Looking for a small but up-to-date phone? This Xiaomi 12 review is the right place to be, it’s one of the best phones of the year so far, especially if you're not keen on the huge handsets that barely fit into your pocket.
Following the likes of the iPhone SE and the Sony Xperia 5 III in the trend for smaller smartphones, the Xiaomi 12 has shrunk in comparison to last year’s handset, the Xiaomi Mi 11. Simpler in form and simpler by name, Xiaomi has dropped ‘Mi’ and taken a more direct approach in calling it the Xiaomi 12.
When it comes to the best Android phones in the world right now, this handset is definitely a contender because it’s the most recent device to pack in the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and it’s one of the cheapest to include it as well.
Xiaomi 12 review: price and what’s new
The Xiaomi 12 will come in three variants: 8GB RAM with 128GB storage, 8GB RAM with 256GB storage and 12GB RAM with 256GB storage. Prices will start from £749 in the UK and go up to £849.
Launched globally on the 15th March, the Xiaomi 12 will be available to pre-order in the UK from the 1st of April 2022 with sales kicking off on the 15th. This phone is unlikely to come to the US.
If you’re wondering how the Xiaomi 12 is different to the Xiaomi Mi 11 then there are a couple of changes worth knowing about.
In taking the handset out of the box, the most obvious difference is the design and its smaller 6.28-inch screen, but you’ll also find an upgraded processor, a new camera system with an improved 32MP selfie snapper and it runs on the latest MIUI software based on Android 12.
Xiaomi 12 review: design and display
Thanks to its new refreshed design, the Xiaomi 12 looks bang up to date although admittedly not that different to a lot of other phones this year. The rounded camera notch has been replaced with a rectangular one, and the curved edges have been made much sharper. That’s not to mention the size, it has a smaller screen and a smaller build to match, now measuring just 152.70 x 69.90 x 8.16mm. It’s also lighter than the Xiaomi Mi 11 was, dropping from 196g down to 180g.
If you have small hands then this compact phone is very easy to use one-handed, and it will quite easily fit into your pockets. Anyone who has been frustrated with how big phones can be will be pleased to see smaller options available that don’t sacrifice on the screen or hardware.
You’ll be able to buy the Xiaomi 12 in three cool colours, including Gray, Purple and Blue. I tested out the Purple variant which looks more fun yet still sleek and stylish.
Around the frame, there’s a USB-C charging port, a power button and a volume rocker - there’s no headphone jack so you’ll need to use either an adaptor or Bluetooth headphones with this.
Unlocking the display is quick and easy using the fingerprint scanner, although it is placed slightly too far down the screen to where your thumb naturally sits. You’ll also be able to use facial recognition if that’s what you prefer.
The 6.28-inch FHD+ (2400 x 1080) AMOLED display might be small but it doesn’t skimp on quality, and it has low blue light certification to protect your eyes. With over 68 billion colours and 1,100 nits peak brightness, it looks vibrant and the details pop. The clarity is very impressive and makes it a pleasure to use for messaging or for browsing the web.
Streaming shows looks great thanks to Dolby Vision and the HDR10+ support which boosts the contrast to improve how well you can see even the lightest and darkest areas of the video and they go a long way to improving the colours as well.
For mobile gamers, the 120Hz refresh rate will be a blessing, making every swipe and scroll feel effortlessly smooth, even though the size of the display might not lend itself well to more complex games.
Corning Gorilla Glass Victus covers the handset so it should survive if you drop it, although there’s no official IP rating so you’ll have to be careful not to have any water-related accidents.
Xiaomi 12 review: camera system
The camera system has had a bit of a shakeup in comparison to the Xiaomi Mi 11. It’s now made up of a 50MP main camera, a 13MP ultra-wide-angle camera, and a 5MP telemacro camera as well as a 32MP selfie camera on the front - take a look at some examples of shots taken on the Xiaomi 12 below.
As you can see, the Xiaomi 12 takes some impressive photos with its default point-and-shoot settings. They're bright with minimal noise and well-balanced exposure while the colours look vibrant without being too oversaturated. Each image feels full of life. You can tell they're not quite realistic but they do still look fantastic.
