Who is Samsung’s biggest mobile competitor? The first name that comes to mind is, of course, Apple. However, most people don’t have the habit of going back and forth between iOS and Android with each phone purchase. So who is it?
Samsung is consistently ranked as the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer. Huawei generally ranks second, mainly because of sales in China, where Samsung is non-business. And now the third is Xiaomi.
The reason I raised this issue is that Xiaomi’s latest flagship phone, the Mi 11, is not only very good in itself, but also a phone that surpasses Samsung’s latest lineup. It’s cheaper than the $799 Galaxy S21 in the market it sells, but in many ways it has more in common with the $1,199 S21 Ultra.
The Mi 11 will be a strong contender for all S21 phones if you see the two side by side in an American news agency store. The only problem is it won’t do that.
The Mi 11 isn’t particularly interesting to look at, but it’s well built and ruggedly designed. It follows Xiaomi’s usual glass sandwich blueprint with a frosted glass back panel and an iridescent but fairly understated gradient finish. The greatest visual prosperity is the squirrel-shaped camera bump that features three distinct layers that rise with a large primary lens.
With a 6.8-inch screen, this one isn’t a phone for those who prefer smaller devices, but it feels relatively slim. The chin slightly under the display is very thin, and the screen curves smoothly on the sides. At 8.1mm thick and weighing 196g, it’s noticeably thinner and slightly lighter than last year’s Mi 10. The 4,600mAh battery is slightly smaller.
This may have something to do with the Snapdragon 888 processor, Qualcomm’s high-end chip in 2021. Unlike last year’s 865, the 5G modem is integrated directly into the SoC, saving space and power. The My Mi 11 review unit pairs the 888 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but the more expensive models have 12GB and 256GB options respectively.
In use, the Mi 11 passes more than the “feel like a flagship” test. According to the spec sheet, as expected, it is as fast and responsive as all Android phones on the market. It has a powerful haptic system and the Harman Kardon branded stereo speakers sounded good, but I don’t know if they have anything in common with the SoundSticks I’ve been using for a long time. Xiaomi’s MIUI 12 software is based on Android 11 and is much more streamlined than its predecessor. Xiaomi has come a long way with software design.
The battery life is strong: I got almost exactly 5 hours of screen time per day of my recent test, of which more than 3 hours of using my phone to take photos and videos in bright, direct sunlight and keep the screen at maximum. 120Hz and 1440p settings.
This will take you to the display. It’s very similar if the Mi 11’s screen isn’t the same as the OLED panel used a lot on Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra. Both are 6.8-inch curved LTPO OLED panels with a 120Hz refresh rate, 3200 x 1440 resolution, and 1,500 nits of maximum brightness. The important thing is that the Mi 11’s display is very good. It is sharp and smooth, has excellent contrast and color reproduction, and the additional brightness is noticeable on clear days. I know not everyone is a fan of the curved edge of the screen, but this part is as subtle as possible and I have had no issues with visual distortion or accidental touch input.
My only complaint about the screen is something weird. The corners are cut at a more dramatic angle than the edges of the phone itself, causing the bezel to protrude more than expected. I don’t know why Xiaomi designed the phone this way-although no other similar Mi 10 did this-the effect is quite weird. Still, that doesn’t mean you haven’t really noticed since you first started using the phone.
Additionally, the Mi 11’s fingerprint sensor with built-in optical display is sometimes noticeably slower than the tendency to see on competitors’ phones like Vivo and Oppo. It’s rare that it’s not accurate, but the 0.5 seconds it usually takes to recognize my fingerprint can sometimes get as close to a second, and these momentary delays add up.
One of the areas where Xiaomi seems to have saved money on the Mi 11 is the camera system. The default sensor is the Mi 10’s 180 million-pixel Samsung ISOCELL Bright HMX, which Xiaomi says has developed jointly with Samsung’s parts division. Backed by 13 megapixel ultra wide and 5 megapixel “tele macro”. That said, if you don’t want to get really close to your subject, there is no real telephoto feature.
Despite the pedestrian hardware, I am generally happy with the performance of the Mi 11 camera, especially when considering the price. The detail and dynamic range are strong in good lighting, allowing for fairly neutral color representation, and low-light performance is well maintained. The biggest weakness is the dim lighting situation between the two extremes, which can cause noise.
While large, high-resolution sensors have advantages, they have obvious disadvantages. For example, you might cherish the fact that it offers a shallower depth of field (no portrait mode) than most other phones, but sometimes you have to deal with busy bokeh or unexpectedly out of focus areas of the scene. The 108 megapixel sensor can express a lot of detail, but it is not a substitute for a telephoto lens. Photos taken with 2x digital zoom also reveal many artifacts.
I wouldn’t even comment on the macro lens, a useless 2 megapixel sensor that’s usually thrown into the phone. While the manufacturer may ask for a triple or quad camera system, it’s a bit better than most of the Mi 11’s 5 megapixel 50mm equivalents. It actually autofocuses, making it a lot easier to capture what you’re trying to see up close. I still don’t feel I need an extreme macro lens for my phone, but at least I could use it to check out the tiny PlayStation icon textures on my PS5 controller. So there you are.
Overall, the Mi 11 camera system is more than just for its purpose, but it might be the only one that doesn’t go against the more expensive flagship. It hurts because it doesn’t have a telephoto lens, and modern image sensors have their drawbacks.
The most important thing about the Mi 11 is that Samsung is lucky. Xiaomi does not sell mobile phones in the United States. The Galaxy S21 costs 100 euros more than the €749 Mi 11, despite having a smaller low-resolution screen and a plastic back. The same goes for the S21 Plus.
The € 1,249 S21 Ultra is where the comparison is interesting. Samsung’s top-of-the-line phones are much more expensive, but Xiaomi matches or surpasses by spec, except for the battery and camera. The S21 may be a better all-round phone for those who can afford it, but I know which one would consider it a better value for money if I lived in Europe.
Still, that’s the problem. At this point, Europe is one of the few places where Xiaomi and Samsung actually compete with each other in the high end. Until the change, buyers of flagship Android phones in the US will not have much reason to consider Xiaomi as part of the competition.
The Mi 11 isn’t a very nice phone, so I urge you to jump over the import hoop to get one. It is a very good phone that will be a very attractive option in every market it is sold on. If you live in one of them, here is my strong recommendation.
Photo from Sam Byford / The Verge