A smartphone camera system that's big enough to have its own gravitational field? Well, if there is one, it must be this one - it's that enormous.
Unquestionably polarizing, the colossal bump on the back of the Mi 11 Ultra is going to be the first thing you see on it, and you won't be able to look away for a while.
Spanning practically the entire width of the phone, the black window is home to three cameras - two of them with (large) conventional optics and a periscope for the telephoto. It wouldn't be an overly efficient use of space if that's all the hardware in there, no - there's also the laser autofocusing bits, triple LED flash, and, most importantly, a small rear-facing display.
The width of the assembly was likely dictated by that display - tiny as it may be at 1.1 inches in diagonal, it still takes up space. The thickness, on the other hand, we're willing to pin on the actual camera modules - big-sensor units with even moderately bright lenses can be pretty thick. We measured the bump to be sticking out of the back panel by about 3.7mm.
We've seen other formidable camera clusters, there's no denying that. Last year's Mi 10 Ultra, for one, had its four modules lined up vertically, practically reaching the midpoint on the back of the device. Good thing we had that one in Transparent Edition, so it was not the camera that got all the attention.Mi 11 Ultra (left) next to the Mi 10 Ultra
Meanwhile, Samsung has made extra efforts this year to integrate the cameras in the design, making the Galaxy S21 Ultra's four units almost disappear, particularly on the Phantom Black colorway here.Mi 11 Ultra (left) next to the Galaxy S21 Ultra
Moving past the camera assembly, it's worth pointing out that the back panel of the Mi 11 Ultra is ceramic. That's true of our (gorgeous) white review unit, as well as the black alternative. And regardless of attire, this Mi is IP68 rated - few Mis are.
It's glossy, and it picks up some fingerprints, but it's not as bad as glass backed phones and thanks to the white paintjob it's not too keen to advertise the smudges. We imagine the black one would show them more readily.
Perhaps the one eyesore on the Mi 11 Ultra in this colorway is the extra information below the Xiaomi logo in the bottom half - we've historically been huge fans of the dumpster in particular.
Over on the front, the Mi 11 Ultra is essentially identical to the vanilla Mi 11. That includes the curved slab of Gorilla Glass Victus over the 6.81-inch AMOLED display. It curves gently towards the sides, nowhere as dramatic as it was at the height of the edge screen trend, and there's an even fainter fade out towards the top and bottom - you can barely see it, but on the bottom, in particular, it makes for a really nice feel when swiping up.
There's a point to be made that the corner curves and radiuses have been picked with complete disregard for people with any amount of OCD - there is just something wrong about the way the black border looks. Just how bugged you're going to be by that detail will inevitably vary, and even if it does bother you, your brain will likely learn to ignore it over time. It was just one of the first comments we got at the office, so it's probably something that people notice.
The Mi 11 Ultra has an under-display fingerprint reader, and it's an optical one. It's placed reasonably - not too high, not too low, and there was no period for adjustment for this reviewer coming from a Galaxy S21. He also found the sensor quick and reliable.
The phone has an aluminum frame, polished to a mirror finish. It's very thin on the sides, and it bulges in the corners to help with impact protection.
The flattened bottom is home to the USB-C port, the card slot (two nano SIMs back to back, no microSD), the primary mic, and the 'main' loudspeaker - that last one looks especially nice with its grille resembling a sound wave.
Up top, there's what appears to be a plastic insert in the frame with openings for the second speaker (and a discreet Harman/Kardon logo), another mic and the IR emitter (Xiaomi keeps fitting these, and we don't mind one bit).
The Mi 11 Ultra measures 164.3x74.6x8.4mm and weighs 234g. It's a big phone, obviously, and the weight is never not felt. Realistically though, it's no different in heft than, say, an iPhone 12 Pro Max, or a Galaxy S21 Ultra, give or take 7-8g. A Find X3 Pro is some 40g lighter, however, and that's a tangible difference.
We're half wondering if Xiaomi could have come up with a better defined bottom ridge of the main camera so could you prop the phone with the index finger and get some of the weight off your poor pinkie. It sort of almost works as it is, but you don't feel entirely safe in this position.