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Xiaomi Mi 11X review: Lot of phone for a lot less money, but should you bet your money on it?

The Redmi K20, though superb value for money, had generated a lot of buzz in India for the wrong reasons mostly to do with its pricing. It was the first time a “Redmi” phone had broken the 20k barrier but sadly, it was not able to break perceptions. The reaction from fans, let’s just say, wasn’t particularly encouraging for Xiaomi, so much so that Manu Kumar Jain had to pen an open letter to justify its price and simultaneously announced it won’t show any pesky advertisements turning it around into a product that remained Redmi only in name. It became a Mi phone eventually. That was in 2019.

Xiaomi is one of the very few companies out there that’s quick to learn, adapt and in most cases, come back even stronger. It is one of the very few companies out there that takes feedback very seriously and, in most cases, does not make the same mistake twice. To this day, it has not launched a single Redmi “flagship” in India. Instead, it selectively tweaked those phones to suit this market. The Redmi K30 was launched as the Poco X2. The Redmi K40, similarly, has been launched as the Mi 11X. Since the Poco X2 was a “Poco” phone, you can say the Mi 11X is in many ways the spiritual successor to the Redmi K20.

Doing this serves a dual purpose. Xiaomi does not have to justify its pricing choices anymore, for now at least, and it helps strengthen the Mi brand in India — something that it has been trying to do for a while now until last year when it decided to switch gears and go full throttle — though you can argue that it is also coming at the cost of diluting the portfolio. Be that as it may, that’s a topic best left for another day. The reason why I brought up the Redmi K20 is because I really, really liked that phone and I really, really like the Mi 11X. Call it Mi, call it Redmi, call it Poco, it doesn’t really matter. But what I like most about it is, even though the times have changed — the world isn’t the same place it used to be in 2019 — Xiaomi hasn’t lost its knack for offering a lot of phone for a lot less money. In time, it has become smarter with the positioning too.

X marks the spot
To say that the Mi 11X is loaded will be an understatement. Right from the design to the display, to the processor, to the battery, even the cameras are specced to impress. In spirit of all this indulgence, let’s quickly go through the specs of this phone before diving into how it fares in the real world.

You get a 6.67-inch E4 AMOLED display from Samsung. The panel has 120Hz refresh rate and 360Hz touch sampling. It can theoretically peak 1300 nits and play HDR10+ content. The screen is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5 and has a centrally aligned hole punch cut-out.

Under the hood, it has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 system-on-chip with up to 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB of UFS3.1 storage. A 4,520mAh battery powers the phone. There is support for 33W fast charging. Out of the box, it runs MIUI 12 based on Android 11. Connectivity options on the phone include 5G (sub 6G: n77/n78), Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6. It has dual stereo speakers with Hi-Res Audio and Dolby Atmos.

On the back, it has three cameras: a 48MP main, 8MP ultra-wide-angle and another 5MP macro. On the front, it has a 20MP camera.

The phone has a back made of Corning Gorilla Glass 5. Its outer frame is made of plastic. It has a side-mounted physical fingerprint reader for biometrics. The phone is also IP53-rated which makes it dust and splash resistant.

The Mi 11X starts at Rs 29,999 for a variant with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. A version with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage will set you back by Rs 31,999.

The X factor and what could be better
The design of the Mi 11X is a cross between the Mi 10T and Redmi Note 10 Pro — both very premium looking phones to draw inspiration from — with a visibly distinct two-stage rear camera assembly. It’s essentially two slabs of glass held together by a plastic frame, and while this latter choice has chalked up some controversy, I think it’s a little harsh. Use of plastic helps Xiaomi keep the price as well as the weight of the phone in check. As a bonus, it makes it less slippery in the hands.

Keeping the phone “razor” thin and light is a conscious design choice. This phone was designed for practicality through and through, not to be a weapon of mass destruction (something like say the Mi 10T or Poco X3 Pro). For some context, the Mi 11X measures only 7.8 mm in thickness and weighs just 196 grams. The Mi 10T weighs over 215 grams and measures over 9 mm in thickness. The significantly toned-down dimensions mean, the Mi 11X is a phone you can use for long hours with little stress. As for the look and feel, there’s no doubt that it can easily go toe to toe with the best.

Still, if I were asked to nitpick, I would have liked it more had Xiaomi not opted for a Mi 10T-like piano black finish on the unit I have for review. I would pick the Redmi Note 10 Pro’s version of black any day over this. The Mi 11X’s other two colourways — silver and white — are a little more resistant to smudges and fingerprints, although again, the Redmi Note 10 Pro hides them better. Speaking of which, the Mi 11X is dust and splash resistant with an official IP rating which is always a nice thing to have.

While it’s great that Xiaomi has been able to pack dual speakers — and an “actual” stereo setup at that — in the Mi 11X, along with an IR blaster, a headphone jack would have just made this thing blow competition out since everything else about this phone is just peak excess when it comes to media consumption.

I am of course talking about that big, beautiful screen. Xiaomi has sourced it from Samsung and it’s easily one of, if not the best, at its price with great contrast and viewing angles and brightness aplenty. It’s also fast and fluid though it cannot alter refresh rate dynamically. Moreover, Xiaomi has thrown in so many toggles inside the settings, you can literally tune the screen to your specific requirement. Such a level of granular customisation does not exist in any other phone in the market today. There is also a version of Apple’s true tone, for crying out loud.

