Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra review: Ne plus ultra?

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra.
PHOTO: Twitter/Tech_EdgeTE

Overview, design, and main display

You can't buy it... officially. Should you anyway?

Another great one bites the dust: only a few days back, a missive landed on our desks all but confirming that Xiaomi's new standard-bearer, the Mi 11 Ultra, will not be sold in Singapore after all.

As of the time of writing, we're still not sure why, but perhaps the global chipset shortage and greater demand in other markets (or weak demand for flagships here at this time of year?) all have a part to play.

No matter. Those of you who want this over the official Mi 11 are probably coveting the giant ISOCELL GN2 sensor (almost a full inch!), the additional periscope camera, and that conversation-starting rear AMOLED display that provides camera viewfinder and notification functions. 

And we know that some will figure out a way to get it through the usual e-commerce channels, just like I did with the Mi 10 Ultra - official warranty be damned.

But should you, really? And as someone who misses the distinctive look of the Mi 10 Ultra - would I? Let's talk.

                             Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra  
Operating system
  • Android 11 on MIUI 12.5
Processor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Built-in Memory
  • 8/12GB RAM
Display
  • 6.81-inches 3,200 x 1,440 pixels (515 ppi) AMOLED (Samsung E4), 20:9 ratio, 120Hz refresh rate, HDR10+/Dolby Vision, 1 billion colours
Camera
  • Rear main: 50 MP f/2.0, 24mm, 1/1.12", 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF/laser autofocus w/ OIS, Samsung ISOCELL GN2
  • Rear tele: 48 MP f/4.1, 120mm periscope telephoto w/ OIS, 1/2.0", 0.8µm, PDAF 5x optical/120x hybrid, Sony IMX586
  • Rear ultrawide: 48 MP f/2.2, 12mm, 1/2.8", 0.8µm, PDAF, Sony IMX586
  • Front: 20 MP f/2.2, 27mm, 1/3.4", 0.8µm, (not stated but likely Samsung ISOCELL Slim 3T2)
Audio Support
  • Stereo speakers tuned by Harman/Kardon, no 3.5 mm jack
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6e, dual-band; Bluetooth 5.2, A2DP, LE, aptX HD; A-GPS, GLONASS, tri-band BDS, GALILEO, QZSS, NavIC, IR blaster, NFC, USB 2.0 Type-C with OTG
Storage Type
  • 256/512GB internal storage, UFS 3.1
Battery
  • Li-Po 5,000 mAh
Dimensions
  • 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.4 mm
Weight
  • 234 g

Design and Handling

For those who've not been paying attention to what Xiaomi's been up to, let's start with this:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

And this:

This is not a phone that's 8.4mm thin! Just look at how much more the camera island protrudes.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Other phones talk of camera "bumps"; the Mi 11 Ultra, however, has a whole peninsula. Required due to the z-height of the lens that feeds the beast of a Samsung ISOCELL GN2 1/1.12-inch main sensor.

That means a rectangle of almost 1.2cm x 0.9cm (akin to the size of a thumb nail!) accommodating the 5x periscope camera and the touch-sensitive 1.1-inch AMOLED rear display (lifted directly from the Mi Band 5 wearable).

The camera hump on the Mi 11 Ultra is at once both a centrepiece of engineering triumph and a massive statement of the owner's level of geekery.

Does the hump hinder its general use? That depends. My day job has me in classrooms, wearing witty T-shirts and jeans in an attempt to blend in with my milieu. Even when I was cutting my teeth in the hallowed halls of HWZ years ago, I carried the biggest phablets (ugh) in my pockets like a true geek. Thus, I care little for what anyone thinks.

But, if your lifestyle is one of sharp power suits and sharper tailored threads; if you believe that fitness makes the body beautiful, do prepare to have this thing lurking in your hand, on your desk, in a handbag, or in a car mount.

