Cameras everywhere! Mi Note 10 intriguingly houses not one, not two, not three - bear with us here - not four, but five shooters. And that includes the world's first commercially available 108MP smartphone camera, a number that's bound to become a staple on more high-end phones this year.
So it's a mixed bag from the get-go, just by looking at its spec sheet. Adding more confusion is the fact that the Mi Note 10 is also more expensive than the company's previous 'flagship killer' phones making it even harder to decide what it's after. Why did the company feel the need to revive its Mi Note line in 2019 with this particular model?
These are questions we wanted answers to so badly that we decided the only way to try and make actual sense of the Mi Note 10 and make all of our confusion go away would be to use the phone for a prolonged period of time as our one and only daily driver, and see what's what.
Hence, this long-term review was born, and we welcome you over the next few pages where we'll dive deep into what it's like to live with the Mi Note 10 day in and day out. Hopefully by the end you'll get an idea of whether this is the smartphone for you, and also what Xiaomi was trying to accomplish by launching it. So buckle up, and let's get going!
The Mi Note 10 is big and heavy, so if you have small hands one-handed use won't be an option at all. It's also unashamedly top-heavy, so if weight balance is important in your day to day life, and it's part of what makes a phone comfortable to use for you, then it's bad news. Let's just say you will never forget that this phone is in your pocket - or your hand while you use it, for that matter. It's substantial, in one word, and part of that feeling clearly has to do with the humongous 5,260 mAh battery fitted inside.
In the looks department, it's very similar to every other upper-midrange or high-end smartphone launched in the past few months, with a glass sandwich design and all that. Additionally, the screen is curved on the sides, but not as much as some other phones - the Huawei Mate 30 Pro comes to mind. There's no 'waterfall' screen here, staying closer to recent Samsung flagships instead.
The back glass is curved too and 'flows' into the metal frame symmetrically to the screen, which makes for a pretty sight (even more so for the OCD types) but it also means that the aluminum sides are incredibly tiny. This adds to the overall slipperiness that comes from the glass being used on both sides, meaning this phone is tough to convince not to slip out of your hand constantly.
Thankfully, there's the huge camera hump at the rear to somewhat ironically help with that. Because the main camera island that houses 3 of the 5 snappers is so elongated you don't get a huge amount of wobble when using the phone on its back on a desk or something similar. Actually the only issue is pressing stuff in the lower-right side of the screen, for everything else the phone stays put.
As for in-hand use, if you don't slap a case on it, you might be able to rest your index finger at the bottom of said island for some added stability, especially if you're left-handed. Unfortunately, that means the lower two camera lenses are almost guaranteed to always get smeared. You win some, you lose some. Because this is a big, heavy, slippery phone, in all honesty a case is the way to go. The one that comes in the box could be a good start - it doesn't cover the screen's sides so you still get some of the advantages of having a curved screen - like how awesome swipes from or to a side feel. The case itself offers basic protection but nothing close to heavy-duty, which is obvious by how bendy it is. Still, it's more than nothing. At this point in time we're used to glass slabs that are at least somewhat slippery, but even by those standards the Mi Note 10 is a bit more difficult to handle than most devices out there. However, you'll probably get used to its quirks in a few days, and all of this might be worth the cameras you're getting and the battery life as well - we'll circle back to that later. The 3.5mm headphone jack is in, which is a nice touch, and there's an IR blaster up top, although these features seem to be increasingly rare nowadays. The earpiece grille is elongated enough that we thought it would serve as a faux stereo element alongside the bottom-firing speaker, but alas, that's not the case.
You only get audio from the bottom speaker and it's not the loudest or clearest or highest-quality we've heard by any stretch of the imagination. Watching videos and even taking speakerphone calls is slightly less than ideal, especially for the former because you're practically required to cup the phone in your hand to make the sound come your way.
The buttons are all on the right side which is fine in theory (at least you won't be accidentally touching the volume down one while trying to hit power on the other side, like with some other phones). The downside is they're too close to each other for our liking, so we found ourselves practically in the same situation as described above, but for a different reason. It doesn't help that the power button isn't ridged or anything like that, it's impossible to tell it apart from volume down based on just touch. So prepare for a few misclicks. Build quality is outstanding but this is sort of a given considering it's been like that for practically every glass and metal sandwich device we've handled recently, regardless of price point. The manufacturing technology for such slabs has simply reached tolerance levels that are close to perfection, so maybe now would be the time to experiment with different materials? Or maybe all phones sort of look similar these days because that's simply what works, and what people crave. Probably a combination of the two.
The screen is one of the areas in which the Mi Note 10 both is and isn't a flagship. It has a vibrant, bright AMOLED panel, which is also curved. Flagship grade stuff, right? Yes, but the resolution is 'just' FHD+. We still think that most people can't actually tell the difference between that and QHD+ in use, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention this.
And then there's the fact that the Mi Note 10 launches at a time when high refresh rate displays are starting to become the norm. After all, the much cheaper Redmi K30 (also made by Xiaomi) has a 120fps panel, LCD as it may be. The Mi Note 10 however sticks with the traditional cap of 60fps, and that means you're missing out on some added smoothness. Not just that, but future-proofing too. If all the rumors are correct, practically all the important flagships and 'flagship killers' this year will go above 60fps, which leaves the Mi Note 10 in a weird limbo.
While it is ahead of its time in the camera department, it really isn't in the display area. All that said, it's got a very good FHD+ curved AMOLED. Higher resolution is an okay box to tick on a spec sheet, but high refresh rate can be important to the overall user experience, and that's just not here. On the plus side, the screen gets bright enough to be easily readable even in sunlight, and dim enough not to sear your retinas at night. The blue light filter does what it's supposed to, and if you manually take the brightness slider all the way down in Auto mode, you'll reach something Xiaomi confusingly calls Night mode. You can set this in Display settings to be even lower than usual. It ensures an even better experience in low-light scenarios. Speaking of auto-brightness, while it works well for the most part, we have encountered a funny bug where it was basically 'fighting' us when we tried to manually adjust it using the slider that's in the notification shade.
We've only encountered this a few times, but it was still annoying trying to manually 'teach' the system to make the screen more or less bright in a specific environment, only for us to immediately see the slider moving by its own accord back to its previous position. And on the topic of that slider, you still have to swipe left or right across it, you can't just tap the specific position you're after - this isn't changed in MIUI 11 and we wish it was. Always-on display is available and it's one of the best implementations out there, with more customization options than you'll know what to do with. It was fun changing styles, and experimenting with various background images too. You get the date under the clock, and the battery level under that, and then notification icons under that. Sadly OnePlus’ system of actually showing you a notification as it arrives is still unique, and thus not replicated here - it’s only the icon of the corresponding app that pops up. Because it's a curved screen, you can also use the edges to light up in various manners when you get a notification, but this could turn out to be more distracting than useful. Your mileage may vary, obviously. Optical in-display fingerprint sensors just keep getting better, and the Mi Note 10's latest-gen one is practically indistinguishable in day-to-day use from a capacitive ones mounted on the back or the side of phones. There's still a minute speed delta, but you won't be able to tell unless you have a phone with a capacitive sensor nearby, and constantly use both.
Accuracy has been almost perfect, to the point where we don't even remember if we had a misread. We're sure there were some, but the point is if the number is that small, this is not an issue. The usual cautions apply as with any other optical sensor - we did enroll our fingers in a pitch black environment because at one point that did help with accuracy. We can't say for sure it's still required, but it doesn't hurt to do that just to be on the safe side.
Otherwise there's not really much to say here. The position of the sensor is further away from the bottom bezel than some competing devices (and previous Xiaomi phones too), and we liked that very much. Because of the fact that this is a big phone, if we had to reach a lower point with our thumb it might have required some gymnastics based on how we naturally came to grip the phone. But this sensor is just fine the way it is, and you're unlikely to have any problems with it whatsoever.