Almost a month ago, I got my hands on the Motorola Moto G 5G and it left me fairly impressed. With a stock Android experience coupled to the Snapdragon 750G chip and a big 5000mAh battery, I found it to be a combination that’s simply unbeatable at Rs 21,000. However, the Moto G 5G is built to a price and those looking for an all-rounder will be unhappy with its design, quality, and certain other bits. Then came the Mi 10i from Xiaomi’s stables.
The Mi 10i is Xiaomi’s attempt at doing a “sort-of” premium midrange phone at a not-so-premium price – it starts at Rs 20,999! The exclamation mark accompanies the price as the Mi 10i has a spec sheet that puts other phones in its price range ponder on their existence. A 108-megapixel main camera, a 5G-enabled chipset, a premium design, and a 120Hz refresh rate display! This is every geek’s dream phone!
Is this then the perfect smartphone under Rs 25,000 in India currently? Should you buy just strike off everything else while considering this one? Should the Moto G 5G be left to go into oblivion? I have some answers.
The Mi 10i isn’t a revolutionary design in any way. In fact, had the Pacific Sunrise color didn’t exist, I would have passed on the Mi 10i as another boring glass slab design with the same old large circular camera design and display with a punch-hole cutout. This phone is highly reminiscent of the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max and the Poco X3, complete with similar dimensions. There’s the same plastic frame with a recessed power button that houses a fingerprint scanner. Even the display looks identical to the one on the Poco X3. Xiaomi has clearly recycled its parts bin efficiently.
Thankfully, the Pacific Sunrise color variant breaths life into this bland design. This is a gradient color scheme that could appeal to a wide variety of people. I don’t understand art but the rear of the Mi 10i in this color is beautiful. In my two weeks with the phone, I have drawn quite a lot of attention to my office desk (all my colleagues followed social distancing norms, if you were worrying). The matte finish helps to cut out the finger smudges and oily winter hands.
That tasteful paint job extends to the side frame as well. Hey Xiaomi, give my regards to your design team. The display is flanked by irregular bezels and that kills the otherwise gracious persona this phone has. Maybe an AMOLED display could have helped Xiaomi trim the bezels further. Samsung does it so well with its Galaxy A51.
With all that fancy glass rear and beefy stuff inside, the Mi 10i is hefty at 214 grams and the weight distribution isn’t balanced. This is a two-handed device, make no mistake. If you strap on the in-box case, the bulk increases further. Do note that the case and pre-installed screen protector have anti-bacterial qualities.
On the whole, the Mi 10i is pretty given what the rest of the competition has to offer. Next to this one, the Moto G 5G feels cheap.
The 6.67-inch display on the Mi 10i is essentially the same as the one on the Poco X3. Hence you get the same good-enough 1080p IPS LCD display with narrow bezels and a refresh rate of 120Hz. The display is good with color vibrancy as well as contrasts but it isn’t the best in its class. The Realme 7 Pro and Galaxy A51 with their AMOLED display still offer the best overall viewing experience with lively colors and high contrasts. The 450 nits of brightness isn’t adequate outdoors. As long as you aren’t comparing it with an OLED display-equipped phone, this should work for most of you. I got used to watching YouTube videos as well as browsing social media over time.
The 120Hz refresh rate helps to smoothen out the user experience. Scrolling through menus is definitely more pleasant on this display and so is playing intensive games that support higher refresh rates. The Adaptive-Sync technology alters the refresh rate based on the content and I did not encounter any jitters or frame tearing while using the phone.
Beating under the familiar clothes of the Mi 10i is a rather unfamiliar Snapdragon 750G chip. Last I used a phone with this chip, I was left thoroughly impressed. The Snapdragon 750G offers similar performance on paper as the Snapdragon 765G, albeit with a slightly compromised GPU. Paired to a well-optimized MIUI 12 experience, this is one of the fastest phones along with the Moto G 5G at its price.
My unit at the time of writing this runs on MIUI 12 version 12.0.4 that I received as an update. The OS has been stable with no noticeable lags or struggles during my time with the phone. All animations have been smooth while app opening times have been normal. During my office hours, I usually juggle a lot between WhatsApp, Outlook, Gmail, Teams, Twitter, and Chrome. The Mi 10i never faltered on my account.
Gaming on the Mi 10i is a pleasant experience too. I tried a couple of casual indie games as well as Asphalt 9: Legends, all of which the Mi 10i managed decently. Asphalt 9 does not play the same as you would expect on a Mi 10T but for intensive gamers on a budget, this is the best one can get at this price. I tried Call of Duty: Mobile but at its highest graphics settings, I encountered some frame drops and had to resort to medium graphics eventually for gaining some smoothness.
The MIUI 12 experience is at its best here for a midrange Xiaomi device. MIUI 12 amasses lots of opinions – chances are you may either love it or loathe it. I like MIUI 12 for all its design flair as well as its bucket loads of features. The home screen layout isn’t eye candy but the rest of the interface feels as if it comes from a very expensive phone. There is so much to customize here, right from the battery icon’s appearance to the way you want your app drawer to be listed.
