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Xiaomi Mi Note Pro review: Xiaomi's phablet kicks it up a notch with powerful hardware

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Despite being cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Apple iPhone 6 Plus -- while sporting comparable specs -- the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro is one of the best flagship handsets in the market today. It's just too bad that it won't be available to everyone.

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8.2

Xiaomi Mi Note Pro

The Good

The Xiaomi Mi Note Pro sports the same great refined glass-and-aluminum design of the Mi Note while packing a more-powerful processor and a sharper 2K display.

The Bad

The Pro isn't likely to be available outside of China and will have limited 4G support for non-Asian countries.

The Bottom Line

The Mi Note Pro has what it takes to compete with current top phones, but few outside China will get to actually experience its power.

The earlier Mi Note was a clear challenge to the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Apple iPhone 6 Plus, and while aesthetically the Pro looks exactly the same, it packs current-generation hardware including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and a sharp 2K display. There's also the dual-SIM LTE capabilities, 64GB of onboard storage and a whopping 4GB of RAM to round off this great phone.

Factor in a 13-megapixel camera with built-in optical image stabilization that takes great pictures and a trim frame that's slightly thinner than the iPhone 6 Plus, and Xiaomi easily has a winner here. The phone is priced at 2,999 yuan, which converts to roughly $483, £310 and AU$630, a tad more expensive compared with the normal Mi Note, but that's to be expected with the upgraded specs.

As one of the leading smartphone makers in China, the five-year old Xiaomi has surprised many with its affordable but high-quality handsets. The company sells its phones almost at cost, allowing it to quickly gain market share at the expense of some profit. This strategy, as well as relying on word of mouth and flash sale tactics, has led Xiaomi to grow to become the world's most valuable startup with a valuation of $45 billion, besting even companies such as Uber.

The Mi Note Pro is currently on sale in China, but the only chance anyone outside of China has of getting one will be through third-party resellers -- and you'll have to be prepared to pay a premium. Because it's a phone made for China, it does not include pre-installed Google services, so you'll have to to do some work if you want apps like Gmail on the phone.

We could eventually see the Mi Note officially hit western markets, given how Xiaomi has established its first non-Asian market in Brazil, but that time may still be be far off. Don't hold your breath if you're hoping to see the Mi Note Pro officially released in the US or the UK.

Xiaomi Mi Note Pro comes shiny in gold (pictures)

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Design

  • 5.7-inch, 2,560x1,440-pixel IPS display (515ppi)
  • 6.11 by 3.06 by 0.28 inches (155.1 by 77.6 by 6.95mm)
  • 5.68 ounces (161 grams)

Unlike the plastic used on Xiaomi's lower-end offerings, the Mi Note Pro uses the same build as the Mi Note, which consists entirely of aluminum and glass, with the main difference in design being that that the Pro version comes in an additional gold color -- on top of the current white and black versions. I'll be honest here: this shade of gold is a bit too bright and tacky for my taste, but as Apple has discovered, gold is a favorite of the Chinese market, so it makes sense for Xiaomi to take this route.

Thankfully, the gold color is located only on the frame of the phone, the rear and front are white, which keeps the phone from looking as tacky as if it had been completely clad in gold.

The Mi Note Pro comes in gold. Aloysius Low/CNET

Apart from the color, the Mi Note Pro doesn't deviate much from the Mi Note. At 161g or 5.68 ounces, it weighs the same and has the same dimensions as well. If you're wondering, that's 155 by 77 by 6.95mm, which converts to around 6.11 by 3 by 0.28 inches. The important thing to note here is that, at 6.95mm thick, the Mi Note Pro (and the Mi Note) is actually a hair's breadth thinner than the iPhone 6 Plus, which checks in at 7.1mm. The rear 13-megapixel camera also doesn't protrude, unlike the iPhone's.

Both the Mi Note and Mi Note Pro pack a curved glass screen on both front and the rear called 3D Glass; the rear glass resembles the curves of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. If you've read my Mi Note review , you may have a sense of how I liked the design. That hasn't changed, the Mi Note Pro is still an impressive phone that easily matches up to current flagship designs.

