Update: The 64GB variant for the Xiaomi Mi 4 will go on sale from 24th February for Rs 23,999 in India.
Xiaomi came to the Indian market in July last year and has since, gone from strength to strength. It started out with the Xiaomi Mi 3, a phone sporting high-end specifications, at a price which was almost half of that seen on branded devices with similar specifications. The Mi 3 was followed by the Redmi 1S, priced at the entry-level market at Rs 5,999. Then came the Xiaomi Redmi Note, the 3G version (now not selling in India) selling for Rs 8,999 and the 4G variant selling currently at Rs 9,999. Each of these phones has been a monster hit in its own right. Its online-only weekly sales strategy with online retailer Flipkart has certainly paid off, if we go by reports showing Xiaomi phones sold out within seconds. All in all, it has been a good half year for Xiaomi and they actually managed to sell around 1 million handsets in India.
The Xiaomi Mi 4 was launched in China in July last year and has only entered India last month. Now unlike the earlier phones, the Mi 4 has been launched at a price of Rs 19,999 - a price point which is on the higher side by Xiaomi’s standards. One also needs to take into consideration the launch of its newest flagship devices - the Mi Note and Mi Note Pro, phones which are certainly going to be priced higher than the Mi 4 from the looks of it. We will get back to this point towards the end of the story. But before that, let us check out how the phone fares.
Build and Design: 8.5/10
Unlike its predecessors, Xiaomi has gone with a metallic frame with the Mi 4. It uses a sturdy stainless steel frame which has chamfered edges giving it an elegant look. The rear cover is all-plastic though. The flat metallic chamfered edges look inspired by the design of the iPhone 5s. Even the base of the phone has a rectangular dotted design for the speaker grilles, which is again similar to the iPhone. The flat metallic frame is sand-blasted so it has the matte finish, but the chamfered edges are glossy in appearance and tend to attract smudges. Thankfully there aren’t any sharp edges. Although at times when you are on call, and your hands aren’t free with the phone being lodged between your ear and your shoulder, you need to be careful as the glass surface is quite smooth and it tends to slowly slip from the shoulder grip.
On the top edge, you have a 3.5mm audio jack and the IR blaster, on the right hand side there are metallic buttons for the volume rocker and power/standby. The single microSIM slot is located on the left hand side and it lies flush with the edge. On the base you have the microUSB charging port along with the speaker grille. Just like on the Note 4, one can see the antenna segment cutouts on the top and the base of the Mi 4.
The front face of the Mi 4 has a 5-inch full HD display with thin bezels on the sides and thicker ones on top and bottom. Xiaomi has employed the Corning One Glass Solution (OGS) to keep the phone slim. It measures 8.9mm thick, but thanks to the metallic frame, the phone weighs 149 grams. In the smartphones department, that isn’t the lightest. On the top you have the earpiece speaker, proximity sensor and the 8MP front facing camera. At the base you have three capacitive touch buttons which have a white backlight. There is an indicator light just below the home soft button, which glows green whilst charging and blinks red on low battery. It is not very conspicuous though, and tends to merge with the surrounding white bezel. On the rear side you have a 13MP camera placed in the centre in the top, with an LED flash unit under the rear camera. The glossy plastic cover on the back is non-removable and does tend to take away some sheen away from the metallic edge. An embossed metallic Mi logo is placed around the bottom rear side.
The Xiaomi Mi 4 ups the ante as far as the internal specifications are concerned. It houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC which has a 2.5GHz quad-core processor along with an Adreno 330 GPU which is clocked at 587MHz. The SoC is supported by a 3GB RAM along with 16GB storage space. There is no provision to add on a microSD card and of the 16GB, only 12.17GB is available to the user. This isn’t a lot of space for most buyers. Although Xiaomi sells the 64GB variant in China, that will not be currently selling in India. However, at the Mi 4 launch event it was told that the 64GB version will arrive in India in the near future depending on the demand. There is a 5-inch full HD display which takes the pixel density to 441ppi. The Mi 4 runs on the Android 4.4.4 KitKat OS, with Xiaomi’s proprietary MIUI 6 OS
The Xiaomi Mi 4 launched with the MIUI 6 OS atop the Android 4.4.4 KitKat OS. Now this skin is Xiaomi’s latest update and brings in a lot of design changes along with some improved experience as well. But for someone familiar with the iOS design philosophy, the MIUI 6 skin seems to have take a lot of ‘inspiration’, from the iOS design book.
The first thing that will strike you is the design of the apps. Now the overall look of the MIUI 6 hasn’t changed drastically, but Xiaomi has refined the app design, made apps more simpler and flatter in appearance. For instance, the music and video apps are neatly divided into local and cloud sections; the clock app has a new design which is again divided into alarm, stopwatch, timer and clock; weather app has beautiful data visualisation; the Security app is neatly divided into different sections such as cleaner, data usage, blocklist and so on. There is a nice toggle button to switch a setting on or off.
