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Home / Reviews / Smartphones / Xiaomi 13 Ultra hands-on review: heroic camera hardware

Xiaomi 13 Ultra hands-on review: heroic camera hardware

Today, China; tomorrow, the world!

Xiaomi 13 Ultra hands-on lead

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra has been unveiled in China, with a global launch expected to follow in the coming months. This phone is all about those four 50MP cameras around the back: after its predecessor, the 12s Ultra, packed the largest camera sensor ever seen on a smartphone, the 13 Ultra adds a variable aperture to the mix, while also levelling up the wide and telephoto offerings.

More than just a specced-up camera system, Xiaomi has boosted every aspect of the phone, from the screen to the styling, right down to a new power-saving mode that can eke out 60 minutes from just one per cent battery.

We have no idea how much the 13 Ultra is set to cost when it does launch int he UK just yet, but after a few hours with the phone, what we can say is it’s a contender for best Android phone of 2023 so far.

Design & build: straight down the M1

Xiaomi took inspiration from photography partner Leica and its M1 camera when designing the 13 Ultra. The phone looks right at home held sideways like a traditional compact shooter, with the vegan leather strip along the back providing a camera grip-like tactility. The blasted metal unibody frame is colour-matched to the back panel, and you can pick the phone up in either Black, Olive Green, or White. We’ve been testing it out in green, and it looks and feels rich.

While the 13 Ultra is heavy at 227g, it isn’t unreasonable – and actually arrives lighter than the 240g iPhone 14 Pro Max. According to Xiaomi’s official figures, its profile clocks in at 9.06mm, but it’s actually much chunkier when you factor in that massive camera bump – nearer 1.5cm. It’s impossible to miss thanks to a gold metal frame, which adds an opulent flourish.

It might be a camera-focused phone stylistically, but the Xiaomi 13 Ultra’s buttons and ports are predictably traditional. There’s a USB-C port at the base and volume and power buttons on the right. 

As fancy as this phone is, it’s also durable, with IP68 water and dust resistance, and curved Gorilla Glass Victus on the front. The Chinese version ships with a hard plastic shell in the box, which is textured for extra grip. It’s one of the best bundled cases we’ve come across.

You can go one further by way of the optional camera grip case accessory. More than just an ergonomic add-on, the connected case adds a zoom toggle and two-stage shutter release button for easier one-handed use. Better still, the grip component can slide right off, so it can be used as a traditional, slimline case as well, and mirrors the vegan leather finish of the phone itself.

Screen: How bright?

The 13 Ultra’s 6.7in AMOLED screen gets retina-searingly bright. When playing back Dolby Vision content, it can climb as high as 2600 nits, and in high brightness mode, it peaks at a very respectable 1300 nits. 

With LTPO screen tech and a variable refresh rate that spans 1-120Hz, the display looks super-smooth in the flesh. It’s vibrant, punchy, and with its WQHD+ (3200 x 1440) resolution and a pixel density of 522 pixels-per-inch is sharp too.

Cameras: aperture is worth a thousand words

The four cameras around the back of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra are all 50MP resolution, but only the main one gets that world-first 1-inch sensor with dual aperture. It has the same IMX989 sensor as the Xiaomi 13 Pro and Vivo X90 Pro, though here you can manually switch the aperture between f/1.9 and f/4.0. 

While last year’s 12s Ultra’s ultra-wide and telephoto cameras were a let down compared to the main event, Xiaomi hopes its secondary cameras hold their own this time around. It has added an extra focal length, and they all have 50MP Sony IMX858 sensors at their heart. That means you get a 12mm ultra-wide, a 70mm telephoto, and a 120mm far-reaching zoom. 

Xiaomi’s clearly catering to imaging enthusiasts, with all four cameras able to capture 8K and 10-bit LOG video. It can also take 14-bit RAW photos, and the new USB-C 3.2 port supports 4K, 60Hz output.

Fire up the camera UI and it’s easy to switch out the main camera’s aperture with an on-screen toggle. Even when you shoot with the other lenses, the aperture remains on display in a nice bit of continuity. 

Selfie fans – there’s nothing revolutionary here, just a 32MP punch hole front snapper with an f/2 lens.

Performance & software: super supreme

Xiaomi 13 Ultra hands-on front

With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 flagship chip and a new Xiaomi-pioneered liquid cooling system, the 13 Ultra is poised for power users. Available with either 12GB or 16GB RAM and 256GB, 512GB or 1TB storage, you probably won’t mind the fact this phone’s missing a SD card slot.

The 13 Ultra we got our hands on runs the Chinese version of Xiaomi’s MIUI 14. Out of the box, there are loads of Chinese apps pre-installed and no Google services, but a quick install of the Play Store, and we were able to make everything feel a bit more like home. That said, Chinese phones won’t work with services like Android Auto or Google’s Nearby Share, so hang tight if you’re thinking about picking one up on import.

A 5000mAh battery keeps the 13 Ultra competitive to the last. With fast 90W wired and 50W wireless charging, it should power up quickly too. More noteworthy, Xiaomi has loaded up an extreme power saving mode on its latest camera champ, which can eke out 60m of standby time from the last per cent of power. That should be perfect when you’re in a pinch.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra initial verdict

Xiaomi 13 Ultra hands-on verdict

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra starts at 5,999 Chinese Yuan (roughly £700), which sounds like a steal compared to top-tier phones out now in the West, but don’t get too excited. History dictates the China export markup is real, so we’d anticipate when it does launch here, the 13 Ultra will cost at least as much as the 13 Pro’s RRP, which starts at £1,099.

After the excellent Oppo Find X6 Pro landed on our desk with no promise of a global release, it’s good to see that Xiaomi has confirmed wider availability for the 13 Ultra. So far, it looks set to be one of the best smartphones, and specifically, smartphone cameras we’ve ever tested – and matched with the camera grip accessory, it’s a serious gadget that should scratch photography enthusiast’s itch like no other.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra technical specifications

Screen6.7in, 3200×1440 AMOLED w/ 120Hz
CPUQualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
Cameras50+50+50+50MP rear
32MP front
Operating systemAndroid 13 w/ MIUI 14
Battery5000mAh w/ 90W wired, 50W wireless, reverse wireless charging
Dimensions163x75x9.1mm, 227g
Profile image of Basil Kronfli Basil Kronfli Stuff contributor

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