Xiaomi has fingers in a lot of pies. The Chinese company is better known for its smartphones but also manufactures a host of other products, from electric rice cookers to air purifiers. Its laptops, however, have been the real head-turners over the past 18 months. Following the Xiaomi Mi Notebook Air 13.3 (2017) and the Xiaomi Air 12, meet the new kid on Xiaomi’s block, the Mi Notebook Pro.
Ruthless postmodernism is how one might define the design of the Mi Notebook Pro – the chaps in charge at Xiaomi opted for a darker color scheme compared to its smaller sibling. ‘Deep gray’, as they call it, is an attractive alternative to the silver brushed metal designs that most thin-and-slim laptops sport.
There’s no significant tapered profile here. Instead, you have an almost perfectly rectangular slab of metal alloy – with some curves here and there – that weighs just under 2kg, with its dimensions (360 x 244 x 15mm) making it hardly portable; that’s the price to pay for a larger display.
In comparison, the Mi Notebook Air, which sports roughly the same configuration, is more than a third lighter and costs less. The biggest differences are the size and fewer ports.
With the Notebook Pro, you get one HDMI port, two USB Type-A connectors and an audio jack on the left side, with two USB Type-C ports and an SD card reader located on the right. Note that one of the Type-C connectors is used as a power port.
The power button is located at the top right-hand side of the device, not our favorite location.
As is usually the case with Xiaomi laptops, there’s no logo on the top of the device. Flipping it over exposes a large flat surface with a Mi logo, a removable sticker, five rubber feet, a pair of speaker grills and a multitude of air vents.
Open the laptop and you’ll see the 15.6-inch display, which is covered by a Corning Gorilla Glass sheet, an odd choice given that the display is not touch-capable.
The long, single hinge, is reminiscent of Apple’s notebooks, and so is the layout of the keyboard. Remember, this is a 15.6-inch model so it has enough space for a numeric keypad. You won’t find one here, though, and instead Xiaomi engineers opted for full-size keys with a low activation force, short 1.5mm travel (to give better sense of confirmation), a 0.3mm thick hyperboloid keycap (rather than a flat one) and a noticeable absence of any double-function keys (at least on the main bank of keys).
And yes, this is a backlit keyboard and unlike some competitors, it only offers an on-off option. The touchpad is large and houses a fingerprint reader. It doesn’t have physical right and left buttons which might put off some folks.
The Xiaomi Mi Notebook Pro is one of the very few laptops to feature Dolby’s Atmos sound technology, which is used in conjunction with Harman Kardon Infinity speakers; there’s a pair of the latter on-board (2.5W models).
It is also one of the first to offer an 8th-generation Intel Core CPU. Our review sample came with the Core i5-8250U, which is far superior to previous Core i5 processors for one good reason: it is the first time that Intel has opted for a quad-core model for that range, and one that supports multi-threading.
So it has four cores, eight threads, a base frequency of 1.6GHz and a Turbo frequency of 3.4GHz. Add in 6MB cache, support for DDR4-2400 and a new graphics subsystem (Intel UHD Graphics 620) and you have a compelling processor that should easily surpass even a Core i7-7600U CPU in multi-threaded tasks.
The Nvidia GeForce MX150 discrete GPU which is equipped with 2GB GDDR5 memory is based on the Pascal architecture and should deliver up to around a third extra performance compared to the GeForce 940MX. The MX150 also supports Optimus technology which allows applications to switch seamlessly between integrated (UHD Graphics 620) and dedicated graphics to save battery life when the latter isn’t needed.
Usage and performance
This laptop performed more like a Core i7 than a Core i5-powered model, especially on heavily-threaded applications like Cinebench where the extra grunt of the Nvidia discrete GPU came in handy. The Mi Notebook Pro achieved a staggering 89.44 fps on that benchmark, an almost unheard-of score for a non-workstation device.
