The crowd went berserk when the celebrity of the day, Hugo Barra, asked “kitna doge”, for the newly announced Mi 4i. It was well expected, with the venue packed by over 80% of fans who were ready to cheer for nearly everything that was being mentioned. But, was it only for the fans to applaud, or is it a product that shakes the mid-range market enough to be called as something worth the price?
April 23rd, two launches, one of them, Asus ZenFone 2 was already known but everyone was waiting to know its price. The other one, the Mi 4i, was a device not known, and Xiaomi was holding a global launch in India. The smartphone market in India is on a steep rise, and companies choosing India as a place to give a headstart for a device, won’t take many by surprise now. Though the heads of the company were the actual celebrities there, the device can be easily called the show stopper. Several reasons for that, but the primary one being the pricing.
Design, Form Factor
The Mi 4i does remind us of many other devices in a way, yet reminds us of none in other way. Compact, very much for that screen size and that is what the teardown was all about. About how Xiaomi has managed to pack in everything within that slim body, and why is this a unibody with some compromises that are in every potential buyer’s mind. And hey, you aren’t seeing anything new with the build – it’s the same polycarbonate body on the exterior of the Mi 4i.
The buttons are rightly placed on the side, and whatever the ports and slots, are all perfect in position. Speakers are never good on the back, and they aren’t here as well. Muffled sound whenever the device is placed on a flat surface, adds to the bad experience with not-so-loud speakers.
The back cover isn’t removable, thus the battery is kept inaccessible. While there’s a single socket for the SIM tray, it holds two MicroSIM cards, one of which should seriously have been a Nano SIM slot with MicroSD compatibility. The device is considerably thin at 7.8mm, light (130gm) and offers the comfort that you rarely see from a 5-inch device.
This is more of a Mi Pad than an iPhone 5c, as you see a lot of similarities in the build quality, and the white unit we review, has a smooth matte finish on the back. Overall, a superbly built compact phone with the polycarbonate back not actually feeling bad in the hand. The Mi4 had a metal frame on the side, but that doesn’t make it look any better than the Mi 4i.
Many had this question in mind – does the Sunshine display actually work the way it is shown? we cut short the answer and say “yes”. But, there’s a thing you need to notice – it doesn’t work everywhere but only at very brightly lit areas where you don’t have to crank up the brightness. This is a display we seriously love, and for the price you are paying, throw any device to challenge it, each one of them will fail to prove themselves better.
A 5-inch Full HD display with the pixel density at 441 PPI isn’t new, as the Galaxy S4, Nexus 5 and such power packed devices had good displays with similar pixel density, but this is a colorful, sharp and better display in the Mi 4i, given how tough it stands against the Super AMOLED display of the Galaxy S4.
Sunlight display is automated, and thus, works without you having to always manually set it up unlike the auto brightness setting. Here’s some technical explanation to that. The Sunlight display uses local tone mapping, and the hardware based technology tends to adjust the display by every pixel, where the contrast needs to be changed on whiter areas, thus retaining the brightness, while actually lightening up the darker parts of the image to make them visible in bright surroundings. As the name suggests, it works the best under bright sunlight.
Viewing angles are good, and the wallpapers provided in the phone seem to have a little oversaturation of colors, but it is all good on the camera captures and other content viewed in the device. It is very much visible in bright light, and again, the Sunlight display makes the keyboard brighter, automatically under the bright sunlight. And for those wondering, this doesn’t have any direct Gorilla Glass protection, but the screen is a OGS (One Glass Solution) made by Corning, which has the digitizer, touch panel and protector as a single unit, and has the same strength as the Gorilla Glass 3 has, according to the company. We haven’t dropped this to tell you the other side of the story, though, it seems to resist scratches easily.
Interface, Apps, MIUI
There are some animations though, if you are fond of them from Android Lollipop, but they seem to not really make the experience any different. One handed mode is accessible easily (swiping to left or right from home button), though many might not feel a need for it, for this screen size. The addition of local language support (six languages: Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam) add to the experience.
While we still miss that option to add additional storage, Xiaomi has done the best to not add unnecessary bloatware, and about 11.5GB of storage is available to the user. USB OTG is supported as well. The apps that come pre-installed include Updater, Compass, Scanner, Facebook, WPS Office, Flesky keyboard, Swiftkey keyboard and the Google Play services apps.
One of the best features in the UI of Mi 4i, is the way you can customize it, using the Themes app. It doesn’t just change the look of home screens, but also applies changes to app icons, interface of apps and the font, wherever possible, giving an entirely different feel with a theme change. The customize section lets you change lock style, lock screen, Icons, home screen layout, ringtone, notification style and font, apart from the advanced areas like status bar, favorites tray, messaging, dial pad, boot animation and boot audio. There is quite a huge database of themes available online through the app.
