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

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MSRP: $483.00
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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.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 9
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 8

Review Sections

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.

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.

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.

minoteproscreenshot01.jpg
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.

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