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Xiaomi Mi 9 SE Review - Superb compact mid-ranger!

Huawei Nova 5T
Xiaomi's Mi 9 is amazingly one of the best phones that your money can buy for less. 
Xiaomi Mi 9 SE Review - Superb compact mid-ranger!
Xiaomi Mi 9 SE review!

In fact, it is a sub-PHP 25K handset that can compete even with some over 40K device, thanks to its stunning design, flagship Snapdragon 855 chipset, and good overall specs.

In addition, not all wants a regular-sized handset like the Mi 9 with 6.39-inch big screen. Some wants a compact device which they can hold and type even with one hand.

Not everyone also has the capacity to to shell out PHP 23 to 25K in a snap.

Xiaomi knows that and they have a solution. Enter Mi 9 SE, the smaller and more affordable version of a Mi 9.

On paper, Mi 9 SE is arguably the most attractive compact phone for the price. Let's see if it is really that good. Here's our full review!

Unboxing/Accessories

Everything inside
Everything inside

Mi 9 SE arrived with a clean white box with the subtle Mi 9 SE print on top.

After opening the package, you'll see another box where you will find the black translucent TPU case together with the SIM ejector tool and the paper documents (manual, warranty card).

The next layer of the package showed the phone itself. Underneath, users will find the fast 18W USB wall charger, USB-A to USB-C data/charging cable, and the USB-C to 3.5mm headphone female port dongle.

However like all Xiaomi phones in the past, you won't find an earphones with mic inside.


Build Quality/Design

Glass back
Glass back

Unlike its similarly priced competitors with cheaper-looking glasstic build, Mi 9 SE is uses premium metal and glass materials.

At the back, it has a Gorilla Glass 5 protected 2.5D curved back with stunning holographic spectrum finish. The unit in my possession is the ocean blue color option. But, you can also get it in piano black and lavander violet colorways.

Stellar build!

From there, you'll notice that it goes with a triple-camera setup with thick camera bump. Its camera protrusion is actually noticeable even when you put the case on. It is not advisable to put it on rough surfaces to avoid accidental scratches in its lenses.
Tiny notch, slim bezels, more screen real estate
Tiny notch, slim bezels, more screen real estate

In front, it uses an 5.97-inch 2.5D curved Samsung AMOLED FHD+ display with Gorilla Glass 5 protection against scratches as well. I like that it comes with tall 19:5:9 screen aspect ratio, 90.47 percent screen-to-body ratio, and tiny dot drop notch to house the 20MP selfie camera. 

There's a cleverly placed earpiece and a hidden LED notification on top of the notch as well.

As expected, it has minimal bezels. It also has the slimmest chin bezel on an Android device yet. In comparison, it is even slimmer than the flagship Huawei P30 Pro's chin.

But where's the fingerprint scanner? It is located in the lower part of the phone's screen itself. It uses an a new generation In-Display fingerprint scanner.

Xiaomi's clever Mi 9 SE design made it a phone with compact body despite the large almost 6-inch screen size. It measures at just 147.5 x 70.5 mm. The handset is also quite slim at 7.45 mm.
Top
Top
Bottom
Bottom
Left 1
Right
Right

On top, you'll see the first microphone together with the IR blaster for remote. Below, you'll see the microphone together with the USB-C port and single speaker setup.

At left, you'll find the tiny hole to open the SIM tray (dual nano SIM). As expected, the volume rocker and power key is located in the right side of the phone.

Few of my concerns are its pretty big camera hump and lack of a 3.5mm headphone port and microSD expansion slot.

Other than that, this handset is super stylish, solid, and handy. It is not that heavy at 155 grams.

Display Quality

AMOLED screen for less
AMOLED screen for less

As mentioned, Mi 9 SE uses a 5.97-inch display FHD+ 2280 x 1080 resolution with crisp 423 ppi. At this price point, it is one of the few with an AMOLED type panel with richer colors, deeper blacks, and nicer contrast.



