The body of the Mi 8 is made of Gorilla Glass 5, which is shatter-resistant but doesn’t handle scratches very well. I like to review phones without a case to see how they hold up on their own, and the Mi 8 received a number of small hairline scratches and one fairly deep scar on the back during my time with it.
The deep scar on the rear happened early in my time with the device. This initially made me think this phone would be completely scarred up by the time I was done reviewing it, but it has only received small scratches and scuffs since the initial incident. Still, you should use a case on this phone if you end up picking it up. The glass feels softer than many other glass phones I’ve used – something evident in the large number of small hairline scratches I’ve gotten on the device.
All the phone’s buttons are on its right side. The power button sits slightly above the center of the frame, with the volume buttons sitting right above it. The SIM tray is on the upper left side of the device. On the bottom, you’ll find a USB Type-C port and two speaker grills.
On the front, you’ll find a fairly large notch with a front-facing camera and a chin at the bottom. The back of the device houses a dual-camera setup and a fingerprint reader near the center.
Overall this isn’t a particularly exciting design, but I think that’s the point of this phone (I’ll explain why in a bit).
The screen is fairly large at 6.21-inches, and sports a resolution of 1080 x 2248 with a 402ppi. It’s nothing really special. It seems Xiaomi made clever use of the HDR display to get around highly lit areas. Instead of bumping up the screen brightness, the phone simply enables the HDR mode to brighten dark areas on the screen. Xiaomi calls this the “Sunlight Display,” and it is supposed to keep the colors more accurate in sunlight and save battery life. If what you’re doing doesn’t require punchy colors, this is a nice way to keep your phone running a bit longer.
As you would expect from a phone with flagship hardware, the Xiaomi Mi 8 performed admirably throughout my testing. I never saw any major lockups, and as someone who has a problem with tab management, the device handled my 100+ Chrome tabs just fine.
It’s a bit hard to talk about performance when most high-end phones perform virtually the same. That’s why benchmarks are still fairly useful metrics for comparing devices.
We ran the Mi through Geekbench 4, AnTuTu, and 3DMark to see how it compares to the competition. You can see the results below.
Geekbench 4 gave the Xiaomi Mi 8 a single-core score of 2,403. In comparison, the OnePlus 6 scored 2,454, while the Galaxy S9 scored 2,144. The Mi 8 achieved a multi-core score of 8,545, while the OnePlus 6 scored 8,967, and the Galaxy S9 scored 8,116.
The Mi 8’s battery is definitively average. In my testing, I got some pretty mixed results, between four hours and six hours of screen-on time depending on the particular day, and generally getting better as my testing went on. I took eight samples over my review period with the device and landed at an average screen on time of 5 hours and 35 minutes with five percent left in each sample. This leaves the Mi 8 with about the same battery life as the OnePlus 6, which has a slightly smaller 3,300mAh battery.
There is no headphone jack in this phone, which has become the standard for most phones these days. However, the Mi 8 uses Bluetooth 5.0, if you have a pair of headphones that can actually support it. There is no IP rating or water resistance on the Mi 8.
To my surprise, the camera on this device is very good. It’s not punchy and supersaturated like cameras from Samsung and a few others, but I was pleased with the Mi 8’s sharpness and dynamic range. I took an enormous variety of photos over the 18 days using the device, and it performed well in nearly every situation. The portrait mode using the back cameras still leaves a lot to be desired, but the front-facing portrait mode added in MIUI 10.0 actually performs fairly well.
There is also a front-facing IR blaster inside the notch that allows for infrared face-unlocking, but sadly this is omitted from the global version.
As you can see in the examples above, the sharpness and dynamic range are excellent. The camera reminds me a lot of the shooter on the iPhone X, which doesn’t have an extreme amount of contrast, but instead focuses on tonality.
The camera does tend to overexpose images just a bit, but I solved this by dropping the exposure manually. If you spray and pray your photos may be a tad too bright, but if you can take a second to adjust it the results are great.
Xiaomi is a company founded on software. MIUI was originally a ROM of Android made to compete with the wildly popular CyanogenMod back in the day. Even now, Xiaomi updates its software weekly for those in the beta channel, and every two weeks for regular users. It adds new features based almost directly on what the community wants, and Xiaomi employees are required to spend a portion of their week reading and responding to forum posts and requests.
