The breakneck pace at which Chinese phone brands move just won’t stop. Not even two months after Vivo introduced the world’s first phone to use a 64-megapixel camera, Xiaomi has topped it with the just-announced Mi Note 10, sporting a 108-megapixel camera.

The penta-camera system of the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 headlined by a 108-megapixel camera.

That’s 108 million pixels, from a mini-computer thinner than a stack of cards.

Developed by Samsung “in close collaboration”–according to the press release–with Xiaomi, the sensor uses the popular quad bayer technique to mostly churn out pixel-binned (that’s combining four pixels worth of data into one) 27-megapixel photos. But shooting with in full 108-megapixel resolution (a whopping 12,032 X 9,204) is possible with simply a tap.

If there’s optimal lighting, the finished 108-megapixel shot is so packed with image information you can pinch to zoom significantly more than you could on any previous mobile devices before it.

I’ve had the chance to test a pre-production unit of the Mi Note 10 over the past few days and naturally I pitted the 108-megapixel camera against the two current biggest names on the market.

Five cameras on the Mi Note 10.

But before we begin, we have to address the elephant in the room: if these recent 48-megapixel, 64-megapixel, and 108-megapixel quad bayer sensors are so great, why aren’t Apple, Huawei and Samsung using the lens for their top dog phones? Especially Samsung, who built the sensor? The reason for that is simple: a higher megapixel count doesn’t always make for a better camera. The size of the sensor plays a major role, and increasingly for smartphones, it is as much about software–computational photography–as it is about hardware.

Plus, there is, in fact, hardware limitations for higher megapixel sensors–they need more light information because there are more pixels that need light. So in general, a 20-megapixel lens is going to suffer more in low light conditions than a 12-megapixel sensor. Xiaomi knows this–it’s why the 108-megapixel sensor shoots pixel-binned 27-megapixel shots by default.

But under great lighting, having so many more pixels than everyone else does matter.

In the photo above, you can see the pictures taken by the iPhone 11 with 12MP camera and Mi Note 10 with  108MP camera . Note that the image from the Mi Note 10 is darker. Because the higher the number of megapixels, the more light it requires; however, in the video below, we see that there are no distortions as you approach the photo of the Mi Note 10.

The lightness between the Mi Note 10 and the iPhone 11 is slightly reduced when shooting indoors. However, the photo taken with the Mi Note 10 is noticeably clearer. 

When we compare the photo taken from the 108MP camera of the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 to the  Samsung Galaxy Fold ‘s 12 Megapixel camera, we see a similar situation. As you can see in the photos below, the difference between the two camera performances is really remarkable. It is ironic that Xiaomi crushed Samsung with its own technology.

However, the Mi Note 10’s 108MP sensor visibly loses its dynamic range and overall image clarity as the sun goes down. As you can see from the photos below, the  iPhone 11  offers a much more balanced image when shooting at night.

Xiaomi Mi Note 10 specifications:

  • 6.47-inch OLED display with FHD + (1080 x 2340 pixels) resolution
  • 8-core Snapdragon 730G processor
  • 6 GB or 8 GB RAM options
  • 64 GB, 128 GB, or 256 GB of storage space
  • 32 megapixel front camera
  • 108 megapixel Samsung ISOCELL HMX CMOS main camera sensor (f / 1.69 aperture)
  • 117 degree ultra wide angle sensor with 20 megapixel resolution
  • 12 megapixel resolution portrait focus sensor
  • 8 megapixel telephoto lens (10x hybrid zoom, optical image stabilization)
  • 2 megapixel resolution macro lens
  • Fingerprint reader sensor on screen, NFC
  • LED on the frame with entertainment focus
  • Android 9 Pie based MIUI 10 interface
  • 5.260 mAh battery with 30 watts fast charge