Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review

GSMArena team, 25 July 2018.

MIUI 9.5, on top of Android 8.1

Just like its siblings, the Mi 8 SE ships, running the latest Android 8.1 OS, complete with MIUI on top. For now, that's MIUI 9.5, but MIUI 10 is right around the corner and the Mi 8 SE is on the official waiting list. Overall, Xiaomi's popular UI offers a pretty consistent experience across devices, as well as versions. It's a very successful and deliberate way of hiding away the Google core and building a recognizable OS experience.

That being said, however, it is worth noting that Xiaomi is pretty liberal when it comes to modifications and flavors of MIUI. Some major retailers take it upon themselves to translate and tweak Chinese ROMs, primarily to ship to international clients, prior to a proper Global release of a given device.

Our review unit is one such case. Functionally, it's perfect, since it's based on current Chinese MIUI builds. You do have to go through an automated installer to get Google Play Services, but that's not really a major issue. Plus, it leaves you with the option to try and live your life without them and save on some battery.

Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review

The only real issue with such a ROM is that it is often left stuck on an infrequently updated software branch. Thankfully, Xiaomi offers the option to unlock your phone's bootloader and there are pretty convenient tools for hopping over to an official OS branch. If you are importing the Mi 8 SE from China, it's an important consideration you need to keep all this in mind, so as not to miss out on future updates. But, we digress.

Moving on to the actual OS, there are some new features, like an always-on display, with a clock, date, and notifications. You don't get anything in the way of settings for different styles - it is what it is. You do get the option to schedule when it turns on and off, or keep it on all the time.

Always On display - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Display settings - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Fullscreen and navigation options - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Fullscreen and navigation options - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Fullscreen and navigation options - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review
Always On display • Display settings • Fullscreen and navigation options

There's an entire Full screen display menu where you get options for gesture navigation. Effectively, you can replace the navigation bar with a set of swipe actions - swipe up from the bottom for Home, swipe up and hold for the task switcher, and swipe in from either edge to go back. And if you think that last bit would interfere with apps that use the swipe in gesture to access a drawer menu, it doesn't - just swipe in a little higher and you'll get the drawer.

There's a lot less going on within the top notch of the MI 8 SE than the regular Mi 8. The facial recognition system has been stripped down even more. The more expensive regular Mi 8 gets an infrared illuminator along with the camera. The Mi 8 SE only has the latter to work with. Still, even in its basic form, the facial recognition works well enough in good light. Naturally, accuracy and speed deteriorate with low light.

The Mi 8 SE's face recognition isn't as secure as fingerprint recognition, so it's a good thing then that the phone has that too. The sensor is on the back, enrollment is quick, and unlocking is nearly instantaneous.

Face recognition and fingerprint unlock - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Face recognition and fingerprint unlock - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Face recognition and fingerprint unlock - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Face recognition and fingerprint unlock - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Face recognition and fingerprint unlock - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review
Face recognition and fingerprint unlock

Once you unlock the Mi 8, you go to the homescreen, which is where all your apps are - MIUI adopts a home-screen only approach to Android, opting out of the app drawer. The quick toggles and notification area have remained unchanged in MIUI for quite some time, unlike Google's own which get a redesign for every version. Recent apps look very much like the iOS app switcher. Apps are aligned next to each other and you flick them up to close them. The split-screen toggle resides here as well.

Home screen - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Folder UI - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Notification shade - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Recent apps - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Split-screen - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review
Home screen • Folder UI • Notification shade • Recent apps • Split-screen

A swipe to the right reveals the App vault pane (also called Guide) with shortcuts to frequently used apps and a peek at Mi Notes and upcoming calendar events. According to MIUI forums, this page can only be disabled on the Chinese version of the ROM. Since ours is the Chinese version, a bunch of the default cards is rather... foreign to us. Translations aren't great overall in this part of MIUI, but we are happy to report that this is an isolated occurrence.

Home screen settings - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review App vault - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review App vault settings - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Add new shortcut to App vault - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review
Home screen settings • App vault • App vault settings • Add new shortcut to App vault

The Security app is a hub that offers you options to scan your phone for malware, manage your blacklist, manage or restrict your data usage, configure battery behavior, and free up some RAM. It can also manage the permissions of your installed apps and allows you to define the battery behavior of selected apps and applies restrictions only to the apps you choose. It's all pretty in-depth, yet quite convenient. We particularly appreciate the shortcuts to the app, positioned within the settings menu.

Security app - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Cleaner - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Battery management - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Managing a single app - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Battery Saver - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review
Security app • Cleaner • Battery management • Managing a single app • Battery Saver

The only battery-related feature that isn't conveniently accessible from multiple locations seems to be the Smart scenes menu, Currently, it only has an optional Sleep mode, which is reminiscent of Android's deep sleep functionality. We can only assume, it works on top of that.

