Xiaomi 12S Ultra review: better than S22 Ultra? AWESOME camera

Did you know that Xiaomi has invested about 15 million dollars for the research and development of the Sony IMX989 sensor which has been integrated into the Xiaomi 12S Ultra? Because ok, the new smartphone of the brand is animated by the new Snapgragon 8+, has a new proximity sensor, has (as usual) a super display and a good battery, but it is clear that the main feature of the device is in the photographic sector. .

Sure, in reality the Sony IMX989 sensor doesn't really measure 1 inch, but we've already talked about this extensively (Thu), but there is no doubt that compared to other photographic sensors for smartphones, that of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is much larger: in a nutshell it has the same size as those used in the cameras of the Sony RX100 series, but it is significantly smaller than what you would find in a full frame.

Which, as we will see, brings many benefits. As we have seen in smartphones such as Google's Pixel 6a (here the review), the race for the best cameraphone is not won only with the best hardware, but above all with computational photography which, like it or not, must in turn be pushed (as well as by the software) by a SoC capable of keeping up. .

In short, on paper it Xiaomi 12S Ultra it has everything it could need to become the industry benchmark, and I'll tell you one thing: the camera, it's not the only feature that surprised me in this device.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra review

Camera

Let's start in reverse: since the camera is the key point of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra let's start talking about this right away. In reality, looking exclusively at the technical data sheet, the cameras sector of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra it is not that different from what characterized it Xiaomi mi 11 ultra. Sure, the main camera is all new and uses a 989 megapixel Sony IMX50 sensor with 8p coating, but the ultra-wide-angle camera sensor is that of the 5x periscopic zoom lens is still the usual 586 megapixel Sony IMX48.

What profoundly changes between the cameras of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra and those of the previous generation is all the management and balancing of images, which among other things can be taken (with all lenses) by choosing between two color profiles: Leica Authentic and Leica Vibrant.

But let's start with the main camera. What good is a bigger sensor? Simple, theoretically it should be able to absorb more light and guarantee a better management of the dynamic range, together with a greater number of details and a much more pushed bokeh effect.

All features that are actually found when shooting with the main camera of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra. Whatever the smartphone with which you would like to compare it, whatever the shooting conditions, the images taken with the Xiaomi smartphone constantly have a much deeper and more natural blur effect and move away (finally) from the typical "flatness" of the photographs taken with smartphones.

To give you a practical example, look at the image above. The left photo was taken with one Xiaomi 12S Ultra while the one on the right with a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: you will notice how the result produced by Xiaomi is characterized by a much more natural bokeh, different for the entire length of the framed camera lens, while the one made with the Samsung is much more "flat ".

That said, it goes without saying that photos taken with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra are of excellent quality, with good color management (very different from that seen in all other Xiaomi, and more tending to cold shades) and a dynamic range of fantastic quality. If we want to be honest though, these Leica "presets" tend to highlight the shadows and increase the general contrast of the images, which makes them very beautiful to see on the smartphone display, but difficult to manage by the software in certain shooting conditions, especially at night.

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What really leaves you speechless though, is the speed with which it is Xiaomi 12S Ultra shoot: more light captured means shorter shutter speeds, and this is perhaps the feature that has the most impact in photography with this smartphone. You see, I have a problem with Frankie, my boxer: he never stands still.

It happened to me several times to want to photograph him while he is playing or while he is simply sitting, and with any other smartphone I have always had to repeat the photo over and over again, precisely because the practical shooting time was too slow. Well, with it Xiaomi 12S Ultra these problems are totally overcome: the shots of moving subjects, the shots of flowers and plants that move in the wind, will no longer be a problem because as soon as you tap on the capture button, the image is immortalized, processed and saved in the gallery. It is very fast.

Then there is another tangible advantage of the new sensor: in practice, the night mode almost never activates. A larger sensor means more light and unlike what happens with a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (here the review) or a Google Pixel 6 Pro (here the review), under the same low light conditions, the last two will automatically activate night mode, while lo Xiaomi 12S Ultra no. Or when it is activated on the Xiaomi smartphone, if the night shot lasts one second with the 12S Ultra, with iPhone and Galaxy it passes at least 3 seconds.

The result is undoubtedly a much more natural photograph, which however can sometimes seem less bright than those produced by the other two smartphones, also due to the management of the shadows and the contrast deriving from the Leica profiles.

Night shots with the main camera of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra are almost totally noise-free, even if on average I prefer Samsung's color management at night but I am of the opinion that, between hardware and software, the best dynamic range management at night for now has the Vivo X80 Pro (here the review).

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There is however a big gap between the main camera of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra and the other two. As I told you, the sensors are the same seen in the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra and even if the software processing is significantly improved compared to the previous generation, in reality they are good cameras but they do not let a miracle cry. In short, the difference is evident despite Xiaomi and Leica have tried to reduce the qualitative gap between the optics, especially in terms of color balance.

