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Featured Review: Xiaomi Mi Note Pro

June 6, 2015 - Written By Alexander Maxham

In China, Xiaomi is one of the bigger and more popular smartphone manufacturers. Not too long ago, Hugo Barra left Google to go work with Xiaomi. And since then, those in the US have been really interested about what Xiaomi is up too. Xiaomi has created some pretty interesting smartphones, and sell them, basically, at cost. Where they make their money is on apps and services. It’s important to note that in China, Google services are blocked. Which is why we see every Chinese manufacturer with their own app store. And that’s where Xiaomi makes the most of their cash from.

The Xiaomi Mi Note Pro is the pro version of the Mi Note, which I reviewed earlier this year. I was quite impressed with the Mi Note. So what’s the difference between the Mi Note and the Mi Note Pro? Well a few things. The display is the same size, however, the Mi Note Pro has been bumped up to 2560×1440. It also has an extra gigabyte of RAM, bumped to 4GB, along with 64GB of storage, and a Snapdragon 810 powering it all.

Hardware

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The hardware of the Mi Note Pro sounds very familiar. Glass and metal. The backside has curved 3D glass, with an aluminum frame which is in gold, and then the front is obviously glass. Because of the back being curved, it actually feels really nice in the hand. It is glass, so you will want to put a case on it. Because if you drop it, it will shatter. There’s no doubt about that.

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Xiaomi has put the speaker on the bottom of the device, with the micro USB port. Which doesn’t look like your typical micro USB port. But it is a micro USB port and it is right side up. Up top is your 3.5mm headphone jack. And on the back is the 13MP Sony IMX214 sensor and dual flash.

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As usual, Xiaomi has decided to stick with capacitive buttons on the Mi Note Pro instead of on-screen buttons. We have a menu/recents key, home and back. If you are coming from a phone that’s not made by Samsung, then it’ll likely take you a day or two to get used to the back button being on the right side. As every other phone has it on the left side. But that’s a minor annoyance, that you’ll get used to real quick.

Performance

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So Xiaomi has put a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor inside the Mi Note Pro. I won’t bore you with the facts of the 810, because we all know it gets pretty warm. What I will say is that in normal day-t0-day use the Snapdragon 810 doesn’t get that warm. But if you are on HSPA+ (or LTE while I was in China) and you’re downloading some apps, or playing some games, it’s going to get warm. Not as warm as the HTC One M9 – obviously because it’s not completely metal. The highest temperature it reached was 102-degrees Fahrenheit. According to the System Monitor app I installed. It didn’t really slow down much at all either, which was a good thing.

Pair that Snapdragon 810 with 4GB of RAM, and you have a pretty solid performing device here from Xiaomi. I never ran out of RAM, which you really shouldn’t be with 4GB of RAM installed. In fact, I typically had over a gigabyte of RAM free.

Dual-SIM

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Here in the US, Dual-SIM isn’t a popular feature among smartphones. But over in Asia and even down in Latin America, it’s very popular. Simply because most carrier networks don’t have coverage everywhere like Verizon or AT&T, this way a user can have access to two networks at the same time, and switch between them without removing SIM cards. Typically, Dual-SIM devices only had one SIM that did data while the other was voice and sometimes – if you were lucky, it did EDGE as well. Xiaomi has decided to do a nano and a micro SIM card slot here, both do LTE as well. However, not in the US. Remember this is a Chinese smartphone, the Mi Note Pro is exclusive to China. So here in the US, you’re mostly looking at HSPA+.

Display

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The display on the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro is pretty impressive. The display is outsourced from Sharp and JDI, and is a 2560×1440 resolution display which gives you a 551 PPI. It’s a sharp display, and it has some pretty good viewing angles as well. It also has what Xiaomi calls “Sunlight Display” so that it’s easier to see the device’s display in sunlight. And it actually works quite well. When I was leaving San Francisco, it was pretty sunny, and I was still able to see the display of the Mi Note Pro, while I couldn’t on the LG G4.

Battery Life

Here we have a 3000mAh battery inside the Mi Note Pro, along with that 5.7-inch 2560×1440 resolution display. So you aren’t going to get insane battery life, but it should last all day right? And it does. The Mi Note Pro can easily last you all day and get you around 3-4 hours of on screen time. Of course, that is going to vary based on what you’re doing with the Mi Note Pro, and there are some tweaks that can be made to make it last even longer. But it’s still pretty good, and will get most people through the day.

Software

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So the biggest difference in the software between the Mi Note and the Mi Note Pro is Lollipop. While the Mi Note was on KitKat with MIUI 5.27, we have Android 5.0.2 with MIUI 5.5.22 beta. So there are some stark differences here compared to the Mi Note. Before we dive to deep into the software, one of the things that sets MIUI apart from other skins is updates. Xiaomi pushes out MIUI updates each week, religiously. It’s something that Xiaomi is very proud of, and they should be. Also, many of their features are suggested from their users on their forum. Which makes it easy to form a roadmap, and also keeps their users happy and sticking with their products.

