Last year saw the return of the smartphone megapixel (MP) race as first, Sony, then Samsung, unveiled high-resolution camera sensors.
Samsung, for one, topped its own 64MP sensor, which it announced last May, with an even higher-end 108MP sensor later in the year.
This 108MP camera is the key feature in the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, an upper mid-range smartphone that boasts the world's first penta-camera system and a huge battery.
But while most of the attention will be on the Mi Note 10's camera hardware, I came away from this review more impressed with its outstanding battery stamina.
It has a massive 5,260mAh battery compared to the 4,000mAh to 4,500mAh batteries in other phones.
Unsurprisingly, the Mi Note 10 lasts almost two days for me before I have to start looking for the included 30W fast charger. In our video-loop battery test with the screen set to maximum brightness, the Mi Note 10 lasted around 17.5hr, the longest among the smartphones I have tested.
And within half an hour of plugging in the charger, the Mi Note 10 is sufficiently charged to last another day. In fact, the only downside is that it can take quite a while to replenish the phone's battery with a slower charger.
As for its penta-camera system, the Mi Note 10's 108MP main camera, like other high-resolution camera sensors, uses the popular pixel-binning technique to combine information from four adjacent pixels to one. Thus, this camera takes a 27MP photo by default, though users can opt for the full 108MP resolution by selecting the 108MP mode in the camera app.
In good lighting, the Mi Note 10 produces 27MP photos that look detailed with accurate colours. However, I would not recommend shooting 108MP photos if you are looking for the best quality photos. Even in a well-lit indoor room, the 108MP photos showed a fair amount of noise, though the noise was less for shots taken outdoors on a sunny day.
Each 108MP photo takes up around 16MB to 18MB of storage, which can be an issue seeing as the Mi Note comes only with 128GB of internal storage and lacks a microSD card slot.
I was also slightly concerned about the processing time for the 108MP photos - around 5 to 8 seconds per image, during which I could not take any other photos.
Photos using the phone's night mode also took a similar amount of processing time, on top of the longer exposure time required. To my disappointment, photos taken using night mode were only slightly better than those taken without it. Light sources were less overblown and colours looked more natural using night mode, but the resulting photos did not blow me away like some flagship smartphone cameras.
The Mi Note's other secondary cameras - two telephoto (2x and 5x optical zoom), an ultra-wide and a macro one - offer plenty of versatility. The 5x zoom is good enough to be used to discern text from a distant banner.
The phone itself makes a great first impression. The large battery gives it a solid heft while the build quality is comparable to flagship models. My only complaint is the relatively large rear camera bump.
Its Oled screen looks very good. It is almost bezel-less, with a small notch at the top to accommodate the selfie camera and also comes with an in-display fingerprint sensor. Colours look vibrant and lively from all angles and the screen is bright enough to be used outdoors under the sun. The display also supports high dynamic range videos from Netflix at its native 1080p resolution.
Besides its camera and display, the rest of the Mi Note 10's hardware is more mid-tier than flagship. For instance, there is no wireless charging or water resistance.
Its processor is also an upper mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G that is fast and responsive enough in games like Call of Duty. But I could not help but wonder if photos, especially the 108MP ones, could have been processed faster with a higher-end chip.
As usual, Xiaomi's MIUI 11 interface comes with its own take of Android system apps like the Clock and the Calendar, which can be annoying for those who prefer the Android versions. There are several preloaded third-party apps and games that, while can be easily uninstalled, add to the bloated feel. I am also rather wary that many of Xiaomi's apps, such as the Calculator app, request for Internet access when they probably should not need to.
The Mi Note 10 focuses on two things - camera and battery - but it only delivers on the battery life front. The camera hardware has its moments, but the performance deteriorates when it gets dark. But that said, with its excellent build quality and smooth user experience, it makes a good alternative to more expensive flagship phones.
Vibrant Oled screen
Outstanding battery stamina
Build quality of a flagship phone
Large camera bump
Long processing time for low-light and 108MP photos
Middling low-light performance
No microSD card
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G (Dual-core 2.2GHz, hexa-core 1.8GHz)
Display: 6.47-inch Amoled, 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 398 ppi pixel density
Operating system: MIUI 11 (Android 9)
Memory: 128GB, 6GB RAM
Rear cameras: 108MP (f/1.7), 12MP telephoto (f/2.0, 2x optical), 5MP telephoto (f/2.0, 10x hybrid), 20MP ultra-wide (f/2.2, 117-degree), 2MP macro (f/1.75)
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.0)
Value for money:4/5
Battery life: 5/5