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Mi 11 Ultra review: Xiaomi’s ambitious flagship is a winner

Back in 2017, Xiaomi announced that it won’t launch flagships in India anymore after the lukewarm response received by the Mi 5. Instead, the brand focussed on its mid-range and budget smartphones, which worked in its favour and catapulted it to the number one position in the Indian smartphone market. Fast forward to 2021, and Xiaomi has gone on to launch its most ambitious and premium device yet in the country, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. So,what changed?

Also read: POCO X3 Pro review: flagship-grade performance, budget price

Call it the confidence born out of being the top brand for the last few years consecutively or an opportunistic move in the wake of the vacuum left by Huawei, either way, I am all for it. The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is an ‘ultra’ power move by the brand and threatens the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Let’s get on with the review so that I can explain why I say so.

Design and display

  • 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.38mm , 234g
  • 6.81-inch AMOLED, WQHD+, 120Hz refresh rate, up to 480Hz touch sampling rate, Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, HDR 10+, MEMC

Xiaomi has a history of using ceramic on its most ambitious smartphones, case in point the Xiaomi Mi 6 and the entire Mi Mix series. Therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise when Xiaomi announced that the Mi 11 Ultra features a ceramic back panel in Ceramic Black and Ceramic White colours. I received the latter and it’s dressed to impress with a very premium look to it.

However, the metal and ceramic construct mean that the Mi 11 Ultra is quite heavy, tipping the scales at 234g. Furthermore, thanks to the massive camera module jutting out on top, the smartphone is also quite top-heavy and slippery. The camera module itself stretches across almost the entire width of the topmost portion but that also means that the phone doesn’t wobble when placed on a flat surface.

The ceramic back panel shrugs off the smudges and fingerprints on my white unit, but I believe that the black model will not remain as pristine. Furthermore, the tough ceramic build means that the back panel manages to stave off scratches and nicks better compared to glass- or plastic-clad devices. The Mi 11 Ultra also comes with IP68 certification for protection against water and dust.

What surprised me the most is that despite being a monolith of a smartphone, the Mi 11 Ultra is surprisingly comfortable to use, even with a single hand. This can be attributed to the seamless curving of the ceramic back and glass front into the side metal rails.

Speaking of the sides, the power button and volume rockers on the left side whereas the right side is empty. At the bottom, there’s the dual nano-SIM tray, USB Type-C port, and speaker grille. On top, there’s another speaker grille for stereo sound and the IR sensor.

As for security, there is an in-display fingerprint scanner, which is pretty fast and accurate. The integrated face unlock also works super fast.

Moving on, the display on the Mi 11 Ultra is a thing of beauty. It’s a 6.81-inch WQHD+ (3,200 x 1,440 pixels) AMOLED DotDisplay with a quad-curved panel. The display is protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus. Xiaomi has loaded the display to the brim with MEMC, AI display, advanced colour gamut options, reading mode, and more. Thanks to the impressive 515ppi pixel density, the text is sharp and at up to 1,700nits peak brightness, the display is bright enough for all scenarios.

I particularly liked the ability to use the 120Hz refresh rate in conjunction with WQHD+ screen resolution, just like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. I have been using the Mi 11 Ultra with the refresh rate set at 120Hz on WQHD+ resolution and the experience is nothing short of amazing.

Let’s talk about display junior on the back. Apparently, it’s the same 1.1-inch colour AMOLED display from the Mi Smart Band 5. The secondary display shows notifications, battery level, time, and more but it only works when you double-tap on it or place the phone face down and only up to 30 seconds. Moreover, it doubles up as a rear viewfinder to take selfies using the main cameras. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work with video mode, which would have made it ideal for vlogging.

It’s clear that the rear display is more of a gimmick than a useful feature. However, given the size of the camera sensors used on the Mi 11 Ultra, the module was anyways going to jut out a few millimetres. Can you imagine the wobble on a flat surface had Xiaomi gone the square or rectangular camera module route? Having the camera module stretch across the width of the back panel on top was the only way to prevent it. Instead of wasting the horizontal space next to the camera module, Xiaomi decided to put a display to add to the novelty of the package.

Cameras

  • Rear: 50-megapixel primary sensor, 48-megapixel ultra-wide camera, 48-megapixel telephoto lens
  • Front: 20-megapixel sensor

With cameras, Xiaomi is taking the quality over quantity route and has equipped the MI 11 Ultra with three powerful sensors. You get a 50-megapixel custom Samsung TrμePixel GN2 primary sensor, which is co-developed by Xiaomi and Samsung. Spanning 1 /1.12-inch in size, Xiaomi claims this is the world’s biggest camera sensor.

The primary lens is accompanied by two 48-megapixel cameras (ultra-wide and telephoto) both with a 1/2-inch sensor size. The ultra-wide lens features a 128° field-of-view and the telephoto lens offers 120x digital zoom, 10x hybrid zoom, as well as 5x optical zoom. While the primary and telephoto lens are aided by OIS, the ultra-wide angle lens features PDAF. In the front, there’s a 20-megapixel selfie shooter in the smallest punch-hole cutout I’ve seen to date.

The camera features on the Mi 11 Ultra include a 50MP mode, vlog mode, slow motion, time-lapse, movie effects, long exposure, supermoon, clone, portrait, macro, night mode 2.0 and tilt-shift, among others. As for the video, the Mi 11 Ultra can capture up to 8K in 24FPS and native HDR10 support.  In case you scale down to 4K, you can record in up to 60fps with native HDR10+ support. The phone supports slow-motion recording up to 1,920fps in 1080p and 720p.

Regular
Regular
Regular
Regular
Regular
50MP Mode
Macro
Macro
Portrait
Portrait
Night mode
Wide-angle
Selfie
Portrait Selfie

In daylight, the Mi 11 Ultra captures highly detailed images with good colour production and a stellar dynamic range, thanks to the large sensor. However, I did notice shadow areas losing details in some of the images I clicked. As for the ultra-wide sensor, there’s no colour disparity from the main sensor, which is laudable. On the flip side, while the overall shots are well detailed and crisp, I noticed softening around the edges.

The large sensor on the Mi 11 Ultra comes into its element once the sun goes down. Regular shots taken in low light are well detailed, properly exposed, and true-to-life. The dedicated night mode further improves the low-light performance but tends to shift the colour temperature to a warmer hue.

1X
5X
10X
120X

Let’s talk about the telephoto lens now, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra offers 5X optical zoom, 10X hybrid zoom, and 120X digital zoom. Once again, the colour science is pretty consistent across all three sensor and details were good in 5X and 10X zoom. However, I would discourage using the 120X zoom unless you are using a tripod and a remote shutter, because even the slightest shake blurs the picture.

As for the portrait mode, Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra uses the primary camera and the ToF sensor on the back. As a result, you get a pretty good subject separation from the background and an aesthetic blur. However, I did notice subject isolation to be a little wonky in some portrait shots with some objects besides the subject coming into focus. Moving on, I was a tad disappointed with the Macro mode as the camera struggles to focus when you are close to the object and you have to back up a fair bit to focus properly. As a result, macro shots end up looking like close-up images.

As for selfies, the 20-megapixel front camera captures decent images with good portrait shots. However, I found myself clicking more selfies with the rear camera setup using the secondary display. The one grievance I have is that the rear camera setup + secondary display only works with the regular photo mode and not portrait mode.

Performance, software, and battery

  • Android 11 with MIUI 12
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 with Adreno 660
  • 12GB + 256GB
  • 5,000mAh battery, 67W wired turbo charging, 67W wireless turbo charging

The Mi 11 Ultra is a flagship smartphone through and through. As such, the smartphone comes with top-of-the-line specifications including the current flagship Snapdragon 888 SoC backed by 12GB LPDDR5 RAM and 256GB UFS 3.1 storage. If I’ve to nitpick, there’s no expandable storage and with powerful cameras onboard, you’re bound to run out sooner or later. However, that’s the only bone I have to pick with the Mi 11 Ultra and it’s not really a deal-breaker for me personally, considering I use Google Photos and all of my media is stored on the cloud.

