As part of Xiaomi's mass expansion of the Mi 11 line in late March, the company rounded out the lower end of the family with a pair of svelte new smartphones, in the Mi 11 Lite and the Mi 11 Lite 5G.
While, at first glance, both phones may present themselves in a similar light, the 5G version packs in more than just faster cellular connectivity. It also boasts a superior chipset and a few other extras that collectively render it a more powerful and competitive mid-range entry.
The proportions of the Mi 11 Lite 5G are something of a testament to how far 5G technology has progressed over the last couple of years. The first wave of 5G phones were typically larger, thicker and heavier than their 4G/LTE-toting equivalents but fast-forward to 2021's Mi 11 Lite 5G and you now have one of the thinnest smartphones (i.e. not just 5G smartphones) on the market, in recent memory.
A waistline of 6.81mm and a weight of just 159 grams are somewhat at odds with the expansive display the phone boasts, resulting in an astoundingly thin and light device that feels decidedly premium in the hand as a result.
While the Lite 5G does possess a camera bump – one styled after the arrangement on the back of the original Mi 11, tying it into the product family more closely – it too barely rises from the phone's flat glass back.
Speaking of that glass back, Xiaomi has opted for an eye-catching finish across all three colourways of Lite 5G: Citrus Yellow (pictured), Mint Green and Truffle Black. Unlike the Boba Black variant of the 4G-only Mi 11 Lite, all three Lite 5G hues possess a beautiful diffused surface treatment that deftly resists smudges and smears, while also offering up a beautiful lustre and iridescence when held against the light.
As well as forgoing any form of IP-certified dust or water resistance, the thin form of the Mi 11 Lite 5G does also pull features like wireless charging and in-display fingerprint sensors off the table.
Instead, the colour-matched rounded metal frame running the phone's edge plays host to a power key that doubles as a (pleasingly responsive and reliable) fingerprint sensor, along with a volume rocker, a single loudspeaker grille, SIM tray, USB-C port and – wholly surprisingly – an IR blaster, which works in conjunction with the included Mi (universal) Remote app.
Those hoping for a 3.5mm headphone jack aren't going to find one on a device as thin as the Mi 11 Lite 5G, however, Xiaomi does still include a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in-box (as well as a clear, flexible case).
There's a 6.55in 20:9 Full HD+ AMOLED display front and centre on the Mi 11 Lite 5G, set into some decently thin bezels.
The top edge of those bezels conceals an earpiece that also serves as one half of the phone's capable and clear stereo speaker setup; delivering a far more robust sound than anything you might expect from a phone this svelte.
As for the panel itself, it's both HDR10+ and 10-bit colour-compliant, and while the Lite 5G displays content at 60Hz out the box, all it takes is a quick dip into the phone's settings to enable a smoother 90Hz high refresh rate (the phone warns you that turning this on this will impact battery performance), which feels wholly worthwhile; based on the speedy and responsive user experience you subsequently benefit from.
That OLED screen delivers on contrast, colour, viewing angles and brightness, which should be enough to satiate the majority of users to no end, and what's more, it comes protected by Gorilla Glass 6.
There's something to be said for a display of this size, paired with the phone's flat and thin form; one-handed mode – which features within the phone's settings – proves essential, as trying to reach across the screen, without things scaling down momentarily, feels unquestionably precarious.
If there's one thing MIUI (Xiaomi's Android user experience running on the 11 Lite 5G) has a lot of, it's options – and that's especially true of the display's dedicated settings.
You can tweak the UI to adopt a dark theme (which saves on battery by playing to one of the strengths of that AMOLED screen tech), set independent day and night-time brightness levels, lean on the blue light filtration of Reading Mode and even toy with the colour space calibration to an impressive degree – unrivalled by Xiaomi's competitors' user experiences.
If you're familiar with the concept of choice paralysis, MIUI should probably come with a trigger warning.
Xiaomi's build of Android offers users practically unparalleled choice, compared to other phone makers' alternatives, which is great for those with enjoy tweaking, chopping and changing up how their phone looks, feels and behaves on a semi-regular basis. On the other hand, things will likely prove overwhelming for those who simply want everything to work as they expect, right out of the box.
This wouldn't be so much of a concern if MIUI followed similar rules to other builds of skinned Android or even iOS, but there are fundamental differences that will take even experienced smartphone users time to get used to.
The depth of the display settings should serve as an indication of the wider approach MIUI 12 (based on Android 11) takes, as it appears on the Mi 11 Lite 5G. You can choose whether you have an apps drawer or not, swap out themes and icon packs, edit the order and appearance of the 25+ quick settings or deep-dive into the full settings menu for complete control.
Game Turbo frees up resources to provide a better gaming experience, Second Space gives you a place to hide apps and data from prying eyes, Quick Ball acts as an ever-present floating shortcut menu; the list of features and functions goes on and on.
As well as a handful of third-party (but thankfully removable) bloatware out the box (like eBay and Agoda), Xiaomi also loads its devices with a suite of own-brand apps; not all of which would be considered "essential" inclusions alongside the assorted Google apps that also feature.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 765G became the darling of last year's mobile chipsets, offering great performance and 5G connectivity at a far more competitive price compared to the company's then-flagship silicon, the Snapdragon 865 (and later, the 865+).
The chip proved its worth, having featured in our 2020 mid-range phone of choice – the OnePlus Nord – as well as a host of capable flagship-class phones, including the LG Velvet and Google's Pixel 5.
It's this pedigree that sets the bar high for its spiritual successor, the Snapdragon 780G, which happens to reside within the Mi 11 Lite 5G.
Thankfully, the 780 also appears to be a well-balanced piece of hardware – delivering lag-free performance and trimming down the app load times that highlighted the limitations of the Snapdragon 732G running the show inside the 4G-only Mi 11 Lite.
