Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro review: An affordable flagship-class, large-screen handset

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  • Editors' rating
    8.9 Outstanding

Pros

  • 6.39-inch Super AMOLED screen
  • Minimal bezels and no front camera notch
  • Good battery life
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • Competitive price

Cons

  • Average-quality mono speaker
  • Slippery backplate
  • Pop-up selfie camera could prove a point of failure
  • No IP rating for dust/water resistance

Xiaomi hit the UK smartphone market with a bang when it launched the flagship-class Mi 8 Pro in November 2018. Then, earlier this year, we had the equally impressive Xiaomi Mi 9, which was simply stunning considering its price (from £479). Now we have the more affordable Mi 9T Pro, which at £399 offers great value for money. And if you like the idea of a pop-up selfie camera, well, there's one here. 

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The 6.39-inch Mi 9T Pro runs on the Snapdragon 855 chipset with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. There's no MicroSD slot for storage expansion.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro has a solid build, with a chassis that would not bend or bow under any pressure I could exert with my hands. The long edges curve into the back, which was on my review phone primarily black, with turquoise down the long edges and on the sides, broken by a sliver of red for the power button.

The finish looks great, but is slippery and therefore not overly practical. As usual with this type of design, when the phone rang the vibration caused it to slide off my armchair and off papers on my desk. Indeed, it didn't need to vibrate to slide around: being sat at an angle was enough for it to slip.

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

Like other handset-makers, Xiaomi provides a bumper case. This protects the backplate and makes the phone easier to hold, but also hides the cleverly designed back. One day, hopefully, phone manufacturers will find a way to make the backs of their phones both aesthetic and ergonomic. 

The bottom edge houses a single speaker, dual SIM slots and a USB-C connector. There is a 3.5mm headset jack on the top edge, which is a welcome feature. Volume from the single speaker goes loud enough, but bass tones are lacking.

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The Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro is built around a near-bezel-free 6.39-inch screen. Even the largest bezel, at the bottom of the phone, is just 3.9mm deep. The 2,340 by 1,080 pixel (403ppi) resolution delivers bright, clear and sharp content. The screen is particularly vibrant, as you'd expect from a Super AMOLED panel.

Ebook reading is enhanced thanks to a Reading Mode that reduces blue light. However, I'd prefer it if this mode could be set to kick in when specific apps are launched, rather than manually or on a timed schedule. The fingerprint sensor is an in-screen unit that's fast and effective.

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There's no notch on the screen because the front camera uses a motorised pop-up mechanism.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

There is no camera notch on the screen. When you want to take a selfie, a camera pops up from the top left edge, putting itself away when you're done. I'm not convinced about the concept of the pop-up camera: the motor is a point of failure, and if it does fail, your selfie days are over. The pop-up camera is also probably the main reason that this handset has no IP rating for dust/water resistance.

That said, the front camera arrangement does allow for that much-desired all-screen frontage, and Xiaomi has covered three important bases as far as the mechanism is concerned. It has been tested for 300,000 pop-ups -- probably more than even the most snap-happy selfie fans will require over the phone's lifetime. It will retract automatically when it detects pressure, although I found I had to apply a fair bit for this to work. And there's a clever anti-drop mechanism that will retract the camera if the handset falls through the air.

I'm not sure we need the two blue side-lights that illuminate when the camera pops up and down, or its little tinkling trill of a musical flourish that ascends the scale when it rises from the chassis and descends when it packs away. Both will be distracting in certain situations. You can disable sounds, but I couldn't see how to disable the lights.

The pop-up selfie camera is a 20MP unit with a clever panorama mode that allows you to take wide-format selfies just by tilting the phone.

The triple rear camera setup comprises a 48MP primary sensor with an f/1.5 lens, an 8MP sensor with an f/2.4 telephoto (2x optical zoom) lens and a 13MP ultra-wide-angle camera with an f/2.4 lens. The default shooting mode is 12 megapixels, although there's a link to 48MP shooting on the main camera interface so it's easy to switch. AI helps the camera make default settings for a range of subjects, and I found its suggestions very satisfactory for the most part. 

SEE: Xiaomi's Mi MIX Alpha features wrap-around display

The exception was night mode. There is a dedicated night mode setting on the camera interface, and in well-lit situations images are passable. But in general night photography is of average quality, and in low light situations you may struggle to get passable images.

With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset and 6GB of RAM, the Mi 9T Pro's performance is more than acceptable. I've moved to Geekbench 5 for benchmarking and this reports rather differently to its predecessor. 

A three-pass average multi-core score of 2624 and single-core score of 710 should not be compared with benchmarks made with Geekbench 4, but you can put these numbers into context by visiting the Geekbench results browser.

I also ran single passes of the OpenCL and Vulkan GPU compute benchmarks for completeness, which returned scores of 2208 and 2083 respectively.

Geekbench 5 does not yet include a battery test, so I used PC Mark to evaluate the Mi 9T Pro's 4,000mAh battery. This kept going for 11 hours 26 minutes, and it's important to note that the PC Mark Work 2.0 benchmark stops monitoring when the battery gets to 20%. The phone supports 27W fast charging, and comes with an 18W charger. That's not as fast as some, but better than older slower-charging regimes.

With 128GB of internal storage the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro is arguably under-specified in this respect. There was 113GB free on my review unit, and there's no MicroSD card slot for adding external storage. Android 9 Pie provides the core software capability, while the MIUI 10 overlay adds a range of tweaks and extras, from additions in the settings area to preinstalled apps. It's nice to see an FM radio here, and there's a barcode/QR code scanner, a compass and a notes app on-board too. I was less happy to see Facebook, Netflix and AliExpress preinstalled, simply because it should be up to the user whether or not they want these. Still, these apps are easily removed.

Conclusions

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Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro is a flagship-class handset with a great screen, good battery life, dual SIM support, an in-screen fingerprint reader and a 3.5mm headset jack. The triple rear camera setup is very capable, and while the pop-out selfie camera's mechanism might not appeal to everybody, there's nothing wrong with its photo quality.

The biggest drawback is the mono speaker, but even taking that into account Xiaomi proves once again that its aggressive pricing allows its handsets to challenge considerably more expensive smartphones.

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