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The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has a huge screen, world-first camera technology, and incredibly fast charging. But is it the phone for you?
As incredible as the Mi 11 Ultra is at being a technological showcase piece, it doesn’t quite deliver across the board. The design feels super-premium and its screen and speakers are truly sensational, but the handset doesn’t quite make the cut in terms of battery life and UI polish.
Xiaomi is a relatively new entry to UK phone shops, especially when compared to established players like Apple and Samsung. If you’re after a budget phone, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more for less than a Xiaomi-special like the Redmi Note 10 Pro, with its pin-sharp 108MP camera and bargain price. The brand does make high-end phones too, and its latest, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, takes things to an extreme, with not one but two screens, over 150 combined megapixels across its four cameras, as well as top-tier power and performance.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Mi 11 Ultra is its 50MP main camera. The camera introduces a system that’s never been seen on a smartphone before and delivers a higher specification than many dedicated compact cameras. This means the Mi 11 Ultra can take photos that are loaded with depth, even in darker environments. In fact, it’s safe to call the phone a landmark device from a technology point of view – edging smartphone photography closer to DSLR photography than ever before.
Where Xiaomi’s Mi 11 Ultra is less likely to succeed than its camera is its software. Past Xiaomi phones have always looked good and delivered from a performance point of view. That said, they haven’t been as polished as Galaxys and iPhones in day-to-day use. Can the Mi 11 Ultra break the Xiaomi flagship curse and deliver fantastic user experiences as well as top-tier specs?
The ultimate phone for tech-geeks and camera enthusiasts
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is the most suped-up smartphone around. It combines a huge screen, world-first camera technology, and incredibly fast charging. Xiaomi’s pulling no punches in taking on the best from Apple, Samsung and OPPO, but can the Mi 11 Ultra really compete with the polished iPhone 12 or the pen-toting do-it-all Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra?
The Mi 11 Ultra’s specs suggest it more than competes with the competition. From its ceramic design and water-resistant body through to the power within, Xiaomi’s checking all the right boxes. It also introduces a brand new camera sensor, the likes of which have never been seen on a smartphone. With its additional size, the Ultra’s camera sensor makes certain photos shot on the phone look like they were captured on a DSLR.
Far from a one-trick pony, Xiaomi adds stereo speakers to the mix, a top-tier, silky smooth display for immersive listening and watching, as well as plenty of storage space and the best Android processor on the market.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra retails for £1,199 in the UK.
Based on the fact it packs every spec under the sun, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is indeed good value if specs are your thing. It outclasses phones like the iPhone 12 Pro with its razer sharp, silky smooth screen and betters the OnePlus 9 Pro with that fantastic zoom camera.
If you think you’ll binge-watch on its massive screen for hours, capture photos day and night with its flagship camera and revel in taking selfies using its rear selfie screen, the Mi 11 Ultra will tick your boxes. After all, we can’t argue with the hardware Xiaomi crams in.
Despite all the things it gets right, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is overkill for most. Its day-to-day experiences aren’t quite as compelling, compact or polished as simpler options like the Google Pixel 5, for example. Practically speaking, therefore, the Mi 11 Ultra is a niche phone that is made for tech enthusiasts happy to haul a beefy device around if it means they get to wield a true spec SuperPhone.
There are two sides to the Mi 11 Ultra: on the one hand, it’s loaded up with flagship features everyone will enjoy – that screen, those speakers, and its camera. Then there are the specialist elements that make it ‘Ultra’, and in turn, more niche – the huge camera bump with a second display, stacks of power few will push to its limits and the mighty fast wireless charging that requires a specialist charging pad (sold separately).
Starting with the basics, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra runs Android 11, the same smartphone operating system phones made by better-known brands like Samsung and Sony. The Mi 11 Ultra has no app restrictions, making it easy enough to load up with the latest games and services, from Amazon Prime Video, through to Candy Crush and Spotify.
With top-end flagship power, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra can also play the very latest 3D games, including Genshin Impact, at maximum graphics settings. While there’s plenty of power to turbo-charge stunning 3D graphics, the phone also gets warm when gaming for long periods. Accordingly, if you’re a gamer above all else, you might want to consider the Asus ROG Phone 5, which runs significantly cooler.
The degree to which the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is a dream multimedia device can’t be overstated. Its high-resolution screen is pin-sharp, bettering the best iPhones and matching the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s crispness. The result is vivid, crisp episodes and movies in your palm. With AMOLED technology, it’s also fantastically vibrant, bright, and matches great looks with responsive interaction for snappy swipes and taps.
If you’ve heard of Harman/Kardon, you’ll know the company makes high-quality sound solutions (and is also the brand behind JBL). What does that have to do with Xiaomi? The Mi 11 Ultra’s speakers are Harman/Kardon tuned, making for an expansive listening experience to complement that A-grade screen.
On paper, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra shouldn’t have any issues lasting a whole day on a single battery charge, and if you’re using it moderately – WhatsApp fired up, occasional picture taking one or two bouts of gaming, or movie watching, it should go the distance.
