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Xiaomi Mi 9T review: Should you wait for the Pro?

This is it. It’s finally here, the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro has finally been launched globally, and it will probably make its way into the Malaysian market pretty soon. Everyone’s probably really excited because since the launch of the Mi 9T, I think one of the questions people ask the most is “Where’s the Mi 9T Pro?”. Sure, that’s a completely fair thing to ask because if I was being honest, I was asking the same thing too.

The Mi 9T series is, after all, based off of the Redmi K20 series so it seemed a little weird that Xiaomi would only launch one variant. And, if you’ve been following the K20, you’ll know that the phone that you want is the K20 Pro (aka Mi 9T Pro) because that’s the one with the high end Snapdragon 855.

But, after spending a couple of weeks with the Xiaomi Mi 9T—the regular one with just a Snapdragon 730 processor—I find myself wondering whether I’d really need the Pro. I mean, do I really need the Snapdragon 855? In fact, do you really need it?

mi 9t

Do you need a more powerful processor?

I suppose an appropriate place to begin this review is with that processor and how the smartphone performs. Obviously, comparing an upper mid-range Snapdragon 730 to a flagship-class Snapdragon 855 processor would be folly. A silly waste of time. Clearly the flagship 855 would obliterate the Snapdragon 730, and the benchmarks sure seem to confirm that.

But, while that may be true in benchmarks and high-intensity tasks, I found myself hard pressed to tell the difference when it comes to day-to-day usage. At least, when it comes to the way I use my smartphone, which is just a whole bunch of social media, camera, navigation, web-browsing and content consumption with the occasional game session (I’m not much of a mobile gamer).

In almost everything I did, I found that performance between this SD730-powered Mi 9T and the SD855-powered Mi 9 that I just came from, to be near identical. And I’m comparing it with a Mi 9 because at the time of writing this review, I don’t have a Mi 9T Pro just yet. But, considering the devices, and crucially the fact that they’re both on MIUI, I thought it would be a relatively fair substitute for the Mi 9T Pro. And like I said, I really didn’t notice a big difference.

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Everything was smooth and every app launched at what felt like the same rate. I didn’t feel like I was using an inferior smartphone at all. Even running games like Asphalt 9 and PUBG Mobile on high proved to not be an issue for the Mi 9T. I’m not too sure if this will hold up when it comes to extended gaming sessions, but for a casual gamer like me, this is more than good enough.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m bringing something like this up. Well, because I think that my usage pattern is not particularly unique. I know a lot of people who use smartphones the way I do. And, while the enthusiast in me will naturally recommend that you pay more for the more capable processor, I was genuinely impressed with how well something like the SD730 held up.

So, if you’re someone who uses their phone like I do, then you pretty much won’t be missing out on anything by sticking to the more affordable Xiaomi Mi 9T because everything else about it is nearly identical. And when I say nearly identical, I mean just as awesome, because the Mi 9T is one heck of a solid mid-ranger for the price.

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mi 9t

OK, what’s good about it?

On top of its excellent performance, the Mi 9T also has a solid 6.4” AMOLED near-bezel-less screen that has absolutely no notch, really slim bezels, and pushes a resolution of Full HD+. It’s pretty crisp, nicely vibrant and has solid viewing angles for an AMOLED panel. It is curved at the corners, however, so text that go right to the corners do get trimmed a little. That being said, a nice bonus for me is that it also doesn’t act up when you use it with polarised sunglasses.

Xiaomi also proves that there’s absolutely no replacement for displacement when it comes to battery capacity. Well, when I say displacement, I really mean miliamp hours because the large 4,000 mAh battery in this smartphone gave it excellent battery life. On average, with moderate usage, I’m easily getting a day and a half on a single charge with a little under 6 hours of screen-on time (SOT). Even if I really pushed it with lots of GPS usage, music playback, social and content consumption, I still got over 15 hours on a single charge with close to 7 hours of screen-on time.

Those are really solid numbers for any smartphone, so I suspect many will be happy with the battery life of the Mi 9T–I know I was. What I wish was a little better was its charging speeds. The phone takes a little over an hour and 40 minutes to charge to full from 5%, while 30 minutes on the plug gives you just under 50%. Those are pretty standard numbers for the 18W fast-charging solution that’s bundled with the Mi 9T, but I would have loved to see a little more. Especially since devices like the Realme 3 Pro can fully charge in under 80 minutes.

mi 9t

Besides battery performance, I was also satisfied with how the smartphone was built. The glass and metal sandwich its internals are encased in feels nice and solid to the touch while the gentle curve at its back and rounded metal frame helped it fit comfortably in the hand. However, if you want to make sure the glass remains unscuffed and the paint (in my case, blue) doesn’t scratch off the frame, you might want to use it with a case.

After a couple of weeks, the back of my device was covered in micro scratches, most of which are concentrated near the bottom of the phone. I suspect this is because the camera bump lifts the top of the phone a little so that section of the phone is the main contact point between it and whatever surface you’re putting it on. The camera module itself remained unscratched, which is good news. The same can’t be said for the metal frame, however. Still, I think this is pretty standard wear for a phone in my experience, so I wouldn’t classify this as a big issue.

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In addition, Xiaomi included a 3.5mm headphone jack–which is getting rarer and rarer these days–plus a reasonably loud mono speaker to boot. I mean, it gets pretty distorted at high volumes, but I can still hear vocals clearly so I’d count that as a pro.

