The past year has been a rollercoaster ride of sorts for Xiaomi in India. It sold a million phones in five months, got embroiled in a patent infringement case, and was even temporarily banned from selling phones in the country. But through all this, Xiaomi s phones have sold like hot cakes during its weekly flash sales on Flipkart. After what has been a long wait for many six months to be exact since its unveiling in China Xiaomi launched the Mi 4 in India last month. Since the Mi 3 was discontinued, buyers have been waiting for Xiaomi to replace it with another flagship device, but unlike last year however, the market dynamics have completely changed. Will the Mi 4 still be able to make a similar impact as the smartphone it is replacing? We spent some time with last year s flagship smartphone and here s what we think of it. Also Read - MIUI 13 design teased ahead of launch via latest MIUI File Manager updateAlso Read - Mi 11 Lite first look: A OnePlus Nord CE competitor, is it?
Let s first address the elephant in the room yes the Mi 4 does borrow design elements and also looks somewhat similar to the Apple iPhone 5S. We have already discussed the similarities in detail, and with that out of the way let s move on. The Mi 4 is a step up from the Mi 3 in terms of design and build quality. The smartphone boasts a stainless steel frame, which not only adds to the style quotient, but also reassures you of its sturdiness, in case you were to drop the phone.
The front is dominated by the 5-inch display, with the Mi logo on the top alongside the proximity sensor, earpiece and the large front camera. Towards the bottom is a row of backlit capacitive navigation buttons. On the right are the volume rocker and the power button, which are built using the same metallic materials, and also offer a good tactile response. On the left is the micro-SIM card slot, while the top has the IR Blaster and the 3.5mm audio jack. Lastly, the speaker grille and the micro-USB port are placed at the bottom.
The non-removable back panel is made out of glossy plastic, featuring a diamond-style texture, and the whole panel is slightly curved, which makes it easy to pick up the device when kept on a flat surface. While the back panel is made out of plastic it in no way looks or feels cheap. The only grouse we had was with the glossy finish, which makes it magnet for fingerprints and smudges.
While the overall design is not something that will stand out in the crowd, the overall build quality is top-notch with no visible gaps and nothing moves or squeaks even when you apply some pressure to the phone. If we were to nitpick however, it feels a bit too polished and while testing, there was always this fear of the phone slipping out of our hands.
Coming to the display, the Mi 4 flaunts a 5-inch full HD (1920×1080 pixels) display with a pixel density of 441ppi. The display is sourced from JDI/Sharp, and comes with One Glass Solution, which the company claims is not only slimmer than traditional Gorilla Glass, but also provides resistance to scratches and shattering. The display is one of the brightest we have come across and color representation is good as well. Xiaomi has also offered an option to play around with the warmth of the colors as well as the saturation. Viewing angles are quite decent, and legibility under direct sunlight is satisfactory.
As you would expect from a Xiaomi flagship smartphone, the Mi 4 boasts top-notch specifications. Under the hood is a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor paired with Adreno 330 GPU and 3GB of RAM. In theory it is good enough to handle any and everything thrown at it, and in reality it does. It handled all the apps smoothly, and games like Riptide GP2 and Marvel Contest of Champions worked almost flawlessly. There weren t any stutters or lags when watching high definition videos either. The only indication of how much power was on use was when the phone used to heat up after a while.
The Mi 4 launched in China in two variants 16GB and 64GB. But only the former has been launched in India. What s more frustrating is the fact that there is no slot for a microSD card either. So in essence you are stuck with less than 13GB for use. Xiaomi has promised that it will soon be launching the 64GB variant in India, but there is currently no timeline or word on the pricing.
For photography enthusiasts there is a 13-megapixel Sony-made Exmor RS sensor (IMX214), with f/1.8 aperture and LED flash. The camera UI is quite minimalistic and fairly easy to use as well. The top has the toggles for flash and rear/front cameras, while at the bottom there are buttons for the gallery, camera shutter and video recording button. Swiping right will reveal different filters you can use while clicking photos, and swiping left reveals the different camera options like Panorama, HDR, burst mode, and manual mode among others.
As for performance, the rear camera is very good under optimal lighting conditions. When outdoors during the day, the camera was able to capture a lot of details, and overall colors and exposure looked natural. Indoors however there is a visible drop in quality, with the resultant photos lacking sharpness and affected by noise as well. The flash too isn t of much help, and feels a bit underpowered in very low lighting conditions. It takes a few tries to get a decent photo in such conditions. It is advisable to use manual mode, which lets you tweak the white balance, focus, exposure time and ISO, for better results.
As for modes, there is Panorama, HDR, manual mode, burst mode, and even a Refocus mode. HDR mode works well and there is a marked difference in photos taken with the HDR on, as compared to when it is off. Refocus feature, as the name suggests, lets you change the focus of your photo after you ve clicked it. The feature takes multiple pictures, while choosing different focus depths each time. The result is actually pretty great and you can export refocused pictures at full resolution as well.
