A major win for smartphone photography

A major win for smartphone photography


The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is the latest and greatest smartphone Xiaomi ever launched. At the time the Xiaomi 13 Pro launched, we were not sure whether the ‘Ultra’ will become a reality or not. Well, it’s now here, albeit only in China, for now. That phone is coming to global markets, but at the time of writing this review, we’re not sure when. Having said that, everything will be the same, except the software, which will be more in tune with global markets, so keep that in mind. We have opted not to wait for the global model, as this phone is outstanding, and it would be a shame not to take a closer look at it now.

Yes, this phone has a heavy focus on the cameras, but that’s not the whole story, not at all. Even though the cameras are a bit part of the experience, and Xiaomi really did outstanding work here, in collaboration with Leica. I’m getting ahead of myself, though, we’ll talk about the cameras later on. Let’s kick things off with the design and move from there.

Table of contents

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Review: Hardware / Design

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is a big smartphone, there’s no way around it. Well, I’d say “big and bold”, to be quite honest. Its design is out of the ordinary, because of its back side. The phone is made out of metal and “second-gen nano-tech material”, as Xiaomi calls it. This material is basically vegan leather, it seems, that is also antibacterial. It feels like slightly rubberized paper, it’s difficult to explain. It sure is a lot more grippy than glass or metal are, which is a good thing considering the size of the device. Xiaomi also says it’s “resistant to wear and dirt”.

The back side of the phone is… different

What’s interesting here is how Xiaomi implemented this. This material doesn’t curve into the frame on the sides, as it does on other phones. The metal frame curves to the back, and at a point where it becomes flat, that’s where vegan leather is implemented. That’s not all, though. This material is thicker in the upper portion of the phone’s back side, where the camera island lies. That’s because Xiaomi wanted to hide the fact that this camera bump is huge. It’s large as it is, and it would be even more pronounced if this method wasn’t implemented. It sounds weird, but it actually works really well. This gradual increase in thickness helps with the grip too. The camera bump does too, you can easily use it to anchor your index finger.

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It’s rather comfortable to use, despite its size

The phone feels truly premium in the hand, and even though it’s large, it’s comfortable to use. It has flattish sides, but it doesn’t have sharp edges, so it never cuts into your hand. So, if you like large phones, chances are you’ll like this one. You can even use it without a case if you’re careful enough, as the phone is not that slippery. All the buttons are on the right side, while the speakers are placed at the top and the bottom. There is also an IR blaster included at the very top, if that’s something you’re planning on using. On top of everything, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is water and dust resistant (IP68 rating). I prefer this design over the Xiaomi 13 Pro, to be quite honest, as the Xiaomi 13 Pro was simply too slippery, and the black ceramic on my model attracted fingerprints like crazy.


There is a case included in the Xiaomi 13 Ultra retail box. It’s not your regular gel/silicone case, though. This is a hard-shell plastic case, with a ribbed pattern on the back. It’s actually quite nice for what it is. I did expect something a bit more premium, but hey, a case is a case. It’ll at least offer some protection until you get a different case. The bottom of the phone is opened here, as is the portion where the buttons sit. Everything else is well covered. There is also some protection for the cameras on the back.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Review: Display

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra includes a gorgeous, big display. It’s not the same as the one in the Xiaomi 13 Pro, though, despite what was expected. Not only are we talking about a different supplier here, but a different display altogether, including different brightness. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra features a 6.73-inch QHD+ (3200 x 1440) AMOLED display. This panel has a 20:9 aspect ratio, and a 522 ppi. It has an adaptive refresh rate from 1-120Hz, and up to 240Hz touch sampling rate. It supports HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, while it also comes with 1,920Hz PWM dimming. An in-display fingerprint scanner is also present, as is in-display heart rate monitoring. This panel is also curved, by the way, and it has a display camera hole up top (centered).

This is technically the brightest display on the market

As you can see, all the bells and whistles are included here, and the display also gets up to 2,600 nits in terms of brightness. This is technically the brightest display out there at the moment, at least on paper. This display has been developed in collaboration between Xiaomi and China Star, it was not provided by Samsung. That’s actually an interesting move by Xiaomi, that’s for sure. I never felt like the display was too dim, not even outdoors. Even when I wore sunglasses in direct sunlight, the display was easily visible. I really have no complaints in that regard.

