Xiaomi launched its latest smartphone, the Xiaomi Mi 4i in Delhi on April 23 in the presence of founders Bin Lin and Lei Jun. The Mi 4i was a global launch in India and keynote presenter and Xiaomi VP of global, Hugo Barra claimed that the ‘i’ denomination meant it was inspired and made for India. Considering Xiaomi managed to sell over a million smartphones within 6 months of its debut in India, it goes without saying that India is an important market for the Chinese phone maker.
While it borrows a lot of elements from its elder sibling – the Mi 4 - the Mi 4i also offers some improvements such as Android 5.0 Lollipop, a larger battery, lighter body and so on. Now with Xiaomi partnering with online retailers apart from Flipkart to sell its phones, users will have multiple platforms to get the Mi 4i from. So will the Mi 4i succeed in recreating the magic of the Mi 3 as predicted in our first impression? Let us find out.
Build and Design: 8/10
Xiaomi Mi 4i comes with a polycarbonate rear cover which is non removable and this cover wraps the phone from the rear side giving smooth rounded corners and edges. In terms of design there are more hints of the Redmi 2 rather than the Mi 4. There’s a soft touch matte finish with a non grease coating. The volume rocker and the power/standby button on right hand side are made of steel and have a nice feedback. The dual SIM tray is located on left hand side. On the top you have the 3.5mm audio jack and at the base there is the micro USB charging and data transfer port.
The thing that strikes you when you hold the phone is the fact that it’s light (130gm) and slim (7.8mm). I noticed that the bezel is thin on the top and bottom which makes the phone quite comfortable to hold despite the 5inch display. Use of One Glass Solution, which uses glass laminated on the display further helps keep the slim factor under check.
On the rear side, you have the 13MP camera placed on the top left hand corner beside which is the dual LED flash unit. The camera is flush with the surface of the rear side which is quite good. Towards the base you have the silver coloured embossed Mi branding and below it the grilles of the speaker along with a tiny lip to help raise the phone a bit when it is resting on a flat surface, so as to not muffle the sound. Xiaomi also offers multi-coloured phone covers which you can attach on the rear side. These covers have openings around the camera and the speaker section and thereby end up giving the phone a two-tone colour.
Overall, a well built device despite the polycarbonate back. The design inspiration from the Apple iPhone 5c is quite evident, only Xiaomi uses a matte finish rear cover.
The Xiaomi Mi 4i houses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC (second generation) which has an octa core processor. You get a quad core Cortex A53 clocked at 1.7GHz also known as the performance cores and another quad core processor clocked at 1.1GHz known as power saving cores. It has an Adreno 405 GPU. This is paired with 2GB LPDDR3 RAM.
The Mi 4i runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with the MIUI 6 skin on top. In terms of appearance, there isn’t a different look despite the Android Lollipop treatment. Only when you are in the Play Store to download apps, do you notice visually different controls from the MIUI 6 skin.
It comes with 16GB of internal storage of which 12.9 GB is available to the user. Sadly, there isn’t a provision to add in a microSD card. According to Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra, the reason behind not having a microSD card slot was to ensure space-saving on the motherboard, since Xiaomi has used a small form factor motherboard to accommodate a large capacity battery (3120mAh). Barra also claimed that if users added in a poor quality microSD card in the slot, that would lead to performance issues. He said that Xiaomi does plan to come out with a higher capacity variant soon, but did not give any fixed timeline. It looks like Xiaomi wants you to use the Mi Cloud storage platform if you have higher storage needs, which may not be to everyone's liking.
The Xiaomi Mi 4i has a dual SIM, dual standy mode and can take in 4G SIM cards in both the slots. It features 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS/GLONASS and USB OTG.
The Mi 4i is the first Xiaomi phone to be launched with Android 5.0 Lollipop. But thanks to the MIUI 6 skin atop the phone, you can barely tell the difference between the look of the Mi 4i from the Mi 4 or even Redmi 2.
The overall look of the MIUI 6 hasn’t changed drastically from the MIUI 5, 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.
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, 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.
