Android has always been about offering choice to its users. But with more and more companies failing to produce a flagship worthy of dethroning Samsung and Google, the options seem to become more seamless with each new smartphone release cycle.
Xiaomi is the third best-selling smartphone brand in the world, but it is not sold in the United States. Its devices tend to be well-reviewed, and during my time reviewing smartphones, I remember being impressed more than once by Xiaomi’s camera samples. That’s why I was curious to get my hands on the Xiaomi 12 Pro, the company’s latest flagship device, even though I can’t buy it. Xiaomi is considered the Chinese equivalent of Apple, and I want to know what I’m missing and what Google and Samsung are not competing against in the US.
Xiaomi phones are not available in the US for a multitude of reasons. The simplified answer to the question of why is that it is complicated to do business between the United States and China. It’s still a major disappointment for Android users like me, who mourn the lack of variety after the releases of older heavyweights like LG and HTC.
Xiaomi 12 Pro
WHAT IS THAT?
A nice Android smartphone
Stunning display, long battery life, up to 12GB of available RAM
DO NOT LIKE
MIUI has its quirks, no water resistance, not sold in US
A well-designed device
I’ve spent several days with the Xiaomi 12 Pro – comparing it to my recent experience with the Google Pixel 6 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 Series – and I’m genuinely impressed with what it offers.
I’m usually not a big fan of a massive camera lens on the back of a device, but the Xiaomi 12 Pro manages to pull it off without looking too busy – that’s how the network of cameras of the Galaxy S22 Ultra appears from afar. Its matte back feels smooth to the touch and doesn’t slip like the Pixel 6 family of smartphones. The 12 Pro comes in black and purple color variants, and while I wish Xiaomi had sent me the latter, I liked what I saw with the first one.
The slim build of the Xiaomi 12 Pro looks slimmer than Samsung’s Galaxy S22+, but it’s actually a bit larger if you compare the raw dimensions. It’s technically thicker too, although the difference is too minor to quantify. Anyway, I prefer the bare Xiaomi 12 Pro to the bare Galaxy S22+. The cascading effect of the display on the sides makes the chassis easier to handle with the way my little hands cradle a smartphone.
The screen of the Xiaomi 12 Pro is truly magnificent. It is a 6.73-inch AMOLED display with an aspect ratio of 20:9 and a maximum resolution of 3200 by 1440. It sports a resolution of 2400 by 1080 with a variable refresh rate of 120Hz by default. I didn’t use the phone at a higher resolution because I didn’t want to kill battery life and didn’t particularly need this usage.
If you like to binge watch on your smartphone, as I tend to do after hours under the covers, just me and my snacks, you’ll appreciate the Xiaomi 12 Pro’s quad speakers, powered by Harman Kardon – a relation reminiscent of the glory days of HTC, sniff. The speakers are also great for listening to music, if a Bluetooth speaker isn’t within range.
There is a small caveat to note about the design. The Xiaomi 12 Pro isn’t water resistant like the current crop of flagships, which is a bummer for anyone who likes to read in the bath (I do).
Smartphone with nice specs
The Xiaomi 12 Pro offers similar specs to Samsung’s latest. There’s a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor inside, and you can choose between 8GB and 12GB of RAM – Xiaomi sent me the latter, coupled with 256GB of storage space. There’s no top storage option, which is odd considering there’s no expansion slot.
Synthetic benchmarks aren’t the most reliable way to measure CPU performance on a day-to-day basis. Look what happens to Samsung’s flagship now that it’s been caught throttling numbers. But I ran Geekbench anyway, at least to see where the Xiaomi 12 Pro stands. It’s more powerful than Google’s Pixel 6 Tensor chip, but it still has a way to catch up to the A15 Bionic chip in the iPhone 13. As we’ve seen in the devices we’ve tested so far, this is normal for this particular Snapdragon chip.
The battery capacities of the Xiaomi 12 Pro are also quite impressive. The phone’s 4,600mAh battery managed to last as long as the Galaxy s22 Ultra’s 5,000mAh. It stayed awake for around 16 hours and five minutes before shutting down during our YouTube battery test.
The Xiaomi 12 Pro offers access to all major global 5G bands. The Xiaomi 12 Pro also supports Wi-Fi 6E Bluetooth 5.2. I tested the phone with a SIM card from Mint SIM, although I live where 5G is scarce, so I couldn’t test its effectiveness. At the very least, if you find a way to import the device, you can use it with a US-based MVNO.
The Xiaomi 12 Pro is loaded with cameras. It has three 50 MP cameras, although they are all slightly different in their apertures and field of view. The 50MP main camera has an f/1.9 aperture with 1.22µm pixels and OIS; the 50MP secondary camera is a wide-angle lens with a 110-degree field of view and f/2.2 aperture; the third 50-megapixel camera is a zoom with an f/1.9 aperture and 2x optical zoom. Like Samsung’s camera system, you can switch to full 50MP mode when you want to enjoy all these pixels.
I didn’t expect to enjoy the camera output of the Xiaomi 12 Pro, but I was impressed with how well it captured my daughter in all sorts of lighting. In most cases, the shots were well exposed across the frame, although the 12 Pro sometimes struggled to keep up with it if it moved too fast. The 12 Pro camera system works best if you lock in your subject beforehand. I also didn’t like the 12 Pro’s zoom functionality too much, given that I could barely read the text on a medicine bottle across the room. Anything over 3x gets a little risky in terms of readability.
Another version of Android
Honestly, one of the annoying aspects of being an Android user is that every smartphone tends to offer a different experience. The interface often varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
In Xiaomi’s case, the 12 Pro runs MIUI 13 on Android 12. It offers many of the same features as the Pixel line, including scheduled dark mode, gesture control and digital wellbeing. Supposedly, this version of its interface is more bloat-free than previous versions, but the bulbous iconography certainly leads you to think otherwise. You can change icons directly through the MIUI launcher, which is good considering Google’s Pixel launcher doesn’t give you that kind of customization, even with Material You.
MIUI has many of the same features built into Google’s Android, including privacy controls, security advisor, and Google Play Protect. However, you will additionally have to deal with Xiaomi’s version of the Play Protect-like app scanning service, which is what it uses for its Chinese devices. Xiaomi doesn’t have the best track record for software updates either, although the review unit I have in hand is on the same November security patch as my OnePlus 9.
There are other parts of MIUI that I hesitate to adopt. The quick settings drawer, for example, lives separately from the notifications panel. It’s tricky at times, and I prefer the bloated way that Android 12 has always done because that’s what I’ve trained my brain to work around. MIUI also offers themes that aren’t as fun or branded as the one Samsung offers on its One UI.
Either way, none of that matters. Unless they go through the hassle and expense of importing a 12 Pro, most people reading this will never touch one. And it’s too bad because I’m ready to use nothing which is not made by Samsung or Google.