Mi 11 Ultra Review: A Leap of Faith
Around this time last year, Xiaomi began testing the waters of the ultra-premium smartphone segment with the Mi 10 5G. It was a solid offering that got most things right, however it was quickly overshadowed by the OnePlus 8 Pro. Xiaomi went on to launch more affordable models in the same series, the latest one being the Mi 10i, which has reportedly done wonders for the company. Xiaomi continues to have great success in the budget and mainstream segments, but this year, it’s aiming to disrupt the flagship segment too.
The recently launched Mi 11 series boasts of impressive features at prices that are often well below those of the competition. We’ve already seen the great value offered by the Mi 11X, and now it’s time to take a closer look at the Mi 11 Ultra. On paper, this smartphone exceeds expectations for a flagship priced at Rs. 69,999, but there’s still a brand perception hurdle that Xiaomi needs to overcome. When you have flagships such as the OnePlus 9 Pro, iPhone 12 mini, and Samsung Galaxy S21 all selling at the same price as the Mi 11 Ultra, does it make sense to go with the newcomer?
Mi 11 Ultra price and variants
Xiaomi has launched the Mi 11 Ultra in just one configuration in India, with 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and it is priced at Rs. 69,999. This is Xiaomi’s most expensive smartphone in India yet, and the price might be a lot to digest for many given the ‘value’ perception that the brand has created for itself over the years.
The Mi 11 Ultra is based on the Mi 10 Ultra, a similarly equipped flagship from last year which didn’t launch in India. Xiaomi is taking an even bigger gamble with the Mi 11 Ultra than it did with the Mi 10 5G, but will it pay off?
Mi 11 Ultra design
The design of the Mi 11 Ultra is stunning. We’ll get to the massive camera hump in a bit, but leaving that aside, it’s as premium as phones get these days. It has an aluminium frame, a curved display with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, and a ceramic back. The glass on the front is actually curved on all four sides, which is a unique design choice. The benefit of this is that gestures performed from the bottom of the screen are smoother as your finger doesn’t hit any sharp edges. In fact, the metal frame, front, and back blend into one another perfectly so you don’t really feel any edges at all when handling the phone.
All these premium materials contribute to the 234g weight of the Mi 11 Ultra. It’s very heavy, but thankfully it’s not very thick at 8.38mm. Most of the weight is concentrated at the top making one-handed use a bit challenging. The rectangular camera module looks a lot like the Poco M3’s camera bump, just thicker. The main reason for this awkward bulge is the massive main camera sensor in the phone, which we’ll get to later.
A side benefit of this is that the Mi 11 Ultra is stable when using it on its back on a flat surface. You can even use the bottom of the camera module as support for your finger when using this phone one-handed. Fingerprints are a big problem on the Ceramic Black variant, but you can also get the Mi 11 Ultra in white, which should hide them better.
On the right side of the camera module is a 1.1-inch (126×294 pixel resolution) OLED display. This mini touchscreen automatically lights up when you place the Mi 11 Ultra face down on any surface. It can be customised to show the battery level, notifications, date and time, a custom message, or an image. You can also use it to answer or reject an incoming call. Most importantly, you can use it as a viewfinder for taking a selfie with either of the three rear cameras. It’s largely a gimmicky addition, and looks like it was added mainly to fill the empty space at the back. I also didn’t like the fact that the menu system for customising this display is buried in the Settings app and not easy to get to.
Coming to the main display on the front, the Mi 11 Ultra uses a 6.81-inch QHD+ (3200×1440) AMOLED panel with a 120Hz variable refresh rate, a 480Hz touch sampling rate, and support for popular HDR formats such as HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. Xiaomi says it has used Samsung’s latest E4 AMOLED panel type, which on the Mi 11 Ultra, can achieve an impressive peak brightness of 1,700 nits. You get an in-display fingerprint sensor but it isn’t the quickest or the most consistent one I’ve used. What’s more intuitive is face recognition on the Mi 11 Ultra, which is lightning quick and works even when the phone is upside down.
