The Xiaomi 12 Pro released four months ago was one of the best Android releases of 2022 which was well received in almost every tech site, including this one. However, if you read my review closely, you may have noticed that I was more critical than the others, and may have seemed a bit frustrated. The reason is that I knew that the Xiaomi 12 Pro wasn’t Xiaomi’s best offering, and that there would eventually be an Ultra that would be the true Xiaomi alpha phone. It took a little longer than expected, but it’s finally here: this is the Xiaomi 12S Ultra.
I’ve only had about 11 hours with the phone at the time of writing this so this is by no means a complete review. But on paper, this phone is a beast with the over-the-top hardware we’ve come to expect from the last two Xiaomi Ultra phones, and in my testing, it lives up to this flashy spec sheet thus far.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Specifications
|Customize||Xiaomi 12S Ultra|
|Dimensions and weight||
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1|
|RAM and Storage||
|The battery is charging||
|protection||In-screen fingerprint scanner|
|Front camera(s)||32 MP RGBW Image Sensor|
|ports)||USB Type C|
|Programming||MIUI 13 is based on Android 12|
About this internship: Xiaomi sent me the Xiaomi 12S Ultra for testing. Xiaomi did not have any input on this article.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Pricing and Availability
First, the elephant in the room and bad news for some readers: the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is so far slated for a China-only release, although an international release may follow later. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra comes in three configurations:
- 8 GB + 256 GB: CNY 5,999 ($896)
- 12GB + 256GB: CNY 6,499 (~$970)
- 12GB + 512GB: CNY 6,999 (~$1,045)
Xiaomi has not yet shared the availability details of the device. We will update this section when more information is revealed.
Xiaomi 12s Ultra Design and Hardware: it’s like a camera with a connected phone
Smartphone camera modules have gotten bigger and bigger over the years, but the Xiaomi 12S Ultra really takes the cake. I mean, look at this thing. It protrudes a bit from the rear as well, so if you’re laying this phone flat on a table, it rests on a slope as if you were supporting the keyboard.
As if this camera unit isn’t striking enough, there’s also a 24-karat gold ring that wraps around the unit. However, despite the heavy design on top, the phone is still able to stand on its own, thanks to its flat bottom and top.
However, this means that the Xiaomi 12S Ultra display loses the quad-curved design seen in the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra and Mi 11 Ultra (by the way, there is no Mi brand for this year’s phone).
We’ll get back to those cameras soon, so let’s take a look at other devices. Around the front is a 6.73-inch OLED display that Xiaomi officially refers to as the “Dolby Vision TrueColor Display”. It’s an LTPO sourced from Samsung, with a resolution of 3200 x 1440 and a refresh rate that can range from 1 Hz to 120 Hz. You get plenty of brightness at 1,500 nits max brightness, support 10-bit color depth, and the content looks great on it.
The phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, an all-new 4nm chip from Qualcomm that is supposed to bring a 10% improvement over the CPU and GPU over the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and most importantly, if true, a 30% increase % in energy efficiency. This will be needed, as the 12S Ultra already packs a smaller battery than last year’s Mi 11 Ultra, at 4,860mAh.
I’ve run some benchmarks already, and the new chip scores high. On Geekbench in particular, the numbers are slightly better than what was recorded by the Galaxy S22 Ultra powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. In fact, the Geekbench numbers for the 12S Ultra are close to Apple’s A15 Bionic.
More importantly, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra successfully finished the 20-minute “Wild Life Extreme Stress Test” in the 3D Mark app, which the Xiaomi 12 Pro failed to do when I tested it months ago due to overheating. So we know that at least the Xiaomi 12S Ultra has better temperatures (but most importantly, a processor that does not heat up much).
Elsewhere, the phone rocks the symmetrical stereo speaker system seen on a few Xiaomi flagships, but the 12S Ultra also comes wrapped in vegan leather that I absolutely love.
All the other key features you’re used to can be found here: IP68 water and dust resistance, wireless charging (at speeds up to 50W) and fast wired charging (67W, charger included with the package). And there are two proprietary chips inside the phone – the Surge P1 and the Surge G1 – and Xiaomi says they’ll handle charging and battery management separately. Well, let’s go back to the main selling point of this phone, the optics.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra Cameras: Big Magic Sensor
The main camera system of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra consists of three cameras, topped by a new 50-megapixel Sony IMX989 camera with a 1-inch sensor with Leica lens. Xiaomi says the 1-inch Sony IMX sensor was specially designed by Sony for Xiaomi, and the optical lens covering the camera was jointly designed by Leica and Xiaomi. The camera also uses pixel binning technology to produce a micro-pixel size of 3.2 µm. these numbers crazy.
The 48MP ultra-wide camera and Periscope zoom are 1/2-inch Sony sensors as well, and use binning technology to produce 12MP shots. The Periscope zoom lens still offers a 5X optical zoom range, but from early testing, it appears to be a lot better than last year’s Mi 11 Ultra zoom lens.
Keep in mind that I haven’t had time to really push the cameras yet, but these samples should give an early idea of how the Xiaomi 12S cameras work. We can see from the samples that the 5x zoom lens produces very sharp images, the wide angle doesn’t lose much detail and the colors mostly stay consistent with other lenses.
But really, most readers are interested in what a 1-inch main camera can do – so let’s dig in. Yes, the 1-inch sensor produces a very shallow depth of field, which results in natural bokeh in still photos and videos.
Compared to the Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max, we can see that Xiaomi’s shot has noticeably stronger bokeh as well.
One of the concerns I had with this large sensor was that the camera would constantly turn off the lights, which Samsung and Apple pioneers tend to do from time to time (and these sensors are small compared to the 12S Ultra). Whether it’s Leica optical lenses or Xiaomi’s software algorithms, the images keep a good balance. The sample set below was taken as it started getting dark (7:20pm), but it wasn’t dark enough for these phones to turn on night mode, and we can clearly see the image of Xiaomi pulling in most of the light (the bottom third of the shots). The 12S Ultra is also the only camera that correctly displays computer screens, while Samsung and Apple have blown it up.
Note that Xiaomi’s colors are a bit exaggerated. This is part of Leica’s new image tuning that appears to do a similar job to what the Vivo X flagships have recently done by adding a bit of extra contrast for a little more kick. There is an option to switch between this mode called “Leica Vibrant” and the more natural colors, “Leica Authentic”.
If we turn to proper low-light shots, like the one below in a park at night, we can see the superiority of Xiaomi’s shot: less noise, clearer details, and better lighting all around. And here’s the point – the 12S Ultra didn’t need night mode for this shot, while Apple and Samsung phones needed night mode for two seconds.
I’ll definitely be doing more tests on this camera in the coming days as I work on a full review, including against our current camera king, the Vivo X80 Pro, as well as portrait photography.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra: early ideas
There’s a lot about the Xiaomi 12S Ultra that I haven’t covered, including video recording, Leica’s portrait shooting modes, battery life (and whether two proprietary chips help with efficiency) as well as gaming and general phone use. But so far, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra looks like a competitor to the phone of the year so far. And while an international release date isn’t a problem yet, the relatively low starting price in China of around $900 means consumers in the West can import the device and, even after taking the price increase into account, won’t pay a ridiculous amount. If you are wondering – Google apps do not ship with the phone, but they can be installed easily. Xiaomi App Store has Google Play Store for download.
Even for picky phone enthusiasts like me, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra seems to tick most of the boxes I want in a phone right. Other than the fact that it doesn’t fold, I think. But in terms of glass panels with good cameras, this good camera has a glass phone.