AMOLED is AMOLED

Personally, I think that it is a good type of AMOLED panel with close to accurate colors. Colors are rich, but not too warm or saturated by default. For binge-watching high-quality content, it has support for HDR display.

Since it has a near edge-to-edge design, Mi 9 SE's screen is one of the most immersive around. It goes with wide viewing angles and respectable legibility even under direct sunlight with around 600 nits of rated brightness.

Display settings

In the display settings, you will see the that there's an automatic brightness feature with night mode brightness and night mode color temperature adjustments. There is also an option where you can pick the Reading mode of make the colors of your display warmer for a more relaxing reading experience.

This phone also has an option where you can manually adjust the color tone of the display and even increase its contrast.

The coolest feature in its display settings is the Dark mode. It's a system-wide dark mode that uses darker colors for system background and compatible apps. Most likely, it helps in protecting your eyes from bright light always and even conserving conserving power.

In addition, it has a responsive auto-brightness mode. It also has a screen color temperature adjustment. You can even change the font size from small to extra-large.

It also has an eye comfort mode dubbed as "Night Shield". Basically, it'll reduce the blue light from the screen to prevent eye damage when reading in the dark.

Mi 9 SE's screen features double tap to wake, adjustable text size, and multi-color always on display as well.


Lastly, it comes with the standard 10 points of touch for accurate swiping and typing. It should help you play games better as its touch response is great.

As expected, it comes with 10 points of touch for easy swiping and typing. It also helps you type more accurately and play games better due to its great touch response.

Audio Quality

Mi 9 SE only has a single speaker at the bottom. For me, it is one of the best single speaker around. It is full sounding and can go really loud. I like that it comes with crisp details, good clarity, good and even respectable bass response. It could just be a bit peaky at max loudness, but it has minimal distortion.

Sadly, it doesn't have a dedicated 3.5mm headphone jack slot like other Xiaomi mid-rangers. Fortunately, Xiaomi included a 3.5mm USB-C dongle in the package. The only problem is you can't listen to your favorite wired headphones and charge at the same time.

Audio presents and manual equalizer
Audio presents and manual equalizer

Via USB-C audio, it has respectable driving power. It can properly drive my RHA T10 at around 70 to 80 percent loudness. It doesn't come with a HiFi DAC, but it is a pretty respectable source with dark/warm audio profile.

I also like that it can play most of my lossless audio tunes with ease. You can even customize its output with the use of an equalizer.

Just do not expect its audio out to be as lively with wide soundstage from high-end phones with better DACs.

Via Bluetooth, it works well with LDAC headphones/earphones. Even headphones with no LDAC lossless audio component are mostly good as well. Expect its driving power via Bluetooth to be a bit lesser though. But at least, its Bluetooth connectivity is quite stable.

For the mic, it is a mixed bag. It is great for calls. The earspeaker is decent works well too. For video recordings, it can record decent audio in quiet locations. However, it produced grainy and peaky recordings outdoors and in some noisy places. It struggled to get the clean audio in one concert performance I recorded. (See the video samples below)


Battery

12 hours and 17 minutes!
12 hours and 17 minutes!

To be frank, I'm a bit disappointed that the Mi 9 SE is only packed with 3,070mAh battery capacity. It is considered as small for a phone with almost 6-inch big screen. I was worried that it wouldn't be enough last through the day.

Fortunately, its chip is the power-efficient 10nm Snapdragon 712.

The result? It comes with better battery performance than expected. In our test, it clocked 12 hours and 17 minutes which is on par with most older gen phones with larger 4,000mAh battery. Actual screen on time is around 5 hours even under heavy usage.



Respectable battery performance despite the small battery size!


In the battery settings, it comes with a battery usage app that all allow you to manage and optimize your battery usage. It also has an option to use the adaptive battery that limits battery usage for apps that you don't use often.

But of course, it would have been better if it has a larger battery capacity. Imagine if it has a 4,000mAh battery and this same type of battery optimization.

Charging time is also quite quick using the stock charger, 0 to 100 percent only took us 1 hour and 20 minutes.


