What happens when a company that has made a name for itself with incredible values tries to create a phone with every feature imaginable? You get the awesome but imperfect Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. This is Xiaomi’s second ultra-branded phone, but the first that takes ultra to heart. From specs and design to camera hardware, everything about this phone is truly ultra … except battery life.
Design, material, what’s in the box
The design and material of Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is better than almost all other Android phones. It is absolutely fantastic to hold. Xiaomi has kept the same basic front design of the Xiaomi Mi 11, with a screen that curves on all sides, making it more comfortable to hold. The Mi 11 Ultra can use all the help it can get in this department – that’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 ultra-scratch resistant and is smooth without being too slippery, but it increases 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 worry about the back being scratched or cracked. The screen is still glass, but uses the latest and most durable Gorilla Glass Victus, which should hold up well. The Mi 11 Ultra’s frame is aluminum, but I would have liked to see some titanium or stainless steel used here to earn this ultra mark.
There’s a huge camera bump housing three high-resolution sensors, plus a 1.1-inch secondary 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 isn’t much you can do with it. I understand the camera bump must be sturdy because of the huge camera sensors, but it’s just too big with the screen as well. Although it gives the phone a unique look.
The display is, literally, the best I have seen on a smartphone. The 6.81-inch 120Hz OLED display has a resolution of 3200×1440 and the best colors and brightness you’ll get in a 2021 smartphone. There’s also a fast and accurate optical fingerprint scanner underneath. It has a peak brightness of 1,700 nits, which is 200 nits more than the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It also has the same 480Hz touch sampling rate as the Mi 11 for top notch responsiveness. The Mi 11 Ultra is one of the only modern Android phones to support the HDR10 + standard in addition to Dolby Vision. Unfortunately, Dolby Vision content is still scarce on Android.
Xiaomi has done an amazing job with audio as well. You don’t have one but of them full size speakers in this phone. There’s one on the top and one on the bottom like other phones, but instead of being a tiny speaker that plays music, it’s a full-size speaker capable of passable audio reproduction. It makes the music richer and more balanced, and the videos are more immersive. However, there are still some annoying audio bugs. For example, the phone often defaults to the video preset when connecting to a Bluetooth audio device. It makes music echo and distorted, forcing you to go to settings and switch between Smart or Music mode. Yes, boring but not a deciding factor.
The included 5000 May battery is on par for a flagship phone of this size. To charge it, Xiaomi supports 67W fast charging and 67W wireless fast charging. Includes 67W fast charger in box with USB-C to 3.5mm audio adapter and inexpensive plastic case.
Software, performance and battery
The Mi 11 Ultra runs MIUI 12, which is based on Android 11. MIUI 12.5 is still being deployed and has just been rolled out to EU units, with some UI tweaks and improvements under the hood. . MIUI 12, in my opinion, remains a great experience for everyone. However, there might be a learning curve if you are new to MIUI.
MIUI 12 offers happy and fun animations, especially on the home screen. When you delete an app, the app explodes into bubbles and the haptics vibrate to match. When you drag an app, part of the icon lags behind with entertaining physics. Everything looks well designed and goes hand in hand. These animations are awesome and look like something built into the operating system. Even if you want to turn off the animations, you should keep them.
Apart from gadgets, Xiaomi fortunately uses in-stock Google apps for almost everything. The default phone is the Google Phone app, the SMS app is Android Messages, and the Chrome browser. It almost feels like a Pixel experience, minus Pixel features like Calling Screen or Now Playing, which are still a huge selling point. The phone even came mostly bloat-free, with no pre-installed third-party apps. It was really refreshing.
When Xiaomi includes 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 for removing specific things or people from photos. The sky and eraser tools are by no means perfect, but really fun to use for a lot of photos.
Performance on the Mi 11 Ultra is excellent thanks to the Snapdragon 888. The phone heats up a bit more than I would have liked under load, but that’s normal for the Snapdragon 888. If heat isn’t an issue, you can run heavy apps and games on this device; it’s going to rip Genshin Impact, Fortnite, and whatever else you like.
Battery life, on the other hand, was not that great. I only saw about 3 hours of screen time with auto brightness during the day. I think this is due to cell signal issues as this phone is not for the USA. Fortunately, the Mi 11 Ultra supports 67W wired and wireless charging. The 67W wired charging was blazing fast, filling the phone in under 45 minutes.
The Mi 11 Ultra’s camera is one of the best and worst parts of this phone. The main sensor is the ISOCELL GN2 50MP sensor made by Samsung. It’s absolutely huge at 1 / 1.12 inches, creepy near a full 1 inch sensor. It collects enough light, resulting in detailed photos in almost any environment. Night shots are particularly impressive on the Mi 11 Ultra. The only problem is not with the hardware, but rather with the HDR processing, which can sometimes completely fail to merge the images. It’s so bad that I’ve already had the sky superimposed over a tree. This is not a consistent issue, but it should be addressed in a pending MIUI 12.5 update.
The telephoto lens is a 5x optical zoom with a 48MP sensor. It supports 10x hybrid zoom – combining telephoto and main sensor data for better quality – and 120x digital zoom. It looks pretty terrible everywhere with a 45-50x zoom, otherwise it’s good enough for Instagram. The ultra-wide camera is also 48MP, but it has a 128-degree field of view, the widest ultra-wide on a smartphone right now. It’s crisp in the middle of the frame but has a lot of warping on the sides. This is just to be expected with its width. None of these cameras have the HDR issues of the main sensor.
Each rear camera supports video recording at 4K 60fps or 8K 24fps. All of them also support 4K 30fps with HDR, but unfortunately no support for Dolby Vision, although the display does. The video looks fantastic to everyone. The Mi 11 Ultra launches on the iPhone to get the best smartphone video quality.
The selfie camera is passable, but I would have liked to have seen Xiaomi focus a bit more on it. It only supports 1080p 60fps video which is good but seems to be lacking when other phones like Galaxy S21 series and iPhone 12 series support up to 4K 60fps from selfie cameras.
One thing I like about the camera is the Snapchat support. Mi 11 Ultra photos look great in Snapchat because the app uses all the power of the cameras, for better or for worse. While your shots are generally amazing, Snapchat does some weird cropping to fit the screen resolution. This can make viewing the snapshots on a different device a little weird. TikTok still doesn’t use camera hardware effectively, but at least Snapchat is improving.
Should you buy it?
Perhaps, the Mi 11 Ultra is one of the best phones on the market. It just comes to the Galaxy S21 Ultra for the name Ultra, and honestly I think the Mi 11 Ultra is the only phone to earn that moniker. It’s really “Ultra” from top to bottom, but it’s not without bugs. Of course, that could get better with a future OTA, but don’t buy a phone with the promise of future updates. It’s ideal for a gearbox who just wants to play around with the latest smartphone technology – it’s all crammed into this unique device.
Like most of Xiaomi’s flagships, you won’t be able to get it in the United States. You can import one, and it should work fine on Google Fi, but I had some issues with T-Mobile. Google Fi will support WiFi calling and seems to support LTE more consistently, but T-Mobile will primarily connect to 3G. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use 5G on this phone in the US.
At £ 1,199, this phone costs the same as the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It’s not cheap, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s not the average Xiaomi product with a fast processor and a bunch of chopped 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 out a few rough edges.
Buy it if …
- You want a real Ultra phone
- You take a lot of pictures
Don’t buy it if …
- You don’t like to wait for updates to get things fixed
- You don’t like heavy phones
- You need a phone that will comfortably last all day