The power and volume buttons on the Mi 11 Ultra have good tactile feedback and are placed well. At the bottom, there is a dual-SIM tray, a USB Type-C port, and one of the speakers. The earpiece doubles up as a second speaker for stereo sound. Xiaomi has also thrown in an infrared emitter on the top for controlling IR gadgets and appliances.
I didn’t receive my review unit in a retail box, but this phone should come with a Type-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter, USB cable, case, and fast charger. The Mi 11 Ultra typically comes with a 67W charger, but due to certification constraints at the time of launch, the Indian units will have a 55W charger in the box.
Mi 11 Ultra specifications and software
The Mi 11 Ultra uses Qualcomm’s current top-end Snapdragon 888 5G SoC. One thing worth pointing out is that the Mi 11 Ultra supports a total of 13 5G bands, unlike other phones that have launched with the same SoC such as the OnePlus 9 Pro, which only supports two. This should ensure maximum compatibility when 5G eventually does launch in India, or if you happen to travel to another country. The phone also supports NFC, Wi-Fi 6e, and Bluetooth 5.2.
The Mi 11 Ultra boasts of many other creature comforts that you’d typically find in a premium flagship. The stereo speakers are tuned by Harman Kardon, there’s an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, Hi-Res Audio support for both wired and wireless headphones, and a linear haptic motor for more precise vibration feedback. It has a 5,000mAh battery with support for 67W wired and wireless charging. You will need to purchase a special wireless charger from Xiaomi to achieve this speed. This phone can also reverse wireless charge other devices at up to 10W.
My review unit of the Mi 11 Ultra was running MIUI 12.0.2 based on Android 11. During my review period of about a week, I had a largely ad-free experience. I didn’t encounter a lot of unsolicited notifications from Xiaomi’s stock apps either. The Music app did break protocol once or twice, but flipping a few toggle buttons in the settings seemed to do the trick.
There are plenty of ways to customise your MIUI experience. From themes, to the always-on display, to transition effects, to setting the extent of the areas near the edges that will reject accidental touches. You can even change the layout of the toggle switches in the notification shade to mimic iOS.
Mi 11 Ultra performance and battery life
It took a couple of days to get used to the Mi 11 Ultra’s off-centre weight, but after that, it was just as comfortable to use as any other large smartphone. I actually found it a tad more comfortable than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, thanks to the complete lack of sharp edges on the body. The glossy surface doesn’t offer much in terms of grip but usage is manageable with two hands. Regular phone duties such as calling and texting were handled very well.
The haptic motor offers great feedback when typing and when performing gestures. Accidental presses on the edges of the display are a bit of an issue at first but this is fixable by selecting wider margins for touch rejection. The secondary display is handy if you are in the habit of placing your phone face down. I noticed a software bug on my unit, because of which the mini display would default to showing the time even after I had set an image or message.
The main display on the Mi 11 Ultra is easily one of the best out there. Colours looked vibrant but not oversaturated, and the high brightness meant content was easily legible even under harsh lighting. Reading mode tones down the contrast and colour tone, which Xiaomi claims can reduce eye strain, and this is handy for late light reading. You can set the screen to mimic the look of paper, which is cool, but I wish this could be triggered automatically when using certain apps such as Kindle, the way OxygenOS allows.
The Mi 11 Ultra lets you run its display at 120Hz and QHD+ resolution at the same time. AI video enhancements such as Super Resolution (upscales low resolution videos), MEMC (motion smoothing), etc, can be toggled via a Video Toolbox menu in any video player app. You can even launch mini versions of other apps on top of your videos to quickly check an email or your Twitter feed, for example.
HDR videos look good when played locally or even on YouTube. The Mi 11 Ultra can also shoot 4K HDR10+ or 8K HDR10 videos, but these don’t look great. Colours look heavily oversaturated even on the Ultra’s display and more so when viewed on a non-HDR display. My unit also seemed to have a software bug which messed up the playback of HDR10+ footage recorded on the phone itself. Rather than increasing the contrast and brightness, it would lower it. Videos streamed from Amazon Prime Video had a similar darkened look, but Netflix seemed fine. I’m hoping Xiaomi rectifies this in the next software update.
