What is the Xiaomi Mi 8?
Xiaomi is finally making a push into the UK with its stylish brand of Android smartphones. The Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro has already impressed us with its eye-catching design and creditable AI-enhanced camera at a reasonable price.
But the Xiaomi Mi 8 is just as interesting a package. It offers very similar near-flagship specifications for a slightly lower price than the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro model.
The Mi 8 offers up a large AMOLED display (complete with obligatory notch), top-end Snapdragon 845 processing power, and a strong dual–12-megapixel camera for a UK launch price of £459. That’s half the price of a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
Perhaps more importantly, it also undercuts the current £500 gorilla of the smartphone world, the OnePlus 6T.
Xiaomi Mi 8 – Design
Like its Pro brother, the Xiaomi Mi 8 is a curvy glass-bodied phone set in a 7-series aluminium alloy frame. It doesn’t have the attention-grabbing transparent back of the Pro, but to my mind that leaves it feeling like the classier phone of the two.
Rather than gawping at the exposed replica chips of the Pro model, you’ll just have to make do with a bunch of smudged fingerprints, and your own face staring back at you from the reflective surface.
There’s also a more traditional fingerprint sensor on the back of the Xiaomi Mi 8, positioned just below and to the right of a dual-camera array. That fingerprint sensor might seem like a step back from the in-display alternative found in the Pro, but it’s actually a faster and more reliable way to gain access to the phone.
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Otherwise, the dimensions of the Xiaomi Mi 8 are nigh-on identical to the Pro, with a skinny 7.6mm-thick frame and the exact same surface area. It’s also a rather inconsequential 2g lighter at 175g. It’s hefty, but not uncomfortably or distractingly so.
Overall, this is a fairly unassuming phone that liberally borrows stylistic elements from its rivals. Most notably, it owes a debt to the iPhone X family with its notched display and vertically stacked dual-camera module.
The Xiaomi Mi 8 feels premium in the hand, thanks to the glass and metal composition, and a decent level of build quality. But there’s a whiff of “me too” to it all, and you feel that Xiaomi’s local rival Huawei has stolen a march on it in recent years when it comes to distinctive design.
It’s a shame that there are no stereo speakers here, with just a single easy-to-cover grille on the bottom of the phone. Although this is one of the signs that you’re not dealing with an absolute top-tier phone here.
More understandable – although still quite frustrating for some – is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack. I wish that Xiaomi had utilised this to give the Mi 8 some kind of proper waterproofing, but an IP rating is arguably a little above the phone’s pay grade.
Xiaomi Mi 8 – Display
It’s always pleasing to see AMOLED screen technology in a less-than-flagship phone. That’s no less true of the Xiaomi Mi 8.
As a result, colours really pop here, and there’s full HDR10 support for all relevant media. Conversely, there’s none of that uncanny over-saturation of which lesser AMOLED screens can be guilty of. All in all, this is a balanced, well-calibrated display.
As has become customary, you can adjust the Xiaomi Mi 8’s display to your own tastes. Indeed, the Contrast & Colours tool in the Settings menu offers higher potential for fine-tuning than usual, and you can also tinker with the contrast level.
There’s also a Reading mode that makes the tone of the display warmer for a more eye-friendly effect, and you can schedule this to come on automatically at night.
This display is a large 6.21-inch affair with a 2244 x 1080 (essentially 1080p or Full HD) resolution. No, it doesn’t match the QHD displays of more expensive Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S9, but you’re talking about diminishing returns when you pack that many pixels into such a small area.
The screen doesn’t approach the eye-searing LCD brightness of a device such as the Huawei Mate 20, of course. But it’s perfectly fine in most conditions, and you’ll probably have to wait for those fleetingly bright British summer days to roll around before it would become anything like a problem.
It’s also a very long display that fills the front of the phone, with a stretched-out 18.7:9 aspect ratio. There’s a notch in place to house the front camera and IR sensor, and a noticeable chin opposite. But otherwise, the display spreads out to fill 86.68% of the front the device.