In terms of features, Xiaomi has added on some good touches. You now get floating notifications so that you are not interrupted (while making that decisive photograph or while playing your favourite game) when you get a message or a call, as it will show up as a floating notification at the top. Even with notifications, MIUI 6 divides them into important and unimportant notifications.
Notifications can show up on the lock screen (it is seen in a circle with a number, touching which you will see the notifications but will not be able to take any action) as well as when you pull down the notification tray. The notification tray when pulled down will show two pages - one showing the quick settings menu and the other page showing the unattended notifications. The quick notifications screen with its transparent backdrop looks inspired by iOS’s pull up control centre. Instead of getting a notification icon from the app, you can now get three dots which is common for all the unimportant notifications. Also like we have seen with the iPhone, you will get notification number as a superscript on your app icons. You can control which notifications should show up as important by going into Settings > Notifications > Manage Notifications. If you select ‘Show in notification shade’ then the notification from that particular app won’t show up as a floating notification. You can select which notifications are important for you and make changes accordingly.
The Mail app has also been redesigned. One of the key features includes the layout of threaded email conversations which actually appears like chat messages. Other proprietary apps include the Mi Account, Security, Mi Remote, Themes, Music and so on.
MIUI 6 allows you to easily switch apps between screens. You can actually hold onto an app by one finger while swiping the screen by the other finger. You add on widgets, change transition effects and so on. The camera app has also under gone a redesign, but we will take a look at it under the camera section. The browser has also got a new look.
The Mi 3 was an able performer and even with the Redmi Note 3G/4G, the device performs well for its segment. The Xiaomi Mi 4 has the top end specs, so a speedy user experience is a given. Issues such as lag, random closing or slowing down of apps, random reboots were hardly faced. Even with the browser, I opened around 15 tabs and things were still functioning smoothly. Even when scrolling through image heavy apps or webpages, there was no stutter or lag. The Snapdragon 801 SoC paired with 3GB of RAM is more than capable of handling anything you throw at the Mi 4.
Call quality was good and the earpiece speaker is loud enough. There were no instances of dropped calls. The Mi 4 comes bundled with SwiftKey and Fleksy, to give you the option to choose your favourite keypad app.
In terms of benchmarks, the Mi 4 gave scores that were slightly lower than the OnePlus One, but that does not mean it is lacking. All the benchmarks were lodged in the Balanced mode. With the Performance mode, you will get higher scores. The audio output was quite good and I could easily watch a movie on its speaker in my living room, but since it has only a single downward firing speaker section, it can take some time getting used to the one-sided sound. It plays back most video formats, so that’s a good thing.
The one issue a lot of people will have with this phone is the fact that it is a single SIM 3G device. It supports quad-band 2G/3G networks. The other major drawback is the limited memory and no option to add in an SD card. Now for someone who uses a lot of cloud storage services, the 12.17GB usable memory is ample, but in the Indian market, a lot of the users like to store their media libraries on the phone. This is one reason why a lot of phones give the option of expandable memory. Dual-SIM phones are also quite popular here and with 4G chips coming in sub-Rs 10,000 phones, I would have liked to see Mi 4 coming with one. Agreed, the 4G market segment is still quite niche in India. But for someone looking to future proof his or her phone investment, that is an important factor specially at Rs 19,999 price point.
In terms of sensors you get a compass, accelerometer, proximity sensor, IR blaster, gyroscope and so on. It also supports GPS/A-GPS and GLONASS, Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-fi standards with support for dual-band Wi-fi. It also supports Wi-fi Direct.
One thing worth noting is that the metallic frame tends to get warm when you are doing CPU or GPU intensive tasks such as playing a heavy game or shooting a video. The entire frame gets equally warm which can get annoying for some users.
Xiaomi Mi 4 comes with a 5-inch full HD display and it has a pixel density of 441ppi. The display is sharp and bright. Readability in sunlight is quite good and the auto-brightness mode works quite well. The font size may seem tiny to some, but you can adjust that in settings. Unlike some phones we have tested in the past where we had to turn off the auto brightness mode, the Mi 4 handles it quite well. The only issue we felt was the propensity of the glass to collect smudges and finger prints. While this is certainly not as bad as the LG G3 Beat, the you do need to clean the display regularly. Watching movies on the display is a pleasure thanks to the good contrast levels. Black levels are good and there was no noticeable backlight bleeding on the Mi 4. The text appears quite sharp and one can read ebooks for long hours. Viewing angles are good.
