“I don’t need a new phone!”
It has been my daily mantra for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been perfectly happy with my Xiaomi Mi 9 (review), with exception of the internal storage and a silly bug affecting the Join app. Then I got an Insta360 ONE X2 camera (review pending) and found out, how quickly this camera fills up storage space on your phone.
“I don’t need a new phone”
I probably repeated this mantra a couple of times until I finally gave in and visited the Xiaomi UK page. This is pretty much how I spent £799 on Xiaomi Mi 11. Was it worth it?
Xiaomi Mi 11
Coming from Xiaomi Mi9 I have a unique perspective of having a mid to high range phone from Xiaomi and moving to their top flagship device (I write this before the announcement of PRO and Ultra editions). I’m used to the MiUI interface and for the most part, I don’t mind it. I used to be a fan of the “stock Android or GTFO” approach, but as the development of Android became stale I turned my head towards ROMs that actually bring innovation for consumers.
A screen to die for
This is the most beautiful display I have seen in a while. Don’t just take my word for it. I got so many “oh…” and “wow…” from my genuinely impressed work colleagues, that I decided to actually film their reaction to this stunning screen and 2 other most impressive features. If you want to see the reactions, you will have to watch the video version of this review. But I digress: the screen of Xiaomi Mi 11 is to die for.
The 6.81 inches AMOLED 1440 x 3200 display with 120Hz and HDR10 support, is simply next level. It’s like a window to another dimension. The dimension where the YouTube (HDR-enabled) videos look like TV presentations at your local electronic store and scrolling at a high refresh rate is smoother than peanut butter.
I know that the 256GB version of the handset cost an arm and a leg, but Xiaomi did an outstanding job with their display. The colours are vivid, the contrast is through the roof and the black colour sucks up all the light like a magical black hole.
Visuals are accompanied by improved audio as well. Stereo speakers branded by Harman Kardon are present on both sides of the phone. They may not be front-facing, but to my surprise, Dolby Atmos demos were performing very well. It’s something I would never expect from a mobile phone!
I’m not going to milk over a 108MP camera. Having 48MP on my Xiaomi Mi9, I used the sensor a handful of times in its full resolution mode. My gut tells me that the 109MP sensor will end up gathering dust as well. It’s not because the pixel overload isn’t good enough. I simply don’t have any desire to use it after seeing excellent results from the standard mode.
Xiaomi Mi9 already (in my humble opinion) wiped the floor with a Pixel 3 camera. Matching or outperforming the cameras at a much lower cost of the phone. Xiaomi Mi 11 builds on that success delivering what matters.
Video: power of 8K in your hands
Xiaomi Mi 11 can record videos in 8K at 30FPS, which is mind-boggling, 8K is what most of the cinemas operate at. Personally, as cool as it is, I will pick the excellent 4K at 60FPS any day, as I have screens to display it natively and processing power to edit it. The 8K is just a gimmick and a PR feature that you will use once or twice for kicks.
The real party starts with 1080p/4K at 60FPS where videos look the best. Xiaomi Mi 11 took the page from the Insta360 stabilisation page and the footage is very smooth considering that I shot it with my rather deliriously unsteady hands. #MovieMagic hashtag linked to the release of the phone by Xiaomi encourages you to try new movie films and effects and I have no doubts I could run my YouTube channel just from that device. In 4K and 1080p modes camera supports HDR10 mode, so your videos will inherit that nice contrast and true black colours.
Xiaomi improved slo-mo mode (480FPS) and added cinematic filters and effect that use AI and shutter tricks in creative ways. It’s fun to experiment with these. It’s nice to see support for dual video. I’m not sure how I can use this in a productive way, but it’s a feature non the less.
Once again there are 3 lenses at my disposal at the back and a 20MP selfie shooter. 5 MP, f/2.4 Tele (or macro), 109 MP, f/1.9, 26mm Wide and 13 MP, f/2.4, 123˚ UltraWide. Apart from the resolution upgrade, the most impressive feature is the improved Super-Macro mode which brings out the new level of details from the smallest of objects.
