Barring devices from a few manufacturers, we, in India, have become used to getting smartphones within days of their global debut and sometimes on the day of international launch itself. So, when Xiaomi announced the Mi 3 in the country last July, it was a little disappointing to see the company launch a phone, whose successor was getting released in China around the same time and Indians were getting a generation-old smartphone. However, given the aggressive pricing and an impressive set of specifications, not many consumers cared about the fact that it was an old device.
But, Xiaomi continued the same trend with the following launches like Redmi Note, Mi 4 and Redmi 2 as well. So, when the company introduced the new Mi 4i last month and made India the launch market, it was a big step for the company in recognising that the second most-populous nation in the world is indeed a very important market for it.
The company is skipping the lucrative Chinese market for Mi 4i (at least for the time-being), so it is a bold move for Xiaomi. Whether that move pays off remains to be seen and a lot of it will depend on the quality of device, which I tested over the last two weeks. Read on for my full review of the Mi 4i.
Entry-level Redmi-series aside, Xiaomi has really stepped up its design game in the last few smartphones and it becomes evident as soon as you lay your eyes on the Mi 4i. It is sleek, light and a handy device, which looks and feels great in hand.
Despite being made of polycarbonate, when others are going the metal-way, the design and build quality are the most impressive parts of Mi 4i. With a 5-inch screen on-board, the smartphone hits the sweets spot of being large-enough for a decent multimedia experience and small-enough for one-hand usage.
The smartphone sports a soft-touch matte finish on the back, which feels smooth and adds elegance to the smartphone. Although the company is selling the phone in just White colour right now, it plans to add four more variants later – turquoise, yellow, black and pink.
Coming to the specifics, the Mi 4i includes stainless steel volume rocker and power button on the right side, which are easily reachable and offer sufficient feedback. The 3.5mm audio jack is located on the top, while the MicroUSB 2.0 port is present on the bottom the phone. The company has placed the speaker grill on the back, which is although not an ideal location, but thanks to the presence of a small protrusion below the speaker, the sound doesn’t get muffled when the phone is placed on its back.
In terms of the screen, as I had earlier noted, the phone feature a 5-inch display, which comes with full HD resolution. The display offers great colour reproduction, nice viewing angles as well a decent under-sun visibility. The company has also packed a feature called “Sunlight display” in the phone, which adjusts the screen pixel contrast in real-time to provide better readability under sun. Average consumers won’t notice any major changes with this feature and unless you are watching a video in direct sun-light.
Xiaomi has included Qualcomm’s 64-bit Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor in the phone, which is a quite capable chip as I had stated in the Yu Yureka review. In addition, the company has packed 2GB of RAM in the phone with Android 5.0-based MIUI 6.
While the processor offers a snappy performance on the Mi 4i, the MIUI animations add unnecessary delay in launching apps and other tasks, making an otherwise fast smartphone seem slow. Xiaomi seriously needs to cut down on animations and other superficial stuff in MIUI, which hampers the overall performance of the phone.
The animations aside, Mi 4i provides smooth performance and handles everything that you throw at it with ease. Here is quick look at the performance offered by the Mi 4i in specific tasks.
Gaming: During my testing, the phone played graphic-intensive games like Asphalt 8 and Riptide GP2 without any hitch in the best-performance settings. Casual games like Temple Run and Angry Birds also worked nicely. The smartphone does get warm while playing graphic intensive games, but not enough to make you uncomfortable.
Media Playback: The inbuilt music and video players in Mi 4i support all major file-types and come with all the basic-features including streaming support in the music-player from your Mi Cloud library. The output of the on-board speaker is quite decent. Mi 4i doesn’t come with a bundled in-ear headphones, so you will have to get your own. Like gaming, the smartphone also get warm while you are playing full HD videos and during our video playback battery best, the device became quite hot, something you would not want to handle. However, the heating is bearable most of the times, unless you are playing videos for a long duration like over an hour or so.
