Hands on: Xiaomi Mi 9 camera review

There’s a lot to like about this 48MP camera phone.

Our Verdict

The Xiaomi Mi 9 is one of the most advanced camera phones around, blessed with a 48MP sensor and some pro imaging smarts. It looks great, is well designed and comes at a price that is really competitive.

For

  • Fantastic 48MP camera
  • Decent design
  • Great price

Against

  • UI isn't the best
  • Not available in the US

Xiaomi is a company experience explosive growth. Much like Honor and Huawei, it is a Chinese brand that has pushed aggressively into Western markets, launching in the UK in November 2018 with the Mi Mix 3 slider phone. 

For Digital Camera World, however, it’s the 48MP-toting Mi 9 we’re really interested in and we got hands on with it at MWC 2019.

Xiaomi Mi 9: design and features

The Xiaomi Mi 9 is one good-looking camera phone. Xiaomi has added an iridescent paint job to the chassis, which isn’t too slippery when holding the device. 

In fact, it’s one of the best smartphones to hold as a camera, thanks to its subtle curved back. This naturally fits the grip of your hand when holding the device in landscape to take a shot. 

The screen is lovely and clear. Xiaomi has opted to put a 6.39-inch AMOLED display on the device (1080 x 2340 pixels) and it’s perfect for viewing images back. There’s no big notch either as the front-facing camera fits into a tiny waterdrop notch, which means you get about about 85% of screen in use. 

Size wise, the phone measures 157.5 x 74.7 x 7.6 mm and weighs a nice and light 173g. Under the bonnet, this is one of the first phones to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processer and you can get (up to) 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage. To top all this off, there’s wireless charging on board.

Xiaomi Mi 9: cameras

The Xiaomi Mi 9’s camera setup is one of the best around, something that’s been backed up by a recent DXOMark score that puts the device above the Pixel 3 and iPhone XS in terms of camera quality. 

The specs, on paper, are impressive. The front-facing camera - all ready for your selfie needs - is 20MP (f2.0, 0.9µm) and there are three cameras on the back. These are: a 16 MP (f2.2, 13mm); this is the ultra-wide variant, with a sensor size of 1/3.0 inch, 1.0µm. 

A secondary 12 MP (f2.2, 54mm) telephoto lens is next to this, with a sensor measuring 1/3.6-inch, 1.0µm and it comes with 2x optical zoom. 

Last be certainly not least is the 48MP (f/1.8, 0.8µm) camera that’s packing a 1/2-inch sensor. There is also a silver ring around this lens on the back, which is a nice touch. That's all pretty high-tech, but Xiaomi is not the only maker to introduce multi-camera arrays, of course, as it faces competition from the likes of the five-camera Nokia PureView 9.

These are some serious imaging smarts and marks the second time we have seen a 48MP sensor on a camera phone, the last being the rather lovely Honor View 20

Xiaomi has decided to ease away from AI in its camera range. Where Honor and the like are pushing as much AI smarts into their cameras as possible, Xiaomi has instead added a number of scene selections to it camera setup and beefed up the pro mode. 

Moving from apps to the camera was really seamless, the 955 cheap really has made things buttery smooth and jumping through the various camera options was also really speedy. 

We tried the flash on the show floor and it seemed to be really powerful, even under the bright glare of the conference hall’s lights. 

While we couldn’t try everything on the camera, autofocus was quick and sharp and using portrait mode really brought out the bokeh effect. There seemed to be a nice bit of separation between subject matter and background. 

Xiaomi Mi 9: Early Verdict

At 449 Euros (499 Euros if you want the top spec), the Xiaomi Mi 9 is a lot of camera phone for the price. The addition of a 48MP camera is very much welcomed and there’s decent pro settings on the camera, too, so you can get the most out of the camera. 

While 2x optical zoom is fine, we do wonder if this is where the camera will struggle a little. But with the little time we spent with the device, the Mi 9 is shaping up to be a real best camera phone contender.