Review Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition tested – is the luxury smartphone worth buying?

Xiaomi presented the Xiaomi Mi 8 as its flagship on the occasion of the company’s 8th anniversary. We have already tested this extensively. Besides the Xiami Mi 8 SE, the third smartphone in the group is the Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition, which stands out from the Mi 8 with an extravagant design and a fingerprint sensor in the display. But is that even necessary?

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition Smartphone

Technical Specifications

Display 6.21″ AMOLED display (2248 x 1080p, 19:9 aspect ratio), 402 ppi
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 @ 2.8GHz
Graphics chip Adreno 630 @ 710 MHz
Memory 8 GB LPDDR4X RAM
Internal memory 128 GB UFS 2.1
Main camera 12 MP wide angle (OIS) with ƒ/1.8 + 12 MP tele camera with ƒ/2.4
Front camera 20 MP with AI scene detection & portrait mode
Battery 3,000 mAh with Quick Charge 4.0+
Connectivity LTE Band 1,3,5,7,8,20, WLAN AC, GPS/BDS, Bluetooth 5.0, Dual SIM
Features Fingerprint sensor in display | USB Type-C | 3D Face Unlock
Operating system MIUI 9.6, Android 8.1
Dimensions / Weight 154.9 x 74.8 x 7.6 mm / 177 g

Packaging & Scope of Delivery

The manufacturer from Shenzhen has always attached great importance to presentation. However, the Xiaomi Mi Mix series has always received special attention from the manufacturer. This honour is now also part of the Explorer Edition of the Xiaomi Mi 8. While the Mi 8 is delivered in a typical smartphone box, the Explorer comes in a flat, square box in flagship black.

The “8” immediately catches the eye when we open the package. You don’t get more information on the front, but you know immediately what is meant. Before we can take the smartphone, there is even a personal greeting from Lei Jun, the Xiaomi CEO, in English and Chinese – here they have learned a lot.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition CEO Greeting

But then you get the Mi 8 EE in all its glory, the USB charger with CN plug, a red USB type C cable 1 m long and a Chinese operating manual and warranty card. The SIM needle and the USB type C to 3.5 mm jack adapter are also required – we know why. A little highlight: the included hardcase, which is transparent on the back, but why?

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition Scope of delivery
The red USB Type-C cable is a small optical highlight.

Small details with a big effect

Optically, at least on the front, there is really nothing at all between the Mi 8 and the Explorer Edition. Xiaomi sticks to the tightrope walk between his own Mi style and the model from Cupertino. While the mix series is a bit more “angular”, the Xiaomi Mi 8 EE rounds it all off a bit. The housing frame is very softly rounded at all four corners and is slightly thinner on the sides than up and down.

Xiaomi has consistently followed the “round thread”. This also means that there is no 90° angle in the four corners of the screen. The notch at the top of the screen is also much more curved than is the case with the Mi 8 SE. To save space, the Notch is used here again, which is again relatively large. However, it also contains all kinds of technology. Besides the 20 megapixel front camera sensor there is an infrared camera, a notification LED, a light sensor, the auricle, a distance sensor and the dot matrix projector for 3D scanning.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition Front Camera Notch

The lower edge of the screen is visibly thicker. Even with the expensive Explorer Edition, Xiaomi is not considering bending the bottom of the display panel to minimize the edge, as is the case with iPhone X. However, this would have pushed up costs even further.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition Power Button

We really like the details that Xiaomi has implemented here. Dominant are the metallic red accents, which have already been pointed out with the USB cable. The power button on the right side also shimmers in this metallic red. You can also find the color in the USB type slot, but also as a border of both camera modules on the back. Despite its size, the Explorer Edition is also very comfortable to hold, which is mainly due to its ergonomic design. Overall, I like this a bit better than the ergonomics of the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S.

Xiaomi wants to be transparent

Xiaomi has thought of something special for the back, but nothing unique. The back of the phone has been designed mostly transparent to give an insight into the inside of the phone. We already know this from the HTC U11/U12 +, but it is still a real eye-catcher. Although not the entire “skeleton” of the smartphone is visible, a large part is. Only towards the sides, the transparent effect disappears, so that for example adhesive residues or the like are not visible. But you can absolutely live with that.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition back transparent

A closer look reveals individual hardware components. The Qualcomm logo on the CPU unit immediately catches the eye, the AI unit is a bit more inconspicuous. But the PCB should also show that Xiaomi is not only about the technology, no, also about the emotions. Sincerity and passion as well as the Mi fans are therefore also to blame for the company’s success. They are also given the company motto: Be the coolest company in the heart of our users. Oh, Xiaomi.

