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Xiaomi 13 Pro is more a camera than phone, beats Apple. But don’t buy it if you want the best

The problem for Xiaomi is less the Galaxy S23 series and more the OnePlus 11, which is considerably cheaper and will attract a wider spectrum of buyers.

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Xiaomi has often been dubbed as ‘the Apple of China’. Its founder and CEO Lei Jun would wear the same fabled black turtleneck that the late Apple founder Steve Jobs used to. Xiaomi events would attract the same fervour as Apple’s. Xiaomi’s rise in India, coinciding with Hugo Barra becoming its vice-president in 2013, raised its profile to greater heights. Barra exited Xiaomi in 2017 and joined Meta. But Manu Kumar Jain, Jabong co-founder and new VP, made sure Xiaomi became a force to be reckoned with in India. Xiaomi became the number one retailer of smartphones and Smart TVs in the country. The Chinese company even ranked first in the Smart TV category. But Barra’s exit meant that Xiaomi hadn’t cracked the US market. Its latest phone, the Xiaomi 13 Pro, which was launched on 26 February at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, will not be coming to the US.

In response to the 2020 Galwan Valley clash, India banned a multitude of Chinese apps. This included the social networking giant TikTok. The anti-China sentiment was so high that people were smashing their Xiaomi TVs. And the Narendra Modi government was tightening the screws on Chinese smartphone players, starting with Xiaomi.

Xiaomi has earned itself the reputation of being a value-for-money brand in India. In 2020, it launched the Mi10 with an aim to crack the more lucrative premium segment of the smartphone market. The Chinese company also made its way into the laptop market. In April 2022, things started to turn stressful — Xiaomi was getting special attention from the Enforcement Directorate, which froze the company’s assets worth $676 million. In January this year, Manu Kumar Jain and top executives Sumit Sonal and Raghu Reddy left the company.

Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 12 Pro+, which was launched on 5 January in India, received a lukewarm response as well. The launch of the Xiaomi 13 Pro, therefore, is what the company is pinning its hopes on.

Also read: With new Qualcomm chipset, OnePlus 11 and Galaxy S23 challenging iPhone on pure performance

Can Leica be Xiaomi’s saviour?

In July 2022, Xiaomi announced that it has partnered with the legendary German camera giant Leica Camera. Their first model, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra, was launched only in China. I tried the phone a couple of months ago at a photography workshop in Pondicherry — it is quite impressive.

With the 13 Pro, Xiaomi is amping up the concepts introduced with the 12S and promising an exceptional photography experience with the new Leica features in all three camera sensors. The 13 Pro uses the Sony IMX989 50-megapixel 1-inch sensor — a first for India. With the largest sensor on a smartphone in India, the 13 Pro beats even the iPhone 14 Pro.

The Xiaomi 13 Pro features a telephoto camera that not only offers 3.2x optical zoom but also has other modes that mimic the legendary 75mm portraits taken from Leica’s iconic rangefinder cameras. The smartphone gets a further boost from the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, which is also behind the brilliance of the camera system on the new Samsung Galaxy S23 series. Overall, the Xiaomi 13 Pro packs the best of the best — a screen brighter than the Galaxy S23 Ultra, a design that has a supple ceramic back, and ultra-fast 120-watt fast charging and 50-watt wireless charging battery. It is a formidable package.

The model indeed takes stunning photos, especially portraits with natural depth of field even when the portrait mode is not engaged. It takes very colour-accurate photos and is incredible in monochrome photography as well. Not to forget the wide-angle camera for great landscape shots. It will, however, be best for a professional photographer who can harness the true power of this camera with its myriad of modes. My skills are feeble in comparison. Even the legendary American photographer Stephen McCurry says this is the best smartphone camera on the planet right now.

In low light, however, if there is an over-dependence on the night mode, the Xiaomi 13 Pro’s camera system perhaps is a tad behind that of the S23 Ultra and Google Pixel 7. But that’s something for amateurs. In the hands of a professional, this phone is more of a camera than a phone.

Also read: Galaxy S23 revives Samsung-Apple battle in India. iPhone 15 will have to flex its…

MIUI 14 is cleaner and simpler, but is that enough?

Often, advertisements and bloatware have bogged down generally solid hardware on Xiaomi smartphones. I had pointed that out even with the Redmi Note 12 Pro+. Things have improved slightly on the Xiaomi 13 Pro — it is a joy to use, thanks to MIUI 14 update. It is helped by the generally performant hardware, which includes DDRX5 RAM, 256GB UFS 4.0 memory, and the fastest processor in the market. A good phone to use. Period.

The problem for Xiaomi, however, is less the Galaxy S23 series and more the OnePlus 11, which provides exceptional value at Rs 56,999. It is considerably cheaper and will attract a wider spectrum of buyers. Its faster performance and cleaner day-to-day experience are unmissable too.

The Xiaomi 13 Pro will be for photography nerds alone. It won’t appeal to those who want the best — the Galaxy S23 series one-ups it in other regards.

Partnering with Leica did Huawei a lot of good globally as its phones started getting wider recognition. But even Huawei didn’t do too well with its flagship phones in India. Unless Xiaomi makes celebrities and creative professionals advocate for the 13 Pro, it will remain a niche product for a niche market.

Perhaps Xiaomi already knows this as the 13 Pro is priced at €1,299 worldwide. It will be the most expensive Xiaomi phone in India, costlier than even the Xiaomi 11 Ultra. That’s why Xiaomi says that only a few 13 Pro models will be up for sale in the Indian market.

Sahil Mohan Gupta is Editor, Technology at Acko Drive. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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