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HomeNewsXiaomi 14 is a true flagship phone underlined by Leica’s photography expertise

Xiaomi 14 is a true flagship phone underlined by Leica’s photography expertise

There is a certain charm in the journey of persistence. The variables. The uncertainty. Often, one would prefer to do without any of it. For various factors (product, pricing, and consumer confidence) over the years, persistence has underlined Xiaomi’s attempts to gain a foothold among Android flagship phones. For a brand that’s been tremendously dominant in affordable and mid-range segments, this proved to be a bridge too far. Folks on the shop floor didn’t seem too willing to shell out the big bucks for an expensive Xiaomi phone, as perhaps they would for a Samsung or OnePlus phone.

The new Xiaomi 14 mobile phone. (Vishal Mathur/ HT Photo)
The new Xiaomi 14 mobile phone. (Vishal Mathur/ HT Photo)

It may well be the end of that trend – Xiaomi 14 puts forward a more than compelling proposition. In due course of time, as would the Xiaomi 14 Ultra. Particularly with the Leica co-engineered camera, and the new HyperOS software. Pricing was always going to be key for the Xiaomi 14’s success (or not). There is a simplicity to the approach with a single spec (that is, 12GB RAM and 512GB storage) sporting a sticker price of 69,999 (alongside a bunch of bundled credit card offers). Enough pricing and proposition gap to the Xiaomi 14 Ultra too, which is priced at 99,999 and also gets a bunch of credit card discounts. It is immediately clear, the Xiaomi 14 has an upper hand over its closest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S24 (around 79,999 onwards) whilst also being significantly less expensive than the Google Pixel 8 (around 75,999 onwards), something I illustrate in this piece.

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Good things, small packages, and all that

There is a uniqueness to approach as they re-enter the flagship phone battle ring in India, with the sort of screen size that could be calling out to an audience that hides in plain sight. The ones who prefer more compact phones than the 6.7-inch or thereabouts which is common nowadays. The 6.36-inch Xiaomi 14 is a convincingly comfortable phone to hold and use, something I can attest to, having successfully switched from a 6.7-inch phone (typing wasn’t a painful experience too).

There can be a convincing argument that not enough enthusiasm has been shown towards the design. It isn’t the same as any other phone, but does not stand out either. For a flagship effort, a little more in terms of visual differentiation, would have worked wonders. At least there are two colours to choose from – black and green, in slightly different finish options too. The Xiaomi 14’s design simply works, and while there is nothing to criticize about it, is simply ticking the checklist good enough?

Even then, a smaller screen real estate (despite the ease of getting accustomed to) may not work as well for everyone. And that’s something Xiaomi will have to address sooner rather than later, with another flagship with a larger screen. In case you are wondering about the ease of getting used to a more compact display size, HyperOS and its redone interface plays its part in opening up a lot of display space (above the keyboard, for instance) to see quite a bit on. It helps.

HyperOS software will play a pivotal role in making Xiaomi’s premium phones more addressable to a discerning audience ready to pay top money. Unlike MIUI that it replaces (that was cluttered, and was getting long in the tooth), HyperOS has earned the right to be talked about in the same conversation as Samsung’s One UI and OnePlus’ OxygenOS. A completely new architecture gives it a smaller footprint not just terms of size, but also resource usage (that means more storage space, RAM and processor grunt is available for your apps).

Whether Xiaomi has missed a trick with a more compact than usual screen size, or this is a subtle (and soon to be proved successful) manoeuvre in appealing to those who’d prefer an ergonomically happier phone to carry around, father time will offer a chance to tally the answers. To be able to do what Xiaomi has, without having to compromise on specs, performance or crucially, battery stamina, is rare. Take the latest Samsung Galaxy S24 (6.2-inch screen) for example – a much smaller 4,000mAh battery, a chip that isn’t as powerful, and cameras that don’t match the 50-megapixel troika.

Before that, the Google Pixel 8 didn’t exactly put forward a no-compromise proposition – its entry storage spec is 128GB, a far cry from Xiaomi’s 512GB proposition. Samsung Galaxy S24 offers 256GB storage, before you must reach for the clouds. In the past, the Nothing Phone (1) wasn’t leading the specs charge either, in a broad look. And neither have any compact Apple iPhones. There’s always been something missing, something to ponder about. In that spirit, think of the Xiaomi 14 as a ‘Pro’ phone in terms of what it can offer, without the bulk (or the naming scheme).

