Xiaomi 13 Pro review: Gunning for premium with Leica's wind at its back
Design, Display & Audio, UI
Note: This review was first published on 21 March 2023.
Does having the Leica brand on the phone change its price tag?
How much did you say that the Xiaomi 13 Pro retails at again?
It seems that Xiaomi wants to break away from its budget flagship reputation, having priced the Xiaomi 13 Pro at a whopping S$1,599 (256GB storage).
It’s 18% more expensive than its predecessor and well within HWZ’s Tech Awards definition of a premium-grade smartphone (above S$1,500). While that’s ambitious of Xiaomi, we’d have to assess the phone as an alternative to the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra or the current-gen Pro models of Apple’s iPhones.
The TLDR version:
Nice Leica optimisations, good performance, and solid construction. Overall, a fun, but expensive phone that could use more 'polish'.
To help with its newfound premium classification, Xiaomi 13 Pro offers many top-end components. It has the same flagship-grade chipset as the Samsung Galaxy S23 series (Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2), and the latest RAM and storage types (LPDDR5X and UFS 4.0, respectively) like its Samsung rival.
It also has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a premium-tier handset, like an IP68 resistance rating, in-display fingerprint sensor, fast wired (120W) and wireless (50W) charging, and 5G connectivity. As an Android 13 phone representing Xiaomi's best foot forward in our market, it features its MIUI 14 operating system.
For its trump card, the triple-rear camera Xiaomi 13 Pro taps into its partnership with Leica, offering a co-engineered Leica camera system with lenses, image tuning, and a user interface that harkens to the aesthetics of the German optics manufacturer.
We’ve covered what the cameras offer in our initial launch coverage, so our review below will touch on the results we got through the Leica-touched Xiaomi 13 Pro instead.
Huge imaging promises aside, is the Xiaomi 13 Pro a good smartphone? Would it make a good premium smartphone too? Let’s find out.
|Xiaomi 13 Pro|
A familiar face at a different price point
The Xiaomi 13 Pro's sandwich body with curved sides is all too familiar to fans of Chinese Android handsets. The company said that the rear is made from medical-grade bioceramic material, which implies that the Xiaomi 13 Pro uses the same mediums one would use to make prosthetic limbs and implants. Bioceramic is typically used for its durability and special "soft touch" texture and we think it helps to justify somewhat its premium asking price today.
That said, the phone weighs 229g, bringing about some heft to day-to-day operation. For reference, the harmonica-sized Galaxy Z Fold4 (a winner in our books) is only 34g heavier.
If you're the type to derive a sense of quality assurance from the weight of products, the Xiaomi 13 Pro satisfies that. To us, it feels almost too heavy for portable gimbals, much less a low-tech selfie stick. The weight is pretty much a preference, but make no mistake: the Xiaomi 13 Pro is sturdy enough to be a blunt weapon in a desperate pinch (no, we don't recommend doing that).
On the sides are raised metallic rims that run around the phone's body with two cutouts for buttons: the power nub and volume rockers. As a premium handset, we wished the phone's buttons carried a little more tactile or visual flair so that it improves the glance value when you're mindlessly operating the device.
The front is the display, which uses Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, which has the same scratch resistance as the current-gen Victus 2 that's on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. The display glass also offers curved sides, so we won't fault you for thinking that the Xiaomi 13 Pro looks just like any other modern Chinese mobile.
Topping it all off is a comically huge rear camera housing that even its provided phone casing cannot help to balance out against its back. Granted, it's a very neat square block with a thoughtful Leica-like design that emphasises clean lines, smooth surfaces, and formal minimalism, but all that aesthetic goes away when the hump catches on your pocket fabric or scuffs other belongings in your bag.
As a whole, the Xiaomi 13 Pro's physicality makes it a very classic Xiaomi product: it has a design that's mostly sensible and familiar if a bit formulaic, with generally solid operational handling. Unfortunately, it has little flaws that make people go "eh, it's a bit cheaper than the others, anyway".
But it's not cheaper now. It's S$1,599 for 256GB, so we hope Xiaomi understands that a different price point comes with different expectations, even in the 'superficial' areas of a phone.
Display and Audio
The front and centre of the Xiaomi 13 Pro is a lovely 6.73-inch LTPO AMOLED panel rated at WQHD+ resolution (3,200 x 1,440 pixels). LTPO means that the panel is capable of 1Hz to 120Hz refresh rates, and it proved capable of playing back our favourite shows with high framerates. The panel offers mildly aggressive saturation that's similar to the earlier days of Samsung's phone AMOLED displays, with a lower contrast tolerance.
It looks vibrant and sharp even under harsh sunlight, thanks to the display's 1,900-nits peak brightness (it typically sits at 1,200-nits if you don't need ultra-bright displays). To aid with environmental detection, the phone has 360° ambient light sensors that determine whether you need 1,900 nits.
Other panel perks include support for HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and a touch sampling rate of up to 240Hz for gamers. We found the panel sufficient for the price it commands, but phone displays are hardly disappointing in recent times.
What surprised us was the default audio quality offered by the Xiaomi 13 Pro's dual speakers. Typically, speakers built into phones have a bloated or muddy sound that favours loudness over accuracy, but the Xiaomi 13 Pro can be obscenely loud without losing out on too many details. It was actually bearable to use the speakers for watching YouTube and swiping on TikTok, and there wasn't a need to reach for true wireless earbuds for better absent-minded listening. We'd still recommend getting a pair of TWS if you want a more focused musical experience.
The default Mi Video content player app supports its built-in Dolby Atmos surround sound technology, which makes onboard, Dolby Atmos-ready videos more easily compatible right out of the box.
MIUI 14 and Android 13 need no introduction at this point because the Xiaomi design language hasn't really changed much over the years. It's still the same blocky palette paired with an iPhone-like notification dropdown menu (swipe down from the top-centre for notifications, swipe down from top-right for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness etc. settings).
In classic Xiaomi style, the UI's attention to detail is still inconsistent. Not all notifications feature bolded text for its headline. Video and email previews in notifications eat towards the margin where the "expand notification" button is, but certain other apps do not intrude into those margins and instead go into the next line.
@hwztech Can Leica make me take better photos of zehzeh? #xiaomi13seriessg #xiaomi13 #xiaomi13pro #leica #sgtech #sgtiktok @Xiaomi ♬ On with the Show! - Qabalah
The Settings app categorises the features based on their primary objective (security-related settings, for example, are all within the same space), but there are no headers to indicate why they are grouped together. Text inside the Settings app (like our Wi-Fi name under the Wi-Fi setting) goes into the next line mid-sentence. We can point out even more flaws, but that would be unkind since the MIUI 14 is clean and intuitive.
Xiaomi's UI being less polished is hardly new to the brand, and we've never really minded it until now. If Xiaomi wants to charge users premium prices, the polish and attention to detail set these brands apart from the rest. For instance, Apple and Samsung have come a long way to make their UI less icky for their fans, and we think Xiaomi fans also deserve some level of polish.
The under-display optical fingerprint sensor is blazingly fast and reasonably accurate, which makes it a breeze to unlock your phone once you whip it out of your pocket. The phone is also very speedy in day-to-day use.