Xiaomi Mi 4i Review: The Mini Mi 4?

The Xiaomi Mi 4i seems like an extremely attractive smartphone if its features are to be looked at. But what blew our mind was that you only need to arrange for Rs 12999 if you want to purchase it during one of its weekly flash sales. It’s of course a trimmed down version the Chinese company’s flagship Mi 4 smartphone. When you put these things in perspective, this phone comes off as an irresistible proposition. And that’s when you start wondering if there’s a catch involved somewhere, because oftentimes there most definitely is one. We’ve been playing around with the device for over a week now, and are ready to put pen to paper and give you a full lowdown of it striking features.

Specifications

– Display: 5-inch IPS LCD, 1080p full HD resolution
– OS: Android 5.0 Lollipop with MIUI 6
– CPU: Octa core Snapdragon 615 (1.7GHz quad Cortex-A53, 1.1GHz quad Cortex-A53)
– GPU: Adreno 405
– Memory: 2GB RAM, 16GB storage (non-expandable)
– Camera: 13MP rear, 5MP front
– Battery: 3120mAh
– Size: 138.1 x 69.6 x 7.8mm
– Weight: 130gms
– Connectivity: Dual SIM, HSPA+, 4G LTE, GPS, Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi ac

Xiaomi Mi 4i Review

Design

The first time we handled this device, what struck us was the material used on its shell. It’s made of a special polycarbonate substance which has a ceramic feel to it, kind of like the material used on the white Moto E. The fact that it’s a matte surface adds to the grip factor, and the uni-body construction gives it an overall sturdy aura. Now one of the main highlights of its parent smartphone is the incorporation of metal in its design. We’d be asking for too much if we demand that the Mi 4i too should have grabbed this attribute, but there’s not much need for it as the phone looks pretty well built as is.

Mi 4i Back

We’re particularly impressed by its back surface which looks like it’s a scratch-magnet but has stayed completely unblemished till now, looking all dandy with its sliver Mi logo sitting on the bottom end. On the top, there’s the camera and a dual LED flash while the bottom houses a horizontal speaker grill with 114 sound chambers on it. A neat touch is a slight elevation given to the speaker by a tiny 1mm protrusion which doesn’t let the sound get muffled. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference in the overall experience of the phone. We’d definitely like to see more companies taking such an approach in the future, unless of course they’re moving their speakers to the front which is even more appreciable.

Xiaomi Phone Rear

The placement of the camera and the dual LED flash on the rear surface brings in an iPhone 5C vibe, but that surely does not take any originality points away from the Xiaomi smartphone. Its design incorporates stainless steel power and volume buttons that are quite tactile and sturdy. Moreover, they provide a nice contrast to the two-tone body of the device.

The device’s left side houses a dual SIM tray that takes two micro SIM cards, whereas the 3.5mm jack and the USB charging port occupy their usual places. The front is pretty identical to the face of its parent device; so you’ll find the Mi logo on the top-left corner and the earpiece and the camera at the center. At the bottom, the standard light-up keys for recent apps, home and back functions occupy space.

Mi 4i Sides

It’s hard to believe that despite packing a 3120mAh battery, the thickness of this handset has stayed put at 7.8mm. Combine this with its subtly rounded edges, the matte surface and 130-gram weight, and the Mi 4i becomes a delight to hold.

Display and audio

The Mi 4i is the only phone in its class to offer a 1080p full HD monitor. While this in itself is an achievement, the Chinese company hasn’t stopped at just that. It has incorporated into the smartphone a special Sunlight Display technology. Now this is no usual adaptive display that senses the light around you to adjust its brightness and give your eyes some rest.

Sunlight Display goes beyond that concept to actually change the contrast of each pixel and that too in real time. While this reduces glare, one can easily argue that it will eat up more battery, but that’s not the case. Since the changes are happening on the hardware side of things, battery consumption is a lot more controlled than on adaptive displays that work a software-level.

