Mi 11s may be many and of various stature, but Xiaomi's done well at making them look like they belong to the same family - well, perhaps save for the Ultra. Since a phone's personality lies in its camera bump lately, it's precisely that bit that unites the 2021 crop of Mis.
The two-step island, which some liken to a reel-to-reel tape deck, houses all three cameras in the higher section, alongside one of the auxiliary mics. The main camera also gets a silver ring around the lens to signify its top-ranking position. Meanwhile, on the lower level, you'll be seeing the LED flash and a '108MP AI triple camera' text advertising what's inside.
Since the camera is offset to the side of the phone and it sticks out quite a bit, the handset will wobble on a table. If you're one to type with your index fingers with the phone lying on its back, this could prove annoying.
The family genes go beyond the Mi brand and the Mi 11i here looks vaguely like a Poco F3 we have lying around, itself not dissimilar to the Redmi K40. And when we say 'vaguely', we mean it's just the text that sets them apart.Poco F3 (left) next to Mi 11i
The back of the Mi 11i is made of Gorilla Glass 5, or at least that's what it says on the FAQ page for the Mi 11X Pro on the Xiaomi India website - the specs of either phone don't go into this much detail, and Corning's database is also mum at the moment.
The glossy back has a mirror-like effect, which is a double win. On the one hand, you get to use it, well, as a mirror. On the other, your eyes tend to focus on the reflection, as opposed to the panel itself, which can get pretty messy with fingerprints.
Over on the front, the GG5-clad 6.67-inch AMOLED display is surrounded by reasonably thin bezels - there's more of a black border than what you'd find on a Mi 11/11 Pro/11 Ultra, but it's not really objectionable.
Another aspect of the front's design in which the Mi 11i differs from these other three more upmarket Mis is the fact that its display is flat - the high-end models have curved panels. If you have problems with curved displays, you'll appreciate the Mi 11i's planar screen, but it's just not as 'premium' as the curved ones.
There's a tiny punch hole for the selfie camera, which is nice, but it's also got a thin silver ring around it, drawing unnecessary attention.
Above it and to the left is the earpiece slit - the driver itself is lower inside the phone and underneath the display. This same driver also serves as the second speaker in the stereo speaker pair, and there's a grille on the top for sound to come out of as well. That means that there's significant spillage of sound when you're on a voice call, so you might want to keep the volume a notch below what you're used to in quieter environments.
The top of the phone is home to that speaker grille on the one side, and there's a matching three-hole grille-lookalike on the other side, only that's not related to the speaker - one of the pin holes is for another mic, while the other houses the IR emitter.
Down on the bottom is where the USB-C port is, with the usual items keeping it company - the primary speaker and mic, as well as the SIM slot. The tray accepts two nano SIMs but won't take a microSD - the Mi 11i's storage isn't expandable. Maybe you'll notice the red gasket and think the phone is properly weather-sealed, but it only has an IP53 rating - splashes of light rain should be okay, submersion may kill it.
The frame of the Mi 11i is by all accounts made of plastic. We spotted some shiny aluminum when we opened the SIM slot but some internet research and a bit of scratching (of our heads and the frame itself) convinced us it's plastic. It's got a two-tone finish with a mate center strip and shiny chamfers towards the display and the back.
The frame is widened a bit on the right side to accommodate the Mi 11i's physical controls. The power button is just above the midpoint so it's easily accessible with either the left index finger or the right thumb. The volume rocker is above that. Both click positively.
That power button also incorporates a fingerprint reader and unlike most other side-mounted sensors which are placed in a recessed portion of the frame, Xiaomi's approach this year is to have it sticking out slightly. The implications, predictably, are two-fold.
On a positive note, unlocking is quick and very reliable with either of the obvious fingers - so it's an ambidextrous solution that doesn't discriminate against smartphone lefties.
The flipside is that by being so 'exposed' it's all the more prone to accidental touches, whether it's the correct finger at the wrong time inadvertently unlocking the phone or registering other skin bits, not recognizing them and locking you out of fingerprint authentication because of too many supposed failed attempts. To be fair though, if you're suffering from the above more than you'd like, you can easily switch from its default always-on 'Touch' behavior to the 'Press' method to ensure it'll only engage when required.
The Mi 11i handles like you'd expect from a phone with a display in the 6.5-6.7 inch ballpark - it's predictably large and heavy, and slightly more so than immediate competitors. The OnePlus 9R, for example is 2.3mm narrower so it would be ever so slightly easier to stretch your thumb across to the far end of the screen. The vivo X60 is a good 20g lighter than the Mi and a hair thinner, so if the 11i is too much phone, there are alternatives.