Xiaomi was a brand not well known outside of its home territory, i.e. China. They came out very well, made record numbers, climbed to get to the world’s top third position in terms of smartphone market share. That doesn’t happen without a reason, right? It isn’t just one reason here, as Xiaomi kills it with the pricing, sale strategy and finally, getting into the other markets, especially India.
The latest flagship from the company, Xiaomi Mi4, is just launched in India for the price of Rs. 19,999. For the price, whatever is offered is more than what other manufacturers would have given for the same. Xiaomi has come a long way, in a span of just under five years, and that is evident with the number of sales in China, a large market, where it outnumbered Samsung and Apple. If numbers aren’t enough, look at the device itself.
Xiaomi Mi4 looks great on the specs table, but well, we’ve made a habit of saying that for every Xiaomi smartphone. Power packed with Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB RAM under a 5-inch 1080p display, the phone comes with a 3080 mAh battery and a 13MP back camera as well as a selfie camera with 8-megapixel sensor on the front.
But there are certain drawbacks to take note of, before we begin digging into the details. 16GB internal storage, of which around 13GB is available to the user, and there is no MicroSD card support. The Indian variant is limited to 3G connectivity, which although might not be a deal breaker or many, it can be for those who use high-end devices with 4G connectivity while traveling abroad.
Design, Form Factor
We might be asking too much, but the plastic back does feel obvious, and although the overall build looks good, the Mi4 should have had something else than this particular back cover if it had to impress us. The phone feels solid in hand, and for a 5-inch size, 149gm is no where light. Xiaomi drew inspiration from Apple for the frame that wraps around the sides, and I like it. Especially the bottom frame with the two white bands, speaker grill and MicroUSB port. The metallic buttons are very tactile and good, and the other inclusions on the frame include a headset jack and IR blaster on the top, while the SIM tray is on the left.
The back cover part is tricky. In a way, you cannot easily pull it out, but that it still possible if you have a suction plug to hold and take it out, but you are doing no good even if you do that, as you are welcomed by a message saying “Disassembling the battery can cause fire or explosion”. Got it? better not to remove the back cover, as the SIM slot is on the side.
The predecessor of it looked more like a product that doesn’t take inspiration from any other device, but we are talking of a phone that feels more solid, premium and realistic when you intend to keep it and use for a couple of years to come. The back has just the camera, LED flash and the Mi branding with metallic shine. On the front, it is good to notice how well Xiaomi has tried to keep the phone compact, although keeping the navigation buttons not a part of the display. A little LED notification light is placed just below the touch-sensitive home button.
All in all, the Xiaomi Mi4 looks well built, compact and a rock solid piece. The only issue could be with the non-removable battery and the plastic back cover, but that is all okay if the company was able to shrink everything down to this size for a 5-inch screen.
The display has the same resolution as the Xiaomi Mi4 has, i.e. 1920 x 1080 pixels, at 441 PPI. It is sharp indeed, and the contrast is good but there is some struggle to view it under sunlight. But there is quite a difference when we talk of reflectiveness of the screen, when compared to the display of Mi3. The screen on Mi4 is less reflective, and thus, the reading experience isn’t as bad as it was on the Mi3.
Viewing angles are not bad, with the Mi4’s display actually seeming a bit better than some flagships like Sony Xperia Z3 and even Apple iPhone 6. Even though this is quite compact, Xiaomi has included the one-handed operation feature, giving users the option to make the content shrunken to a 4-inch or 3.5-inch diagonal width. Not that it is always useful, but comes handy some times.
Again, we’re talking of a smartphone brand that has always tried to give the users more control over how they want to view the content. The Color settings lets you select between Warm, Standard and Cool. Warm is what made the content pleasing to the eye.
Interface, Apps, MIUI
MIUI is one of those interfaces one would claim to have taken inspirations from all major smartphone operating systems. Android OS, looking like iOS and functioning quite the same. But it is the same UI people even port to their non-Xiaomi smartphone as well. Simplicity is the major reason for that, and being light with some intuitive options for the users is another.
The Xiaomi Mi4 comes with Android 4.4.4 KitKat with MIUI v6, the first device in India with the latest MIUI version, and it indeed has got a major overhaul from the previous version we had seen in the Mi3 and Redmi Note as well. Well animated to the core, the interface though might make you feel that you aren’t using one of the swiftest ones in the market. There are little lags here and there, but if you are okay with that, there is a lot to explore and personalize.
If you are picking up a Xiaomi device for the first time, make sure you adjust to the app icons on the home screens, as there is no separate app drawer. If not, there are launchers to get you back to the normal life.
The notification panel looked a bit confusing initially when it showed notification section and quick settings randomly. But it actually was the intelligent UI that showed the notifications only if there are any important ones, or it directly opens quick settings page when you pull down the notification panel.