Sunlight Display

To tell you in a simple manner, when you’re in bright sunlight, the Sunlight Display technology identifies the darker areas in the visuals and brightens only those parts up instead of the entire screen. It works in an extremely subtle manner without even letting you know of its existence. Sunlight Display is way more than just a simple gimmick, and we’re actually stunned that something so flagship-grade has found its way inside a Rs 12999 smartphone.

Just like its parent device, this one too goes for a 5-inch screen size. This makes for a pixel density count of 441ppi which translates into extremely crisp visuals. The colors are pretty accurately saturated, and at no point does this panel feel dull to the eyes. Being an IPS panel, it delivers extremely wide viewing angles as well.

The Xiaomi Mi 4i integrates Corning’s Concore glass technology which is basically an OGS solution. It grants great Gorilla Glass 3-like protection, and compresses layers of glass and the touch sensor into a compact panel. Apart from offering a slight increase in screen brightness, it more importantly works towards keeping the thickness of the device down to an impressive 7.8mm.

Mi 4i Side

Coming to the device’s sound quality, it can best be described as average. On full volume, the speaker certainly doesn’t distort the sound but it doesn’t exactly provide crisp output as well. Thanks to its Smart PA playback technology, the sound is amplified better than normal without any side effects. The call quality of this phone is excellent to say the least.

Software

The question of whether MIUI is a better or worse version of Android is something that always ends up polarizing the audiences. The fans love its versatility, while the haters are usually seen criticizing its ‘ugly’ looks and its heavy nature. We’ve found both these factors to be true to some extent in previous versions of MIUI, but the Xiaomi Mi 4i comes with the latest Android 5.0.2 Lollipop-based MIUI 6 variant.

Don’t expect any visual changes though, as the company has conveniently decided to avoid toying with the design in any way. The main Lollipop functions are all present, trying with much effort to fit into the MIUI scheme of things. Take for instance the case of lockscreen notifications. They appear alright, but if you decide to unlock the device without clicking on them, they are not interested in waiting around on the lockscreen during the next unlock.

Xiaomi Mi 4i Screen

In such situations, the notification icons on the top-left corner should help you out by pointing out that there’s something waiting for you to read, but those are switched off by default for some reason, forcing you to head into the overcrowded Settings menu to switch them on. Notification buttons are still missing from MIUI moreover.

There’s no Call shortcut on the lockscreen, with only the KitKat-era Camera shortcut being present there. Basically, if you look at this phone’s software with a broad viewpoint, you’ll notice that the true potential of Android 5.0.2 Lollipop hasn’t really been tapped into by its makers.

Having said that, MIUI 6 still gains full points for presenting essential apps for serving functions that you usually need to download third-party utilities for. A RAM cleaner is accessible easily and so is the reboot button which stock Android constantly keeps shying away from for some reason. A native call recorder is one more feature that makes this UI so intuitive. Mail, Clock and other stock apps receive some design retouching in this version of the software as well.

But then again, the heaviness that MIUI brings with it indeed contributes to slowing down the phone’s speed slightly. At times, it became hard for us to believe that this device houses a 64-bit octa core Snapdragon 615 processor. Apps kept eating up a few seconds from our lives while opening, and the framerates were abysmal occasionally.

Xiaomi has reached a point where one of its most important assets – MIUI – is turning into a disadvantage, and that’s definitely something the company should work on as soon as possible. We would definitely love to see more attention being given to making the software light in nature whenever the next major version is due to for release.

Camera

If a user is comfortable with going on a long holiday without carrying their regular camera with them, it’s a tremendous victory for a smartphone. Such relishing victories are currently being achieved only by high-end flagships, and the Xiaomi Mi 4i is brave enough to try and enter that league despite being priced at about one fourth of their costs.

Camera

It carries on its back a 13MP camera with an f/2.0 aperture, a 5-element lens and dual LED flash. This snapper is furthermore accompanied by a range of software features that have become a staple for all Xiaomi smartphones these days. Images clicked from the Mi 4i were found to be extremely impressive. The camera excels in capturing details, and produces pretty sharp photographs when in appropriately lit up conditions.

