Considering the world has been stuck in a pandemic for the better part of 2020, one might think the consumer tech space would slow down in 2021. Nope, not in the ever-competitive Android smartphone space. 2021 is not even a week old and the first flagship smartphone of the year has already arrived in the form of the Xiaomi Mi 11. Others, like the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, will soon follow.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 began shipping to buyers in mainland China just two days ago, and Hong Kong’s top import shop Trinity Electronics has already secured units for sale in the city. The shop was kind enough to loan us a retail unit for a few hours. Our time with the device is limited, so this is by no means a review, but a first look at the world’s first Snapdragon 888 phone.
Xiaomi Mi 11: Specifications
|Specification||Xiaomi Mi 11|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888:
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||In-Display Optical Fingerprint Sensor|
|Front Camera(s)||20MP, f/2.4|
|Port(s)||USB Type C|
|Audio||Stereo Speakers tuned by Harman Kardon|
|Software||MIUI 12.5 based on Android 11|
Design and Hardware
If I have to summarize the Xiaomi Mi 11 in a sentence, it’d be “like a Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra but with a Snapdragon 888.” That’s because Xiaomi has carried over many of the Mi 10 Ultra’s features, from the gorgeous 2K 120Hz OLED screen to the subtle curvature on all four sides of the screen to even that “squircle” shaped camera module, this device feels very similar in look and feel to the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra.
As mentioned, the Xiaomi Mi 11’s screen is a stunner — a 1440 x 3200 OLED display that refreshes at 120Hz and curves on all four sides. While the curvature at the top and bottom of the screen is relatively subtle (unlike, say, the Huawei P40 Pro), it still adds an illusion of an even slimmer bezel, as well as make for a very pleasant in-hand feel.
Underneath the screen is an in-display fingerprint scanner, which apparently doubles as a heart rate sensor. Unfortunately, in my limited time, I didn’t get a chance to test this out. But nonetheless, the company behind the sensor, Goodix, has a good track record of making breakthroughs in in-display fingerprint tech, so we’re optimistic about the claim on the Xiaomi Mi 11.
Construction is premium: aluminum railings wrapped with Gorilla Glass Victus on the front. I believe the back glass is also Gorilla Glass, but I’ll have to check with Xiaomi on the exact version. Like the Huawei Mate 40 Pro, the Xiaomi Mi 11’s back has a frosted matte finish that is soft to the touch yet remains grippy and is virtually fingerprint smudge-proof. Light reflects off of my unit in various tones depending on the angle and intensity of the light, so in some angles, the phone looks blue, while in others, it looks almost silver.
The top-notch speaker system in the Mi 10 Pro series returns, this time fine-tuned by audio equipment brand Harman Kardon. I’m no audiophile, but the loudspeakers of the Mi 11 get really loud without distortion. The placement of the speakers at the top and bottom of the phone means it’s very hard to muffle the sound just by holding the phone too, though the bottom speaker sounds louder than the top speaker.
Of course, one of the biggest selling points of the Xiaomi Mi 11 is inside the device — that Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC. Since I only tested the Mi 11 for a short time and didn’t do any intensive video editing or gaming, I wasn’t able to “experience” the superior power of the Snapdragon 888. But I did run Geekbench 5, and the Xiaomi Mi 11’s scores bested the Snapdragon 865+ powered Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 pretty easily.
MIUI 12 based on Android 11
The unit of Xiaomi Mi 11 I’m testing is the China retail unit, so it runs MIUI 12.0.12 stable over Android 11. Despite the fact this is not Xiaomi’s global ROM, the software was enjoyable to use even for a westernized user such as myself. Gone are the days of garish Chinese ROMs that break notifications — the version of MIUI here can be made to resemble a global ROM in under ten minutes by simply deleting the bloatware Chinese apps and installing Google services and apps. The latter process is surprisingly easy — Xiaomi’s own app store has the Google Play Store for download, and once installed, Google Play Services runs fine, and even my Google contacts sync perfectly.
Animations appear perfectly-fluid thanks to that 120Hz refresh rate, and MIUI 12 is full of whimsical animations such as the phone’s storage being represented by what appears to be a glass of water (that will fill up as storage fills up).
Xiaomi Mi 11: Cameras
The Xiaomi Mi 11 features three cameras around the back, consisting of a 108MP main camera, a 13MP ultra-wide, and a 5MP macro. The lack of any zoom lens is jarring in 2021, but this is a clear sign that the Mi 11 is just Xiaomi’s mid-tier device in this series. Xiaomi has not announced anything as of the time of writing this article, but it is almost a foregone conclusion there will be a Xiaomi Mi 11 Pro (or Ultra?) model with a zoom lens.
Still, even relying entirely on digital zoom, the Mi 11 can reach up to 30x digital zoom, although results aren’t the sharpest. But lower that zoom level to 10x, and the image becomes respectable thanks to that 108MP sensor pulling in so much detail.
This is Xiaomi’s fourth time using the Samsung ISOCELL Bright HMX 108MP sensor (following the Mi Note 10, Mi 10, and Mi 10T), and Xiaomi has figured out all the tricks to optimize the sensor. Again — I only had a brief time with the device so I can’t do in-depth camera testing — but so far, photos with the main camera appear sharp and vibrant, with excellent dynamic range. It’s a confident shooting system, not afraid to dial up contrast if need be and even turn on night mode automatically in dim settings. Focusing is razor-sharp and fast too. From early photo samples, I’m impressed — especially the night shots.
Video performance is excellent, likely thanks to that triple ISP that’s part of the Snapdragon 888. The first thing I notice is that zooming in and out — meaning toggling between the ultra-wide and main camera — no longer results in a slight lag, which has been the case for almost all Android phones up until now. This is a level of zoom fluidity that only the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 had offered.
Video stabilization is excellent with both main and ultra-wide angle camera, but the latter suffers in dynamic range a bit. See the video samples for yourself.
Again, due to the short time with the phone I was unable to test the night video mode powered by BlinkAI — we will be sure to test this in our in-depth review later.
Xiaomi Mi 11: Early Thoughts
The Xiaomi Mi 11 in China starts at CNY 3,999, which is roughly $615. For this price, you’re getting a flagship-level screen, the best Android processor of the year, premium build quality, and a really great main camera that can hold its own against any other phone released so far. It would appear that Xiaomi has knocked it out of the park again in terms of offering great value.
There is likely to be a global version of this phone launching soon. And while prices will almost certainly be a bit higher, it’s still likely going to be priced lower than Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series. 2021 is off to an exciting start for smartphones, and we can’t wait to see what else is in store for us!
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