Xiaomi 13 Ultra Review: Game-changer for Smartphone Photography?

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Xiaomi 13 Ultra Preview

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Intro


Let's say it right away: the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is the elephant in the room when it comes to smartphone cameras in 2023, and it's not even about the advanced camera hardware or the specs.

It's about the processing. Photos out of an iPhone 14 Pro or a Galaxy S23 Ultra are a huge improvement from previous generations of smartphones, but they are undeniably "smartphone photographs". Which means you get over-processed images, often with unrealistic colors, excessive sharpening, all issues that when viewed on anything bigger than a phone are very noticeable.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra aims to change all that. Xiaomi has fine tuned this camera system to give you images with a different, more realistic look. And that's what makes it so special.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra also happens to be a powerful flagship phone. It comes with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor inside cooled with a proprietary Xiaomi solution. It has the world's brightest display at its launch. It has long battery life. And it has much faster charging the Samsung and Apple.

Let's see if this is indeed not just the camera phone of 2023, but the smartphone of 2023, full stop.

What’s new about the Xiaomi 13 Ultra
  • Photos that don't have typical oversharpening, "smartphone processing" 
  • Superb night time zoom camera performance
  • Ultra-wide lens goes even wider than most cameras
  • Variable aperture main camera
  • Very cool camera-like design
  • All out flagship with Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip
  • Long battery life, fast charging
  • Costly at 1,500 euro

7
Xiaomi 13 Ultra
Xiaomi 13 Ultra
What we like
  • Impressive camera
  • Fast performance
  • Great for gaming, almost no throttling
What we don't like
  • Extremely steep price
  • Chubby design that not everyone will like
  • MIUI software has its quirks
7
PhoneArena Rating
7.2
Price Class Average
Battery Life
6
6.7
Photo Quality
7.9
7.5
Video Quality
6.6
6.7
Charging
8.6
6.7
Performance Peak
6.1
6
Performance Daily
6.6
6.8
Display Quality
8
8
Design
8
7.7
Wireless Charging
8.1
6.9
Biometrics
7
7.7
Audio
8
8
Software
5
7
Why the score?
This device scores 2.8% worse than the average for this price class, which includes devices like the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra total score you see above is lower than one might expect. That is not because of some new flaw, but because we have implemented a new rating system at PhoneArena that gives readers a better idea of the performance of a phone across different categories. Remember to look at the scores and compare them to the average for the class, and we believe you will find these scores tremendously useful. Learn more about the new PhoneArena Review Scoring system here.

Table of Contents:

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Specs

It's amazing Xiaomi fit all of this hardware in a phone

Let's start with an overview of the specs, shall we?


Xiaomi 13 Ultra Design & Colors

Camera-centric design


The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is a perfect illustration of what happens when form follows function. The function is a camera-first smartphone and the Xiaomi 13 Ultra looks a lot like a traditional camera that is slimmed down to a phone size.

You get a slightly raised camera bed, a round camera system, a textured leather-like finish, all throwbacks to traditional camera design.

Xiaomi calls the texture on the back "second generation nano-skin" and says it will resist stains, and in our use it still looks very clean after more than a month of use. The phone comes in a white, a green, and a black version, and all of them look stunning (but the white one remains exclusive for the China market).

However, one downside is that the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is also a bit chubbier than most other flagship phones, so do keep that in mind.

Buttons are on the right hand side, and feel nice and clicky, and on the bottom you have a USB-C port which supports fast USB 3.2 transfer speeds.

Xiaomi also offers a professional camera kit, which is basically a case, a camera handgrip with a physical shutter key, and a 67mm filter thread. Super cool and we bet photographers will appreciate it. The kit is sold separately for around $150, but may not be available in all markets.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Display

The brightest display ever on a phone  


The Xiaomi 13 Ultra comes with a big, 6.7-inch OLED screen with all the latest flagship characteristics such as 1440p resolution and 120Hz refresh rate.

However, while most other flagships use Samsung-made display panels, Xiaomi has partnered with panel maker China Star and this is their latest C7 display panel... and it seems the only reason why it exists is to beat the most advanced Samsung OLED screens by just a tiny bit.

While the latest Samsung OLED panels hit as much as 2,500 nits of brightness, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra hits 2,600 nits. Yes, the difference is not huge, but also yes, this makes it the world's brightest smartphone ever.

Display Measurements:




In our display measurements, we see the Xiaomi beat the Galaxy S23 Ultra when it comes to peak brightness, but at night time it goes down to 2 nits, which is not quite as dim as the Galaxy.

