Forget iPhone 13 — the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra could change phones forever

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
(Image credit: Tech Buff PH)

Editors' Note: The Xiaomi M11 Ultra has been unveiled, and, as expected, Xiaomi's new phone offers a silicon-oxygen anode battery. We've updated this report to reflect that announcement. You can find out more details about the new handset in our Xiaomi M11 Ultra hub.

One of the biggest challenges phone manufacturers face in attempting to make their smartphones thinner and lighter every year is cutting size without impacting battery life. While companies can do things that reduce battery consumption (more efficient chips, adaptive refresh rates, etc) there really is no substitute for a higher capacity battery — even if it does make the phone bulkier.

For as long as smartphones have been a thing, phone makers have largely coalesced around lithium-ion batteries, with some recently making the switch to lithium-polymer. But for its freshly announced Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, Chinese giant Xiaomi is taking a new approach. It’s the first smartphone powered by silicon-oxygen anode batteries.

The move was announced by Xiaomi’s senior product marketing manager Daniel Hoang Desjarlais on Twitter prior to the Mi 11 Ultra’s big reveal today (March 29). The “core benefits,” he wrote are that it’s “thinner and faster charging."

“This is similar to electric vehicles, adding nano-scale silicon materials to the negative electrode to increase theoretical gram capacity 10x vs graphite.”

It’s curious timing for a switch to battery technology based on what's typically found in electric vehicles, given just this week it was revealed that Xiaomi could be working on its first electric car

While it all sounds very promising on paper, we’ll have to wait and see how it performs in real-world benchmarks when compared to other smartphones. After all, the word “theoretical” does feature in Desjarlais’ tweet, and it’s entirely possible that real-world performance benefits will be minimal on a first iteration.

But with the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra combining an unbelievably small and light frame with stellar battery performance and fast charging, then it’s hard to believe that other manufacturers won’t look to emulate that success. 

Xiaomi isn’t the only company re-evaluating phone batteries, of course. With the iPhone 13, Apple is reportedly set to address the disappointing stamina of the iPhone 12 family with a couple of changes. including battery soft board technology and the “space saving design of many components”. Combined, these should mean that the company can either increase the capacity in the same frame as the iPhone 12, or reduce the size further and keep battery life at the same level. 

The Mi 11 Ultra has now launched, though we don't have a price yet on the phone that's coming to the UK in late April. In addition to the new and exciting battery tech, the phone features pretty jaw-dropping specs. The camera includes a 50MP main sensor, a 48MP ultra-wide lens and a 48MP telephone camera. The camera bump also sports a secondary display on the back to aid selfies, should the 20MP front-facing lens not be adequate. 

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.