Xiaomi Mi NoteBook Ultra review: High on features, light on the pocket
Xiaomi’s Mi NoteBook 14 series launched last year amidst fanfare and high expectations
Xiaomi’s Mi NoteBook 14 series launched last year amidst fanfare and high expectations, threatening to upend the mid-range laptop segment via a simplified portfolio that emphasized performance and design, aspects that were hitherto reserved only for more premium offerings. Xiaomi had the thin and light formula down pat, but the laptop stopped short of earning an unqualified recommendation on account of missing a few hygiene elements. This year, Xiaomi’s taken things up a notch, with the Mi Notebook Pro and the Mi Notebook Ultra, laptops that should set the cat among the pigeons in the premium laptop space. I’ve been using the latter for over a couple of weeks, and here’s my considered take.
A quick note on the Mi Notebook Ultra variants that Xiaomi has on offer. The base 11th Gen Intel Core i5-11300H variant with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD starts at Rs. 59,999 and a bumped up 16GB variant – the one on review – carries a Rs. 63,999 price tag. You’ll have to spend an additional Rs. 13,000 if you want the top-spec version with the Core i7-11370H processor.
Straight off, there’s an uncanny resemblance to the space grey MacBook Pro, particularly thanks to the dark grey, sandblasted finish to the anodized aluminum body. It’s a good look no doubt, and the clean lines and shiny black Xiaomi logo on the lid exude the sort of premium appeal you’re typically used to expecting in laptops far pricier than this. The 17.9mm thickness is easy to pick up and handle with one hand, though the 1.7kg weight is a tad on the heavier side for something that doesn’t profess to be a gaming laptop. There’s no sign of flex on the lid, and the hinge feels sturd, if a little rigid for opening with one hand. Port selection checks the boxes, with a Thunderbolt 4 Type-C port and a USB 3.2 Type-C port, two USB Type-A ports (one is USB 3.2 and the other USB 2.0) plus HDMI and 3.5mm video and audio out. No Ethernet port, though there is Wi-Fi 6 for wireless connectivity. You can charge using the included 65W adapter via either of the Type-C ports, but they’re both on the left of the laptop, which limits your cable layout options.
Moving onto the keyboard, the Ultra has a generously spaced keyboard with chiclet-style keys and 1.5mm of key travel that’s among the nicest typing experiences I’ve seen on a recent Windows laptop. Two levels of backlighting solve one of the key complaints from last year’s model. The trackpad is large and smooth, offers Windows precision driver support for gestures and tracks accurately, but the trackpad button clicks still left me wanting for a little more refinement. There’s a fingerprint sensor integrated into the power button which makes logging in rather snappy, and below it sits a dedicated macro key to quick launch any app you frequent.
The main attraction though is that gorgeous 15.6-inch IPS LCD screen with a 3.2K (3,200 x 2,000) panel, a 16:10 aspect ratio and a 90Hz refresh rate – an impressive inclusion at this price point. This display goes the distance, with 100% sRGB coverage for color accuracy, DC dimming and TUV Rheinland certification for reduced eye strain, and very little color shift off-axis. In everyday use, the matte-finish panel is great for watching videos and browsing the web, with the taller 16:10 resolution coming in really handy while working on documents and spreadsheets. Surrounding the display are thin bezels and an average quality 720p web cam with dual microphones – it’s serviceable but you’d still be better off picking up a dedicated one if you Zoom/Teams/Meet a lot. The bottom firing speakers are anemic at best and easily muffled on anything other than a flat surface.
With the Intel Iris Xe graphics handling basic casual gaming duties, the Mi Notebook Ultra really comes into its own in everyday productivity tasks, so if your work keeps you hopping between several browser tabs, streaming music or video, Microsoft Office (Home and Student 2019 version comes preloaded) and lightweight creative apps, you should be sorted. The laptop can handle multiple apps running in the background well, without throttling or running too hot either. With the 3.2K display set to 90Hz, I was able to push the 70Wh battery on the laptop well past the 7-hour mark with moderate usage, which is impressive for my workflow. Lighter workloads should get closer to Xiaomi’s claimed figure of 12 hours. Interestingly, since it supports using a PD (power delivery) charger, you can leave the brick at home and carry something like the Stuffcool Centurion 100W charger instead for all of your device charging needs.
For something that hits the right balance of features and pricing without the “but…” of last year’s laptops, Xiaomi has delivered something special with the Mi Notebook Ultra, even if the design is a bit inspired. You pay just a bit more than the last generation, which gets you hardware that’s capable for all but the most demanding of applications and games, and the premium, high resolution and high refresh rate display will undoubtedly make more of any impact on everyday use than eking out an extra 5-10% of performance or battery life. For working professionals, amateur content creators and just about any other average Jay, this is a laptop that earns its Ultra name without an ultra price tag.
Xiaomi Mi NoteBook Ultra
Pros: Exceptional display for the price, good battery life, good build quality, decent performance, good pricing
Cons: Webcam and speakers are average, trackpad buttons
Price: Rs. 59,999 (8GB/512GB/i5), Rs. 63,999 (16/512/i5), Rs. 76,999 (16/512/i7)
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar