Xiaomi 12S Ultra review: The best phone you can’t buy

Xiaomi launched the Ultra moniker two years in the past with the Mi 10 Ultra, with that gadget restricted to China. Final 12 months’s Mi 11 Ultra actually kicked issues off for the model: Xiaomi went with a daring design, a big sensor, and a singular second display screen on the again that made the phone stand out. Better of all, the Mi 11 Ultra was accessible in over a dozen international locations. 

With the 12S Ultra, Xiaomi is constructing on final 12 months — the phone is a grand showcase of Xiaomi’s digicam efforts, with the Chinese language model including an enormous 1-inch digicam for the primary time. The 12S Ultra additionally provides us a primary have a look at the partnership between Xiaomi and German digicam large Leica, with new capturing modes and customized tuning.

The Mi 11 Ultra was considered one of my favourite telephones of 2021; the small display screen on the again made it simple to take photographs with the rear digicam, and the high-end {hardware} and huge 120Hz display screen made it a pleasure to make use of. So I used to be naturally serious about seeing how the 12S Ultra holds up, and after utilizing the phone for 2 weeks, this is what I consider the gadget.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Value and availability

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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Xiaomi did an honest job bringing its high-end telephones to international markets in recent times, however that is not the case with the 12S Ultra — this phone is restricted to China, and will not be debuting globally.

That implies that there is not a worldwide MIUI construct for the gadget, and my unit didn’t have Google Play Providers put in out of the field. It’s simple sufficient to put in the Play Retailer, and in my utilization, I did not see any points with Google providers by any means as soon as I signed in to my Google account, however you should tinker just a little with MIUI to get it working the best way you need.

Xiaomi has a couple of variants of the 12S Ultra, with the bottom model beginning off at RMB 5,999 ($885) and providing 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. There’s additionally a 12GB/256GB variant that retails for RMB 6,499 ($960) in China, and a 12GB/512GB mannequin that is accessible for RMB 6,999 ($1,033).

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Design

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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Xiaomi hasn’t modified the design aesthetic an excessive amount of from final 12 months’s Mi 11 Ultra, with each units providing an analogous in-hand really feel. That mentioned, there are two key variations right here: The 12S Ultra has a leather-based end that feels fantastic, and it’s 9 grams lighter. It might not look like a lot, but it surely makes an enormous distinction in each day use.

The 12S Ultra has a daring design due to the outsized digicam housing, and the leather-based end is fantastic in each day use.

However the greatest distinction is the design for the digicam housing on the again. The 12S Ultra has a DSLR-style digicam housing that homes the three lenses and flash module, and the gold accent across the housing provides it an added aptitude. The complete digicam island is made out of steel, and it contrasts very effectively in opposition to the leather-based.

The Xiaomi emblem is etched onto the leather-based, and you’ll additionally discover Leica branding on the gadget to point out off the model’s collaboration with Xiaomi. The leather-based end makes the 12S Ultra a delight to carry and use, and the phone feels unmistakably premium. It additionally feels a lot better to carry and use than glass or the ceramic-backed Mi 11 Ultra, and this may occasionally simply be my favourite end on a Xiaomi phone.

Xiaomi retained the aluminum body this time round, and the model resisted the urge to make use of a flat design, and as such you’ll discover easy flowing curves the place the back and front meet the mid-frame. 

This makes a notable distinction in day-to-day use, and I a lot want this design to the boxy sides which can be turning into a mainstay on most telephones. General, the 12S Ultra is without doubt one of the largest telephones I’ve used this 12 months, however due to the curvy design and even weight distribution, it wasn’t unwieldy within the least.

Elsewhere, the facility and quantity buttons are situated to the fitting, there is a twin SIM card tray situated on the backside, and you get glorious stereo sound right here. There are an identical channels at both finish of the phone, and the 12S Ultra will get loud and detailed. There is no 3.5mm jack right here, however the usual IR blaster is undamaged.

