Xiaomi 13 Ultra Review: Phenomenal Photography

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We first saw a variable aperture in a phone with Samsung’s Galaxy S9. It felt gimmicky then, but with larger sensors like the one in the 13 Ultra, changing the focal length has more impact. It is one of the reasons that the Xiaomi 13 Ultra can capture landscape shots that look crisp in their entirety without blurred areas, and then also capture close subjects with that lovely blurred background bokeh effect. There’s little need for the dedicated portrait mode here.

The 13 Ultra captures richly detailed shots. Using the default Leica Authentic style, colors are more natural than on other Xiaomi phones, such as the Poco F5 Pro I tested recently. (There’s a vibrant option if you prefer colors to pop.) What impressed me most was the depth of field, which adds drama and interest to outdoor photos. I also like that the automatic macro mode kicks in and does a great job with extreme close-ups, and Xiaomi’s night mode makes the most of low-light scenes. It’s almost impossible to dislike the photos that come out of this quad-camera system.

The only weak spot is the 32-megapixel front-facing camera, which tends to over-brighten selfies. The portrait mode struggles with the usual stray hairs, and I found that selfies often look better in the standard camera mode.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra can record 8K video at 24 frames per second (fps) and 4K at up to 60 fps. I don’t think people need to be recording in 8K right now, especially since it means large video files, and it doesn’t seem to offer a big jump in quality unless you zoom in, but the 4K footage is excellent. The stabilization does a great job of eliminating shakes or walking movement, and you can track subjects smoothly.

The Catch

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra runs Android 13 with a topping of Xiaomi’s MIUI 14 software interface. This is just about the worst part of the phone for me. It’s a little too busy and brash for my tastes. It takes time to get used to if you’re coming from a Google Pixel or a Samsung phone. Because my review unit is the Chinese version, it had tons of Chinese apps installed, pop-ups in Chinese, and Xiaomi apps as the defaults. I had to dig into the settings to toggle on Google apps, and I was able to install the Google Play Store and the rest of Google’s more intuitive software. This shouldn’t be an issue if you purchase the European version.

Speaking of, the European model of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra costs 1,499 Euros (around $1,613), though discounts are likely not far off. At that price, it rubs shoulders with Samsung’s S23 Ultra and Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro Max. The S23 Ultra keeps pace, and you might prefer the more helpful software smarts found in the Google Pixel 7 Pro, but it’s tough to find anything else to match the Xiaomi 13 Ultra. Xiaomi says the device will get three Android version updates and five years of security patches, which puts it on par with Google, but Xiaomi tends to be slower to roll them out.

I was willing to overlook software issues that bugged me with the Poco F5 Pro because everything else about the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is so good. The screen is near perfect, the performance is flawless, and the camera is outstanding. Naturally, here’s the part where I remind you that you absolutely don’t need to spend this much for a good phone, but if you’re after the best in every sense of the word, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is a real contender.

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