Xiaomi finally made a phone that doesn’t lag behind other Android flagships in any meaningful way.
Xiaomi Mi 11 has the fastest Qualcomm processor you can currently get, the Snapdragon 888. It has a powerful, 108-megapixel camera, a massive battery that lasts for days, and a huge 6.81-inch AMOLED display. These are all major improvements over its predecessor, the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro. It has a few new features, too, such as wireless charging.
The Mi 11 represents a change in Xiaomi’s strategy. The company used to offer fairly priced smartphones with top specs but a few missing features. But this phone, just like its fiercest competitor, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra, has it all.
A lot of the features that look good on the spec sheet are turned off by default, likely because Xiaomi thinks most users won’t even notice. For example, the phone’s massive AMOLED display has a 3,200×1,400 pixel resolution and a maximum 120Hz refresh rate, but both settings are reduced by default. I used the phone without them for a while, then turned them on, and the difference is very subtle.
The same goes for the new, ultra-snappy Snapdragon processor. Everything feels super-fast on this phone, but it also did on the last one. And though the version of the phone that I got only had 8GB of RAM (you can get it with 12GB as well), it never felt like it wasn’t enough.
Xiaomi Mi 11 battery life and other features
In fact, the beauty of such a powerful phone is that it offers you choices. The 4,600mAh battery is good enough to last through the whole day even with the highest resolution, 120Hz refresh rate, and always-on display, but if you turn those features off, the phone will last two days. The battery also charges really fast; you’ll get from zero to 100 percent in less than an hour.
The reverse wireless charging — a staple on today’s top smartphones — is a cool feature that I never really use. But it’s there, so maybe it’ll be worth it for that one time when your wireless earbuds are out of juice and there’s no power outlet nearby (yes, I’m optimistic about us traveling again someday).
A feature that most people won’t care about, but I do, is aptX HD and aptX Adaptive which will increase sound quality for Bluetooth audio streaming — and it’s also something that Samsung’s top phones don’t have. The differences in sound quality can be subtle, but they are there, especially if you have high-quality headphones.
Xiaomi Mi 11 also has dual stereo speakers which are loud and sound quite good, even better than the ones on the iPhone 12 Pro.
Two things that are missing: Water resistance, and memory card support. Neither is a dealbreaker for me, but they are important.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 is really big
Now that we’ve established that the specs don’t matter — in the sense that the phone has pretty much every feature you could think of — what is it like to use?
One thing I have an issue with is the display. At 6.81 inches diagonally, and mostly bezel-less, the display is impressive to look at, but not the most practical. I prefer large displays, and this one is right there on the edge of comfort for me. If you have smaller hands, forget about operating this phone one-handed.
Other than that, the phone was a joy to use. The phone is Gorilla Glass on both sides (it also comes with a leather back, if you prefer it to glass). It’s very slippery, but Xiaomi sent me a nice, grippy, textile case that I used almost all the time. The under-the-display fingerprint scanner is hit or miss. It would work 10 times in a row, and then it would repeatedly fail me, for no apparent reason. Turning on the face unlock feature got rid of that issue, thankfully. And the display itself is great; I’ve compared it to the one on my iPhone 12 Pro and can barely see a difference in terms of contrast, color vibrancy, or sharpness.
Software-wise, the combination of Android 11 and Xiaomi’s MIUI 12 worked well enough for me — once I’d gotten used to the menus and eliminated most of the pre-installed crapware the phone came with. MIUI 12 is a blend of vanilla Android features and some iOS features, and I found the mix enjoyable.
Generally, Android users fall into two camps; those who notice every little difference between user interfaces, and those who don’t mind. I fall into the latter category, except when the phone really annoys me with a dumb feature, which the Mi 11 never did.
Xiaomi also has some nice visual features to make the phone feel a bit more premium. One I loved is called Super Wallpapers — dynamic wallpapers that zoom in and out of visual scenery depending on where you’re at in a menu. One, for example, starts by showing you the planet Mars from afar when the phone is locked; unlock it, and the animation will breeze through Mars’ thin atmosphere and zoom into a canyon.
This kind of visual wizardry helps, because the front of the Mi 11 looks the same as all Android phones these days, with small bezels and a punch-hole selfie camera in the upper left corner. On the back, the massive main camera sensor is by far the most noticeable feature. It looks powerful, but it protrudes a lot; not even my (fairly thick) case was able to fully protect it. My unit had a matte back that glistens in icy white and light blue; it looks like frosted glass, and it’s pretty fancy, although I do think that aurora effects and gradient colors are a bit overdone on phones these days.
Xiaomi Mi 11 cameras: Good, but not the best
The phone’s massive, 108-megapixel camera sensor, coupled with a 13-megapixel ultra-wide sensor, and a 5-megapixel telemacro sensor, is decent, but not as good as its size would lead you to believe.
Xiaomi’s last flagship phone, the Mi 10T Pro, was a bit of a disappointment in the camera department. It was good, but not an improvement over 2019’s Mi Note 10. The new Xiaomi Mi 11 is similarly perplexing: Its camera has more features and is often great, but sometimes it’s an odd step backward. Also, it doesn’t seem like the camera system is an upgrade from the Mi 10T Pro in a hardware sense, except for the lack of a depth sensor and increased resolution of the macro sensor (5 instead of 2 megapixels).
In daylight, you’ll get beautiful, detailed photos, and if the lighting is really perfect, you can switch to the 108-megapixel mode to get those extra details (by default, the phone takes 27-megapixel photos). For tinkerers, the camera’s Pro mode lets you tweak every little detail, which might actually be useful given how often the camera’s default settings didn’t work for me.
Xiaomi made some improvements to low-light photography and added some new features. One is the Supermoon mode, which uses AI tricks to take photos of the moon to appear better than they should be, even at maximum zoom. It also has automatic night mode — similar to the iPhone 12 — which automatically takes better photos in low-light scenarios, after a few seconds of delay.
However, low-light photography on this phone is hit or miss. Some photos I took on auto night mode had a horribly unnatural greenish tint, and the Mi 10T Pro actually took a better photo. Dedicated night mode worked better for me.
The phone offers a default 2x zoom setting, though you can go much farther than that, up to 30x, by pinching out on the camera screen. The results are alright, up to a point; I wouldn’t go over 3x unless necessary. You can also go to 0.6x for those widescreen shots.
If you like macro photography, the Mi 11’s 5-megapixel macro camera will let you zoom in at near-microscopic levels. It’s a gimmick, but it’s a cool one, and not every phone has it.
The selfie camera has a 20-megapixel sensor, and it does the job well. But even when I removed every possible beautifying option, it would still often produce photos that were slightly too soft for my taste.
Generally, the Xiaomi Mi 11 camera can produce great photos, but it doesn’t always do it — you’ll often have to take several mediocre photos (or tinker with the settings) to get one that’s great. On the other hand, despite the lack of a depth sensor or a dedicated zoom camera, it’s still plenty versatile.
On the video front, the phone offers 8K recording at 30fps, which will make you pine for that missing memory card support. There are also several special video recording modes, including a Super macro mode, and a mode that has the camera track moving objects.
A good deal, but not the best camera phone around
Xiaomi Mi 11 is the company’s best phone so far. It’s powerful, good-looking, has a ton of features, and even beats top competitors in certain (albeit minor) regards. Its camera, however, is a step behind the best cameraphones in class. The Xiaomi Mi 11 starts at 749 euros ($902), which is alright (in Europe), but not cheap enough to make it an instant recommendation.