Xiaomi has added support for six Indian languages including Bengali, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam. It also comes with a Visual IVR feature which visually shows you the list of options when you call public services such as IRCTC or banking services. I did not find the feature activated on the review unit. Xiaomi plans to take the help of the Mi community to add on more IVR numbers for Visual IVR.
Presence of the second generation Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC paired with 2GB RAM is enough to handle most tasks. The phone works well in the performance mode and the Adreno 405 GPU is capable of handling heavy games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne and Dead Trigger 2. Browsing on Chrome with over 10 tabs open at a time, along with 10 apps running in the background didn’t slow down the device or make it freeze.
However, there are times when I noticed that loading the camera app or clicking on a folder full of apps took a second longer to open. The lock screen has a shortcut - swiping from right to left - to directly launch the camera app. At times a quick swipe from the right showed me the home screen for a fraction of a second, before the camera app opened. I doubt that it is designed to work that way, and hopefully Xiaomi will release an update soon to fix this bug.
In the overall scheme of things these are minor niggles, but issues nonetheless. For someone upgrading from a lower end device, this isn’t much of a deal-breaker but Xiaomi needs to look into these bugs and release timely updates to fix them.
I benchmarked the Mi 4i in both the balanced and the performance modes. The screenshots above are from the Balanced mode. The Mi 4i performs better than the Yu Yureka and Oppo R5, both of which also house the first gen Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC. Although in some benchmarks such as the GeekBench 3, both Oppo R5 and Yu Yureka edged ahead. In the performance mode, the Mi 4i comfortably goes ahead. However, these numbers are just indicators and the real life use performance is more important.
While playing games or streaming or shooting video for longer duration, the top half of the rear side does get warm. This is expected when you run resource intensive apps. It doesn’t get very hot though. That happens when you are outdoors, specially in the hot summer heat, and you are clicking lot of photographs. The rear side as well as the front portion get hot. You need to keep it idle for a couple of minutes. The speaker section is loud enough for you to watch a video in your room without your earphones. Sound quality is the most responsive in the mid-range frequency.
Call quality is good and the earpiece speaker is loud enough to be audible even in traffic situations. It does not distort sound when you raise the volume to maximum level. The phone supports dual 4G SIM cards with dual standby.
One of the good aspects of the Xiaomi Mi 4i is its display. The 5-inch full HD display is vibrant and comes with IPS panel which gives it great viewing angles. Just like the higher end Mi 4, the Mi 4i also has a 441ppi pixel density. Colours are vibrant and text appears sharp. There isn’t any visible warm tinge to the display.
Xiaomi has used a One Glass Solution instead of Gorilla Glass protection. The screen is resistant to smudges and when the phone display is off, you can see a continuous black top. Only when you observe closely will you notice the separation between the screen and bezel. This is quite impressive. Now while the contrast levels aren’t anywhere close to that seen on AMOLED displays, I was quite impressed with the contrast ratio on the display when viewing test videos.
Xiaomi has employed a technology called ‘Sunlight Display’, which basically is a hardware based always on signal processor, which dynamically adjusts the contrast of pixels in real time so as to help you show a balanced display in situations where there is extreme glare. This is particularly helpful when you are trying to photograph subjects in harsh sunlight. When composing the shot through the display, you will notice extremely bright highlights and dark shadows thereby missing out on details. But with Sunlight Display, the image processor will brighten up the shadowy areas, tone down the brightness on the washed out portions and leave the midtones untouched. This gives you a better view of the scene. It is different from auto-brightness, in the sense that in auto-brightness the entire brightness level is raised or reduced, whereas with Sunlight Display brightness is adjusted selectively depending on the shadow/highlight areas.
Cameras on the Xiaomi phones I have tested in the past have been impressive for their price. Xiaomi Mi 4i has the same camera 13MP rear camera as its elder sibling - the Mi 4. But the only area where it differs is that the Mi 4 has a 6-element f/1.8 lens whereas the Mi 4i has a 5-element lens configuration with an f/2.0 aperture. On the front-face it has the 5MP camera.
Please Note: Sample images have been resized for the website. To see the full resolution images, please click on the images. You can even check out the Xiaomi Mi 4i photo album on Flickr which has high resolution images.
