Mi 11 Ultra goes up against the iPhone 12 Pro Max, Galaxy S21 Ultra and OnePlus 9 Pro in the biggest flagship battle yet

Premium flagship smartphones compared

In the market for a premium smartphone? Well, you would be spoiled for choice right now, as several brands have come out with flagships that combine terrific hardware and performance with a premium price tag. Something like the latest Never Settler, the OnePlus 9 Pro will get you high-end hardware and Hasselblad camera muscle for Rs 64,999, while the latest flagship on the block, the Mi 11 Ultra from Xiaomi, comes with a ceramic back and the largest camera sensor ever seen on a smartphone for Rs 69,999. If your budget can get close to six figures, there will be those who will still swear by the magic of the Galaxy S series when it comes to Android, with the Galaxy S21 Ultra being a terrific performer.

And then, of course, there is the little matter of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the phone that remains the Godphone for its followers.

But if you had to pick a premium phone for yourself, which one of this amazing quartet (the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Mi 11 Ultra and the OnePlus 9 Pro), would you go for? A tricky question indeed. And one which I am going to try to answer

Design and appearance

This is a very subjective field. And a tough call. All of these phones come with very strong glass protection, all of them are dust and water-resistant, and all are big devices that need two-hand handling.

But in my book, this really boils down to a battle between the two most expensive phones of the quartet – the iPhone (above) and the Galaxy S21 Ultra (below). Both come with very striking camera unit arrangements on the back as well as amazing glass textures that make the back almost feel like metal. The Pacific Blue of the iPhone and the Phantom Black of the S21 Ultra are particularly striking.

The subtly coloured sides of the iPhone win this round for me, with the very Spartan looking S21 Ultra coming second. The third spot goes to the OnePlus 9 Pro, which might look relatively conventional but whose Morning Mist and Pine Green shades are very striking. Ironically, the phone that is the most recognisable of the four comes last.


The Mi 11 Ultra (above) can be spotted in any crowd thanks to its huge camera bump. It is a remarkably distinct design and combined with a ceramic back, does make it a very unique phone in terms of design. But it is a design that not everyone will like, especially as that bump makes the phone a little top-heavy. The iPhone 12 Pro Max might seem not too different from the iPhone 11 Pro Max and might indeed be a little too wide for some hands, but I think it is the most classy looking of the lot… by a very thin margin, though. So here’s how I’d stack it up.

  1. iPhone 12 Pro Max 
  2. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  3. OnePlus 9 Pro
  4. Mi 11 Ultra

Displays


Three large quad HD+ AMOLED displays with 120Hz refresh rate go up against a full HD OLED display with a 60Hz refresh rate. And remarkably, the full HD one holds its ground. The displays reflect very different cultures in a way – the S21 Ultra’s 6.8-inch display has those vivid colours and is brilliant, the Mi 11 Ultra’s massive 6.81-inch display (pictured above) takes brightness to another level while not being quite as poppy, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s 6.7-inch display is a little saturated but is still remarkable in its handling of videos. And then there is the iPhone whose 6.7 inch OLED display seems almost severely tuned down to be as realistic as possible and stresses on clarity. Choosing one here almost seems as personal as picking out a particular design.

In my book, in terms of sheer spectacle, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (above) still wins – yes, it might get unrealistically colourful but all said and done, it is amazing to look at. I would then pick the iPhone 12 Pro Max simply because of its reliability – yes, even its colours are a little on the punchy side, but they are the closest to reality of the lot. Then comes the extraordinarily bright Mi 11 Ultra.


The fact that the excellent display on the OnePlus 9 Pro (above) comes last, just shows you the level of quality in this section. Incidentally, the iPhone’s performance also reflects the futility of high refresh rates if there are no applications to support them and make a visible difference. Scrolling on the other displays is much faster, but scrolling on the iPhone is not slow by any means.

  1. Galaxy S21 Ultra 
  2. iPhone 12 Pro Max 
  3. Mi 11 Ultra
  4. OnePlus 9 Pro

Processors  

This is one of those really simple calls. The iPhone’s A14 Bionic is in quite a different league, although it is aided by the fact that the entire ecosystem is built around it. The Snapdragon 888 on the Mi 11 Ultra and the OnePlus 9 Pro is the second highest rated of the lot. The Exynos 2100 on the S21 Ultra has been a very good performer in my book, but when pushed to extreme limits, it just lags a bit behind the Snapdragon 888. 