Xiaomi Mi 8 – Performance
The Xiaomi Mi 8 is a strong performer, courtesy of a Snapdragon 845 CPU and 6GB of RAM.
The Snapdragon 845 is set to be superseded with the first wave of 2019 phones, but it would be churlish to complain about that in a phone that costs less than £500. Besides, the Snapdragon 845 remains a very capable processor that will tackle anything you throw at it.
In our benchmark tests the Mi 8 scored a multi-core score of 8781 and a single-core score of 2389, which is about on par with the similarly specced OnePlus 6T – one of the fastest phones on the market.
I should also note that these scores appear to represent a bump up in performance from our Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro tests late last year. Those lower scores of 7765 and 2275 are likely down to the subsequent software optimisations that have come about with the move to Android 9.0 Pie and MIUI 10.1.
In our aforementioned Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro review, we noted that the performance seemed less than optimal, with lower benchmark scores and one or two high-end performance hitches. I didn’t experience anything of the sort in the Mi 8, so Xiaomi appears to have ironed out the creases.
In real-world terms, the Xiaomi Mi 8 feels every bit as fast as you’d expect. It runs 3D games such as Asphalt 9 and PUBG fluidly on high settings. I should perhaps also mention that the Xiaomi Mi 8 boasts dual-frequency GPS, which means that it uses both L1 and L5 signals in coordination for greater accuracy. Serial Google Maps users take note.
Xiaomi Mi 8 – Software
By far the Xiaomi Mi 8’s weakest point is its custom UI. As with rival Huawei, a strong hardware effort is at least partially undermined by clunky software. MIUI 10.1 might well be the slickest and swiftest version yet (I couldn’t say with any authority given the brand’s belated arrival in the West), but it still isn’t as good as Google’s stock Android or subtler custom efforts from OnePlus and Motorola.
Thankfully, it’s highly customisable, so you can undo confusing elements such as the default mirroring of the back and app-switching keys, or activate the ability to double-tap to wake. You can also set up shortcuts to launch the camera, turn on the torch, open split-screen mode and the like.
While this level of customisation is welcome, there’s no escaping the fact that MIUI simply isn’t very good as standard. There’s a certain brashness to its simplistic icons and gaudy themes.
That could simply be a matter of taste, of course. MIUI 10.1 is certainly fluid enough, and it doesn’t represent a complete upending of the Android order. Sure, there’s no app tray here, but that’s hardly unusual these days.
Our issue is more a case of a whole bunch of minor irritations and misjudged decisions. Notifications, for example, are a bit of a mess.
Put simply, there doesn’t seem to be any space for them in the top bar. Xiaomi has included a large iPhone X-style notch seemingly for the sake of it (the face-unlock system isn’t as secure, hence the reason it needs to be activated manually), but it hasn’t managed to work in a way to get notification icons to fit either side of it.
This means that when emails arrive in the Gmail app, you’ll receive a telltale ping, but no visual indication other than the notification light. WhatsApp bubbles will pop up over whatever you’re doing, but if you miss those there’s no indication that you’ve been messaged unless you pull down the notification tray.
The multitasking menu, too, has been needlessly tinkered with, laying out your recently opened apps in a scrolling crazy paving configuration. Again, it isn’t bad as such, but it feels sub-optimal and a little messy.
Swiping right from the home screen brings up App Vault, which is a screen that assembles a number of app shortcuts and handy functions. I say “handy”, but whether you’ll want to be forced into using Xiaomi’s own note-taking or calendar apps over the superior Google equivalents is up for debate.
Xiaomi Mi 8 – Camera
You get the exact same dual 12-megapixel rear camera setup in the Xiaomi Mi 8 as you do in the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro. And that’s great.