Smart scenes - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Second space - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Dual apps - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review App lock - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review MIUI lab - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review
Smart scenes • Second space • Dual apps • App lock • MIUI lab

Some other advanced features, include second space, as well as dual apps, depending on whether you need a whole other environment or just a second instance of an app. App lock is pretty self-explanatory. There is also a MIUI lab menu for testing certain features that are not necessarily ready for prime time just yet.

Gallery - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Image editor - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Music player - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review Video player - Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review
Gallery • Image editor • Music player • Video player

MIUI also offers proprietary Gallery, Music, and Video player. If you are running on a Chinese ROM, then the Music and Video app will also allow access to local (paid) streaming services. A ton of handy apps come pre-loaded too - voice/screen recorders, barcode/document scanner, compass/level, file manager, notes.

Synthetic benchmarks

We already mentioned on several occasions, that the new Snapdragon 710 has us pretty excited and with good reason. It is the he ambassador, of sorts, to Qualcomm's fresh lineup of 700 series chips, unveiled back in February.

Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review

Among other things, this new chip family is marketed for advanced AI capabilities. However, for true AR gains, we might have to wait for the rumored the Snapdragon 730. It will likely be based on a Samsung 8nm LPP manufacturing process, use different cores and even feature a dedicated NPU 120 chip for on-device machine learning tasks. It looks like a different beast altogether and is unlikely to show up before the end of 2018. For now, we only have the Snapdragon 710 to explore and the Xiaomi Mi 8 SE is first, of what will likely be many, to actually bring the chip to market.

First, some specs are in order. The Snapdragon 710 Mobile Platform, as Qualcomm calls it, sits above the Snapdragon 660 and below the Snapdragon 835 and 845, aiming to trickle flagship functionality down to midrangers. Some of those advanced features, in question, include a Spectra 250 image signal processor that can perform multi-frame noise reduction in images and has some depth-sensing AI smarts, baked right in.

There is also the new X15 LTE modem, which delivers 4X4 MIMO and nearly gigabit (800 Mbs actually) downlink speeds. Also, it comes with QuickCharge 4+ support, which should make for really snappy top-offs once those chargers really start showing up in stores.

It's pretty clear that the Snapdragon 710 brings a lot more bells and whistles to the table than the 600 series, top-dog Snapdragon 660. But, rocking a rather unconventional CPU core setup, comprised of pretty new ARM cores, it's pretty interesting to see just where it sits in the mobile food chain.

Xiaomi Mi 8 SE review

The Snapdragon 710 is a 10nm chip, just like the 835 and 845 flagships. However, it uses new Kryo 360 cores, separated into two clusters and designated as Gold and Silver, according to their overall performance. These are not your typical symmetrical clusters, but rather a two, plus six arrangement. 2 + 6 Octa-core (2.2 GHz Kryo 360 Gold - Cortex-A75 derivative + 1.7 GHz Kryo 360 Silver - Cortex-A55 derivative).

This, combined with the improved tech in the Kryo cores themselves, has facilitated Qualcomm's claims of 30% power efficiency on the Snapdragon 710, compared to the Snapdragon 660.

GeekBench 4.1 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    3771
  • Xiaomi Mi 8
    2431
  • Nokia 8
    1925
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    1915
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    1902
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (Cooled)
    1897
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE
    1890
  • Meizu 15
    1620
  • Oppo R15 Pro
    1612
  • Oppo R15
    1520
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera
    1329
  • Huawei P Smart
    939
  • Huawei P20 Lite
    938
  • Huawei Mate 10 Lite
    913
  • Huawei Honor 7X
    904
  • Motorola Moto G6 Plus
    882
  • Xiaomi Mi A1
    877
  • Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)
    755
  • Motorola Moto G6
    754
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)
    734
  • Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)
    733

We kick things off with some pure CPU loads and GeekBench. Just to get the best possible picture, we made sure to include a wide selection of alternative chips in the chart. These go as far up as the ex-flagship Snapdragon 835, the Huawei's Kirin 970 and even the Snapdragon 845 and the Exynos 9810. Also, some interesting current mid-rangers, like the popular Kirin 659, and various Snapdragon SoCs, like the Snapdragon 660, 630, 625 and even the Snapdragon 450 and the Exynos 7880 and 7870. We even threw in the dated Snapdragon 821 in the mix.

Plus, for the sake of ultimate thoroughness, we also ran all the benchmarks on the Mi 8 SE with an active cooling solution and included the results as well. Speaking of which, this is a great time to commend Xiaomi on the excellent cooling job it did on the Mi 8 SE. There was no sign of any thermal-related CPU \throttling even after repeated runs of the benchmarks.

