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Opinion | Should you buy the Xiaomi Mi Note 10?

The Mi Note 10 is a solid phone with quite a few compromises. (Source: The Verge)
The Mi Note 10 is a solid phone with quite a few compromises. (Source: The Verge)
Xiaomi launched the Mi Note 10 a few weeks ago and the phone's impressive camera hardware has suddenly put it close to the top of many prospective buyers' shopping lists. Most are unsure about the purchase decision, however, so why not clarify things a bit for them? Is the Mi Note 10 really a good buy right now?

Two weeks ago, Xiaomi launched the Mi Note 10. The phone is somewhat atypical of Xiaomi's releases, as it brought something that hadn't really been synonymous with the company so far: impressive camera hardware. As such, the Note 10 has suddenly become an option for most prospective buyers, and rightfully so—but should you buy it?

It depends. The Mi Note 10 is not a flagship phone, make no mistakes about at. It is, for all intents and purposes, a sub-premium device. There's no ingress protection, no stereo speaker setup, and the SoC is not the best you can get right now.

But then, it manages to punch above its weight in certain aspects. There's a big 5260 mAh battery, paired with 30 W fast charge that takes the phone from 0% to 100% in just over an hour. That's some serious power specifications, and you'd be hard-pressed to get that from any flagship out there right now.

There's also the issue of the phone's cameras. The Mi Note 10 features a 108 MP main sensor, "5x" optical zoom abilities, an impressive ultra-wide-angle lens, and a 32 MP selfie camera. It is a camera phone by most definitions of the word, and the fact that it stands joint-top on DxOMark's leaderboards makes a statement—regardless of how concrete said statement actually is.

The camera hardware is impressive, but real-world performance is...not quite there yet. Or better still, there's room for improvement. The 108 MP manages to pick up an incredible amount of detail, no doubt due to how huge the sensor physically is. However, it suffers in low-light, doubly so when shooting in full-res mode.

We're yet to review the Mi Note 10 but most camera tests out there show it being a step behind Samsung, Apple, Google, and Huawei in terms of low-light performance and dynamic range. There are also significant issues with exposure and saturation, although evaluating the latter is a subjective art.

The Mi Note 10's advertised 5x optical zoom is closer to 4x zoom—3.7x, going by most outlets—but its real-world performance still holds up pretty well, so that shouldn't be an issue for most. 

As a camera phone, it's a bit hard to recommend the Mi Note 10 over something like the Galaxy Note 10 or iPhone 11 Pro. Of course, the Mi Note 10 is also a bit cheaper than those, starting at €549. The iPhone 11 Pro starts at €1149, with less storage than the base Mi Note 10. 

At the same time, we doubt most are going to be comparing the Mi Note 10 to Samsung or Apple's current champions. The real fight is against the OnePlus 7T and, perhaps, the Galaxy S10 series. The OnePlus 7T has a better display, significantly better performance, better haptics, better speakers, better software, better support, and while unofficial, likely better waterproofing. It's hard to argue with the fact that it's a better phone than the Mi Note 10. 

So, again, should you buy the Mi Note 10? Yes—if you absolutely need that camera setup, battery, and fast charge. It's also important that you have no resource-intensive use cases, as while the phone's CPU and GPU are capable, they're far from the best you can get right now. For anyone else, the OnePlus 7T or, perhaps, a Galaxy S10 would just be a better overall package.

€549 for the Mi Note 10 makes it hard to recommend. The Mi CC9 Pro, however, is the same phone, albeit for the Chinese market, and can be had in the region of US$450. If you must have what the Mi Note 10 offers, do yourself a favor and get that instead. Or wait for the inevitable Mi Note 10 price drop.

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Ricci Rox, 2019-11-17 (Update: 2019-11-17)