Camera

Triple-cam goodness
Triple-cam goodness



If you are looking for an affordable phone with triple-camera setup, the Mi 9 could be it. In fact, it is the most affordable Xiaomi triple-camera phone yet. It is also the cheapest with the 48MP f/1.75 sensor in the country as well.

It's a sensor that uses 1/2-type unit with 0.8μm pixel with Sony's "Quad Bayer" color filter to combine four pixels together to a 12MP output with large 1.6μm pixels for better details, colors, exposure, and dynamic range.

Aiding the 48MP sensor is a 13MP f/2.4 w/ 123-degree ultra wide-angle sensor and 8MP f/2.4 2x telephoto sensor. Xiaomi also made sure to add Dual Pixel PDAF and AI scene detection.

Cam UI, normal vs wide
Cam UI, normal vs wide

It also with the ultra-wide mode with distortion correction, pretty good 2x zoom, auto HDR, panorama, portrait mode with different blur effects/face beauty, handheld long exposure night mode, and robusts pro mode.
Pro camera mode
Pro camera mode

Its pro mode even comes with ISO 50 to 3200 and 1/1000s to 32s shutter. There's an option to use the ultra-wide, wide, and tele lens as well.

Focus speed is also fast. The same goes with the saving speed. Close-up shots are possible, but not too close. I suggest to use the zoom lens for close-up images instead.

The AI of this phone is pretty snappy when it comes to detecting objects. The good thing, oversharpening and oversaturation were lessened compared with AI cameras last year.

The cameras are aided by the Spectra 250 ISP by its Qualcomm Snapdragon 712 chipset.

Easily, it is Xiaomi's most versatile camera system on a budget yet. It is almost like the high-end Mi 9 in terms of camera features and specs.

Now, enough of the talk. Let's check its camera performance.


Rear Camera Samples

Daylight
Daylight
Ultra-wide
Ultra-wide
2x zoom
2x zoom

Impressively, the Mi 9 SE's color signature is similar with the 3 lenses. Other phones with ultra-wide lens found in this price point are not consistent with colors. Xiaomi just needs to work on its dynamic range a little.
Close-up main cam
Close-up main cam

As expected, Mi 9 SE can capture images with plenty of details, accurate exposure, and good depth for close-up shots. Colors are pretty accurate to my eyes as well.

Ultra-wide close-up
Ultra-wide close-up

The wide shot looks okay. I like that it isn't that distorted looking despite its 123-degree field of view. It is just noticeably softer in details versus the primary shooter.

2x zoom close-up
2x zoom close-up

The telephoto lens is impressive. It is still very detailed with accurate colors and natural looking depth. At this price point, there are very few that can compete with its 2x zoom lens.

Indoor well-lit

Indoor shots under artificial light are respectable too. Colors are natural looking again. Although it struggled a little with the exposure on the bright signage, dynamic range is pretty good.
Portrait with bokeh
Portrait with bokeh

It is a device with a cool portrait mode. It has different lighting effects f/1.0 to f/16 digital aperture, and level 1 to 5 face beauty.

Different filters
Different filters

For me, its bokeh has clean edge detection and natural looking. The filters are fun to play with as well. Just make sure that you are in a well-lit place to avoid grain and noise.

Dim close-up
Dim close-up
Dim close-up
Dim night close-up

For dimmer lighting scenes, we tried to use the handheld night mode with 2 seconds of exposure time. It worked very well in most of our shots as it made them look sharper with better colors. Just be careful though, there are times where it'll make your shots look a bit too sharp.

No night mode
No night mode

By default, its 48MP shooter has respectable performance in the dark. But obviously, it has grain. Dynamic range is a bit off as well. Colors look duller too.
With night mode
With night mode

Fortunately, it has good type of night mode with no crop. The night mode corrects the exposure, enhanced the details/dynamic range, and made the colors pop a little.

Ultra-wide in low light

However, the night mode is only applicable for the main camera and the zoom lens. You cannot use it with the ultra-wide mode.

