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Xiaomi 12S Ultra hands-on preview: Get into the circle!

The time has come to lay our greedy hand onto one of the most interesting phones this year. No, we’re not talking about the new iPhone 14 Pro Max, or some obscure foldable, we’re here to share our initial impressions of the long-awaited Xiaomi 12S Ultra.

The Chinese manufacturer continues to diversify its portfolio with new models, abbreviations and appendixes, but behind this cryptic bag of letters and numbers we find a truly interesting phone. This is the first device to sport Sony’s new flagship camera sensor - the Sony IMX989, along with other bells and whistles that come with the “Ultra” label.

Our limited time with the flagship went away like a beautiful evening with an old friend, and here’s what we found out.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Design

Some people might find the design of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra a bit auspicious - the huge circle on the back is everything but understated, and it somehow reminds me of the Honor Magic4 Pro aesthetics.

Xiaomi has always been brave with its Ultra models (remember the built-in secondary display in the camera bump of the 11 Ultra), and this time the focus is the camera (it attracts your gaze the same way a black hole attracts innocent photons).

The back is also pretty interesting with its leathery texture (actually, it’s eco leather and it feels great to the touch), a clear departure from the regular glass sandwich design. Around the frame things are pretty standard, and on the front we have a curved display (I thought we’re done with these…) with a hole-punch selfie camera in the center.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Display

The Xiaomi 12S Ultra features a 6.73” AMOLED color display with advertised peak brightness of 1,500nits. I couldn’t test the exact numbers but in broad daylight the screen was perfectly legible and plenty bright.

You can choose the resolution between 1080p and 1440p, and because the Xiaomi 12S comes with an LTPO panel, the refresh rate can go up to 120Hz and all the way down to 1Hz. You can also choose manually between 60 and 120 but the best results are achieved in auto mode.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra Camera

The camera system is of course the main actor on that particular stage - not that the other components are lesser in any way. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra is the first phone to feature Sony’s new IMX989 50MP 1-inch camera sensor with a 1.6 micron pixel size (which grows to 3.2 microns with pixel binning). Here are the main camera specs:

Xiaomi 12S Ultra camera specs:

  • 50MP wide camera, 23mm, f/1.9 aperture, 1" sensor (Sony IMX989)

  • 48MP ultra-wide camera, 13mm, f/2.2 aperture, 1/2" sensor (IMX586)

  • 48MP 5.2X zoom camera, 120mm, f/4.1, 1/2" sensor (IMX586)

Another new addition to the Xiaomi photography portfolio is the Leica branding - the lenses are “tuned” and treated by the German specialist and there are two specific Leica modes in the camera app - one producing more natural colors, and the other boosting the vibrancy just a tiny bit.

During our time with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra we were able to snap a few shots with all the cameras in various scenarios but for a more in-depth look we’ll have to do a full-blown review. Everything was set at auto, the color mode to natural, and the AI algorithms were also engaged while shooting. Below you’ll find the samples from the main 23mm camera with the new Sony IMX989 sensor.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra main camera samples:

The ultrawide camera uses a known entity in the smartphone sensor world, namely the Sony IMX586 under a 13mm lens equivalent and an f/2.2 aperture. There’s a slight shift in color tonality when switching between the main and the ultrawide camera but nothing too drastic.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra ultrawide camera samples:

The dedicated telephoto lens uses the same IMX586 sensor under a 120mm equivalent lens with f/4.1, resulting in 5.2x optical zoom. Expectedly, the results from the telephoto and ultrawide camera are somewhat similar.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra telephoto samples:

Due to the fact that the Sun refused to set during our time with the Xiaomi 12S our low-light samples consist of some underground parking lot scenes, plus a few dark shots in a completely unlit room. The sheer size of the senzor shines here, even without spending too much time with the phone.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra low-light samples:

The selfie camera uses a 20MP sensor and the results are quite pleasing with great level of detail and good dynamic range. We managed to also snap a few portrait shots using the built-in portrait algorithms, so check out those below as well.

Xiaomi 12S Battery life and Charging

The phone comes with a 4860 mAh single battery cell with some cool tech onboard, aimed to prolong its life. There’s support for fast charging with up to 67W of power, and wireless charging caps at 50W. We need to run proper tests to judge the phone on that front but on paper things are looking pretty solid.

Xiaomi 12S Price and Availability

Here comes the saddest part (at least for now). The Xiaomi 12S is China-only for the moment, and unless something suddenly changes people won’t be able to lay their hands on the new and exciting IMX989 sensor, at least not until the other global-oriented models start to get it onboard.

Here’s the pricing at launch for the different models in China:

  • 6,000 yuan (around $900) for 8GB+256GB

  • 6,500 yuan (around $970) for 12GB+256GB

  • 7,000 yuan (around $1,050) for 12GB+512GB

Xiaomi 12S Final thoughts

In a smartphone world, populated by glass flagships from brands starting with an A or an S, it’s very refreshing to see a leather-back 1-inch camera phone that’s situated at the end of the alphabet (see what I did there, Xiaomi?).

Truth be told, Xiaomi is one of the brands that drive smartphone innovation, no matter what other letters in the alphabet are trying to convince you in. From second screens inside the camera bump to super-fast charging and the latest in smartphone camera technology.

The Xiaomi 12S looks and feels like a true flagship, even after the limited time spent with the device. The only real problem here is the global availability of the model, and let’s hope it launches outside China at some point, because competition is always good for everybody.

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