The main shooter does what you would expect it to do. Takes true to reality well-exposed images that will store the memories on built-in 256GB storage. PRO mode enables full control including shifting exposure and focal points apart (nice) and saving pictures as RAW, for anyone who wants to pretend to be a professional photographer with a mobile phone in their hands.
UltraWide camera lost some resolution, it was 16MP on Mi9 and it’s only 13MP on Xiaomi Mi 11, but the pictures taken don’t feel that inferior thanks to bigger pixels on the sensor. The images feel comparable but I’d appreciate a better sensor for this lens. Wider angle lenses need more pixels to capture
The latest addition is the SuperMacro lens, and it’s something I personally appreciate most. My articles and tutorials often feature pictures of PCBs or individual components and having the ability to turn Xiaomi Mi 11 into a microscope come in handy. The resolution of the pictures is sufficient for everything I could think of and the feature blows not just my mind. I took a picture of an M3 bolt and showed it around. Tell me what do you think.
I never understood the need for an insane zoom. There is a 30x digital zoom which – works, but this is a digital manipulation of the image and you could extract a similar level of detail by enhancing the picture in the post. If anything 30x zoom mode is great to showcase how good the image stabilisation is on this phone.
The front-facing shooter comes with a 20MP resolution and decent enough quality to keep you entertained. Between normal and portrait mode you will find a lot of filters to prettify your face and add all the annoying filters one could think of. The selfie camera is good, however, I wish there was an option for a wide-angle selfie like on the Pixel 3. Perhaps I’d have to spend another £300 for Pro and Ultra models.
High resolution pictures can be downloaded as .zip from this Google Drive link.
5G and WiFi6
While 5G isn’t on the list of the features I value (I’m perfectly fine with 4G speeds and my £4, non-5G data plan) WiFi6 is something I’m very excited about. After dropping shocking £500 on network gear from ASUS (RT-AX88u in mesh configuration with RT-AX86u) to please my other half I finally own a device that gets all the AX spectrum to itself.
I can’t really verify the speeds yet, as AX is capable of going over 1Gbps, saturating my wired internet. I can aggregate it to 2.5Gbps over LAN cable, but at the moment I don’t have the network card to do that. You will have to trust my gut, with a 500Mbps broadband deal there is no stopping me right now. Not in the WiFi6 spectrum (mostly due to lack of real competition).
I just realise that my laptop needs 45W of power to operate and charge at the same time. I hacked a USB-C into it to make it more compatible. Xiaomi Mi 11 supports 55W USB-C charging and 50W wireless charge bundled with 10W reverse charging. It’s more than I can charge my Pixel 3 due to silly Google restrictions.
I can charge the phone in 44 min from 5% which is simply impressive. I’m yet to find a wireless charger that will take Xiaomi Mi 11 for a spin and delivers similar results. My best wireless charger is capped at 20W. The charging comes in USB-C PD and Quick Charge 4+ flavours.
If you want to extend the battery life, you can drop the refresh rate back to 60Hz and reduce the screen resolution to FHD. This and dozens of other functions will let you shave off hours of battery usage and Xiaomi’s interface is pretty good at showing you what’s possible.
MiUI comes with certain features shared across most Xiaomi phones. These are not exclusively specific to Xiaomi Mi 11 but if you are making the switch from another brand, you will be pleased to know that there is more to it than just hardware:
- Dual Apps – excellent add on for anyone with Dual SIM cards. Let’s you run another instance of WhatsApp and other programs that bind to your phone number.
- Second Space – a better take on users in Android, where a phone can store multiple profiles, you can log to it with different fingerprints and keep the notifications separate or share it between profiles.
- Lite Mode – a mode for technologically less fluent. With bigger icons, less clutter a mode that helps older generations get on board!
- Floating windows – fully-fledged support for floating windows and personalisation
- Game Turbo – dedicate the hardware to selected apps for the best performance, available for games and apps.
- Impressive customisations – a lot of features can be changed thanks to MiUI letting you pick the themes colours and settings that cater to your preference.