As for biometrics, you have an in-screen fingerprint scanner which is accurate and fast, so we've had no issues with it.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Camera

Photographer's dream!


We probably all know that one guy who really cares about photography, carries a big camera around with them, edits the RAW files, all that good stuff.

But what if you could get similar looking photos straight out of the camera without ever touching Photoshop?

Well, that's the look that Xiaomi is going for and we have to say that it often nails it.

But first, here are the...

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Camera Specs:
  • 50MP Wide (IMX989, 1" sensor), 23mm lens, f/1.9 - f/4.0
  • 50MP Ultra-wide (IMX858, 1/2.51" sensor)
  • 50MP 3.2X Zoom (IMX858): 75mm f/1.8
  • 50MP 5X Periscope zoom (IMX858): 120mm f/3.0
  • 32MP Front cam

As you can see, the main camera comes with variable aperture. At f/1.9 it's wide open and that's great if you shoot an object up-close and want the background to be slightly blurry. At f/4.0 everything is in focus. Cool.


And just look at that massive 1-inch camera sensor and how Xiaomi managed to include three other cameras in the mix too. Really impressive.

Daytime Photos



No crazy vibrant colors, no excessive sharpening here. This phone goes for a completely different look with a more natural, film feel. Colors are fine tuned with some contribution from Leica, and the massive 1-inch type main camera sensor is amazing in both daytime and low-light conditions.

Lowlight and Night Time Photos



What we feel is the biggest improvement here is just how useful the zoom cameras are in low light. The telephoto cameras on most phones just fall apart in dim conditions, but not the Xiaomi. Early samples show that because of its wider aperture, it even captures better looking shots at 10X zoom than the Galaxy S23 Ultra!

And you also have a good amount of detail all across the zoom range: 0.5X, 1X, 2X, 3X, 5X and 10X are where the quality is at its best.

Portrait Mode



Xiaomi has an unorthodox approach to portrait mode with four very different modes: 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, and 90mm.

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The last one deliberately goes for a "soft focus" effect which just results in a very blurry image that most people probably won't be able to use.

The other three modes work fine with a nice swirly bokeh effect with the 50mm mode, while the other two go for a more. traditional portrait look.

Selfies



Selfies also look fine with a natural tonality to the colors and skin tones, but these are not quite the best in the industry.

Video Thumbnail

And in the above video, you can learn more about the Xiaomi 13 Ultra camera and how it performs against the Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra
PhoneArena Camera Score
BEST 154
152
PhoneArena Photo Score
BEST 160
160
Main (wide)
BEST 85
85
Zoom
BEST 27
24
Ultra-wide
BEST 25
25
Selfie
BEST 30
26
PhoneArena Video Score
BEST 149
143
Main (wide)
BEST 79
75
Zoom
BEST 24
20
Ultra-wide
BEST 23
23
Selfie
BEST 28
25

We have rigorously tested the camera on the Xiaomi 13 Ultra and above you can see the results of those tests. We carefully measure the performance of all cameras in various test scenes, ranking the performance across important metrics like exposure, subject exposure, color accuracy, detail, artifacts and more. We do these tests for both photos and videos. 

You can learn more about our PhoneArena Camera Score testing protocol here.
 

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Performance & Benchmarks

Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 with some Xiaomi cooling magic


Having the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 inside would put the Xiaomi 13 Ultra on par with all the rest of the phones, but the company wanted to stand out, so it has developed a new cooling solution that is way more efficient than others.


This is particularly important for gaming, but also for camera tasks which can be even more tasking than a game. With this cooling technology, the 13 Ultra maintains video frame rates at a lower temperature than all other major competitors.

Performance Benchmarks:


Geekbench 6
SingleHigher is better
Xiaomi 13 Ultra1974
OPPO Find X6 Pro1525
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max2423
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra1971
Geekbench 6
MultiHigher is better
Xiaomi 13 Ultra5442
OPPO Find X6 Pro5202
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max6306
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra5115
3DMark Extreme(High)Higher is better
Xiaomi 13 Ultra3549
OPPO Find X6 Pro3712
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max3382
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra3828
3DMark
Extreme(Low)Higher is better
Xiaomi 13 Ultra3351
OPPO Find X6 Pro1736
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max2327
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra1951

As you can see in the last 3D Mark score, the cooling system on the Xiaomi outperforms the rest easily.

Even after 20 minutes of gaming, there is barely any throttling, while other phones throttle significantly. This phone is a dream come true for mobile gamers, especially those who play more demanding games like Genshin Impact.