Illustrating why I am saying what I am saying, is the fact that the Xiaomi 14 runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 mobile platform (Leica’s photography magic is built on this), three 50-megapixel cameras to work with for photography and a 4,610mAh battery despite its rather compact dimensions. Beyond the specs, it is also ushering in the era of Xiaomi’s new software that’ll define the experience, HyperOS. Built from the ground up, it is an OS on a diet compared with the MIUI it replaces, has a smaller footprint, and brings significant visual improvements.

The big battery in a compact phone, seems to be another achievement that should hold the Xiaomi 14 in good stead. A fully charged phone at 8am, shooting over 200 photos in a day and syncing emails, social media as well as messaging, returns with around 56% battery at 9pm. That is, so to say, the end of battery anxiety.

There isn’t enough praise for Leica and Xiaomi

This really is the reason why you’d pick the Xiaomi 14 over other Android flagships, screen size aside. The competition can make do with quite a few sleepless nights. A 50-megapixel wide, a 50-megapixel 75mm telephoto and a 50-megapixel ultrawide. Xiaomi has worked with German photography giants Leica. Unlike most other phone maker and camera brand partnerships, this is restricted to the gloss of branding on the back of the phone (notice how possessive Leica is about their red logo?) and some colour modes or filters in the camera app. Leica’s inputs cover optical hardware too.

The key to delivering what must safely be categorised as benchmark setting photography results, is a multi-pronged approach to the basics. Leica’s Summilux lenses, the Light Fusion 900 image sensor, a 75mm optical floating telephoto lens and Leica’s tuned Authentic and Vibrant photo modes that you’d usually associate with Leica’s cameras, make for a set of ingredients that will be difficult to match. Whether in sunlight or an overcast outdoors with dark cloud, the dynamic range that returns in photos is worth appreciating. If I may say so, Xiaomi 14’s cameras return photos exactly as your eyes see the details, and then some. Without the zoom, of course.

And when you do decide to zoom in, the Xiaomi 14’s sensor pulling in the data is then combined with what can only be called top-notch image processing. At 5x, you really can capture so many different perspectives with detailing the eyes (and most phone cameras) would have otherwise missed. The 10x zoom photos are extremely usable for sharing too. Even 20x is quite usable, if you have a steady hand and the lighting is just right. It isn’t just the zoom. There is a distinct neutrality to how the Xiaomi 14 processes colours – there is negligible, if at all, colour boosting in the Leica Authentic mode, whereas even the Leica Vibrant doesn’t go overboard with any particular shades. Yet, if the scene is right (landscapes for example), try shooting the same subject in both modes. The results will make you believe this is two cameras in one.

Low light, where many a phone camera has struggled in the past, returns another strong showing for the Xiaomi 14. Unlike some of the, including Samsung’s new Galaxy S24 series, there is very little reliance on artificial intelligence (AI). If you prefer a level of realism to reflect in the photos you click, this is a more reliable camera to have, where there is no ambiguity about processing that AI may introduce.

Does this flagship give Xiaomi hope?

Two schools of thought will dictate how the Xiaomi 14 is approached. One, which Xiaomi hopes will be the case more often than not, where the specs are enough to get potential buyers interested. Second, and this cannot be denied, would be the audience who will remain unconvinced about the screen size. Irrespective of preferences, consistent across arguments is a Leica camera that pretty much sets the benchmark for flagships (none of the current Android flagship crop comes even close). The new HyperOS software still has some quirks but signifies a step forward for refinement.

Xiaomi may have done its bit to test waters and how Indian consumers approach this flagship phone, and there is enough weight to the argument they must continue to do more. Perhaps the Xiaomi 14 Ultra too, since they’re not leaving anything to chance. Gaining consumer confidence, the ones who are spending top money on an Android phone, would like to see a legacy, an effort for a few years. Xiaomi needs to get that under their belt, in India. Remember, OnePlus persisted. Samsung persisted. Success followed. Xiaomi must have a readiness to walk the distance. Nothing tells me that’s lacking. Anymore.