Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

GSMArena Team, 15 July 2022.

Design, build quality, handling

There have been a lot of smartphones with extravagant camera styling lately, specifically ones that actually do have the hardware inside to warrant a sizeable camera island. Xiaomi's own Mi 11 Ultra was, of course, one of the more hardcore designs, inspiring a following among lesser, wannabe models. The 12S Ultra here does borrow clues from its predecessor, but takes things in a whole different direction.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra reviewXiaomi 12S Ultra (left) next to the Mi 11 Ultra

You see, what used to be a rectangle on the old model had some moderately different goals - Xiaomi had to fit a display in there, and it was almost a game of tetris arranging the two wide cameras, the periscope tele and the supplementary hardware - the rectangular block of a camera island worked perfectly.

This time around, with no display to worry about, there was probably more freedom for component placement.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra reviewXiaomi 12S Ultra (left) next to the Mi 11 Ultra

Another way to look at it is hinted by that Leica badge in the top left corner. Leica makes cameras and, more specifically, lenses - and lenses are, for the most part, circular. And what better way to allude to that collaboration and the German precision optics-making traditions than to make the smartphone's camera island a circle?

It's also a pretty sizeable circle, too, at 53-ish mm in diameter. Hmm, that number is oddly close to the physical diameter of the Summicron-M 50 f/2, a staple of Leica's lineup - coincidence? The golden accent on the outside of the camera ring is also reminiscent of the color Leica uses for its lens markings.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

And when you realize that, other things fall into place. Like the textured surface on the rear panel reminiscent of camera designs from the past. We obviously have no decades-old Leica cameras in our prop drawers, and the ones we do have feel nothing like the supple and grippy texture on the phone - maybe Leicas do?

In any case, the back panel is an absolute joy to handle, and it's the softest 'leather-like' finish on a phone we've... fondled. Naturally, it doesn't pick up fingerprints one bit.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

Now, there are those around the office that are fond of the Mi 11 Ultra's cold and hard flavor of premium - the ceramic old model does feel special in its own distinct way. Counter arguments include its slipperiness and tendency to get smudged up - not that it shows that much on the white colorway of our review unit. It seems we're ultimately arriving at a very profound conclusion of 'to each their own'.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra reviewXiaomi 12S Ultra (right) next to the Mi 11 Ultra

Leica-leatherette it may be, but the 12S Ultra is just as IP68-rated as the ceramic predecessor. There does appear to have been a submersible Leica camera, but it's not something you'd normally expect from the brand, no.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

For all its character and personality on the back, the 12S Ultra can be any other phone when seen from the display side. That's not meant to be an offense, it's just how it is with modern-day smartphones. One small difference coming from the 11 gen is the relocation of the selfie camera from the left corner to the middle. We reckon that has something to do with this year's Ultra adopting the same display panel as the Pro, while the Mi 11 Ultra used a different display from the rest of the lineup.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

It's still a curved edge display with minimal bezels all around, so the convinced supporters of 'flat handles better' and 'thicker chin is better for grip' may need to look for another smartphone with a 1" camera - technically, the Xperia Pro-I does fit that description. For what it's worth, this reviewer had no issue with misinterpreted touch input on the 12S Ultra, nor does he have complaints after daily-driving a similarly curvy Mi 11 Ultra.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

It's a similar experience with the under-display fingerprint sensor. The relatively high position is much appreciated, and using it is fast and trouble-free. A long-term user of ultrasonic sensors might be irked by the bright light inherent in the operation of the optical sensors, though.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

The layout of the controls and features around the aluminum frame of the 12S Ultra remains mostly unchanged, coming from the previous generation. A power button and volume rocker are placed on the right side of the phone, and these are larger this time around - a welcome development after the somewhat unfittingly small power button on the old model. There's still nothing on the left other than an antenna line.

Controls on the right - Xiaomi 12S Ultra review Little of note on the left. - Xiaomi 12S Ultra review
Controls on the right • Little of note on the left.

Up top, you'll find one of the Harman/Kardon branded speakers, a microphone, and the IR emitter - classic Xiaomi. Down on the bottom, there's another speaker (which has lost the cool wavy pattern of the cutouts that the 11 Ultra had), another mic, the USB-C port and a dual nano SIM slot with no option for memory expansion.

Top stuff - Xiaomi 12S Ultra review Speaker - yes, waves - no - Xiaomi 12S Ultra review Dual nano SIM tray - Xiaomi 12S Ultra review
Top stuff • Speaker - yes, waves - no • Dual nano SIM tray

The 12S Ultra measures 163.2x75x9.1mm, and that's some 0.7mm thicker than the 11 Ultra - we'd point the finger at the soft leather-like finish. The other dimensions are practically unchanged. You could say that about the weight as well - at 225g, the new model is marginally lighter than the old one, but at this level, we'd say that 9g aren't tangible. The 12S Ultra is a large phone, but by no means an unwieldy one and its curves do help make it feel slightly more compact than a simple squarish block of the same size and proportions.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

Reader comments

  • Anonymous
  • 22 Jan 2023
  • gM$

curved display

  • oha
  • 05 Dec 2022
  • np$

I dont understand why they dont use "rare display" in new models.. very wierd.. maybe it was draining battery ? but the user would open it up only when they were gonna use it.. and then turn it off... so i guess "battery drain" wa...

Premium brands like Apple and Samsung do not charge at high voltages / current. 120 Watt sounds like garbage to me. Devolution. Degrading. Even this high end Xiaomi Ultra follows the same wisdom.