In day to day usage, the Mi Ultra performs just the way a true-blue flagship should. There’s not a single app or game that gave it a hard time. The multitasking is pretty smooth with blazing fast app opening time and 120Hz smoothness adding to the overall experience.  As for gaming, I played Alto’s Odyssey and Shadow Fight 3, which support 120Hz refresh rate and it was a delightful experience on the Mi 11 Ultra.

I also pushed the Snapdragon 888 to its limits by playing Genshin Impact on the highest setting. While the gameplay is smooth, I did notice frame drops at times and the smartphone heats up quite a bit after a 30-minute gaming session. Unfortunately, it is slow at dissipating heat (thanks to the ceramic build), which doesn’t make it ideal if you’re looking purely for a gaming device.

Coming to the software, the Mi 11 Ultra boots Android 11 with the latest MIUI 12 on top. You get the POCO Launcher-style app drawer with automatic sorting of apps by categories, new control center, super wallpapers, game turbo mode, and gesture navigation, among others. However, I found that the gesture navigation doesn’t work with third-party launchers like Nova Prime, and Microsoft Launcher. Furthermore, there’s the usual set of bloatware including Security, GetApps, and Cleaner, to name a few. The good news is that the upcoming MIUI 12.5 update is close at hand, which offers a cleaner interface and the ability to delete even system apps.

The Mi 11 Ultra is equipped with a 5,000mAh battery that supports the 67W speeds with wired or wireless charging. Xiaomi claims that the flagship can charge from zero to 100 percent in just 36 minutes with the 67W charger. Unfortunately, I was sent a 55W charger with the phone, but even with this, the huge battery takes just under an hour to charge fully.

As for the battery life, with the resolution set to WQHD+, 120Hz refresh rate, and Always-on display turned on, the handset lasted me a whole day on a full charge, which is commendable. This is on a couple of hours of Netflix or YouTube, constant WhatsApp and Slack conversations, and moderate gaming.

Bottomline

The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is what a flagship in 2021 should be like and cost a lot less than its contemporaries. At Rs 69,999, you get a premium ceramic build, quad-curved 120Hz WQHD+ AMOLED display, secondary rear display, Snapdragon 888, good cameras, and fast wireless charging support. While some may not like the monolithic, chunky build of the smartphone, you get used to it after a while. In my opinion, the phone offers excellent value for money for its asking price.

At this price point, you can pick up the top-end 12GB + 256GB variant of the OnePlus 9 Pro. You get a lighter, sleeker smartphone with a 6.7-inch QHD+ 120Hz AMOLED display, Snapdragon 888, Hasselblad-branded 48MP rear cameras, and Oxygen OS based on Android 11. However, it comes with a smaller 4,500mAh battery and slower 65W wired and 50W wireless charging.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, with the Mi 11 Ultra Xiaomi has painted a target on the back of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. The Galaxy S21 Ultra gives strong competition to Mi 11 Ultra with its 6.8-inch WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with 120Hz refresh rate, 108-megapixel quad rear cameras, 40MP front cameras, 5,000mAh battery, 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. But at Rs 1,05,999, it’s Rs 35,000 more expensive as well.

Pricebaba’s rating: 8 / 10

What works

  • Brilliant display
  • Powerful performance
  • Versatile cameras
  • Good battery backup
  • Stereo speakers

What doesn’t

  • Chunky build
  • Gimmicky rear display
  • Gesture navigation doesn’t work with third-party launchers
  • Heats up during intensive gaming
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Abhiman Biswas

Abhiman is obsessed with all things tech. His hobbies include reading on his Kindle and clicking random pictures on his phone. His secret superpowers happen to be mixing great cocktails and lip reading. In his spare time, you are likely to find him cleaning his aquascape, researching new species of aquatic fishes and planning which aquatic plants to buy next.