Xiaomi Mi 11 review: undercut Samsung

Who is Samsung’s biggest mobile competitor? The first name that comes to mind is of course Apple. But most people aren’t quite used to switching between iOS and Android with every phone purchase. So who is he?

Samsung is consistently ranked as the world’s largest phone maker. Huawei is generally number two, largely because of its sales in China where Samsung is a non-entity. And number three right now is Xiaomi.

The reason I’m talking about this is because Xiaomi’s latest flagship phone, the Mi 11, is not only extremely good on its own, but a phone that arguably surpasses Samsung’s latest lineup. It costs less than the $ 799 Galaxy S21 in the markets where it is sold, but in many ways it has more in common with the $ 1,199 S21 Ultra.

The Mi 11 would be a serious competitor to any S21 phone if you saw the two next to each other in a US carrier store. The only problem is, you won’t.

The Mi 11 isn’t particularly exciting to look at, but it’s well built and solidly designed. It follows Xiaomi’s usual glass sandwich plan, with a frosted glass back panel and an iridescent but fairly understated gradient finish. The biggest visual effect is the circle-shaped camera bump, which has three distinct layers all the way up to the large main lens.

With a 6.8-inch screen, it won’t be a phone for people who prefer smaller devices, but it still manages to feel relatively slim. The slight chin under the screen is very thin and the screen curves gently to the sides. At 8.1mm thick and weighing 196 grams, it’s significantly thinner and a bit lighter than last year’s Mi 10, with a slightly smaller (but still large) 4,600mAh battery.

It may well have something to do with its Snapdragon 888 processor, which is Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line chip for 2021; unlike last year’s 865, the 5G modem is integrated directly into the SoC, saving space and power. My Mi 11 review unit pairs the 888 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, although the more expensive models have options for 12GB and 256GB, respectively.

In use, the Mi 11 more than passed the “feels like a flagship” test. As expected from the spec sheet, it’s as fast and responsive as any Android phone on the market. There’s a powerful haptic system and the Harman Kardon branded stereo speakers sound great, although I’m not sure they have anything in common with my longtime SoundSticks. Xiaomi’s MIUI 12 software is based on Android 11, and it’s much more streamlined than previous iterations; Xiaomi has come a long way with its software design.

Battery life is strong: I had almost exactly five hours of screen time in a recent day of testing, and over three of those hours involved using the phone to take photos. and videos in direct sunlight, all with the screen at its maximum. 120 Hz and 1440p settings.

The Mi 11 has a screen almost identical to that of the Samsung S21 Ultra.

This brings me to the screen. While the Mi 11’s display isn’t identical to Samsung’s much-vaunted OLED panel on Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra, it’s extremely similar. Both are 6.8-inch curved LTPO OLED panels with a refresh rate of 120Hz, a resolution of 3200 x 1440, and a peak brightness of 1500 nits. What matters is that the Mi 11’s display is extremely good, which it is. It’s crisp and smooth, with excellent contrast and color reproduction, and the extra brightness is noticeable on sunny days. I know not everyone is a fan of curved screen edges, but these are about as subtle as they get, and I haven’t had any issues with visual distortion or accidental touch input.

My only gripe about the screen is weird: the corners are cut off at a more dramatic angle than the edges of the phone itself, resulting in a bezel that encroaches more than it probably should. I’m not sure why Xiaomi designed the phone this way – the otherwise similar Mi 10 didn’t – but the effect is quite odd. Still, it’s not something I’ve really noticed since I started using the phone.

I’ll also add that the Mi 11’s built-in optical fingerprint sensor is sometimes significantly slower than what I tend to see in phones from competitors like Vivo and Oppo. It’s rarely inaccurate, but the half a second it normally takes to recognize my fingerprint can sometimes seem closer to a second, and those split-second delays add up.

The Mi 11’s main camera uses the same sensor as last year’s Mi 10.

One area where Xiaomi seems to have saved money on the Mi 11 is its camera system. The main sensor is the same 108-megapixel Samsung ISOCELL Bright HMX from the Mi 10, which Xiaomi says it has co-developed with Samsung’s components division. It’s backed up by a 13-megapixel ultra-wide and 5-megapixel ‘telemacro’, which means there’s no real telephoto capability unless you want to get closer to your subject.

Despite the pedestrian gear, I’m generally happy with the performance of the Mi 11 cameras, especially given the price tag. Details and dynamic range are strong in good light, with fairly neutral color rendering, and low-light performance also holds up well. The biggest weakness is in low light situations that fall in between these two extremes, which can get noisy.

The large, high-resolution sensor has its advantages, but there are obvious drawbacks. You might appreciate that it offers a shallower depth of field (without portrait mode) than most other phones, for example, but you’ll also have to deal with sometimes busy bokeh or areas of the scene that seem unexpectedly blurry. And while the 108-megapixel sensor can render a lot of detail, it’s definitely no substitute for a telephoto lens; photos taken with even 2x digital zoom show many artifacts.

Normally I wouldn’t even mention the macro lens, which is often an unnecessary 2 megapixel sensor thrown on a phone just so the manufacturer can claim a three or four camera system, but the 5 megapixel 50mm equivalent unit. of the Mi 11 is a bit better than most. In fact, it performs autofocus, on the one hand, which makes it a lot easier to capture what you’re trying to see up close. I still don’t feel the need for an extreme macro lens on my phone, but at least I was able to use it to check out the tiny texture of the PlayStation icons on my PS5 controller. So this is it.

Overall, the Mi 11 camera system is more than adequate, but it might also be the one thing about this phone that’s wrong with more expensive flagships. The lack of a telephoto lens hurts it, and the next-gen image sensor has its quirks.

The Mi 11’s fit and finish is on par with any high-end phone you might find.

My biggest take away from the Mi 11 is that Samsung is lucky that Xiaomi doesn’t sell phones in the US. The Galaxy S21 starts at $ 100 more than the Mi 11 at $ 749, despite a smaller, lower-resolution screen and plastic back. The same goes for the S21 Plus.

The S21 Ultra at € 1,249 is where the comparison gets interesting. Samsung’s top-end phone is much more expensive, but Xiaomi matches or beats it by spec except on battery and camera. The S21 might be the best all-round phone for people who can afford it, but if I lived in Europe I know which one I would consider better value for money.

That’s the catch, however. At this point, Europe is one of the few places where Xiaomi and Samsung compete in the high end. Until that changes, buyers of flagship Android phones in the United States won’t have much reason to view Xiaomi as part of the competition.

The Mi 11 isn’t such a spectacular phone that I urge you to jump through the import hoops to acquire one. It’s just a really good phone that will be a hugely compelling option in any market it’s sold. If you live in any of them this is my strong recommendation.

Photograph by Sam Byford / The Verge