Kicking off 2021 with one of the first Snapdragon 888 smartphones to sell all around the world, the Xiaomi Mi 11 is setting a high bar for others to follow.
Xiaomi’s first flagship of the year is part of an all-new family of phones, but this is the mainstream model amongst its as-yet unannounced siblings. With its high level specification, it seeks to compete head-on with flagships from the likes of Samsung, Apple and Oppo with its forthcoming Find X3 series.
While there will be Lite, Pro and/or Ultra models to join the family, don’t think this phone is in any way, shape or form a mid-range product. With just three cameras on the rear (more on that later), it’s obvious another model will soon come to add at least one more to the mix, but for everything else, the Mi 11 is at the top of its game.
Design and Build
To start with, the Mi 11 has a massive 6.81-inch HDR10+, 1440p, AMOLED display with a DisplayMate A+ rating and 900 nits typical brightness (with a further boost to 1500 peak brightness in sunlight mode). It comes with a variable 120Hz refresh rate, 480Hz touch sampling sensitivity, and it curves subtlety around the edges (with customisable hardware based mistouch rejection) of the aluminium frame with a glass rear with matt finish.
The screen comes with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus for even more strength and rigidity, as well as improved scratch resistance. However, as it comes with a factory fitted screen protector you might as well keep that fitted until it gets damaged.
The screen is accompanied by two loud top and bottom firing, Harman Kardon branded, stereo speakers, which is actually a brand now owned by Samsung. Samsung also builds the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC which powers the phone, and it’s quite possible the screen is made by Samsung too. Oh, and did I mention the Samsung HMX 108-megapixel primary camera the Mi 11 has?
Keeping the phone going is a 4,600mAh battery, divided into two 2,300mAh cells that charge concurrently to allow for 55W fast-charging. A power supply is included (yes, it still comes in the box for non Chinese sold models) and the phone even has support for an incredible 50W wireless charging speed, but you’ll need to buy that separately. So far it isn’t available outside of China (I ordered one which cost around £30 including free shipping).
Oh, and there’s 10W reverse wireless charging, which is perfect for charging the many accessories (earbuds, smartwatches) that support Qi wireless charging.
A special edition, Chinese only, Mi 10 phone last year came with support for 125W fast-charging, so that might be a feature for a Mi 11 Pro or Ultra, but with over 80% of the battery fully charged in 30 minutes, and 100% in 45 minutes, it’s probably not worth waiting for a more expensive phone unless you really are impatient.
At 8.06mm thick, the Mi 11 is also very thin, bar the protrusion of the camera that does jut out quite a bit, even beyond the bundled plastic case in the box. I also had the phone with a fabric case which has a nice texture, but also isn’t thick enough top that huge Samsung camera sticking out.
The matt look of the rear glass serves to eradicate the problem of fingermarks, and it changes colour as you move it around in the light. You can also get the phone in black, and Xiaomi also makes a variant with a faux (vegan) leather finish if you would rather not have glass at all – but it doesn’t appear to be available globally yet. There’s always a chance this will come as a special edition at a later date.
The main issue with the Mi 11 is the lack of a dedicated optical zoom. With the primary 108-megapixel sensor, Xiaomi is happy to rely on cropping to provide a 2-30x zoom. It works well at low zoom rates, and easily passes for an optical zoom camera at 2x and perhaps 5x, but if you try and go to 10x or even the maximum 30x, the quality degrades pretty quickly. Even with OIS on the main camera, you still need a steady hand for the 30x zoom.
The jury has been out for years on whether a camera should have a zoom or ultra-wide camera, from back when phones had one or the other and not both, but recently most high-end phones have had both and it hasn’t been an issue. Of course the circumstances are slightly different here with such a huge image sensor having the pixels to allow for cropping, but I do think fitting in an extra camera would be been preferable.
That said, by using the 0.6x, 1x and 2x modes, you still have a pretty dynamic camera configuration – especially as there’s also a 5-megapixel macro lens included too. What the phone lacks in long-range ability, it gains by offering excellent quality close-up shots, a world apart from the photos you get on the many phones that came with totally pointless, and frankly embarrassing, 2-megapixel sensors. Even some other mid to high-end phones coming soon are still set to include 2-megapixel macro cameras. Why oh why?!
Xiaomi has spent the bulk of its marketing budget on pushing the Mi 11 as a great phone for video recording, and the camera comes with a series of movie editing and vlogging modes, allowing you to create mini-movies with minimal effort. Simple tutorials give examples of what the specific modes will do, and then you go off and record the short clips to produce an instantly shareable video clip. Some come with their own soundtracks and effects.