The large 5,000mAh inside the Mi 11 Ultra doesn’t quite last as long as we anticipated it would in the real world, though. This is especially true once you start ramping up demanding tasks that require the screen to stay on for long periods. There are also a few features the phone supports – super-smooth scrolling and a clock that displays on the front and rear screen even when the phone’s asleep – that we found ourselves having to turn these off in order to make it from morning to night.
There are other ways to save power on the Mi 11 Ultra if you don’t fancy manually dialling back features. There are two battery saving modes in the settings within the Battery and Performance menu: Battery Saver and Ultra Battery Saver. The second option limits background processes and mobile data to deliver almost a month of battery life, albeit while turning your futuristic flagship into a glorified Nokia 3310. Snake anyone?
What the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra does do is charge incredibly quickly. In fact, it’s the only phone around to power up wirelessly as fast as it does. Fast wired and wireless charging means even if it doesn’t always last a full day, topping up its tank needn’t take too long.
Given the size of the camera bump on the back of the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, you might think it has five or six cameras – but no. Just like the much more demure iPhone 12 Pro, it sports just three rear cameras – one wide-angle (standard field of view), one ultra-wide angle (that fits more in frame), and one telephoto camera (also known as the zoom camera).
At the helm of the phone’s camera squadron is a high-resolution 50MP camera. Yes, it’s has a lot of pixels, but it’s the physical sensor size that really makes the Mi 11 Ultra unique. The bigger a camera sensor, the better it’s able to capture clear photos even in dimly lit scenes. In turn, the Mi 11 Ultra’s class-leadingly big camera sensor is a boon for night time photographers. The phone also includes two 48MP cameras, one with a 5x zoom and the other with an ultra-wide field of view – not too dissimilar to a GoPro.
With such high-resolution cameras, all three can shoot video at up to 8K, which is significantly sharper than the resolution most mobiles record video (Full HD or 4K). With the phone’s big sensor, it’s also a great video camera in a range of scenes, from dimly lit environments, through to bright, sunny days. And with optical image stabilisation (OIS), across two of its three cameras, very little handshake makes it through to your footage, so the Mi 11 Ultra captures beautifully steady video.
Photography fans can expect to be equally impressed by the Mi 11 Ultra’s camera system as video enthusiasts. Another benefit of a camera featuring the biggest sensor on the block is DSLR-like background blur. Therefore, shots taken on Xiaomi’s new flagship deliver a richer depth than virtually any other smartphone, without the need to switch to a special mode (like Portrait Mode on an iPhone). Very impressive, and potentially reason enough to pick one up.
If you’re thinking about buying the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, you need to be okay with the idea of a huge smartphone in your hand and pocket. Not only is the phone large, heavy, and built like a shiny, fancy tank, its camera bump pretty much has its own centre of gravity, jutting out by around half a centimetre from the back of the phone and occupying the whole upper quarter of the back panel. There’s a good reason the Mi 11 has so much junk in that trunk, and it’s that second screen.
Next to the triple camera is a selfie display, so you can use the main cameras to take selfies and super-wide group shots with a visual preview of what’s in the frame. It is handy, though it is also a very small display, making it little more than a guide rather than a truly useful, detail-packed viewfinder. The second screen does also display, which is a bit useful, but generally speaking, the second screen is something we could take or leave.
The Mi 11 Ultra’s design is IP68 water and dust resistant, so it can handle a splash or dunk, and it does look very fancy. We love it in its Ceramic White finish, and it’s also available in Ceramic Black for a more demure aesthetic.
Setting up the Mi 11 Ultra is a simple process if you’re coming from an Android phone. You can use Google’s data transfer tool, quickly importing apps, contacts, Wi-Fi passwords and more. If you want something a bit more comprehensive that handles photos and videos, you can use Xiaomi’s Mi Mover app; however, this requires an install from the Google Play Store once the initial setup is complete.
Despite excellent app support and a generally sleek user interface (UI), the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra’s software experience is one of the few areas the phone feels less polished than the competition. For starters, if dark mode is activated, some button icons appear greyed out within third-party apps like Spotify. This makes it hard to see what you’re pressing and ultimately makes the interface feels half-baked. Additionally, the phone’s dark mode also inverted many of our Twitter contacts’ profile pictures, making them look like Nirvana album covers inspired avatars – not a good look.
As incredible as the Mi 11 Ultra is at being a technological showcase piece, it doesn’t quite deliver across the board. Yes, its design feels super-premium. Yes, its camera is one of the best on any smartphone you can buy. And yes – its screen and speakers are truly sensational. That said, where the Mi 11 Ultra doesn’t quite make the cut is battery life and UI polish. Despite charging very quickly, there’s a very real danger Xiaomi’s flagship phone might not make it through a full day on a single charge. Add to that its interface niggles and that giant, oversized bod and camera bump, and while it’s a true marvel for tech fans, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is just a bit too niche for the masses after reliable, solid performance in the areas that matter the most.
Design and set-up: 3/5
Overall rating: 4/5
Deciding between some of the best models on the market? Read our iPhone 12 Pro review to compare.