The ultra-wide camera is clearly darker than the main one, and the difference is also perfectly noticeable in the preview on the screen, while the 5x periscope camera has improved a lot compared to that of the 11 Ultra, but it is several steps below the 10x of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: Regardless of the magnification factor, the zoom of the Samsung is much more stable even with higher zooms, and always leads to shots with less micro-blur.

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As for the video it is useless to go around it: Xiaomi 12S Ultra it's arguably the best Android around, at least as far as the main camera is concerned. The smartphone can record at a maximum resolution of 8k at 24 fps, and yes, there are discrepancies in terms of functionality and possibilities based on the resolution (for example, if you record at 1080 @ 60 you can increase and decrease the zoom using all cameras, while in 4K no), but when you record with the main one you realize the real potential of the 1 ”sensor.

With this lens there is good stabilization, good management of dynamic ranges and contrast, and even when HDR comes into action it is never too pushed. What is exceptional is, once again, the bokeh effect that can be obtained in certain shots which is true, soft, pleasant. In short, the video experience with the main camera of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra it's a whole other thing.

And it is also at night, when it is evident that the system captures more light, almost completely eliminating any noise or color pastel. If we really want to be honest though, in my opinion those of Xiaomi should have made some more effort in trying to eliminate the lens flare that occurs when recording in certain conditions and, above all, work better on the quality and balance of the microphones in the video recording.

Clearly, then, even with videos there is the enormous qualitative gap between the main and the other two cameras: personally, I would record only and exclusively with the main lens, because the results obtained with the ultra-wide and the zoom are not at the level of a smartphone that really wants to be "ultra".

Hardware and Performance

The second point on which there is a lot to discuss is this Xiaomi 12S Ultra it's the hardware. And it is because the new smartphone of the Chinese brand is one of the first to be animated by the brand new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+, an update that I would define "iterative" compared to the nuclear power plant that was the smooth Snap 8, in which the semiconductor manufacturer has focused more on optimizing energy efficiency than on increasing performance: according to Qualcomm, the new Snap 8+ would be only 10% faster than the previous generation, but energy efficiency should be improved by 30%.

And I'll tell you right away: they don't lie, they really succeeded. So I wasn't crazy when I said that the Snap 8 was a practically unusable SoC due to its (un) energy efficiency.

To make you better understand what are the real differences between the two SoCs, let's take the Xiaomi 12 Pro as a reference point (here the review), which had serious overheating issues with the previous generation processor.

If we compare 1310 points in Single-Core and 4169 points in Multi-Core that it is Xiaomi 12S Ultra obtained on GeekBench, with the 1180 points in Single-Core and the 3429 points in Multi-Core of the 12 Pro, it immediately catches the eye how the performance of the new SoC has improved, but not by much. The same can be seen by comparing the 951.145 points of the 12 Pro in AnTuTu with the score of 1.043.281 obtained by the Xiaomi 12S Ultra. On the other hand, everything could be said about this Snap 8, except that it was not fast.

But the real differences can be seen by comparing the performance in the AnTuTu stress test of both devices. If we compare the graphics relating to the speed of the Cores and the performance of the CPU, we note that actually the management of the Snap 8+ in the Xiaomi 12S Ultra it is very similar to what we saw in the 12 Pro. In short, throtteling is not a major problem in either device. The fact that Qualcomm decided to say goodbye to Samsung and make the new Soc with the same 4nn TSMC process as the Dimensity 9000 was a blessing from heaven.

However, two main factors change: the battery drain and temperatures. Xiaomi 12 Pro, in a 15 "test at the time of the review had a battery drain of about 7%, which drops to 5% in the Xiaomi 12S Ultra. And it doesn't stop there.

During the test (carried out in the middle of winter), Xiaomi 12 Pro in 15 minutes went from a starting temperature of 29 degrees to touch the threshold of 40 °, with an increase of 11.7 °, while the Xiaomi 12S Ultra with the test (performed in the height of summer) it went from a starting temperature of 30.4 ° to a maximum temperature of 37.8 °, with an increase of 7.4 ° despite the infernal heat of these days.

So yes, in a nutshell the Snapdragon 8+ manages energy consumption much better and does the same with temperatures. In short, Qualcomm has kept its promises.

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However, this does not mean that the smartphone does not heat up: with long intense sessions of complex games, such as Gesnhin Impach or CoD Mobile, the temperature can reach even 45 °, but they do it in a profoundly longer time than what happened with a smooth Snap 8.

It goes without saying that the performances are pure first in the class and, as with the Xiaomi 12 Pro, also thanks to the LPDDR5X RAM and the UFS 3.1 memories which, however, I noticed a little subdued in terms of performance compared to those used in the 12 Pro.

The audio in the capsule is excellent, as well as the stereo one managed by two high quality harman / hardon speakers. Good reception to WiFi networks as well as cellular networks, but I'd rather go a little beyond the obvious and talk about something much more interesting: the proximity sensor.

