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(Pocket-lint) - If you want a flagship Android phone, but don't want to spend absolute top dollar on one, you're definitely not alone. Especially given the recent rise in phones costing well over a thousand pounds.

Two companies that offer that exact thing are OnePlus and Xiaomi. With the OnePlus 10 Pro and Xiaomi 12 Pro we have two high-end phones, and both available for less than the likes of the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. So which should you buy? Read on or watch our video to find out as we explain the differences. 

Design 

  • OnePlus: 163 x 73.9 x 8.6 mm - 201 grams 
  • Xiaomi: 163.6 x 74.6 x 8.2 mm - 204 grams
  • Both: Glass and aluminium build

There's something of a boiler plate approach to phone design, at least, there appears to be when it comes to Chinese smartphone manufacturers and flagship devices. Because to look at from the front - without looking closely - you'd be hard pushed to see a lot of difference. It's only the hole-punch positioning that gives them away. 

Both are a very similar size in pretty much every dimension and there's only a couple of grams different in weight too. When it comes to how they feel to hold, there's not a lot in it then. Because they do both have that curved glass on the front and back, with a similar soft, frosted finish on it. 

We suspect that were you to choose one based on looks or design features, there are other, small details that will do it for you. 

For instance, the camera housing design. Xiaomi's protrudes quite far, but the lenses are neatly contained and arranged in a lovely minimal camera unit. Still, there's definitely appeal to OnePlus' bolder, larger approach. It looks great contrasted with the soft green in particular. 

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Then there are things like Xiaomi's having a matte, softer anodised aluminium around the edges, versus the shiny glossy approach from OnePlus. Plus, there's some really nice attention to detail. We really like the design of the Xiaomi's speaker grills. The overall look is an exercise in understated design.

OnePlus does have an alert slider switch, and that's a nice practical touch for switching between silent, ring and vibrate. 

Displays and software

  • OnePlus: 6.7-inch AMOLED - 1440 x 3216 resolution
  • Xiaomi: 6.73-inch AMOLED - 1440 x 3200 resolution
  • OnePlus: Peak 1300 nits brightness
  • Xiaomi: Peak 1500 nits brightness
  • Both: 120Hz adaptive refresh, HDR10+ and Android 12-based software

Moving to speak about displays, and even here you'll se a lot of similarities. For instance, both are near enough 6.7-inches (technically, Xiaomi's is 6.73). Both also have quadHD plus resolution, although OnePlus has 16 more rows of pixels because it's 1440 x 3216 versus the Xiaomi's 1440 x 3200. 

They even feature other similar features. Like, how both reach up to 120Hz refresh rates and have adaptive technology to ramp it up and down depending on the content you're viewing. Both even support 1 billion colours. 

Xiaomi's is a little brighter, and that's something you might notice if you had them side-by-side and cranked up full, but we're talking 1300 nits versus 1500 nits here; and when you get to those sort of levels, it's not something that's going to make a huge difference to the experience overall. 

Both are fantastic screens, and Xiaomi's in particular is a very good panel that shows great colour, sharpness and dynamic range even when the brightness isn't all the way. 

In their default natural or original modes, they both look similar. However, Xiaomi's does have a slightly warmer feel to it generally, making anything red or orange look a bit too saturated. OnePlus has a cleaner, cooler appearance. 

Both offer a lot of ability to customise the way the screen looks though. Dive into the display advanced settings and you can choose from a number of presets, including advanced colour gamuts. Xiaomi's in particular gives you a lot of freedom here to adjust all manner of things. Even contrast, saturation and gamma. So even if you don't like the defaults, you can generally get either phone's display looking the way you want. 

What we think makes the biggest difference is the software experience. While neither are close to stock - if that even exists anymore - Xiaomi's approach to software is very heavy compared to OnePlus. There's so much going on, including the confusing reworking of the notification shade to act more like an iPhone with a control centre and notifications swiped down from separate sides. Thankfully, you can bring back the old way, but it's not default. 

What we like about OnePlus' latest software is two fold: it's free of bloat. It uses Google's apps where it can, and doesn't add lots of extra nonsense. It's also very easy to customise the appearance. From changing app icon shape and size, to accent colour, to always-on display, it's all in one easy to find personalisation screen. 

Xiaomi's is a very different method, to the point of being confusing at times. Sure, you get used to it eventually, but it feels a lot like it could be massively simplified and streamlined. There are things that get in the way, like the scanning of apps when you install them from the Play Store. Yes, it can be switched off, but it's just another layer for no real reason. 

We do really like the Super Wallpaper in Xiaomi's MIUI software though. It's super cool having the always-on display, lock screen and home screen wallpapers transition seamlessly into each other while changing the view. More Android makers should do this. 

