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Xiaomi Mi Note review: Xiaomi's latest flagship dazzles with quality design

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One last thing to note -- MIUI's built-in theme function lets you change how the phone looks, which is pretty handy if the flat design isn't for you. If you're importing the phone from China, do note that it doesn't come with Google services, such as Gmail and Maps, though there's an app in the MI store that helps you install them. I'm also told the global version will have some minor changes to the UI, since some Chinese services won't be available.

Camera

Xiaomi has made serious claims about the prowess of its camera, and based on my tests, they appear to hold true. For one, as mentioned, the lens is flush with the chassis and doesn't stick out. It also has optical image stabilization, which really helps with night shots.

I'm pretty impressed with its photos, though I do think the Auto HDR tolerance is on the low side, and sometimes doesn't trigger, leaving pictures a tad too dark. HDR pictures turned out great, with the dark areas properly lit and the bright sky not over-exposed. There's also a handheld twilight mode for night shots, which helps, but doesn't do as well here compared with the iPhone.

Check out the sample shots below.

With good enough lighting, the Mi Note is able to take pretty good shots (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET
On closeup shots, the larger 13-megapixel sensor does give you a bit more detail, and the Mi Note's image was brighter than the iPhone 6 Plus (click to enlarge). See the next shot for a comparison between the two. Aloysius Low/CNET
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Aloysius Low/CNET
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Outdoor HDR test shot (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET
The Note gives more detail with the leaves, though the sky was a little blown-out compared to the iPhone's shot. Click on the picture to see the iPhone 6 Plus HDR image. Aloysius Low/CNET
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Night shot test (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET
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This is where the Mi Note's camera doesn't do as well -- the iPhone 6 Plus is sharper. Aloysius Low/CNET
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The front camera does take pretty good selfies. Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance

In the Quadrant benchmark test, the Mi Note did pretty well. When you first load the benchmark test, the phone will prompt you if you wish to benchmark either balanced or performance mode. The Mi Note scored 15,920 in balanced and 23,970 in performance. In the Linpack test, the phone scored 875.018 MFLOPs in balanced mode.

In general, the Snapdragon 801 processor scores seem pretty close to what you'd find on other devices with a similar chipset, so no surprises there. It also holds up well to phones running the Snapdragon 805 processor, such as the Nexus 6 .

Quadrant benchmark

Xiaomi Mi Note (balanced)
15,920
Xiaomi Mi Note (performance)
23,970
Google Nexus 6
13,553
LG G3
23,103
HTC One M8
24,593

Note:

Higher scores are better

Battery life

Anecdotally, the phone has enough juice to last a full day of use. In our CNET Labs video test the Mi Note lasted 11 hours and 34 minutes. That's pretty good, and comparable with other flagships such as the Galaxy Note Edge (11 hours 16 minutes) and the Nexus 6 (11 hours 56 minutes).

Call quality and audio

The phone's speakers are pretty loud, and you may want to turn the volume down at the office if you get a lot of messaging notifications. Calls were crisp and clear, and the other party had no issues with the clarity. The Mi Note also comes with an ESS ES9018K2M audio chip, and is meant to be paired with the Mi Headphones , which have 50mm beryllium diaphragm speakers. I'm not really the expert on sound here, but Xiaomi's playback sounded fine to me.

Conclusion

The Xiaomi Mi Note is one heck of a phone. In the days I've spent with this device, I'm very much taken with its design, performance and features. And given how the Mi Note is half the price of current flagship phablets, bigger players such as Samsung and Apple could feel the heat if the handset was available in more markets. As of now, though, I'd only recommend it if you live in a country where Xiaomi operates and where the lack of LTE isn't an issue.

If you're outside Asia and want to track the Mi Note down, I'd caution you to test it first if at all possible. You'll want to make sure you like the UI (you can do this by installing the MIUI ROM on an Android device) and that the phone translates well to your network (outside of the missing 4G support), especially if you have to pay extra to get it.

That aside, the Mi Note really shows just how capable Xiaomi has become in the four years it has been in business, and once Xiaomi starts expanding into more countries this year, such as Brazil and Mexico, I wouldn't be surprised to see it claim a bigger slice of the global smartphone pie. It's clear that Xiaomi is setting its sights high and the Mi Note will lead the charge.

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