The new Mi Notebook Ultra is the type of product that will strike fear in the hearts of the likes of Dell, HP and Lenovo, like no other notebook would mostly because the MacBook Air remains slightly pricer and to a greater degree because of macOS which isn’t used by mainstream users as much as Windows.
While the 2020 MacBook Air remains the benchmark for the ultimate mainstream notebook, if its price of upwards of Rs 85,000 is prohibitive, then the alternative comes from a very unlikely source -- Xiaomi. Yes. Xiaomi hasn’t been making notebooks for even a decade, which in India hasn’t been selling notebooks for even 2 years. That’s a remarkable achievement as the company launches its third notebook product -- the Mi Notebook Ultra in India.
The Mi Notebook Ultra is starkly reminiscent of the 2015 MacBook Pro design which had the retina display. It also borrows a typically Apple colour -- space grey. Of course, this design language is somewhat ancient in the pantheon of laptops as Apple debuted it in 2012, though it is still regarded as the best MacBook Pro design even more so than the current one. It even yields allowances for a litany of ports including two type-C which support thunderbolt, two USB type-A, and even an HDMI port. As far as mainstream computing goes, this notebook is a tour de force and lays down the gauntlet to the PC makers as it proves that it can make a technically sterling product that’s simple, elegant in use and robust in construction. While doing so it never feels overly heavy as it weighs only 1.7kg and is 17.9mm thin.
Xiaomi has made extensive use of series 6 aluminium which has made a rigid exoskeleton for the notebook that has straight flat lines and bevels on the edges. While this type of build also makes it similar to the MacBook Pro, Xiaomi on some level has even gone beyond Apple and made a tank-like notebook that has no flex and even the hinge of the screen is stiff while allowing you to open the lid with just one finger. Well done, Xiaomi, the engineering on this notebook is world-class. Then there is the 15.6-inch 3.2k screen that has pretty decently culled bezels giving it an 89.1 per cent screen to body ratio and a 90Hz refresh rate, with room for even a web camera something that was missed on the first generation Mi Notebook in India. Xiaomi has even managed to match the superb keyboard Apple used to ship before it came out with the travesty that was the butterfly switch keyboard.
The Mi Notebook Ultra gets traditional scissor-switch keys that are slightly narrow but comfortable with good travel which is adequately backlit coupled with a wide trackpad that is quite responsive by Windows standards. Xiaomi has delivered a pragmatic product that means business, save for two misses. The speakers are bottom-firing and shockingly anaemic in output and stiff trackpad keys. Xiaomi also gives you a very fast fingerprint scanner that works in tandem with Windows hello.
In terms of branding, this notebook is quite subtle when compared to most brands but a bit streakier when compared to the first-generation Xiaomi Notebook in India. You get a “Xiaomi” branding on the back lid, there is also one before the main screen bezel and two usual “intel inside” branding stickers.
The star of the show of course is the grandiose screen that Xiaomi has blessed this notebook with this “true life” screen which now has more than 242 pixels per inch with its 3200x2000 resolution. It is a magnificent screen regardless of what you want to do on the notebook. It gets a 90Hz refresh rate which helps when you’re gaming on this notebook and if you’re more into photo editing then it has accurate colours that are coupled with a 1500:1 contrast ratio. And yes, when you’re watching movies or shows on this screen, this will feel special, however, that experience is ruined by the anaemic speakers as you barely hear anything. This is quite shocking as these speakers are even poorer than the Redmi Book Pro which was launched recently which is quite befuddling.
Considering the “ultra” moniker, the device comes with some power-packed specifications -- but these may not be enough for enthusiasts and creative professionals or gamers but more will be more than adequate for MBAs or folks in marketing or sales or anyone who doesn’t need to be running graphics-intensive tasks on this notebook for a living. Yes, it gets the i7 variant of the new Intel Tiger Lake chip which has been built on the new 10nm SuperFin process. I am talking about the new i7-11370H which has a peak clock speed of up to 4.8GHz. It gets Intel’s Iris Xe graphics, something that’s more in the line of the Nvidia MX series graphics which were there on the 2020 Mi Notebook.
Regardless of that, there is ample firepower for doing things like photo editing -- there is 16GB DDR RAM as well and a massive 1TB SSD that’s also extremely fast. And when you add an E-GPU into the mix thanks to the Thunderbolt 4 ports, then this suddenly transforms into a gaming monster. I was playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and it was locked in at 60 frames per second thanks to my circa 2018 BlackMagic E-GPU. I was also able to 4K videos quite easily using Adobe Premiere Pro. Credit where it should be due, admittedly, rudimentary gaming at lower frame rates with triple-A games can be achieved just with discrete graphics and editing videos that have 1080p resolution shouldn’t be too much of a bump however the render times maybe a wee bit painful.
But if you’re the type who just uses Microsoft Office apps, the web browser, VLC media player and does Microsoft teams calls - the awesome power is going to be overkill for you, but what matters is headroom and considering Windows 11 is less than a month away, the extra headroom is especially handy when you talk about a price tag of Rs 76,000 ( chances are you will get it for lesser) which makes this more affordable than all the Windows-based competition in the market while being better in almost every way.
Talking about Windows 11 -- the unit I tested was exclusively running the Windows 11 beta which I installed on the unit and things were rather hassle-free and it did feel very very fast. Let me put it this way last year I called the Asus Zephyrus G14 the fastest mainstream Windows based notebook, well, now for obvious reasons the Xiaomi Mi Notebook Ultra takes over that mantel, but it goes above and beyond with levels of refinement and built quality that the Asus notebook didn’t have. It is also having a design that is more acceptable for a more business-like environment.
But the kicker is the battery life as while Xiaomi claims 12 hours, this notebook does regularly give me 10-11 hours on a single charge which also happens through a 65W USB Type C cable. This means I was using the same charger to charge the Mi 11 Ultra smartphone, my iPad Pro and even my MacBook Air. On the flip side I was able to use the 100W MacBook Pro charger to charge this notebook as well.
I feel Xiaomi got many things wrong with the Mi Notebook in 2020 but then it improved many things with the recently launched Redmi Book 15 Pro. But it has taken another step now. Save for the horrible speakers, Xiaomi has basically knocked it out of the park with the Mi Notebook Ultra in 2021. For most people, and when I say most people, I also mean that most people aren’t used to macOS, this Windows-based Mi Notebook Ultra will be the ultimate notebook. Sure, you can pick holes and say it doesn’t have a touch screen, or better speakers or could have been slimmer, but the average person cares about the simplicity of form and function and this delivers it without fussing around. It houses incredible power which will be overkill for most but will act as headroom for the future, its keyboard and trackpad are superb and the screen is a visual treat giving a visceral experience when watching science fiction movies and all this is combined in an expertly engineered product that delivers on the promise of good battery life.