Think Xiaomi, and you’re more likely than not to think of the brand’s affordable range of Redmi smartphones, which have dominated the market and the conversation in the budget segments. So, it comes as no surprise that the brand’s overtures in the premium segment have been met with some amount of skepticism from the Indian consumer who simply hasn’t considered paying big bucks for a Xiaomi.
The 2021 Mi 11 Ultra and last year’s Xiaomi 12 Pro have certainly helped move the needle on brand perception, but it’s this year’s Xiaomi 13 Pro that sees the company bring its A-game to the big boys table, mostly notably with a massive 1-inch camera sensor with Leica tuning, plus all the bells and whistles one would expect at its Rs. 79,999 pricing. Could the 13 Pro belucky Leica number 13 for Xiaomi?
Phone camera or camera phone?
As good a phone as it is, the Xiaomi 13 Pro is expectedly headlined by the camera and Xiaomi’s much-ballyhooed partnership with the legendary German camera and optics brand Leica. This isn’t about Xiaomi slapping the Leica brand name on the back and calling it quits, nor is it about tweaks to the color science algorithms to mimic a Leica look… though the 13 Pro checks both these boxes.
The 13 Pro goes one step further, with the camera system co-engineered with Leica – both at the software (image processing) and hardware levels. In a first, you get a Leica optical lens in front of that massive 1-inch Sony IMX989 50-megapixel primary (23mm) sensor. On either side, are a 50-megapixel telephoto (75mm, 3.2x zoom) and a 50-megapixel ultrawide (115-degree) lens.
No matter which shooter you choose, you can pick between two distinct photographic styles, Leica Authentic and Leica Vibrant which, as the names suggest, favor either natural, neutral tones or a punchier, saturated tone closer to the classic Leica look. Purist versus popular on social? You get to pick.
Shooting with the Xiaomi 13 Pro has been a joy, with the primary sensor performing exceptionally well in good light, with excellent dynamic range and rich detail. Even in low light, the camera resolves detail, reigns in noise levels and manages highlights well, to the point where it holds its own against the current low-light champs – the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and the Google Pixel 7 Pro. Xiaomi’s natural bokeh, courtesy the large sensor, is good even in low-light conditions.
What stands out is the telephoto camera, which uses what Xiaomi calls ‘floating lens’ to shift forward to focus on distant objects or move backwards to focus on objects as close as 10cm (for great macro shots). Results are good across the 2x (a direct crop on the main sensor), 3x, 5x and 10x zoom levels, although you will notice a shift in the colors as you switch between the primary and telephoto shooter.
At super long zoom ranges – this shooter does go up to a hybrid 70x zoom – it goes all soft and fuzzy and is a few steps behind the S23 Ultra, but better than anything else we’ve shot with. While you could shoot portraits with the telephoto lens, the most fun one had with this camera was with the Leica Master Portrait modes, which shoot at different focal lengths (35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm) with very pleasing and distinct blur effects.
Personally, I often veered towards the 35mm node for the somewhat moody black-and-white images it turned out, a throwback to the images of yore that are now relegated to photo albums packed away at my parents’ place.
Between the primary and the telephoto, one almost didn’t feel the need to shoot too often with the ultrawide, but when one did, the images were on par, color wise, with the primary shooter, save for the distorted edges that are par for the course for wide-angle cameras. Videos are captured at 4K 60 frames per second (fps) across all three cameras, with the primary camera going up to 8K 24fps, but the selfie camera is limited to 1080p/30fps video.
By and large, except for occasional edge detection issues in portrait modes, one couldn’t get a shot wrong with the Xiaomi 13 Pro, and the camera package stands tall among the premium flagships.
How does the 13 Pro fare in other departments?
Xiaomi’s pulled no punches as far as the rest of the ‘phone’ goes – it’s got Gorilla Glass Victus-covered display and a premium ceramic back with a look and feel in the hand akin to the Mi 11 Ultra, down to the smooth finish on the rear panel and the massive, attention-grabbing camera island.
That premium feel extends to the front of the 13 Pro as well, with a 6.73-inch, LTPO AMOLED panel packing a sharp WQHD+ (2K) resolution, 120Hz refresh rate and a class-leading 1,900 nits of peak brightness. With support for Dolby Vision and HDR10+, this is a great panel for media consumption and gaming, and the speaker delivers excellent volume through the Atmos-enabled stereo setup. This is a great panel to interact with daily, and the haptic feedback and in-display fingerprint sensors feel every bit the part of the premium offering this is meant to be.
Checking the boxes for a premium flagship in early 2023, the Xiaomi 13 Pro pairs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor with 12GB of memory and 256GB of onboard storage (both the faster LPDDR5X and UFS 4.1 variety). As we’ve come to expect from 8 Gen 2 phones, the 13 Pro does not disappoint on either peak performance or sustained usage – apps opened quickly and multitasked effortlessly, and games like Call of Duty Mobile ran for a solid 45 minutes without any drop in performance.
Realistically, you’re not going to have any complaints in the coming years on this phone, performance wise. Battery backup on the 4820mAh cell is a winner as well, with the battery going down to 20% only on the heaviest of days – heavy days that had over six hours or more of screen time. When you do run it down to empty, the 13 Pro tops up with the included 120W charger in a little under 25 minutes. Wireless charging at 50W is supported on Xiaomi’s own proprietary charging pads.
Likely the most refreshing addition to this list is that the phone ships with MIUI 14, which is based on Android 13 and is as fluid and more importantly, as refined as the rest of the phone experience. You can uninstall the pre-installed third-party apps, of which there are fewer, and Xiaomi is offering 3 major Android updates and 5 years of security patches. Not industry leading, and Xiaomi really needs to keep to a prompt release schedule if it is to be compared favorably to its peers.
While the Xiaomi 13 Pro is undeniably premium, it’s not an exciting design, and availability in Ceramic Black and Ceramic White colors doesn’t help its case. Let’s just say it’s best described as discreet or about as discreet as a phone this big can be. It’s also heavy (229g) and slippery, a combination that led to the phone slipping out of one’s grasp more than once.
The Indian variant lacks an IP rating for dust/water resistance, and while the company claims it is constructed in exactly the same way as IP68-certified models sold overseas, it’s not the best look for a phone which aims to compete with the likes of the S23 and the Apple iPhone 14.
Verdict – yay or nay?
With the 13 Pro, Xiaomi finally has a premium phone that marries exceptional performance (and excellent battery life/charging) with refined software and a premium design, topping it off with a strong showing from the Leica-wielding cameras.
This is an easy device to recommend, even as it goes up against the best of every other brand, and it’s not a stretch to say that none of the competing devices check off as many boxes across the board as this phone does. This is Xiaomi’s best offering yet, and one that can make a serious dent in the brand’s flagship intentions.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar