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Xiaomi 13 Ultra hands-on: More than just some great cameras?

Is the Xiaomi 13 Ultra more than just a pretender to the Galaxy S23 Ultra's throne?
By
April 19, 2023

Xiaomi started out as a value-for-money player, but it’s increasingly taking a premium approach across the board. This approach is exemplified by the Xiaomi Ultra series, bringing top-flight performance, cameras, screens, and more at a considerable price tag. Now, the company has launched the Xiaomi 13 Ultra in China, but is it worth splashing out on this device? It’s time to go hands-on.

Design: One chunky phone

Xiaomi 13 Ultra face down 1
Darcy LaCouvee / Android Authority

Unbox the Xiaomi 13 Ultra and you’ll be greeted by one of the more interesting designs of 2023. You’re not getting a glass sandwich, with the company using a silicone leather back and aluminum frame. The rear cover even has a slope to it just below the camera housing, like a ramp going down to the rest of the cover. Xiaomi says this back material is resistant to fingerprints, but the same doesn’t apply to the camera housing, as you can see in the image above.

The first thing I noticed after picking up the phone was just how heavy it was though, being noticeably heftier than my personal Pixel 6 Pro. I definitely noticed this disparity when carrying the phone in my breast pocket. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is top-heavy too, likely due to all the camera hardware Xiaomi has stuffed into the housing. So you should keep this in mind if you’re accident-prone like me.

Speaking of the camera bump, the phone unabashedly rests on the housing when placed flat on a surface. This is definitely not going to win awards for ergonomics. But it’s certainly a statement of sorts regarding the phone’s true purpose.

Cameras: The biggest feature, literally

Xiaomi is bringing an impressive Leica-branded camera system to the 13 Ultra, with four 50MP sensors in a large, circular camera bump. Most of the attention during the launch was placed on the main camera, which is a one-inch IMX989 sensor. This is the same sensor that Xiaomi jointly developed with Sony for the China-only Xiaomi 12S Ultra launch last year. But the big difference this time is that Xiaomi is offering a dual aperture design as well (f/1.9 or f/4.0).

Otherwise, the company has you covered across a variety of focal lengths with a 50MP ultrawide camera, 50MP 3.2x telephoto sensor, and 50MP 5x periscope lens.

There's plenty to like about the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, but the camera experience is clearly the main selling point.

Xiaomi also used the launch event to extol the virtues of more natural, less sharpened photos on the 13 Ultra. This is a radical departure from the excessive sharpening seen on phones from many other players.

It looks like the company is tentatively living up to this aim with the Xiaomi 13 Ultra. The phone quickly spat out some great-looking pictures in our short time with it, delivering vivid colors, a reasonable level of sharpening without going overboard, and wide dynamic range out-of-the-box. You can also switch to a more subdued color profile for more realistic color capture if you want to get even closer to that traditional camera aesthetic. There does seem to be a noticeable shift in color and white balance between these lenses though.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is fighting against the trend of over-processed images on smartphones.

The phone also comes with a camera option that lets you quickly take a snap in 0.8 seconds from a locked screen, and I was pretty impressed with these results. It’s not something I’d go out of my way to use but it’s nice to know the option is there to quickly take great shots in a pinch.

We’ll need to spend more time with the Xiaomi 13 Ultra before we can conclusively declare it to be a class-topping camera experience. Nevertheless, between the impressive camera hardware and the stated goal of more restrained image processing, Xiaomi has all the tools to get closer to that vaunted DSLR look.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra performance

Xiaomi 13 Ultra in hand resize
Darcy LaCouvee / Android Authority

You wouldn’t expect Xiaomi to skimp on horsepower for an Ultra phone, so it’s no surprise to see the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor on board. This is paired with 12GB to 16GB of RAM and 256GB to 1TB of storage. This all sounds fantastic in theory, but on-paper specs are one thing. So how does the Xiaomi 13 Ultra fare in practice?

I had absolutely no complaints about performance in my brief time with the device, delivering an extremely fluid experience when launching apps and multitasking. Xiaomi says it’s focused on improving cooling for scenarios like video recording too. It’s too soon to judge, but I was able to record some (very steady) video clips at a restaurant without any heat-related issues. That’s quite a change from my Pixel 6 Pro and its tendency to heat up in various scenarios.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra pairs speedy performance with a super-bright screen.

Viewing those videos back on the 6.73-inch screen is a treat as well. Xiaomi is offering a QHD+ 120Hz OLED screen here, and the company says it has a high-brightness mode of 1,300 nits and a peak brightness of 2,600 nits. I’m not sure how often the screen is hitting these peak figures, but this is certainly the brightest OLED display I’ve used on a phone. The in-display fingerprint sensor is also a very speedy affair when compared to an older Pixel handset. But then again, loads of phones beat older Pixels in this category.

Our review unit is still running the Chinese version of MIUI (with MIUI 14 and Android 13), so this won’t be representative of the global experience. This is obviously a good thing as the Chinese ROM lacks the Play Store and other Google services. In any case, I’m still not sold on MIUI right now as the company needs to carve its own visual identity rather than sticking with the iOS-like aesthetic. But aside from the visual design, I found it to be a fluid experience so far.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra specs

Xiaomi 13 Ultra
Display
6.73-inch LTPO AMOLED display
20:9 aspect ratio
WQHD+ resolution (3,200 x 1,440)
120Hz adaptive refresh rate
1,300 nits high brightness mode
2,600 nits peak brightness
Processor
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
RAM
12GB/16GB LPDDR5X
Storage
256/512GB/1TB UFS 4.0
No microSD card support
Power
5,000mAh battery
90W wired charging
50W wireless charging
90W charger included
Cameras
REAR:
- 50MP wide (f/1.9 or f/4.0, 1-inch IMX989 sensor)
- 50MP ultrawide (f/1.8)
- 50MP 3.2x telephoto (f/1.8)
- 50MP 5x telephoto (f/3.0)

FRONT:
- 32MP wide (f/2.0)
Software
Android 13
MIUI 14
IP rating
IP68
Weight & Dimensions
163.2 x 74.6 x 9.1 mm
227g

Xiaomi 13 Ultra impressions: Worth it?

Xiaomi hasn’t dished out global pricing but the phone will indeed land outside China in the next few months. Unfortunately, US consumers will need to import this one.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra will start at 5,999 yuan (~$873) in China. That’s an excellent price, but the Xiaomi 13 Pro launched at a similarly impressive 4,999 yuan (~$727) in China and then landed in Europe for an eye-watering €1,300. That leads us to believe that the Xiaomi 13 Ultra could retail for €1,400 or more when it comes to global markets.

The biggest rival to the Xiaomi 13 Ultra in Europe has to be the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra ($1199.99 at Samsung). It costs €1,400 in Europe and shares common features like a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, a 5,000mAh battery, wireless charging, and an IP68 rating. The Samsung phone also brings a longer update pledge, an S Pen slot, and a dedicated 10x camera. Meanwhile, the Xiaomi handset serves up a more impressive main camera, a brighter screen on paper, and faster charging across the board.

It’s a little too soon to make a definitive verdict on the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, then. But the prospect of an ultra-premium price tag and stiff competition from Samsung means discerning camera enthusiasts will likely be the primary audience.