The level of detail isn't quite what you'd get from the Xiaomi 12's higher megapixel older sibling, the Xiaomi 12 Pro. But even so, these photos are more than good enough to be used on social media or to be printed out.
To fit more into the shot, the ultra-wide-angle camera has a 123˚ field of view which is plenty, but you will lose out a little on detail. You also only get up to 10x zoom on the Xiaomi 12 which is a long way off the 100x zoom you can now get elsewhere, but how often would you use that anyway? It's a shame it's not more but I can't imagine that will be a deal-breaker for most people.
Selfies are another type of photo that come out really well. They're flattering and the portrait mode does a good job to blur out the background even though it's not as accurate as you'd get from more pricey devices, like on the best Samsung phones, for example.
You'll be able to shoot video in resolutions up to 8K and there's also an Ultra Night Video mode so you can keep filming when the evening comes around.
Xiaomi 12 review: performance and battery
The Xiaomi 12 is the latest in the line of smartphones to pack in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen1 processor and it has a Qualcomm Adreno GPU to go alongside that, as well as liquid cooling which should help it to cope better with more demanding tasks. All things considered, I expected some big things when it came to performance.
The phone I tested out had 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, but you can buy it in different variants depending on what you want or need from your next phone.
Everything about using the Xiaomi 12 felt easy, it coped well with loading even the biggest apps and didn’t struggle at all when I had a few of them open at once. Running even large mobile games just fine, it’s undoubtedly a solid smartphone when it comes to performance.
On the Geekbench 5 performance test, it scored 1,124 in single-core and 3,512 in multi-core which is similar to flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and the OnePlus 9 Pro, it actually exceeds the scores achieved by a lot of similarly priced phones including the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE.
With both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 support, you’re guaranteed the fastest connection speeds possible in your home and in your area.
To go alongside the speedy performance, the Xiaomi 12 packs a large 4,500mAh battery. It lasted me a whole day without needing to be charged. In that time I answered a few messages, read some articles online, flicked through social media and took a few photos on the camera.
To test it out a bit more accurately, I downloaded and ran an HD video over the space of two hours on full brightness. In that time, the battery level dropped by 18% so would have lasted just under 13 hours in total. That's fine but it's not quite the 17 hours or more achieved by some smartphones.
Charging the phone back up again took just over an hour using the charger that comes included in the box. Again, that's fine but with some smartphones now boasting 0 to 100% in less than half an hour, the Xiaomi 12 could definitely do better.
Behind the scenes, the Xiaomi 12 uses MIUI 13 which is based on Android 12. This operating system isn’t that far off stock Android but it’s not quite as nice to use because some of the app icons and fonts look a little cartoonish.
All of Google’s apps come pre-installed as well as a few popular services like TikTok and Amazon. To download more, you get the choice of using either the Google Play Store or the Mi Store, which gives you an almost endless amount of options.
Xiaomi 12 review: verdict
There are a few areas where the Xiaomi 12 could be improved. For instance, the battery life and charge time could be given a boost, Xiaomi could increase the camera's zoom and another point I would make is that while the design is very classy it risks getting a bit lost amongst the rest of the mid-range smartphone crowd.
But even so, in comparison to other phones at this sort of price, the Xiaomi 12 is definitely one of the best because it doesn't sacrifice at all on hardware which means you'll still get fantastic performance, a stunning display and a good camera.
Its stand out feature has to be its size, though. If you have small hands, or if you just prefer a more compact handset, this will be the best cheap phone for you right now. It's tiny!
Xiaomi 12 review: also consider
Another small but powerful phone to consider is the Realme GT 2 Pro. It’s a similar price to this, packs in the same processor and it doesn’t look that different either although the textured back of the phone is designed to look like paper. One benefit of it over the Xiaomi 12 is that the battery barely takes any time at all to recharge.
If you’re a big fan of Android then it doesn’t get much better than on the Google Pixel 6. The price is about the same but because it uses stock Android, the system feels nicer to use. You can’t expect as much in the way of performance though, and there’s no telephoto camera included in the mix.