Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Smart Phones

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Preview: Game-changer for Smartphone Photography?

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Intro

Let’s say it right away: the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is the elephant in the room when it comes to smartphone cameras in 2023, and it’s not even about the advanced camera hardware or the specs.

It’s about the processing. Photos out of an iPhone 14 Pro or a Galaxy S23 Ultra are a huge improvement from previous generations of smartphones, but they are undeniably “smartphone photographs”. That is to say that they are over-processed, often with unrealistic colors, excessive sharpening and altogether when viewed on anything bigger than a phone, they lose their appeal.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra changes all of that. Instead of trying to give you the wildest colors and most “pop”, it goes for a more toned down, realistic look. Something way more similar to how photos taken on a real camera would look.

And that’s what makes it so special. But of course, it’s not just about that.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is also a great flagship phone. It has the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor inside cooled with a proprietary Xiaomi solution so gamers can get even better performance than with conventional flagships. It has the world’s brightest display. It has long battery life. And it has much faster charging the Samsung and Apple. Let’s see if this is indeed not just the camera phone of 2023, but the smartphone of 2023, full stop.

*This preview is based on specs and other official information about the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, but we have not yet used/tested the phone fully.  

What’s new about the Xiaomi 13 Ultra

  • Photos that don’t have typical oversharpening, “smartphone processing” 
  • Superb night time zoom camera performance
  • Ultra-wide lens goes even wider than most cameras
  • Variable aperture main camera
  • Very cool camera-like design
  • All out flagship with Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip
  • Long battery life, fast charging
  • To arrive globally later in 2023

Table of Contents:

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Specs

It’s amazing Xiaomi fit all of this hardware in a phone

Let’s start with an overview of the specs, shall we?

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Design & Colors



The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is a perfect illustration of what happens when form follows function. The function is a camera-first phone and the Xiaomi 13 Ultra looks a lot like a traditional camera that is slimmed down to a phone size. The slightly raised camera bed, the round camera system, the textured leather like finish are all throwbacks to traditional camera design.

It might be an acquired taste for some, but we love this look. It’s at least different than the glass-and-metal sameness that surrounds us.

Xiaomi calls the texture on the back of the phone a second generation nano-skin and ensures it will resist stains and look brand new even after a long while of using the phone. It takes some courage to sell a white phone and we’d be curious to see if it really holds its color even after months of use. Speaking of colors, you have a white, a green, and a black version, and all of them look stunning.

The other thing that strikes us is just how thick the aluminum frame on the phone is. We don’t think we’ve seen such a thick frame, and this should definitely help make this phone extra durable.

The USB-C port on the bottom now supports USB 3.2 speeds finally too.

We should also mention the so called professional camera kit, which is basically a case, a camera handgrip with a physical shutter key, and a 67mm filter thread. Super cool and we bet photographers will appreciate it. The kit is sold separately for around $150. 

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Display

The brightest display ever on a phone  

Xiaomi partnered with panel maker China Star and this is their latest C7 display generation technology, and it seems like the only reason why it exists is to beat the most advanced screens out there by just a tiny bit.

While the latest Samsung OLED panels hit as much as 2,500 nits of brightness, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra hits 2,600 nits. Yes, the difference is not huge, but also yes, this makes it the world’s brightest smartphone ever. This has a good ring to it, don’t you think?

We have not yet tested the screen in our lab measurements, but that’s coming soon.

As for biometrics, you have an in-screen fingerprint scanner, and again, we will be testing that in more detail soon, but we don’t expect any major issues or innovation there.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Camera

Photographer’s dream!

We probably all know that one guy who really cares about photography, carries a big camera around with them, edits the RAW files, all that good stuff.

But what if you could get similar looking photos straight out of the camera without ever touching Photoshop?

That would be the dream, wouldn’t it?

Unfortunately, that’s not where the industry went with smartphone photography. Phones recently go for wild extra-vibrant colors, aggressive HDR and excessive sharpening. Looks good on a 6-inch screen, but pretty disappointing once you see it on a bigger screen like a tablet or a laptop.

Well, Xiaomi says no to all of that with the Xiaomi 13 Ultra.

No crazy vibrant colors, no excessive sharpening here. This phone goes for a completely different look with a more natural, film feel. Colors are fine tuned with some contribution from Leica, and the massive 1-inch type main camera sensor is amazing in both daytime and low-light conditions.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Camera Specs:

  • 50MP Wide (IMX989, 1″ sensor), 23mm lens, f/1.9 – f/4.0
  • 50MP Ultra-wide (IMX858, 1/2.51″ sensor)
  • 50MP 3.2X Zoom (IMX858): 75mm f/1.8
  • 50MP 5X Periscope zoom (IMX858): 120mm f/3.0
  • 32MP Front cam
As you can see, the main camera comes with variable aperture. At f/1.9 it’s wide open and that’s great if you shoot an object up-close and want the background to be slightly blurry. At f/4.0 everything is in focus. Cool.