Performance and battery life 

  • Both: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and 8GB or 12GB RAM
  • OnePlus: 128GB, 256GB or 512GB storage
  • Xiaomi: 128GB or 256GB storage
  • OnePlus: 5000mAh battery - 80W fast charging (65W in the US) - 50W wireless charging
  • Xiaomi: 4600mAh battery - 120W fast charging - 50W wireless charging

Moving on to performance and battery life, and we finally start to see where there are some differences to the hardware experience on these two phones. They both feature the Snapdragon 8 gen 1 processor, coupled with at least 8GB and 128GB storage. There are higher configurations too - up to 12GB RAM on both. OnePlus has a 512GB storage model, where Xiaomi tops out at 256GB. 

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When it comes to playing the most demanding games, they both do it really well. They're fast, responsive and smooth thanks to the flagship processor, effective cooling and 120Hz refresh displays. 

Where they differ is in battery life and charging speeds. OnePlus has a 5000mAh battery and - while it's not the best phone we've tested for efficiency - it's still good. It's also improved with software updates since we did our review. We can comfortably get to the end of a full day even with pretty heavy usage, and haven't seen the dreaded 'red zone' once. 

With Xiaomi's 4600mAh battery, things aren't quite as rosy. With heavy gaming and camera use during the day we often got into that 'red zone'. It just doesn't seem to optimise the performance all that well by default. Having a brighter display and a lower capacity battery than the OnePlus doesn't really help. 

With our own typical use being quite light and living in a 4G area most days we can get to bed time without an issue with both phones. But with similar usage, we'd sometimes see more than 10-15, maybe even 20 per cent difference in levels by the end of the day in extreme cases. For heavy users in 5G areas, that could make a big difference. 

But here's the thing, Xiaomi's included 120W fast charging power brick is really fast. In fact, you can fully refill the phone from empty in 18 minutes. So even if the battery isn't quite as good as you'd like, you could literally plug it in for 10-15 minutes and be back to nearly full levels. 

OnePlus is fast too, but not quite as fast. Its 80W charger (in all markets except the US) can fully recharge the phone in about 32 minutes. 

Cameras 

  • OnePlus: 48MP f/1.8 primary - 50MP f/2.2 ultrawide - 8MP f/2.4 telephoto 3.3x zoom
  • Xiaomi: 50MP f/1.9 primary - 50MP f/2.2 ultrawide - 50MP f/1.9 telephoto 2x zoom 

Switch gears to cameras and there's a similar makeup here, in a way. They both have main, ultrawide and telephoto zoom lenses. The difference being OnePlus has a 3.3x optical zoom, and Xiaomi has 2x. That in itself can make quite a big difference, offering you the ability to get that bit closer in to your subject without having to rely on digital zoom and losing sharpness. 

Xiaomi's kept things pretty easy on the megapixel front, offering 50-megapixel sensors on all three cameras. OnePlus has a 48-megapixel main, 8-megapixel zoom and 50-megapixel ultrawide. 

Not that this has much to do with how the two differ. What surprised us was the difference in how they dealt with colour and contrast. With Hasselblad's colour solution, OnePlus goes a bit more muted and natural looking, where Xiaomi goes more for that eye-catching colour-popping look with lots of contrast. 

For some things, OnePlus' approach is preferable. Especially with anything green, like plants or landscapes. Xiaomi's really does push that green way too far, making it really oversaturated. OnePlus generally delivers a more true-to-life look to the images. Where Xiaomi borders on the hyper real. 

At night time, things are a bit different. First of all, Xiaomi has this Super Moon mode, which makes it really easy to capture a good picture of the moon, without it being out of focus, blurry or over-exposed. OnePlus struggles here, and needs switch to manual mode. 

In general night mode shots, Xiaomi seemed to deliver better, sharper images too. From the main camera and ultrawide at least. 

Price

  • OnePlus: from £799
  • Xiaomi: £999

While both are comfortably cheaper than the top tier models from Samsung and Apple, the OnePlus is the cheaper of the two. In the UK, at least, the phone is a full £200 cheaper than the Xiaomi. It's also much easier to get hold of thanks to more widespread adoption from retailers and carriers. 

Verdict 

For the most part we preferred the OnePlus 10 Pro experience. We liked the cleaner approach to software, the day time results from the camera, plus the battery life seems to be better managed. 

That's not to say the Xiaomi is a bad phone, not at all. It delivers top tier levels of performance, has a fantastic display and great night time capabilities. And the added resolution from the zoom camera enables some very cool features like Super Moon. 

Writing by Cam Bunton.