One other function that’s intact is IP68 mud and water resistance. Xiaomi did not supply this explicit function on the 12 Professional this 12 months, but it surely’s good to see that the Ultra collection has mud and water ingress safety.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Display screen

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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The 12S Ultra has a barely smaller 6.73-inch AMOLED panel (versus 6.81 inches on the Mi 11 Ultra), and it makes use of the identical 120Hz refresh and retains all of the options that Xiaomi launched on the 12 Professional this 12 months. One change on the entrance is that the digicam cutout is now situated within the heart, bringing the 12S Ultra in step with the remainder of the Xiaomi 12 collection.

With a vibrant 120Hz AMOLED display screen and loud stereo sound, the 12S Ultra is a gaming powerhouse.

Display screen decision is similar at 3200×1440 (QHD+), and it has Dolby Imaginative and prescient. The panel itself is excellent in each day use, delivering nice colour vibrancy and distinction ranges, and a excessive diploma of customizability. You may regulate the colour stability to your liking, arrange system-wide darkish mode, change the scaling and fonts. 

On that observe, MIUI makes use of a special font in China, and there is not any option to get the usual Roboto font on the gadget.

The 12S Ultra fares exceedingly effectively on the subject of brightness, outshining the 11 Ultra on this regard. I had zero points with daylight visibility, and the ambient gentle sensor does a very good job adjusting the brightness primarily based on lighting situations. Colours are calibrated effectively out of the field, and the Vivid mode specifically stands out.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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Like its predecessor, the 12S Ultra defaults to FHD decision at 60Hz out of the field, so you should manually swap to QHD+ and 120Hz. There’s additionally the choice to make use of a 90Hz mode, and the panel itself has dynamic scaling — like the best Android telephones — switching from 1Hz all the best way to 120Hz primarily based on what’s enjoying on the display screen.

Though the phone has Dolby Imaginative and prescient and HDR, Netflix is restricted to SD content material — that is probably right down to the truth that the 12S Ultra is restricted to China. For its half, YouTube performed HDR content material simply fantastic, and the stereo sound right here is among the many best you’ll discover on any phone as we speak.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: {Hardware} and battery life

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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Xiaomi outfits its flagships with the most recent Qualcomm silicon, and the 12S Ultra is powered by the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1. I already talked concerning the adjustments Qualcomm launched with the 8+ Gen 1 in my Zenfone 9 evaluate, so I will as a substitute share a high-level overview right here. The Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 delivers big effectivity good points over the usual Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and that is on account of the truth that it’s fabricated at TSMC’s 4nm node.

Xiaomi as soon as once more nailed the {hardware} facet of issues, and this is without doubt one of the quickest telephones you can buy as we speak.

Principally, the 8+ Gen 1 consumes considerably much less energy to ship the identical degree of efficiency, and that makes it one of many best cell chipsets you can get in the intervening time. And when you want quite a lot of energy for enjoying visually-demanding video games, the 8+ Gen 1 has quite a lot of headroom — this factor is not going to decelerate anytime quickly.

That intoxicating efficiency makes itself identified in day-to-day use; the phone dealt with something I threw at it with out breaking a sweat. There was no lag, jitter, or any stutter in mundane duties or whereas gaming, and though the phone will get heat throughout hour-long gaming periods, it wasn’t uncomfortable in any respect.

Class Xiaomi 12S Ultra
OS Android 12. MIUI 13, no Play providers
Show 6.73-inch QHD+ (3200×1440) AMOLED, 120Hz LTPO2, Dolby Imaginative and prescient, HDR10+
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, 1 x 3.19GHz Cortex X2, 3 x 2.75GHz Cortex A710, 4 x 1.80GHz Cortex A510, Adreno 730
Storage 256GB/512GB UFS 3.1
Rear digicam 1 50MP f/1.9 Sony IMX989 1-inch sensor, 1.6um pixels, twin pixel PDAF, OIS, 8K at 24FPS, 4K at 60FPS
Rear digicam 2 48MP f/2.2, 0.8um pixels, twin pixel PDAF, 128-degree FoV
Rear digicam 3 48MP f/4.1, 0.8um pixels, PDAF, OIS, 5x optical zoom
Entrance digicam 32MP f/2.4, mounted focus, HDR
Battery 4860mAh, 67W quick charging, 50W wi-fi charging, 10W reverse wi-fi charging
Connectivity Wi-Fi 6e, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, AptX Adaptive, international 5G bands
Dimensions 163.2 x 75 x 9.1mm
Weight 225 grams

