July 29, 2021

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Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: which should you buy?

The Xiaomi Mi 11 and Samsung Galaxy S21 are cutting-edge Android phones. They offer high-end tech for less money, and a smartphone experience not that far removed from £1000-phones in many respects.

If you want the most features and the highest quality build you can get for your money, buy the Xiaomi Mi 11. It feels like a real enthusiast phone, has a more desirable processor, and is better value when you break it down.

However, it is not the best choice for everyone. The Samsung Galaxy S21 is a much smaller phone, perfect if you’re tired of smartphones that bulge out of pockets. Its camera is a little more versatile too.

Still unsure? Read on for a full breakdown of each phone’s best features.

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Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: key differences at a glance

  • The Xiaomi Mi 11 has a much larger, higher-resolution screen
  • Samsung’s ultra-wide and selfie cameras are better
  • The Xiaomi relies on its very high-res main camera for zoom images while the S21 has a dedicated zoom lens
  • We prefer the Xiaomi Mi 11’s Snapdragon processor to the S21’s Exynos one
  • The Galaxy S21 is a much smaller phone
  • The construction of the Xiaomi Mi 11 is higher-end, using curved glass on front and back

Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: in detail

Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: specs and features

These phones may have much more expensive “ultra” siblings for the buyer willing to spend mountains of cash on their next phone, but there’s no power or performance sacrifice involved here.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a Samsung Exynos 2100 CPU, just like the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Xiaomi’s Mi 11 has the Snapdragon 888, arguably the very best Android processor available at the time of the phone’s launch.

Which is better? We have to give this one to Xiaomi. While Samsung’s Exynos processors improved quite dramatically this year, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line is still ahead for gaming performance and efficiency.

Right now we don’t think you’ll notice the difference all that much. The Samsung Galaxy S21 and Xiaomi Mi 11 will still handle today’s Android games just fine, but a little extra juice may appeal if you tend to hold onto your phones for as long as you can before upgrading.

Samsung Galaxy S21 colours

Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: price and storage

The official prices for these phones are quite similar. But if we go by what you can get them for at their manufacturers’ online stores, the Xiaomi Mi 11 is a bit cheaper.

It costs £649 with 128GB storage, or £699 with 256GB storage.

You’ll pay £769 for the 128GB Galaxy S21 direct from Samsung, or £819 for the 256GB version.

That said, the price disparity disappears if you expand your search. At the time of writing, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is available for £649 (128GB version) from Amazon.

So, if price is your main decided, it might be a tough one since the Xiaomi Mi 11 and Samsung Galaxy S21 cost roughly the same amount.

Xiaomi Mi 11 colours

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Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: battery life

Neither of these phones is the obvious choice if you want two-day battery life. Samsung and Xiaomi both produce longer-lasting phones, like the Galaxy S21+ and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro.

The day-to-day experience will be quite similar in both. Have a heavy day of YouTube-ing, or a long commute during which you play a game? The Samsung Galaxy S21 and Xiaomi Mi 11 may need a top-up if you plan on going out in the evening and will use your phone to listen to a podcast on the way home.

They will last a full day for most people, but don’t quite have that ultra-reliable longevity we value so highly. Why? The Samsung Galaxy S21 is quite a small phone, and has a just-ok 4000mAh size battery to match. Similarly, the 4600mAh battery of the Mi 11 is not huge considering its very large, very high-res screen. Xiaomi likely had to cut down capacity slightly to keep the phone thin and slick-looking.

The Xiaomi Mi 11 has the advantage for real-world use, because its charging is very fast indeed. It comes with a 55W charger that will take the Mi 11 from 0% to full charge in under and hour.

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 doesn’t come with a charger at all, and only supports 25W charging. If you don’t have a 25W Samsung charger lying around at home, you’ll have to buy one to get the best recharge speed.

The Xiaomi Mi 11 also has superb wireless charging speed. At 50W, it works at twice the rate Samsung manages using a cable. It’s an eye-opener. Still, Qi wireless charging pads and stands that powerful can cost £70 or more, so we’d probably advise sticking to a good old wired charger.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 does support wireless charging, but only at a rate of 15W. You can get a dock with that kind of power for under £15 online, so it might make a nice accessory for your work desk.

Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: camera

The Xiaomi Mi 11’s camera might make your eyes pop out if you don’t follow phone tech too closely. It has a 108MP main camera, which sounds far more impressive than the Samsung Galaxy S21’s 12MP camera.

However, after considering every piece of the camera puzzle, of which there are many these days, we think the Samsung Galaxy S21’s array is slightly better. It’s mostly about flexibility.

Samsung Galaxy S21 camera

Samsung Galaxy S21 camera

The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a better ultra-wide camera than the Xiaomi Mi 11, a better selfie camera and a better zoom. It uses a 64-megapixel sensor with a 1.1x lens for zoom shots: hardly worthy of a wildlife photographer. But it then crops into this camera’s view to produce more detailed images than the standard 12-megapixel camera.

When you use the Samsung Galaxy S21 you always feel there’s a whole bunch of useful options at your fingertips, which lets you get more creative with how you shoot images. It also scores a win on the image quality front.

