‘Ultra’ is slowly becoming the mobile industry’s preferred term for phones that are big, beautiful, and have jam-packed spec lists up to and including the kitchen sink. The Mi 11 Ultra is no different.
In Xiaomi’s case, although the Mi 11 Ultra packs a few advantages over the regular Mi 11 across the board, the brunt of the budget has clearly gone into the outrageous rear camera module, which despite including ‘only’ three lenses is in fact one of the most powerful camera setups around – so powerful that it earns its own special rear-facing display.
That camera is both a blessing and a curse for the Ultra. It’s part of why the phone is such a powerhouse, but the blocky, heavy design makes it both an eyesore and a discomfort that only the specs-obsessed will be able to overlook.
Design and build
- Enormous camera bump
- Ceramic rear finish
- Big & heavy
Let’s get right to it then. You can’t talk about how the Mi 11 Ultra looks without talking about the camera, so let’s start there.
Stretching across the width of the phone, and covering about a quarter of the whole rear of the body, this is perhaps the largest camera module in any smartphone yet.
It juts out too – about as much as half the depth of the phone itself again. Throw in the small display built into it (more on that later) and the result is that you cannot ignore it.
It’s the sort of camera module that people will point at from across the bar, that your friends will ask about with a slightly concerned look in their eye. It feels one small step away from just screwing an SLR lens onto the back of the phone and calling it a day.
Unsurprisingly, it’s also heavy. Despite having the same size display, the Mi 11 Ultra is around 40g heavier than the Mi 11, at 234g. Some of that might come down to the choice to use a ceramic coating on the rear, instead of glass, but the camera clearly plays its part. Xiaomi has at least balanced the weight impressively well, so it doesn’t feel too top-heavy, but that doesn’t help with how hefty it is overall.
The ceramic rear comes in either white or black, and curves at the sides to match the curved display, which does at least keep the large phone fairly comfortable to hold, if you don’t mind the weight. Like the Mi 11, the screen is also quad-curved, meaning there’s a very slight curvature to the top and bottom of the screen – barely there, but just enough to make swiping up or down from the edges a touch more comfortable.
There’s no headphone jack, with the USB-C charging socket the only port, but you do get stereo speakers to make up for it. There’s also no dedicated fingerprint sensor, which is instead built into the display.
In terms of protection, the display is encased in the highest grade of Gorilla Glass Victus, and there’s also an IP68 water and dust-resistance rating, which should keep it safe even when submerged.
Beyond the out-there camera design, the rest of the Mi 11 Ultra is surprisingly restrained, almost pedestrian in design. It’s simple, sleek, and undeniably premium thanks to the smooth ceramic finish. It’s just a shame that the camera – powerful as it is – spoils the effect for me.
Some may like the way it brazenly boasts of the phone’s photography prowess, and may relish having a phone that looks as powerful as it is. I find it ungainly and awkward, and it’s honestly the only thing that stops me from really loving the Ultra.
- 120Hz AMOLED
- Extra 1.1in rear display
The camera bump is a large part of the sheer size of the Mi 11 Ultra, but the display has its part to play too – though in fact it is the exact same size as on the regular Mi 11 at 6.81in.
It’s a similar display in other respects too, also offering a 120Hz refresh rate, AMOLED tech, and a high QHD+ resolution – though it’s actually brighter, with 1700 nits peak brightness, and boasts Dolby Vision support in addition to other HDR tech.
About the only display tech you’ll find on rivals that isn’t here is support for a dynamic refresh rate, capable of going slow as well as fast – but really that’s a battery-saving measure, and doesn’t make anything actually look better.
The long and short of it is that this is a beautiful display, and easily among the best out there, so long as you don’t mind the size (which, as I’ve already mentioned, as it least eased slightly by the quad-curvature).
Blacks are inky and deep, colours are vibrant, and the high refresh rate keeps the phone feeling smooth no matter what you’re using it for.
There is, of course, the matter of the rear display. This 1.1in AMOLED is actually the same panel that Xiaomi uses in its Mi Band 5 fitness tracker.
Here, it’s used primarily as an always-on display for when the phone is facing screen-down, with options to display a clock, image, or custom text, along with notification alerts. It can also be activated from within the camera app, letting you use it to frame selfies taken with the main camera.
For the most part this display is a bit of a novelty, but the extra always-on display is welcome at least – and no doubt more power-efficient than using the larger main display for the same purpose.
Specs & performance
- Snapdragon 888
- Up to 12GB RAM
- Up to 512GB storage
You’d be worried if a phone with ‘Ultra’ in the name didn’t include top internal specs, but naturally the Mi 11 Ultra delivers the goods.
The flagship Snapdragon 888 chipset – only recently surpassed by the new 888+ – lies at the phone’s heart, and Xiaomi has combined it with a choice of 8 or 12GB of RAM, and 256 or 512GB of storage. That’s more than enough on both counts, and even the lower tiers should be satisfactory to most.
In benchmarks the phone doesn’t throw out many surprises, falling around the middle of the range we’ve seen for Snapdragon 888 phones on the CPU-heavy Geekbench 5 test.
On the more graphics-focused GFXBench tests, it keeps pace with and at times surpasses other phones with comparable display specs.
It’s a similar story day-to-day, where the phone can breeze through just about anything you throw at it, and multi-task with ease. Basically, if you want powerful, future-proofed, flagship phone performance, this has it in spades.