Another night mode sample
Another night mode sample
Reflections!
Reflections!

The best of its night mode is it allowed us to take great looking low light images with plenty of details, close to accurate colors, and good dynamic range in the dark even without using its pro mode with a tripod. It evens out shadows and highlights as well. The result? Pretty balanced looking low light images.

Though there are times where its output may look unnatural, it still has one of the best night mode for the price. Actually, its night mode can compete with most 2018 flagship phones.

The two-tone flash is quite strong and useful when needed.

20MP selfie cam!
20MP selfie cam!

For selfies, Mi 9 SE uses a 20MP f/2.0 sensor with AI scene detection and face beauty. It also goes with auto HDR, different filters, and a robust portrait effect. In fact, it comes with all the portrait effects and filters from its primary shooters including the digital f/1.0 to f/16 aperture mode.
Selfie camera interface
Selfie camera interface

The face beauty mode can even let your adjust your skin tone, remodel your face, and add makeup.

Its face detection is quick and it goes with a tap to focus feature for selfies. Shooting speed is quite quick for me too.

Selfie Camera Samples

Selfie daylight
Selfie daylight

As expected, its 20MP front camera takes nice selfies in daylight. It goes with respectable details, good highlights, and decent depth. Thanks to its decent HDR, it can even take decent against the light selfies. However, white balance is a bit off. It made my face look whiter than it is in person. 

Normal vs face beauty
Normal vs face beauty

Even without the face beauty, it made my face a bit softer. The face beauty even at level 3 could make your face look to rosy and smooth. On max face beauty mode, it will make your face look super smooth and unnatural.

Good bokeh effect
Good bokeh effect

The bokeh effect also has good subject to background separation even if it only goes with a single lens in front. Edges are not perfect, but it is cleaner than expected. Not bad for a mid-ranger.

Challenging condition
Challenging condition

In challenging conditions, it struggled a little. But it is still respectable to my eyes. At least it is still not that soft. Details are still quite good. Exposure and highlights are okayish as well.

Low light selfie
Low light selfie

Low light selfies are softer than indoor selfies. But again, it is respectable (considered as good) for a mid-ranger.  Just use the screen flash.

For videos, Mi 9 SE has the ability to record up to 4K 30fps. In the software, you can turn on its stabilization. But to be honest, I can't feel that it is stabilized at all. Shake is very evident in 4K.

The good thing, it packs a lot of details and has good colors. It can shoots videos with decent details even at night. It has good AF speed as well.

Use the 1080p 30fps mode if you do not have a gimbal. The 960fps super slow-mo mode is quite cool too. It doesn't look too fake unlike other phone super slow motion features.

For selfie videos, it records up to 1080p at 30fps with good daylight performance. There's crop, but the crop is not too big.


Video Samples


Performance

AnTutu and Geekbench score
AnTutu and Geekbench score

Mi 9 SE is the first phone in the world to sport the 10nm Snapdragon 712 chipset. It is the upgraded version of the SD710 chip last year. Like the SD710, it is paired with the Adreno 616 GPU. Xiaomi also added 6GB or RAM and 64GB or 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage.
PC Mark Work 2.0 performance and 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme
PC Mark Work 2.0 performance and 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme

The result is it got pretty high benchmark scores. At AnTuTu, it got a score of 179,997. Geekbench revealed that it goes with 1,910 single-core and 6,035 multi-core scores. PC Mark Work 2.0 performance score and 3DMark's Sling Shot Extreme - OpenGL ES 3.1/Sling Shot Extreme got 7,104, 2,075, and 1,985, respectively.

Above-average speed!

POCOPHONE F1 with SD845, Honor Play, and Xiaomi Mi 9T with SD730 are still faster, but that doesn't mean that it is slow.

In fact, the numbers we recorded are almost on par with some late 2017 and early 2018 flagship phones. 

It is also faster than other similarly priced phones with Helio P70 chip from MediaTek and Qualcomm SD710.

