The Xiaomi 12 Pro, which came out four months ago, was a very good 2022 Android flagship that got a good reception on almost every tech site, including this one. But if you’ve read my review carefully, you may have noticed that I came across as more critical than others, and maybe even sounded slightly disappointed. The reason for this is that I knew the Xiaomi 12 Pro wasn’t Xiaomi’s best offering, that there would eventually be an Ultra device that would be Xiaomi’s true alpha dog phone. It took a little longer than expected, but it’s finally here: this is the Xiaomi 12S Ultra.
I’ve only had about eleven hours with the phone at the time of writing, so this is by no means a full review. But on paper this phone is a beast with the overkill hardware we’ve come to expect from the last two Xiaomi Ultra phones, and from my testing so far it lives up to that gaudy spec sheet.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Specifications
|specification||Xiaomi 12S Ultra|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1|
|security||In-display fingerprint scanner|
|front camera(s)||32 MP RGBW image sensor|
|software||MIUI 13 is based on Android 12|
About this hands-on: Xiaomi sent me a Xiaomi 12S Ultra to test. Xiaomi had no influence on this article.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra: prices and availability
First the elephant in the room and bad news for some readers: The Xiaomi 12S Ultra is only planned for a China release so far, although an international release could follow later. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra is available in three configurations:
- 8GB+256GB: 5,999 CNY (~$896)
- 12GB+256GB: 6,499 CNY (~$970)
- 12GB + 512GB: CNY 6,999 (~$1,045)
Xiaomi has not yet shared the availability details for the device. We will update this section as more information becomes available.
Xiaomi 12s Ultra Design and Hardware: It’s like a camera with a phone attached
Smartphone camera modules have only gotten bigger over the years, but the Xiaomi 12S Ultra really packs a punch. I mean look at this thing. It also sticks out quite a bit from the back. So when you lay this phone flat on a table, it’s at an angle, like you’re propping up a keyboard.
As if this camera module wasn’t flashy enough, there’s also a 24k gold ring that wraps around the module. But despite the top-heavy design, the phone can still stand on its own thanks to its flat bottom and top.
This does mean, however, that the Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s screen loses the quad-curve design seen in the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra and Mi 11 Ultra (there’s no Mi branding for this year’s phone, btw).
We’ll come back to these cameras soon, let’s look at other hardware. On the front is a 6.73-inch OLED display, which Xiaomi officially calls the “Dolby Vision TrueColor Display”. It is a Samsung LTPO with a resolution of 3200 x 1440 and a refresh rate that can vary between 1 Hz and 120 Hz. It gets very bright at 1,500 max nits, supports 10-bit color, and the content looks great on it.
The phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, Qualcomm’s brand new 4nm chip that’s said to offer a 10 percent improvement in CPU and GPU over the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and, more importantly, a 30 percent improvement increasing energy efficiency. This will be necessary as the 12S Ultra actually packs a smaller battery than last year’s Mi 11 Ultra at 4,860mAh.
I’ve already run some benchmarks and the new chip gets good marks. On Geekbench in particular, the numbers are quite a bit better than what my Galaxy S22 Ultra achieved with Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. In fact, the 12S Ultra’s Geekbench numbers come close to Apple’s A15 Bionic.
More importantly, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra passed 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 for overheating. So we know that the Xiaomi 12S Ultra at least has better thermals (but more importantly, a processor that doesn’t heat up as much).
Elsewhere, the phone rocks the balanced stereo speaker system seen in the last few Xiaomi flagships, but the 12S Ultra is also clad in a vegan leather finish that I absolutely love.
All the other flagship frills you’re used to are here: IP68 water and dust resistance, wireless charging (up to 50W speed) and wired fast charging (67W, charger included). And there are two proprietary chips in the phone – Surge P1 and Surge G1 – which Xiaomi says will handle charging and battery management separately. Okay, getting back to the main selling point of this phone, the optics.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra cameras: Big sensor magic
The main camera system of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra consists of three cameras, led by a new Sony IMX989 camera with 50 MP and a 1-inch sensor with a Leica lens. According to Xiaomi, the 1-inch Sony IMX sensor was built by Sony specifically for Xiaomi, and the optical lens covering the camera was jointly developed by Leica and Xiaomi. The camera also uses pixel binning technology to produce a micro pixel size of 3.2μm. These numbers are insane.
The 48-megapixel ultra-wide camera and Periscope zoom camera are also 1/2-inch Sony sensors and also use binning technology to create 12-megapixel shots. The Periscope zoom lens still offers a 5x optical zoom range, but from initial testing it looks significantly better compared to last year’s Mi 11 ultra-zoom lenses.
Keep in mind that I haven’t had enough time to really push the cameras yet, but these examples should give you a first idea of how the Xiaomi 12S cameras fare. From the examples we can see that the 5x zoom lens delivers very sharp images, the ultra-wide doesn’t lose too much detail and the colors remain largely consistent with the other lenses.
But really, most readers are interested in what that 1-inch main camera can do – so let’s dive in. Yes, the 1-inch sensor produces a very shallow depth of field, resulting in natural bokeh in stills and video.
And compared to the Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max, we can see that Xiaomi’s shot also has significantly stronger bokeh.
One concern I had with such a large sensor was that the camera would constantly blow out lights, which Samsung and Apple flagships do from time to time (and those sensors are small compared to the 12S Ultra). Whether it’s Leica’s optical lenses or Xiaomi’s software algorithms, the images keep a good balance. The samples below were taken when it was getting dark (7:20 p.m.), but not yet dark enough for these phones to turn on night mode, and we can see that Xiaomi’s image clearly pulls in most of the light (bottom third). of the shot). The 12S Ultra is also the only camera that properly exposes my computer screens, while Samsung and Apple blew those out.
Note that Xiaomi’s colors are a bit exaggerated. That’s part of Leica’s new image tuning, which seems to be doing a similar job as Vivo’s X flagships have been lately, adding some extra contrast for more kick. There is an option to toggle between this mode called “Leica Vibrant” and more natural colors “Leica Authentic”.
Moving on to proper low-light shots, like below in a park at night, we can see the superiority in Xiaomi’s shot: less noise, sharper details, and better lighting all around. And here’s the kicker – the 12S Ultra didn’t need a night mode for this shot, while the Apple and Samsung phones needed a two-second night mode.
I’ll definitely be putting this camera through more testing in the coming days as I work towards a full review, including against our current camera king, the Vivo X80 Pro, plus portrait photography.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra: early thoughts
There’s a lot more about the Xiaomi 12S Ultra that I haven’t covered, including video recording, Leica portraiture modes, battery life (and whether the two proprietary chips help with efficiency), as well as gaming and other general phone usage. But so far, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra looks like it’s a contender for phone of the year so far. And while there’s no international release date yet, the relatively low Chinese starting price of around $900 means western consumers can import the device and not pay a ridiculous amount, even after factoring in the premium. In case you’re wondering, Google apps don’t come with the phone but are easy to install. The Google Play Store is available for download in Xiaomi’s own App Store.
Even for a hard-to-please phone geek like me, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra seems to tick most of the boxes I want in a phone. Except that it doesn’t work, I think. But as far as glass tops with good cameras go, this good camera has a glass top phone.