*Images courtesy of @UniverseIce.

The image above showcases just what a massive difference we have in the processing on the Xiaomi 13 Ultra and the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

And just look at that massive 1-inch camera sensor and how Xiaomi managed to include three other cameras in the mix too. Really impressive.

What we feel is the biggest improvement here is just how useful the zoom cameras are in low light. The telephoto cameras on most phones just fall apart in dim conditions, but not the Xiaomi. Early samples show that because of its wider aperture, it even captures better looking shots at 10X zoom than the Galaxy S23 Ultra!

And you also have a good amount of detail all across the zoom range: 0.5X, 1X, 2X, 3X, 5X and 10X are where the quality is at its best.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Performance & Benchmarks

Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 with some Xiaomi cooling magic

Having the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 inside would put the Xiaomi 13 Ultra on par with all the rest of the phones, but the company wanted to stand out, so it has developed a new cooling solution that is way more efficient than others.

This is particularly important for gaming, but also for camera tasks which can be even more tasking than a game. With this cooling technology, the 13 Ultra maintains video frame rates at a lower temperature than all other major competitors.

We will be looking at the performance of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra in depth soon, so make sure to check back here in a while.

There is no compromise with the rest of the specs too: all models come with 12GB of LPDDR5X RAM. The base starts at 256GB of UFS 4.0 storage, and you can also get a 512GB model, or even a 1TB model. There is no microSD card slot on this phone.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Android version and MIUI

Our biggest concern with Xiaomi phones has always been the software. The 13 Ultra runs on Android 13 skinned with MIUI 14.

This is a simple skin that borrows quite a few ideas from iOS. It has its quirks like a weird multitasking interface and a visual style that might not appeal to everyone.

However, the bigger concern is with the way it aggressively kills background apps and often, there is nothing you can do about it. If you rely on a certain app for notifications, you don’t know what the MIUI skin will decide about it. It might kill it in the background and you will never have your push notifications on time. This is the biggest issue for Xiaomi phones and it has been the case in the past few years, so do keep that in mind. Xiaomi is doing that to optimize the battery performance, but that’s really not the way to go from our point of view.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Battery

5,000mAh inside with super fast charging

Somehow, despite the giant camera system, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is still able to pack the same 5,000mAh battery size as other flagship phones.

We still have not tested battery life, but considering our experience with previoous Xiaomi phones, there is no reason for concernt.

Xiaomi’s official measurements say this phone will last 1.3 days of use on average which is a solid score.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Charging Speeds

The 13 Ultra supports an impressive 90W fast charging and you get the cable and the charger included in the box.

A full 1-100% charge takes just 37 minutes, approximately twice as fast as a Galaxy phone and even faster compared to an iPhone. 

You also have support for 50W fast wireless charging, which is great too. Compare this to 10W wireless charging on the Galaxy and 15W MagSafe charging on the iPhone, it’s a world of a difference.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Audio Quality and Haptics

We have not yet tested the loudspeakers of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, so check back for more information about this in a couple of weeks.

What we have seen is that Xiaomi uses a slightly smaller vibration motor on the 13 Ultra compared to the previous model, the 13 Pro. That makes sense considering the giant battery and camera module, but should reflect slightly on the quality of the haptic feedback you get.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Competitors

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is both a camera phone and just a stellar flagship, so it’s main competition are the best phones around: the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, the iPhone 14 Pro Max, and the Google Pixel 7 Pro.

It is also competing with other phones out of China that also have put their focus on the camera system: the Oppo Find X6 Pro has recently received glowing reviews for its camera, the Vivo X90 Pro Plus is great at night, and the list goes on.

Still, the global availability of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra and its unique camera approach make it stand out in a crowd.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Summary

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra shapes up to be one of the most impressive flagship releases in 2023.

It shifts the paradigm for smartphone photography with what might well become the best camera of the year. But it also has stellar performance, it’s a great device for gaming, it has a stand-out design, fast charging and all the bells and whistles you could think of.

The thing that might be holding it back the most is the restrictive MIUI software which aggressively kills apps in the background and might not be to everyone’s liking.

But let’s hold back until we finalize our testing. Stay tuned for our final review with detailed camera and performance measurements of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra coming soon.


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