Where Xiaomi Mi 11 falls short
MiUI12 and point five
I was under the impression (feel free to blame me for not researching this better) that the MiUI12.5 would be a launch feature on Xiaomi Mi 11. It’s not the case, and the phone is shipped with MiUI12.0.3 instead, which is even more surprising considering that my Mi9 runs 12.0.4 from a stable channel.
The build numbers get even more interesting when you consider one bug that marred my Mi9 since MiUI10. Inability to work well with the Join app and its automatic clipboard sharing. Joao Dias (Join and Tasker developer) and I came to the conclusion that this is a MiUI bug (present on his MiUI based phone too) and there is nothing that can be done about it. While the bug isn’t fixed on my fully updated Xiaomi Mi9 (MiUI126.96.36.199), it’s not present at all on Xiaomi Mi 11 (MiUI12.0.3). It looks like the build numbers are not to be trusted in that regards. Join app finally works as it should, and I’m very happy.
Extra display options include AI image processing. These apply to stills and videos improving the motion blur and adding details to photos. Unfortunately, the feature causes the Camera app to bug out. When enabled, camera preview struggles to keep up and slows down to 3-4 FPS. The only way to fix this is to force close the app when it happens.
While on the subject of MiUI, I mentioned this before, MiUI12 replaced a familiar data usage menu with its own breakdown. It’s all swell, except the only timeframes applicable to that list are day/week/month completely ignoring the fact that users can have their data allowance reset in the middle of the monthly cycle. I don’t understand why Xiaomi would pick an inferior way of showing these important metrics.
Spam ads and bloat
Yes, it’s still here. Xiaomi MiUI12 is really trying hard to make enemies. I can praise the customisation all day long, but serving ads and loading your phone with unwanted games is not how you win the hearts of Android fans.
The apps are not baked in, so can be instantly removed without root, and “personalisation and recommendations” are optional with these toggles set to ON. You will spend some time hunting menus down to turn them off. Here is feedback for you Xiaomi: sell good phones, not ads.
I just don’t get it. Placed asymmetrically, it makes the phone wobble when placed on a flat surface, it sticks out like a sore thumb so why not just increase the phone’s thickness by 1-2mm and fill that space with a bigger battery? Xiaomi can’t claim the title of the thinnest phone without taking the bump into consideration, so why not go all the way in and take advantage of the space created by the design requirements of the camera array?
Xiaomi, no offence, but I dropped £800 on your latest flagship and the phone comes with USB 2.0? Are you ok? Do you need any help going back to the 21st century? While Xiaomi Mi 11 uses a USB-C connector and PD charging, the actual USB port is 2.0 which at this point feels like the middle ages.
Addressing online criticism (battery and fingerprint sensor)
I’m not sure what the expectations were about the battery life, but with over 100 apps installed, brightness set to 90%, screen in 120Hz mode in 4K I got 24h of use (with 8h sleep while not charging), 4h or screen time and 28% spare. Xiaomi Mi 11 won’t last 2 days in that use, but claims about disappointing battery performance are unfounded or simply unreasonable.
The fingerprint sensor was another key issue brought up by other reviews. I have to admit that at first, I had a similar experience with fingerprint reader being temperamental. To give the phone due diligence (my fingertips are full of cuts and broken skin) I re-added the print again and paying a little more care while creating the digital imprint. It addressed the issues I had, with the only problem is getting used to the fact that the sensor is located higher than on my Mi9. You’d be surprised how hard is to re-train the muscle memory.
I’m fortunate to be able to blow £800 on a new phone. It’s probably the max I would ever spend on the phone anyway (until next time). Xiaomi Mi 11 delivers, and it doesn’t make me feel like I’m behind any flagship phones from Samsung or Apple which often come with a much higher price tag. Is it perfect? Nope, but I can imagine this phone in my hands for another 2-3 years. Xiaomi Mi 11 addressed imperfections of the Mi9 series and while it feels like a costly treat, it’s the treat I fully deserve in the year of pandemic and cutting down on the usual spoils of life. What do you think? Do I sound like a Xiaomi fanboy yet?