Xiaomi 12S Ultra Review: A Great Camera Phone You Can’t Buy Yet

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Xiaomi is creeping up to be a top-notch smartphone brand in the world not just in numbers but also in quality. This was made even clearer when they were able to poach Leica as their partner for the 12 series smartphones – the flagship of which is the Xiaomi 12S Ultra. It comes with all the amenities of a flagship smartphone like a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, a 120Hz 6.73-inch QuadHD+ AMOLED screen, and high-resolution lenses co-engineered by Leica.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Review – Specifications

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Chipset Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1
Screen 6.73-inch LTPO2 AMOLED, 3200 x 1440, HDR10+, 120Hz, Gorilla Glass Victus
RAM 8GB, 12GB
OS Android 12, MIUI 13
Rear Camera 50.3MP f/1.9 Dual Pixel PDAF Main, 48MP f/2.2 Dual Pixel PDAF Ultrawide, 48MP f/4.1 Periscope Telephoto, Leica Lenses
Front Camera 32MP f/2.4
Storage 256GB, 512GB UFS 3.1
Network Dual-SIM, 5G
Connectivity WiFi 6e, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, IR Blaster, USB-C
Battery 4,860mAh, 67W Fast Charging, 50W Fast Wireless Charging, 10W Reverse Wireless Charging
Others Stereo Speakers tuned by Harman Kardon, In-Display Fingerprint Scanner
Dimensions 163.2 x 75 x 9.1mm
Weight 225g
Colors Classic Black, Verdant Green

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Review – Unboxing

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

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The Xiaomi 12S Ultra might be positioned as a flagship device but its packaging isn’t as flashy as its spec sheet. It ships in a discreet black box with its branding at the front and is accompanied by a silicone case, a USB-C cable, a 67W wall adapter, a SIM ejector pin, and documentation.

Design and Aesthetics

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Xiaomi has made it clear that the 12S Ultra is a camera-focused smartphone with its design. Its rear cameras are encased in a large, circular camera bump with gold trimming. This makes the smartphone significantly thicker due to the bump compared to other similarly-priced flagships in the market.

Its rear has a silicone-based leather finish that gives its texture and grip but it’s worth noting that the sides don’t have a leather finish. It doesn’t feel as premium compared to a solid aluminum rear and we’re not quite sure if the faux leather will stand the test of time.

All its buttons are clustered at the right-hand side. The bottom houses a USB-C port, a bottom-firing speaker, and a dual SIM tray. The 12S Ultra does not support MicroSD cards so users are stuck with either 256GB or 512GB of storage depending on the variant.

Screen and Audio

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

A 120Hz 6.73-inch 3200 x 1440 LTPO2 AMOLED screen is placed at the front and it’s a great screen to look at and it supports HDR10+ as well as Dolby Vision. The AMOLED panel is able to display deep blacks and vivid colors making everything look good and authentic while its 120Hz refresh rate makes animations and games that support it look fast and fluid.

Xiaomi says that the screen can reach up to 1,500 nits but only on select scenarios. During regular use, it will be able to reach just above 500 cd/m2 at maximum brightness, which is enough to be used outdoors even under intense sunlight. Contrast is great as expected and color coverage is fantastic, reaching 95.20% DCI-P3 when measured.

  • sRGB – 99.30%
  • AdobeRGB – 81.40%
  • DCI-P3 – 95.20%
  • Luminance (Minimum) – 0.99 cd/m2
  • Luminance (Maximum) – 506.69 cd/m2
  • Gamma – 2.15
  • Contrast Ratio – 1:1

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

The smartphone has dual stereo speakers tuned by Harman/Kardon. Audio performance is pumping as it can deliver volume and clarity at the same time. Loudness can get overbearing at times especially at the higher end of the spectrum but everything remains clear. Bass do lack punch but aside from that, the speaker system is solid.

Software

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra is currently exclusive to China and thus our review unit has a Chinese ROM. It is still based on Android 12 with MIUI 13 but does not have access to Google Services. Everything is set to Chinese by default but it can be switched to standard English.

Using the smartphone is easy since everything feels familiar but typing and browsing can be a hassle since the keyboard has a hard time typing out English characters at times. We’re not sure yet if Xiaomi will be bringing the 12S Ultra to the global stage with a global ROM.

Apps found outside of China can be installed via third-party sites but some installations will be blocked unless you have a Chinese social media account registered or a SIM installed.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Review – Cameras

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

The real highlights of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra are its cameras. As mentioned, they have been co-developed with Leica and we have seen what kind of imaging performance they can pump out on a smartphone.

The camera app is standard affair. Options are available like Photo, Pro Mode, Document Scanner, Portrait, Night Mode, 50MP, and the like. Some options like Panorama and Long Exposure do need to be downloaded instead of being automatically available to users.

There are Leica-specific modes such as Leica Authentic and Leica Vibrant. The former captures natural-looking photos while the latter boosts saturation to take more saturated photos. These modes will be dependent to you and what kind of look you’re trying to photo.

Multi-Cam mode is one of the standout modes in the camera app, which allows you to two from several modes like its Main Camera, Telephoto Camera, Ultrawide, 5X zoom, 10x zoom, and selfie camera. This is helpful if you want to capture images from different angles.

Main Camera

Its 50MP f/1.9 main camera is powered by a Sony IMX989 sensor and takes 12.58MP photos by default. Performance is remarkable as produced snaps are vivid and well-defined. Photos above are taken with Leica Authentic Mode as they are closer to natural compared to the boosted saturation of Leica Vibrant.

Low-light or evening photos also come out great even without Night Mode. Lights aren’t too strong and darker areas still have some details present. The edges are slightly softer compared to the middle where the detail is at its peak.

Ultrawide Camera

The 48MP f/2.2 Ultrawide camera is backed with a Sony IMX586 sensor natively snaps 12MP photos. Photos look good with good saturation and well-detailed center. There is some distortion at the edges and details start to look smudged upon closer inspection. The smudging is more apparent on smaller objects like leaves.

Telephoto Camera

The 48MP f/4.1 Periscope Telephoto lens also uses a Sony IMX586 sensor and can be used by choosing the 5x zoom on the camera app. Details and colors are pretty good at its default zoom level but it low-light performance isn’t impressive due to the smaller aperture.

Zoom levels can be bumped up to 120x. Details are still fine at 10x but further zoom levels degrades features from photos. At maximum, finer details are lost and images start to look smudged but you can still identify the subject instead of being a mess of pixels.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Review – Benchmarks

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra is powered by a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 as expected from a 2022 flagship. Performance is pretty much a non-issue for the smartphone as everything felt smooth and lacked any stuttering or jitter regardless of workload.

Benchmarks are also a breeze for the 12S Ultra. It easily scores over 1 million points in AnTuTu and reaches the 13,000 mark in PCMark Work 3.0. Even graphical benchmarks like 3DMark Wild Life Extreme posed no problem for the smartphone and its chipset.

Games will run smoothly as expected on the smartphone thanks to its powerful chipset. Unfortunately, not all games will work on its China ROM as some need access to Google Services and its 120Hz screen isn’t officially supported on some titles. But apps that we were able to download via 3rd party sites ran without any issues.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Review – Battery Life

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Battery life is one of the weaker aspects of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra since everything under the hood needs more power. Its 4,860mAh battery is able to last us throughout the day with average use including occasional gaming, and watching random videos online. PCMark Work 3.0 places battery life at around 12 hours with medium brightness and volume.

The battery can be filled quickly thanks to its 67W Fast Charging capabilities. Filling up from completely empty to 100% in around an hour. Hitting the 80% mark will be faster as charging seems to be at full blast to this point until it throttles down to the last 20% of the battery.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Review – Conclusion

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra is definitely a performer. It has great camera performance further bolstered by its partnership with Leica and its chipset allows it to run pretty much everything you throw at it. The display is amazing and when paired with its dual stereo speakers, the smartphone can deliver a top-notch entertainment experience just short of flagship dedicated gaming smartphones.

Battery life could be better but is alleviated by its swift charging. The Vegan Leather finish, while feels great in the hand, doesn’t come close to the premium feel of a solid aluminum chassis. While we mentioned that overall camera performance is superb, the telephoto camera due to its slower aperture can be unreliable in low-light scenes.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

One of its biggest downsides, however, is its availability. It is only available in China and thus only come with a Chinese ROM. You can still sideload Google apps with some elbow grease but its far from the seamless experience we expect from a flagship device.

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra is a great camera phone while still having plenty of horsepower in the back. Those willing to overlook its Chinese ROM can get a lot of mileage but for the rest of us, it seems we are in for a wait for a similar-performing smartphone from Xiaomi until they decide to launch it globally.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Price and Availability

Xiaomi has yet to announce a global launch for the Xiaomi 12S Ultra. It is currently exclusive to China and timeline for its arrival in the Philippines is uncertain.  Its pricing officially starts at CNY 5,999 in China or around PhP 50,000 when directly converted.

Hopefully, the brand will be able to bring the 12S Ultra to a global audience so more people can experience its superb performance.