Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Xiaomi Mi Note Pro: Last Year's Flagship, Today

Today I am going to pen an unboxing and short review on the Mi Note Pro. Having used the phone for a couple of months, I have to say it definitely lives up to the expectations from a last-generation flagship, even in mid 2016. Say no more, here's the unboxing and review of the Mi Note Pro.


Retaining the traditional cardboard packaging, the Mi Note Pro has a slight element change - a departure from the usual brown for an elegant black. Opening the box, one will be greeted by the sight of the Emperor itself.

Contents of the box are the usual stuff: The phone, instruction menu and warranty papers, SIM tray ejection tool, USB cable and charger supporting Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0. There still is no sign of bundled earphones.

The frame of the phone is clamped between a 2.5D glass up front and a 3D glass at the back. The gold rims of the phone, whilst exudes elegance and marks the status of the Emperor, is of a rather subtle blend. Housed anteriorly are the 4 Megapixel large pixel front-facing camera, the earpiece, notification lights, sensors and Mi logo. The lower portion sits the three capacitive navigation keys.

The 3.5 millimeter headphone jack and a microphone are housed on top, while the bottom of the phone is where the micro USB port and the speaker/microphone are placed. Notice the two white lines? Strategically placed on the top and bottom, they serve the purpose of enhancing reception as metal phones tend to mess with cellular reception.

On the top left corner of the phone's posterior sits the 13 Megapixel back-facing camera surrounded by a gold ring. With an acclaimed sensor sourced from Sony, a large F2.0 aperture and two-axis stabilisation, the phone is paired with a Dual Tone LED flash to provide users with one of the best imaging package.

Setting Up

Booting up the phone takes very little time, just a fraction of the boot time of the Mi 3 which I upgraded from, thanks to the processing prowess of the 2.0 GHz octa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 v2.1 paired with 4GBs of LDDR4 RAM clocked at 1666MHz.

Coming preloaded with MIUI 6 China Stable ROM, users can immediately upgrade to MIUI 7.5, or switch for a MIUI China Developer ROM. Setting up is quick and easy, with just the selection of language and keyboard, region and time, connection to Wi-Fi and signing in to a Mi Account in your way before you can truly use the phone for the first time.

MIUI on the MI Note is optimized for the bigger screen, allowing for more content to be displayed without creating a sense of cramming. Multiple screen size options were provided in regards to the one-handed operations of the phone ranging from 3.5" up to 4.5", it allows for easier management of the bigger screen without having to do much of finger gymnastics. Currently, MIUI for Mi Note Pro is based on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop.


Screen & Design
There's no doubt that Xiaomi poured a lot of effort into the design of the Mi Note and Mi Note Pro, evident with the refined design in Mi 5 based on the last generation flagships. The metal and glass solution does create the premium and sturdy feel in hand, however it is not without flaws. The glass doesn't blend with the metal frame seamlessly, I have even tested a particular Mi Note previously with the chamfered edges actually capable of scratching my skin. The glass also poses a few problems itself, as it is a fingerprint magnet and provides little traction.

The screen of the Mi Note Pro is absolutely superb, with the Quad HD resolution promising crisp and sharp images, and the wide 95% colour gamut reproduces colour with vibrancy and accuracy although it does have a slightly cold hue to it. The high dynamic range and great contrast from deployment of Nega LCD tech provides an enjoyable visual experience. Implementation of the Sunlight Display does help in viewing under sunlight, however the glass causes a tad too much reflection, and the rather low maximum screen brightness didn't help. It should be noted that the screen goes pretty dark at the minimum brightness, and it is a plus when using the phone in dark environments.

Performance & Connectivity
Combining the power of a X10 LTE modem supporting LTE CAT9 from Qualcomm, 802.11ac Dual Band WiFi support, Bluetooth 4.1 and great GPS support, users never have to worry about connectivity. Cellular connectivity is one of the strengths of the phone, as it is still capable of cellular data, calls and messages in places where other named-brand phones would have given up and lose connection. The inclusion of Dual SIM slots allows users to roam in foreign country without having to swap out their SIMs. Using the Irish carrier Three IE, LTE connections gave download speeds exceeding the 100Mbps mark (over 12.5MBps) and upload speeds north of 50Mbps (over 6MBps). It should be noted that the connection speeds are greatly limited by carrier support, as their hardware might not support the maximum speeds of the cellular modem of phones. The phone I am using supports all networks.

There's nothing to complain about the performance of the Mi Note Pro, in fact there's only one thing to say about it: Insanely Fast. The processing grunt of Qualcomm's flagship last year and the 4GBs of RAM allows for some real multitasking. The Adreno 430 GPU performs well enough to handle all of today's Android games without breaking a sweat. The 64GB eMMC 5.0 might seem slow by today's standards, however it's still plenty fast for data reading and writing. Apps open fast and smooth, without signs of lag even after a lot of apps are opened. Transitions between content-heavy apps are without lag as well. The downside of this package is the issue that plagued the 810: The overheating issue. To be honest, all phones get warm when you're stressing them and I didn't really face any overheating. The phone does get plenty warm when I switch from game to game, or when I have cellular data on and doing a lot of browsing (which is practically always). Heating is especially obvious near the back-facing camera, where the processor and modem are located. The glass back isn't really efficient in heat dissipation while the Quad HD display demands more processing power to push the pixels across.