The user interface of the camera isn’t different from that seen on the Mi 4 or the Redmi 2 for that matter. Swipe from the right to bring up the filters and swipe from left to get the camera modes. But Xiaomi has added more features to the Beautify section on the front camera. Filters such as Japanese, 1970s, Autumn and Indigo will appeal to all the Instagram and VSCO fanatics out there for their low-contrast film-like simulation modes.
Image quality from the Xiaomi Mi 4i was quite good. Daylight shots are packed with detail and the HDR mode comes in two variants - Normal mode clicks a series of three shots (underexposed, normal exposure, overexposed) whereas the Live HDR mode shows you the image it would ultimately appear. The images shot in the HDR mode showed a slightly warm tinge. This was also seen with the Redmi 2 camera. But it does not add any unwanted colours (specially in the sky) when you are shooting the landscapes. Daylight shots also show a lot of sharpness. The front-camera shoots good selfies outdoors, but indoors noise does creep in. In indoor shots, you can notice noise when viewing the image at 100 per cent, but the noise isn’t distracting. There is a torch mode to help you focus properly in low light situations which is quite a nifty feature. Low light images manage to capture a good amount of detail when compared with other sub Rs 15,000 phones, but noise is quite prominent in these photographs and fine details get fuzzy, specially around the edges.
But for its price, this is one of the best smartphone camera I have come across. For daylight photography, it can easily be used as a secondary camera when you are out on a vacation. It is also capable of shooting decent quality full HD and HD video so long as the camera is held steady.
Battery Life: 8/10
The Mi 4i houses a 3120mAh battery which is quite a large capacity battery on a 5-inch device. Over 3000mAh batteries are generally seen on 5.5-inch devices. Xiaomi managed to put on this battery while keeping the phone thickness at 7.3mm, but using a smaller motherboard PCB. The battery is non-removable and just like most high end phones I have seen off late, it supports quick charge technology.
On a regular work day, the battery easily lasted over 12-14 hours of moderate usage involving surfing the web, calling for couple of hours, social media use, photography, video streaming and so on. On the PC Mark for Android test on the Balanced mode I got around 9 hours 28 mins. In performance mode will last around 10-11 hours depending on your usage. But you can easily extract a day’s worth of battery life from the Mi 4i.
Verdict and price in India
Let’s cut to the chase - at Rs 12,999, Xiaomi surely has a winner on its hands with the Mi 4i.
With the Mi 4i, Xiaomi is offering you a phone that has premium specs, a great display, good camera, good battery life at an affordable price point. There has been no compromise on the design aspect as well and although it is a 5-inch device, you can easily use it single-handedly for most use cases. The camera is one of the best in this price segment.
Sure, there are performance issues, which we have elaborated above. But for a first time buyer these aren’t major deal breakers, if you look at the positives that come with this phone. Issues with animations can be resolved with software updates. One thing that will annoy some users is 12.9GB usable space and lack of a microSD card slot. While Xiaomi’s reasoning makes sense, majority of Indian consumers always like the option to add more storage.
When Xiaomi launched the Mi 3 last July, it created a sensation among Indian buyers. I see no reason why there will not be an encore. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the Mi 4i will be an even bigger success. There are three reasons why I think so - Xiaomi flash sale model has been a resounding success as we have seen since last July and a Rs 12,999 price point for this phone has most bases covered. The first flash sale yesterday got 3,50,000 registrations for only 40,000 sale units and the sale was over in 15 seconds.
Secondly, Xiaomi as a brand has acquired a lot of goodwill among its fan community since last July. This was evident with the number of fans present at the Mi 4i launch event. Also now with Ratan Tata as an investor, Xiaomi surely has hit the front pages.
Last but not the least, the most important reason is that unlike the Mi 3, which was selling exclusively on Flipkart only, the Mi 4i will soon be selling on Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal, Airtel Store, The Mobile Store and Xiaomi’s very on Mi store as well.
With the Mi 4i, Xiaomi has thrown a challenge to other smartphone makers to up their game. The repercussions are already evident with Moto G (2nd gen) announcing a price drop to Rs 10,999. Other smartphone makers have to really top the value proposition offered by the Mi 4i to be considered in the sub Rs 15,000 price segment.
Either ways, it’s a win-win situation for you, the consumer.