That’s cool and all, but what about the camera?

mi 9t

On paper, Xiaomi’s Mi 9T looks like it’ll be a really solid shooter. It’s got a 48MP main sensor that’s paired to an f/1.75 aperture wide-angle lens, a 13MP ultra wide-angle lens and a third 8MP telephoto camera that’ll give it 2X optical zoom. This has become a pretty common triple camera setup at the top end of the market, and you’ll probably be able to find it on most flagship smartphones.

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But, you shouldn’t mistake this for a high-end flagship smartphone because that’ll only lead to disappointment. That being said, if you compare it to its peers, the Mi 9T definitely holds up. Oh, and if you were expecting the Mi 9T Pro to take better stills than the Mi 9T because of its IMX586 sensor versus the IMX582 in the Mi 9T, I have to say that in my experience with the Redmi K20 and K20 Pro, they both shoot pretty much identical images. The big difference is that the Mi 9T Pro can shoot 4K video at up to 60fps while the Mi 9T can only do up to 4K 30fps.

So, if you don’t mind missing out on 4K 60fps, then you’ll be glad to know that this smartphone can take really nice shots in good lighting with plenty of detail.

I personally wouldn’t turn on the AI enhancement mode because it often either doesn’t make much of a difference, makes the scene look unrealistic by bumping up saturation and contrast.

If you like that look, then by all means, but if not I think you’ll like the pictures without AI on more.

I was a little disappointed with how much variance there is between the photos taken with the 48MP wide-angle camera and the 13MP ultra wide-angle camera. Often I’d end up with photos that have different exposure values, and worse of all, a completely different colour temperature.

The telephoto, on the other hand, performs pretty well in everything except when the going gets dark. Then, it struggles to focus.

Prone to handshake blur

Speaking of low-light photography, the Mi 9T’s performance here is really hampered here by its lack of optical image stabilisation. If you can hold real steady, you can get some pretty decent photos in the low light. Interestingly, I found that I got better results when I switched Night Mode off because Night Mode on the Mi 9T looks quite unnatural.

That said, the images are still brighter with Night Mode on so maybe this is more of a personal preference thing.

I can tell you that the Mi 9T’s camera app is generally pretty reliable. It’s not quite as snappy as something like a Samsung or Huawei flagship, but it’s not quite as sluggish as the Xiaomi Mi 9 either. Once launched, everything is fairly responsive, except for the selfie camera.

Bonus selfie

Now, this isn’t my first rodeo because I’ve used quite a few phones with motorised selfie cameras by now, but the one on the Mi 9T feels way slower than what I’m used to. Not only does the camera take awhile to pop up, but the camera app itself also takes a moment to switch to the selfie shooter, adding to the delay. Maybe this won’t be a big deal for you, but having seen what many others have done, I’m a little disappointed here.

Are there any drawbacks worth noting?

mi 9t

Naturally, as with any smartphone, there are a couple of things that I wish was a little better on the Mi 9T. And I’ll start with the in-display fingerprint scanner because it’s really quite hit-or-miss. Often I find myself resorting to entering my PIN or pattern because the in-display scanner wouldn’t read my finger. If you’re thinking that you can work around this by using face unlock, just remember that the motorised camera on this phone is quite slow so that will take you a hot minute too.

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Speaking of the motorised camera, I’m just not a huge fan of the way it lights up when you launch it. Taking discreet selfies in public with a motorised camera that pops up is already awkward enough, but now that module also glows? That’s a little too much for me.

mi 9t

Oh, and since it glows, that glow-y thing also doubles as the notification LED on the Mi 9T. This means that instead of looking for the notification light somewhere near the top of the phone’s screen or in the earpiece, you have to look at the very top of the phone’s frame instead. At first, I thought this would be great idea because if my phone was in my pocket, I could still tell if there was a notification. But, for me, the inconvenience of not being able to see if I have a notification when the phone is on the table, outweighs the pro of being able to maybe see it in my pocket.

I also don’t like the fact that there’s no microSD slot for memory expansion, but I think the biggest drawback for me with this phone is MIUI. Specifically, MIUI’s super aggressive battery management.

I’m not sure when this OS got so aggressive with power management but it has gotten to the point where even my widgets have stopped updating. Can you imagine checking your calendar, thinking there are no meetings or events scheduled, only to find out that there were actually a whole bunch of meetings but your widget didn’t update correctly? It’s a nightmare.

To make matters worse, on some apps, even when you set the battery management to “No Restrictions” MIUI will still occassionally kill it in the background. This was particularly frustrating for me when I was tracking the charging speeds for this phone because it kept killing the battery logger app I had running in the background.

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So, Pro or no Pro?

Well, if I put on my practical hat, I’d say that it really depends on your usage habits. Are you a big mobile gamer? Do you do CPU intensive tasks? Do you need 4K video recording at 60fps? If that’s yes, then I’d tell you to wait for the Mi 9T Pro.

However, I think for the majority of us who don’t use a smartphone for stuff like that, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the regular Mi 9T. It’s a solid budget smartphone at a great price with solid A grades from performance to battery life. So, if you don’t need the extra oomph offered by the Snapdragon 855 chip in the Mi 9T Pro, why not save a couple of hundred bucks and pick this one up? It retails for RM1,199 and RM1,399 for the 64GB and 128GB variants respectively. Both come with 6GB of RAM and three colours–red, blue, black.

There is just one small caveat that I’d like to add, however. If, by some miracle, the Mi 9T Pro is less than RM200 more expensive than the Mi 9T spec-for-spec, and you can afford the difference, then I’d recommend you get the Pro variant instead.

Photography by Zachary Yoong on the Sony A7 III.