There is a beneficiant quantity of storage as effectively, with the bottom mannequin providing 256GB of storage as commonplace. Xiaomi additionally has a 512GB mannequin that has 12GB of RAM, and that must be greater than sufficient for many customers. 

The Chinese language producer did a very good job with the optical in-screen reader, and I did not have any points with authentication. There’s face unlock as effectively, and it’s an identical to what Xiaomi has provided prior to now — it is quick and correct, however not as safe.

What I notably like is the vibration motor; the 12S Ultra has a wonderful haptics engine, and it delivers granular suggestions when utilizing the keyboard and different each day interactions. 

Like every little thing else in MIUI, you can regulate the depth of the vibration sample. Xiaomi did not omit something on the connectivity facet both. The phone has Wi-Fi 6e, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, and you get Qualcomm’s newest AptX Adaptive audio codec. 

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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As for the battery facet of issues, the 12S Ultra has a 4860mAh battery, and because of the efficiencies of the 4nm node, it manages to ship a lot better figures than its predecessor. I routinely received over a day’s price of use out of the phone, averaging over 5 hours of screen-time.

And when you must cost the phone, there’s 67W wired charging and 50W wi-fi charging. The wired charging is not fairly as extravagant because the 120W tech that is commonplace on the Xiaomi 12 Professional, however for what it is price, the 12S Ultra takes simply 46 minutes to totally cost the battery. There’s 10W reverse wi-fi charging as effectively, and it really works simply fantastic for charging wi-fi earbuds.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Cameras

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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Xiaomi isn’t any stranger to introducing telephones with giant cameras, however the 12S Ultra is in a league of its personal. The phone has a 1-inch 50MP f/1.9 Sony IMX989 digicam module with 1.6um pixels, twin PDAF and OIS. It is joined by a 48MP f/2.2 wide-angle lens with a 128-degree area of view, and one other 48MP lens with OIS that delivers as much as 5x optical zoom. 

The 12S Ultra takes beautiful photographs in any lighting situation, but it surely tends to be inconsistent at instances.

The latter two modules are unchanged from final 12 months’s Mi 11 Ultra, however the 50MP major lens is the star of the present right here. That is the biggest sensor you’ll discover on any phone as we speak, and it makes use of 4-to-1 pixel binning to ship 12.5MP pictures. Up entrance, you’ll discover a 32MP fixed-focus lens with 0.7um pixels.

The digicam interface can also be an identical to different Xiaomi telephones, however the producer took a leaf out of OnePlus’s playbook and added pink accents all through the UI — a nod to its Leica partnership. You get two Leica modes — Leica Vibrant and Leica Genuine — and the function is just like the distinctive kinds that you get on the iPhone 13 Professional Max, albeit with Leica tuning.

There is a guide mode that provides you just a little extra management when capturing, and all of the capturing modes are specified by a ribbon — you can simply add or take away modes primarily based in your preferences.

I used the Leica Genuine mode by default, and the 12S Ultra managed to do a wonderful job in nearly each state of affairs. Daylight pictures had nice dynamic vary and correct colours, with no seen noise and no smoothing of finer particulars like foliage.

The resultant pictures are inclined to have a excessive distinction look that is just like what you get on the Pixels, they usually’re ideally suited for sharing on social media. The wide-angle lens additionally does an excellent job retaining the identical colour stability because the 50MP lens, and it is without doubt one of the best on this class. In an analogous vein, I did not discover any points with photographs at 2x to 3x zoom ranges, and even at 5x zoom it delivered usable pictures.

