The year 2023 started out slow for me, the Pixel 7 Pro remaining unchallenged in my pocket well into the summer. Things happened in July and August though, and the Google phone was needed elsewhere, so I temporarily ended up with the
Xiaomi 13 Pro
Ro! Had shouted dibs on the Ultra before me, so I settled for the Pro. It wasn’t a whole lot of settling, I thought, since the Pro had more or less the same main camera (1-inch sensor, minus the dual aperture), and a telephoto that had its own super power – super-close-focusing, which didn’t make it to the Ultra.
The 13 Pro replaced the Pixel without any drama, thanks to MIUI’s high level of customizability. It was actually a step up in many ways, most importantly charging speed, but also battery life – at least in the way I used it. An unpredicted improvement in my quality of life came from the handset’s ceramic back, which made a case redundant, thus easing the burden on my pockets.
A few uneventful months passed and we were suddenly in iPhone season. I managed to convince myself that a year after I last had one, an iPhone purchase was due. That’s how I ended up with an
iPhone 15 Pro
The small iPhone Pro for 2023 felt even smaller than the 13 Pro as I remembered it, and a properly compact premium phone has always been what I’ve insisted I want (never mind the huge Pixel 7 Pro and its oversized silicone case). In fact, a dimensions comparison between the 15 Pro and the 13 Pro only shows marginal differences in footprint, not to mention the new one is thicker, but this year’s model is indeed lighter than that last iPhone I had and every bit as premium too.
I kept fooling myself that I could live with an iPhone for a while. The in-hand feel was supposed to outweigh the daily struggle of putting up with what has to be the most backward OS in existence. Every now and then I returned to that article I wrote two years ago while still honeymooning with the 13 Pro, hoping to direct my attention to the good things. It worked for all of four weeks – you could call it a month, but it doesn’t quite communicate the urgency with which I expelled the 15 Pro from my life.
The 13 Pro was back, only not the iPhone but the Xiaomi.
Xiaomi 13 Pro
It turned out that no one had shown any interest in it in the meantime, the office pursuits focused on Galaxies and whatnot. The Xiaomi felt like home and the transition was frictionless, as have been my days with it since.
A minor logistical hiccup at one point meant spending a short while with the 13T Pro, where a new-found appreciation for flat displays made me question my satisfaction with the curved-edge 13 Pro. I decided to ignore that sentiment, a choice made easier by the fact that T means ‘not a real flagship’ in Xiaomi’s nomenclature, and the shelves at the office are too full of flagships for us to be using Ts.
Amidst the joy of daily-driving the 13 Pro, some review units came in that weren’t quite as easy to dismiss. One of the most remarkable among them was the
Oppo Find N3
You could call it the OnePlus Open if you prefer, depending on how Oppo’s market presence aligns with your location, but the essence is that there is finally a truly capable cameraphone that also happens to fold out to tablet form. On several occasions in the past I’ve tried giving a foldable a chance, and they’ve always sacrificed imaging prowess in one way or another until now.
I’ll have to admit that I still have no use for an 8-inch square display in my life, so a large foldable remains wasted on me. That said, I can very much appreciate the Open/Find N3 for the unusual combination of capabilities that they offer. And maybe wrestle the others in the office for the Find X7 Pro once that thing shows up. (But seriously, though, let’s all agree on a draw as the more civilized option from now on.)
In all fairness, another top-class cameraphone that visited my desk for a few days of reviewing did really test my loyalty for the Xiaomi 13 Pro.
vivo X100 Pro
The latest in a lineup of industry-leading picture-taking devices (that also happen to have cellular connectivity), the X100 Pro does everything that the Xiaomi does, does some of it better, and does more on top of it. However, irreconcilable differences with Funtouch OS make it a no-go for me. Or someone else dibs-ed it before me – perhaps I should work on honing my reflexes.
Xiaomi 13 Ultra
Ultimately, though, my top 5 list for 2023 has to end (or, rather, culminate) with the Xiaomi that I didn’t get to have.
Xiaomi Ultras have been a notch above everything else each year – the outworldly-specced cameraphone that is so good that Xiaomi can only produce so many of them and they rarely make it outside of China. The 11 did, and this year’s 13 sort of had an international release too, but they remain just barely more common than unicorns.
You can never have too many 50MP sensors on one phone but perhaps 4 is an acceptable number. The 1-inch main camera is better than the other 1-inch cameras because it can change aperture, while a telephoto at 3x and another one at 5x is better than having to choose between 3x or 5x. The almost flat display is better than a definitely curved display too, I’ve come to realize. It’s a good thing that a faux leather back is no better than a ceramic one, otherwise I’d be left with no straws to grasp in defending the 13 Pro on my bedside table.
So there is my list – somewhat trivial, perhaps, but it’s hardly my fault that smartphones have turned into cameras above all, and that’s where the race has been focused.
An iPhone managed to trick me once again, whether for the cameras or something more elusive – let’s hope it’s the last time. A vivo on here is hardly surprising given the X-series’ past, while a foldable that can take pictures is more of a novelty – a long overdue one.
But I just seem to like them Xiaomis best now.