Friday, April 9, 2021

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

If you told us the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra was a parody of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro Max-style superphones, we'd probably believe you. Its feature-set and design evoke those luxury phones, but one big 'extra' seems to shine a light on the ridiculousness of such high-price mobiles.

This 'extra' is the rear camera bump, a material memo from Xiaomi telling us 'you want more? You've got more'. It's absolutely huge, and doesn't just house three powerful cameras with giant lenses, but it also has a 1.1-inch secondary display too.

Why does this phone have a second screen? Who knows, mobiles have got by without rear displays (no offense, Nubia Z20). It's just one of many unnecessary additions that the Mi 11 Ultra has - but then again, aren't most of the extra features this type of superphone has, equally gratuitous?

The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra's rear display is just the cherry on top of an all-around mega-mobile, with a top-spec display, powerful processor and top camera smarts completing the package.

We've been playing around with the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra for a short while now - and 'playing' feels the right word to use, instead of 'testing', because that's what using the phone feels like. We haven't used the device for long enough to pass a decisive verdict yet. Until then, here are our initial impressions.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra price and availability

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

The one thing we don't know about the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is its price, but expect an eye-watering amount, perhaps in the spirit of the Galaxy S21 Ultra's $1,199 / £1,149 / AU$1,849 or the iPhone 12 Pro Max's $1,099 / £1,099 / AU$1,849.

The phone will go on sale in the UK at some point in April 2021, and its possible it'll grace the Australian shores at some point too, but Xiaomi doesn't sell its phones in the US. Sorry, Americans, you'll have to stick with your primitive single-screen phones.

Design and display

Let's start with the elephant in the room (well, the elephant on the back of the phone), the rear display. This rectangular chunk takes up about a quarter of the back of the phone, nearly matching its width but not too long, and sticks out really far. We'd estimate it's about 5mm thick, though that's not an official figure.

This houses three huge lenses, and the rear display - we'll describe this panel in more detail when we describe the front one. Likely thanks to this chunky block, the phone is pretty heavy, weighing in at 234g.

Elsewhere, the phone has a USB-C port, power button, volume rocker, IR blaster amd they're all in the same positions as on the Xiaomi Mi 11. The phone also has IP68 protection, so you could take it for a swim, though the sea levels are rising enough without monsters like this displacing even more water.

The display is the same as on the Mi 11 - that is, it's a 6.81-inch AMOLED screen with a 2K resolution, 120Hz refresh rate and 480Hz touch input rate - one small difference is that the max brightness is 1700 nits, over 1500 nits on the Mi 11.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

The rear display is 1.1 inches across, and is purportedly the same panel the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 comes with. While the presence of a second screen on a phone is exciting, we're sad to report it doesn't really add anything to the experience. 

It tells you the time when the phone is face-down and can act as a viewfinder when you're taking a photo of yourself (but only in standard Photo mode, not Portrait or Video or any other mode you'd use).

So this isn't a Nubia Z20 type deal where you've got a fully functional rear screen, but it's useful for the tasks it is given to handle.

Cameras and battery life

Prepare for some high numbers. The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has three rear cameras: a 50MP main, 48MP ultra-wide and 48MP telephoto snapper. The latter hits 5x optical and 120x digital zoom. 

On the front there's a 20MP camera for selfies. What's the point in a front-facing camera, when you can use the high-res rear cameras and rear screen for better-looking selfies? We don't know.

So those are some top-spec, high-res cameras, and they take great-looking pictures. Notably there's no 108MP camera like on loads of top Xiaomi phones - is this an admission those are unnecessary? Perhaps. 

Photos are bright and bold, with plenty of detail. Ultra-wide pictures look good, with relatively little distortion, and 120x digital zoom is just as fun to mess around with as you'd expect it to be.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

There's 8K video recording here at 24fps, or 4K at 30fps, or 1080p up to 60fps, as well as loads of the cool camera modes previous Xiaomi phones have had.

Now back to the high numbers - the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has a 5,000mAh battery and supports 67W wired charging. More importantly, wireless powering also goes up to 67W, making it the fastest phone for that kind of charging. There's also reverse wireless powering at 10W, same as on the Mi 11.

According to Xiaomi it takes less than 40 minutes to power up the phone with or without wires, and we'll be sure to test that claim. Battery life felt fine from our testing, but we don't see this thing lasting two days of use.

Performance and software

In the performance department the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has top specs (we're getting tired of using that same description, but it's true), however the Mi 11 also did, so the Ultra presents less of an upgrade on its sibling here.

There's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset paired with 12GB RAM, which makes the phone fast for gaming, video editing and more. We'll be sure to test out a large range of games for our review, to see if there are any weak areas, but judging by those specs we wouldn't expect there to be.

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

MIUI is the name of Xiaomi's typical Android fork, which is used on the Ultra, and it's mostly a design change (though it's not a far cry from stock Android).

MIUI's big problem rears its ugly, tired head, as it's full of 'bloatware' or pre-installed apps like LinkedIn, Agoda, eBay and more. This is one key area where the 'premium' facade slips, and it feels like we're using a cheaper handset.

Early verdict

Going into our full Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra review and testing period, we've got loads of question marks that we're going to need answers for to make a full verdict.

Obviously the price of this phone is one - if it's priced competitively, it could be a must-buy - but we'll also need to see how useful the rear display is and whether the huge camera bump gets annoying.

Already we can tell it's a pretty great phone though, with its cameras and display impressing us, so if money is no concern and you just need a super-top-spec phone, it's a solid option.

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