These are features that now come with many social media applications, and the Huawei Mate 40 Pro also came with similar movie editing features last year. In fact, as time goes on you can probably expect to see many more phones upping the ante on video recording, especially as this is an area that has been frequently ignored in favour of better quality still imaging quality.
Beyond the video features that some might consider to be gimmicky comes some exceptional 4K, and even 8K, video recording, complete with impressive image stabilisation on most modes. The 8K recording tops out at 30fps, but captures incredible levels of detail. Without having a 8K TV or monitor to review the footage, the only way to even see that extra detail is by zooming in on the video, but as and when more 8K TVs find their way into homes, it will be nice to have the option to record content right now.
8K recording also enables video editors to crop video in the same way as cropping photos, without losing vital detail and giving a lot more editorial control and flexibility.
For most people, however, 4K or 1080p video will be fine, and keep file sizes down. This is probably worth mentioning given the fact the Mi 11 comes with either 128GB or 256GB of storage and no memory card expansion. Even with H265 encoding, 8K video is going to eat through the storage in no time.
What’s most important to budding photographers is ease of use and flexibility, and the Mi 11 camera interface has everything in a single app with a good degree of customisation to choose presets on the main screen, and the order of camera modes in the secondary menu. You can choose if this will be dragged up on the main interface, or selected via a separate menu.
Gone are the days when different features were accessed via different apps (Sony Xperia I’m looking at you here), and you can even change the accent colour for the interface, and choose different ways to fire up the camera to make it easy to activate it from standby. My chosen method is a double tap of the power button, but I do wish some phone makers would copy Sony in offering a dedicated camera button – but I digress…
The Mi 11 also comes with a range of colour and beauty filters, as well as the usual AI scene recognition modes. If you wish to edit photos on the device, the built-in editor allows you to do things like cut out unwanted people from a photo (with very variable results) and manipulate colour palettes etc.
While any semi-pro will have their preferred applications to edit photos, such as Snapseed or Adobe Lightroom, the integrated tools will be fine for most people, and Google is now offering enhanced photo editing to customers of its Google One cloud backup service. Despite Xiaomi having incurred the wrath of the outgoing US President at the end of last year, when it comes to accessing Google’s suite of services (as well as the Play Store), the Mi 11 has full support both now and into the future.
As you can see from the sample photos above (you can also see more here), the level of detail in photos is excellent, and you will feel confident in getting good results in differing conditions without barely ever needing to touch on the manual modes. The macro feature is also refreshingly good.
My only problem was that with the ongoing lockdown, I’ve simply not had the opportunity to thoroughly test the phone out in as many scenarios as I’d usually get to do – but I will be doing another photo test as soon as practical, along with more video testing. It’s great to have a phone that excels in both image and video shooting.
Performance & Battery
Thanks to the inclusion of Snapdragon 888, the performance of the Mi 11 is unquestionably flagship level. Last year’s Snapdragon 865 was already providing a killer performance for both gamers and content creators choosing to edit on their phone, but the new chip doesn’t just bring faster performance – it also consumes less power, while the new X60 5G modem is embedded to further optimise overall performance.
The Mi 11 supports dual 5G connectivity, and also offers Wi-Fi 6 (but so did most 2020 flagships). There’s no support for Wi-Fi 6E on the Mi 11, but anyone who has recently upgraded to the world of next-gen wireless networking has probably invested in non-6E equipment anyway.
The Mi 11 connected to my Wi-Fi 6+ router at 1900Mbps, so I defy anyone to tell me that isn’t quick enough for a smartphone. It’s actually faster than my MacBook Pro M1 (which tops out at 1200Mbps).
Talking of which, the Mi 11 is the first phone I’ve used that can have the hotspot mode identify itself as a personal hotspot on MacOS. Of course iPhones have done this for a while, but it’s a first for me. It’s a clever way to separate it from the many other access points you’ll invariably find when out and about (you know, when you can actually go out and about).
Battery life is a mixed bag, and the display is prime suspect. It just begs to be turned up bright, especially to enjoy HDR content, and that can really ramp up the battery drain. I also found that when the phone is under heavy load, it gets pretty hot – almost uncomfortably so. Despite being a next-gen 5nm process chipset, and fitted out with the ‘latest LiquidCool heat dissipation system’, it does seem to struggle balancing performance with efficiency.
But part way through my time reviewing the phone, I got a firmware update that has made a big difference to said power drain, and there will likely be more updates to come – even before the big update to MIUI 12.5 that was talked about during the launch. The new version of Xiaomi’s UI boasts big power efficiency gains as part of the overall package, as well as updating the in-glass fingerprint sensor to double up as a heart-rate monitor.
