Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra review — Worthy of the name

Two-minute review

The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra exists for one simple reason — give the best Android phones in India a run for their money with an offering that seemingly sets multiple records and creates new benchmarks. For consumers that are brand indifferent, it really is a device worth considering, especially if they are in the market for something unconventional.

The Mi 11 Ultra is the next big step in Xiaomi’s master plan of becoming a household name in the premium smartphone segment, which started last year with the launch of the Mi 10. It takes a much bigger step in that direction, directly competing with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max.

A glance at its spec sheet confirms that it is not just an ultra in name, but in practice too: a curved 120Hz QHD+ Dolby Vision display, dual stereo speakers from Harman Kardon, 67W wired and wireless charging, top-of-the-line specifications and best of all, class-leading cameras for every need.

While the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is unapologetically over the top, it does come at the cost of poor ergonomics as the phone is quite heavy, thick and slippery. Of course, the nimiety of hardware bells and whistles had to be accommodated somehow, but we’d have preferred a more tasteful execution in terms of the design. Although, you shouldn’t worry about damaging it, even if you identify as a clumsy user — the ceramic body and Gorilla Glass Victus combination is meant to stand the test of time.

Unsurprisingly, it has the latest Snapdragon 888 at its heart, giving it the performance prowess to chomp through everything. While most other phones with this chipset have suffered from average battery life, the Mi 11 Ultra does a great job in this regard, easily lasting a day with moderate to heavy use. The included 55W charger takes about an hour for a full charge, which is quite ordinary. Technically, the phone does support 67W fast charging, but you won’t be able to get a compatible charger in India.

The design, built, display, speakers, battery life are all top class, but it’s the cameras that rock the show. One look at the back and you’ll know that these cameras mean business. Xiaomi says that the Mi 11 Ultra has three flagship-grade cameras, and it is about 67% right with that claim. The primary camera has an almost 1-inch sensor, which enables it to have incredible bokeh, low-light performance and a very interesting look. Similarly, the ultra-wide lens can go wider than any other phone while retaining most of the quality and details. Sadly, the telephoto shooter pales in comparison.

With all of its capabilities, Xiaomi’s first ultra-premium smartphone is not only worthy of the name, but also worthy of its price, and thus wins our recommendation. The only phone that really comes close is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, but its performance and efficiency are hindered by its Exynos guts, giving the Mi 11 Ultra a lead where it matters — while being significantly cheaper.

In a matter of about a year, Xiaomi went from a budget smartphone maker to a legit competitor in the premium space. It democratizes features like no other, leaving us optimistic about its future in this segment. Can we get an affordable foldable next, please?

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra price in India and availability

Launched on April 23, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is priced at Rs 69,999 in India. Colour options include black and white. Amazon is the online sale partner, with the first sale scheduled for July 15. SBI credit card transactions will get an instant discount of Rs 5,000.

Design

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Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra review

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It wouldn’t be too wrong to say that smartphone designs have gotten somewhat monotonous in recent years. Every other device is a glass sandwich with an expansive screen on the front and has a bunch of cameras in a rectangular housing in a corner on the back. If you prefer your shiny new phone to stand out, the Mi 11 Ultra will be right up your alley.

Be prepared for a serious case of smartphone pinky.

Having said that, this is probably the most unwieldy smartphone we’ve laid our hands on in recent times. It is tiringly heavy at 234g, and the dimensions of 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.4mm don’t help either. Add the extremely slippery back (only on the black variant) and top-heavy weight distribution, and the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra ticks all the wrong boxes when it comes to designing a comfortable device.

The power button is on the right side of the phone and has some texture to it, while the volume rocker resides above it. Owing to the size of the device, it’s nearly impossible to take a screenshot with just one hand without pulling off a crazy manoeuvre. 

Thankfully, even if you happen to drop it, you wouldn’t have to worry too much as the Mi 11 Ultra is amongst the most durable phones we’ve tested. It fell off desks and through our fingers umpteen times, but always escaped unhurt — neither the glass nor the frame have any signs of wear and tear, which is very reassuring.

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Another big feature of this phone is the inclusion of Sound by Harman-Kardon. The primary loudspeaker resides on the bottom while the top edge has the secondary grille, both of which combine to produce the loudest output seen on a mainstream smartphone recently. We tested the device in the hot city of Mumbai during Summers, and even the drone of multiple fans could not drown the phone’s audio output. It is clear, rich and vibrant in all the right ways.

Of course, we need to address the elephant in the room: the giant camera housing. Covering about one-third of the phone’s back and stretching all the way from one side to the other, it houses the three rear cameras and a secondary display. We believe that the latter was added primarily to keep the design balanced and then to add extra functionality. Regardless, the bump means that the phone will barely rest flat on any surface, fit on wireless chargers or conform to pockets. For what it’s worth, the phone does not rock while being used on a table. If you get this phone, be prepared to stow it away in a backpack or purse.

Display

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Another place where the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra goes all out is with the display. It has everything one would expect from a flagship device and then some: curves, high refresh rate, screen protection, HDR certifications, and even an entire secondary display on the back!