Make no mistake. To the question "Is that a Mi 11 Ultra in your pocket, or are you glad to see me?" , there can only be one answer: you're so glad, it's almost NSFW.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Being Ultra brings with it a ceramic back over the frosted plastic on the plain Mi 11. That's about right, given the price premium (which is over S$1,300 as priced by local e-tailers).

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

One of my complaints about the preceding Mi 10 Ultra was its unbelievable slipperiness. It's quite clear from the photos above that the Mi 11 Ultra gave nothing away to its predecessor in this regard.

It's a hulking slab of a phone with rounded sides, and the mega camera hump shifts the weight balance somewhat uncomfortably towards the top.

I always get the heebie-jeebies when reviewing phones like these, as they tend to find their way from smooth surfaces to the nearest floor. Even one fall is sure to gouge its metal and crack its glass. Especially when there wasn't a bumper case in the box. Ahem.

For sure, you'd better have a phone case ready before you take it out on the streets or to the pool. That's right, the Mi 11 Ultra is rated to IP68 for water resistance, a feature surprisingly lacking in its predecessor.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

On the bottom, we find one of the Harman/Kardon-tuned stereo speakers , a USB-C port, and the dual SIM tray. However, don't expect a headphone jack or microSD support on a modern flagship. This isn't the ZenFone 8, after all.

And speaking of Harman/Kardon speakers, they sound better than the Mi 10 Ultra's, but I was expecting more bass.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

While we're still on hardware design, it's time for a small rant.

I'm an absolute malcontent when it comes to phones, and so I must gripe about the way rounded display corners are handled on the 11 Ultra. When you look at the phone from the side, you get this:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

But look at it head-on, as you would normally, and a very different and somewhat annoying scenario presents itself:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

If you haven't noticed already, the display corners are not rounded in the same way as the body. Why? Because of curved edges, that's why.

Now, I'm not sure why other manufacturers don't seem to have as much of a problem with this sort of thing, but seeing it on a flagship-class phone is positively disappointing for me.

All the time I was scrolling through content, I was way less bothered by the camera punch-hole than by the oddly rounded corners. They look even worse in this shot:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Can we please not have this again on a premium flagship device?

Main display

The Mi 11 Ultra makes no changes in this regard from the vanilla Mi 11, and so the display is a 6.81-inch WQHD+ (3,200 x 1,440 pixels) AMOLED E4 (that's apparently Samsung's standard grade of AMOLED material).

It can display one billion colours and supports both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. Compare that to the Mi 10 Ultra which has a 10-bit display (which means slightly more colours), but only an FHD+ resolution, and uses a TCL panel.

Admittedly, I found the Mi 10 Ultra's TCL panel to have a strange luminosity to it, accompanied by a faint greenish cast. Thankfully, the 11 Ultra has none of these problems. The panel offers a "Samsung look" at first glance - because it is. It gets bright enough in daylight:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

The punch-hole camera sits on the top left of its edge-to-edge display. If you're watching content in landscape mode, it moves to the lower left, so isn't likely to be a deal-breaker for anyone.

Benchmark performance

To no one's surprise, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 mobile processor runs the show in the Mi 11 Ultra. We’ve tried to pit it against a slew of different flagships with different processors.

We’re especially interested in the SD865 flagships since they will tell us whether there’s a meaningful difference between a 5nm and a 7nm SoC.

  Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Huawei Mate 40 Pro OnePlus 8T Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max Oppo Find X3 Pro
  Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Huawei Mate 40 Pro OnePlus 8T Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max Oppo Find X3 Pro
Launch SRP
  • From S$1798
  • From S$1598
  • From S$899
  • From S$1599
Operating system
  • Android 11 on MIUI 12.5
  • Android 10 on MIUI 12
  • Android 11 (One UI 3)
  • Android 10 with EMUI 11
  • OxygenOS 11, based on Android 11
  • iOS 14
  • ColorOS 11.2, based on Android 11
Processor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
  • Samsung Exynos 2100, 5nm octa-core (2.9GHz + 2.8GHz + 2.2GHz)
  • HUAWEI Kirin 9000 5G octa-core (1 x 3.13GHz Cortex-A77, 3 x 2.54GHz Cortex-A77, & 4 x 2.05GHz Cortex-A55)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
  • A14 Bionic
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Built-in Memory
  • 8/12GB RAM
  • 8/12/16GB RAM
  • 12GB or 16GB (LPDDR5)
  • 8GB RAM
  • 8GB/12GB RAM
  • LPDDR4X
  • 6GB RAM
  • 12GB RAM
  • LPDDR5
Display
  • 6.81-inches 3,200 x 1,440 pixels (515 ppi) AMOLED (Samsung E4), 20:9 ratio, 120Hz refresh rate, HDR10+/Dolby Vision, 1 billion colours
  • 6.67-inches 2,340 x 1,080 pixels (386 ppi) OLED (TCL), 19.5:9 ratio, 120Hz refresh rate, HDR10+, 10-bit colour
  • 6.8-inch, curved, Dynamic AMOLED 2X, Infinity-O
  • 3,200 x 1,440 pixels (515ppi)
  • 120Hz adaptive refresh rate
  • Eye Comfort Shield
  • 6.76-inches 2,772 x 1,344 pixels (~456 ppi) OLED, 90Hz refresh rate, 240Hz touch sampling rate
  • Always-On Display
  • 6.55-inch / 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (402 ppi) / 120Hz refresh rate / Fluid AMOLED Display
  • 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display
  • 2,778 x 1,284 pixels resolution
  • 458 pixels per inch
  • HDR
  • TrueTone
  • 6.7-inch / 3,216 x 1,440 pixels (525 ppi) / 120Hz refresh rate / 240Hz touch sampling rate / AMOLED Display
Camera
  • Rear main: 50 MP f/2.0, 24mm, 1/1.12", 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF/laser autofocus w/ OIS, Samsung ISOCELL GN2
  • Rear tele: 48 MP f/4.1, 120mm periscope telephoto w/ OIS, 1/2.0", 0.8µm, PDAF 5x optical/120x hybrid, Sony IMX586
  • Rear ultrawide: 48 MP f/2.2, 12mm, 1/2.8", 0.8µm, PDAF, Sony IMX586
  • Front: 20 MP f/2.2, 27mm, 1/3.4", 0.8µm, (not stated but likely Samsung ISOCELL Slim 3T2)
  • Rear main: 48 MP f/1.9, 25mm, 1/1.32", 1.2µm, PDAF/laser autofocus w/ OIS, OmniVision OV48C
  • Rear tele 1: 48 MP f/4.1, 120mm periscope telephoto w/ OIS, 1/2.0", 0.8µm, PDAF 5x optical/120x hybrid
  • Rear tele 2: 12 MP f/2.0, 50mm telephoto, 1/2.55", 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, 2x optical
  • Rear ultrawide: 20 MP f/2.2, 12mm, 1/2.8", 1.0µm, PDAF
  • Front: 20 MP f/2.3, 1/3.4", 0.8µm
  • Rear:
  • 108MP, f/1.8, wide-angle 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS
  • 12MP, f/2.2, ultra-wide, 1.4µm, 120° FOV, Dual Pixel AF
  • 10MP, f/2.4, telephoto, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel AF, 3x Optical Zoom
  • 10MP, f/4.9, telephoto, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel AF, 10x Optical Zoom
  • Laser AutoFocus sensor
  •  
  • Front:
  • 40MP, f/2.2, portrait, 0.7µm, PDAF
  • Rear:
  • 50MP Ultra Vision Camera, f/1.9
  • 20MP Cine Camera ultra-wide angle f/1.8,
  • 12MP Telephoto Camera, f/3.4, OIS
  • Front:
  • 13MP, f/2.4
  • 3D Depth Sensing Camera
  • Rear:
  • 48MP, Sony IMX586, f/1.78, 4-in-1 pixel binning (1.6µm @ 12MP)
  • 16MP, Ultra-Wide-Angle, f/2.2, 123° FOV
