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Never has Xiaomi’s rivalry with Samsung been so pronounced: the same year the latter company downgrades the specs of its flagship phones from previous generations (and the price accordingly), Xiaomi’s comes along and turns all those same specs up to (Mi) 11.
When we wrote this Xiaomi Mi 11 review, it was the latest smartphone from the company, though the launch of the Xiaomi 12 means that’s not the case.
At the Xiaomi Mi 11 launch the company announced, with an air of smugness, that it had recently become the third-largest smartphone seller in the world; Samsung still holds top spot by a country mile, far ahead of Apple too, but Xiaomi is rising fast. This third-place position didn’t last long: a few months later, Xiaomi had overtaken Apple too, for the silver medal.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 is Xiaomi’s 2021 flagship phone: it’s the main member of a family completed by the budget Xiaomi Mi 11 5G, mid-range Xiaomi 11T and 11T Pro (both of which were released six months after the Mi 11) and super-top-end Mi 11 Ultra.
The Mi 11 sits at the head of the table though – the phone brings plenty of upgrades over its predecessor, the Mi 10, a big step up that’s the inverse of Samsung’s Galaxy S21 downgrade from the S20.
These upgrades are most apparent when considering the phone’s display. The Mi 11 has a 2.5K resolution, over the 2K of the Mi 10 and Galaxy S21, but there are plenty of other enhancements like automatic video resolution and framerate upscaling, screen HDR modes, and various brightness and reading modes.
There are plenty of other ways the phone trumps its predecessor, and the competition, too. It has improved loudspeakers tuned by Harman Kardon, a faster processor which tops our benchmark charts, new videography modes which are fun to play around with, and super-fast charging speeds.
A standout new Xiaomi Mi 11 feature has to be its 5MP telemacro snapper, for taking close-up shots of subjects. It’s easy to use, takes great photos, and beats similar modes on other devices.
So far this two-minute review has been largely positive, and paints the Xiaomi Mi 11 in a much more favorable light than Samsung’s latest flagship; but that’s not totally the case, as the phone has a few issues too.
The main one we found during our testing was that the Xiaomi Mi 11’s battery life simply isn’t up to snuff – we had to turn off some of the phone’s features if we wanted it to last a day. If you want to enjoy all the unique features you’re paying for, be aware that you’ll need to charge this thing more than once per day.
In our Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro review we complained about its slow fingerprint scanner, and that issue is present here too – and on top of that, the sensor sometimes didn’t pick up our print first time, making it occasionally frustrating to use.
So the Xiaomi Mi 11 is a great smartphone and one of the best Xiaomi phones, but it’s certainly not a flawless phone.
For many people it could be the top choice on the market right now, thanks to its cameras, display and performance, but those couple of problems, which will manifest themselves every day you’re using this phone, are things you need to bear in mind too.
Xiaomi Mi 11 price and release date
- Starts at £749 / AU$1,099 (roughly $1,040) for 128GB storage
- Price is similar to Samsung Galaxy S and iPhone rivals
- Sells in the UK and Australia but not the US
You can buy the Xiaomi Mi 11 with either 128GB storage or 256GB – the former costs £749 / AU$1,099 (roughly $1,040), and the latter is £799 / AU$1,139 (around $1,110). A US release probably isn’t on the cards, as Xiaomi doesn’t sell its phones there.
For context the Mi 11 Lite 5G costs £399 (around $550 / AU$755), the 11T is £499 (about $690, AU$940), the 11T Pro will set you back £599 (around $830, AU$1,130) and the Mi 11 Ultra kicks the ball way higher, costing – £1,199 / AU$1,799 (roughly $1,600).
The Mi 10 launched at £799 / AU$1,699 (roughly $1,000) and the Samsung Galaxy S21, the Mi 11’s closest contemporary rival, starts at $799 / £769 / AU$1,249, so the Mi 11 doesn’t vary too far from what we expected.
Xiaomi Mi 11 design
- Fairly long and thin as phones go
- Protected with Gorilla Glass Victus
- Interesting-looking stepped camera bump
The Xiaomi Mi 11 isn’t the company’s largest flagship smartphone – the Mi 10T takes that crown – but it’s still fairly large, with dimensions of 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.1mm. At 196g, it’s fairly lightweight for a phone of its size.
