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This is the best phone I used all year — and it’s not Apple or Samsung

Xiaomi Mi 11 review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is the best phone I used literally all year. It's never been far from my pocket since I reviewed the phone, which I think is as good an endorsement of this well-priced Android flagship phone as any other. 

While technically mi 11 launched in 2020, the Xiaomi Mi 11 only reached British shores in March, after making its first appearance in China the December before. During my original review of the phone in March, I praised its 6.8-inch QHD display, powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset and found things to like about the design, audio quality and the MIUI 12 operating system.

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While it lacked in some areas such as its photography, the Mi 11 won me over by being surprisingly cheap while offering a significant feature overlap with phones that costs hundreds more. 

A little while after finishing that review, I found a new way to appreciate the Mi 11, this time for its telemacro camera. Most macro cameras on phones are a waste of time, producing dark, grimy shots. The Mi 11 is a rare exception. By offering a larger sensor and enough magnification that you can keep the phone out of your subject's light, you can actually take good close-ups with the camera.

The Mi 11 then became my work phone for a time, by which I don't just mean I checked emails and Slack messages. I actually wrote a few articles on it if I fancied a break from my laptop, which isn't as stupid as it may sound. The big display is great when you're typing in a word document, and it allowed me to appreciate the phone's surprisingly great haptics as I wrote up news stories and features.

Partway through the year, a new Mi 11 arrived: the Mi 11 Ultra. This was a phone that I was tempted to swap to due to its eye-catching rear display and impressive triple camera array. But I never did, because ultimately it was an unpleasantly heavy phone whose special features I knew I would not make enough use of over the long term. Part of why the base Mi 11 appealed to me so much was how it offered pretty much everything I wanted from my phone, with very little frills. 

Even now the combination of an excellent screen, lengthy battery life, and Snapdragon power for mobile gaming have made the Mi 11 the perfect phone for when I want to wind down or ignore my WhatsApp messages. And so the Mi 11 still finds itself in use and on my desk, 9 months after it first arrived.

I've been strongly impressed by other devices, such as the remarkably improved Google Pixel 6, I also like the well-specced Samsung Galaxy S21 and OnePlus 9 series, and the highly refined iPhone 13. I even tested another Xiaomi phone, the Xiaomi 11T Pro, which offers 120W charging. Nothing's felt quite as fast to charge again since, including the Mi 11, but it wasn't enough to persuade me it was time to swap.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max, and before that the iPhone 12 Pro, have remained my main phones throughout the year. But that's my own fault for burying myself too deeply in the Apple ecosystem. If I was still an Android user, I likely would have had the Mi 11 as a daily driver phone as soon as it came in. In fact, sometimes when Apple's heavy, slab-sided iPhone feels too unwieldy, I am tempted to back up my messages and photos and make the switch to the lighter but just as premium Mi 11.

My time with the Mi 11 may well end next year if I find a new phone I gel with similarly that offers better specs. But perhaps it will be from the same company. With the Xiaomi 12 now official, you can bet I'll be keeping an eye on this new flagship. Maybe my favorite phone of next year will be the follow-up to my favorite this year.

Richard Priday

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. He's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.