Xiaomi Mi 11 review: A cheaper, better alternative to the Samsung Galaxy S21+?

The Xiaomi Mi 11 offers better specs than the Samsung Galaxy S21+, all for a few hundred dollars less

Xiaomi Mi 11 review

Bottom line

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is one of the fastest smartphones available, and its speedy performance is complemented by a sleek design, great camera, excellent display, and well-rounded feature-set. The Mi 11 even manages to beat out the pricier Samsung Galaxy S21+, making it one of the best values you can find for a flagship phone. Unfortunately, it’s hampered by its lack of 5G support for U.S. carriers.

Overall
4.2

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Great rear cameras
  • Large QHD+ 120Hz display
  • Attractive, ergonomic design
  • Super-fast wired and wireless charging
  • Affordable
  • Android 11

Cons

  • Lacks IP68 protection
  • Limited availability in the U.S.
  • Average battery life
  • Limited 5G support for U.S. carriers
  • Selfie camera isn’t as good as the competition
  • No optical zoom

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is the latest flagship from the growing Chinese smartphone brand and it directly competes with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21+. Arguably, Xiaomi Mi 11’s biggest selling point is that it offers superior hardware than the competing S21+, for a few hundred dollars less.

What’s in the box

In the box, Xiaomi includes a clear protective case, and a very welcome 55W fast charger. This is a stark contrast from Samsung and Apple who are both no longer including chargers in their boxes.

Design

The Xiaomi Mi 11 comes in several color choices; Horizon Blue, Midnight Gray, Cloud White, Gold, and Violet. We’ve been using the Horizon Blue color variant which is made up of a lovely subtle blue gradient. There’s also a neat leather variant, but that variant is only available in China.

Made of an attractive aluminum mid-frame that’s complemented with Gorilla Glass, the Mi 11 measures 164.3 x 74.6 x 8.1mm and weighs 196g. To that effect, the size of the Xiaomi Mi 11 is pretty much perfect, even if it is a little bit heavier than the competing iPhone 12. Thanks to its sleek form factor, relatively even weight distribution, and symmetric dual curves at its front and back, it is an absolute pleasure to hold and use the Mi 11. In contrast to the mammoth Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Xiaomi Mi 11 manages to pack in quite a large 6.8-inch AMOLED display, without becoming too unwieldy or heavy. Overall, we’d say that the Mi 11 has a beautiful premium design and build going for it. However, it’s not an especially unique design, and it definitely takes design cues from the likes of Huawei.

When it comes to dust and water protection, the Xiaomi Mi 11 is supposed to offer some level of protection but it lacks an official IP68 rating, so you’ll want to be careful when handling it.

Display

We’re not fans of curved edge displays, fortunately, the Mi 11’s curved edge display is not obnoxious and not distracting at all. Its excellent, large 6.8-inch QHD+ OLED display offers a fast 120Hz refresh rate, but you’ll need to change its setting to 120Hz out of the box. And of course, the 120Hz setting will take its toll on battery life. The display also houses an in-screen fingerprint reader which we found to be reliable and fast.

Camera

The Xiaomi Mi 11 packs in a 108MP main camera on the back which utilizes the Samsung Bright HMX sensor. Shots are set to a 27MP default but you can easily switch to 108MP if you need it. The main camera is complemented by a 13MP wide-angle lens and a 5MP macro lens.

Daylight photos taken with the main camera are superb. They consistently come out with accurate colors and great dynamic range. Lowlight photos are also very good, with much less graininess and blur than what we’re used to – this is likely because night mode brightens up subjects really well.

We’ve seen a lot of phones being released with macro lens lately, but most of the macro lenses on them have performed poorly. Fortunately, the Mi 11’s macro lens is quite good and you’ll get solid macro shots with it.

On the other hand, it’s the Xiaomi Mi 11’s selfie camera that we’re most disappointed with. It does take solid selfies but it doesn’t create the polished, DSLR-like selfies that we’re used to seeing from the likes of Samsung, iPhone, and Pixel.