There is no compromise with the rest of the specs too: all models come with 12GB of LPDDR5X RAM. The base starts at 256GB of UFS 4.0 storage, and you can also get a 512GB model, or even a 1TB model. There is no microSD card slot on this phone.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Android version and MIUI



Our biggest concern with Xiaomi phones has always been the software. The 13 Ultra runs on Android 13 skinned with MIUI 14.

This is a simple skin that borrows quite a few ideas from iOS. It has its quirks like a weird multitasking interface and a visual style that might not appeal to everyone.

However, the bigger concern is with the way it aggressively kills background apps and often, there is nothing you can do about it. If you rely on a certain app for notifications, you don't know what the MIUI skin will decide about it. It might kill it in the background and you will never have your push notifications on time. This is the biggest issue for Xiaomi phones and it has been the case in the past few years, so do keep that in mind. Xiaomi is doing that to optimize the battery performance, but that's really not the way to go from our point of view.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Battery

5,000mAh inside with super fast charging


Somehow, despite the giant camera system, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is still able to pack the same 5,000mAh battery size as other flagship phones.

PhoneArena Battery Test Results:


Video Streaming(hours)Higher is better
Xiaomi 13 Ultra11h 6 min
OPPO Find X6 Pro9h 15 min
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max11h
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra8h 54 min
Web Browsing(hours)Higher is better
Xiaomi 13 Ultra7h 4 min
OPPO Find X6 Pro16h 4 min
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max19h 5 min
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra18h 57 min
3D Gaming(hours)Higher is better
Xiaomi 13 Ultra12h 30 min
OPPO Find X6 Pro8h 47 min
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max8h 39 min
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra7h 13 min

Xiaomi's official measurements say this phone will last 1.3 days of use on average which is a solid score.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Charging Speeds



The 13 Ultra supports an impressive 90W fast charging and you get the cable and the charger included in the box.

A full 1-100% charge takes just 37 minutes, approximately twice as fast as a Galaxy phone and even faster compared to an iPhone. 

You also have support for 50W fast wireless charging, which is great too. Compare this to 10W wireless charging on the Galaxy and 15W MagSafe charging on the iPhone, it's a world of a difference.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Audio Quality and Haptics


Audio quality of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra loudspeakers is nice and boomy, on par with other flagships, but not quite as impressive as the industry leading Asus ROG phone series.

You get some depth to the sound too, which is the most common problem with smartphone speakers.

The Xiaomi 13 Ultra uses a slightly smaller vibration motor compared to its predecessor, but to be honest we did not feel much of a downgrade in real use. Vibration is nice and tight with a good feel to it, so that's nice to see.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Competitors


The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is both a camera phone and just a stellar flagship, so it's main competition are the best phones around: the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, the iPhone 14 Pro Max, and the Google Pixel 7 Pro.

However, the Xiaomi costs more than all of them and considering some quirks with the MIUI software, that's a strange decision on Xiaomi's part. If you really care about the camera system here and you want the exact type of processing that this phone provides, you will find a reason to stomach the 1,500 euro price, but most people would probably find the more established brands that are also cheaper more appealing.

It is also competing with other phones out of China that also have put their focus on the camera system: the Oppo Find X6 Pro has recently received glowing reviews for its camera, the Vivo X90 Pro Plus is great at night, and the list goes on.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra Summary



The Xiaomi 13 Ultra takes upon a role of a camera messiah, but once again: 1,500 euro! That's a very steep price to pay!

So let's see all the advantages that come with the Xiaomi 13 Ultra: the camera quality is impressive, but you will only fully appreciate it if you truly care about photography and film-like colors. Then you have the very impressive performance, especially for gaming. You have one of the brightest and most advanced screens, and overall specs on a phone. Fast charging is also a welcome advantage.

The thing that might be holding the Xiaomi 13 Ultra back the most is the restrictive MIUI software which aggressively kills apps in the background and might not be to everyone's liking. And we are not really sure about that design and the chubby look that camera nerds will like, but... what about everyone else?

Still, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is an impressive flagship that we recommend you check out, we're just not sure many people will be able to stomach that price.

 *Disclaimer: You may notice review scores have changed on PhoneArena! Since September 20th, we have started using a new scoring system. Learn more about the new PhoneArena Smartphone Review Rating system here.

Pros

  • Impressive camera
  • Fast performance
  • Great for gaming, almost no throttling
  • Long battery life
  • Fast charging

Cons

  • Extremely steep price
  • Chubby design that not everyone will like
  • MIUI software has its quirks

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