The so-called “Chinese Apple” is innovating on its own.
Chinese consumer technology group Xiaomi established itself through the development of what were seen as “me too” products.
Now that it has become the world’s third largest mobile phone supplier, it aims to evolve into a pacesetter, yet keep prices lower than its rivals. The latest flagship Mi 11 is a good example of this.
It was the first smartphone to offer Qualcomm’s latest platform, the 5G-compatible Snapdragon 888, at its unveiling in China late last year, and it is now being rolled out elsewhere.
With a European price opening at € 749 (£ 643), it maintains a favorable price differential from competitors such as the Samsung S21 Ultra.
It is a significant upgrade compared to the Mi 10. The Mi 11 not only has 5G, but also a larger screen with a higher resolution (6.8-inch diagonal, 3200 × 1440) with a refresh rate of 120 Hz, twice as often as most products.
The triple rear camera array consists of a 108 MP main sensor, a secondary 13 MP wide-angle sensor and a 5 MP telemacro sensor for taking close-ups of objects from a reasonable distance (an objection to the macro mode on handset cameras previously called for to get the phone close enough to the subject that the available light is significantly reduced).
Xiaomi has subsequently invested further in what it markets as ‘Movie Magic’, much of which comes from six video enhancement tools that harness the greater AI power in the Snapdragon 888. For example, Freeze Frame is designed to allow the user to stop a moving object while others in the frame move around it;
Magic Zoom mimics the kind of image distortion developed by Alfred Hitchcock. The built-in speakers have been optimized in collaboration with audio specialist Harmon Kardon.
The Snapdragon 888 itself includes the Kryo 680 CPU clocked up to 2.84 GHz based on an ARM Cortex-X1, the Adreno 660 GPU, the Hexagon 780 AI engine and both mm Wave and sub-6 GHz onboard the X60 5G- modem.
This high-quality Qualcomm workhorse is manufactured using the latest 5nm process. The downside to all this for many of those who have mainly been able to get Mi 11 handsets on the gray market is that the battery drains relatively quickly compared to pre-5G flagships, even at 18.4 Wh.
Xiaomi has tried to compensate in several ways. There is 50 W wireless and 55 W wired fast charging. In addition, an iFixit teardown discovered that the battery pack consists of two 2300 mAh cells connected in parallel.
“By charging two cells through two separate connectors, it is possible to push more electrons into the phone faster, especially when the charge is low,” iFixit notes.
Internationally, the phone is expected to come with an update to the MIUI 12 skin that Xiaomi wraps on top of the Android implementation, and this may include other power management features.
Nevertheless, it was likely that the combination of 5G and such a highly specified display always consumed a lot of energy. Disassembly revealed that the internal design shares some features with similar handsets.
“We are somewhat excited to find a motherboard layout similar to the one in the OnePlus Nord, allowing for the battery and display to be removed separately,” iFixit notes.
Meanwhile, on the boards themselves, the phone’s high-quality character is further reflected by an extensive use of copper and graphite foils to dissipate heat. However, the Mi 11 is not an easy phone to fix.
The curved glass front display is aesthetically pleasing, but requires special tools to remove to reduce the risk of further damage. In addition, the fingerprint sensor, sometimes seen as a weakness in Xiaomi products, cannot be replaced without removing this display.
To repair or replace the main camera module, the motherboard must first be removed – an approach that, while possible, the disassembly team considered “inelegant”. While there are a number of modular and replaceable components, iFixit rates the Mi 11 at just four out of ten for repairability.
However, with its first European pricing of € 749 (£ 643) ahead of a UK launch, Xiaomi has come up with a phone that matches, and in some cases even exceeds, the offerings of better-known rivals across the continent (except China , has so far built up most of its market share elsewhere in Asia, especially India).
The technique is catching up – indeed, it may have caught up too soon for some tastes, with the company being listed by the U.S. Department of Defense in the last few days of the Trump administration as a ‘communist Chinese military company’ ( although listing has since been suspended and can be permanently quashed by the US District Court).
The decision is especially puzzling given that unlike Huawei, Xiaomi is predominantly consumer-oriented – and, based on the Mi 11, justifiably looks at the higher end of the market.
Teardown: Xiaomi Mi11
1. Main camera cover
2. Main camera assembly
4. Rear panel
5. Front selfie camera
6. Ribbon cable
7. Optical fingerprint sensor
8. Copper/graphite heat dissipation
13. Midframe shield
14. USB assembly
15. SIM tray
16. Linear actuation vibration motor
17. Front display
18. Front-end module
19. Wireless combo SoC
20. RF transceiver
21. Flash memory
23. Fast charging chip (2x)
24. Wireless power receiving chip