GeekBench 4.1 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    8883
  • Xiaomi Mi 8
    8494
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    6738
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    6629
  • Nokia 8
    6568
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (Cooled)
    5912
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE
    5908
  • Meizu 15
    5877
  • Oppo R15 Pro
    5809
  • Oppo R15
    5806
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera
    4918
  • Xiaomi Mi A1
    4292
  • Motorola Moto G6 Plus
    4160
  • Motorola Moto G6
    3972
  • Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)
    3905
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)
    3779
  • Huawei P20 Lite
    3756
  • Huawei P Smart
    3736
  • Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)
    3718
  • Huawei Mate 10 Lite
    3603
  • Huawei Honor 7X
    3535

CPU-wise, it is clear that the new Kryo 360 cores can't keep up with the beefier and higher-clocked, even if older Kryo 280 units in the Snapdragon 835. However, the Kryo 260 cores inside the Snapdragon 660 fall short, despite their overall higher clock rates. It is particularly interesting to see the Snapdragon 710 come out ahead, ever so slightly, in multi-threaded workloads, where one could naturally assume that having only two higher-tier cores would be a handicap. Turns out it's not.

Over at team Huawei, we find the Kirin 970 churning out just enough power to match the Snapdragon 835 in single-thread tests. Interestingly enough, the Snapdragon 710 and its new Cortex-A75-based units are on par as well, despite their lower clock speed. As for the Helio P60 - it clearly lags behind in single-core tests, but does make up quite a bit of ground with multi-threaded loads.

AnTuTu 7

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    246660
  • Xiaomi Mi 8
    217298
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    212708
  • Nokia 8
    210323
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    209779
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE
    170218
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (Cooled)
    169044
  • Oppo R15 Pro
    146526
  • Oppo R15
    140161
  • Meizu 15
    125444
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera
    115195
  • Motorola Moto G6 Plus
    90263
  • Huawei P20 Lite
    87431
  • Huawei P Smart
    87156
  • Motorola Moto G6
    70845
  • Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)
    69899
  • Huawei Honor 7X
    67636
  • Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)
    63632

Moving on to some more compound benchmarks, and AnTuTu, in particular, paints a pretty flattering picture for the MI 8 SE. Apparently, its overall hardware setup is potent enough to noticeably outperform the likes of upper mid-range offers, like the Oppo R15 Pro, or the Meizu 15. It still doesn't really have what it takes to match flagship devices, like the Mi 8, the Galaxy S9+ or even ones with the older Snapdragon 835. Not in raw power, at least. In terms of feature sets, they are all pretty close. It seems the Snapdragon 710 really is filling in a niche, left behind by the rapid recent advances in ARM performance.

Basemark OS 2.0

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi 8
    3858
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    3609
  • Nokia 8
    3503
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    3354
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    3164
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (Cooled)
    2796
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE
    2658
  • Meizu 15
    2485
  • Oppo R15 Pro
    2438
  • HTC U Ultra
    2222
  • Oppo R15
    1985
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera
    1925
  • Motorola Moto G6 Plus
    1525
  • Huawei P Smart
    1486
  • Huawei P20 Lite
    1455
  • Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
    1417
  • Huawei Mate 10 Lite
    1408
  • Huawei Honor 7X
    1398
  • Xiaomi Mi A1
    1262
  • Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)
    1156
  • Motorola Moto G6
    1136
  • Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)
    1019
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)
    349

Basemark OS 2.0 appears even more generous towards the Snapdragon 710. Still, the middle ground standing, we mentioned earlier is clearly visible.

Moving on to graphics, Qualcomm managed to position the graphical prowess of the Adreno 616 inside the Snapdragon 710 quite neatly in-between the Adreno 512 (Snapdragon 660) and the Adreno 540 (Snapdragon 835). Once again, filling the same performance niche between mid-range and flagship chips.

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    74
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    65
  • Xiaomi Mi 8
    64
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    61
  • Nokia 8
    57
  • HTC U Ultra
    41
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE
    33
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (Cooled)
    33
  • Meizu 15
    23
  • Oppo R15 Pro
    22
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera
    16
  • Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
    15
  • Motorola Moto G6 Plus
    14
  • Xiaomi Mi A1
    9.8
  • Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)
    9.3
  • Huawei P20 Lite
    8.7
  • Huawei P Smart
    8.7
  • Huawei Mate 10 Lite
    8.1
  • Huawei Honor 7X
    8
  • Motorola Moto G6
    6.1
  • Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)
    5.4
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)
    5.1

