Xiaomi Showdown 14 Ultra

Author: Tao Ran | Editor: Wei Xiao

The premium camera phone category has just been graced by a heavyweight contender adorned with the renowned Leica branding.

Introducing the Xiaomi 14 Ultra – arriving 12 days after the Lunar New Year and 56 days earlier than its predecessor’s launch schedule.

Lu Weibing stated this generation saw numerous major upgrades, which seemingly included a bump in price—starting at 6499 yuan, it’s 500 more than the Xiaomi 13 Ultra. After three generations (11/12/13 Ultra) of maintaining a starting price of 5999 yuan, this price threshold could no longer be upheld.

What failed to convince the executives? Lu plainly stated that the costs had seen a “significant increase.”

In fact, rumors about the Xiaomi 14 Ultra’s price hike circulated much earlier than the official announcement. At the end of January, tech bloggers on Weibo started to spread the news that Xiaomi’s new flagship model included a slew of brand new innovations in communications, materials, and batteries, resulting in a total increased cost of over 700 yuan, making a price hike inevitable.

Subsequently, several active Xiaomi insiders on Weibo began discussing costs and pricing. It wasn’t until Lu Weibing himself replied in the comments with “Significant increase in costs, definitely will have a price hike” accompanied by a heart emoji that fans became 99.9% certain of the price increase, which soon reached a full 100%.

This was a solid confirmation from the new General Manager of the Xiaomi brand.

In a way, Xiaomi 14 Ultra’s pricing strategy seems somewhat akin to Xiaomi’s concurrent mission to “build cars”. During the automotive technology conference, Lei Jun also took the stage to preemptively brace fans, saying the car would be “somewhat expensive,” but that the price would be justified – early notifications like this help customers gradually accept the pricing.

Perhaps it’s a form of confidence.

So, what’s the justification for the Xiaomi 14 Ultra’s premium price? To clarify why it’s pricier and to penetrate customers’ minds with the concept of an ultimate top-tier phone, Lu Weibing, President of Xiaomi Group, and Xu Fei, Vice President for China, told one story after another, even bringing celebrated director Zhang Yimou into the narrative.

Just considering imaging quality, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra was already acclaimed by photography enthusiasts, particularly those fond of street photography who didn’t want to invest in a dedicated camera due to limited energy or budget constraints. A phone functioning as a “quasi-camera” was more than suitable for daily use.

Thus, the Xiaomi 14 Ultra continued the well-received design ideas of the 13 Ultra: a large sensor, wide aperture, high-quality lenses, and it filled the previous model’s gaps with a long-zoom macro lens, optimizing weight distribution and grip by reducing internal battery space and restructuring the design.

Specifically, the appearance of the Xiaomi 14 Ultra’s camera module is similar to its predecessor, featuring a central black circular frame. Specs-wise, the 50-megapixel Leica main camera is equipped with a LYT900 sensor and includes a variable aperture similar to the Xiaomi 14 Pro; the additional Leica 0.5X ultra-wide-angle, 3.2X telephoto macro, and 5X periscope telephoto lenses all boast 50-megapixels with the IMX858 sensor, and the telephoto lenses support OIS for stabilization. While maintaining consistency in imaging, the setup significantly enhances light intake.

The announcement subtly shaded competitors, suggesting that while some may have catchy slogans like theirs, they lack the full range of focal lengths; others matching their focal range have smaller apertures leading to poor night-time photography; or else they have inferior telephoto quality that renders it practically unusable in many scenarios…

It sounded like a confident claim of “none can match us.”

Learning from the mishap a few years back when they prioritized specs over actual user experience, Xiaomi reserved a large portion of their presentation to tell stories beyond making usual data comparisons with the iPhone 15.

They spun tales about Leica optics, the human element, depth and layering, and beyond the limits of optical zoom, about super high magnification over 30X zoom supported by AI large models. Stories and sample photos took over an hour to share.

Lei Jun posted on Weibo expressing his honor in appointing Director Zhang Yimou as Chief Advisor for Xiaomi Imaging, citing significant insights gained by the team. He emphasized not only a sense of depth and understanding people but also the importance of not being traditionalist, suggesting leaning towards young people and the future.

Xiaomi continues to refine its focus on the essence of photography through both hardware and software innovations, especially after its collaboration with Leica.

Beyond the limits of optical capabilities lies the realm of AIGC – the Xiaomi 14 Ultra is a flagship with a high concentration of AI.

The new device is powered by Xiaomi’s first “Xiaomi AISP,” an AI large model computational photography platform, acting as an upgraded brain for Xiaomi imaging. For super zoom, beyond 30X magnification, AI intervenes to redraw details in the photo.

Different from AI-powered post-processing features like image enlargement and object removal, AI zoom actually kicks in during the shooting process, meaning the original photo includes all details completed by AI.

As for the idea of embedding a “subtle watermark” on AI-generated photos to indicate its origin, it’s just a speculation, but such a detail might become a standard in the AIGC era.

In summary, regarding the “imaging” aspect of its flagship, Xiaomi seems ready to outdo its competitors.

Other flagship related features have also sparked discussions. For example, the inclusion of satellite communication, which was a hot topic last year, had divided opinions: some argued it could save lives in critical moments, while others considered it superfluous for personal use and advocated for a price reduction if removed.

At the launch, Lu Weibing’s final verdict was: the Xiaomi 14 Ultra series to come standard with two-way satellite communication, and he even compared it with a competitor’s 60 Pro in terms of satellite searching, connection, and call speed.

Lu Weibing revealed that during development he challenged the engineering team to outdo the competition since they were already behind in the feature. They found it challenging, but his stance was firm: surpass them or drop the feature altogether. It was this pressure that led to the significant advancements in satellite communication.

Rumors circulated during the release of the Xiaomi 14/14 Pro last year about internal testing of satellite communication, which was ultimately scrapped due to cost considerations. However, user demand remained. With this update, along with refined ergonomics and new photography accessories – such as the possibility to use a battery as a power bank – it’s evident that Xiaomi is increasingly embracing user feedback in their smartphone development.

The fully-featured Ultra comes with an Ultra price tag. With the unveiling complete, it’s time for Lu’s debut to be tested by the market and scored by users.

How would you rate this imaging flagship?

Lanmeih/Today’s Topic

Would you buy the Xiaomi starting at 6499 Yuan?

Let’s chat in the comments section~

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