Xiaomi 14 Review: An Excellent, Powerful Choice for Small Phone Fans

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

The Xiaomi 14 may very well be the kind of phone most should experience, in part because it brings the Leica camera hardware and software to the fore. Previously, Xiaomi only included all Leica features in its Pro or Ultra models, but has now done it for this, the smallest of the bunch. This time, the 14 Pro is a Chinese market exclusive, leaving the 14 and 14 Ultra as the two global options.

A phone with a 6.3-inch OLED display doesn’t sound “small,” yet the Xiaomi 14 feels like it belongs in a newer class of what can be considered more compact devices. Think of the Samsung Galaxy S24, Google Pixel 8, or iPhone 15 in the same vein. The difference is Xiaomi wants this phone to stand out as the best in its class for mobile photography and beyond.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Design and Build

I never got to try the Xiaomi 13, having focused more on the 13 Pro, but the shift in this phone is a significant move for a couple of reasons. Usually, smaller phones come with compromises in the rear camera array and other hardware components, so Xiaomi made some exciting changes to address that with this phone.

The Xiaomi 14 is very similar to its predecessor in look and size. The 14 is the same size and weight with a slightly better OLED panel (2670 x 1200) that is also flat.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

The most significant change comes from the camera array, which is similar to the one the company equipped in the 13 Pro, save for a different image sensor and lenses. The large bump housing the module in the back is prominent, as are the fingerprints you inevitably get with the glossy finish for the white or jade green variants (the black one has a matte finish). Thankfully, Xiaomi includes a silicone case in the box to protect the device.

The Xiaomi 14 stretches the parameters of what can be considered a compact or smaller phone, but it’s still smaller than flagships tend to be. Much like how it falls somewhere in the middle in size, it also does in price, making this phone a unique proposition in more ways than one. To sweeten the deal, Xiaomi equips the phone with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor — a flagship chipset — and starts at 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which you can upgrade to 512 GB.

Camera Features

It’s probably not surprising Xiaomi chose to upgrade the cameras this way, especially since the more affordable Xiaomi 13T and 13T Pro already got the Leica treatment in 2023. The Xiaomi 14 is a carryover from the 13 Ultra and only uses a 50-megapixel OmniVision OVX9000 image sensor (23mm equivalent), what Xiaomi and Leica call Light Fusion 900 because it was purportedly made just for this phone. It doesn’t quite have a one-inch sensor — it’s Type 1/1.31 inches — and an f/1.6 aperture lens, phase-detection autofocus, and optical image stabilization (OIS). By default, this camera captures 12.5-megapixel images via pixel binning, but you can take full-resolution 50-megapixel shots using the 50MP mode or RAW in Pro mode.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Both the telephoto and ultra-wide lenses are 50-megapixel sensors. The telephoto is a 75mm equivalent with an f/2.2 aperture, while the ultra-wide is a 14mm equivalent with a 122-degree field of view and f/2.0 aperture. They retain the Samsung Isocell JN1 sensors used in the 13 Pro, optical image stabilization, and dual-pixel phase detection autofocus.

What’s different across the board is that all three lenses are Leica Summilux rather than Summicron glass. The coating is also different, especially compared to the previous 13T models, which struggled with lens flare under certain conditions. In addition, Xiaomi claims its imaging engine applies equally across all three rear cameras, so tonality, white balance, and color should appear consistent.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Software Features

By now, Xiaomi’s partnership with Leica has proven its worth. However, it’s still nice to see neither company cutting corners on software despite the Xiaomi 14 not having a “Pro” or “Ultra” moniker attached to it. The Leica Authentic and Vibrant styles are the basis for the default look and apply to most available modes. Pro and 50MP modes are outliers because they can only shoot in Vibrant. We’re waiting to hear from Xiaomi about why that’s the case.