The Mi 11 is long and thin as phones go – it’s not quite a Sony Xperia phone in that regard, but it’s not a million miles off. As such, despite its size, it’s fairly comfortable to hold and use one-handed, though people with smaller digits may still find it a stretch to reach the upper part of the screen.
At the bottom the phone has a USB-C port – there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack for wired-audio fans – a power button and volume rocker on the right edge, and an IR blaster at the top. This latter tool is used to send out infrared signals, and finds most use with the Mi Remote app which turns your smartphone into an ersatz TV (or AC, or smart box) remote.
The Mi 11 has a glass front and back, and aluminum frame – the glass is called Gorilla Glass Victus, and the company that makes it (and most glass phone bodies) says it’s extra-protective. Since most glass phones can be fragile, this sturdiness is welcome, and the phone remained free from scratches and marks through our testing. A solid drop or knock could still crack it though.
The phone’s rear camera bump debuts a design we haven’t seen before: it’s stepped, with each lens sticking out by a different amount. It’s certainly novel, and helps set the Mi 11 apart from the crowd – unless Xiaomi decides to use this design for the rest of its 2021 smartphones, which wouldn’t surprise us. Even the most protruding lens doesn’t stick out too far from the phone, at least not compared to those on previous Xiaomi flagships.
Xiaomi Mi 11 display
- Large 6.81-inch display
- 1440 x 3200 resolution and 120Hz refresh rate
- High max brightness of 1,500 nits
With a 6.81-inch display, the Xiaomi Mi 11 is the company’s biggest flagship in terms of screen size, and it also dwarfs almost all of its competitors. The screen is curved at its edges, though not dramatically so, and is broken up by a small ‘punch-hole’ cut-out for the selfie camera in the top-left corner.
In terms of resolution, the Mi 11 screen is 1440 x 3200, which is sharper than those on most flagships of a similar price (including the Mi 10 and Galaxy S21). It’s an AMOLED panel, so colors are particularly vibrant, and there’s also HDR10+ support.
The display has a 120Hz refresh rate, which many flagships now use, though Xiaomi does have a 144Hz phone on the market too. This means the image updates 120 times per second, double the ‘standard’ of 60Hz, and in effect this makes moving images appear smoother. Not everyone cares for the feature though, and you can turn the refresh rate down to 60Hz if you prefer, and this saves battery life.
The phone also has a 480Hz touch input rate, meaning the display scans for your finger 480 times per second, which is eight times faster than the average smartphone. This is particularly good for gaming, as your touch is picked up really quickly, making for more responsive gameplay.
One particularly useful spec is the 1,500 nits max brightness – that’s well up on the roughly 500 nit average we see in smartphones. As a result the Mi 11 can get really bright if you need it to, perfect if you’re out in bright sunshine, or just can’t see too well. This also improves the contrast of on-screen images.
Those specs must paint a pretty picture of the Mi 11’s display, and so they should, as it’s a punchy and sharp screen. It’s the company’s ‘AI imagine engine’ that’s doing the real work, though. This is a suite of AI features that digitally upscales content you view on your smartphone – frames are added to videos to increase the framerate, HDR is added to photos, video resolution is increased.
We found this didn’t always work – sometimes we’d watch a video on a streaming service and see no noticeable quality increase – but on the occasions when it did kick in, it was great to see a video in higher resolution than you’d otherwise get.
Xiaomi Mi 11 cameras
- High-res 108MP main camera takes good photos
- Has a fantastic 5MP telemacro camera for close-up shots
- Has a range of useful camera modes
While the cameras represent a modest upgrade over the Mi 10, at least compared to the big upgrades in other departments, there are a few key changes that improve the photography experience here.
The main snapper is 108MP f/1.9 – this is the fifth Xiaomi phone to use such a high-res sensor, and they’ve all used this same Samsung one. That doesn’t mean photos look exactly the same as before though, as the results of our testing seemed slightly better, with improved contrast and an overall lighter tone. This is likely the result of improved AI optimization.
We took our best Mi 11 pictures in well-lit environments, and low-light photos were a little noisy, though certainly still usable. This is likely thanks to ‘pixel binning’, in which four pixels are effectively combined into one, to create a 27MP camera that ‘sees’ more light. We’ve produced an in-depth guide to pixel binning if you want to learn more about how this works.