In artificial benchmarking tests (with the display set to 90Hz), the Lite 5G certainly looks to be one of the better performers for a mid-range device at this price point. The phone handles split-screen multitasking happily and by default, demanding games like Call of Duty: Mobile run with graphics set to 'very high', frame rate set to 'high' and real-time shadows enabled, while still running at a pleasingly smooth and responsive frame rate.
Xiaomi pairs the 780G inside the Mi 11 Lite 5G with either 6GB or 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM and (irrespective of RAM amount) 128GB of UFS 2.2 storage, while the hybrid double-sided SIM tray can accommodate a second SIM or a microSD card (up to 512GB), if so desired.
For such a thin phone, the fact that the Lite 5G fits in a 4250mAh battery, complete with 33W fast charging, is pretty impressive. In general use, the phone should see you through the day without concern, despite sporting one of the smaller battery capacities within Xiaomi's current line-up.
PCMark's battery benchmark clocked it at a respectable 10.5 hours (100% charge down to 20%, with the screen locked to 200nits brightness).
Those with ongoing longevity concerns can also take comfort in the fact that MIUI comes with not one, but two power-saving modes, as well as active battery usage monitoring tools that suggest ways to prolong normal use by killing background processes or disabling quality-of-life features, like the phone's high refresh rate or haptic feedback.
The 33W charging also refills the Mi 11 Lite 5G's battery back up to 57% from flat in 30 minutes, which will see most users through a workday trouble-free, while a full charge can be achieved in 1.25 hours.
A 64Mp lead camera comes accompanied by a 119° 8Mp ultrawide and a 5Mp 'telemacro' on the back of the Mi 11 Lite 5G, while the hole punch sensor in the top left of the screen is a step-up from the 16Mp unit found on the 4G version of the phone, instead sporting a 20Mp sensor, with a wider f/2.24 aperture.
A thin design usually comes at the camera hardware's expense and the most obvious manifestation of this trade-off comes with regards to the Mi 11 Lite 5G is the lack of an OIS (optical image stabilisation) system.
Thankfully the phone's built-in EIS (electronic image stabilisation), paired with that large lead sensor (which pixel-bins – condensing the data of four captured pixels into one final image pixel to iron out shake and noise), pushing out 16Mp images by default, is pleasantly competent for everyday shooting.
Image quality is pleasing across the board, with the best results coming from having AI shooting enabled.
Xiaomi's colour science, exposure and contrast is already respectful to the actual scene being photographed, but the AI enhancement on the Mi 11 Lite 5G makes some pleasingly considered tweaks. Unlike equivalent modes from rivals, it bumps attributes like vibrancy, sharpness and contrast to a respectable degree, without destroying the authenticity of the original image. 64Mp mode gives you a larger overall shot but you lose sharpness as a result.
Unlike phones such as the Realme 8 Pro, Pixel 5 and Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Lite 5G's camera isn't built for long-exposure night scenes with extreme low-light environments. So long as there's a light source present and your subject isn't moving around too much, however, the dedicated night mode will take some great shots – perfect for a beach scene just after sunset or a group fireside photo with friends.
The camera's dynamic range proved a pleasant surprise, bringing details out in the darkest and brightest areas of a scene beyond expectation, but at the same time, the quality of the bokeh in some shots felt sub-par; appearing muddy and distorted, and lacking the desirable 'creamy' quality that all cameraphones endeavour to emulate from the world of DSLR/mirrorless cameras.
While there's no denying that Xiaomi's camera software is versatile and feature-packed, it's a little convoluted too (much like the rest of MIUI). There are four primary shooting modes (including manual control and portrait capture) next to the shutter button, while the 'more' button reveals a further 12 or so options (featuring creative modes like long exposure, 'vlog' and 'clone'). Dive into the native settings menu, however, and you'll also find options like tilt-shift, 'super macro' and more.
Why these modes are spread across at least three different locations within the camera's UI is unclear and users unwilling to explore and experiment could easily miss out on some capable additional photographic features.
The Mi 11 Lite 5G is available in numerous European markets, as well as the UK, most commonly available with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for around £399/€399.99 from Xiaomi's website (where the phone's is frequently discounted) and online retailers, like Amazon.
There's a lot of solid competition around this price, however, with the majority of it coming from Xiaomi itself. The Poco X3 Pro is a budget beast with weaker cameras and a weaker design but solid performance and superior longevity, while the Poco F3 surpasses the Lite 5G in terms of raw power but is a notably cheaper mid-range alternative with a 120Hz AMOLED display.
While ultimately a less-powerful handset, Samsung's Galaxy A52 5G comes with a nice design all its own, a 120Hz display and what many would consider a cleaner, easier-to-use user experience in One UI and all for the same price, not to mention a more reliable software update roadmap in the long-term.
For only a little more cash, there's also overlap with flagship-class handsets like the Snapdragon 865-powered OnePlus 8T (which since launch has already dropped to around £449, in the UK).
While the standard 4G-only Mi 11 Lite is already an impressive feat of engineering, thanks to that slim profile, the fact that this 5G equivalent isn't really any thicker, larger or heavier, despite delivering even more power, is an impressive achievement in and of itself.
Even without its dimensions under consideration, the Mi 11 Lite 5G offers up a pleasingly well-rounded experience and heaps of performance for the price, however, it does occupy a crowded mid-range space, where devices are vying for interest-based on standout features, without demanding flagship prices.
As such, if you're looking for the thinnest phone worth buying right now, this is it. If that waistline isn't one of the biggest driving forces behind your purchasing decision, though, there are a number of competitors for around the same money that will also fit the bill.