four-side curved rear glass, which looks premium and aids handling. Speaking of handling, the Mi 10i has a broad, tall and bulky build that is not comfortable to hold and operate using one hand. Handling with both hands is better. Thanks to the side-mounted fingerprint sensor under the power button, it is easy to lock/unlock the phone. Moreover, the fingerprint sensor seems both quicker and more accurate when compared with the on-screen ones.

Like the back, the Mi 10i’s frame also has a gradient design. Though made of plastic, it has a metal-like finish with fine matte texture. The phone’s power button and volume rocker keys are placed on the right side of the frame. Both the keys are within reach for right-hand users and easily accessible to the thumb. However, left-hand users might find the keys’ placement awkward. The top side of the frame has a tiny opening on the left for the phone’s secondary microphone. Aside from the secondary microphone, there is an IR blaster on the otherwise blank top side of the frame. The phone’s hybrid dualSIM slot is on the left of the chassis, and the bottom features a 3.5mm audio out port, USB-C charging-cum-data transfer port, primary microphone, and speaker.

The phone’s front is dominated by its screen, which stretches on all sides of the frame, leaving minimal bezels on the top and sides but a fairly big one at the bottom. The earpiece is accommodated at the top, in the thin area between the chassis and display. Interestingly, Xiaomi has managed to put in a tiny LED next to the earpiece which lights up when the phone is on charge.

Mi 10i: Display and audio

The Mi 10i has a 6.67-inch LCD screen of a fullHD+ resolution. It is a 120Hz refresh rate screen panel with adaptive sync technology, which automatically switches the screen’s refresh rate based on the needs of the on-screen content. The phone is set to use the conventional 60Hz refresh rate by default, but you can change it to 120Hz from display settings. The adaptive refresh rate works only when the screen is set to 120Hz.

In terms of quality, the screen is bright, sharp and vivid. It has a good contrast and the black appears deep but not AMOLED deep. It is a good LCD unit and may be the best you get in any midrange smartphone. Thanks to its adaptive sync refresh rate, the transition flow is smooth, scrolling does not show stutters, and supported multimedia content looks immersive.

Complementing the screen are the phone’s stereo speakers, which are difficult to find in budget and midrange smartphones. However, the speakers are not refined and sound dull. They lack the depth, loudness and stereo effect.

Mi 10i: Camera

The Mi 10i sports a quad camera set-up on the back, featuring a 108-megapixel primary sensor of an f/1.75 aperture, an 8MP ultra-wide sensor of an f/2.2 aperture and 120-degree field-of-view (FoV), a 2MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro sensor. On the front, incorporated in a display punch-hole, the phone has a 16MP sensor of an f/2.45 aperture.

Details aside, the Mi 10i is a capable imaging device, especially in daylight conditions. The phone’s primary camera locks the focus in no time and captures detail with a good amount of dynamic range, natural colours and balanced contrast. Though the primary sensor uses 9-in-1 pixel binning in the default mode – which is good for most scenarios – there is a dedicated 108MP mode that disables pixel-binning and lets you capture frames in the sensor's native resolution. The photos taken in this mode have more details compared to ones taken in the default mode. The ultra-wide sensor is a good one too. It captures detailed shots with a barely visible barrel effect, which is something not many smartphones with ultra-wide cameras are good at. The macro sensor works fine for close-up shots, but do not expect top-notch quality.

In low light, all the sensors struggle to find their strength. The primary sensor requires firm hands to capture a decent frame in low light. This is primarily due to the lack of optical image stabilisation, which compensates for the motion for stable shots in lowlight conditions. The ultra-wide sensor lacks the bright aperture. Therefore, despite brightening the frame, it could not capture details, resulting in a noisy output. The macro sensor is a no go in lowlight conditions.

On the brighter side, the Mi 10i brings most of the value-added features that are part of other Mi 10-series smartphones. It has Vlogs, which lets you create social media-ready 15-second short videos with background music and multiple frames. Besides, the phone lets you use both the front and back cameras simultaneously to capture a combined shot in a single frame. Other value-added features like long exposure, clone, etc, are also part of the package.

The front camera is good for selfies and group selfies. It also captures fine portraits with neat contour details and smooth background blur.

Mi 10i: Performance

The Mi 10i is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750 system-on-chip (SoC) with 5G network support, paired with up to 8 GB of RAM (LPDDR4x) and 128 GB (UFS 2.2) of on-board storage. The phone boots Android 10 operating system-based Xiaomi’s MIUI 12 custom user interface. Thankfully, this UI is ad-free and comes with select Google apps like dialer and messages. The Mi 10i is a decent performer. It works without any hiccups for most day-to-day operations, and handles heavy-duty tasks like gaming or multimedia editing without stress. Important to note, however, that graphic-intensive gaming titles like the Asphalt 8 run fine at visual quality settings below medium levels. Similarly, multimedia editing works fine but only for light work.

Completing the package is the phone’s 4,820 mAh battery, which is good enough for a day of on-battery time with dark mode enabled and display set to 120Hz refresh rate. The phone comes with 33W fast-charging, which takes around an hour to replenish a completely drained battery to its full capacity.

Mi 10i review: Verdict

The Mi 10i is a capable midrange smartphone and a good value-for-money product. Except its bulky build, there is no other parameter where the Mi 10i seems lacking. One must give it to Xiaomi for an ad-free MIUI 12 experience here: It is free from annoying ads that usually come as part of package in Xiaomi smartphones. Even if there is still some bloatware, the UI is intuitive and offers a lot of personalised options. Nevertheless, being the first smartphone to launch in 2021, the Mi 10i has set the bar high for other midrange smartphones to come.

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