Appearances are deceptive

Already after the introduction of the Explorer Edition there were justified doubts about this look, which we like very much in itself. What you see under the hood is for the most part not the actual motherboard with the individual hardware components. However, this is also not a sticker, but a plastic replica with some real capacitors and electrical resistors, which however do not fulfil any function.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition Mi Logo

If you remove it, you first come across a layer of thermal paste and then you get to the right board. It can be seen that the arrangement is different and the whole presentation is not as visually appealing as the plastic replica.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition back side NFC
At least the NFC tag shown here is real.

That clouds the mood a little, as a real technology fan one is a bit disappointed by Xiaomi’s strategy. The problem is that Xiaomi has emphasized the authenticity of this design in advance. Nevertheless, this doesn’t change the fact that this design itself looks pretty cool. How you deal with it in the end is up to you. It’s a pity – but no deal breaker for me.

According to HTC and Xiaomi, manufacturers will probably increasingly rely on such a design in the future.

AMOLED display still the plus point par excellence

With the Xiaomi Mi 8 series, the manufacturer has consistently and for a long time once again installed AMOLED panels. The Explorer Edition also comes with a 6.21 inch AMOLED display, which offers a high resolution of 2248 x 1080 pixels. This results in a pixel density of 402 ppi, i.e. pixels per inch. The contrast ratio of 60000:1 is very high, which is due to the AMOLED panel.

In contrast to LCD IPS displays, an AMOLED display has the advantage that it can control and illuminate the pixels individually. This results in much better black values, which increases the contrast ratio. In addition, these panels are somewhat more energy-saving, but also comparatively somewhat darker. AMOLED panels, for example, are preferred by Samsung smartphones.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition Standing Smartphone

As in the review of the Xiaomi Mi 8, the display of the Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition is one of the most convincing features, especially in competition with the in-house Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S. The colour representation is very rich and the whole picture simply looks very strong. The contrast is also very strong and I like it personally. Even in sunlight, the display is easy to read even at medium brightness.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition Display

However, MIUI still leaves room for individual preference in the settings. There you can adjust the color scheme using the color palette and choose between three settings for the contrast. It is also possible to activate and schedule the reading mode, which removes the blue tones and is more pleasant for the eyes in the evenings and mornings.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition Always On Display

Thanks to AMOLED technology, the Always On mode is also available. If this is switched on, the display shows information even in idle mode. These include, for example, the time and date. This is energy-saving due to the AMOLED, as only the few pixels that are needed need to be illuminated.

Xiaomi Mi 8 at top performance

When it comes to performance you don’t have to say much. The Explorer Edition is one of four Xiaomi smartphones with the Snapdragon 845 processor. The CPU is currently Qualcomm’s most powerful processor unit and offers eight Kryo 385 cores with a clock frequency of up to 2.8 GHz. It was manufactured in a 10 nm production process and is therefore quite energy-efficient despite its performance.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition back transparent CPU

The only innovation: the Mi 8 EE is equipped with 8 GB LPDDR4X memory and not with 6 GB. In addition, there is 128 GB UFS 2.1 memory, which cannot be expanded via microSD card. If you need more memory, you need either the 6/256 GB version of the Mi 8 or the Pocophone Poco F1 with microSD slot.

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE PUBG

As in the Xiaomi Mi 8, performance is beyond all doubt, because this CPU is a beast and cannot be brought to its knees so quickly. This is already noticeable in everyday life when opening and closing apps as well as in multitasking, but at the latest when you play a game on your smartphone. Blockbusters like PUBG or the Asphalt games run very smoothly on the Mi 8 in the Explorer Edition.

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE Benchmarks

The benchmark results also confirm our impressions. What is striking here is that the AnTuTu value is significantly higher than that of the Mi 8, the Geekbench and PCMark benchmarks are comparably high. This may be due to the fact that our benchmark at that time was relatively low, but also to the expansion of the RAM. Personally, I did not notice the increase in memory in everyday life. At this point 6 GB is enough in my opinion, because MIUI handles the resources quite well.

The camera – the centerpiece of the Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition

Like the Mi 8, the manufacturer uses a dual lens camera consisting of the 12 megapixel Sony IMX363 and the 12 megapixel Samsung S5K3M3 sensor. This makes the Explorer Edition the third one in the group, since the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S has already been equipped with the same camera. Sony’s primary sensor offers an aperture of ƒ/1.8, quad optical image stabilisation and a 24 mm focal length. The second camera is a telephoto camera with a focal length of 47 mm, whereby the aperture is much more closed with ƒ/2.4.