This take on software is completely different to almost any company — the closest example I can find is Essential’s monthly Reddit AMAs. It’s clear Xiaomi is very serious about improving MIUI, and I give it a lot of credit for listening so closely to its community.
MIUI overall feels very simple — so simple, there isn’t even an app drawer. I’m personally not a fan of this decision, but Xiaomi is most popular in its home country of China, where most phones lack the app drawer in an attempt to copy the iPhone.
Xiaomi’s most recent MIUI 10 update is still based on Android 8.1 Oreo, but it tries to emulate the feeling of Android 9.0 Pie by adding a number of rounded elements throughout the UI. Notifications are now rounded off to match the new Google Material Design 2.0 update, and you can access Google search with a simple swipe up anywhere on the display.
If you swipe to the left, you’ll be taken to an overview of quick apps and information called “Xiaomi Guide.” This looks incredibly similar to the widgets section of iOS, but Google does something similar in Pixel Launcher. From here you can clear your cache, add calendar events, create notes, and see stock prices at a glance. These widgets are integrated with a variety of Xiaomi apps pre-loaded on the device, and I actually found most of them to be pretty useful. There’s even an app for the Xiaomi forum built right into the device.
Apps Xiaomi does not make default to Google Apps, which is nice because you won’t have to spend a ton of time downloading Google Apps from the Play Store. I’ve always been particularly annoyed at Samsung for creating an arguably worse version of every single Google app, and it’s nice Xiaomi recognizes the value of using Google apps by default.
In the MIUI 10.0 update, Xiaomi added support for full-screen gestures. This doesn’t emulate the Android 9.0 gestures, which is fine with me. You can swipe up from the bottom to go home, swipe up and hold to go to recent apps, or swipe in from the left or right sides to go back. This is a better implementation than Google’s in my opinion, and it’s nice Xiaomi offers the full-screen mode.
The chassis is a blank slate
You may have noticed that this review seemed a bit dry, and I would agree with you.
In my eyes, the Xiaomi Mi 8 is a platform to highlight its software. The company has been trying to best Apple in price and performance for years now, and it’s clear this design is its best attempt yet at producing the “every man’s iPhone.” Heck, the word Xiaomi literally means “Millet,” one of the most commonly consumed grains in the world. Xiaomi is clearly trying to hit a wide audience by producing quality hardware at about half the price of its competitors, and this plan seems to be working.
The Xiaomi Mi 8 is not exactly an interesting phone. Sure, it feels “premium” with a modern glass and aluminum design, but it doesn’t do anything particularly special to stand out on looks alone. Almost everything that makes the Mi 8 a good device comes from the software. Crowdsourcing software tends to be the best way to ensure the widest range of users are happy, and I think most people who use this device will love the ability to contribute to MIUI.
You won’t buy the Mi 8 to make your friends envious, or even for some sort of unique gimmick. It doesn’t look fancy or outlandish — you won’t spend time admiring its beauty. This device was made to showcase MIUI first, and it does that very well — especially at its MSRP of 399 euros (~$469).
If you’ve read the news recently, you may have heard Xiaomi is putting ads in its UI. This has turned off a lot of users, and I don’t blame them. HTC pulled a similar stunt a couple of years ago and received a huge amount of backlash. In fact, the company still runs ads in its software to this day.
I asked Xiaomi about these ads, and the company said most people forget the company subsidizes its devices using online services. Xiaomi has a variety of methods for generating income past that of just hardware sales, where it refuses to make anything more than a 5 percent profit.
I don’t think most users are aware this is how Xiaomi funds its products. The company has operated solely in China for years, and global markets aren’t used to this sort of thing.
Personally, I don’t think any company should put ads in their UI unless that information is extremely transparent upfront before you buy the device. Amazon did this to subsidize its Kindle devices as well as Amazon special pricing phones, but it is extremely upfront about displaying ads on the lock screen. Xiaomi either needs to be more transparent about these ads or remove them altogether. It is not ok to see ads on a product you spent money on without consent or warning.
By David Imel