Before the first update, I was getting only 3-3.5 hours SoT, which increased to 4.5-5 hours after. Not exactly fantastic, especially for anyone with battery anxiety, but it should hopefully get better. Plus, I voluntarily chose to keep the brightness up, the phone set to max resolution, and with the 120Hz refresh rate.
Given you have two ways to rapidly charge the phone, the only situations where this is going to be a big deal is if you’re going to be away from any form of charging solution for a long period of time. If you are out for the day hiking or something, the simple solution is to activate a power saving mode (there are two to choose from) and accept a compromise on performance. With the ultra power saving mode, you’ll probably be able to double or even triple the battery life.
Time to adjust
MIUI 12 is a pretty decent skin to sit upon Android 11, and one thing I like about it is the ability to toggle some aspects of the UI to use Xiaomi’s rather colourful take on Android, or stick with the native Android look and feel. This allows you the best of both worlds, and a lot of flexibility in how the phone looks and operates. The Theme app offers up a number of different looks, along with live wallpapers, icons and more. Pretty standard for some manufacturers, but still lacking on others. I was a little surprised you can’t change the system font, but there are ways to do it with third-party tools.
The settings menu can take a while to get used to, with some of the common features you may be used to appearing in sub-menus that might not initially seem obvious or logical, perhaps because they’re not where you find them on other phones. As someone who hasn’t reviewed a Xiaomi phone for over a year, it took me a while to get used to – but not excessively so. Long-time Xiaomi users will have no problems at all, and have the issue only if they switch brand.
It actually makes sense, for example, to change the screen density within the accessibility menu rather than the display menu, but you can be excused for initially thinking that this option, along with some others, are missing when they actually aren’t. I spent a lot of time going through each and every setting menu, and there’s pretty much an option for every part of the phone. The only thing I couldn’t find was the ability to add seconds to the clock, as well as changing font (as mentioned above).
On some screens I didn’t immediately notice that the heading had an extra menu along side (see the Battery Saver/Battery screens above). Reminiscent of an old Windows Phone layout, hitting the other part of the text brought up a further menu of options.
A little more consistency would be welcomed here, but overall I quickly adapted to the user interface, albeit replacing the native launcher with my preferred Nova Launcher install (try as I might, I can simply not get along with native launchers in comparison!).
Along with the ease of restoring a backup from one of my Google One backups, it was one of the easier and quicker phones to setup when changing over – another thing to take into consideration if thinking of moving from another phone maker.
I have been extremely impressed with the Mi 11 performance, and the screen and audio quality is exceptional. While you might be more likely to hook up some wireless headphones (or a wired headset using the bundled 3.5mm to USB-C adapter), you can enjoy both movies and music using the loud stereo speakers. There’s a good deal of bass on offer, and it reminds me of the HTC One M8 with BoomSound speakers, but that never had such a great screen to accompany it.
Everyone wants a phone that excels in as many areas as possible, and the Mi 11 does just that. It offers an incredible media consumption experience, a high-resolution display that’s perfect for web browsing and working with split-screen applications, good (but not excellent, yet) battery life, fast 5G and Wi-Fi connectivity, plus a great camera experience with equally good video capturing capabilities.
It also has the fastest chipset so far to offer up class-leading gaming potential, all inside a small and light, frame.
There’s an IR blaster included, which is becoming something of a rarity these days, and reports elsewhere online suggest that while the phone doesn’t come with an official IP-rating, there are water proof seals protecting the ports that should mean this phone can offer up a level of protection against water and dust ingress.
There’s very little to dislike about the Mi 11, but I’ll do my best to bring up the little niggles I had.
Firstly, MIUI has a slightly confusing layout when it comes to settings and some of the user interface changes seem a little gimmicky and trying to make the phone look like an iPhone. In recent years other manufacturers have gradually stopped trying to copy Apple, as Android is perfectly mature these days and what most Android users prefer (or else they’d buy an iPhone). Perhaps this is still popular in China, but I don’t care for it.
The phone also gets a little too hot, which might be a temporary issue given how new the phone is to market (so new that it isn’t yet on sale in the UK) and a big update is promised by Xiaomi. I would have to wait until this is released to pass further judgement (and update this review accordingly). Until that rolls out, you need to know what the phone is like right now, not what it might be later.
Like the heat issue, the battery life could also be a little better – although the main reason was down to keeping the screen too bright. You can reduce power consumption using the battery saver option, turning off 5G, and activating other power saving options, as well as disabling 120Hz and the WQHD+ resolution. On balance, I’d sooner charge the phone more frequently than give up on all the features that makes the phone so great. Otherwise, why not just buy a cheaper phone with a bigger battery?
I understand why phone makers now see the importance of releasing a portfolio of phones, to offer more choice to users who have different desires and budgets, but not all models go on sale in every market. This means that while more models might be announced soon, there’s no guarantee any of them will even come to the UK.