In most instances, brands pare down their camera features for their smaller flagships. The Galaxy S24 and Pixel 8 are good examples because they’re missing options their Ultra or Pro counterparts tend to have. The Xiaomi 14 may be missing the variable aperture its Pro and Ultra siblings have, but for still photos, it’s very much the same software package.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

That also goes for the extensive editing suite Xiaomi has been quietly improving with each iteration. One of my favorite features within it is the ability to apply any one of the Leica filters to a photo afterward in the Gallery app. While that doesn’t mean you can simply switch from Authentic to Vibrant (or vice versa), you have alternatives in Leica Vivid and Natural emulating their respective tonalities. Other film simulations and unique filters round out an extensive list, several of which are interesting to try.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Image Quality

Main Camera

As good as the dynamic range generally is with the Xiaomi 14, it’s not as effective with highlights, where results can sometimes dangerously flirt with clipping. I noticed this while also testing the Vivo X100 Pro at the same time, which proved more adept at handling brighter highlights. This is about how the software stacks and renders images, mainly because it applies to other Xiaomi phones. Still, there’s a tendency to increase brightness and reduce contrast with every image. Hence, it’s worthwhile to adjust the exposure slider first. I don’t want to disparage the device too much when it can capture such impressive images; it just feels like a functional point that Xiaomi and Leica should work on.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

The 14 proves a dependable shooter capable of capturing virtually any scene with good dynamic range, whether in broad daylight or low-light ambiance. Night mode is available within the regular Photo mode, though I’m not sure the two aren’t just one and the same at this point. HDR is elective at all times within the interface. As usual, both Leica Authentic and Vibrant produce good results, but the filters are also worth experimenting with to see what kind of compositions you can develop.

Images come out the way you see them as live previews in the interface. This is all the more reason to adjust exposure and pull out some detail in the highlights since this phone offers more flexibility in the shadows. What impresses me further is how well images respond to edits in the Gallery and on apps like Lightroom.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Telephoto and Ultra-Wide

The Xiaomi 14 has a 2x zoom as a crop of the main sensor and a 3.2x optical zoom for the telephoto lens itself. The latter is worth using more often, mainly because images come out sharper with tones and colors matching what you get with the main lens. The telephoto lens also plays a crucial role in the various focal equivalents available in Portrait mode. Super Macro is also active in all three lenses, including telephoto, which is convenient for getting close to a subject without casting a shadow over it. Xiaomi turns off HDR automatically when going into macro, but you can also use the Leica profiles or filters.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

This is one of the better telephoto lenses I’ve used, particularly for varying conditions. Even low-light images retain sharp detail and noise reduction, only adding confidence in using the lens to get closer. I don’t know that they look much better than the Xiaomi 13 Pro, but a slight improvement is easy to appreciate when the results were already good anyway.

It’s a similar story with the ultra-wide camera, where details and colors look good in most cases. Dynamic range is a more significant challenge with this lens over others, especially in high-contrast scenes with a mix of darker shadows and brighter highlights. A good example is the photo of the cathedral roof, which I captured by placing the phone facedown on the floor on a timer. I tried adjusting exposure multiple times to gauge results, but in the end, the best option was to shoot in RAW and deal with the balance in post, which is why it looks the way it does here.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Portrait Mode

The Xiaomi 14 doesn’t have the variable aperture the Pro and Ultra have, but as always, you can choose how much bokeh you want (between f/1 and f/16) either before or after you’ve snapped the photo. That also applies regardless of which focal length you desire. You can redo the bokeh as many times as you want, and when you’re done, you can use any edits or filters you want non-destructively by just saving it as a copy.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Special Modes and Editing Tools