The phone features a curved glass rear which gives the phone an interesting look. Aloysius Low/CNET

Hardware

  • 2GHz octa-core Snapdragon 810
  • 64GB of storage
  • 8GB of RAM
  • No expandable storage
  • 3,090mAh embedded battery

One thing that Xiaomi always has going for its phones are how much hardware is being offered at a low price point, and for the top-of-the-line Mi Note, Xiaomi has made sure the phone has what it takes. It comes loaded with an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor that clocks in at 2GHz, the same processor found on the LG G Flex 2 and HTC One M9.

While there's been talk about that particular Snapdragon processor's heat issues in other phones, I found my experience to be fine. Xiaomi has said that the company has applied for five different thermal patents to solve this, and while the phone does get warm, it doesn't get any warmer than what I normally experience on comparable phones in day-to-day use.

For the 5.7-inch screen, instead of the full-HD display used on the Mi Note, the Pro packs a sharper 2K IPS display that has a resolution of 2,560x1,440-pixels. Honestly, between both devices it was difficult to see if having a higher-resolution screen made a difference. I'd say there isn't, unless you are using the phone with a magnifying glass to blow up the pixels on the display. The screen also uses Xiaomi's Sunlight Display technology, which helps to make the screen a lot more visible in the bright outdoors.

The Mi Note Pro's display is sharp with bright vivid colors. Aloysius Low/CNET

Other specs include 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. There's no puny 16GB model for the Pro; it has the largest amount of storage that Xiaomi offers, and it's a good thing as the phone lacks a microSD card slot. It has dual-SIM LTE support, a 3,090mAh battery that's capable of fast charging -- Xiaomi says it can do 70 percent in one hour. The adapter is capable of outputting 12W, which is higher than the 10W chargers used in most tablets.

The rear camera sports a 13-megapixel sensor with built-in optical image stabilization, while the front 4-megapixel shooter features a sensor that's twice the size usually used in smartphones. It's similar to the one found on the rear camera of the HTC One M8, and should help you take really good-looking selfies even in low-light conditions.

Software

As with all Xiaomi phones, the Mi Note Pro runs MIUI 6, which is a custom skin over Android Lollipop 5.0 . Xiaomi has made significant changes to the operating system, however, and this includes the removal of the app drawer. Instead of having to add your apps to the home screen from the drawer, you'll see them laid out across your home screens just like the iPhone.

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Apps are all located on the home screen as iOS does. The quick controls on the dropdown notification menu are pretty handy. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Other key features include the ability to easily move apps from screen to screen -- when you hold them on an app to move it, you can use swipe with another finger to change to the next screen. This makes a lot more sense than current methods such as Apple's, which requires you to drag the app to the edge of the screen for it to switch.

If you don't like the look of the UI, there's also the option to change it by way of the Themes app, and if you're really keen, there's also an iOS lookalike somewhere inside that you can install.

The one-handed mode from the Mi Note returns on the Pro. You'll need to turn it on in Settings, then activate it by swiping from the home button to the left or right to shrink the screen down to a configurable size of 3.5, 4 or 4.5 inches.

Think of MIUI as a blend of some of the better features of iOS and Android and you'd be right on the mark. Xiaomi has done a good job in putting its own touches on the operating system, and it's also part of what makes its phones great to use.

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Other cool features include the ability to change your phone's look via themes and a security app that helps you do a bunch of stuff such as limiting your data usage. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Camera

  • 13-megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization
  • 4K and 1080p HD video
  • 4-megapixel front-facing camera

Like the Mi Note, the Pro comes with a 13-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization. Xiaomi has made sure the lens is flush with the rear and that it doesn't protrude from the back, unlike other phones such as the Galaxy S6 or the iPhone 6 Plus.

The performance of the camera is very similar to the Mi Note. For instance, the tolerance of the Auto HDR is a tad low and sometimes doesn't trigger, which results in images being a bit too dark. But when it does, I love how the shots turned out; the dark areas are properly lit and the bright sky doesn't end up being overexposed.

The colors of images were vivid and helped to make an image pop. There's also plenty of detail in the close-up shots, so you can easily zoom in without having to worry about your image becoming a blurred mess. One thing that wasn't as good was low-light images. While the handheld twilight mode for night shots works, it still isn't as good as the iPhone's and Galaxy S6's low-light capability.