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You asked us in In Test with Giz, our Telegram group in which we show you the backstage of all our videos, and I answer you immediately: the proximity sensor in the Xiaomi 12S Ultra continues to be manufactured by Elliptic Labs, and continues to be virtual.

The good news is that the AI ​​algorithm that should recognize when the smartphone is close to the face and disable the display and touch, has improved significantly and all those annoying problems have been almost (and I repeat, almost) solved. In a nutshell no, the performance of the proximity sensor of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra they are not yet at the level of a standard sensor, but we are close.

Personally, I continue to be perplexed about the choice made by Xiaomi not to use standard sensors. Also because a smartphone that has such a camera deserves it. Go and understand.

Battery and recharge

In terms of charging and battery, we immediately arrive at the most sensational step backwards made by the company: for a whole series of technical reasons, the charging speed of the Xiaomi 12S Ultra has been reduced to 50w. Poco bad though, because although the 4860 mAh battery is not among the largest in circulation, with a single charge I managed to reach about 7 hours of display on with a single charge, outdoors and with rather intense use. So yes, another plus point for the Snap 8+ because No other phone with a 120Hz WQHD + screen, could offer 7 screen wake-up. 

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Then another little curiosity: I have the feeling that those of Xiaomi have moved the coil for wireless charging which led to limit the compatibility of the smartphone with some charging bases.

Display

As for the screen, there is nothing new. Xiaomi 12S Ultra It features the exact same panel we saw on the 12 Pro, and not only does it continue to maintain the 1440p resolution, 120Hz max refresh rate, and 480Hz touch refresh rate we saw in the previous generation but, this time around, it uses Samsung's new E5 panel, aided by Micro-Lens technology and second-generation LTPO. In a nutshell it is one of the displays with the best visual quality, and the lowest energy consumption.

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Whites and colors are well blianciati, blacks are deep, the contrast ratio is excellent. In short, it is useless to spend too many words, also because we have already analyzed it thoroughly in the 12 Pro review: it is one of the best displays around, if not the best.

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There is, however, a small sore point, very technical, but there is. With the Xiaomi 12S Ultra it is not possible to activate DC Dimming, unless the developer options are activated and, once activated, the result is decidedly weaker than what we had with the Mi 11 Ultra. Perhaps this is why the company has decided to "hide" the activation tag. Crafty.

Design and materials

The design and the materials are the most "boring" thing about this Xiaomi 12S Ultra. Indeed, to be honest, they are the factor that least make the smartphone seem "premium", especially when compared to the previous generation which, especially thanks to the second display, was perhaps a bit too tamarra but conveyed a very different feeling.

Large 163.17 x 74.97 x 9.06 mm with a weight of 225 grams, Xiaomi 12S Ultra it is definitely bulky and rather uncomfortable to use with one hand. The back cover was then made with a vegan leather that I don't particularly like, not only because it conveys a feeling very far from the "premium" one that they would have liked to characterize the smartphone, but above all because it gets dirty very easily.

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And it is the same for the bump chamber which is composed of two sections, the largest of which (the rectangular one with the Leica logo) tends to get dirty and is aesthetically poco enjoyable. But these, you know, are tastes. The good thing, however, is that the camera bump greatly improves the grip of the smartphone, because it will be involuntarily held to use as a support.

For the rest, Xiaomi 12S Ultra it is the usual Xiaomi. There is the IR blaster, there are the independent harman / kardon speakers, there is the usual aluminum frame with the usual shapes. In short, I repeat, that of design and materials is the most boring aspect of a smartphone that, otherwise, is really fun to use.

Software

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At the time of writing it Xiaomi 12S Ultra that we have in test is animated by Android 12 customized with MIUI 13. I will not dwell too much on the software of our sample for the simple reason that it is the Chinese version of the device: when we will have the opportunity to install the official Italian ROM, we will publish a dedicated study.

Selling price and conclusions

As of today, we still don't know when it is if it is Xiaomi 12S Ultra will be sold in Italy. However, it is already possible to buy it on Trading Shenzen, with shipping without customs duties but always with the Chinese ROM, in which you can use the Play Store without problems, but which is in English.

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The price starts at 1117 euros for the 8/256 GB version, 1157 € for the 12/256 GB version up to 1257 € for the 12/512 GB version. And the point is this: although it is not a surprising smartphone like the Mi 11 Ultra was, there is no doubt that it is Xiaomi 12S Ultra will certainly lead the way. Sure, it's ultra-premium through and through, with a few things that could have been better looked after, but it's truly top-of-the-line in many things.

But I am convinced that it will also dictate the future: 1 ”sensors are the next step for the world of smartphone photography, and just the idea that one day Apple, Google and Samsung will use it, gives me really hope. Imagine such a sensor, managed by Google software for example. It will be spectacular.



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