  1. iPhone 12 Pro Max
  2. Mi 11 Ultra and OnePlus 9 Pro
  3. Galaxy S21 Ultra

RAM and storage  


All of the Android devices have 12GB / 256GB RAM and storage variants, while Apple never talks about the iPhone’s RAM and has no official figures. Both the iPhone and OnePlus have 128GB storage variants too (the OnePlus with a reduced 8GB RAM on it), and the iPhone has a 512GB storage option as well. Some might give points to the iPhone for giving multiple storage options, especially given that none of the phones has expandable memory, but considering the pricing of the iPhone,  am calling this one a tie. 

Tie.

Cameras


This is literally camera paradise, with all four devices coming with the sort of setups that can take on point and shoot cameras. However, I am going to go with the two that cut no corners at all – both the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Mi 11 Ultra are remarkable in this list because neither has what can be called a secondary camera. The 12 Pro Max (above) lets you switch between a 12-megapixel main sensor, a 12-megapixel ultrawide and a 12-megapixel telephoto, letting you switch between cameras with minimum quality compromise. The Mi 11 Ultra (pictured below) takes the same formula and packs it with megapixels – a 50-megapixel main sensor (the biggest ever seen on a phone), a 48-megapixel telephoto and a 48-megapixel ultrawide (128 degrees). In comparison, the S21 Ultra sticks to a 108-megapixel main sensor and two 10-megapixel telephoto sensors and a 12-megapixel ultrawide; while the OnePlus 9 Pro has a 48-megapixel main sensor, a 50-megapixel ultrawide, an 8-megapixel telephoto and a 2-megapixel mono sensor.

In terms of main sensors, the iPhone, the Mi 11 Ultra and the S21 Ultra all come close to each other, with both the S21 and the Mi 11 tending to oversaturate a little while the iPhone tries to keep things real and throw in lots of detail. However, bring the other cameras into play, and the iPhone and Mi 11 pull away, delivering far more detail. The S21 Ultra comes close to matching but falls behind as you literally zoom into shots. Selfie cameras on the iPhone and the S21 Ultra are the best of the lot, with the Mi 11 Ultra bringing up third place, and the 9 Pro giving ground once again (the selfie camera is turning out to be a OnePlus Achilles Heel of late).   

The iPhone is the fastest of the four and also is by far the best of the lot when it comes to video, which wins it first place just ahead of the Mi 11 Ultra (a very close finish that). What of the OnePlus 9 Pro? In spite of its Hasselblad connections, it does not consistently match up to these four. 

  1. iPhone 12 Pro Max
  2. Mi 11 Ultra
  3. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  4. OnePlus 9 Pro 

Gaming and multimedia  


Gaming and multimedia consumption on these phones is a feast for the senses. All of them have great displays, powerful processors, lots of RAM and stereo speakers. Which one makes the most of them? The iPhone 12 Pro Max. It simply is the smoothest working of the lot by some distance and has the best speakers in terms of volume and sound quality. The S21 Ultra comes a close second – the Exynos chip might be considered inferior by some to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 but it handled everything I threw at it. That display and two very good speakers make a huge difference. The Mi 11 Ultra loses a little ground on the speakers but handles games and shows brilliantly, as does the OnePlus 9 Pro, which, unfortunately, is consigned to fourth place not because it is bad, but simply because the others are way better.  

  1. iPhone 12 Pro Max 
  2. Galaxy S21 Ultra 
  3. Mi 11 Ultra 4 and OnePlus 9 Pro 

Software  


This turns into an iOS versus different flavours of Android battle and while a few years ago, Android was going toe to toe with iOS, Apple’s software has pulled away of late. iOS simply has a way better update record and also seems to be more concerned about privacy and security. On the Android front, you do get a lot more flexibility and the options to do more with the UI, but those come with greater chances of bloatware and security issues, and well, timely updates remain a weak point.


So this round goes to the iPhone again. The OnePlus 9 Pro takes the second spot with its clean Oxygen OS and decent update record (almost TOO many updates, some would say), while the two Ultras, the Mi 11 and S321 share third palace with their similar, feature-loaded skin approaches to Android.

  1. iPhone 12 Pro Max
  2. OnePlus 9 Pro
  3. Mi 11 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra

Day to day usage


There is frankly hardly anything dividing these four superphones in day to day usage. Perhaps the most striking difference is the iPhone’s face unlock which is incredibly convenient to use. That said, the iPhone is also the widest and one of the heaviest phones of the group which makes it difficult to use at times. Actually, all the phones have their own minor pros and cons in day to day usage. I am calling this one a broad tie. No one is going to face performance issues with this sort of hardware in regular usage – it is all really going to boil down to what you want.

Tie.