Connectivity, web browsing, calling and others: I wasn’t able to test 4G support as the Indian capital continues to be way down the list of priorities for the telecom operators, however both 3G and Wi-Fi worked like charm on the phone. File transfers using native Bluetooth functions didn’t work for me on Mi 4i and I had to use the Bluetooth File Transfer app from Google Play to receive a file from my laptop. Calling and texting worked perfectly. In terms of the storage, the phone includes 16GB of on-board memory, of which just around 10GB is available to the consumers and there is not expansion slot, which might be a problem for some.
Software: Mi 4i is the first smartphone from Xiaomi to come pre-loaded with Android 5.0 Lollipop, however you will be disappointed to see the implementation. Although the company has included many of the Android 5.0 features in the smartphone, some of them like enhanced notifications with disruptions settings and upgraded phone set-up process are missing. The expandable notifications were introduced in Jelly Bean, but they are still not present in MIUI. Since Xiaomi uses its own design language and sensibilities, there is no material design for you either. Also, the phone seems vulnerable to Android Installer Hijacking, the vulnerability, which was publically revealed by Palo Alto Networks in March this year. The vulnerability isn’t supposed to be present in any devices running KitKit or above as Google has already patched it in AOSP, but Xiaomi still seems to be working with two-generation old code.
The above issues aside, the MIUI 6 offers decent performance and packs a number of useful enhancements like theme support, call-blocking, call-recording, built-in security features, and Mi-Cloud integration with support for app data and settings back-up/ restore. You can read the entire MIUI 6 feature-list on the company website.
The company has also stated that it is working to bring a new Visual IVR feature to Mi 4i, which will allow the users to see the IVR input options right on their screen to help them quick reach the desired option in the IVR. The company will be using a crowd-sourced database for the various IVR options. In addition, Xiaomi has added support for five Indian languages in the phone including Hindi and Bangla.
Camera/ Battery Life
The Mi 4i features a 13MP primary camera as well as a 5MP front shooter. The rear camera captures decent images, but they look bland and lack punch. Most of the sample shots that I took over the past two weeks look great on the phone-screen but as soon as I transferred them on to a PC, it became clear that they lacked sharpness and looked dull. Images taken in well-lit situations offer sufficient detail, but low-light shots were filled with noise and lacked detail.
The front camera captures nice selfies and the company has also included a beautification mode in the phone, which can help you remove dark circles and other embellishments in your self-portraits (if you want to).
The camera app includes plenty of features including various picture modes, filters and options to adjust white balance, exposure time and ISO value.
On the battery front, Xiaomi has packed a relatively-large 3120 mAh battery in Mi 4i’s 7.8mm chassis. As you can expect, the battery is non user-removable. Moderate users will easily be able to get through the day with Mi 4i, however heavy users might face low-battery problems if they constantly operate with full brightness, otherwise they should be fine too.
In my performance-heavy video-playback test, the Mi 4i lasted 3 hours, 40 minutes with full brightness and constant Wi-Fi, in comparison the recently launched Zenfone 2 has lasted slightly less than four hours in the same test.
Overall, Xiaomi has done quite a number of things right in the Mi 4i, however the device isn’t without flaws. It offers an impressive display, nice design and good performance in a great price-tag. However, the lack of microSD card slot or a bigger storage variant will be a big issue for some. Also, the imaging performance could have been better and the media-junkies will not like the device heating issues.
Asus Zenfone 2 is only serious competitor to the Mi 4i at this price-point, but the presence of just 720p HD screen in the INR 12,999 Zenfone 2 model gives Mi 4i an edge.
If you don’t have problem with just 10GB of storage, MIUI, an average camera and occasionally smartphone heating, Mi 4i is your best bet for under INR 14K.
Price & Availability: INR 12,999, Flipkart (for the time-being, will reach Amazon India, Snapdeal, Airtel store, The Mobile Store and mi.com in the coming months)