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As I stated above, we are running MIUI 5.5.22 beta. That’s the latest version available for the Mi Note Pro at the time of writing this review. The OS is very smooth, which is a bit surprising as some Chinese manufacturers and their skins are just very bloated with features that it slows down the performance. But not with MIUI, even though there’s tons of features. Which we won’t be able to go over them all here, or else this review would be a book. There are a couple of things that I dislike about MIUI actually. Let’s start with notifications. When you get a notification that can be expanded, it’s collapsed. Not a huge deal. But you can’t just open it with one finger, you have to use two to expand the notification. Not as intuitive as it could be. Another thing I disliked is the fact that the notification icons don’t show up in the status bar by default. It’s kinda like the iPhone where you only know you have a notification by pulling down the shade. However, that’s an easy fix in Settings > Notifications.

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One of the cool features that Xiaomi has added is part of data usage. So we all know about data usage, it’s been a feature since ICS back in 2011. But what Xiaomi has done here is they’ve made it available for you to see data usage by day. So you can see how much data you’ve used today, or yesterday, and see what apps used the most data. Now the tricky thing here is that it’s not located in settings. Instead data usage is located in the “Security” app. Along with a few other features that we’ll touch on. Including the Cleaner, which allows you to scan the device and see what space can be cleared up. With 64GB of storage though, you won’t need to do that often. There’s also blacklist, so you can block SMS and calls to your device. Under battery, in the security app, you can see how much time is left, as well as switch the battery profile. I’ve been using it on default, but you can also choose Marathon and sleep or create your own profile. There’s also the usual battery saver, and you can schedule when to switch profiles, as well as schedule when to turn the phone on or off.

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One of the services that Xiaomi has on their devices is Mi Cloud. Which allows you to sync data, locate your device and share things with your friends. Of course you’ll need to sign up separately to do that. But it is a pretty neat service from Xiaomi. For those wondering why Xiaomi doesn’t use Google Sign In or even Facebook Sign In for Mi Cloud, you have to remember that both those services – Google and Facebook – are blocked in China. So most of their users won’t be able to use them anyways.

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Themes is another thing that Xiaomi does quite well. Unlike some of the other Chinese manufacturers, Xiaomi does have their theme store in english. There are many great themes available in the theme store. You can also customize just about every aspect of your own theme. Including the lock style, lock screen, icons, home screen, ringtone, notification, font, status bar, favorites tray, messaging, dialpad, boot animation and boot audio. Plenty of things to customize there, right?

Camera

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The camera hasn’t been perfect for me. I actually took the Mi Note Pro with me to Beijing for Meizu’s event and I went to take a picture at the event of the big screen before it started, and it just could not focus in. Now I know the lighting and all the moving people in there definitely didn’t help, but I pulled out the LG G4 and it focused right away. To play devil’s advocate a bit here, that’s kinda not fair considering LG has laser auto-focus on the LG G4. A lot of the pictures in low-light and at night were okay, they weren’t mind blowing. There’s a few pictures in the Flickr widget below that were taken in a bar in Beijing and they actually came out really well. Especially the one of the candle.

Now talking about the actual camera, the UI is actually pretty good. Often times we see smartphone manufacturers trying to cram in a bunch of features into the UI and it looks messy. On the Mi Note Pro, if you swipe left to right in the shutter area you can see all the different modes that are available. Now if you swipe right to left, you can see all the different filters. And the filters are applied in real time. The auto-focus is really quick, and the shutter is equally fast. All in all, it’s a pretty okay camera. I can’t say it’s one of the best though, given that the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 are here.

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Final Thoughts

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I’ve been using the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro for about a week, and I really like the device. While I do wish they had steered away from the Snapdragon 810, it seems like Xiaomi has done quite well integrating it into the Mi Note Pro. I think it performs the best in the Mi Note Pro compared to the other smartphones with it like the LG G Flex 2 and the HTC One M9. The device is a bit big, but you should get used to it pretty quickly. It’s slightly larger than the LG G4, but not by much, and the screens are only 0.2 inches apart.

Xiaomi has priced the Mi Note Pro pretty good, I think. It’s priced at 3300 Yuan, which translates to about $531. When you compare it to other flagships that are out right now. Like the Galaxy S6, HTC One M9 and the LG G4, it more than holds its own and is cheaper, for the most part. The only real complaint I had about the Mi Note Pro was the capacitive back button being on the right side. Which is a very minor thing, and if that’s all you can find to complain about then it must be a pretty great smartphone. Now, if only Xiaomi could bring this, and the rest of their portfolio over to the US.