Of course, MIUI tags along with its usual set of pre-loaded junk that most of you may not use. Xiaomi probably needs them to maintain the unrealistic low prices, which sort of justifies their presence. Since you can delete almost all of them, it isn’t much of a bother. I enjoyed some of MIUI’s native apps such as the PDF reader, the feature-rich gallery app, calculator, and the FM Radio app. I wish there was a way to get rid of the GetApps app store but Xiaomi wants you to experience a PlayStore-free app shopping experience.
For India, MIUI has started bringing more of Google’s basic apps such as Phone, Contacts, Messages, Gmail and more. I missed the native MIUI alternatives for these, given that they worked well. One of the nicest features making it to the MIUI 12 build in India is the option to tune the audio output via wireless and wired headphones – this is awesome for audiophiles.
Since we are on the subject of audio, the Mi 10i features a stereo speaker setup. The audio output isn’t as rich as the ones on the Mi 10 but the stereo effect is always appreciated. The output is fairly loud, which helps while gaming as well as watching videos. Audio quality via the earpiece is great too during calls. I could not test 5G network performance for obvious reasons but with the Jio connection, the Mi 10i performed the best it could, given the network conditions. I did not face call drop issues but compared to my iPhone 12, the internet connectivity did suffer in challenging areas.
With the Mi 10i, Xiaomi brings its 108-megapixel camera sensor to the masses – a feature that makes the Mi 10i a flagship alone in the eyes of Xiaomi. Xiaomi says it uses a newer Samsung HM2 sensor that offers a 9-in-1-pixel binning technology to improve details as well as low-light performance. The product team did not mention how it compares to the setup from the Mi 10T Pro and we couldn’t test it either due to the lack of a Mi 10T Pro with us.
Since I have used the Mi 10T Pro previously, I was able to figure the restraints Xiaomi put on this camera. The overall image quality is inferior to that of the Mi 10T Pro. I don’t blame Xiaomi for that, given that it still has to justify the higher price for the Mi 10T Pro. Maybe a GCam mod for this camera may help getting more out of it.
As a phone that starts at Rs 20,999, the Mi 10i’s main camera system is great. Xiaomi adopts a specific kind of color tuning for its cameras with boosted saturation, higher contrasts, and high exposures. Hence, photos under bright sunlight always look vibrant with more colors and good brightness levels. The color accuracy is questionable, but this camera consistently churns out Instagram-ready photos. Next to the camera of a Moto G 5G, the Mi 10i’s camera comes across with sharper details and better-controlled exposures. Night-time photos look way better with the Night Mode on the Mi 10i than the Moto G 5G.
The 108MP mode is where the Mi 10i starts flexing. I loved using this mode as there’s no lag in image processing and the color tuning is slightly closer to natural. If you like pixel peeping, the 108MP photos will astonish you with substantial details (you have to double-tap twice to see the actual quality on the phone’s display). Be it day or night, this mode is reliable, and shutterbugs will find it highly useful. The 108MP mode negates the need for a zoom camera.
The ultra-wide camera isn’t quite on the same level as the main camera with regards to details and colors. Considering that you don’t pixel-peep your ultra-wide photos, you could be contented with the output from this one. The macro camera is low on sharpness and needs ample lighting to disburse useful shots. The depth camera makes for good quality portrait mode photos with artificial background blurring.
Video quality is good in daylight in both 4K and 1080p. The Mi 10i is limited to 4K at 30 fps only but you can have the smoother 60 fps at 1080p. The stabilization isn’t nice due to a lack of OIS on the main camera. As the daylight drops and you seek artificial lighting, the Mi 10i drops the video quality, sharpness, and color vibrancy.
The 16-megapixel front camera is good under daylight situations. I was always getting selfies with slightly boosted saturation and contrasts but the results were always likeable. However, under artificial lighting or low light situations, the front camera falls apart and you need good editing skills to make the most out of such photos.
The 4820mAh battery inside the Mi 10i offers great battery life, provided you are sticking to 4G networks. 5G will eventually hog on battery stamina and may reduce the battery life of the phone to just a day. However, with my usage, I was able to get up to two days of battery life on a single charge. On busy days when I was doing lots of video calls, browsing, and texting, the Mi 10i was lasting me an entire day and making it to the lunch-hour of the next day. Thankfully, the 33W fast wired charging system with its split charging feature took just an hour to brim the battery from 10 percent.
After spending a considerable time with the Mi 10i, this feels like the all-rounder phone this sub-Rs 25,000 segment has lacked since years. The Mi 10i is a solid package that checks all the right boxes and then some. It is built well and looks pricey, offers segment-leading camera performance (the main rear camera), amazing battery life, and flawless performance. With 5G onboard, this is a future-ready phone that you can continue to use for the next two years at the least. Don’t mistake it for a flagship though, as Xiaomi may want you to believe.
That said, it is MIUI that makes or breaks the Mi 10i. If you like MIUI, the Mi 10i is a no-brainer at this price. If MIUI isn’t your cup of tea, the Moto G 5G with its stock Android experience is the next best choice. In fact, many could find the Moto G 5G to be a fuss-free smartphone when compared to the Mi 10i, on the whole. The Samsung Galaxy M51 trumps everything in this class with its unbeatable battery life. For those willing to spend more, the OnePlus Nord starting at Rs 27,999 comes offers a closer-to-flagship experience.
The Mi 10i, however, is designed to impress the masses and it does that quite nicely. It is the easy all-rounder option most Indian smartphone buyers have been waiting for in the sub-Rs 25,000 segment.