The notification light can be well managed, and button functions too can be altered, just like what you see in CyanogenMod. But remember, you get all this only in these custom ROMs, and that is the reason why Xiaomi always did well as a software maker since the beginning.
Widgets can be placed alongside app icons, and something else that helps in personalization, is the themes section, that has loads of themes available for installation. Something similar we had seen in the Galaxy A3, but there, the themes were limited. Here, there are loads of them under several categories. Pre-installed apps include voice recorder, FM Radio, compass, barcode scanner, Mi Remote (using IR blaster provided on top), updater, Security app, File explorer and notes.
Packed with some heavy duty processor and supporting specs, the Mi4 indeed stands out to be one of those top-end devices launched in 2014. Snapdragon 801, Adreno 330 GPU and 3GB RAM. With benchmarks, no surprises as the device gets decent scores (AnTuTu: 43176, Quadrant Standard: 23206, Vellamo Multicore: 1622), but if we talk of performance in terms of apps and such, there is a big problem with the delay you see everywhere.
Similar was the case in the Redmi Note 4G, and we feel this is something about the MIUI, as the processors are very different both the devices, and the lags what we feel in both, are common with every Xiaomi phone and MIUI version. The gaming experience is great, with no such lags seen and no frame drops. Even the heavy graphic loaded ones were handled very well.
Video playing is perfect, with the GPU handling 1080p playback without an issue. Although the speakers are located appropriately at the bottom, the audio output isn’t up to the mark when we talk of decibel levels.
Camera, Capture Samples
Xiaomi has included an impressive combo of 13-megapixel rear and an 8-megapixel front-facing cameras, and while the selfie cam does a great job with both, the quality as well as app functions, the rear camera cannot be called the best.
The Sony Exmor RS 13-megapixel sensor offers a very quick auto-focus, and that shares credits with MIUI camera app, which is very responsive, quick and has handy options. Check our Xiaomi Mi4 camera review for the modes and all the capture samples.
Both the cameras are surely better than what we had seen on the predecessor, i.e. the Mi3, but still, the rear one isn’t convincing enough to be called the best camera with 13MP sensor. Main reason, is the lack of stabilization.
In about a week’s continuous use as a primary device, and having the Mi4 screen active for at least three hours every day, we could say the battery drain is not much affected by screen, when compared to several other flagships, especially the Super AMOLED ones.
The 3080 mAh battery in the Mi4 takes you through the day comfortably, with over three hours screen-on time, about an hour of calling and some data usage, while keeping the device connected to Wi-Fi for almost all the time. The power settings shows you two options – Performance and Balanced. It is obvious that the battery is saved in Balanced mode, but the former doesn’t eat up a lot of battery. It is just that you can switch if the device is running out of power and you wanted it to stay on for longer period.
It takes no more than three hours to charge the battery from zero to hundred, using the wall charger. Not really speed, but there was never a claim for some quick charging possibilities, thus the speed is okay. The battery isn’t removable, although you might be able to pull out the back cover of the phone.
First things first – Xiaomi hasn’t brought the LTE unit to the Indian market. Quite a disappointment, as Xiaomi clearly is differentiating between 3G and 4G units, as it did with Redmi Note earlier, but this is a flagship we are talking about.
Next, the call quality is good but while I made a few calls, there was a common feedback received from the end receivers – the voice seemed to be too isolated, heard like something coming from a studio, using the loudspeaker. Otherwise, the noise cancelation is actually good.
The status bar shows download speed, regardless of whether you are using Wi-Fi or data network, and it comes very handy at times. Other standard connectivity options worked as expected, and the Mi4 even supports USB OTG connectivity, where we could use a 32GB card and it detected that (though compatibility is with even 64GB OTG drive), so at least something good when the company hasn’t given more than 13GB user available storage, and no MicroSD card support.
As we talk about the 16GB unit here, the 64GB variant is going to be soon available in India. But restricting it to the currently available one, the first problem is with the storage itself, as there is no MicroSD card support to the 13GB user-available space.
Xiaomi though has been one of those smartly growing brands with awesome spec-to-price ratio, and Mi4 is yet another product from the company that kills the competition with the specs given for that price. You might have to compromise with storage, lack of 4G LTE and the little lags in MIUI, if you are looking ahead for a very good compact device with neat display, excellent cameras and powerful battery. MIUI is attractive as well, and IR blaster for controlling other electronics is an addition that is note-worthy.
You seriously need to keep the fact aside that the design is inspired from Apple’s devices, as it would be too unfair when you talk of their prices. The Mi4 is priced very reasonably, designed well, and is one of those choices one would quickly come up with, if a 5-inch screen is in the priority. Other smartphones in comparison, include the Lenovo Vibe X2, OnePlus One and HTC Desire 820.