  • 2MP Macro
  • 2MP, Monochrome
  •  
  • Front:
  • 16MP, Sony IMX471, f/2.4, 1.0 µm
  • Rear cameras:
  • Triple 12MP camera system with lidar scanner
  • Ultrawide: 13mm, f/2.4
  • Wide: 26mm, f/1.6
  • Telephoto: 65mm, f/2.2
  • 5x optical zoom range
  • 12x digital zoom
  • Sensor-shift image stabilisation for wide
  • OIS for telephoto
  • Smart HDR for all cameras
  • Night Mode for wide and ultrawide cameras
  • Deep Fusion for all cameras
  • 4K, 60fps
  • Dolby Vision 4K, 60fps
  • Slow-motion up to 240fps at 1080p
  •  
  • Front camera:
  • 12MP, f/2.2
  • Night Mode
  • Deep Fusion
  • Smart HDR
  • Rear:
  • 50MP, Sony IMX766 1/1.56-inch sensor size, f/1.8, All Pixel Omni-Directional PDAF, OIS
  • 50MP, Sony IMX766 1/1.56-inch sensor size, f/2.2, 110° FOV, 4cm Macro, All Pixel Omni-Directional PDAF
  • 13MP Telephoto, f/2.4, 5x Hybrid Zoom, 20x Digital Zoom
  • 3MP Microlens, 60x magnification, f/3.0
  •  
  • Front:
  • 32MP, f/2.4
Audio Support
  • Stereo speakers tuned by Harman/Kardon, no 3.5 mm jack
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6e, dual-band; Bluetooth 5.2, A2DP, LE, aptX HD; A-GPS, GLONASS, tri-band BDS, GALILEO, QZSS, NavIC, IR blaster, NFC, USB 2.0 Type-C with OTG
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6, dual-band; Bluetooth 5.1, A2DP, LE, aptX HD; A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO, QZSS, IR blaster, USB 2.0 Type-C with OTG
  • LTE / 5G (NSA, SA, Sub6)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE
  • GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 5G NR (primary SIM), 4G FDD LTE, dual-band, hotspot, DLNA, Bluetooth 5.2, A2DP, LE, GPS, AGPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo, USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, NFC
  • 5G NSA, 5G SA, LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4G, 5G, 2x2 MIMO), NFC, Bluetooth 5.1 (aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, AAC, SBC), A-GPS, Beidou, Glonass, Galileo, GPS (L1+L5 Dual Band)
  • 5G (sub-6GHz)
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax/b/g/n/a/)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Ultra-wideband chip
  • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4Ghz, 5.1Ghz, 5/8Ghz), Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, Bluetooth 5.2, A-GPS, Beidou, Glonass, Galileo, GPS
Storage Type
  • 256/512GB internal storage, UFS 3.1
  • 128/256/512GB internal storage, UFS 3.1
  • 256GB or 512GB
  • No microSD card slot
  • 256GB internal storage
  • Huawei Nano Memory expansion (up to 256GB)
  • 128GB/256GB internal storage
  • UFS 3.1 2-lane
  • 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
  • 256GB internal storage
  • UFS 3.0
Battery
  • Li-Po 5,000 mAh
  • Li-Ion 4,500 mAh graphene (split into 2 cells of 2,250 mAh each)
  • 5,000mAh
  • 25W Super Fast Charging
  • 15W Wireless Fast Charging
  • 4,400mAh
  • 66W Huawei SuperCharge
  • 50W Huawei Wireless SuperCharge
  • 15W Huawei Wireless Quick Charge (Qi wireless charging)
  • Reverse wireless charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 65W Fast Charging (10V/6.5A)
  • Built-in lithium-ion
  • Up to 20 hours video playback
  • 4,500mAh
  • 65W SuperVOOC 2.0
  • 30W AirVOOC (wireless charging)
Dimensions
  • 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.4 mm
  • 162.4 x 75.1 x 9.5 mm
  • 75.6 x 165.1 x 8.9mm
  • 162.9 x 75.5 x 9.1mm (vegan leather 9.5mm)
  • 160.7 x 74.1 x 8.4mm
  • 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.4mm
  • 163.6 x 74.0 x 8.26mm
Weight
  • 234 g
  • 222 g
  • 227g
  • 212g
  • 188g
  • 226g
  • 193g

JetStream 2.0

The JetStream benchmark measures web browsing performance, particularly JavaScript performance, over a range of real-world browsing scenarios. (Oh, look at that iPhone 12 Pro Max go!)

PHOTO: JetStream

AnTuTu

No surprises here in this all-around benchmark, with the 11 Ultra blowing away the competition. Note that AnTuTu is not on the Play Store, and you’ll have to download it from the company’s website.

PHOTO: AnTuTu

Geekbench

Geekbench uncloaks multi- and single-core processor prowess as the key factors in computing performance. Eyebrows are raised here, as the Mi 11 Ultra actually falls slightly behind the Oppo Find X3 and even its predecessor in multi-core.

Probably this has to do with OS optimisations. Maybe it’s also the reason why the Huawei Mate 40 Pro couldn’t run this benchmark either...

PHOTO: Geekbench

3DMark Sling Shot and Wild Life

It’s time for some 3DMark, which measures overall graphics performance and which we run in Unlimited mode (which ignores screen resolutions). First, Sling Shot Extreme in Unlimited Mode:

PHOTO: 3DMark

By the time we get to the newer Wild Life benchmark, we see a clear pattern: Snapdragon 888 beats Snapdragon 865, while Exynos 2100’s Mali-G78 MP14 lands somewhere in between (the Android) devices.

But against the iPhone 12 Pro Max, every Android phone is annihilated, probably because Wild Life is boosted by the new performance-enhancing Metal API in iOS.

PHOTO: 3DMark

Battery life

Our usual 720p looping test for battery life is done with:

  • screen brightness and volume at 100 per cent
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • constant data streaming through email
PHOTO: Battery Life

Our first thoughts are with the big WQHD+ display at 120Hz. Despite a 5,000mAh battery, the Mi 11 Ultra couldn’t drink slowly enough to keep up even with the other SD888 phone, the Find X3 Pro. Also, this is the first time I’ve seen a flagship Exynos leaving a flagship Snapdragon in the dust!

The Mi 11 Ultra’s battery life is actually middling in real life - no doubt due to the large, high-resolution 120Hz display and the Snapdragon 888's aggressive performance. I had to reach for the charger by afternoon if I was doomscrolling through memes and Reddit.

At least there’s 67W fast charging and 10W reverse wireless charging...

My usual bit about MIUI...

The MI 11 Ultra ships with MIUI 12.5 on Android 11. This brings some minor updates over MIUI 12.0 (which we won’t be revisiting from the Mi 10 Ultra review). However, each time MIUI fixes a bunch of UI design details, it makes me wonder why no one cared to address them in the first place.

Insofar as Xiaomi keeps leaving these nuggets for me to rant about, review after review, I'd like to bring your attention to the notification shade. First, take a close look (below) at the differing fonts, line spacing, and icon sizes in each notification in the MIUI 12.0 screen.

Once you see it, you cannot unsee:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Notice how the "Important update" has a heavier font-weight than the other notifications?

These annoyances are made good in MIUI 12.5 (below), but MIUI notifications generally still hog an inordinate amount of white space on the screen. Moreover, the notification shade does no favours to any aspiration of Xiaomi's maturing UI design.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Small issues? Maybe, but we should be demanding more from a premium flagship phone.

Also, consider the Smart Lock. When I’m driving, I’d like my phone to stay unlocked, so I don’t have to fumble with a fingerprint sensor or rubberneck for face recognition. This feature, however, has been missing in MIUI since time immemorial. Quare?