The 12S Ultra does an impressive job in low-light conditions; there’s minimal noise, highlights are balanced effectively, you do not miss out on finer particulars, and just like the daylight pictures, low-light photographs have a saturated look. The 12S Ultra shoots in Auto mode by default, and I solely used the Night time mode a couple of instances — there’s not an excessive amount of of a distinction between the 2. 

The place the 12S Ultra does not make any tangible good points over final 12 months is video recording. It is clear that Xiaomi centered all of its consideration on nonetheless pictures with this era, and because of this, the 12S Ultra is an identical to the Mi 11 Ultra when capturing movies. That is to not say that it does a poor job on this space, however with the remainder of the sector making quite a lot of advances, Xiaomi does not have the best general package deal for this explicit activity. 

On that observe, the 12S Ultra is similar to the Mi 11 Ultra in a couple of conditions. Clearly, the massive 1-inch sensor permits the phone to ship higher pictures with the primary digicam, however the different two lenses are an identical. 

I will do a standalone submit highlighting how the 12S Ultra fares in opposition to the Pixel 6 Professional and S22 Ultra, however utilizing all three units concurrently, it is evident that Xiaomi must do a greater job with the tuning. There have been instances when the 12S Ultra did not dial in a topic quick sufficient or produced a photograph that was grainy; these are points that simply do not come up within the Pixel 6 Professional. 

That mentioned, as an general digicam package deal, the 12S Ultra is well among the many best Android telephones on this space. The big lens mixed with the brand new software program additions permit it to face out in opposition to its predecessor, and it manages to ship groundbreaking photographs more often than not. 

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Software program

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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The 12S Ultra runs MIUI 13 primarily based on Android 12 out of the field, and as Xiaomi is not going to promote the phone exterior China, it makes use of the Chinese language MIUI construct as default. Whereas the Chinese language model is broadly just like what you get on the worldwide launch, there are a couple of key variations.

You are restricted to the Chinese language model of MIUI, and Xiaomi does quite a lot of issues in a different way in its residence market.

For one factor, the iOS-style Management Heart is commonplace for the notification pane, with the toggles situated to the fitting and the incoming notifications on the left. There is no option to get a unified notification pane like the worldwide MIUI builds.

Safety is a much bigger focus right here, and there is an attention-grabbing flag throughout the safety settings the place the phone serves clean information when an app asks for phone state data. This meant I could not use Google Pay or any banking providers that wanted to confirm I am utilizing the proper cell quantity, but it surely’s simple sufficient to vary this setting — you’ll want to do that manually, although. 

There’s quite a lot of bloatware put in out of the field, however fortunately, I used to be in a position to uninstall all of it.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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The greatest problem is the shortage of Google Play Providers. Nonetheless, it is not an excessive amount of of a problem to put in the Play Retailer through Xiaomi’s personal app retailer, and as soon as you do, you can sign up to your Google account and have full entry to the Play Retailer. 

However to get there, you’ll want to make use of the default keyboard, and suffice to say that it’s infuriating to make use of. It’s designed for a Chinese language viewers, and whereas there’s a option to swap to English textual content, it is not intuitive to make use of in any respect.

You do not get the Play Retailer out of the field, however putting in it is not an excessive amount of of a problem.

That mentioned, as soon as you set up the Play Retailer and log in to your Google account, all of the hooks related to GMS — the place it indicators you in to all of Google’s providers — work simply as effectively right here, and aside from just a little little bit of inconvenience the place I needed to manually set up all of the issues I wanted from the Play Retailer, it was easy crusing.

The MIUI launcher does not routinely kind apps into classes; it is a normal app drawer that scrolls vertically. The overview menu follows Xiaomi’s distinctive twin card structure, and I did not see a option to swap to the usual horizontal scrolling mode that you’ll discover on the worldwide MIUI model. 