Not only does the phone support HDR10+ content natively in streaming services like Netflix, but it can also upscale standard videos to give them an HDR look using artificial intelligence. MEMC is also available if you’re into that sort of thing. Again, Xiaomi leaves some room for improvement by not giving you an option for DC Dimming.

The Mi 11X has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 SoC, the chip that currently holds the title for the fastest CPU clock speed (3.2GHz) that tops even the Snapdragon 888 (2.84 GHz). There are obviously other factors to it (reason why SD888 is what it is) but long story short, the Snapdragon 870 is a very powerful chip which makes the Mi 11X a very powerful phone. In fact, some might say, it is the most powerful phone under 20k with the Dimensity 1200-powered Realme X7 Max coming really close at least as far as benchmarks are concerned.

Comparisons aside, there’s no denying that both chips hold great potential, but I don’t think it’s a fair comparison considering how the Mi 11X and Realme X7 Max are packaged and positioned. Same reason why it won’t be fair to compare it with the Samsung Galaxy A52 even though it has some of the most compelling cameras under Rs 25k. Don’t even get me started on the OnePlus 9R, frankly, I have no idea why it exists (it is also a lot more expensive for some reason). The Mi 11X’s real competitor is the iQOO 7, a phone that packs the same SD870 chip and has a lot more in common with Xiaomi’s phone than anything else in the market today.

Compared to that phone, the Mi 11X’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. The iQOO 7 somehow feels more optimised and is able to squeeze more out of the SD870 which has a tendency to run hot when stressed. The Mi 11X tends to throttle more often and it shows in both benchmarks and real-world usage as Xiaomi’s software tends to lower screen brightness almost immediately within a few minutes into a graphically demanding game like Genshin Impact and frame rate dips are quite common. Call of Duty: Mobile is handled better, but extended gameplay sessions do take toll on system resources. Generally speaking, the Mi 11X can get quite hot when playing games. Xiaomi does not explicitly talk about any cooling solution but even if there is one, it is not keeping up well with what the SD870 is throwing at it. Also, just so you know, the SD870 does not have an integrated modem and while the jury is still out on whether it may have negative impact on power consumption and eventually, the thermals, the Mi 11X’s performance does raise a few concerns.

To be clear, all this should concern power users only. Basic day to day tasks are handled effortlessly by the Mi 11X. There’s lots of RAM and storage onboard though unlike Xiaomi’s most value budget phones, there is no expandable storage in the Mi 11X and 128GB is all you get by default — a 256GB option would have been nice.

That SD870 is probably also why the Mi 11X does not have chart-topping battery life like a majority of Xiaomi phones do. It’s good, lasting 11 hours and 35 minutes in our video loop test, but not great. The Xiaomi phone also plays it safe with fast charging, capping only 33W at a time when the iQOO 7 can top whopping 66W.

The phone ships with MIUI 12. At the time of writing this review, my unit is running Xiaomi’s latest MIUI 12.5 update though it is not the greatest version since Xiaomi still doesn’t let you remove many system apps like it promises, sort of like the Redmi Note 10S, so I am assuming the Mi 11X is also based on an “interim” version right now. From a security point of view, it is rocking the May patch.

The most obvious benefit of MIUI on a Mi phone is that there are no ads. There is a lot of bloat/duplicate apps and spammy notifications but aside from those quirks, MIUI is easily one of the most feature-rich Android skins with tons to explore. Funtouch OS inside the iQOO 7 seems bare bones in comparison though there is no reason why it shouldn’t appeal to stock Android aficionados. An area of concern for Xiaomi devices is the update rollout. MIUI 12.5 has been a long time coming to India. As for major “OS” updates, Xiaomi does not have an excellent track record at this.

Moving on, I won’t get the Mi 11X for its cameras. Those are its weakest links. It’s disappointing because more affordable Xiaomi phones are pulling more detail and dynamic range in scenes than the Mi 11X. For some curious reason, photos taken with this phone also lack punch and seem dull and lifeless, in sharp contradiction to how most Xiaomi phones usually work. The main Sony IMX582 sensor (same sensor that Xiaomi also used in the Redmi K20 by the way) takes barely serviceable photos while photos taken with the ultra-wide-angle, though it produces slightly better colours, come out soft. The macro camera is fun to use, but it has limited scope and appeal. Low-light photos taken with the Mi 11X are a step below being serviceable. The Mi 11X tops out at 4K@30fps and videos shot with it are nothing to write home about. The front camera shoots relatively better photos and saves the day for this phone.

Conclusion
The Mi 11X has a lot going for itself. It is a typical Xiaomi phone punching way above its weight class with top-of-the-line specs and a mouth-watering price. It’s got a premium look and feel and basically nails all the fundamentals needed for a slick multimedia experience. The same is true about general all-round performance, it just works, rather, it flies unless you’re doing a lot of gaming on it. Battery life is good too and the phone charges quickly. The only issue I have with this phone is the camera experience, it’s so unlike Xiaomi, it makes me feel if this was a deliberate attempt to keep the cost down.

Regardless, it’s important to address the elephant in the room. Back in 2019, Xiaomi did not have any competition. Fast forward to 2021, and it has lots of it. Moreover, competition is getting better at some of the things that Xiaomi has been doing since what appears to be ages now. Every once in a while, a dark horse will rise and try to beat Xiaomi at its own game. There will be times when that competitor will beat it too and I am assuming Xiaomi is smart enough to know that. That’s precisely what has happened with the Mi 11X. It is a lot of phone for a lot of money, but if I were to bet my money on something right now, I’d do it on the iQOO 7. Financial Express

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