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE test photo main camera

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE test photo main camera indoor lighting
Even slightly more difficult indoor lighting does not make the camera sweat.

Accordingly, there are no surprises here. The Xiaomi Mi 8 in the Eplorer Edition also shoots very good photos, which can score with rich colours, good sharpness and good exposure. Especially in good lighting conditions, the smartphone tends almost towards DSLR replacement. It is especially fun to put an object in the foreground and then work with the natural Bokeh.

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE test photo main camera object portrait comparison

Xiaomi MI 8 EE test photo main camera comparison portrait

But also the artificial Bokeh is very well done by Xiaomi. The secondary sensor including telephoto focal length is used for portrait photos. This brings the objects closer, the image section becomes smaller, but the bokeh benefits from this. This works very well for both people and objects. Only the edge detection has problems to keep smooth edges like the cardboard of the Mi A2 (see picture above). However, this is more likely to be the case at second glance.

The Best Selfie Cam In A China Smartphone

The biggest surprise of the Mi 8 was the front camera. The 20 megapixel sensor has delivered very good selfies and could shine just in terms of resolution and sharpness, so that even a 150% zoom into the images is no problem. Xiaomi has kept it that way, so you can also use the Explorer Edition perfectly for selfies. At this point we also want to praise the portrait mode, which Xiaomi masters with flying colours just through the software.

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE test photo front camera portrait mode comparison
As with the Mi 8, we are more than enthusiastic about the front camera. Both the “normal” and portrait modes are convincing.

Low-light selfies sometimes work very well, sometimes less well. From time to time the display becomes a disco. If the sensors in the notch detect that there is too little light, the Mi 8 regulates the display brightness in the app up and down to better illuminate the photo. However, this creates a regular flow of light that does not stop. This sounds a lot like a software problem that I hope will be solved in the future!

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE Low Light Selfie Camera_komp

Beautiful videos – bad sound

Even in a luxury smartphone you have to fight with a typical Xiaomi problem. The videos of the main and front camera are really impressive in terms of colour, resolution and stabilisation. With the main camera we still recommend to stay at Full HD resolution, as the 4K images are not stabilized. However, the sound recordings are limited to being unusable. The microphone tries to filter out very strong noises, but ambient noises become quite loud.

More expensive smartphone with a smaller battery?

Actually, Xiaomi has only increased the quality of the Explorer Edition, except for the battery capacity. While the Mi 8 with an average value of 3,400 mAh has reached a pretty good running time, the battery of the luxury smartphone is decimated to 3,000 mAh. It is important to note that the energy consuming resources such as the CPU and the display remain the same and that 3D Face Unlock and the In-Display fingerprint scanner are also added. So how long does the Mi 8 EE make ends meet?

Xiaomi manages to surprise us here! With an on-screen time of 9 hours, the value for such a small capacity is very high! This means that it is also higher than the runtime of a OnePlus 6 – we would not have expected this! The benchmark was performed at medium brightness and WLAN switched on.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition Battery Benchmark

If you need to recharge the Mi 8 EE, Quick Charge 4.0+ is theoretically very fast. However, Xiaomi “only” includes a Quick Charge 3.0 charger and QC 4.0+ devices are rarely available so far. With an 18W charger, the Mi 8 in the Explorer Edition can be fully charged in just over an hour and 10 minutes. You have to do without Qi-charging in the Explorer Edition; this feature is still only available in the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S.

The unlocking options

Xiaomi dares to do without the very popular fingerprint sensor on the back. Instead, two new generation unlocking options are debuting: 3D Face Unlock and the fingerprint sensor in the display.

3D Face Unlock

The Mi 8 was the first Xiaomi smartphone that not only used the front camera as hardware for face unlocking. In the notch there is already an infrared camera and an infrared sensor, which accelerate the recognition process and make it possible even in the dark.

The Explorer Edition builds on this and additionally works with a dot matrix and the distance sensor. In this way, a 3D scan of the face is performed and not “only” a 2D scan, as with the competition. The Mi 8 EE is actually the first smartphone after the iPhone X to use this technology!

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE 3D Face Unlock
The setup process of the 3D Face Unlock takes a little more time, but is still fast.

And Xiaomi catches me here completely, because that works very well in practice. But the speed is on the level of the Mi 8 and slightly faster than for example the Mix 2S. The “normal” version skips the lock screen when unlocked and takes you directly to the launcher, this does not happen with the Mi 8 EE. However, the security here is better due to the 3D scan and could not be outwitted in our test.

