Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra Review: The best hardware in a Xiaomi phone yet
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is Xiaomi’s answer to every “Ultra” phone released in the past year. A culmination of the best hardware that Xiaomi can muster into a smartphone, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is a premium device aimed at taking the flagship Android throne. Xiaomi has pulled off an impressive feat but it’s not perfect, as the MIUI 12.5 update introduced a number of problems to my unit before they were fixed weeks later.
About this review: I received the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra for review from Xiaomi USA at the end of April 2021. This review was written jointly with my XDA colleagues based in India. Xiaomi had no input regarding the contents of this review.
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra: Specifications
|Specification||Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra|
|Dimensions & Weight||164.3mm x 74.6mm x 8.38mm, 234g|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Front Camera||20MP, f/2.2, 78° FOV, 0.8μm 4-in-1 to 1.6μm, fixed-focus|
|Audio & Vibration|
|Software||MIUI 12 based on Android 11|
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is polarising, and there’s no other real way to put it. Depending on who you ask, it’s either one of the best-looking phones on the market or the worst. The device in white looks vaguely like an Among Us character, and that’s thanks to the near-comically large camera bump on the back.
To some, it’s futuristic. To others, it’s an eyesore. I’m a fan of it, but I get why you might not be. Nevertheless, this is unquestionably the most premium smartphone Xiaomi has ever designed, even if you don’t actually like the design all that much.
The ceramic back on the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, and I’m thankful for the clear case that’s in the box as a result. It’s slightly curved on all edges of the phone and sits nicely in the hand. The ceramic back of the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is an improvement in comfort and feel over the Mi Mix 2S, the last Xiaomi device I used with a ceramic back. It means you need to be careful of both sides of the phone when you drop it, but it looks good and also allows for wireless charging, so it does have a purpose.
The Mi 11 Ultra though is heavy, coming in at 234 grams. While it’s fine to use once you get used to it, switching to anything lighter is a breath of fresh air. I switched to the Google Pixel 5 to try out the Android 12 beta briefly, and I was amazed at the difference in feel between the two. The smaller phone is lighter, but it’s such a huge difference.
It feels big in the hands too, even if it’s not substantially bigger than the OnePlus 9 Pro or the OPPO Find X3 Pro. The curve of the display does mean your palm goes over the front of the display when scrolling using it one-handed, but Xiaomi’s palm rejection has been good for the most part.
The display has Gorilla Glass Victus covering it, and the company hasn’t given any indication of what covers the back. The mid-frame is also made of aluminum, and the top, bottom, and sides being curved means there’s a kind of weird uneven look in each of the four corners. When using the phone daily, you never notice it, and I find that renders heavily overstated the problem. It’s not something you’ll notice using the phone, and I find it actually looks good in person.
The boldest aspect of this device’s design is the back camera, and it’s part of what lends the “Ultra” moniker to this smartphone. It houses (what was at the time) the largest camera sensor in a smartphone, along with an ultra-wide camera and a telephoto camera that can go up to 120x zoom. The most insane part of it all is the screen on the back of the display, which you can use to see the time, your battery level, some notifications, and even control your music.
Love it or hate it, it does have some utility, though even as a fan, I’m unsure of just how useful it really is. I don’t really ever look at it except for when my phone is facing down, but most of the time I have my phone’s display facing up for the always-on-display anyway.
The display of the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is a WQHD+ 120Hz AMOLED panel, and it looks good. While it’s not totally unimpeded thanks to the hole-punch camera, it’s right up there as one of the brightest displays on the market. I’ve been keeping an eye out for all of the display issues that people tend to spot on smartphones, like black crush, color banding, and poor viewing angles. None of these are present in my unit.
The only issue I’ve noticed is the brightness seems slightly inconsistent when at the lowest brightness level. A great way to test an inconsistent brightness is to set the brightness to its lowest, open up an incognito tab in Google Chrome, and then look around the display. Mine is darkest towards the bottom, and lights up in the middle of the panel, even though the entire panel should be completely uniform. This is admittedly a niche case, and not something that’s even noticeable outside of opening up an incognito tab and actively looking for a non-uniform display. In day-to-day usage, it’s completely unnoticeable.
Xiaomi says that the Mi 11 Ultra can hit a peak brightness of 1,700 nits, which is likely measured at 100% APL and with high brightness mode enabled. I’ve had no trouble using it outdoors under direct sunlight, and it also tweaks the contrast of the display to be brighter as well. There’s DC dimming (called “anti-flicker mode” in display settings) too so the display gets dimmer than usual. I’ve had no trouble using this phone at night, be it in bed or just in a dark room.
Xiaomi says the Mi 11 Ultra has both 10-bit support and HDR10+ support, and from my testing, Netflix does serve HDR10 content to the Mi 11 Ultra. 10-bit color means the display can show over 1 billion colors versus a more “standard” 16.78 million on other devices. If you’re curious about how exactly those color values are calculated, an 8-bit display means each of the three color channels has 8 bits of data (red, green, and blue, RGB), making it 24 bits per pixel. From there, we calculate the number of possible colors to be 2^24, equalling 16,777,216, or 16.78 million. A 10-bit display has 10 bits per color channel, which means we get 30 bits per pixel, equivalent to 2^30. 2^30 comes in at around 1.07 billion, which is the number of colors that can be displayed on the screen.
Sadly, the Mi 11 Ultra doesn’t have a low-temperature polycrystalline oxide, or LTPO, display, which I think is the biggest missed opportunity here. LTPO is becoming the next big display technology, and it lets the display refresh rate go as low as 1Hz, significantly decreasing power draw at the same time. There’s also no way of setting a 90Hz refresh rate, meaning you have to go with the power-hungriest 120Hz option or drop right down to 60Hz. There’s no in-between. It’s possible to overwrite the refresh rate if you use adb by executing the following command to drop down to 90Hz.
adb shell settings put system peak_refresh_rate 90
However, the problem is within a minute, MIUI overwrites this and sets it back to 120Hz. There doesn’t seem to be any way to actively force 90Hz at all times.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra won’t disappoint in performance and will handle pretty much everything you’ll throw at it. Packing the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, it has all the generational leaps over its predecessors and a 5nm node size for better performance without a substantial increase in power draw. The Snapdragon 888 retains the 1+3+4 configuration which Qualcomm has been running for a while, with the single Prime core being based on ARM’s new Cortex-X1.
There are also three performance cores based on the Cortex-A78, and four “efficiency” cores based on the Cortex-A55. The Snapdragon 888 is equipped with an Adreno 660 GPU which is claimed to be 35% faster than its predecessor. Finally, the chipset also comes with an integrated Snapdragon X60 modem for seamless 5G connectivity, although I was unable to test 5G connectivity here in Ireland and neither were my colleagues able to test it in India.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 is the most powerful chipset to power an Android smartphone so far. It’s the core of the most exciting flagships released in the last year, driving the Samsung Galaxy S21 Series, the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, and “flagship killers” like the Realme GT and the Redmi K40 Pro+. Smartphones are more than just the sum of their performance though, which is why we always end up with such a wide range of pricing between smartphones. The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra also has up to 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage and 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM. My unit has 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
We’ve devised a series of benchmarks that test the real-world performance of Android phones. The first test is a real-world test of app launch speeds that launches twelve popular apps we use each day in succession for 30 iterations. These apps are all “cold” launched on the device, meaning the app isn’t cached in memory before it’s launched. Timing is stopped when the app’s main activity first begins to draw, so there’s no waiting on content to load from the network. Thus, this test can determine how quickly a device can load an app from storage into memory, with the caveat being this test is sensitive to changes in the app and OS version.
What’s interesting is that these results are actually consistently better than the OnePlus 9 Pro, except for Google Chrome which is a massive outlier. Most apps launch in and around the 300ms mark, with many of them launching lower than that. These are impressive results for any smartphone, besting pretty much all of last year’s devices. While the results from Google Chrome are weird, because of the large amount of memory on the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, it’s likely an app that will mostly stay in memory anyway.
The next test we’ve created is a modified version of Google’s open-source JankBench benchmark. This benchmark simulates a handful of common tasks you’ll see in everyday apps, including scrolling through a ListView with text, scrolling through a ListView with images, scrolling through a low-hitrate text render view, scrolling through a high-hitrate text render view, inputting and editing text with the keyboard, repeating overdraws with cards, and uploading bitmaps.
Our script records the draw time for each frame during the test, eventually plotting all the frames and their draw times in a plot along with several horizontal lines representing the target frame draw times for the four common display refresh rates (60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, and 144Hz.)
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra results in Google’s JankBench benchmark
OnePlus 9 Pro results in Google’s JankBench benchmark
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra produces some interesting results in the above graphs and bests the OnePlus 9 Pro in some areas. In 5 of 7 tests, just like the OnePlus 9 Pro, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra renders 99% of frames in time for a 120Hz display. In both the “Edit Text Input” and the “Bitmap Upload Test”, however, it experiences jank.
I haven’t noticed frame drops when typing on the display. There have been some perceptible frame drops when browsing Twitter (which is the type of content that the “bitmap upload test refers to”) but it’s rare enough, and I’m happy with the real-world performance on the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra.