The Mi 11 Ultra can be an excellent gaming phone. All the heavy titles I tried such as Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends ran smoothly without skipping a beat. The back of the phone did get a bit hot after a while but not severely enough to hamper performance. Games looked fantastic and you can access MIUI’s Game Turbo toolbar in-game for things such as screen recording. The stereo speakers deserve a special mention here too. They get really loud and sound great. Benchmark numbers were solid throughout, with the Mi 11 Ultra scoring 7,90,971 points in AnTuTu.
Actual battery life was more than satisfactory during the review period. My typical usage involved a bit of gaming, watching videos, social apps, and a lot messaging over Slack and Telegram. The Mi 11 Ultra would typically run for more than a full day with about 4-5 hours of screen-on time. Oddly, the phone performed rather poorly in our HD video battery loop test, running for just over 13 hours.
Charging the Mi 11 Ultra is super quick, even with the 55W adapter. I was able to charge the battery up to 99 percent in an hour. I didn’t have Xiaomi’s 67W wireless charger with me, but the Mi 11 Ultra still charged quite rapidly using the company’s older 30W wireless charger.
The Mi 11 Ultra performed splendidly and gave me little reason to complain. However, now comes the real test: the cameras.
Mi 11 Ultra cameras
The Mi 11 Ultra has three rear cameras but each one has an important role to play. The primary 50-megapixel sensor is the largest used in any smartphone yet with a size of 1/1.12 inches. Along with a large pixel size and wide aperture of f/1.95, it should do very well in low light. It’s optically stabilised (OIS), supports HDR10+ video recording, and has Dual Pixel Pro autofocus, which is said to be very effective. The 48-megapixel ultra-wide camera is claimed to have the widest field of view of any phone, at 128 degrees. It has PDAF and also doubles up as the phone’s macro camera. Finally, the 48-megapixel telephoto camera has OIS, 5X optical zoom, PDAF, and up to 120X digital zoom, which also happens to be the highest magnification level for a phone camera yet. In the front, the Mi 11 Ultra has a 20-megapixel selfie camera.
The Mi 11 Ultra boasts of impressive video capabilities too. It can shoot up to 8K video with all three rear cameras, but only at 24fps, and you can’t switch between cameras while recording. Slow-motion videos can be captured at an impressive 1,920fps at 1080p. There’s also a crazy Multicam mode which lets you record simultaneous feeds from any two of the phone’s cameras as a combined video or as two separate videos. What’s even wilder is that you can actually combine a feed from a second Xiaomi phone that supports ‘Dual phone recording’ for a synchronised multi-cam, multi-angle shoot. There’s a long list of other shooting modes to choose from too.
Daylight landscape shots generally turned out great with very good detail. Colours looked natural with the AI scene detection off, dynamic range was good, and there was no visible noise or texture distortion along the edges of the frame. The ultra-wide camera managed to cram a lot of any scene in one frame, which can be great for some occasions. However, objects along the edges did appear a bit distorted and details were much softer.
Close-ups can be a challenge since due to the large sensor and wide aperture, the plane of focus is much narrower than usual. This means anything that’s even slightly out of the focal plane ends up getting blurred. There two sides to this — on one hand, the Mi 11 Ultra produces such amazing natural depth of field that you really never have to bother with Portrait mode, but on the other hand, if you miss your focus point even by a bit, there’s a good chance of blurring the area that you wanted in focus.
Macro mode was a bit of a hit or miss for me. The Mi 11 Ultra is unable to get close enough to a subject for a satisfyingly composed shot. I found the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and even the OnePlus 9 Pro to be much better. Coming to zoom, the Mi 11 Ultra will usually switch to its telephoto camera at 5X magnification if there’s enough light on the subject, otherwise it continues to use the primary camera till about 10X.
However, this is not guaranteed, and at times I noticed the phone using digital zoom at 5X even in daylight. Photos are usually the sharpest at 5X and 10X magnification, after which quality begins trailing off. Images are still usable even at 40X magnification but there’s a visible loss in sharpness and detail. At 100X or even 120X, textures look mushy, and text, if any, isn’t recognisable. 120X zoom is great for bragging rights, but just like the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 100X, it’s not particularly useful in most cases.