Moreover, Xiaomi has a considerably wider collection of ringtones and notification sounds within the Chinese language construct, and you can customise the nature-based sounds to create a mélange of assorted notification tones.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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On the entire although, the Chinese language construct was way more steady than the worldwide model, and I had zero points utilizing the gadget. For what it is price, Xiaomi did a greater job optimizing the {hardware} right here, and if you’re pondering of getting this phone through a reseller, know that it’s not too irksome to set it up.

I additionally acquired extra updates that I’d have on the worldwide construct; it is clear that Xiaomi dedicates quite a lot of assets to the Chinese language model of MIUI construct, and it might be good to see a few of these options on the worldwide model, notably across the safety entrance. As for Android OS updates, Xiaomi ensures three platform updates as commonplace, however it’s probably the 12S Ultra will get further MIUI updates.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: The options

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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The apparent different to the 12S Ultra is final 12 months’s providing. The Mi 11 Ultra continues to be an impressive phone in 2022, and it delivers an analogous caliber of pictures because the 12S Ultra — there is a marginal distinction in general high quality, however not sufficient to warrant the trouble of sourcing this 12 months’s mannequin. 

The Mi 11 Ultra has the identical nice 120Hz AMOLED panel, related stereo configuration, and the {hardware} holds up simply as effectively for gaming. The draw back is that Xiaomi does not appear to promote the phone formally, so you might want to depend on resellers to get your palms on the gadget.

If you want a flagship that takes phenomenal photographs, the Pixel 6 Professional is a superb general alternative. The phone has a stunning design due to the two-tone end, and it has strong inner {hardware}, all-day battery, and versatile cameras that take flawless photographs in any situation. 

Google does not use giant imaging modules, as a substitute counting on software program wizardry to ship standout pictures. There’s additionally the truth that the Pixel 6 Professional is the primary in line to get software program updates, and the software program itself is clear with zero bloatware and a ton of helpful extras that you do not get anyplace else.

Samsung has a powerful displaying this 12 months with the Galaxy S22 Ultra as effectively, delivering a phone that nails the fundamentals. The design is among the many best you’ll discover as we speak: It has the most recent inner {hardware}, and the cameras take beautiful photographs. You additionally get unmatched versatility right here, and the battery life simply lasts over a day. The best half is that the S22 Ultra will get extra software program updates than every other Android phone.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Ought to you buy it?

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

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It is best to buy this if:

  • You desire a phone with a daring design
  • You want standout cameras that take phenomenal photographs
  • You are on the lookout for the most recent {hardware} and a easy 120Hz display screen
  • You need all of the extras

You should not buy this if:

  • You want a phone that has Google providers out of the field
  • You need well timed software program updates
  • You want official guarantee

General, the 12S Ultra is without doubt one of the best Xiaomi telephones up to now. There are significant adjustments to the design and {hardware} facet of issues from the Mi 11 Ultra, and the brand new 1-inch digicam on the again is an thrilling addition. 

The 120Hz AMOLED display screen is a pleasure to make use of, and that is among the many quickest telephones you can discover proper now. Xiaomi hasn’t missed out on any of the extras both, with the 12S Ultra providing IP68 mud and water resistance and 50W wi-fi charging.

The digicam is healthier than final 12 months, however there are a couple of instances the place it’s inconsistent, and it is clear that Xiaomi must do some bit extra with the tuning. That mentioned, it is without doubt one of the best digicam {hardware} packages you’ll discover as we speak, and with just a little little bit of tweaking, you can get actually excellent photographs.

After all, the largest problem with the 12S Ultra is that it will not be offered in international markets. Which means you’ll need to put up with the Chinese language model of MIUI, and whereas it is not as a lot of a problem as I initially thought, Xiaomi does quite a lot of issues in a different way in its residence market. 

In the end, if you’re already utilizing considered one of Xiaomi’s flagships and need to be the primary to make use of that 1-inch sensor, the 12S Ultra is the gadget for you. But when you do not need to go the reseller route, you ought to simply wait — Xiaomi is prone to carry that sensor to international markets in a future phone.