Sustained Performance, Storage Speed, and Gaming
The sustained performance of the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has impressed me, as it managed to only throttle to 79% of its total performance after half an hour of stress testing using the CPU Throttling Test app on the Google Play Store. That means there should be minimal impact to performance in long gaming sessions, with only the most taxing of games dragging it down. The storage speed also won’t be a bottleneck for your favorite games and apps, as the UFS 3.1 storage is as quick as you’d expect.
Gaming on the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is a pleasure, even if it isn’t a gaming phone, so to say. I’ve been primarily using it for emulation, and games like The Simpsons: Hit & Run and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker run near-perfectly. 3DS games are playable too, with titles such as Pokémon X and Animal Crossing: New Leaf running very well, particularly after the recent Citra update that added support for a shader cache. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 can handle everything you throw at it, with very few games on the Google Play Store being capable of pushing the chip to its limits.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is a gigantic phone with a power-hungry display and processor to match. The 5,000 mAh battery handles more or less everything I throw at it, getting me just through to the end of the day after heavy usage. Given the size of the battery, I expected slightly better battery life, but it’s just enough for me even when I’m on the go.
I use my phone for a lot of social media, YouTube, and work, and it gets me through the day with a little bit to spare at the end of it. That’s with the always-on display enabled all day and a mixture of Wi-Fi and mobile data usage. Here’s a typical day of usage for me, in terms of pure battery statistics. You can see I got up around 9 AM, and the battery lasted me until just about 9 PM when I got home.
Testing the Xiaomi MI 11 ultra in PCMark’s Work 3.0 benchmark at the device’s lowest brightness gave us a result of just over 9 hours in our test. This test was conducted at a constant brightness of 200 nits and measured how long it takes the phone’s battery to go from 80% to 20%. It’s not the best battery life, but it gets the job done, and the charging speeds help top up the battery if you need it.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra also supports up to 67W fast charging, which Xiaomi includes a charger for in the box in Europe. In India, the company only includes a 55W charger in the box. I tested the charging speed from 1% to 100% and was impressed with the results. It took 35 minutes to charge when plugged into the 67W fast charger, making this the fastest charger that I’ve ever tested in a smartphone.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra also supports 67W fast wireless charging, but you need a proprietary wireless charger from Xiaomi to achieve that. Xiaomi says it takes 49 minutes to charge with the wireless charger from 1% to 100%, but note that this will depend on ambient conditions. If used in a warm room, more heat will be trapped, and charging speed will be slowed in wireless charging to prevent overheating, so you will need to ensure that your charging environment is cooler for it to work.
Testing our unit in India that comes with a 55W charger, it takes roughly 50 minutes to charge the 5,000 mAh battery to full.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has one of the biggest primary camera sensors in a phone, and it shows thanks to the natural bokeh that you can get in photos. The background blur you get in close-up photos isn’t software – it’s genuinely just the large camera sensor doing what it’s supposed to. While the camera does leave a lot to be desired at times, I’m overall happy with it.
I think this is one of the better Xiaomi cameras on a smartphone (and the video quality is very good), but there are times where it definitely does better. Xiaomi poised the Mi 11 Ultra as a DSLR competitor, so I took to the XDA YouTube channel and my Twitter page to see which photo people preferred. The results were interesting, as in most cases, people actually preferred the Mi 11 Ultra over the DSLR.
Overall, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra’s camera I believe is overhyped in its current state, but definitely capable of great photos at times. I know there have been improvements and changes with updates, but none have been total game changers since I got the device. It’s a solid shooter with a good ultra-wide and a great zoom camera, but I still find that even the Google Pixel 5 is better for still photos. It struggles with moving subjects, making photos of my cat when moving a blurry mess. Xiaomi’s cameras are some of the better ones on Android smartphones, particularly when the lighting is good, but you’re still better off using a Pixel 5 for still shots.
Software: The first MIUI 12.5 update caused a lot of problems
The software on a smartphone can make or break the experience, and in a lot of ways, it’s likely more important than the hardware packed inside. I know a lot of people won’t use a Xiaomi device no matter how good the hardware is, thanks to MIUI, and that’s just one example. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the software is a sticking point for a lot of people, and it’s almost certainly part of what makes a flagship smartphone a flagship smartphone.
To preface — I have always been a huge fan of MIUI. I think the features it brings to Android make it one of the best Android variants out there, and I love how it looks. The animations are smooth, and I’ve never really had any issues with using my smartphone on a MIUI device. There have certainly been some hitches that are unique to Xiaomi devices that I’ve come across, but nothing that made me hate using my phone as much as MIUI 12.5 did for a period of time.