Its read/write speeds struggled to match those of the Xiaomi Notebook Air 2017 despite using the same Samsung PM961 NVMe SSD. You should not see any big difference in real life performance for most tasks.
The 61Whr 4-cell battery also allowed this machine to reach a more-than-decent 7 hours 22 minutes of longevity, which is short of what the MacBook Pro can achieve, but still better than the majority of Windows devices.
Note that the laptop came with a Chinese version of Windows 10 Home Edition and had to be reformatted in order to get the benchmarks to run.
The laptop was noisy under heavy usage, which was expected. There are two fans that are fed by a heatpipe (which is itself connected to a large ‘thermal conductivity area’) and they kick in – with a vengeance – when the CPU/GPU becomes too hot.
The keyboard and the touchpad are above average. The keyboard offers superb feedback and good travel, on par with the big guns out there, while the touchpad is sensitive enough and responds well to finger gestures.
The screen remains the outstanding component here. We poked at it a couple of times because we mistakenly thought that it was touch-capable, but it isn’t. With a Full HD resolution and 300-nit brightness, it provides the optimum level of performance for most tasks. Colors are bright and punchy, although some might complain about the lower pixel density (lack of sharpness) usually associated with large displays.
The model sent to us for review was the cheapest of three versions available. The Xiaomi Mi Notebook Pro is also available – on pre-order at the time of writing – with a Core i7-8550U processor, and in a variant with double the system memory (16GB).
There are plenty of rivals available around the base model’s £870 ($1,140) price point. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 is available for as little as £899 ($1,190), once you factor in a £100 discount code. It has a weaker graphics subsystem (Nvidia 940MX) but comes with a Core i7 CPU and 512GB SSD, as well as onsite service. Granted, it is not as MacBook Pro-esque as the Mi Notebook Pro, but it is rather good-looking nonetheless.
At a lower price point is the Vivobook S510 which comes with a weaker GPU and processor. This laptop, from Asus, carries a design similar to the Mi Notebook Pro but opts for a tapered profile. It is also lighter both on your bank account at just under £730 ($960) and in your backpack; note that it comes with a fingerprint reader. If you don’t need the GPU, then for roughly the same price you can opt for a more powerful Core i7 CPU instead.
HP proposes an intriguing option in the shape of the Envy x360 15. This newly released model costs £999 ($1,320), which is more than the Notebook Pro, but it offers some unique features at this price point. It is a convertible laptop for a start, which means that you can use it as a (heavy) tablet, plus it comes with an active stylus pen. HP also opted for a dual-storage configuration which pairs a 128GB system drive (SSD) with a 1TB hard disk drive. This will have an impact on battery life, but all in all, it’s an interesting alternative to traditional laptops.
Lenovo has the IdeaPad 520 at this price point, a laptop which costs around the same as the Mi Notebook Pro, but swaps the GPU for a lesser model and offers a less powerful Core i7 CPU. However, it’s probably not as exciting as Xiaomi’s offering in terms of aesthetic appeal.
The Xiaomi Mi Notebook Pro is a great laptop – an outstanding piece of technology, in fact. The real question is whether you want to spend almost £870 ($1,140) – and potentially far more than that if you have to add taxes – on a piece of kit knowing that you will have to reinstall Windows, and also potentially wait for months for support/repairs if anything goes wrong with the machine.
On balance, we wouldn’t do this ourselves, but if you are ready to take the punt, then this notebook promises to be a fantastic piece of kit. If not, there are plenty of other options on the market as we’ve discussed, especially if you don’t mind going down a notch in the GPU department. Expand your horizons to the more portable 14-inch or 13.3-inch form factors and you will find even more options.
While the appeal of the Mi Notebook Pro is obvious for businesses, especially among microenterprises and startups, the disadvantages far outweigh any pros. The risks are simply too high to justify buying this laptop, and sticking to a UK-based retailer will guarantee a much smoother aftersales process.
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