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It’s vivid, sharp, and has great viewing angles

The same can be said for its other aspects, actually. The viewing angles are great, and the panel is more than sharp enough. The colors are vivid, and additional settings are available via the phone’s settings. The touch response is really good too, and the display is well optimized for touch interaction. I never felt like I had to wait for it to respond to my input or anything of the sort. The display is also not curved to extremes, so there’s no considerable glare to speak of, similar to what we’ve seen in the Xiaomi 13 Pro. To cut the long story short, this display is great to use, and I really don’t have any complaints. Chances are you’ll be happy with it.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Review: Performance

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is one of the most powerful smartphones in the market, hardware-wise. It is fueled by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC, which is Qualcomm’s most powerful processor at the moment. It also comes with up to 16GB of LPDDR5X RAM and UFS 3.2 flash storage. Now, do note that I’ll talk about overall performance and fluidity of usage here, not the software side of things. I’ll heave that for the software section later on, as that’s an entirely different story, for more than one reason.

The performance is excellent

That being said, the phone is extremely fluid, in every way shape and form. You’ll really struggle to get this thing to slow down, in all honesty. It opens apps really fast, and the same goes for multitasking. Every action is very fluid, and that goes from the simpler ones, all the way to truly demanding ones. Yes, that includes gaming. On top of everything mentioned here, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra also comes with the Loop LiquidCool technology, and it never got too warm, not even during game testing.

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Gaming is not a problem at all

I didn’t play a lot of games on the phone, I never do during reviews. Well, unless we’re talking about a gaming smartphone in specific. I did run several games on this phone, just to see how it grasps gaming. It ran a chess game and Subway Surfers really great, as expected. I turned up the notch with an Asphalt game, which also ran very smoothly, and ultimately the phone aced the Genshin Impact test. This phone can be used for longer gaming sessions without a problem, and it even has some software features to help with that. So, no worries in that regard. Overall, the performance is very fluid, which was to be expected, as the same was the case with the Xiaomi 13 Pro.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Review: Battery

There is a 5,000mAh battery included inside of this phone. It’s a bit larger than the one inside the Xiaomi 13 Pro (4,820mAh). The battery life is a bit better overall, but not by much. The two phones are actually comparable in that regard. One thing to note is that I did not have an entirely consistent experience when it comes to battery life. The first couple of days, the battery life was odd, but since then, it has been constantly good. I’ve been getting around 8 hours of screen-on-time on the device. On days I’ve been testing the cameras intensively, however, the battery life was noticeably less strong. That is to be expected, though.

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The phone has a special battery trick up it sleeve

Overall, the battery life is quite good, but using the camera a lot, or playing games on the phone, will impact it, of course. If you’re a light user, I see this phone going the distance. Still, this battery life is not on the same level as the Galaxy S23 Ultra and OnePlus 11, which truly managed to pull out outstanding results from this processor. For most people, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra will be more than enough to get to the end of the day. If not, well, the phone does offer truly fast charging. Also, do note that once you reach 1% of battery charge, the phone will enter into a truly low power mode, limit your functionality, and be able to last for a full hour.

90W wired & 50W wireless charging is supported, charger included

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra supports 90W wired, and 50W wireless charging. On top of that, 10W reverse wireless charging is also offered. Oh, and yes, Xiaomi does include a 90W charger in the box, unlike some other OEMs. That charger will be able to fully recharge the phone in about 35 minutes. That’s what Xiaomi markets, and that’s what we’ve experienced. Getting there with 50W wireless charging will take longer, but still faster than what most other OEMs offer.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Review: Camera

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is one of the most camera-centric phones on the market at the moment. Xiaomi and Leica managed to create something truly special here. The Xiaomi 13 Pro was an outstanding camera smartphone, but the ‘Ultra’ manages to beat it, without a problem. The device not only brings variable aperture to the table, but it also adds a periscope telephoto camera here. Those are not the only hardware changes, but are the most notable ones. This is also the first phone that includes variable aperture on the 1-inch camera sensor. It’s a two-step aperture, by the way.

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I took over 900 photos during my testing, and the results are outstanding

During my testing, I captured over 900 photos with the device in various scenarios. This phone performs admirably in basically all of them. It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny, cloudy, or if you’re shooting in daylight or low light. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra adapt to all of these situations, and you really don’t have to tweak anything manually. It would be a true shame not to use all those cameras on the back, and just stick to the main one, though. It is great, but all the others are too. Let’s start with the main camera, though.