Xiaomi has put a big focus on video quality with the Mi 11, so much so that the tagline for the phone has been dubbed “Movie Magic”. The phone is capable of recording 4K video at 60fps, 8K video at 30fps, and it offers a night mode for low light video recording. It also offers several neat movie effects – eg: time freeze slows down one side of the frame, parallel world mirrors the view, slow shutter shoots fast-moving objects, and magic zoom makes the camera look like it’s concurrently zooming in and out.

Overall the Xiaomi Mi 11’s cameras are very good and very capable, but they’re not quite as good as the cameras on the likes of the S21 Ultra and iPhone Pro Max 12 – but then again, both of those phones cost several hundred dollars more than the Mi 11.

Performance

Like the Galaxy S21 series, the Xiaomi Mi 11 is one of the first smartphones to be powered by Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 chipset. As a result, its performance is unsurprisingly excellent and best in class. The phone earned a Geekbench Single-core score of 1104 and a Multi-Score of 3571, beating out both the OnePlus 8 Pro and even the S21 Ultra that we recently tested.

That said, the Mi 11’s performance isn’t noticeably faster than the Mi 10 which was powered by the Snapdragon 865. However, being powered by the Snapdragon 888 means that the device is more future-proof when it comes to 5G connectivity and running power-hungry apps.

Battery

Battery life on the Xiaomi Mi 11 isn’t as good as we’d expect it to be. The phone does pack in a substantial 4,600mAh battery, yet battery life is just average, and this is likely in part due to its 120Hz display. That said, the phone will get you through a full day of active use, with some hours of battery life left to spare. But you’ll still need to charge the phone each night. Fortunately, the Xiaomi Mi 11 offers super-fast 55W wired and 50W wireless charging, with a 55W charger included in the box.

Software

We’ve always had a preference for stock Android and in the past, we haven’t been fans of Xiaomi’s MIUI Android overlay. Fortunately, the phone comes running Xiaomi’s latest MIUI 12 which is based on Android 11 and it is much improved over previous versions.

Aesthetically, MIUI 12 is very clean and intuitive to use. Its design IQ very much reminds us of iOS, which is a good thing. When it comes to features, MIUI 12 now offers an app drawer and it supports Android’s default navigation gestures. And thank goodness, Google’s dialer, and Android Messages are both used as the default phone and messaging application.

Should you buy the Xiaomi Mi 11?

Xiaomi is growing fast, so much so that they ranked 4th globally for smartphone shipments in the second quarter of 2020. As they have grown, their phones have gotten better and better, and the Mi 11 exemplifies that. This is a flagship smartphone that is good enough to compete with the big boys – so much so, that it manages to one-up the competing S21+ with a better high-res display, at a lower price. To that effect, the display on the Xiaomi Mi 11 is more comparable to the much pricier Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra – which is exactly why the Xiaomi Mi 11 is so appealing.

However, there’s one thing holding us back from recommending the Xiaomi Mi 11 to folks in the U.S. – and that’s the fact that the Mi 11 doesn’t work with 5G on U.S. carriers.

Does the Xiaomi Mi 11 work in the U.S. on T-Mobile and AT&T?

Unfortunately, the Xiaomi Mi 11 doesn’t support 5G for U.S. carriers, including AT&T and T-Mobile. We tested the Xiaomi Mi 11 on T-Mobile and only LTE+ worked. That said, its LTE+ speeds aren’t that much slower than what we’ve been seeing with 5G on T-Mobile in congested areas. For example, the LTE+ speeds on the Mi 11 were an acceptable 31.3 Mbps down and 43.7 Mbps up when we tested in New York City, and those speeds may be good enough for most users.

Xiaomi Mi 11 review verdict

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is currently one of the fastest smartphones available, and its speedy performance is complemented by a sleek design, great camera, and excellent display. Ultimately, the Mi 11 manages to beat out the Samsung Galaxy S21+ with its lower price and superior hardware, making the Xiaomi Mi 11 the better value of the two flagships. However, it’s very unfortunate that customers in the U.S. can’t use 5G on the Mi 11.

Pricing and availability

There are currently no U.S. carriers offering the Xiaomi Mi 11 in the U.S. But the phone is available to purchase unlocked starting at $699 for the 8GB RAM / 128GB model.