Xiaomi Mi 9 vs the sensibly priced competition

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The market for affordable high-end smartphones is more competitive than ever these days. There’s never been a better time for sensibly priced phones that won’t break $1000, or even $600. The brand new Xiaomi Mi 9 is just one such phone, but can it stand out from the competition?

In today’s lineup, we have the similarly priced Nokia 8.1, the fan anointed king of the affordable market, the OnePlus 6T, and the tad more expensive Honor View 20.

Don’t miss: Xiaomi Mi 9 hands-on

Xiaomi Mi 9 vs high-end performers

In this price segment, high-end processors and big RAM packages are increasingly common. This is certainly the case across all of our smartphones here, though the performance varies.

As it currently stands, the Xiaomi Mi 9 and Honor View 20 boast the most cutting edge processors. The 7nm Snapdragon 855 and Kirin 980 both boost energy efficiency and performance enough to sneak them ahead of last year’s phones. The Nokia 8.1 features a slightly cheaper Snapdragon 710, though still has the CPU chops to match the 845 inside the OnePlus 6T. However, the Adreno 616 GPU definitely isn’t as capable as higher-end Snapdragons.

  Xiaomi Mi 9 Nokia 8.1 Honor View 20 OnePlus 6T
Display 6.39-inch AMOLED panel
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
403ppi
19.5:9 aspect ratio
6.18-inch LCD panel
2,246 x 1,080 resolution
420ppi
18.7:9 aspect ratio
6.4-inch LCD panel
2,310 x 1,080 resolution
398ppi
19.25:9 aspect ratio
6.41-inch AMOLED panel
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
402ppi
19.5:9 aspect ratio
Processor 7nm octa-core Snapdragon 855 10nm octa-core Snapdragon 710 7nm octa-core Kirin 980 10nm octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
RAM 6GB/8GB 4GB 6/8GB 6/8GB
Storage 128GB 64GB 128/256GB 128/256GB
MicroSD No Yes, up to 400GB No No
Battery 3,300mAh
Non-removable
3,500mAh
Non-removable
4,000mAh
Non-removable
3,700mAh
Non-removable

Even so, day-to-day usage will likely feel very similar on these handsets. 6GB of RAM or more for seamless multi-tasking is common enough, although you would probably find it hard to run enough apps to trouble the 4GB Nokia 8.1 either.

Storage capacity is a little more of an issue with some of these handsets. The Nokia 8.1’s 64GB storage option is a little on the snug side if you own a reasonable offline media collection. Fortunately, Nokia includes a microSD card slot, a feature absent from the other handsets in this comparison. With that in mind, you’ll probably want to spring for the 128GB Mi 9, or move on up to a 256GB alternative phone if you need extra space.

Related: The full list of Xiaomi Mi 9 specs

FHD+ displays are a staple at this price point, although you can have your pick of AMOLED or LCD, if you have a preference. There’s more differentiation in battery capacity. The Honor View 20’s gargantuan 4,000mAh cell leads the field, followed by the OnePlus 6T on 3,700mAh. Despite its large size, the Xiaomi Mi 9 actually has the smallest battery capacity, at just 3,300mAh. Combined with a 7nm processor and FHD+ display, the View 20 should easily last a full day or two.

Xiaomi Mi 9 vs competition: Affordable features

All of these reasonably priced flagships perform solidly. The extra features are what’s going to separate the field.

If your smartphone is your primary camera, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a more flexible affordable shooter than the Xiaomi Mi 9. Triple cameras, including the impressive Sony IMX586 48MP main sensor, provide high detail, low light, wide angle, and zoomed in shots. We already went hands-on with this sensor inside the Honor View 20 and were thoroughly impressed.

The Nokia 8.1 also impressed us at this lower price point, especially thanks to its flexible Pro Camera mode and solid edge detection for portrait shots. The OnePlus 6T captures decent portrait shots thanks to its dedicated depth camera, but we found low light performance was a bit behind the curve.

  Xiaomi Mi 9 Nokia 8.1 Honor View 20 OnePlus 6T
Cameras Rear:
48MP f/1.75, 0.8/1.6μm, PDAF, 4:1 pixel binning, Sony IMX586 +
16MP f/2.2, 1.0μm ultrawide +
12MP f/2.2, 1.0μm telephoto

Front:
20MP f/2.0, 0.9μm

Rear:
12MP f/1.8, 1.4µm with OIS & PDAF +
13MP depth sensor

Front:
20MP f/2.0, 0.9µm

Rear:
48MP f/1.75, 0.8/1.6μm, PDAF, 4:1 pixel binning, Sony IMX586 +
3D TOF sensor

Front:
25MP f/2.0

Rear:
16MP 1.22μm f/1.8 sensor +
20MP 1.0μm f/1.8 with OIS and EIS

Front:
16MP 1.0μm f/2.0 aperture with EIS

Charging 18W (27W with optional adapter) USB-C charging
20W wireless charging, 10W Qi
18W USB-C charging 22.5W USB-C charging (SuperCharge) 22W USB-C charging (Dash Charge)
Water resistance No No No No
Security In-display fingerprint scanner Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner In-display fingerprint scanner
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC
SIM Dual nano SIM Dual nano SIM / microSD Dual nano SIM Dual nano SIM
Software Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie
Dimensions and weight 157.5 x 74.67 x 7.61mm
173g
154.8 x 75.76 x 7.97 mm
180g
156.9 x 75.4 x 8.1mm
180g
157.5 x 74.8 x 8.2mm
185g

Water and dust resistance is an expensive certification these cheaper phones don’t bother with, but that probably shouldn’t be a deal breaker. Similarly, all four phones support fairly equally fast charging over USB-C. Although the situation with Xiaomi’s charger is complicated, as it supports up to 27W with the wireless charging adapter but just 18W with the regular boxed charger. Speaking of which, the Xiaomi Mi 9 is the only model to support wireless charging out of the box, and it’s pretty fast at 20W.

In-display fingerprint scanning technology is an equally flashy, high-end feature. Again the Mi 9 offers this option, as does the OnePlus 6T. If you’re not too bothered about that, the Nokia 8.1 and Honor View 10 feature scanners placed on the back of the phone. Finally, all four phones support Android 9 Pie out of the box with their various skins. The Nokia 8.1 is the only Android One model here, which offers a pure stock experience and likely means speedier updates.

Picking the best phone

It’s by no means a slam dunk, but the broader range of extra features, flagship-grade camera setup, and bleeding edge high-performance hardware makes the Xiaomi Mi 9 tough to argue against. Better still, the phone should be a tad cheaper than the OnePlus 6T and Honor View 20 in most regions.

The phone is not without its drawbacks though. The more limited storage and battery capacities are certainly cons for power users. If you’re attached to microSD, the Nokia 8.1 is the only option out of these four picks.

Which of these four affordable flagship phones would you buy? Sound off with your sublime reasoning in the comments below.

Next: Xiaomi Mi 9 price, availability, and release date

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