Xiaomi reveals bonkers phone with bolted-on Leica lens that will make you look like a dork
A weighty lens, placed off-centre on a lightweight smartphone – what could possibly go wrong?
Chinese smartphone darling has shown off a phone with a full camera lens bolted to its back – which looks very dorky, but thankfully is only a concept device.
The point of this concept version of Xiaomi's 12S Ultra smartphone is to imagine a smartphone capable of competing with a professional-grade camera by offering the facility to add a posh mountable Leica-M Lens – kit the optical outfit offers as ideal for use in mirrorless cameras.
The 12S Ultra smartphone was already co-engineered [PDF] with German optics and camera company Leica. The venture saw the current actually on sale 12S Ultra smartphone equipped with a 50-megapixel Sony IMX989 1-inch image sensor and a Vario-Summicron 13–120mm f/1.9–4.1 ASPH lens that spits out 10-bit RAW format files.
A video released by Xiaomi said the original 12S and the concept version with mountable camera were designed concurrently. They both look like plain jane smartphones, but the concept version has a hidden feature that allows the Leica-M Lens to twist and click into place at the rear of the phone – just like it would on a Leica M-mount camera.
The concept phone has an additional one-inch sensor protected by scratch-resistant sapphire glass. Instead of using the original lens on the smartphone, it captures light directly from the external lens. Once the lens is in place, the device functions like a mirrorless camera that happens to have a Snapdragon 8+ Gen-1 chip inside.
Xiaomi product PR tweeted a few different angles of the phone revealing how the device might feel and look in one's hands. And while a thin phone with a large camera might make it look a bit flimsy, Xiaomi promised it does have a reinforced structure to support the protrusion.
That's all fine and good, but no word on how often the awkward center of gravity makes the thing fly out of a user's hands. The $2,600 to $13,500 lenses – whose weights range from around 180 grams to over 1kg might exert significant leverage on the the 225-gram 12S Ultra.
Phones with big lenses have been tried before. In 2017 The Reg tested Motorola's modular Moto Z, which could be equipped with a hefty clip-on Hasselblad camera, and found it to be clumsy and awkward. That machine was lighter and better balanced than Xiaomi's machine.
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It's all moot to wonder how it feels anyway. The camera isn't likely to find its way into many hands, as there is no timeline or indication it will actually ever go on sale. Xiaomi is known for making concept phones that never make it to market – like its 2021 quad-curved waterfall display. [VIDEO]
Leica, a brand with cult status, announced its partnership with Xiaomi in May this year after it terminated a six-year deal with Huawei.
Xiaomi needs a bit of positive attention, as increasing geo-political tensions between China and the west, an overall declining smartphone market, and the Indian government appearing to squeeze Xiaomi out of the subcontinent have made 2022 a difficult year for the gadget-maker.
In its last quarterly results, Q2 2022, the company reported a 20 percent drop in year-on-year revenue and 83 percent year-on-year drop in profit.
But it can still make bonkers smartphone prototypes. ®