Battery & Charging
Battery life is something that one shouldn't worry about. While there are complains about low juice in short time periods due to the use of the power-thirsty processor and screen, it is found to be not true in my case. With cellular data, WiFi hotspot and Bluetooth turned on and connected throughout, the phone is turned on at 50% screen brightness and left to run from 100% down to 5%. The 4.4V 3090mAH battery squeezed out 5 hours 36 minutes of screen on time before the device runs down to critical battery levels. Taking into account how high the consumption of the 2K display and cellular data, that's some really good battery life (running MIUI LXHCNDA). 


Charging the phone is quick and hassle-free. Supporting Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0, users will be able to experience real fast charging speeds using proper chargers compatible with the tech. Mi Note Pro deploys the use of dual charging integrated circuits, allowing for parallel charging which promises even shorter charging times. After several tests involving the charge times, it comes up to an average of 1 hours 15 minutes from 1% to 100%. The following charts show the charging speeds from 3% up to 100%, right after the above battery strain test, and it took approximately 1.5 hours.


The Mi Note Pro boasts camera performance that crushes competition, however that's not always the case. Under ample light, the camera performance is top notch, with great vibrancy and details in each and every photos. It tends to underexpose, which isn't a bad thing, allowing it to pull in more detail and reducing noise. Colours does get oversaturated at times, but the rest of the time it's more true to life. The standard set of filters are present, as well as the Manual, Panorama, Straighten, Handheld Twilight and the fancy Refocus mode. The focus peaking function in manual mode is much appreciated, as it allows me to focus right where I want it. Bokeh shots are acceptable, but doesn't scream excellence. HDR mode is provided, and while I am happy with the results of Live HDR, the normal HDR itself renders images that either look too fake or too weird, or both. Video quality at Full HD is good enough, but nothing to call home about, it just gets the job done. At 4K, it does get better, but the increase in video quality doesn't really justify the increase in file size.

Under artificial light or rather low light situations, the camera still performs well, capable of pushing out photos that are still acceptable in terms of colour and details. However, noise starts to creep in and you do get real bad shadows. Colour reproduction is somehow accurate when there's a rather dynamic constrast between the subject and its surrounding. It does hunt for focus, causing the process of taking photos to lengthen. Xiaomi's use of Local Tone Mapping can cause some problems with the final image quality, as anything out of focus becomes really bad.

It is in extremely low light situations where the phone really shows its limit. Lack of detail and blotchy noise are especially obvious when there's very little light available. Using Handheld Twilight improves the image quality, slightly at best. Focus rarely locks in at this stage, and anything it focuses on still turns out blurred. Photos taken under such harsh lighting conditions are mostly a hit-or-miss. The inclusion of a 32 second long exposure mode serves to solve this problem, but requires a tripod or really steady hands, as the optical image stabilisation is only capable of real limited compensation.

Music & Hi-Fi
Mi Note Pro is built upon the basis of a Mi Note, and adds several new features to it. The mobile HiFi in the Mi Note was one of the best around the market, with real clean output, great dynamic range and support for a great deal of codecs, overall a real good reproduction of sound. The Mi Note Pro takes it even further with a smaller SABRE9018C2M audio digital-analog converter to make space for 8 units of Panasonic's PPS audio capacitors and an additional circuit for a more stable electrical output to drive headphones better. Tested using multiple APE and WAV sound files while listening using a Mi Headphones, it was found that sound is clean with good highs and thumping lows, without sacrificing the mids. The soundstage is wide enough and instruments can be easily differentiated and identified. Although Xiaomi has disabled the toggle for Dirac HD when Hi-Fi is turned on, it is found that enabling Dirac HD before enabling Hi-Fi audio will allow for headphone optimization besides Hi-Fi audio output. It should be noted that loseless files tend to take up space real quick, even with the 64GB storage on the Mi Note Pro.



In a nutshell, the Mi Note Pro is definitely worth the money, even by today's standards where phones powered by Qualcomm's new flagship Snapdragon 820 starts going into the market. With the processing grunt of the octa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 clocked at 2.0 GHz, the Adreno 430 GPU, 4GB of LDDR4 RAM, 64GB on-board non-expandable storage and Hi-Fi. Sure it does have its share of downsides like the camera, but most of it can be improved via software upgrades. With a reduced price to make way for Mi 5's launch, it's now an even better bargain than before. If users can forego the need for fingerprint scanners and latest tech, this is definitely the one to go for.