Other noticeable options include Do not disturb mode, pocket dial prevention, options to change the function of capacitive navigation buttons, all of which help enhance the user experience. The experience is indeed, very smooth and lag-free.
We might compare this with the Mi4, its predecessor which had a better processor, but there is a big price difference we are looking at. The Mi 4i has a 1.7 GHz octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor from Qualcomm, along with 2GB of RAM, and this is much comparable to the likes of Yu Yureka, Xiaomi’s Mi3 launched back then.
Benchmarks don’t judge the actual performance, and although the Mi 4i does well to stay at the contention to the flagships with the scores, it doesn’t match with them on actual performance, i.e. gaming. On playing high-end games like Modern Combat 5, Fifa 15 and Dead Trigger 2, the phone does seem to show some lags and it gets sluggish when the game introduces heavy graphics. Whatever the reason, the gaming performance is far from getting full marks. The frame rates were only good if the graphics level were set at medium.
Check out our gaming review video:
Even Yu Yureka does well on high-end gaming, but the heating was a major issue there. We never felt the Mi 4i to lag or slow down on the interface level, and all animations were handled here. On gaming, it wasn’t just the lags but the heating was noticed to some extent. Not surprising with Snapdragon 615, and although it was claimed that the second gen. chipset handles that well, that isn’t the case here.
Update, 26th May 2015: Worth noting that Xiaomi has sent in, a new update 184.108.40.206 to the Mi 4i as an OTA update, and this does seem to have reduced heating issues considerably. On gaming, it still heats up but not to an extent it did earlier, and on normal usage, we notice that the device doesn’t get warm like it used to do, earlier. Also, the performance still seems to be the same, and we used the phone for a couple days on Performance mode to check it.
- Speakers: Not so high on decibel level, and the placement on back of the device makes it worse with muffled sound when kept on a flat surface. It is a sharp sound and doesn’t give you the best of experience when listening to music, but it can be enough while gaming.
- Headphones: Audio output on headphones was smooth and good.
- No MicroSD card slot, thus the storage has always been a problem here. Out of 11.5GB, when you have a good device, you tend to download and play high-end games. Storage isn’t really enough in that case, after a few months of usage.
Camera, Capture Samples
The camera on the back of the device is a 13-megapixel shooter and it supposedly does well, but it isn’t close to being called as one of the best cameras with that resolution. We gave the cameras of Mi 4i and Asus ZenFone 2 a run at the same time, and the latter did a lot better job.
While the captures look great in the display of the device itself, the actual quality is a bit different when viewed in larger screens. On the other side, low light captures have a lot of noise. The only positive on the camera side of Mi 4i, is the selfie camera, which is very good with beautification. All the smudges are gone, and it is flatter yet neat capture coming out when the front-facing camera is used to take pictures.
Read our Xiaomi Mi 4i camera review to know our thoughts.
The battery lasted easily throughout the day, and did have some percentage of battery left on average during the end of the day. That is when we had Wi-Fi turned on for over 10 hours, occasional 3G usage (averaging about 45min to an hour) and screen on-time for over three hours. While there could be a lot more expected for that battery capacity of 3120 mAh, we are still happy with the battery life, given how the phone tends to heat up and drain battery usually even on 3G, sometimes.
The battery impressions are similar to what we had seen on the Mi4’s battery, and only for those who are okay with little compromise in the performance, they can switch to the Balanced mode to get more usage time from a single charge. Though, there is a lot of lag noticed in this mode.
First was the Redmi 2 in the budget range, now the Mi 4i in a higher price bracket, both the devices support 4G LTE on both the SIM slots. While we couldn’t test the 4G data connectivity, but the calls as well as data on 3G worked very well. The Mi4 had problems with the call voice being too isolated, and that issue seems to have been taken care of, in this case.
Wi-Fi reception, compared to the few other devices in the price range, is average. Better than Yu Yureka, but not as good as the signals received on Xiaomi’s own Redmi Note 4G. For the other connectivity options, no specials included here. It supports USB OTG and that works as intended, and the calling is good as well.
The Xiaomi Mi 4i is far from what you would call a flagship. Cheap for what is being offered, but it isn’t as heavily loaded as the competitive flagships are, if you choose to ignore the pricing part.
That being said, for the price of Rs. 12999, the Mi 4i is one of the best smartphones in the price range. The display is far ahead of any displays around in the mid-range category, and the device does the best with UI and battery. If the company picks up feedback on performance and sends out some fixes for the stutters while gaming, there is no other phone you might want to look at, for this price point.
Good at looks, compact in size and appreciable quality of camera adds to the reasons why we recommend this smartphone, but you might have to look at an alternative, or wait for the company’s call on 32GB or 64GB variant of the Mi 4i, if the available storage isn’t enough. One tough contender to this, is the Asus ZenFone 2, but you need to make a choice based on your requirements (Asus ZenFone 2 vs Xiaomi Mi 4i).