In low light, the large primary sensor in the Mi 11 Ultra does a good job with details and colours. It engages a slow shutter automatically so you don’t have to switch to Night mode. The camera app does tend to artificially brighten images at times, which doesn’t always look true to the scene, but noise is kept at bay in darker regions, which is good. The ultra-wide camera also produces usable shots at night, provided you use Night mode.
Using the telephoto camera at night is a bit challenging since autofocus is a bit slow and the camera struggles to meter the exposure and even lock focus on bright objects. Due to this, I found it nearly impossible to get any usable pictures of, say, the moon. There’s a dedicated Supermoon mode which solves this, but magnification is limited to 60X.
The Mi 11 Ultra can record 8K videos, which look good, but I didn’t end up using this option much since the framerate is limited to 24fps. 4K videos taken in the daytime look very good, with excellent stabilisation. The maximum framerate is 60fps, but oddly, you cannot switch between cameras even at 4K 30fps or 1080p for that matter. Recording HDR videos can be a little confusing as there’s an HDR toggle in the viewfinder as well as one in the camera settings. When using the viewfinder option, the resolution is restricted to 1080p, but the other one lets you capture HDR10+ videos at 4K or HDR10 at 8K. Neither of these settings yields good results though, so it’s best to leave them disabled.
Unlike the OnePlus 9 Pro, the Mi 11 Ultra doesn’t overheat when shooting videos at 8K. The phone does get quite hot but the camera app continues to be usable and doesn’t shut you out. 8K videos are limited to six minutes per clip, but there doesn’t seem to be a limit to 4K 60fps recording.
The 20-megapixel selfie camera captured decent quality images during the day. Skin tones looked fairly natural and HDR worked well to balance the exposure on my face even if there was a bright background. Low-light selfies generally had weaker details and noise, even those taken in a relatively well-lit area. Night mode didn’t do anything to fix the exposure or details. Thankfully, you can simply use the rear cameras to take better quality selfies if needed thanks to the secondary display on the back. Video recording with the selfie camera is limited to 1080p 60fps.
The Mi 11 Ultra offers everything one could possibly ask for in a premium flagship smartphone and it does nearly everything very well. A couple of areas where we could use some improvement would be the speed of the fingerprint sensor, and perhaps the camera app could be more flexible. There are other minor software bugs that need fixing too. The areas in which this phone does excel include its excellent build quality, the vivid high-refresh-rate display, all-day battery life, and the very good set of cameras. The relatively spam-free MIUI experience is also refreshing.
For what the Mi 11 Ultra offers, Xiaomi seems to have priced it very aggressively too. At Rs. 69,999, it costs the same as the top-end OnePlus 9 Pro and also the base variants of the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G and iPhone 12 mini. The Mi 11 Ultra easily trades blows with the OnePlus 9 Pro and manages to outdo it in some areas, such as support for more 5G bands, better telephoto performance, and a larger battery. Compared to the Samsung and Apple offerings, the Mi 11 Ultra is more of a competitor to their respective Ultra and Pro models, which cost a lot more. In that regard, the Mi 11 Ultra is actually better value for money.
Xiaomi’s biggest battle with the Mi 11 Ultra will not be trying to out-spec the competition, which it easily does, but to convince prospective buyers to choose it over a OnePlus, Samsung, or Apple smartphone. A commitment to delivering the next few versions of Android for the Mi 11 Ultra would be a good place to start. Xiaomi already uses Google’s dialler and messages apps for the Ultra, so the next step should be getting rid of more redundant apps such as the Music player and GetApps in favour of Google’s alternatives or at least give users the option to uninstall them. Perhaps the upcoming MIUI 12.5 update could address this, which promises to be leaner and more focused on privacy.
For most people, choosing the Mi 11 Ultra over the veterans of this segment will be a leap of faith, and honestly, it’s one that’s worth taking.