For selfie lovers, there is an 8-megapixel snapper with 80 degree wide angle lens and f/1.8 aperture. Once again performance is quite good, and the quality of the selfies we clicked is one of the best we have seen on smartphones in this segment. The wide angle lens made it quite easy to cram in friends into a groupie.
As for add-ons, there is a facial recognition system, which guesses the age of the faces in the viewfinder. We had a bit of fun playing around with the feature, and the system was fairly accurate in guessing the ages. There is also a beauty mode for the front camera, but we would advise against using it, unless you want to look like a character out of a Japanese Manga.
The smartphone runs on Android KitKat based MIUI 6.0 out-of-the-box. The Mi 4 is the first smartphone in India to run on latest UI, and the company will soon be rolling it out to its other smartphones as well. The new UI is a big overhaul over version 5, and the overall theme is much flatter and minimalistic than before. You again can t help but see some of the similarities between Xiaomi s UI and Apple s iOS. It s not just the flat theme either, other similarities include the way all apps are stored on the home screens, the ability to create folders for apps, and notification alerts shown on the icons. The multi-tasking window also shows app previews, identical to when you double-click the home button on your iOS device.
The UI brings in a lot of customization options like the ability to change fonts, font size, notification lights, button functions, and also deck your phone with various themes available on the Themes app. There are a lot of Indian-specific themes depicting Sachin Tendulkar, Rajinikanth, and festivals like Diwali and Makar Sankranti among others.
The UI is also heavy on animations from something as small as the airplane taking off when switching to Airplane mode, to apps bursting into hundreds of bubbles when uninstalling them, to the screen transitions themselves. While these look good, they have a negative effect on the performance, as many a times we encountered stutters and lags. While the apps worked smoothly, the process of exiting an app, or when switching in and out of multi-tasking window was far from smooth. These small hiccups affect the overall experience of using MIUI.
The Xiaomi Mi 4 is equipped with two noise-canceling microphones one in the loudspeaker at the bottom and another at the back, above the camera lens. While they are meant to isolate your voice from the background noise, we came across a couple of complaints from the person at the other end who could not hear us clearly. When we switched to an iPhone 5S in the same conditions, there were no such complaints.
Surprisingly, Xiaomi has chosen to launch the non-4G variant of the Mi 4, after promising that the delay in India launch was because it wanted to launch the 4G variant. While there are very few 4G LTE networks in India, they are coming up and would have made the Mi 4 future proof. The lack of 4G LTE connectivity matters especially when its rivals provide the feature.
Making sure everything keeps ticking is a non-removable 3,080mAh battery inside. The unit is quite a performer, and we were able to get around 7-8 hours of usage before we had to charge it again. During this time we had push notifications from two email accounts, social media apps like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and WhatsApp. Also included was an hour and half of voice calls, and about half an hour of gaming.
On a more judicial usage where we toned down our voice calls, gaming and used the office and home Wi-Fi networks, we were able to get another three hours of juice from the battery. It is not just the battery life, but it s charging time as well that warrants a mention. We were able to charge the battery to full using the bundled charger in about an hour and 20 minutes.
To give the user control over the battery performance, Xiaomi has included two modes Balanced, High Performance. The former is the default setting, and as you would expect, it tones down the performance level of the phone to boost battery life. On switching to High Performance mode, you get more power at hand, but at the expense of battery life.
These settings also affect the performance benchmarks. As seen in the above screenshots, AnTuTu benchmarks in High Performance mode stood at an impressive 45,638 putting it just below the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. But on switching to Balanced mode, the benchmark scores fell to 33,064, which puts it way below the pecking order behind the likes of the HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5, and Google Nexus 5 among others.
The Xiaomi Mi 4 then is a well-rounded smartphone, and similar to its predecessor, it offers a lot for its price tag (Rs 19,999). The Mi 4 makes a strong case for itself with an excellent display, plenty of power and battery life, and a good set of cameras. But it is let down by the grossly inadequate internal storage, and the lack of LTE capability, which would have made it future-proof.
As mentioned in the beginning of the review, the market dynamics have changed since the launch of the Mi 3, and there are other smartphones in this range that offer Mi 4-like specifications and features as well. One can choose from the likes of the Lenovo Vibe X2 and the Huawei Honor 6, which are identically priced and offer similar high-level of specifications as well, but in addition also bring in more internal storage and LTE capabilities as well. They are also easier to buy, since these companies do not employ the flash sale model.
Xiaomi is a tad late in bringing the Mi 4 to India, and seems a bit optimistic with its pricing as well. Despite this, the smartphone will sell like hot cakes even with the limiting (and often frustrating) weekly flash sales on Flipkart. Over 250,000 buyers have already registered for the first sale next week, wherein only 25,000-30,000 smartphones are expected to be available. It however doesn t hide the fact that the Mi 4 impact isn t likely to be as strong as the phone it replaces.