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Xiaomi 12 review: Return of the king?

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
749
inc VAT

Xiaomi is back with its first Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 flagship, and it’s a potent rival to the Galaxy S22 – although drawbacks remain

Pros 
Well priced
Astonishing display
Great performance
Cons 
Still no IP rating
Still no telephoto camera
Still no microSD expansion
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When Qualcomm first announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 in December last year, it was only a matter of time before Xiaomi managed to squeeze one inside a well-priced flagship. Fast forward to March 2022 and we have the Xiaomi 12, a handset that not only costs less than both the Samsung Galaxy S22 and iPhone 13 but comes with similar high-end specifications.

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With a continued focus on the budget end of the spectrum, the Xiaomi 12 is a welcome breath of fresh air for those who don’t have huge amounts of cash to spare but also don’t want to compromise on componentry. If you’re put off by Samsung and would prefer not to dip your toes into iOS territory, the Xiaomi 12 could be a great-value upgrade.

Xiaomi 12 review: What you need to know

If you’re already familiar with Xiaomi, absolutely nothing here is out of the ordinary. Aside from the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which promises significant improvements to both performance and power efficiency, you’re also getting a 6.28in 120Hz OLED display, a 4,500mAh battery with 67W fast charging and a triple rear camera array.

The Xiaomi 12 is available in three flavours. The cheapest variant comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of non-expandable storage, but if you’re prepared to spend a little more then you could boost the internal space to 256GB. The top-end model, meanwhile, benefits from 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

Xiaomi 12 review: Price and competition

The Xiaomi 12 costs £749 in the UK – which, when you take into account that the phone costs $749 in the US, means we’re getting a bit of a raw deal. The phone is available to preorder from 1 April, with a release date scheduled for 15 April.

Not to mention that there are all sorts of flagship alternatives to consider. Our current pick of the bunch as far as Android is concerned is the brand-new Samsung Galaxy S22, which starts at £769 and gets you quad rear cameras, the Exynos 2220 CPU and a 6.1in 120Hz screen. Likewise, if iOS is more your thing, there’s the iPhone 13, which is a smidgen cheaper than the Xiaomi 12 at £729 – although its display is only 60Hz.

Before we continue, there’s also the Xiaomi 12 Pro to contend with. For an extra £300, you get a larger 6.73in display with a boosted 1440p resolution, 120W wired charging, a superior ultrawide camera and a 2x optical zoom in place of the macro lens.

Xiaomi 12 review: Design and key features

Design-wise, you’re going to struggle to tell the difference between the two. The Xiaomi 12 is slightly smaller than the top-end model, measuring 153 x 70 x 8.2mm, and it weighs slightly less at 179g (compared to the Pro’s 204g), but that’s pretty much it.

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The back of the Xiaomi 12 is coated in a reflective sparkly glass, with a frosted texture that catches the light nicely at various angles. The 6.28in display curves slightly on either side of the handset, too, which looks pretty swish, and I particularly liked the rear camera block, which looks a bit like HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey – albeit with a couple of extra cameras placed underneath.

I was sent the purple model for this review, but the phone also comes in more subdued grey and blue colours if you’d prefer not to be so bombastic. A pair of Harman Kardon stereo speakers are placed on the Xiaomi 12’s top and bottom edges, with a power button and volume rocker making an appearance on the right.

The single USB-C port supports wired charging speeds up to 67W, going from zero to full in just over 40 minutes. Wireless charging is rated at 50W, and another bonus is the dual-SIM tray. The under-screen fingerprint sensor is rather snappy at recognising your digits, too.

A big downside, however, is that yet again there’s no IP-rated waterproofing. The screen is protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass Victus, at least, but the lack of any proper protection against the elements isn’t ideal, especially when the Galaxy S22 and iPhone 13 offer the maximum IP68 as standard.

Xiaomi 12 review: Display

The front of the phone is mostly bezel-free, with slim black bars situated around the circumference of the screen. The small 32MP selfie camera isn’t all that noticeable, either, and is a simple hole-punch affair located at the top-middle of the display.

Given the price, it’s no surprise that the screen is AMOLED, with Dolby Vision, HDR 10+ support and a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080 (FHD+). The regular model misses out on the Pro’s 1440p screen, but as you’ll soon find out in the battery life section of this review, that’s actually to the Xiaomi 12’s benefit.

The good news is that the Xiaomi 12 shares the maximum 120Hz refresh rate of the Pro, although this is set to automatically adjust on a per-app basis by default. You can lock the screen to either 60Hz or 120Hz in the phone’s display settings if you prefer.

It’s also no surprise that the screen is an absolute corker. In our tests, we measured an average Delta E of 1.05 (lower is better) in the phone’s Original Colour display profile, which means it’s near faultless when it comes to colour reproduction. With an sRGB colour gamut of 94.8% and a total coverage of 96.4%, you can’t really do much better.

Maximum brightness was measured at 926cd/m² during HDR playback, and the phone’s contrast is effectively perfect at Infinity:1. Watching movies and TV shows on the daily commute looked terrific, with spots of specular highlights piercing through dark scenes in Netflix’s The Witcher.