For the selfie camera, having a larger sensor (like in the M8) works for low-light shots. However, photos with scenery in the background will be a little blurry since the camera seems to prioritise foreground shots, leaving stuff behind you with the "bokeh" effect. That's not too good if you're trying to take a picture of yourself in a landscape image (as you can see below).

On the video side of things, the Mi Note Pro is capable of shooting 4K video and 1080p video at 30fps. I found the quality to be great for both modes, but you'll have to ensure adequate lighting or your video can end up a bit too dark -- though this is usually the case with most smartphone video cameras.

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Even without HDR, the phone can capture pretty good landscape shots (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET


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I quite liked how the Mi Note Pro manages to adjust for lighting, even under this slightly dim underpass (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

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The Mi Note Pro is quite capable of taking colorful shots, too (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

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A close-up shot of some pretty delicious noodles. The camera managed to capture the texture of the meat and noodles with no issues (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

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Indoor test shot (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

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One thing I noticed is that the front camera tends to focus mostly on your face, even though with a shot like this you'd probably want to capture the background as well. Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance

Much like the Mi Note, the Pro performed zippily throughout a full day of use. There were no issues with lag, and the camera started up instantly. On the benchmarking side of things, the Pro scored a blazingly high figure of 30,033 for Quadrant, much higher than the Mi Note's 23,970. For Geekbench 3, the Pro scored 1,087 and 3,975, which is similar to the HTC One M9's 1,273 and 4,060 (both phones use the same processor). Finally, on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, the Mi Note Pro shone with a score of 20,266, comparable with the Galaxy S6's 20,778 mark. Check the graphs below to see how the Mi Note Pro holds up against the competition.

3DMark Ice Storm -- Unlimited

Xiaomi Mi Note Pro 20,266HTC One M9 24,785LG G Flex 2 22,819Samsung Galaxy S6 20,778Apple iPhone 6 17,182
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3

Xiaomi Mi Note Pro 1,108 3,986Samsung Galaxy S6 1,371 4,608HTC One M9 1,273 4,060LG G Flex 2 1,034 3,393Apple iPhone 6 1,628 2,947
  • (single-core)
  • (multi-core)
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Battery life

In our CNET Labs video test, the phone lasted a good 13 hours and 42 minutes. That's quite good actually, and in my own anecdotal experience, I managed to go almost two full days between charges, though the phone didn't really make it past 7 p.m. on the second day. As a bonus, the phone has quick charging, which in one hour will get you enough juice to last a day.

Call quality and network speeds

I generally found my calls to be crisp and clear and had no issues with this aspect. The phone has a built-in digital analog converter, the Sabre 9018C2M audio chip, which is meant to be used with the company's own Mi Headphones. I'm not an expert on sound, but my music sounded good, even with a normal pair of headphones. Speaker volume is loud -- which is good -- but you'll need to lower it down in the office. For 4G speeds, the phone easily achieved a high 121.96Mbps in download speeds in the Speedtest app. The speeds are pretty good, typical of what you'll find in Singapore.

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Speedy downloads await if your network supports it. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Conclusion

The Xiaomi Mi Note Pro will not be officially sold outside of China, and that's a shame. The phone is easily the fastest Xiaomi smartphone yet, and it looks and feels like a high-quality flagship device with mass appeal.

If you live outside of China and are willing to take the risk of getting one from third-party resellers -- there may be no way to get an official warranty when going through a third party -- and have the patience to deal with the lack of native Google apps support, you'll find a phone that rivals the Samsung Galaxy S6s and iPhone 6s of the world in both design and performance. However, it does lack advanced forward-looking features like a fingerprint sensor.

Priced at around $485 without a contract in China -- -- that's about half the price of the S6 and 6 Plus there, the Mi Note Pro is a great buy if you're in the country and don't already own a flagship phone.

The Mi Note Pro is one classy-looking phone that easily matches current flagship designs from Apple or Samsung. Aloysius Low/CNET

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8.2

Xiaomi Mi Note Pro

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 9Camera 8Battery 8