It is one of the only phones to offer a display that curves on all four sides — not just the sides but also the top and bottom. The latter ones are relatively subtle but you’ll feel the smoothness in swiping or while using gestures. But with the phone being so big and heavy, the palm rejection on the sides should have been better.

With a resolution of 1440 x 3200, a refresh rate of 120Hz and a 480Hz touch sampling rate, this is amongst the most advanced screens on the market right now. Most of our time was spent at Full HD resolution and 120Hz refresh rate, and the visual experience was outstanding. The AdaptiveSync tech also seems to be better optimized to never feel as if the screen is not running at the best possible rate.

Further, the Mi 11 Ultra boasts a peak brightness of 1,700 nits, making it the brightest on the mainstream device for now. Along with HDR10+ certification, it is also capable of Dolby Vision video playback, allowing for the highest dynamic range seen on a phone display.

What we did not like was the reliability of the fingerprint scanner. The optical, in-display kind scanner often took multiple tries to let us in, even when the thumb was clean and in the right position.

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Spanning 6.81-inches across and having negligible bezels on all sides meant that the Mi 11 Ultra is capable of offering some of the most immersive viewing experiences for watching videos. However, it’s not that great for gaming as the expansive screen leaves little room for holding the phone, while the camera bump makes it awkward to hold.

The rear display is similar to what you’d find on a Mi Band fitness tracker but doesn’t even come close in terms of functionality. It is quite customizable as a screen saver, and can even be used to accept or reject calls, read partial notification or control music, but using it for those functions will feel abnormal. Even ignoring the fact that you’ll probably be able to use the primary display in most situations, the smaller screen is not very responsive and doesn’t even wake most of the time. The only sensible use case was using it as a viewfinder for high-quality selfies. A future update is said to bring the same feature for video recording too, which will make it apt for vloggers.

Ignoring that, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is everything a flagship smartphone screen should be.

Performance

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Like most top-end Android phones of 2021, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra uses the powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset, which is paired with 12GB of RAM. Thanks to these internals the phone is powerful enough for all kinds of tasks — at least that’s what our day-to-day experience suggested.

For all kinds of usage, the phone never felt insufficient, be it for gaming, photo editing or heavy multitasking. What we did notice though was that the phone would heat us easily. Just a few minutes of general usage would raise its temperature perceivably. We know that it is the chipset that’s causing this, but some smart control or optimization should have been implemented. Expectedly, the Mi 11 Ultra also easily crosses into the realm of overheating once processes are stacked up. Even extended periods of using the camera would make it uncomfortably hot.

Interestingly, while benchmarks suggest that there’s some thermal throttling going on, real-life performance didn’t seem to dip, even while heavy gaming. 

Cellular and Wi-Fi reception was great, with the phone latching on to networks even in the worst of areas. Xiaomi has also kept all the bands enabled, making the Mi 11 Ultra ready for 5G connectivity globally.

Things are quite familiar on the software front, with MIUI 12 running the show. MIUI 12.5 will be available soon, which promises to make the interface cleaner and more fluid.

Xiaomi’s software skin is quite customizable and smart, making it apt for power users. However, it is not without its quirks — there are visual glitches in the swipe-down menu, notifications are sometimes sent multiple times, and you can get ‘phantom’ notifications which make your phone buzz and light up, despite no message having been received. Notification management also needs work.

Battery

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The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra puts its sizable body to good use by offering a large 5,000mAh battery. It is capable of achieving one of the best battery backups we’ve seen on a flagship smartphone this season. On days with lighter use, we could cross the 8-hour screen-on time mark, while the average was around 6 hours.

Do keep in mind that whenever the phone got warm, the battery drained much faster. Even while charging, the temperature would rise. This was especially true for wireless charging.

The included 55W charger takes about an hour to charge the phone entirely, which was good. But those figures are achievable only when the device is in an idle state — while using, the speed slows down considerably. The optional 67W charger takes closer to 40 minutes for a refuel.

67W wireless charging is also possible, but Xiaomi doesn’t sell one in India. Because of the camera bump, the Mi 11 Ultra had a hard time sitting on our charging pad and getting the best speeds. Looking at the added heating, we didn’t use wireless charging beyond the testing period.

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Verdict

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Buy it if…

Photography is a priority

The Mi 11 Ultra is amongst the best camera phones you can buy today, with the primary and ultra-wide lens offering incredible results most of the time.

You want good battery life

The phone justifies its unwieldiness with a battery that is difficult to kill in a day. Charging speeds are quite fast too.

You consume a lot of media

The big, immersive, high-res screen, coupled with beautiful visual fidelity and the best loudspeakers in the business make it ideal for watching movies or shows.

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Don’t buy it if…

You are looking for a totable device

The phone, and its huge camera bump, can be extremely unwieldy. If you’ve got small pockets, or you carry your phone in a smaller purse, or you just want a compact device, this isn’t for you.

You want a phone that just works

While the Mi 11 Ultra is incredible on a lot of fronts, there are aspects where you’ll have to manually set things for a good experience, such as the software and cameras.

Prices – Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra:

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