The experience I had on the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra was overwhelmingly positive at first, and any software hitches were fixed pretty quickly. There were a number of hotfix updates that came out shortly after launch with general system improvements and camera changes — the usual updates that tend to follow a release, nothing out of the ordinary.
Then MIUI 12.5 came along.
The first MIUI 12.5 update for the Europe region ruined the experience I had with the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra and made the device frustrating to use. I had to factory reset my phone after the update to fix some of the issues, and that’s something I’ve never had to do before. Issues I had included a persistent music notification that would never go away (and when it did, left a massive empty space in my notifications), hard crashing, severe battery drainage, and overheating issues. Our unit with my colleagues in India doesn’t have any of the problems I’ve mentioned here, but here’s the thing — that unit is on MIUI 12.0.6.
However, there was one major issue that wouldn’t go away, and I was seemingly not alone. The screen’s touch sensitivity was entirely off, meaning that swipes were being registered as taps on the screen. We already reached out to Xiaomi about this problem and were told a fix was on the way, which has since arrived. The fix has indeed dealt with all of the issues I was having with Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, but it took several weeks of unusability to get it in the first place.
The problem affected everything on the device, and it randomly went away and reappeared. It made scrolling (something that makes up 90% of phone usage) a chore and the only way I got around it was to swipe harder. Users on Reddit have mentioned the problem recently on a wide swathe of Xiaomi-made smartphones. Judging from the comments in the thread, this didn’t appear to be a problem unique to the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. Worryingly for Xiaomi, according to the thread, it also doesn’t seem to be an issue exclusive to MIUI 12.5 either. The problem surfaced on our unit shortly after the update to MIUI 12.5, and our Indian-based unit doesn’t appear to be affected, which is on MIUI 12.0.6.
Was it all a coincidence? Possibly, but it seems that something may have been wrong with MIUI 12.5. I’ve never had to factory reset my phone after a software update before, and I had a lot of other problems after the update too that forced me to. It’s also worth mentioning that the problem doesn’t affect my POCO F3 which is updated to MIUI 12.5 too. MIUI 12.5 might be a perfectly fine update by and large, but it was certainly way more trouble than it was worth for me.
Before those problems arose, MIUI was excellent for the most part. At times there have been issues with notification delivery with Facebook Messenger that aren’t solved even when setting no battery restrictions on it, and there are still one or two UI problems like I found on the Xiaomi Mi 11. On our Indian unit, the system is plagued with advertisements, though I’ve had none on my European unit. Ad recommendations can be switched off in additional settings, and unless you want to see everything shown below, then I recommend doing so.
I get why this is done on cheaper devices as it helps subsidize the price, but I don’t get why they’re doing this on their most ultra-premium smartphone yet. If this is truly a Samsung competitor though, I guess they know Samsung loves to get away with this kind of thing.
MIUI 12.5 is the same MIUI that you’ve come to expect, and sadly the software issues massively soured the otherwise amazing Android experience that I had prior. If the touch issues hadn’t been solved, then this would have been a difficult phone to recommend to anyone. In its current state with everything working, this is easily a top Android phone of the year for me. While the problems may not necessarily have been widespread, there was an issue that Xiaomi had absolutely acknowledged. A €1,199 smartphone shouldn’t have had this many software problems, and it’s a shame that it did.
To be fair, the phone is seemingly back to its excellent state with all of MIUI 12.5’s improvements and changes. The experience is good and there aren’t any issues that I’ve run into since getting the update, though I’m slightly wary of future software updates now as a result. For anyone who picks up this device now in Europe, you’ll get updates straight up to MIUI 12.5.6 out of the box, and you’ll likely skip the entire experience that I had up to this point.
Previously, I also would have said that the fingerprint sensor wasn’t very good, but this latest update also significantly improved it in a way that none of the software updates have before.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra is the most feature-packed, top-of-the-line smartphone I’ve ever used. It has fantastic speakers, pretty good cameras, a beautiful and vibrant display, and excellent performance. The battery life is ample, the charging speed is insanely quick, and I’ve had no trouble with phone calls, texts, or mobile data connectivity in general. Sharp and powerful haptics also means that when notifications do come in, I know about them, and this is one of the few phones I enable haptic feedback on when typing. It was a shame that the entire experience was soured by the MIUI 12.5 update, but I’m happy that it was at the very least eventually rectified when a fix was released.
In its current state, then this phone is more or less a no-brainer, so long as you like MIUI, anyway. €1,199 is a tall asking price for a smartphone, but this is one built to last for a number of years, and it has a certain flex factor thanks to the rear-facing screen that no other smartphones on the market have today. It goes toe to toe with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, and I think that’s exactly what Xiaomi set out to achieve.