What does that mean? Mi 9 SE is still considered as quite fast for the price and for the size!

My only problem is its non-expandable storage size. If you can go for the 128GB variant, go for it. If not, 64GB is still ample, but it might not be enough for those who wants to store a lot of files. 

Overall, actual performance is pretty fast. We heard reports that animation is not that fluid with some Mi 9 SE units, but it is smooth with our unit. We barely had hiccups or forced shutdowns when we are using the Mi 9 SE we have.

Opening a lot of apps won't also be a problem. It can handle nearly anything you throw at it with ease. It has good app management in general for me.

Like most Xioami phones, Mi 9 SE can also GAME. As a matter of fact, its gaming performance is similar to what we experienced with the Honor Play. It is also smoother than than the realme 3 Pro at NBA 2K19.

The cool thing? It can run NBA 2K19 at all high settings with acceptable frame drops. PUBG and few other games like Mobile Legends are buttery smooth.



The UI

The UI
The UI


Mi 9 SE runs with MIUI 10.2, a custom Android skin based on Android 9 Pie OS. Like other Xiaomi devices, it features a clean looking skin with minimal bloats and modern looking icons. There are few pre-installed apps like the Mi Remote, Drop, Community, MIUI Forum, Cleaner, Dual Apps, and a lot of Google apps such as Gmail, YouTube, and Drive.
Optimization apps
Optimization apps

The only minor downside I can see here is the lack of an option where you can use a mode with an app drawer. There are no ads in contrary to what we heard from rumors.

Other features

Mi 9 SE is the mid-range phone with the speediest and most accurate In-Display fingerprint scanner in town. Even with really light tap, it works 9/10 times. It is almost as accurate as traditional fingerprint readers.

Unlike other Mi phones, Xiaomi made sure that Mi 9 SE has a speedy face unlock solution this time. It works even in low light scenes as well. It doesn't have a lift to wake function though.

As expected, it goes with the usual connectivity features. GSM (dual-SIM), WiFi, 4G LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, and GPS all works well. We noticed that it has NFC as too. Gyroscope and OTG functions are also present.


Xiaomi Mi 9 SE Specs

Display: 5.97-inch 2.5D curved Gorilla Glass 5 protected AMOLED screen w/ FHD+ 2280 x 1080 resolution at 423 ppi
CPU: 2.3GHz 64-bit Snapdragon 712 AIE octa-core processor
GPU: Adreno 616
RAM: 6GB LPDDR4X
ROM: 64GB/128GB UFS 2.1
Back Camera: 48MP f/1.75 Sony IMX586 sensor + 13MP f/2.4 w/ 123-degree ultra wide-angle sensor + 8MP f/2.4 2x telephoto sensor w/ Dual Pixel PDAF and LED flash
Selfie Camera: 20MP f/2.0
Battery: 3,070mAh w/ 18W fast charger
OS: Android 9.0 Pie w/ MIUI 10
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5GHz), 4G LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS, GLONASS, dual SIM (hybrid)
Sensors: Accelerometer, light, orientation, proximity, sound, magnetic
Others: In-Display fingerprint sensor, IR blaster, USB-C, Colors: piano black, ocean blue
Dimensions: 147.5 x 70.5 x 7.45 mm
Weight: 155 g
Price: PHP 15,990 (64GB), PHP 17,990 (128GB)

Pros - Premium build, compact design, great display, speedy chip, good versatile cameras, speedy in-display fingerprint reader

Cons - Lack of a headphone jack, no microSD card slot, no ultra-wide night mode, 4K video not stabilized, not the best mic for the price

Verdict

Mi 9 SE is the mid-ranger for those in need of a compact phone with great design!

In addition, it comes with a punch AMOLED display, pretty strong performance, respectable battery life, and versatile/capable triple-camera system. I also like the fact that it goes with one of the nicest night modes in town.

Most of the downsides we noticed are forgiveable for its low PHP 15,990 price tag.

Overall, it goes with close to a flagship features in a compact size and mid-range price tag.
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