What is a flagship? Just a few years ago, the answer to this was easy. Every year, Apple had one iPhone, Samsung had a Galaxy and Note, and there was the ‘flagship killer’ from OnePlus and a comparable model from Xiaomi. All these used whatever was the top of the line chipset available at the time for the platform, and this is what you bought when you wanted a ‘flagship’.
Then things started to get complicated. Samsung started the Edge and subsequently the Ultra lines, Apple launched the Max and then the Pro, OnePlus and Xiaomi began to diversify their top range offerings, and now confusion abounds. Is the presence of the top chipset enough to make something a flagship? What else does it need? The very best cameras? Best battery life? Fast charging?
Which brings me to the phone I have in my hand right now – the Xiaomi 12 Pro. As things stand it is Xiaomi’s top dog, succeeding the Xiaomi 11 Pro, but with the Xiaomi 12 Ultra waiting in the wings, it will very soon cede that title. I’ve had this phone now for over two weeks and I’ve been using it as my daily driver, and I have some thoughts on whether this device is worth buying, how it might compare to its competition and if it qualifies as a ‘flagship’.
While the Xiaomi 12 Pro has a smaller non-Pro sibling available in China, India sadly only gets the big fella. First impressions of the hardware are very positive. While the curved glass sandwich is not particularly distinctive, the whole design is very elegant, perhaps the best I’ve seen from Xiaomi.
With a 6.73” screen and 204 g of weight, I expected this to be a bit of a handful, but it’s surprisingly ergonomic to use, partly down to the sub 75mm width, and smoothly curved edges. While it’s not as one-hand friendly as the more compact phones, this is about as good as it gets in this size class, and generally feels very balanced in the hand.
As expected, the Xiaomi 12 Pro runs the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, with 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of fast UFS 3.1 storage. It sports a 4600 mAh battery with 120 watt fast charging (and wireless charging). The variant I have sells for Rs 66,999 but there’s also a cheaper variant with 8 GB of RAM (and the same storage) that sells for Rs 62,999. It’s worth noting that both these models are selling for cheaper with various coupons and bank discounts.
The screen is a 120Hz LTPO AMOLED (that alphabet soup basically means it has the best display tech in the business), with a 480 Hz touch sampling rate. This means that not only does the screen look fantastic (with very accurate colours in the “original colour” profile), the interactions feel smooth as silk. The stereo speakers sound loud and full, and are more than enough to watch videos and do zoom calls without an external headset. I also have to make special mention of the earpiece, which is the loudest and clearest I’ve ever used, for calls.
The camera array on the Xiaomi 12 Pro features one big main sensor, and smaller sensors for a 2X telephoto and an ultrawide. I must mention here that this is perhaps the best looking camera bump on any smartphone right now. The in-display fingerprint sensor is good, although not the fastest in the business, and needless to say slower than the capacitive fingerprint sensors of yore. The Xiaomi 12 Pro also retains the IR blaster which is a really nifty little feature that I found myself using more than I expected. I may be lying lazily on my couch with my remote controls out of reach, but with the phone in my hand, I can just use it to turn on my TV or AC.
The only notable hardware omission is an IP68 rating, but the gasket around the SIM tray suggests that there is some ingress protection and the phone can probably take a few splashes (or even a quick dunk) and be none the worse for it.
The Xiaomi 12 Pro runs Android 12 with their very distinctive MIUI 13 skin. MIUI is perhaps the least stock-like of the Android skins from major manufacturers, with Xiaomi borrowing liberally from iOS for many of its visual and interaction elements.
Overall, the phone is extremely smooth and slick to operate, although MIUI throws a spanner into this experience here and there. It stumbles most when it tries to emulate iOS, like with the split control centre and its slow animations, but thankfully all of this can be changed in the settings, and quickly enough I had the phone set up exactly the way I wanted it.
There are still annoyances, of course. For instance, there are two different ways to set call ringtones, and only one of them allows you to set them separately for your two SIMs – figuring this out is not intuitive. But again, these are all things you can get used to, once you figure it out the first time. There are also a bunch of useless pre-installed apps but most are easy enough to uninstall.
Like I said before, the Xiaomi 12 Pro is smooth and responsive. I’ve used a bunch of 120 Hz phones before, but the combination of a 120 Hz screen, a 480 Hz touch sampling rate, and MIUI’s approach to scrolling physics means this is on a truly rarefied level when it comes to smoothness. There’s nary a stutter or lag when using the device, and everything simply flies. It’s so delightfully smooth that I’d sometimes find myself simply randomly swiping and scrolling the interface to luxuriate in the responsiveness.