The Samsung Galaxy S21’s photos tend to exhibit noticeably better dynamic range than the Xiaomi Mi 11’s. That means you’ll see fewer blown highlights, where the brightest parts become panes of white, and more details in the darkest spots. Dynamic range is one of the most important aspects of photography, arguably more important than detail in phone cameras.

Xiaomi Mi 11 camera

Xiaomi Mi 11 camera

The Samsung Galaxy S21’s win is a marginal one, though, and the Xiaomi Mi 11’s cameras are excellent. Normal 1x zoom images will sometimes be more detailed than Samsung’s, handy if you think you might want to blow up holiday images to put on a wall. And it has an unusual secret weapon: a telemacro camera.

This is a camera for close-up photography with a zoom-style lens designed to let you focus on subjects incredibly near to you. It’s mostly used for nature photography. We first came across one of these in the Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro, and it is a lot of fun to play around with. While its resolution is only 5MP, it’s enough to bring out detail the average phone camera could not. Heck, it can see things our eyes can’t.

Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: display

Here’s where we get to the part that reveals why the Samsung Galaxy S21 and Xiaomi Mi 11 aren’t all that similar, if you forget that their prices are neck and neck.

The Xiaomi Mi 11 has a very large 6.81-inch screen. The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a relatively small 6.2-inch screen.

We’ll cover the benefits of “going small” in the design section of this comparison. But in a pure screen vs screen fight, Xiaomi wins.

The Xiaomi Mi 11’s large display is a great canvas for games and streamed video, and the tech used is really quite stunning for the price. It’s an ultra-high resolution 3200 x 1440 pixel display, and still looks pin-sharp despite the large screen area.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 has a lower-resolution – 2400 x 1080 pixel panel – although it still looks sharp despite being small. This one’s all about size.

They also share several impressive elements. The Xiaomi MI 11 and Samsung Galaxy S21 have OLED panels, which have light-up pixels for effectively infinite contrast. Samsung’s display arm most likely produced both of these screens.

They have a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz, for incredibly smooth scrolling, and extremely high brightness for good visibility on sunny days.

The Xiaomi Mi 11 is a step up, but size is the only difference everyone will notice.

Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21

Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: 5G capability and Connectivity

Do these phones have 5G? Of course they do. We’d find it hard to recommend phones this expensive to UK buyers if they did not have 5G at this point.

In other senses, though, they are more limited than some of the much cheaper 4G phones we still like and recommend in 2021. Neither lets you plug in a pair of wired headphones without using a USB-C to 3.5mm socket adapter.

You can’t slot a microSD card in, so have a think about how much storage you’ll need before choosing between the respective 128GB or 256GB versions.

This is standard stuff for high-end phones in 2021, though, and the Xiaomi Mi 11 and Samsung Galaxy S21 both have advanced wireless standards like Wi-Fi 6. You may have come across this if you upgraded your home internet router recently. It’s faster, and works more effectively if your home internet is congested with stacks of devices.

Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: design

If we were to remove all questions of personal preference from this comparison, the Xiaomi Mi 11 would win this “design” section. It has a great curved glass back and a luxurious curved glass front, where Samsung uses plastic on the Galaxy S21’s back in order to save some money.

This may pick up scuffs more easily, and doesn’t feel quite as expensive.

However, this category is a lot more complicated than that. We are fans of the style of Samsung’s S21-series phones. They are distinctive and eye-catching, stylised in a way that seems made for the cover of a glossy magazine. The Xiaomi MI 11’s look may seem like that of a very expensive phone, but it is more anonymous, and could be confused for phones lower down in Xiaomi’s (admittedly excellent) Android line-up.

Xiaomi wins for quality of construction. Samsung wins for style. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide which size of phone suits you best.

The Galaxy S21 is 12.6mm shorter and 3.4mm narrower than the Xiaomi Mi 11. That may not sound like a lot, but means these two belong in totally different size classes. The Samsung is a small phone, the Xiaomi Mi 11 a large one.

Sure, the Xiaomi isn’t quite as brick-like as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, a tech-packed powerhouse. It’s actually relatively small for a 6.81-inch screen phone thanks to its tiny display borders. But some readers may prefer to live with a smaller phone like the Galaxy S21.

It doesn’t ask for finger gymnastics and will fit into pockets more easily. Plus, it makes ill-advised scrolling through social media while in bed less likely to end with the phone falling flat on your face.

Xiaomi Mi 11 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: which should you buy?

If the question here is which phone gets you the most for your money, the Xiaomi Mi 11 is the winner. It has a bigger, higher-resolution screen, build quality we’d usually associate with an even more expensive phone, and a slightly better processor.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 is not far behind, though. It is also more stylish, easier to handle and the camera array is a bit more versatile thanks to its higher-quality ultra-wide and selfie cameras. A dedicated zoom camera helps with 3x and 5x shots too.

Buy the Xiaomi Mi 11:

Buy the Samsung Galaxy S21:

Still comparing? Don’t miss our OnePlus vs Samsung Galaxy S21 comparison or our iPhone 12 vs Samsung Galaxy S21 guide.