Colors are captured so brilliantly that you’ll fall in love with your photographs irrespective of whether you’re viewing them on the phone itself or on your PCs. The f/2.0 aperture makes for some superb background blurring in macro shots and it also contributes in capturing admirable low-light pictures. However, night-time images as well as indoor ones end up with a ton of grain in them which is not surprising.

Image Comparison

The camera app’s interface is a bit complicated, but that’s the price you pay for infusing so many distinct features for users to take advantage of. There’s a whole bunch of filters that provide a live preview of the resulting image, while there are a few modes like Refocus for adjusting focus after clicking the picture. Xiaomi has blessed the device with two different HDR modes namely Live and Normal. Normal HDR works like charm in infusing life into long-ranged images, but the Live mode simply doesn’t change much in the photographs, making it an unnecessary addition in our opinion.

Sample images from the Xiaomi Mi 4i (Click to view in full resolution)

Sample images from the Xiaomi Mi 4i

The phone’s rear camera can capture 1080p videos, but these full resolution clips were seen lacking in sharpness quite a bit. Same goes for timelapse videos as well as slow-motion clips that of course need to be captured at 720p, and play back at a measly 10fps.

Coming to the front-facing snapper, it’s highlighted by the controversial Beautify feature that’s aimed at making you look more beautiful in your selfies. As much as it’s a twisted concept, it succeeds equally well in what it’s trying to do. Firstly, it gauges your gender and your age, and it does that pretty accurately mind you. The three different levels of Beautify then work towards smoothening your skin, brightening your eyes, slimming the jaw and more.

Keeping that aside, the 5MP front-facing snapper of the Xiaomi Mi 4i is treat to use for selfie enthusiasts thanks to its large f/1.8 aperture and its wide angle lens. Owing to this assembly, it produces extremely accurate self-portraits that are not hindered by any fisheye effects and such. It’s safe to say that with the Mi 4i, the Chinese company has one of the most perfectly implemented front snappers in today’s smartphones.

Performance and battery

Those who’re familiar with Snapdragon 615 devices will know that they’re prone to heating up every now and then. That case is true for the Mi 4i as well. After using the camera for a long period of time or even while charging, the upper region of the rear and front surfaces exude tremendous heat. At times the device was so hot that our ears felt really uncomfortable while talking to people on calls.

The overall speed of the Xiaomi Mi 4i is admirable. It can handle heavy games without much load times, while it can even tackle other heavy tasks with ease. However, some apps take a tad bit more time to open than they should, and the blame of this can be pinned on the heavy MIUI layer of this phone. Although it’s a bit of a disappointment, it doesn’t go on to actually spoil the user experience by a larger margin. Besides, it’s something that can be fixed through a future software update.

Mi 4i Performance Mode

The benchmark results of this Xiaomi offering turned out pretty solid, with the device having beaten handsets that are well out of its price range. On AnTuTu, it returned a score of 30704, having triumphed over the likes of the HTC One M8 and the Redmi Note. It managed to score 21868 on Quadrant Standard, while on 3D Mark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test it gave us a result of 7518.

Among the many high-end features that this affordable handset offers is a 3120mAh battery. To set things straight, you can easily extract a day’s worth of usage from this phone and still have some juice left at the end of the day for some bed-time gaming or browsing. This observation is based on moderate usage which we put the handset through over the course of a week or so. Anywhere around 13 hours of battery life is what’s delivered by the device, which is quite a great achievement.

Pros:

– Sturdy design

– Stunning display with amazing Sunlight Display technology

– Great battery life

– Good cameras for still photography and selfies

– Tremendous value for money

Cons:

– Heavy software that hinders performance

– Heating issues

– Average video quality on cameras

Verdict

Verdict

The bottom line is simple. If we boil down everything to the price, then the Xiaomi Mi 4i is the best device the market has to offer right now. But if you still want every penny of yours to count, you should consider the cons we’ve listed above. The device’s awesome display, its exquisite design and great battery life are a few things we think give it tremendous character, given that it’s priced at a mere Rs 12999. Our score for it is 4 out of 5.