The battery life is probably my main disappointment with this phone. With the display set to its full resolution, I would get between five and five-and-a-half hours of screen-on time, and with the display set to 1080p (the difference is visually almost imperceptible), this would edge closer to 6. This is not a bad result, but not class-leading either. Compensating for this somewhat is the 120 watt fast charging. The sheer magic of plugging in your phone when it’s down to 14 percent and then literally five minutes later unplugging it at a healthy 39 percent still feels surreal. It is a truly life-changing feature.
Xiaomi’s camera showcase is not this Xiaomi 12 Pro, but the soon-to-be released Xiaomi 12 Ultra, which will succeed the extravagantly specced Xiaomi 11 Ultra that had a brief run in the Indian market last year. But that doesn’t mean this phone is a slouch when it comes to cameras. The Xiaomi 12 Pro’s main 50 MP sensor is a large 1/1.28” unit from Sony, that does a tremendous job at its 24mm focal length. The pictures from this unit are sharp, detailed, and show excellent contrast and dynamic range. The low light performance is top class, with quick captures and pleasingly noise free detail and accurate colour.
Photos of people look very good, with skin tones remaining quite natural, without too much of the over-enthusiastic brightening that many phones are prone to, although in terms of colour and texture, it doesn’t quite match up to the iPhone.
If I had to make one complaint, it is that the auto white-balance is not consistent. Sometimes it attempts to make the scene look more neutral, and other times it goes for an ambience-priority look, trying to recreate the scene as it looks to the naked eye, and occasionally even overcooking it. It’s never catastrophically wrong, and if you didn’t have other phones to compare it to, you probably won’t even notice. But I couldn’t help but mention this as an inconsistency that can perhaps be fixed in a future update. Overall, using this camera is very satisfying and it regularly delivered photos that were pleasing, and ready to post on Instagram without much editing.
The telephoto (48mm focal length) and the ultrawide (16mm) are, unsurprisingly, a step back. Both have smaller sensors (even though they are also 50 MP), and the ultrawide doesn’t come with an autofocus. In bright light, especially outdoors, both units deliver very good results, with great colours and contrast, but when the light starts to fall, physics gets in the way, and the performance does drop a bit, with the telephoto even sometimes hunting for focus, when it gets dark. These are still very good cameras, but when the main unit delivers stellar performance, you can’t help but notice that the tele and ultrawide are a step behind.
Video capture is solidly good on the main camera, and again, a touch behind on the other two. Stabilisation is generally very good. The selfie camera is good without being great, the main drawback being the lack of autofocus. But the fixed focus will give you good results for most selfie-ish use-cases.
Should I buy it?
Now this brings me back to the original question. What is a flagship? In my own subjective terms, I think I’ve come up with a few parameters. It should have a top-tier chipset, plenty of RAM and storage, a 120Hz AMOLED screen, wireless charging, and excellent cameras of at least three usable focal lengths (a normal, an ultrawide and a tele). It should also have battery life that lasts a whole day. The Xiaomi 12 Pro comes very close to ticking all of these boxes. The only ding against it is the battery life, and even that is not too bad, and compensated to an extent by the ridiculously fast charging. So I’d say without too much hesitation, that the Xiaomi 12 Pro qualifies as a legitimate flagship.
If you have a little over 60,000 rupees to spend on a phone right now, this will definitely feature at the top of your list to consider. The main competition is perhaps the OnePlus 10 Pro, which is very close in terms of specs, but starts at a slightly higher price. Which one you pick will mostly come down to whether you prefer MIUI or OxygenOS, and whether you value the bigger battery of the OnePlus or the faster charging on the Xiaomi.
Apple and Samsung have the iPhone 13 and the Galaxy S22 at a little over 70,000, but the Xiaomi 12 Pro matches up to or exceeds both of these more expensive options. Unless you’re a photo fiend waiting for the more capable and more expensive Xiaomi 12 Ultra, this is definitely a great phone worth considering as your next ‘flagship’ purchase.
This Xiaomi 12 Pro was sent to the reviewer as a loaner unit for review purposes. The unit will be returned on completion of the review. Xiaomi has been given no advance information about the content of this review and exercises no copy approval.
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