We're facing a four-star smartphone epidemic at the moment, and after a cursory glance at its specs, this Xiaomi 12 Lite review looks like it could be another. From the OnePlus Nord CE 2 and Oppo Find X5 Lite to the Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G and so many more good-but-not-great Android phones out right now, when everything's good enough, nothing really stands out.
So what does Xiaomi do to help its 12 Lite edge ahead? For starters, it covers the basics: slinky design available in fancy colours; smooth AMOLED screen tech; very fast-charging and an in-display fingerprint scanner. It's got them all, but so do a lot of the other best phones on the market.
More interesting is the Xiaomi 12 Lite's front camera. Not only is there a selfie light for flattery-to-the-max, but there's also autofocus for selfies with more natural-looking depth, and Xiaomi has loaded-up eye-tracking and smart selfie-boosting software too.
However, with one of the smallest batteries we've seen on a 2022 smartphone, not to mention Xiaomi's historically bloated UI, can the 12 Lite best the rest?
Xiaomi 12 Lite review: Price and availability
Right now, the Xiaomi 12 Lite has been announced for global release, but no specific regions have been confirmed. One thing we do know, however, is that the phone comes in three colours, and with three memory capacities.
Starting at $399 (roughly £330) for the 6GB RAM, 128GB storage version, this spec should offer good enough performance for most casual smartphone users. There's also a $449 (roughly £375) version with some extra RAM – 8GB, as well as 128GB storage for serious multi-taskers. Finally, the priciest Xiaomi 12 Lite costs $499 (roughly £415), and has 8GB RAM, matched with 256GB storage – perfect for app and file-hoarders.
In the past, Xiaomi's initial pricing has been very optimistic. The Xiaomi 12 Pro launched at $999, but when it arrived in the UK, it cost locals significantly more – at £1,049.
So while we're reviewing the 12 Lite based on the information we have at this stage, and this should be the online price for import stores like Ali Express, if the Xiaomi 12 Lite's starting price is much higher than $399 where you are, be prudent when scoping out the competition.
Xiaomi 12 Lite review: Design
Safe but stylish design, the Xiaomi 12 Lite looks like a slender slice with its curvy corners and flat sides, front and back. Lots of phones share similar styling – the iPhone 13, Honor X8 and Oppo Reno 4 Z 5G, but the Xiaomi 12 Lite's frosted finish adds richness to the touch.
With plastic sides, a Gorilla Glass screen, and a glass back, the Xiaomi 12 Lite doesn't feel like a top-end phone, but it doesn't feel cheap either. The flat sides are easy to grip, the frosty back feels luscious to the touch (albeit slippery), and the phone is lightweight and thin at just 173g and 7.3mm respectively – that's just 1g lighter and 1mm thinner than an iPhone 13. Coincidence? Hmm.
The front of the 12 Lite is all screen, with satisfyingly even bezels framing it and a punch-hole selfie camera centred at the top. There's a USB-C port at the base, alongside a speaker and SIM slot, and all the buttons are on the right-hand side (screen facing).
In true Xiaomi fashion, the 12 Lite packs an IR blaster at the top, so you can fire up the Mi Remote app and control your TV or compatible IR device. Finally, around the back, there's a stepped camera surround with three raised lenses.
Unlike Apple, Samsung, and Sony, Xiaomi ships a charging brick and cable in the box – handy given the 12 Lite phone supports the brand's proprietary 67W fast-charging. There's also a soft plastic case to keep it safe, and a pre-installed screen protector. As with most midrange (and Xiaomi) phones, don't expect any official IP water or dust resistance rating.
If you like the look of the Xiaomi 12 Lite pictured in this review, it's the Lite Green colour option. It's also available in Black and Lite Pink. All three sport the same diffuse matte back, which glistens with a pearlesque richness when it catches the light just right.
Ultimately, we're very satisfied with the 12 Lite's fit and finish. From the colour-matched back and frame to its relatively fingerprint-repellent finish, down to its slim size and weight, and that comfortable in-hand feel.
Xiaomi 12 Lite review: Display
Xiaomi's great at shipping rich, smooth, punchy displays on its affordable phones, and the Xiaomi 12 Lite continues the trend with gusto. Its screen is big enough for comfortable swiping and watching, but not too much of a stretch at 6.55 inches.
