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What happens when a company that made its name with incredible values tries to build a phone with every feature imaginable? You get the impressive but imperfect Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. This is Xiaomi's second ultra-branded phone but the first one that takes ultra to heart. From specs to design to camera hardware, everything about this phone is truly ultra... except the battery life.
|Main Display||120Hz 6.81” 3200x1440 OLED|
|Secondary Display||60hz 1.1" 126x29 OLED|
|Camera||50MP GN2 wide, 48MP ultra-wide, 48MP 5x optical telephoto. 20MP selfie camera.|
|Software||MIUI 12 based on Android 11|
|Measurements||164.3 x 74.6 x 8.38mm, 234g|
|Price||£1,199.00 / $1200 USD import
|This is the best, brightest, and smoothest display I've seen on any phone, ever.|
|Camera||The main sensor is capable of some amazing things, even with some software bugs.|
|Design||The ceramic and sheer heft of this phone feels amazing, even if it is heavy.|
|Software||MIUI remains one of the most natural feeling Android skins
|The audio tuning defaults to video which adds a weird echo whenever using Bluetooth audio products.|
|Camera HDR||Sometimes the camera absolutely fails at HDR and results in horrendous photos.|
|Battery||For 5,000 mAh, the battery life is weirdly bad. It barely lasts a day with moderate use.|
|Software again||A future MIUI 12.5 update should contain some important fixes, but it's taking forever to roll out.|
|Design again||This phone is massive with a camera module that sticks out a mile.|
Design, hardware, what's in the box
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra's design and material are better than almost any other Android phone. It feels absolutely fantastic to hold. Xiaomi kept the same basic front design of the Xiaomi Mi 11, with a screen that curves down on all sides, making it more comfortable to hold. The Mi 11 Ultra can use all the help it can get in that department—it's huge. The phone is a bit thicker than the Mi 11 and the back material is ceramic instead of glass. The ceramic panel is uber-scratch-resistant and feels smooth without being too slippery, but it boosts the weight compared to glass. It's a whopping 234g, 38g heavier than the Mi 11.
Ceramic is a much stronger material than glass, so you shouldn't really need to worry about the back being scratched or cracked. The display is still glass, but does use the newest and most durable Gorilla Glass Victus, so that should hold up well. The frame of the Mi 11 Ultra is aluminum, but I would have liked to see titanium or stainless steel used here to earn that ultra branding.
There is a massive camera bump housing three high-resolution sensors, plus a secondary 1.1-inch display. The display is a nice addition but I haven't used it more than two or three times in over a month because there's not much you can do with it. I understand the camera hump needs to be beefy because of the massive camera sensors but it's just too big with the display as well. Although, it gives the phone a unique look.
The display is, quite literally, the best I've seen on a smartphone. The 6.81-inch 120hz OLED display has a resolution of 3200x1440, and it has the best colors and brightness you'll get in a 2021 smartphone. There's also a fast, accurate optical fingerprint scanner underneath it. It has a 1,700 nit peak brightness, which is 200 nits more than the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It also has the same 480hz touch sampling rate as the Mi 11 for class-leading responsiveness. The Mi 11 Ultra is one of the only modern Android phones that supports the HDR10+ standard in addition to Dolby Vision. Unfortunately Dolby Vision content is still rare on Android.
Xiaomi did some incredible work with the audio as well. You get not one but two full-sized speakers in this phone. There's one at the top and one at the bottom like other phones, but instead of being an earpiece speaker that blasts tinny music, it's a full-size speaker capable of passable audio reproduction. This makes music sound richer and more balanced, and videos are more immersive. However, there are still some annoying audio bugs. For instance, the phone often defaults to the video preset when connecting to a Bluetooth audio device. It makes music echoey and distorted, requiring you to go to settings and toggle the Smart or Music mode. Yes, annoying but not a deal-breaker.
The included 5,000 may battery is on par for a flagship phone of this size. To charge it, Xiaomi supports 67W fast charging and 67W fast wireless charging. Included a 67W fast charger in the box along with a USB-C to 3.5mm audio adapter and a cheap plastic case.
Software, performance, and battery
The Mi 11 Ultra runs MIUI 12, which is based on Android 11. MIUI 12.5 is still rolling out, and just rolled out to EU units, with a few UI tweaks and under the hood improvements . MIUI 12, in my opinion, is still a great experience for everyone. There might be a learning curve if you're new to MIUI, though.
MIUI 12 has cheerful, fun animations, especially on the home screen. When you remove an app, the app explodes into bubbles and the haptics will vibrate to match it. When you drag an app, part of the icon trails behind with some entertaining physics. Everything looks like it was well designed and belongs together. These animations are great and look like something integral to the OS. Even if you like to disable animations, you should keep these on.
Outside of the gimmicks, Xiaomi thankfully uses stock Google apps for almost everything. The default phone is the Google Phone app, texting app is Android Messages, and the browser is Chrome. It almost feels like a Pixel experience, minus the Pixel features like Call Screen or Now Playing, which remain a huge selling point. The phone even came mostly bloat-free, with no third-party apps pre-installed. It was honestly refreshing.
When Xiaomi does include its own alternative app, it has a good reason. For example, Xiaomi has one of the most robust photo editors on Android. It has all the classics like exposure, brightness, contrast, etc, but also things like sky replacement and a huge collection of filters for almost any situation. It even has an eraser tool to remove specific things or people from photos. The sky and eraser tools aren't perfect by any means, but really fun to mess around with for a lot of photos.
