Teardown: Xiaomi Mi 11 smartphone
Image credit: Xiaomi
The so-called ‘Chinese Apple’ is innovating in its own right.
Chinese consumer-technology group Xiaomi established itself by developing what were seen as ‘me too’ products. Having now become the third-largest handset vendor in the world, it is seeking to evolve into a pacesetter but still keep prices lower than those of its rivals.
Its latest flagship, the Mi 11, is a case in point. It was the first smartphone to offer Qualcomm’s latest platform, the 5G-enabled Snapdragon 888, on its unveiling in China late last year, and it is now being rolled out elsewhere. With European pricing opening at €749 (£643), it does maintain a favourable price difference over competition such as the Samsung S21 Ultra.
It is a significant upgrade compared to the Mi 10. The Mi 11 not only has 5G but also a bigger, higher-resolution display (6.8-inch diagonal, 3200×1440) with a 120Hz refresh rate, twice as frequent as most products. The rear three-camera array is made up of a main 108MP sensor, a secondary 13MP wide-angle sensor and a 5MP telemacro sensor for taking close-up shots of objects from a reasonable distance (one objection to macro mode on handset cameras previously has been the need to get the phone so close to the subject as to greatly reduce the available light).
Xiaomi has then invested further in what it is marketing as ‘Movie Magic,’ much of which comes from six video-enhancement tools that harness the greater AI horsepower within the Snapdragon 888. Freeze Frame, for example, is designed to allow the user to stop one object in motion while others in the frame move around it; Magic Zoom mimics the kind of image distortion pioneered by Alfred Hitchcock. The on-board speakers have been optimised in collaboration with audio specialist Harmon Kardon.
The Snapdragon 888 itself comprises the Kryo 680 CPU clocked at up to 2.84GHz based on an ARM Cortex-X1, the Adreno 660 GPU, the Hexagon 780 AI engine, and both mmWave and sub-6GHz on board the X60 5G modem. This top-of-the-range Qualcomm workhorse is manufactured on the latest 5nm process.
The downside to all this for many of those who have been able to get mostly grey-market Mi 11 handsets is that the battery drains comparatively quickly compared to pre-5G flagships, even at 18.4Wh. Xiaomi has sought to compensate in several ways. There is 50W wireless and 55W wired fast-charging.
Moreover, an iFixit teardown found that the battery pack is made up of two 2300mAh cells connected in parallel. “Charging two cells via two separate connectors makes it possible to push more electrons into the phone faster, especially when the state of charge is low,” iFixit observes.
Internationally, the phone is also expected to ship with an update to the MIUI 12 skin that Xiaomi wraps on top of its Android implementation, and this could include further energy management features. Nevertheless, the combination of 5G and so highly specified a display was always likely to be power-hungry.
The teardown found that the internal design shares some features with similar handsets. “We’re mildly excited to find a motherboard layout similar to the one in the OnePlus Nord, which enables separate battery and display removals,” iFixit notes. Meanwhile, on the boards themselves, the high-performance nature of the phone is further mirrored by an extensive use of copper and graphite foils to dissipate heat.
However, the Mi 11 is not an easy phone to repair. The curved glass front display is nice to look at but needs special tools to remove to mitigate the risk of further damage. Moreover, the fingerprint sensor, occasionally seen as a weak point in Xiaomi products, cannot be replaced without removing this display. Repairing or replacing the main camera module involves removing the motherboard first – an approach which, while possible, the teardown team found “inelegant”.
Even though there are a number of modular and replaceable components, iFixit rates the Mi 11 at just four out of ten for repairability.
However, with its first European pricing set at €749 (£643) ahead of a UK launch, Xiaomi has come up with a phone that matches and in some cases exceeds the offer of better known rivals across the continent (apart from China, the company has so far built most of its market share elsewhere in Asia, most notably India).
The engineering is catching up – indeed, it may have caught up too quickly for some tastes, with the company being listed as a ‘Communist Chinese military company’ by the US Department of Defense in the last few days of the Trump administration (although the listing has since been stayed and may be permanently overturned in US District Court).
The decision is especially puzzling given that, unlike Huawei, Xiaomi is overwhelmingly consumer-facing – and on the basis of the Mi 11, looking with justification towards the higher end of the market.
Teardown: Xiaomi Mi11
1. Main camera cover
2. Main camera assembly
4. Rear panel
5. Front selfie camera
6. Ribbon cable
7. Optical fingerprint sensor
8. Copper/graphite heat dissipation
13. Midframe shield
14. USB assembly
15. SIM tray
16. Linear actuation vibration motor
17. Front display
18. Front-end module
19. Wireless combo SoC
20. RF transceiver
21. Flash memory
23. Fast charging chip (2x)
24. Wireless power receiving chip
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