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi 8
    57
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    55
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    45
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    40
  • Nokia 8
    33
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE
    30
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (Cooled)
    30
  • HTC U Ultra
    24
  • Meizu 15
    23
  • Oppo R15 Pro
    19
  • Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
    15
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera
    15
  • Motorola Moto G6 Plus
    13
  • Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)
    9.8
  • Xiaomi Mi A1
    9.7
  • Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)
    8.5
  • Huawei Honor 7X
    8.3
  • Huawei P Smart
    8.3
  • Huawei P20 Lite
    8.1
  • Huawei Mate 10 Lite
    7.9
  • Motorola Moto G6
    5.8
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)
    5.1

Looking at the off-screen rendering results (since we don't want any pesky native resolution differences, getting in the way), we clearly see the Adreno 616 outperform lower-end offers from the previous generation, like the Adreno 512. However, much like on the desktop GPU scene, a powerful platform, like the Adreno 540, inside the Snapdragon 835 and even the Adreno 530, in the Snapdragon 821, remain potent and competitive.

That being said, the Adreno 616 does have the benefit of a newer, more efficient design, as well as cutting-edge APIs. Thus, making it a potentially more sensible investment in futureproofing, compared to an older flagship chipset.

GFX 3.1 Car scene (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi 8
    33
  • Nokia 8
    32
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    28
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    25
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    22
  • HTC U Ultra
    18
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE
    13
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (Cooled)
    13
  • Oppo R15 Pro
    9
  • Meizu 15
    8.8
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera
    6.3
  • Motorola Moto G6 Plus
    5.6
  • Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
    5.2
  • Motorola Moto G6
    3.5
  • Xiaomi Mi A1
    3.5
  • Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)
    3.4
  • Huawei P Smart
    3.2
  • Huawei P20 Lite
    3.1
  • Huawei Mate 10 Lite
    2.9
  • Huawei Honor 7X
    2.8
  • Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)
    2
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)
    1.9

GFX 3.1 Car scene (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi 8
    33
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    20
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    15
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    14
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE
    12
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (Cooled)
    12
  • Nokia 8
    12
  • HTC U Ultra
    10
  • Meizu 15
    9.2
  • Oppo R15 Pro
    7.6
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera
    6
  • Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
    5.2
  • Motorola Moto G6 Plus
    5.2
  • Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)
    3.9
  • Xiaomi Mi A1
    3.5
  • Motorola Moto G6
    3.2
  • Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)
    3.1
  • Huawei P Smart
    2.9
  • Huawei P20 Lite
    2.8
  • Huawei Honor 7X
    2.8
  • Huawei Mate 10 Lite
    2.7
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)
    1.9

As for some real-world impressions from the MI 8 SE, it handled any game we threw at it with ease. In fact, any heavy load in general, was no task for the Snapdragon 710 and perfectly adequate 4GB of RAM, in our review unit.

Frankly, on a specs comparison basis alone, without looking synthetic loads, the Mi 8 SE could easily pass for a true flagship offer.

Basemark X

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi 8
    43285
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
    42134
  • Motorola Moto Z2 Force
    38615
  • Nokia 8
    37593
  • HTC U Ultra
    35875
  • Huawei Honor View 10
    33499
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE
    27560
  • Xiaomi Mi 8 SE (Cooled)
    27491
  • Meizu 15
    20836
  • Oppo R15 Pro
    20693
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 AI Dual Camera
    14799
  • Motorola Moto G6 Plus
    14357
  • Oppo R15
    11993
  • Xiaomi Mi A1
    10472
  • Motorola Moto G6
    9883
  • Samsung Galaxy A6+ (2018)
    9835
  • Huawei P20 Lite
    9090
  • Huawei P Smart
    8834
  • Huawei Mate 10 Lite
    8721
  • Huawei Honor 7X
    8616
  • Samsung Galaxy A6 (2018)
    5639
  • Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017)
    5489

Qualcomm set out to create a new middle-ground offer, sitting between the power-houses of the day and the popular mid-range silicon and accomplished the mission with flying colors with the Snapdragon 710. It's a great performer that takes proper advantage of new ARM technologies and efficient manufacturing processes. All while borrowing most advanced features and connectivity options from the top-tier Snapdragon 800 series.

Judging by the Xiaomi Mi 8 SE, the pricing strategy for the SoC appears to be exactly on point as well. Could this be the basis of a whole new breed of affordable almost-flagship devices? The industry seems to already be showing a lot of interest towards the new 700 series chip: There is the vivo NEX A - the already announced little brother to the popular NEX S. A Nokia might already be on its way too. And perhaps even a Google Pixel device. This all makes us even more interested in the Snapdragon 710. We'll keep a close eye on things, but we definitely like what we've seen so far.

Reader comments

  • yeet

Noice

  • zte7_170000_antutu

Who cares about the radio? Download from G.S . Infrared ? I think OIS are more important. And front facing stereo speakers, with Dolby Atmos. My (2016) ZTE axon beat the MI 8, still.

  • zeRONY

Just white one..