Battery


In terms of actual usage, all four phones will be able to see off a day of heavy usage, give or take a little. However, the differences come to the fore in the charging department. The two lowest-priced devices in this selection come to the party here. The OnePlus 9 Pro has the smallest (4,500mAh) battery of the three Android phones (the other two have 5,000mAh batteries) listed here, but it is the only one of the three that comes with a super-fast 65W charger out of the box and also supports 50W wireless charging. The Mi 11 Ultra has a bigger 5,000mAh battery and supports 67W charging (both wireless and wired) but comes with a 55W charger in the box. The S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro Max have support for wireless charging and fast charge (not as spectacular as the other two) but have no charger in the box. The OnePlus 9 Pro can literally go from 0 to 100 in about half an hour, while the Mi 11 Ultra takes just a little more time. That, and the presence of chargers in the box, win this one for the OnePlus 9 Pro, with the Mi 11 Ultra coming second. We have no official battery capacity for the iPhone, but the absence of a charger and charging speeds (wired and wireless) that are well below the others get it fourth spot.   

  1. OnePlus 9 Pro
  2. Mi 11 Ultra
  3. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  4. iPhone 12 Pro Max

Price 


In terms of price, the sheer numbers are with the OnePlus 9 Pro. The phone has the lowest starting base price of Rs 64,999 for its 8GB / 128GB variant, with the 12GB / 256GB variant priced at Rs 69,999. The Mi 11 Ultra comes in just one variant, 12GB / 256GB, at Rs 69,999. There is a wide gulf between these two phones and the others – the S21 Ultra comes for Rs 1,05,999 for a 12GB / 256GB variant while the iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at Rs 1,29,900 (128GB), goes up to Rs 1,39, 900 (256GB) and tops off at Rs 1,59,900 (512GB).  

If budget is a constraint, the OnePlus 9 Pro wins here, although its 12GB / 256GB variant is priced the same as the Mi 11 Ultra. This is one of the easiest rounds to sort out, with the iPhone being the most expensive by a long way.

  1. OnePlus 9 Pro
  2. Mi 11 Ultra 
  3. Galaxy S21 Ultra
  4. iPhone 12 Pro Max 

Final verdict 

Here comes the big decision: which of the four is for you?


Well, all said and done, if you have the funds in place, I really think the iPhone 12 Pro Max remains THE phone to get for anyone wanting a consistent, high-class performer over a long period of time. It pretty much rules the roost in software, is very good in gaming, has the most consistent camera of the lot and does not really concede big ground in any department. But what if you are not enamoured of iOS and its exclusivity? Then it gets really interesting. For, the battle comes down to the two Ultras – the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Mi 11 Ultra.


The S21 has a bit of an edge in terms of a more conventional design, a better display, better speakers, but the Mi 11 Ultra is not too far behind in those departments and actually beats the S21 in terms of sheer potential in the camera division, and throws in a charger in the box and support for insanely fast wireless charging. I also do know people who would prefer a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 ahead of its Exynos counterpart. Yes, the brand loyalists might prefer the Samsung name, but if you can put up with its odd shape, I would go for the Mi 11 Ultra here. Mind you, it is a very close call.


OnePlus 9 Pro

So it is the iPhone taking the top spot, the Mi 11 Ultra and the S21 Ultra fighting for second place, depending on your preferences. What then of the OnePlus 9 Pro? Well, the fact is that it is the most affordable of the group and while some might say it is coming in last in sections like display, cameras and gaming and multimedia, it actually does not get outgunned by much by its Android rivals, and in fact beats them in terms of uncluttered UI. No, it does not have the sort of flagship killing muscle of its predecessors, but it does make for a very steady premium flagship. If money is tight (in terms of premium segment purchases), we think many will be caught between it and the Mi 11 Ultra, as both the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Galaxy S21 Ultra would be way beyond their budgets.  


And there it gets interesting, for while someone like me might get swayed by the sheer camera muscle on the Mi 11 Ultra, there are definitely many takers for the more minimalistic design and clearer interface from the Never Settler. So yes, if you want the closest thing to a Pixel in terms of UI,  the OnePlus 9 Pro is perhaps the device for you.  

My own personal rating would be:

  1. iPhone 12 Pro Max (overall consistency and speed, as well as security)
  2. Mi 11 Ultra (the cameras, and the hardware, never mind the bumpy design)
  3. Galaxy S21 Ultra (great design, good cameras  and a steady performer)
  4. OnePlus 9 Pro (clean UI, the lowest starting price and still bringing great hardware and the fastest charger in the group)

They have starting prices ranging from Rs 64,999 to Rs 1,29,900. And they are all formidable in their own right. Figure out what you need. And grab the one that meets your needs best. Given how good these devices are, disappointment is unlikely to be an option.