Monday, December 5

This is the best phone I used all year, and it is not Apple or Samsung

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is the best phone that I used literally throughout the year. It’s never been far from my pocket since I reviewed the phone, which I think is as good a backup as any for this well-priced flagship Android phone.

While the Mi 11 was technically launched in 2020, the Xiaomi Mi 11 only reached British shores in March, after making its first appearance in China the previous December. During my original review of the phone in March, I praised its 6.8-inch QHD screen, powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset, and found things I liked about the design, audio quality, and MIUI 12 operating system.

While it was lacking in some areas, such as its photography, the Mi 11 convinced me by being surprisingly cheap while still offering significant feature overlap with phones costing hundreds more.

Shortly after finishing that review, I found a new way to appreciate the Mi 11, this time for its telemacro camera. Most macro cameras on phones are a waste of time and produce dark and dirty shots. The Mi 11 is a rare exception. By offering a larger sensor and enough magnification to keep the phone away from the subject’s light, you can take good close-ups with the camera.

The Mi 11 then became my work phone for a while, by which I don’t just mean checking emails and Slack messages. In fact, I wrote a few articles on it if I was in the mood for a break from my laptop, which is not as stupid as it may sound. The big screen is great when you’re typing in a Word document, and it allowed me to appreciate the amazing haptic ability of the phone while writing news and features.

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In the middle of the year, a new Mi 11 arrived: the Mi 11 Ultra. This was a phone that I was tempted to swap due to its striking rear display and impressive triple camera array. But I never did, because ultimately it was an unpleasantly heavy phone whose special features I knew I wouldn’t use long enough for. Part of why the Mi 11 base appealed to me so much was that it offered pretty much everything I wanted from my phone, with very little frills.

Even now, the combination of a great screen, long battery life, and the power of Snapdragon for mobile gaming have made the Mi 11 the perfect phone for when I want to disconnect or ignore my WhatsApp messages. And so the Mi 11 is still in use and on my desk, 9 months after its arrival.

I have been very impressed by other devices, such as the noticeably improved Google Pixel 6, I also like the well-specified Samsung Galaxy S21 and OnePlus 9 series, and the highly refined iPhone 13. I even tried another Xiaomi phone, the Xiaomi 11T Pro, which offers a 120W charge. Nothing has felt this quick to reload since then, including the Mi 11, but it wasn’t enough to persuade me that it was time for a switch.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max, and before that the iPhone 12 Pro, have remained my top phones throughout the year. But that’s my fault for burying myself too deep into the Apple ecosystem. If you were still an Android user, you probably would have had the Mi 11 as a daily controller phone as soon as it arrived. In fact, sometimes when Apple’s heavy iPhone with flat sides feels too unwieldy, I’m tempted to back up my messages and photos and make the switch to the lighter yet equally premium Mi 11.

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My time with the Mi 11 could end next year if I find a new phone that I gel with similarly and that offers better specs. But maybe it’s from the same company. With the now official Xiaomi 12, you can bet I’ll be on the lookout for this new flagship. Maybe my favorite phone from next year will be the continuation of my favorite from this year.

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