This is a very well-equipped camera system, with 4-axis OIS, 2x optical zoom, and an AI mode that smartly and reliably recognises the scene you’re trying to capture (from an impressive-sounding 206 options), and makes the necessary tweaks to bolster the results.
Despite the range of sophisticated tools at the Mi 8 camera’s disposal, it’s never less than a doddle to use. You need to manually activate the aforementioned AI mode, but HDR is set to auto by default, and can generally be relied upon to rein in extremes of light and shade.
Taking zoomed-in shots is a similarly easy case of tapping the appropriate button near the shutter button to switch to the second camera, which is also put to good use with a Portrait mode for bokeh-rich close-ups.
I was pleased with the general quality of the Mi 8’s shots, too. It won’t be bothering the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Google Pixel 3 or iPhone XS at the top of the cameraphone tree, but it holds a respectable position on one of the higher branches.
In general, shots were reasonably accurate and sharp, with rich colours and decent details. The AI camera generally performs its task admirably, although it can tend to exaggerate colours in certain situations. I noticed the green of the grass in one close-up shot being cranked up a few notches compared to a non-AI shot – and indeed reality.
On the flip side, I was impressed and occasionally even a little surprised by some of the low light shots this AI mode managed to capture. It’s prone to movement blur as it leans heavily on that OIS, but keeping your subjects still yields decent results.
The quality of the shots taken with the Mi 8’s telephoto lens is pretty consistent with the main one, as long as you feed it with plenty of light. It has a much smaller aperture (f/2.4 versus f/1.8) and significantly smaller 1.0µm pixels (the main camera produces 1.4µm pixels), so zoomed-in low-light shots will be a lot grainier.
You can also grab 1080p video at an impressive 120fps, or 4K at 30fps. There’s also a slow-motion mode that records footage at 240fps for super-silky slowed-down playback.
Xiaomi Mi 8 – Battery life
One of the most interesting differences between the Xiaomi Mi 8 and the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro is that the cheaper phone has a larger battery. At 3400mAh, it’s a good 13% bigger.
This, despite the fact that both phones pack identical processors and displays.
I’d hazard a guess that this was down to the Pro model’s quirky transparent design and its in-display fingerprint sensor, which take up additional space and weight. Something had to give, and that something would appear to be battery life.
Sure enough, getting to the end of the day with the Xiaomi Mi 8 is a more comfortable experience. It still isn’t a two-day phone like the Huawei Mate 20, unless you’re an extremely light user, but it will get you through a whole day of pretty extensive usage without issue.
It stands up adequately to more intensive tasks, too. My usual test of running Guns of Boom for 15 minutes at half screen brightness saw a 5% power drain, which is pretty normal, but far from exceptional.
The Huawei Mate 20, for example, was left with 3% in the same scenario. But that phone does have an exceptionally large 4,000mAh battery.
While the Xiaomi Mi 8 is capable of supporting Quick Charge 4+, it’s bundled with an 18W Quick Charge 3.0 charger (via USB-C). This sounds like a criticism, but it’s still a pretty speedy provision when you get down to it.
Why buy the Xiaomi Mi 8?
The Xiaomi Mi 8 is a well-specced, well-priced smartphone that’s well worth considering if you want a high-end phone but aren’t willing to spend anything approaching £1000.
It’s better value than its big brother, the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro, and is arguably a better phone thanks to its bigger battery, more reliable fingerprint sensor, and less out-there design.
It has the same top-end (for now) Snapdragon 845 CPU and rich 6.21-inch AMOLED display, too, so it isn’t lacking with regards to the core essentials.
Despite that fact, there are superior options just a little further up the price scale. The Huawei Mate 20 and OnePlus 6T both offering superior all-round packages for £500.
The Xiaomi Mi 8 provides strong performance, a tidy design, a decent AMOLED display and a competent camera – all at a reasonable price. There are better options for just a little more money, but if you’re not quite willing to stretch to £500 for a Huawei Mate 20 or OnePlus 6T, this is a worthy alternative.