Who’s Samsung’s greatest cellular competitor? The primary identify that involves thoughts is Apple, after all. However most individuals aren’t actually within the behavior of switching forwards and backwards between iOS and Android with every cellphone buy. So who’s it?

Samsung is persistently ranked as the largest cellphone maker on this planet. Huawei is often quantity two, largely due to its gross sales in China the place Samsung is a nonentity. And quantity three proper now’s Xiaomi.

The explanation I convey this up is as a result of Xiaomi’s newest flagship cellphone, the Mi 11, shouldn’t be solely extraordinarily good in its personal proper however a cellphone that arguably outflanks Samsung’s newest lineup. It prices lower than the $799 Galaxy S21 in markets the place it’s bought, however in some ways, it has extra in widespread with the $1,199 S21 Extremely.

The Mi 11 can be a powerful competitor to any S21 cellphone should you noticed the 2 subsequent to one another in a US provider retailer. The one downside is you received’t.

The Mi 11 isn’t notably thrilling to have a look at, however it’s well-built and solidly designed. It follows Xiaomi’s common glass sandwich blueprint, with a frosted glass again panel and an iridescent however pretty understated gradient end. The largest visible flourish is the squircle-shaped digital camera bump, which options three distinct layers stepping as much as the massive major lens.

With a 6.8-inch display screen, this isn’t going to be a cellphone for individuals who desire smaller units, however it manages to really feel comparatively svelte all the identical. The slight chin under the show may be very skinny, and the display screen curves gently on the edges. At 8.1mm thick and weighing 196 grams, it’s noticeably thinner and somewhat lighter than final 12 months’s Mi 10, with a barely smaller (however nonetheless large) 4,600mAh battery.

Which will nicely have one thing to do with its Snapdragon 888 processor, which is Qualcomm’s high-end chip for 2021; not like final 12 months’s 865, the 5G modem is built-in instantly into the SoC, saving area and energy. My Mi 11 assessment unit pairs the 888 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, although dearer fashions have choices for 12GB and 256GB, respectively.

In use, the Mi 11 greater than passes the “seems like a flagship” check. As anticipated based mostly on the spec sheet, it’s as quick and responsive as any Android cellphone available on the market. There’s a powerful haptics system, and the Harman Kardon-branded stereo audio system sound good, although I’m unsure they’ve something in widespread with my long-serving SoundSticks. Xiaomi’s MIUI 12 software program is predicated on Android 11, and it’s much more streamlined than earlier iterations; Xiaomi has come a good distance with its software program design.

Battery life is powerful: I received virtually precisely 5 hours of display screen time on one latest day of testing, and greater than three of these hours concerned utilizing the cellphone to take images and movies in shiny, direct daylight, all with the display screen at its most 120Hz and 1440p settings.

The Mi 11 has an almost similar display screen to the Samsung S21 Extremely.

That brings me to the show. If the Mi 11’s display screen isn’t similar to the much-vaunted OLED panel present in Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Extremely, it’s extraordinarily related. Each are 6.8-inch curved LTPO OLED panels with a 120Hz refresh price, a 3200 x 1440 decision, and a most brightness of 1,500 nits. What issues is that the Mi 11’s show is extraordinarily good, which it’s. It’s sharp and easy, with wonderful distinction and shade copy, and the additional brightness is noticeable on sunny days. I do know not everyone seems to be a fan of curved display screen edges, however these are about as delicate because it will get, and I didn’t have any points with visible distortion or unintentional contact enter.

My solely criticism in regards to the display screen is a bizarre one: the corners are lower at a extra dramatic angle than the sides of the cellphone itself, leading to a bezel that intrudes greater than it most likely ought to. I’m unsure why Xiaomi designed the cellphone this fashion — the in any other case related Mi 10 didn’t do that — however the impact is kind of odd. Nonetheless, it’s not one thing I’ve actually seen since I first began utilizing the cellphone.

I’ll additionally add that the optical in-display fingerprint sensor within the Mi 11 is typically noticeably slower than what I are likely to see in telephones from rivals like Vivo and Oppo. It’s not often inaccurate, however the half-second it usually takes to acknowledge my fingerprint can generally really feel nearer to a second, and people split-second delays do add up.

The Mi 11’s essential digital camera makes use of the identical sensor as final 12 months’s Mi 10.

One space the place Xiaomi appears to have saved cash on the Mi 11 is its digital camera system. The first sensor is similar 108-megapixel Samsung ISOCELL Vivid HMX from the Mi 10, which Xiaomi says it co-developed with Samsung’s element division. It’s backed up by a 13-megapixel ultrawide and a 5-megapixel “telemacro,” which means there’s no actual telephoto functionality until you need to get actually near your topic.

Regardless of the pedestrian {hardware}, I’m usually proud of how the Mi 11 cameras carry out, notably contemplating its value. Element and dynamic vary are sturdy in good gentle, with pretty impartial shade rendition, and low-light efficiency additionally holds up nicely. The largest weak point is dim lighting conditions that fall between these two extremes, which may get noisy.

The massive, high-resolution sensor has its advantages, however there are clear drawbacks. You would possibly worth the truth that it provides shallower depth of area (and not using a portrait mode) than most different telephones, for instance, however you’ll additionally need to cope with often busy bokeh or areas of the scene that seem unexpectedly out of focus. And whereas the 108-megapixel sensor can render a number of element, it’s completely not an alternative choice to a telephoto lens; photos taken at even 2x digital zoom exhibit a number of artifacts.

I wouldn’t usually even point out the macro lens, which is usually a ineffective 2-megapixel sensor thrown at a cellphone simply so the maker can declare a triple- or quad-camera system, however the Mi 11’s 5-megapixel 50mm-equivalent unit is somewhat higher than most. It truly autofocuses, for one factor, which makes it a lot simpler to seize what you’re attempting to see shut up. I nonetheless don’t really feel the necessity for an excessive macro lens on my cellphone, however I used to be no less than ready to make use of it to take a look at the tiny PlayStation icons texture on my PS5 controller. So there’s that.

Total, the Mi 11 digital camera system is greater than match for goal, however it’s additionally maybe the one factor about this cellphone that doesn’t go toe-to-toe with dearer flagships. The dearth of a telephoto lens hurts it, and the last-gen picture sensor has its quirks.

Match and end of the Mi 11 are corresponding to any premium cellphone you would possibly discover.

My greatest takeaway from the Mi 11 is that Samsung is fortunate Xiaomi doesn’t promote telephones within the US. The Galaxy S21 begins at a full 100 euros greater than the €749 Mi 11, regardless of having a smaller, lower-resolution display screen and a plastic again. The identical goes for the S21 Plus.

The €1,249 S21 Extremely is the place the comparability will get fascinating. Samsung’s highest-end cellphone is way dearer, however Xiaomi matches or beats it spec-for-spec besides on the battery and the digital camera. The S21 may be the higher all-around cellphone for individuals who can afford it, but when I lived in Europe, I do know which one I’d contemplate to be a greater worth for the cash.

That’s the rub, although. At this level, Europe is likely one of the few locations the place Xiaomi and Samsung truly compete with each other on the excessive finish. Till that adjustments, flagship Android cellphone consumers within the US received’t have a lot motive to contemplate Xiaomi a part of the competitors.

The Mi 11 isn’t a cellphone so spectacular that I’d urge you to leap by means of import hoops so as to purchase one. It’s simply an excellent cellphone that might be a particularly compelling possibility in any market the place it’s bought. Should you occur to stay in one in every of them, it has my sturdy suggestion.

Pictures by Sam Byford / The Verge

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