With AMOLED screen technology matched with credentials that we wouldn't always expect at the price – HDR10+ and Dolby Vision – the phone shows off content with pizazz.
Its tall 20:9 aspect ratio means the Xiaomi 12 Lite is great for watching wide-screen content on. We fired up Ms Marvel on Disney Plus, and it filled up the screen beautifully. That said, 16:9 shows sport a fair bit more letterboxing, so aren't quite as immersive, and if you're a retro-gaming fan who plays 4:3 reboots like Final Fantasy IX, pictured above, expect hefty black bars either side of your content.
Thanks to a smooth 120Hz refresh rate which you can dial up or down manually, everything looks fluid when gliding through the software, Instagram or T3.com. The touch sampling rate of 240Hz means the 12 Lite is responsive too – it's great for gaming.
Xiaomi crams in a lot of screen modes into the 12 Lite, from a Sunlight mode that fires up the phone's peak 950-nit brightness outdoors, through to reading mode, and the ability to tune the screen's colour balance to match your tastes. We had no issues making out what was on-screen on a sunny day, and if you find you do struggle, switch on Auto-Brightness and Sunlight mode to give your screen a boost.
Just like the Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G, the Xiaomi 12 Lite fits a pair of stereo speakers on either side of the screen, which matched with Dolby Atmos spatial audio technology, gave us high hopes for the phone's sound. In reality, while fine for the price, the Xiaomi 12 Lite's speakers grate at higher volumes, so you'll definitely need a pair of wireless headphones to get the best experience.
Xiaomi 12 Lite review: Cameras
Just like the Vivo V21 5G, the Xiaomi 12 Lite is going after selfie-lovers, with its high-spec front camera. Sporting a 32-megapixel resolution and f/2.45 lens, the camera's secret selfie weapons are autofocus – missing from most front cameras – and two LED lights subtly tucked away in the screen's bezel.
The Xiaomi 12 Lite's main triple camera setup consists of a 108MP main camera with an f/1.9 lens, an 8MP ultra-wide camera with an f/2.2 lens and 120º field of view, and a 2MP macro camera.
The main camera on the Xiaomi 12 Lite is the same great 108MP sharp shooter Xiaomi shipped on the excellent Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro in 2021. Unsurprisingly, results are very similar, with stacks of detail butheavy-handed processing. The camera is relatively quick to fire up and take photos, and is snappy to boot, plus Xiaomi loads it full of shooting modes.
When shooting in auto mode, photos are downsampled from 108MP down to 12MP. In dialling back the resolution, Xiaomi boosts contrast and saturation to make sure your snaps are Instagram-ready, but it loses both object and shadow detail in the process.
If you switch to 108MP mode, it's jaw-dropping how much detail the 12 Lite's sensor captures. So when the light's right, don't be afraid to bump up the resolution. That said, in dimly-lit scenes, Auto mode is the way to go.
When the Xiaomi 12 Lite detects a low-light situation, it activates auto-night-shooting. This doesn't switch out modes, but extends the shutter time to gather a bit more light for exposure and capture a competitive low-light shot. You can, of course, alternatively switch to Night Mode for more reliable shots when the lights are low.
Fortunately, Night Mode fires up across both the main and ultra-wide cameras, which really helps when capturing landscapes in the evening. While the ultra-wide camera is a bit soft and can be noisy when capturing black or dark elements, firing up night mode helps it out, even in well-lit scenes.
The Xiaomi 12 Lite's macro camera is a bit of a waste of space if we're honest. It's a fixed-focus, low-resolution sensor that's only ever usable in really bright environments. Given the fact the main camera captures so much detail in 108MP mode, you'd be better off using that mode to take macro shots and crop in for a close-up.
As for the phone's selfie camera, it's reliably good in bright environments, and the autofocus is a really great addition. You can take close-up shots of your eyes which isn't possible with fixed-focus selfie cameras, and the portrait mode works to great effect, with more realistic background defocus than most of the competition in its price bracket.
The front LED lights do add a sparkle to your eyes when taking selfies, and their illumination is more dialled back than a big, bright screen flash, which is often overkill. In turn, while the Xiaomi 12 Lite hasn't cracked low-light selfies, it does pack a capable, versatile selfie camera on the whole.
Xiaomi 12 Lite review: Performance
The Xiaomi 12 Lite features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G chipset, which is one of those processors that's both powerful enough for most, but still relatively power-efficient.
Able to navigate through your daily tasks without any waiting, the only times we noticed the phone had to catch its breath was when we powered it up – it took a minute for all our apps to populate on-screen. Once it was fired up though, the 12 Lite handled multiple apps and games with no issues.
Running Android 12 with MIUI 13 over the top, app support is excellent, though Xiaomi's interface is heavier than most Android skins. Many won't mind this, especially if you're coming from an iPhone as MIUI is the most iOS-like Android overlay around. That said, it will turn off Android purists, as heavy UIs can be problematic.
In the past, Xiaomi's virus scanner served up adverts every time we installed an app and its dark mode frequently broke buttons in our Spotify music controls. Fortunately, on the Xiaomi 12 Lite, these bugs appear to have been ironed out.
The Xiaomi 12 Lite benchmarks like a decent mid-ranger. Compared to its pricier, more powerful sibling, the Xiaomi 12 Pro, which averaged a multi-core Geekbench score of around 3,500, the Lite came in at 2,800. This is perfectly respectable, and good enough to handle 3D games, from Genshin Impact on medium graphics settings through to simpler 2D and 3D titles like Streets of Rage 4.
Unlike the Xiaomi 12 Pro and other Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phones which can play back games at maximum resolution, the 12 Lite didn't get too hot in our time with it, making it more comfortable for long bouts of gameplay than many flagships.
The phone's 128GB storage will be enough for many. But given the fact there's no microSD card expansion, if you think you might fill it up, opt for the higher-capacity, 256GB version, especially with apps and games taking up more storage than ever – Genshin Impact alone is a whopping 15.28GB.
With a relatively responsive under-display fingerprint scanner as well as basic face recognition, we had no issues unlocking our phone quickly and securely, and after a couple of weeks with the 12 Lite, were generally impressed by just how little we missed flagship power.
Xiaomi 12 Lite review: Battery and charging
With its 4,300mAh battery, Xiaomi's 12 Lite gives us the heeby jeebies – this is one of the lowest capacity batteries we've seen on an Android phone in a long time.
As for how long the battery lasts, despite its size, performance wasn't as bad as we anticipated. If you don't mind setting the screen refresh rate to 60Hz, you can easily get through a full day with around 20 per cent power remaining. In our battery benchmark, the phone depleted 80 per cent after a respectable 14 hours of screen-on time.
That said, fire up the 120Hz screen mode, and you'll need to be more mindful, and might struggle to get through a full day of gaming, photo-taking, movie watching and downloading.
While there's no wireless charging, the Xiaomi 12 Lite does power up quickly with 67W charging, taking it from 0-100 per cent in around 40 minutes.
Xiaomi 12 Lite review: Verdict
The Xiaomi 12 Lite isn't perfect, but it could still be one of the best cheap phones of 2022. It looks great, has a brilliant, bright and punchy screen, while the cameras on the front and back do a fine job for the phone's price.
If only the 12 Lite had expandable storage and a bigger battery – then it might have stood out from the pack a little more than it does. That said, Xiaomi still gets a lot right here, and if you find it at the right price, it could be the obvious choice for anyone after a great selfie camera on a budget.
Xiaomi 12 Lite: Also consider
Want to spend a little less on your next smartphone and don't need 5G? The Redmi Note 10 Pro may not pack the same performance clout as the Xiaomi 12 Lite, but its camera system is better, and it's a fair bit cheaper.
Alternatively, if you want a higher-capacity battery and a camera with OIS, the Realme 9 Pro Plus is an excellent alternative with a brilliant main camera and an ample 5,000mAh of battery power. If you need great battery life but are happy with a mediocre camera and want a cheaper phone, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 could be the phone for you.
If you're wondering how we test our phones here at T3 – or indeed any gadgets, and believe us, we do cover an awful lot – then head over to our How We Test page for the full lowdown on our process and ethics.