Xiaomi 12 review: Performance and battery life

The Xiaomi 12 doesn’t quite take the crown as the first Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phone we’ve tested – that honour falls to the Oppo Find X5 Pro – but it’s a close second. This is a 4nm, octa-core chipset with a maximum clock speed of 3GHz, and it works side by side with either 8GB or 12GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of internal storage. There’s no microSD card slot to expand the internal space, so choose wisely.

Speed-wise, the Xiaomi 12 actually outperformed the Oppo Find X5 Pro in the Geekbench 5 single- and multicore CPU tests. With scores of 1,214 and 3,610 respectively, it’s as rapid as Android gets at the moment, with only the iPhone 13 having a slight lead.

The same can’t be said about GPU speeds, although in this case the Xiaomi 12 is the phone to beat. Reaching the maximum 120fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 test, the Xiaomi 12’s graphics rendering capabilities are second to none, especially when you take into account the barnstorming 237fps off-screen result. The iPhone 13 is left trailing behind at 170fps.

Sadly, all that power comes at a slight cost to battery life. In our battery test, which plays a looped video at a standard 170cd/m² brightness with Flight mode on, the Xiaomi 12 lasted for 18hrs 18mins before switching off. That’s a decent improvement on the Xiaomi 11 and an even greater leg-up on the Xiaomi 12 Pro, but it fails to match the Galaxy S22 Plus, iPhone 13 and especially the Oppo Find X5 Pro’s 24-hour battery life.

Xiaomi 12 review: Software and MIUI 13

The Xiaomi 12 launches with Android 12 out of the box, with Xiaomi’s own MIUI 13 launcher placed on top. Xiaomi promises three years of core Android updates, bringing it all the way up to Android 15 in 2025, with four years of security patches.

As far as software tweaks go, MIUI 13 is miles better than it used to be, although it’s still perhaps the most intrusive of the bunch. The notification and settings drawers are accessed by separate swipes down from either side of the notch, which takes some getting used to, and dismissing notifications can only be performed by swiping to the right.

Some of the phone’s settings are also located in awkward places. The sleep setting, for instance, is found in its own sub-menu, rather than being located within the display settings. The wallpaper carousel is also a bit of an odd fish, displaying copyright-free images alongside relevant website articles on the lock screen. These mostly consist of bizarre Buzzfeed-like listicles, such as tips on getting to sleep quickly and why a particular spicy halloumi breakfast will CHANGE my life. I highly doubt it.

Xiaomi 12 review: Cameras

Moving on, the Xiaomi 12’s cameras are slightly different to those found on the Pro. A 50MP (f/1.9) main camera unit leads the pack, which at first glance you might think is the same, but the sensor size is slightly smaller at 1/1.56in. A 13MP (f/2/4) ultrawide camera is located just underneath, with a 123-degree field of view, and a simple 5MP macro unit rounds out the pack.

You might have also noticed that the Xiaomi 12 lacks the Pro’s 2x telephoto zoom sensor. This is a huge shame, since its inclusion would be arguably more beneficial than the gimmicky macro unit and perhaps even the ultrawide.

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Still, at least the main camera didn’t let me down in testing. Capturing pixel-binned 12MP images by default – you can shoot in 50MP if you choose – pictures are filled with intricate details, with good auto exposure and a lack of visual noise, even when light levels dropped.

What’s more, I found the Xiaomi 12’s colour balance to be more subdued than the same images taken on the Galaxy S22 Plus. Some of the pictures taken at sunset, for instance, looked unnaturally warm on the Samsung, while the Xiaomi rendered the scene almost exactly as your eyes might see it.

On that note, there’s a big difference in colour reproduction between the Xiaomi 12’s main and ultrawide cameras. The latter suffers from an awkward-looking blue tint, rendering some of the night-time images almost unusable.

Thankfully, this is the only issue I have with the cameras. Aside from the macro sensor – which really doesn’t offer much – there’s a lot to like here, and I was particularly impressed with the Xiaomi 12’s portrait images. There’s plenty of detail, facial features aren’t smoothed much and I preferred the blurred bokeh backgrounds on the Xiaomi.

Finally, the Xiaomi 12 can record video up to 8K resolution at 24fps, although you’ll want to drop this setting down to 4K at 60fps to enable image stabilisation. I recommend doing this because 8K footage is much too choppy, despite being full of detail.

Xiaomi 12 review: Verdict

A phone of two halves, the Xiaomi 12 isn’t a huge step up from its predecessor. Despite the performance improvements, lavish design and superbly colour-accurate display, the Xiaomi 12 still has its drawbacks, and frustratingly these are things that could have been addressed following the launch of the Xiaomi 11 last year.

The lack of a telephoto camera is a deal-breaker for some, and the fact that there’s no official IP68 rating is a bit of a bummer, too. Both of these omissions are simply too big to ignore.

By all means, go for the Xiaomi 12 if you aren’t fussed about either of these missing features, but realistically you should be buying the Samsung Galaxy S22 instead.

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