If you absolutely could not do without a dedicated optical zoom on the camera, the Mi 11 might need to be crossed off your shortlist, but any Pro or Ultra model is going to come with a much higher price. Plus, the quality of 2x and even 5x zoom images with the native sensor will probably be fine for 95% of usage cases.
The UK price and release date is still to be confirmed, and it’s not yet known how many networks will sell it on contract (word is Three is taking it) but if you can’t wait, it’s already available to import from China for around £560 (excluding duty & VAT). Given the Euro price suggests the UK price is likely to be nearer £650-700 (for the 128GB model) and £700+ for the 256GB model, you could buy it now, be ahead of everyone else and save a packet.
Considering a Samsung S21 Ultra with 128GB will set you back £1150 (or the S21 Plus £949 if you consider that a fairer comparison on account of the camera), while an iPhone 12 Max Pro will cost £1100, and last year’s Oppo Find X2 Pro was also £1100 (this year’s Find X3 Pro is expected to be retail at £1100 too), the Xiaomi Mi 11 could be considered quite the bargain.
If you’re looking for a complete package with almost no compromise, the Xiaomi Mi 11 is absolutely worth consideration because you will not be disappointed, and with a big update pending, the best is arguably yet to come.
|Size / Weight||164.3 x 74.6 x 8.06mm / 196g|
|Chipset||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 with Adreno 660 GPU|
Octo-core with ultra-large core ARM Cortex X1
Embedded X60 5G modem with WiFi 6
MIUI 12 (12.5 coming via OTA update soon)
|RAM and Storage||8GB LPDDR5 3200MHz RAM|
128GB or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage (non expandable)
|Display||6.81-inch WQHD+ (1,440 x 3,200 pixels)|
AMOLED quad-curve DotDisplay with True Colour
DCI-P3 colour gamut
900 nits (typical), 1500 nits peak brightness
Adaptive Sync 30-120Hz + 480Hz Touch sampling rate
Super resolution technology
Hardware level mistouch prevention
|Audio||Dual speakers by Harman Kardon|
Hi-Res Audio & Hi-Res Audio Wireless certification
|Camera (rear)||108-megapixel Samsung HMX 1/1.33-inch sensor, f/1.85 with OIS & AF and 4-in-1 Super Pixel|
13-megapixel ultra-wide sensor with 123 degree FoV, f/2.4
5-megapixel telemacro camera, f/2.4 (3-10cm)
Cinematic night mode and other movie/vlog features
|Camera (front)||20-megapixel sensor, f/2.2|
55W wired charging (45 minutes 0-100%)
50W wireless charging (53 minutes 0-100%)
10W reverse wireless charging
55W GaN charger included in box
|Connectivity||Dual SIM, Dual Standby (5G DSDS)|
VoLTE, VoWi-Fi + VoNR ready
|Security||In-screen fingerprint sensor, with heart-rate monitor function coming in MIUI 12.5 update|
|Colours||Midnight Gray or Horizon Blue anti-glare frosted glass|
(Vegan leather finish version available in selected markets)
Price and Availability
The Xiaomi Mi 11 isn’t yet offered for sale in the UK but will be soon (and I will update the information here), but you can import one now from AliExpress. The Mi 11 I have is the 8GB/128GB model in blue, and costs around £553 (at time of publishing) with free shipping. This may be subject to import duty & VAT on top.
The phone is also available as a variant with 256GB of storage.
UPDATE – 16th MARCH 2021 – UK PRICING
Xiaomi has now announced UK pricing and availability which is as follows:
- £749 for 8/128GB model.
- £799 for 8/256GB model.
The phone goes on sale via the Mi Store and Amazon on 22nd March at 1200, along with availability on Vodafone and Three for pay-monthly connections.
Pre-ordering is possible now with Vodafone and Three, with the former offering a free Mi Electric Scooter Essential, and the latter bundling a Mi Watch and Mi True Wireless Earphones.
Those who order from the Mi Store or Amazon will receive £100 off the retail price, either as a discount or through a £100 Mi Store voucher (along with double Mi Points and free screen insurance protection).
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Xiaomi Mi 11£749-£799 (less on import)
- Incredible display, backed by equally impressive stereo sound
- Excellent still photo and video (up to 8K) recording
- Fast wired and wireless charging options
- Most powerful Snapdragon chipset and 5G/WiFi performance yet
- Great movie recording features and general UI experience
- No optical zoom
- Battery not quite as good as hoped
- EMUI 12 has a bit of a learning curve for non Xiaomi users (minor issue)
- No expandable memory (and 128GB might not last long with 4K and 8K video!)