That 1-inch camera sensor gets the benefit of 2-step variable aperture

Xiaomi included a 50-megapixel camera with Sony’s 1-inch sensor (IMX989). That is the same main camera as on the Xiaomi 13 Pro, but this one has a 2-stop variable aperture. That camera allows for a ton of light to enter a scene, and the phone does a wonderful job of processing all that info. The Xiaomi 13 Pro had issues with highlights in some situations, but I didn’t really notice that here. The photos end up looking sharp, well-balanced, and quite detailed. Even in low light, the phone manages to preserve a lot of details, while not making the photos look unnatural. You can truly see the difference when you compare those shots with phones with inferior sensors. And no, you don’t need to use night mode, the phone will activate whatever it needs manually, and you won’t even know considering that it takes photos in an instant. The shutter speed is truly fast.

The depth of field is less of an issue than before

One problem that 1-inch camera sensors brought to the table is… the depth of field. It’s very shallow by default (keeping things out of your limited focus point out of focus), and that’s where this phone does a great job. It utilizes its variable aperture to adjust to the scene. OPPO handles this brilliantly even without variable aperture, but Xiaomi went a step further to tune it. No matter the situation, this phone will adapt. One thing to note is that the vignetting effect is still here, which is not surprising considering Leica is included in the mix. So, if you like it, then the Leica Authentic mode is perfect for you. If not, you should try the Leica Vibrant mode, though that will make the photos a bit more saturated. In most samples you’ll see below, however, I’ve used the Leica Authentic mode, I love how those pictures turned out.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra does a great job with portraits

Shooting portraits with the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is a joy. Once you switch to portrait mode, you’ll be using the phone’s telephoto camera, and use an equivalent of a 75mm lens. This is supposed to mimic Leica’s portrait mode. I was quite surprised by the results. The phone did a fantastic job, even when the sunset was in effect. I’ve used portrait mode quite a lot, though there are other styles you can try out, courtesy of Leica.

Ultrawide camera is not only great in daylight, but really good in low light too

The ultrawide camera sticks to the main camera’s color science, and it also does a really good job. The details are a bit softer in low light, but not by that much. It is perfectly viable to use even when there’s not a lot of light available, which is great. The periscope telephoto camera does a great job in good lighting, even in low light to a certain degree. In good lighting, photos up to 10x look really good, actually, and those up to 30x are usable. Everything beyond that point is… well, not great. That’s what we’re used to seeing from periscope telephoto cameras, but they’re immensely useful in some situations. I was surprised by how often I’ve utilized 5x and 10x modes.

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The video recording is also excellent

The video recording on the phone also managed to surprise me. I did not expect much, but the Xiaomi 13 Ultra delivered outstanding results. The phone does a great job with video recording. It keeps things smooth, even when you’re panning around in low light. That’s where most smartphone cameras fall apart, and you get image tearing and whatnot. That was not the case here.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is one of the best smartphones for photography, no doubt about it

Overall, there’s really not much to complain about here. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra has one of the most feature-packed camera systems on the market, and one of the best ones, actually. Those four 50-megapixel cameras on the back are great, every single one of them. Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, you’ll have a camera to handle it. Xiaomi really keeps the quality up across the board with those cameras, and I thoroughly enjoyed using them. This is definitely one of my favorite camera smartphones on the market at the moment, if not the top pick.

Various camera samples: 

Leica Authentic vs Leica Vibrant (respectively):

Wide & ultrawide comparison:

Telephoto/periscope camera:

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Review: Software

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra that I’ve reviewed comes with an MIUI build made for China. At the time of this review, this phone did not launch globally, even though it’s coming. This version of MIUI has a ton more China-centric features and apps. The good news is, you can remove a ton of them. You’d be surprised how many can be removed, even some you’d never think you’d be able to ditch, such as a compass app and a voice recorder app. So, if you want a clean slate, you sure can get it. The good news is, MIUI 14 even offers the batch uninstall option, so uninstalling all those apps is immensely simple.