Xiaomi offers plenty of tools, and Long Exposure is still the best of the bunch for me. I’d like to see more granular control over capturing the scene, including an option for tripods that can ramp down some of the effects, especially in Moving Crowd, Neon Trails, and Light Painting.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Unlike the 14 Ultra, there is no Fastshot mode to capture fast action, so you have to get creative with the 14, either by using the Pro mode to set the shutter and ISO you want or trying Motion tracking focus in the settings to stay on a subject. It’s alright, but because it’s based on face detection, it can lose focus quickly when someone turns, or something gets in the way. Doing this in Photo mode lets you shoot in burst, but you can’t do that in Pro or 50MP, so if you want to freeze action with the highest possible resolution, you’ll have to rely on your own quick hand-eye coordination.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Pro and 50MP

It’s always a pleasure to capture images in RAW at full resolution, and that’s no exception here. It’s a feature you primarily find in larger flagships, save for a few smaller ones. Xiaomi offers both 10-bit and 14-bit RAW options, both of which work at the full 50-megapixel resolution. Set the manual controls, and off you go. As I mentioned, RAW defaults to Leica Vibrant, ostensibly because a RAW image is already closer to Authentic, but Xiaomi still has to explain its reasoning. You could choose the Leica Natural filter if you don’t want the same color saturation, but even if you forgot or neglected to do it, it’s an easy fix in the Gallery app editor afterward.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

I routinely used Pro and the 50MP mode just to get the extra details and to handle any contrast issues, and I was impressed at how well 50MP JPEGs responded to edits in Lightroom. Xiaomi also wisely includes information on what all the manual controls do and why users may want to use them. For those learning as they go, it’s a valuable resource and reminder of what the phone can do. Things like focus peaking, exposure verification, and histogram aren’t on by default, and the ability to separate focus from exposure metering is one of those things that even seasoned mobile photographers forget to do.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Video Features

I didn’t spend as much time checking out the video features, given the focus was on still images, but Xiaomi is prioritizing footage just as much. The 14 Ultra takes the biggest strides, while the 14 takes good steps forward. You can shoot in the same 4K and 1080p resolutions at 24, 30, or 60fps. For 8K, you’re still limited to 24fps. Interestingly, the regular Video mode doesn’t let you choose between the Leica styles, though it does give you access to all the filters available. Motion tracking focus works in video the same way it does for stills. Teleprompter also returns, letting you run a script onscreen to read as you shoot video with the 32-megapixel front camera or while narrating a scene you’re recording off-camera.

Director mode is cool because it lets you connect multiple Xiaomi phones together to capture a scene from different angles. I didn’t get to fully test it out, so I don’t know how effective it can be. Either way, you will need a good 5GHz Wi-Fi network to connect all the components so they can communicate with the master device.

Hard to Beat in Size

The Xiaomi 14 packs a camera package that’s hard to beat for its size. That’s a relative point, of course, but the gist is this phone is highly capable of outdoing the most established brands common in North America. If I were handed a Galaxy S24, Pixel 8, iPhone 15 Pro, or Xiaomi 14 to go out and take photos for a day, I would choose this phone simply because it’s just as easy to pocket, doesn’t remove many features, and is highly versatile.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

There’s just something about the Leica flavoring in Xiaomi’s cameras that makes them stand out. I’m still not crazy about the Xiaomi Hyper OS and would gladly choose stock Android over what’s included here, but it’s hard to put the 14 away as a reliable camera.

Are There Alternatives?

The Samsung Galaxy S24 is the smallest of the S24 flagship trio and is the same as the middle child Galaxy S24+. Being the baby of the family means Samsung cuts out certain features and uses different image sensors that can’t match what Xiaomi can do. Google neutered the Pixel 8 in much the same way, excluding the manual controls from the camera, though software computation is otherwise the same compared to the Pro model. Apple hasn’t left much out from the iPhone 15 Pro, so there is no fault there, but the camera app is relatively short on controls and options.

Xiaomi 14 smartphone review

Should You Buy It?

Yes, because it is one of the best “small” phone cameras. Pricing may hover in and around the $900-$1,000 USD mark to start, and while tough to find right now, that will likely change in the coming months from online retailers happy to ship to North America.