ALSO READ: Xiaomi's HyperCharge system can fully charge a phone in 8 minutes at 200W

Thankfully, it appears the company has set up an “MIUI Pioneer Group” of selected users and members of its Mi Community forums to look into user sentiment regarding MIUI. Here’s hoping Xiaomi will finally take MIUI's UX seriously. For the sake of its global ambitions, it certainly needs to.

...and that rear display

"Proper" double-sided phones like the Vivo NEX Dual Display and the YotaPhone (2) aside, there hasn't been a rear display on the phone since ZTE's Nubia series. Therefore, the Mi 11 Ultra's 1.1-inch AMOLED rear display has the potential to be something cool or gimmicky.

Consider, besides the obvious use for selfie and wefie positioning, the possibility of always-on notification and clock functionality. To that end, there are a sizeable number of customisations for themes, text fonts, and colours:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

You can even add your own background:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

...which doesn't look all that great in this case. Oh well:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Alas, the ball has been dropped right out of the gate when it comes to actual practicality. The maximum display timeout is just 30 seconds, and we couldn't find a way to keep it on for longer. Furthermore, the ultra-long portrait form factor makes it quite useless for actual notifications.

As a viewfinder for the rear camera, which would be its most redeeming quality, it doesn't do a lot better, either. Not only is it pretty dim outdoors...

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

...it can't be used for video. What's more, the setting for enabling the rear viewfinder is buried in a menu instead of being in a dedicated button on the camera app - and it resets every time the camera app is restarted! As a certain chef in a certain hellish kitchen might say, come on, Xiaomi!

I mean, I'll take it over no display any day since it probably didn't cost a lot of money to make. But, Xiaomi could have done so much more with this idea - perhaps using a landscape orientation instead in the next version.

Imaging performance

As mentioned, the giant camera hump of the Mi 11 Ultra sports a large 50MP main sensor, a 48MP 5x telephoto camera, and a 48MP wide-angle.

The main sensor is Samsung's latest and greatest ISOCELL GN2. Its claim to fame is its size. At 1/1.12 inches, it's among the biggest sensors on a mobile phone (although we hear there's a Leica-branded Sharp in Japan that uses a one-inch sensor.)

This enables correspondingly large 1.4µm pixels, which capture far more light than the 0.8 or 1µm units on other sensors of similar megapixel count.

Other features of this sensor include Dual Pixel Pro autofocus, which divides up all pixels both horizontally and vertically for more accurate and faster phase detection. Smart ISO Pro equips every pixel with two different levels of gain which are both read out simultaneously, enabling faster HDR generation while presumably reducing the chance of ghosting artefacts.

Does it all translate into better imaging than the Mi 10 Ultra? It depends. 

Take a look at these two shots. The top image was from the Mi 11 Ultra, the bottom is a competing Chinese flagship:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Compared with what the actual scene looked like, the Mi 11 Ultra went just a touch too far in the background (the pink and white brick flats), a combination of slightly heavy-handed HDR and conservative sharpening - though we can't fault Xiaomi for that.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

But the competing Chinese phone (which uses "only" a 48-megapixel Sony IMX689 sensor) is not as far out of its league as the Mi 11 Ultra's main sensor might suggest. Yes, it lends a weird pink cast to some of the mid-tones, it loses some tonality in the clouds, and it over-sharpens contrast edges to keep up (due to not having OIS on the main sensor).

But, the foreground looks more natural than Xiaomi's. It's worth noting that the Mi 10 Ultra has similar processing, and while it makes for impressive "head-on" landscapes, it can be annoying when you're trying for a contrast-loaded shot.

Daylight scenes indoors are actually where I like the Mi 11 Ultra's output the best:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

The saturation is done just right, and together with the enhanced shadows lends liveliness to these images.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

A different scenario reveals itself under indoor hard light. Colours are muted or tended towards a flat look once Xiaomi's algorithms have worked out its white balance, especially under warm or mixed lighting.

