Xiaomi might be a recent addition to the New Zealand market, but the Chinese electronics maker has seen a meteoric rise since starting up in 2010 and is now in the top four globally for smartphone sales.
You don't become a global smartphone giant without managing trade and geopolitical business threats, and Xiaomi's done much better in that respect than Huawei which is being starved of oxygen by the United States.
There have been stoushes with the Indian government but Xiaomi managed to get itself off a US sanctions list recently. That means the Mi 11 Ultra 5G/Wifi6 premium smartphone I've been trialling has the full complement of Google apps, and the Play Store for third party software and Android 11 security updates.
Getting to the point, the biggest reason to be interested in the Mi 11 Ultra is the stunning images and videos its large-sensor camera system can produce. Nighttime images especially look great with lots of detail as long as the ISO sensitivity is kept low. The Mi 11 Ultra is top dog at photography gear testing site DXOMark currently, beating out Samsung, Huawei and Apple. When you see what the camera system is capable of, you'll appreciate why.
The camera can output RAW digital files which pro snappers will like, and video tops out at 8k resolution with 24 frames per second if you enable H.265 compression, and disable high dynamic range (HDR). HDR can help prevent blown highlights and gets you more details in dark areas; enabling the feature restricts the camera at 4K resolution and 30 fps. If you want 4K or 1080p/60 fps, you have to switch off HDR. Motion tracking autofocus and the artificial intelligence scene recognition means 1080p/30 fps max.
A large sensor requires a biggish bump to house a Samsung/Fujifilm ISOCELL GN2 Plus sensor which in that weird TV-camera era metric is 1/1.2" in size and has 1.4 micrometre sized photo diodes. It can shoot at full 50 megapixel resolution, but images look better at 12.5 Mpixel. The camera groups the pixels 4 by 4 in that mode, into bigger 2.8 um "super pixels" for clearer images.
There's a great 5 times tele zoom, and an impossible to use 120 times magnification on the camera system. In a fit of engineering exuberance, Xiaomi put a small touch screen in the camera bump which is kind of cool but not really useful.
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Matched with the large sensor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset, with full 10-bit colour (that's over a billion hues) from the sensor to the lovely high resolution 6.81-inch screen with 120 Hertz smooth refresh.
The Snapdragon 888 is very quick, but it makes the Mi 11 Ultra overheat. I discovered that in particular with one graphics intensive game that caused the smartphone to close down the app and device features, to cool down.
There is a setting for the phone that's meant to prevent overheating, but it doesn't do much. I was able to overheat the device reliably with the 3DMark Wild Life stress test. The NZ distributor PB Technology is aware of the issue, which may be due to Samsung-made Snapdragon 888 chipsets, due to Taiwan's TSMC suffering capacity constraints currently.
A second Mi 11 Ultra also ran too hot, and two software updates from Xiaomi didn't help the thermal management problem.
Xiaomi isn't alone in bumping into heating issues. Huawei's home-brew HiSilicon chipset runs hot too, and you can see why: at full gaming tilt, the thermal output can be as high as 10-11 Watt which is difficult to dissipate in a small phone case. No wonder that the ROG gaming phone from ASUS comes with an optional fan case then.
That said, Xiaomi needs to sort out the problem that literally can make the $2100 phone too hot to handle, lovely photos and videos notwithstanding.