There are a couple of negatives here

Having said that, you still won’t be able to avoid the fact this software is made for the Chinese market. I’ll first focus on the negatives. I stumbled upon an especially annoying prompt. When I go to check out my widgets, I get the ‘App Vault’ prompt. At first, I simply denied the offer, and was thrown to my widgets. The thing is, this prompt keeps popping up every time you try to enter your widgets list. At one point, I got annoyed, and accepted the offer to activate it. That messed everything up. From that point on, I could no longer access my widgets, but ended up with a ton of widget recommendations from some sort of store made for China. Needless to say, everything was in Chinese, so I didn’t even know what some of those widgets were about. I tried to locate widgets from my apps, but without luck.

After tinkering with the settings for about 5 minutes, I managed to find a way to disable ‘App Vault’. The problem is, the thing kept popping up every time I tried to access my widgets… again. There doesn’t seem to be a way to completely remove it from the phone, or at least disable this prompt. I was truly annoyed by this, but granted, you don’t really visit your widgets list all that often, so… yeah, this may not bother you as much. Whatever you do, though, don’t accept the ‘App Vault’ prompt, deny it every single time.

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I did experience some app crashes, and a finicky one-hand mode

I did experience a few app crashes too, and the one-hand mode is especially finicky, to the point of being useless. It functions just like it does on a Pixel, in theory. The thing is, activating it by swiping across the line at the bottom of the screen is a chore. It seems like Xiaomi included a really tiny area for activation, as you really do need to get almost to the very bottom for it to activate. Calling upon it took me up to 5-10 tries, most times. On every other phone I’ve used such a one-hand mode, like a Pixel, an ASUS phone, or an iPhone, it worked like a charm. Xiaomi really needs to fix this, as this is a gigantic phone, and a one-hand mode is a necessity. It should be an easy fix, though.

Another annoying negative is the fact that third-party launchers are utterly messed up here. When you try to use a third-party launcher, you’re completely blocked from using navigation gestures, the phone instantly switches you to on-screen buttons. So, you can basically forget using a third-party launcher if you want to use navigation gestures.

You’ll need to lay some groundwork to keep the apps properly running in the background

Keeping apps running in the background takes some work. If you want apps to keep pushing you notifications in a timely fashion, you’ll need to enable ‘Auto start’, and also disable MIUI battery optimization for them. For some of the, you’ll even need to lock them via the overview/multitasking menu. Once I did that for my messaging apps, everything was fine. Until I did, I received notifications only when I actually unlocked the phone and started using it. That is, needless to say, quite annoying. Let’s hope that the global version will be a lot better in some ways.

MIUI 14 has great animations and offers fluid performance

There are also a lot of software positives when it comes to this build of MIUI. Other than a couple of app crashes, everything was smooth and responsive. The animations are truly excellent, and the UI is responsive. There’s a ton of customization you can do in MIUI as well. It’s not to the level of some OEMs who allow you to use third-party icons on the default home screen, and remove specific icons from the status bar, but still. Xiaomi even offers its own theme store that you can utilize to change up your home screen.

Waiting for the global version may be best

Other than a few negatives I’ve listed earlier, my experience with this software has been quite good. Everything you’d expect MIUI to deliver is here, and it works really well. I just can’t wait to try out the global version of the software, to be quite honest, so that I don’t have to jump through as many hoops. You’d probably be better off waiting for the global version too.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Review: Should you buy it?

So, should you buy the Xiaomi 13 Ultra? Well, first of all, I’d suggest you wait for the global model, if you do plan on buying it. This one can be tweaked to run fine, but the point is, you do have to run through hoops in order to get there. The model with global software will be an entirely different story. That being said, this is one of the most fluid smartphones on the market, and also one that delivers an outstanding camera experience. Xiaomi and Leica truly managed to provide an outstanding setup for both photography and videography here, and if you love taking pictures, this phone won’t let you down. There are other positives we’ve talked about, and if the price ends up being right, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra will surely be worth your money. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is a true powerhouse smartphone.

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You should buy the Xiaomi 13 Ultra if:

  • You love taking pictures & video
  • You need a truly versatile camera setup
  • You love big phones
  • You want extremely fluid performance
  • You need great battery life
  • You appreciate truly fast charging (wired & wireless)
  • You don’t want to buy a charger separately
  • You enjoy consuming multimedia

You shouldn’t buy the Xiaomi 13 Ultra if:

  • You don’t want to deal with software made for China (wait for the global version)
  • You don’t like using gigantic smartphones