When it comes to cameras, Xiaomi has put on its best foot forward. You get a 13MP rear camera and an 8MP front facing camera. Both the cameras sport a fast f/1.8 lens. Xiaomi has redone the camera app and made it extremely minimal in appearance. You get a central white coloured shutter button to the left of which you have a gallery button and on the right video record button on the right. Swiping from the right will bring up the 12 filters and swiping from the left brings up features such as HDR, Refocus, Panorama, burst shooting mode and so on. You also have a manual mode where in you can select your White Balance, focus, exposure time and so on. It features Chroma flash which basically lets allows you to click one picture with flash, one without flash and then combine the two pictures to get a picture which has the foreground and background well lit.
The daylight images are wonderful and pack in a lot of detail. The exposure control ring while composing the shot is quite helpful in tricky lighting situations. Shooting in low light is still not the best. The sensor does tend to pick up a lot of chroma noise, as seen in the sample below. The live filter mode lets you see your image before you actually go about selecting the filter, which is a nice touch. HDR mode was good and there were not unnecessary colour additions while shooting the sky. Panorama mode is easy to use, but stitching can take some time.
The Mi 4 can shoot in 4K and full HD mode and the video quality was quite good, with decent exposure levels. The default video shooting mode is set to HD. Of course panning does create the rolling shutter effect. The microphone on the Mi 4 is able to capture the surrounding sound quite well while suppressing noise. For amateur video bloggers, the 8MP front camera which can also shoot in full HD mode is a boon. In the video mode, you get features such as fast-motion capture, slow-motion capture and HDR video recording as well.
PS: Images have been resized here. Please click on the image for the full size resolution. Check out the complete Xiaomi Mi 4 album on Flickr.
Battery Life: 7.5/10
Considering the high end specs we were expecting a big battery and the 3,080mAh battery capacity seems about right considering devices such as Sony Xperia Z3, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and OnePlus One also come with batteries between 3,000mAh and 3,220mAh - and mind you these phones have much larger displays. We ran our standard 8-hour loop test on a fully charged Mi 4 which involved two hours each of calling, video playback, audio playback and video streaming. At the end of all this around 39% of the battery was still remaining. On regular use, you can easily extract a day and a half out of the Mi 4. It also comes with a power saving mode where you can set at what battery level, you want it to kick in.
Verdict and Price in India
So should you but this phone or not -- that is a tricky question. The Xiaomi Mi 4 is certainly priced well for its features and performance but a lot of people will find issues with its 12GB usable memory. Specially when you consider the fact that with just Rs 2,000 more you can get the OnePlus One which comes with similar specs and 64GB memory (four times that of the Mi 4). Xiaomi has planned a 64GB Mi 4 for the Indian market, but there are no details on when that phone will be out or what will be the price difference. If you aren't desperate to buy Mi 4 just yet, I'd advise waiting till the 64GB version is out.
The choice between Mi 4 and OnePlus One depends on your needs. If you like big screens and aren't content with the 12GB on the Mi 4, the OnePlus One is the only alternative in this price range. Since the Mi 4 lacks a 4G LTE support, that gives the OnePlus One an edge if someone is looking at future proofing their investment. Lenovo Vibe X2 is another option. If a 5.5-inch screen size is too big for you, Mi 4 is a good buy, but like I said before I'd wait for the 64GB model. Although note that the 64GB Mi 4 model which is coming out on Feb 24th, will be priced Rs 2,000 more than the OnePlus One. If you are content with 12GB space go ahead with Mi 4. Existing Mi 3 customers need not upgrade unless they really are rooting for a metallic build, for them the upgrade path would be the Mi Note / Mi Note Pro.
Camera performance has been improved by a lot as compared to Mi 3 and the daylight images do have an edge over the ones coming out of OnePlus One. Low light photography is still a hit and miss. The MIUI 6 has some nice flourishes which help with usability, even though some of the elements may be blatant rip offs from competing OS designs. In case you are not a fan of the MIUI, you can root the phone and install your favourite skin on it. Xiaomi provides warranty even after rooting your phones. The battery life of the Mi 4 is quite good.
With the Mi 4, Xiaomi is really testing the waters it seems. Their real focus will be to gauge the market's acceptability of a phone priced in the 20k bracket. If like the Redmi sales, the Mi 4 is sold out in seconds, that will give the brand ample confidence to price their current flagships, the Mi Note and Mi Note Pro over 20k to 25k. Xiaomi is no longer going to remain that brand which only makes budget devices, no sir. After having captured the budget market, Xiaomi now has its eyes set on the higher end of the market. The metallic design will certainly appeal to those who stayed away from the plastic designs on previous Xiaomi phones. Xiaomi has done a smart thing, establish base with an affordable phone and popularise the brand and now target the cream segment. Strategically, a different approach from say a OnePlus One. Will it pay off? We will come to know that on Feb 10th when the first batch of Mi 4 phones will sell on Flipkart.