Mi 8 EE with fingerprint sensor in display

The fingerprint sensor in the display is probably THE feature of the Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition, which was most anticipated. At the moment, it belongs to a select circle that currently only includes Oppo, Vivo and Meizu, with Vivo smartphones such as the Vivo NEX being the only mobile phone currently available with the in-display fingerprint sensor.

Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition fingerprint sensor on display

The sensor under the touch screen comes from Synaptics, who also demonstrated their technology in the Vivo X21 UD. Setup works in the same way as a regular fingerprint sensor. The area to be touched is also similarly large and is located centrally in the lower third of the display. Note that you also need to apply a slight pressure, as you might know it from the touch ID of your iPhone.

Since the technology is still quite new, unlocking is simply a lot of fun and feels futuristic. In my case, I have a 90% success rate in unlocking, but that’s mainly because I forget to put pressure on it. The unlock time is longer than a regular fingerprint sensor, but we wouldn’t call it slow. It makes no difference whether a bullet-proof glass foil (in our case 9h hardness) is attached or not.

All in all, unlocking with the touch screen is really fun, but there is definitely still room for improvement in terms of reliability and speed.

Is a global ROM in sight for the Mi 8 EE?

Like almost every Xiaomi smartphone, the flagship comes with pre-installed MIUI operating system. This is a highly customized Android 8.1, which is equipped with a lot of Xiaomi’s own software (Bloatware). since the smartphone is intended for the Chinese market, many of the pre-installed apps are useless for other users. At the time of the test, MIUI version 9.6 was on the smartphone.

In addition, the Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition is only available in Chinese or English, as only a CN version is currently available. A global ROM with other languages is not yet in sight either.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S Google Play Store Install

Nevertheless, all Google services can be installed very easily. Just search for “Google Play Store” in the Mi App Store, scroll down to the Baidu icon (blue paw) in the results, click and the store can be installed. After installation, you must allow the Play Store to use the memory in the Permissions settings (Acces and change files on internal storage).

No jack & no microSD card

There was no upgrade in the connection options. On the bottom side, the USB Type-C connector is used to charge the device and for data transfer with a PC. A headphone connection is still stubbornly dispensed with, but a USB type C to 3.5 mm jack connection adapter is included. If the AUX input is important for such a powerful smartphone, Xiaomi’s only option is the Pocophone. Otherwise there is only one Dual SIM slot, which offers space for two SIM cards, but is not used for memory expansion via microSD card.

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE LTE About Screenshot

We had no problems with the LTE reception during our test, everything went well as usual.
Wireless connectivity has also neither been expanded nor reduced. Also in the China version you can get the Explorer Edition with LTE Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12 and Band 17, plus Bluetooth 5.0, Dual Band 802.1 a/b/g/n/ac WLAN and Dual GPS. The Mi 8 was the first smartphone with Dual GPS, the Explorer Edition is also equipped with it. To be honest, we do not really feel a big advantage in everyday life, nevertheless the fix went very fast and with an accuracy of 4 m the result is also good. Inside you have to be content with an accuracy of 16 m.

Xiaomi Mi 8 EE GPS Test

Conclusion: Buy Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition?

To answer the question: in my opinion not! Sure, Xiaomi proves with the smartphone that they can even produce luxury smartphones, because there is not much to criticize about the Mi 8 EE. The biggest point of criticism remains the price. Performance, camera, 3D face unlock, fingerprint sensor in display, operating system, processing, design, selfie-cam and even the battery speak for the top model. Xiaomi doesn’t have to hide from Samsung and Apple here. 95% of these features are also available with the Xiaomi Mi 8, which costs at least $200 less.

I don’t want to stop anyone from getting the Explorer, but the fingerprint sensor in the display, the 3D Face Unlock and the 2 GB RAM are simply not worth the extra charge in my eyes. The Mi 8 is too good for that, so this version does not bring much added value. This variant also showed me again how much you can get for your money with the Mi 8. To get the smartphone, you have to wear the Mi logo on your chest. It’s also about prestige and nerdity, but maybe that’s exactly what Xiaomi wants and intentionally makes the phone a bit too expensive. Who knows.

In my eyes it would have been a real statement to do without the Mi 8 and to sell the Explorer as the normal Xiaomi Mi 8. Then Apple and Samsung would have had to look around. After all, the Poco F1 is now a top smartphone at a competitive price. Do you see it differently? Would you buy the Explorer Edition?

To the gadget
Profile picture from Thorben

Thorben

My special interests are smartphones from China and I am always keen to discover new smartphone accessories like smartwatches and headphones. 

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