It’s not often you come across an ‘Ultra’ smartphone and it’s love at first sight. That’s just what happened when I came across the Xiaomi 13 Ultra in the serene hills of Ooty and Coonoor.
Known for its affordable smartphones, Xiaomi, the consumer electronics and smart manufacturing company, is trying to change its image. It’s doing so by releasing premium smartphones to compete with the likes of Apple, Samsung, Vivo, Oppo and others.
After announcing its partnership with German camera wizards Leica in 2022, Xiaomi unveiled the 12S Ultra globally. It pushed the boundaries of what a pocket-sized camera (err, smartphone camera) could do. The 12S Ultra, unfortunately, never made it to India. Earlier in 2023, the company brought the Xiaomi 13 Pro (a pared-down version of the 12S Ultra, with a similarly amazing camera) to India, and it was greeted with much fanfare. For what it’s worth, the 13 Pro is Xiaomi’s flagship smartphone for India and 2023.
I diverge. At the end of May, I went on a trip to Ooty and Coonoor. There, I got to witness the astonishing and relaxing hills in the state of Tamil Nadu. That was just one part of the trip. Over there, I also got to interact with something special. What was it, you ask? I interacted with the pinnacle of smartphone photography. A pocket-sized DSLR-esque camera. It was none other than the Xiaomi 13 Ultra. By the end of the trip, I had taken 981 photos with the 13 Ultra. I was heartbroken to learn. that just like the 12S Ultra, it won’t be released in India.
What does the Xiaomi 13 Ultra offer?
- Faux leather back with unibody metal frame
- IP68 certification
- 227 grams
- Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC
- Up to 16GB RAM
- Up to 1TB of storage
- 6.73-inch 2K LTPO display (1440×3200 resolution),
- 120Hz refresh rate,
- 2600nits peak brightness
- Corning Gorilla Glass Victus
- 5,000mAh battery with 90W fast-charging support and an adapter in the box.
- Quad-camera setup: 50MP Sony IMX989 1-inch primary sensor with OIS; 50MP IMX858 ultra-wide camera, 50MP IMX858 telephoto camera, and 50MP super-telephoto IMX858 sensor with periscope structure.
A day with the Xiaomi 13 Ultra
After reaching back to Delhi, it dawned upon me. Yes, sorting through 981 photos is a daunting task, but it gave me immense joy. The reason is that almost all of the 981 photos surpassed my expectations in terms of quality. The 13 Ultra is a camera phone through and through. As some say, the 13 Ultra is akin to a professional camera. It’s a camera first and a smartphone second.
Upon first glance, you notice the huge camera module on the back accompanying the leather finish. The 13 Ultra is comfortable to hold, and isn’t unwieldy, but is slightly heavier than the 13 Pro. The textured back of the 13 Ultra help with gripping the smartphone. The phone does wobble when kept on a table or any flat surface.
The 13 Ultra is available (only in China for now), in various colours. There’s Black, Olive Green, White, Cabernet Orange, Ginkgo Yellow and Starry Sky Blue. We couldn’t come to a consensus as to what was the best colour of them all. There’s something for everyone. Dear competitors, please take a leaf out of Xiaomi’s book and offer many colour options to the consumer.
While the phone was comfortable to use for the day, what really mattered was whether or not the cameras delivered. They did and how!
Thanks to the partnership with Leica, Xiaomi has been able to deliver some DSLR-quality photos in the size of a smartphone. There are Leica-backed sensors along with some Leica-tuned software. There are Leica Authentic and Leica Vibrant modes along with my favourite, Leica Black and White Natural and Black and White HC (high contrast). The moody portraits, both in colour and black and white, were a favourite amongst everyone. Even low-light photographs retained a good amount of detail and didn’t unnecessarily brighten the photo.
Simply put, it’s really hard to click a bad photo with the 13 Ultra. I took photos of the hills of Ooty and Coonoor, the food I consumed, and portraits of the several people that also came on this trip. The photos from the main camera were excellent, to say the least. The colours were good and the skin tones were kept natural. None of the photos came out oversharpened, something that competitors are guilty of. The portraits had a natural blur to them while retaining all the details and with excellent edge detection. Selfies also, for the most part, were on-point.
At the end of the day, there was one thing I realised. The 13 Ultra comes with a lot of different modes and features for professional photographers. It’s difficult for everyone to be able to understand and play around with all the settings. If you’re an amateur photographer or just want to click a good photo without much effort, then the 13 Pro is the better option for you.
First impressions: The best smartphone from the house of Xiaomi!
It’s hard to come to any conclusions about a product in just one day. I do have some initial thoughts after my limited time using the 13 Ultra and here they are:
- The 13 Ultra is bulkier as compared to the 13 Pro.
- The 13 Ultra has a better grip than the 13 Pro thanks to its textured back.
- The 13 Ultra comes with many third-party pre-installed on it, which was a disappointment.
- The cameras are the focal point of the smartphone and they deliver.
- The display is amongst the best I’ve seen in any smartphone.
Yes, the 13 Ultra may be a little too heavy in the hand, but it is Xiaomi’s best smartphone ever. Here’s hoping that by the time the next ‘Ultra’ smartphone is released from the house of Xiaomi, it comes to India!
Xiaomi is releasing the 13 Ultra in global markets soon (not India), and I’m really tempted to import one and use it. That’s the power of the Xiaomi-Leica partnership for you!