Performance on the Mi 11 Ultra is great thanks to the Snapdragon 888. The phone does heat up a bit more than I would have liked under load, but that's par for the course with the Snapdragon 888. If the heat isn’t a problem, you can run heavy apps and games on this device; it’ll tear through Genshin Impact, Fortnite, and anything else that strikes your fancy.
Battery life, on the other hand, was not so great. I have only been seeing about 3 hours of screen-on time with auto-brightness over the course of the day. I think this is due to cell signal issues because this phone isn't meant for the US. Luckily, the Mi 11 Ultra supports 67W wired and wireless charging. The 67W wired charging was lightning fast, filling up the phone in under 45 minutes.
The camera on the Mi 11 Ultra is one of the best and worst parts of this phone. The main sensor is the Samsung-made ISOCELL GN2 50MP sensor. It's absolutely massive at 1/1.12-inches, scary close to a full 1-inch sensor. It collects ample light, resulting in detailed photos in almost any environment. Night photos are particularly impressive on the Mi 11 Ultra. The one issue isn't with the hardware but instead the HDR processing, which can sometimes completely fail to merge frames together. It's so bad I once had it layer the sky over a tree. This isn't a consistent issue, but it should be addressed in a pending MIUI 12.5 update.
The telephoto is a 5x optical zoom lens with a 48MP sensor. It supports 10x hybrid zoom—combining data from the telephoto and main sensor for better quality—and 120x digital zoom. It looks pretty terrible anywhere over 45-50x zoom, otherwise it's good enough for Instagram. The ultrawide camera is also 48MP, but it has a 128 degrees field of view, the widest ultrawide on a smartphone right now. It's sharp in the middle of the frame but does have a lot of warping around the sides. This is just to be expected with how wide it is. Neither of these cameras has the HDR issues the main sensor has.
Every rear camera supports video recording at 4K 60fps or 8K 24fps. All also support 4K 30fps with HDR, but unfortunately no support for Dolby Vision, even though the display supports it. Video looks fantastic out of all of them. The Mi 11 Ultra takes a run at the iPhone for best smartphone video quality.
The selfie camera is passable, but I would have liked to see Xiaomi focus a little more on it. It only supports 1080p 60fps video, which is fine, but feels lacking when other phones like the Galaxy S21 series and iPhone 12 series support up to 4K 60fps from the selfie cameras.
One thing I appreciate about the camera is Snapchat support. Mi 11 Ultra photos looks great in Snapchat because the app uses the full power of the cameras, for better or worse. While your snaps will usually look incredible, Snapchat does some weird cropping to fit the screen resolution. That can make viewing snaps on a different device a bit weird. TikTok is still not utilizing the camera hardware effectively, but at least Snapchat is getting better.
Should you buy it?
Maybe, the Mi 11 Ultra is one of the best phones on the market. It comes right at the Galaxy S21 Ultra for the Ultra name, and honestly, I think the Mi 11 Ultra is the only phone to deserve that moniker. It's truly "Ultra" from top to bottom, but it isn't without bugs. Sure, it could become better with a future OTAs, but don't buy a phone on a promise of future updates. It's ideal for a gearhead who just wants to play with the latest smartphone tech—it's all crammed into this one device.
Like most Xiaomi flagships, you won't be able to get this in the US. You can import one, and it should work decently on Google Fi, but I had some issues with T-Mobile. Google Fi will have support for WiFi Calling and it seems to more consistently pick up LTE, but T-Mobile will mostly connect to 3G. You won't be able to use 5G on this phone in the US, unfortunately.
At £1,199, this phone costs the same as the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It's not cheap, but it wasn't meant to be. This is not Xiaomi's average product with a fast CPU and a bunch of cut corners—it has all the modern tech you can possibly cram into a smartphone in 2021. It could be almost perfect if Xiaomi can smooth over a few rough edges.
Buy it if...
- You want a true Ultra phone
- You take a lot of photos
Don't buy it if...
- You don't like waiting on updates for things to be fixed
- You don't like heavy phones
- You need a phone that will comfortably last all day
Where to buy
Long-term review update
After another month of using the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, I've become even more enamored with the phone. From the fantastic specs to the overall feel, I can't help but love it. As much as I hate to say it, phones are boring right now. Most of them are the same flat glass slabs, and few devices in 2021 have really earned an "ultra" designation. The Mi 11 Ultra, however, is one of the few smartphones that offers the best of everything.
Over the past month, the camera has received an update which seems to fix the HDR issue I previously had. I haven't noticed that intense HDR overlay effect in any pictures I've taken since. I've also spent a lot more time learning how to use the lenses on the phone to take fantastic photos that could rival a DSLR to the untrained eye.
Beyond that, I've really come to appreciate the feel and heft of the phone. It feels substantial and premium in the best way. Even compared to the iPhone 12 Pro Max, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Z Flip, and the Mi 11, it has the best in-hand feel. You can tell Xiaomi spent a lot of time on the little things like balance and the way components fit together to take the phone's physical design to the next level.
And yet, it may not be worth it to buy the Mi 11 Ultra right now, especially if you are into the most powerful and most impressive tech at any cost. Xiaomi is rumored to launch the Mi Mix 4 with an under-display camera and faster charging tech later this year. Google is also rumored to release the Pixel 6 XL with similar specs to the Mi 11 Ultra with the added benefit of Google's amazing Pixel camera processing. Samsung is launching the Z Fold3 and Z Flip3 in just a few months, too, which brings foldable displays to an even more modern device. If you want that "Ultra" experience, it might be worth waiting a few more months to see how these phones stack up. Who knows, they could make the Mi 11 Ultra look like an LG phone.