Also, shadows tend to be darker than I'd like, and highlights and high tones often get clipped, producing a strange look when shooting food:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

The coffee pork ribs are a touch too dark here:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

All I've said wasn't a knock on the Mi 11 Ultra imaging quality. Rather, it's proof of how far smartphone cameras have come, not just with sensors and lenses, but via computational photography.

You can be sure that Xiaomi's processing is the result of a conscious choice on the part of the company's engineers, rather than some flaw - or failure to maximise the potential - of the ISOCELL GN2 sensor.

Ultimately, there's a clear difference between being a reliable camera setup and processing images to personal taste. The Mi 11 Ultra may not always deliver on the latter, but it does the former without fail:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Night shots are very, very detailed, but likewise, lack the pleasing "glowy" luminance that other makers have learnt to deliver. This is with the main camera:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

...and now with the ultra-wide. Again, the camera reverses what it does in daylight: shadows tend to be darker than competing devices (especially the Samsung Galaxy S21 phones.)

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

The 5x telephoto module is very obviously carried over from the Mi 10 Ultra without modification. Here's a comparison of an ultra-wide-angle (sorry, the block I chose had a pretty deep stairwell), a standard wide shot, and 5x optical as well as 10x, 50x (roughly), and 120x hybrid zooms:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

I expect a flagship not to show differences in processing between different cameras, and this is where the Mi 11 Ultra doesn't disappoint.

One thing I remember from the Mi 10 Ultra is that it does very well, both (surprisingly) at night...

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

and in the daytime! If you don't pixel-peep, the level of detail is more than sufficient for the 'gram. Note that both of these shots were taken at 5x zoom.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Likewise, we expected the same sort of performance when testing the "120x" hybrid zoom. Here's my usual far, far away (~300m) test: 

PHOTO: Hardware Zone
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Sorry, Xiaomi: The crown for best hybrid long zoom still stays on the head of the Huawei P40 Pro+.

The 20MP selfie camera is also carried over from the Mi 10 Ultra, and so the same performance is achieved:

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

All in all, I actually found little to impress me regarding the Mi 11 Ultra's camera setup - simply because I'd already been spoiled earlier by my Mi 10 Ultra. 

Don't misunderstand - these cameras are flagship-grade for sure, but when compared against other flagship phones - especially those that are readily available in Singapore with a local warranty - the Mi 11 Ultra fails to make enough of an impression on me to justify putting down the megabucks.

And with this, we come to the...

...Conclusion: should you get one?

You probably know what I'm going to say, and you'd be right: you're on your own, folks. I'm sitting this one out.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Not because I dislike the Mi 11 Ultra - it's a powerhouse of features and, like my Mi 10 Ultra, is yet another statement from Xiaomi that they've moved on from their budget phone flash-sale days and arrived at the big leagues.

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Xiaomi confirms Mi 11 Ultra will not be officially available in Singapore
Xiaomi confirms Mi 11 Ultra will not be officially available in Singapore

Rather, the Mi 11 Ultra is just a bit too ne plus ultra as a concept. It feels as if Xiaomi has attempted to throw in what was good about the Mi 10 Ultra, and then add a huge in-yo-face camera hump and a rear display as unnecessary sucker punches to the competition.

Scrutinise this phone beneath the surface and without an official warranty to back it up compared with highly competent alternatives like the Samsung Galaxy S21+, the Oppo Find X3 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and the list goes on and on - and especially given an asking price on some local e-tailers in the region of >$1,300 (as of June 26, 2021) - choosing the Mi 11 Ultra requires a very high level of dedication to its proud design, or just all things Xiaomi.

Thankfully, the Mi 11 exists, with local support and warranty. It doesn't have a rear display or a big sensor, but it does better represent Xiaomi's usual knack for providing a decent all-around offering without breaking the bank. And it's the one most people should be looking at.

This article was first published in Hardware Zone.