In terms of connectivity, there’s 5G networking of course, along with Bluetooth 5.2 and Wi-Fi 6E. You also get NFC, and even an IR blaster.
- Large 50Mp main sensor
- 48Mp 5x periscope zoom
- 20Mp selfie camera
The Mi 11 Ultra may excel almost everywhere, but ultimately it’s a phone that’s really about the camera. Luckily it excels here too.
The main sensor is a showstopper. At 50Mp it’s not the highest resolution camera out there, but the 1/1.12in sensor is one of the largest in a phone right now. That means it’s capable of capturing more light and delivering richer colour, superior dynamic range, and improved lowlight photos.
In good lighting, shots are bright and colourful, with minimal artifacting, noise, or signs of artificial sharpening. Shooting in daylight the only issue I ever really had was one shot where the HDR simply didn’t fire at all, leaving the sky completely over-exposed – while a similar shot taken moments later looked much better. I didn’t notice this happen again though.
In dim light there’s a little more noise, but still loads of detail and some of the most accurate colours I’ve seen from a phone at night. Night mode usually improves things further, adding detail and better exposing individual light sources, but be warned – if there’s too much ambient light it will overwhelm the image, as in one of my nighttime photos of Windsor Castle.
A 48Mp wide-angle camera is next up, and results here are also excellent. The sensor is smaller than the main lens, and has a tighter aperture at f/2.2, but photos are roughly comparable in good light. They do pull apart in dimmer light, with much less detail in shadowy spots from this lens – probably in part because this is the only lens of the three that doesn’t feature optical stabilisation – but the resulting photos are still very impressive.
Finally, and arguably most excitingly, is the 5x periscopic zoom lens. Xiaomi touts this as ‘120x zoom’, even writing as much on the camera module itself, but in fact you’re getting 5x optical, 10x hybrid, and pure digital zoom for anything beyond, which mostly just means it’s cropping in.
At 5x and 10x shots are phenomenal out of this lens, and comfortably rival the main lenses on many other phones, even with the small f/4.1 aperture. Expect bright colours and bags of detail.
Beyond that results do drop off, and I must say I’m not too impressed with photos as it approaches the max digital zoom, which are mostly grainy smudges. This is one area where Xiaomi is clearly lagging behind Samsung – the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 10x periscopic lens handles these ultra-zoom shots much more comfortably, and that phone also offers the option of a 3x zoom lens to sit in the middle of the range.
Selfies can be handled one of two ways. The front-facing camera is a very solid 20Mp, f/2.2 affair that delivers excellent results across the board. It will, however, be out-classed by the rear cameras, so you also have the option of activating that dinky rear-facing screen to frame yourself for shots with any of the rear cameras – although, unless your arms are a few times longer than mine, you’ll struggle to get much benefit from the periscope lens here.
Video chops are naturally impressive too. The main lens can shoot video at up to [email protected], or [email protected], and benefits from OIS – while the selfie camera is limited to [email protected] with only electronic stabilisation. This is another small loss relative to Samsung, as the S21 Ultra can shoot 4K selfie video.
You might think that the rear display would let you shoot 8K selfie video with this phone, of course, but at the time of writing video isn’t supported here – and nor are Portrait and Night mode, or anything beyond standard photos really. Xiaomi will reportedly add this functionality in via an update, but it’s not there just yet.
Battery & charging
- Large 5000mAh battery
- 67W wired & wireless charging
- 88% charge in 30 minutes
If there’s a perk to buying a phone the size of the Mi 11 Ultra, it’s that there’s plenty of space to fit in a big battery.
Xiaomi has delivered on that front, with a 5000mAh cell in here – certainly not the largest battery around, but fairly generous really. It’s needed to drive the phone’s powerful specs and large display though, so even with that battery you shouldn’t expect much more than a day to a day-and-a-half of battery life.
Charging speed is at least more of a slam dunk. The phone supports 67W charging on both wired and wireless.
Let’s take wired first. In Europe Xiaomi includes a 67W charger in the box, although in India it ships with a slower 55W charger. Testing with the 67W charger, I managed to top the phone up to 52% in 15 minutes, and 88% in half an hour – among the fastest speeds you’ll find in a phone right now.
The wireless charging is arguably even more impressive, but with one big caveat: you’ll need Xiaomi’s proprietary 67W wireless charger, which isn’t included with the phone anywhere. That means I haven’t been able to test it at max speed myself, but Xiaomi says it will charge to full in 49 minutes. I can at least confirm that it will happily charge at slower speeds on standard Qi chargers.
- MIUI 12 on Android 11
- No commitment to future Android updates
Xiaomi ships the Mi 11 Ultra running MIUI 12 on top of Google’s Android 11 operating system, although it can already be upgraded to the newer MIUI 12.5.
It’s likely to receive the update to Android 12 later this year but frustratingly Xiaomi still doesn’t promise any specific number of Android updates beyond that. An upgrade to Android 13 next year is likely, but not guaranteed – another knock compared to promises from Samsung and some other rivals for three years of Android version updates.
MIUI is far from my favourite Android skin, but it has improved compared to previous versions. I find it needlessly obtuse and difficult to navigate, especially when it comes to delving through the Settings menu, but for those willing to put in the work it does offer impressive flexibility and customisation.
I would still always prefer a Samsung, Oppo, or OnePlus phone for their software – or of course one of Google’s Pixel devices – but even if you’ve never used MIUI before it’s mostly just a matter of getting used to its quirks.
Price & availability