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Xiaomi Mi 4i review


Xiaomi Mi 4i review

TOP FEATURES

- Brilliant full-HD display
- Great camera
- Good value for money

Ever since its debut in the Indian market, Xiaomi has managed to capture not just market share but also a good brand recall, which is commendable for a brand that entered the market in July 2014.

Making a statement, Xiaomi launched its Mi 4i premium budget smartphone at its first ever global launch event in New Delhi. The phone, to be introduced first in the Indian market, boasts hardware specifications seen in premium mid-range phones such as Samsung Galaxy A7 and HTC Desire 826, at a more than 50% lower price.

While the phone certainly proves the point that India is a high priority market for Xiaomi, is it a good buy?
We spent a week with the phone to answer this question..

Build & design
To be honest, the design language of the phone reminded us of Xiaomi's big-screen budget phone, Redmi Note, perhaps more so because of the white polycarbonate back. However, this one's a much more compact device measuring just 138.1x69.6x7.8mm, just marginally wider and thicker than the Apple iPhone 6. Keep in mind that this one houses a 5-inch display while the iPhone 6 sports a 4.7-incher.

Also, the Mi 4i has a unibody form factor which means the polycarbonate back isn't removable making the device feel more durable. The back is slightly curved around the edges and wraps around the phone in a snug manner. Despite being made of plastic, it feels thick and strong and looks pleasant, thanks to the matte finish. The finish also makes it less susceptible to smudges and Xiaomi claims it doesn't stain easily. In our use, we found this claim to be true.

Unarguably the best part about the phone is how it's perfect for one hand use (better than the Mi 3 and Mi 4) and feels nice to hold. The thin bezels and placement of the power and volume rocker keys (placed at the right edge) all play a role in aiding this. Inserting a connector in the micro-USB port (placed at the bottom edge) was a little tricky and takes some effort though The 3.5mm headset act sits at the top edge. The keys offer good tactile feedback.

We really like how the rear camera (placed towards the top left) is flush with the back of the phone and doesn't protrude out. One of our other gripes is that the speaker outlet is still at the back. Although there's a lip to raise the phone slightly, sound gets muffled when the phone is placed on a soft surface or inside the pockets of skinny jeans. The left edge sports a sim card tray that has two micro sim card slots.

The front of the phone is dominated by the sharp and vibrant full-HD display flanked by three capacitive navigation keys at the bottom and the front-camera lens at the top.



Overall, we feel the Xiaomi Mi 4i is a pleasant looking, compact smartphone that will appeal to people who prefer devices that can be easily used with one-hand.

Display
The Mi 4i sports a 5-inch full-HD (1920x1080p) IPS display made by Sharp or JDI. Kudos to the company for including a bright and vibrant, full-HD panel at this price point. We found the display to be really sharp packing in 441 pixels per inch.

Xiaomi has used Corning's Concore One Glass Solution to ensure protection against scratches at the same time making the screen thinner and more sensitive. The app icons and UI elements do appear to float on the screen enhancing the interaction. Xiaomi claims the abrasion resistance is similar to that offered by Gorilla Glass 3. We found that it was less susceptible to smudges and even minor scratches.

Xiaomi uses a special technology called Sunlight Display to ensure the display renders graphics well even under direct sunlight. It lights up the darker pixels through a smart algorithm and hardware-based processing so that the pictures, videos and UI elements including keyboards look as good as they would in normal light. We were impressed by this feature during our use. It's also helpful while clicking pictures under sunlight.



Software
Xiaomi Mi 4i runs Android 5.0 Lollipop-based MiUI 6, the latest operating system from the company.

The Mi 4i doesn't explicitly feature Android Lollipop's UI tweaks. Even the app switcher is the one featured in MiUI and system apps don't feature Material design.

Xiaomi has added support for 6 Indian languages and Visual IVR for India in beta. Visual IVR allows users to navigate through Interactive Voice Response Systems in a menu-driven fashion. Currently, Visual IVR is in beta and supports three services (IRCTC, Cleartrip and Indigo). Our review unit did not come with the feature.

The new OS boasts of a flatter design, smoother transition effects, better multitasking and notifications interfaces and gestures, among other features.

MIUI resembles Apple's iOS in design and navigation and doesn't come with a separate app drawer. It focuses on ease of use in addition to offering enhanced native apps, better notifications and things like call recording and call blocking. For a detailed look at the software, please read our Xiaomi Mi 4 review.

Camera
The Xiaomi Mi 4i sports an 5MP front camera (with 5-element lens, f/1.8 aperture) and a 13MP Sony stacked CMOS rear camera (with 5-element lens, f/2.0 aperture). The rear camera comes with a Apple iPhone 6-like two-tone flash to balance out light when it's used.



The Mi 4i features the same Camera app that we've seen in the Mi 4. it doesn't feature basic and advanced modes. Instead, there are three screens when you slide horizontally (in Still mode) - the first one featuring live filters, the middle one is the default camera interface and the last one has toggles for Panorama, Timer, Manual, Beautify and Refocus modes and a settings button. In video mode the interface is limited to two screens with one offering toggles for fast and slow motion video in addition to Settings that lets you select full-HD video recording mode. The Manual mode offers granular settings for attributes like White Balance, Focus, Exposure time and ISO.

Images captured by the camera in day light turned out to great with good level of detail, accurate colour reproduction, little or no noise and good contrast.



Low-light and indoor shots were also decent, but had some noise, especially at 100% zoom. Shots taken under HDR mode had deeper colours and had lighter shadows. The front camera also captures decent quality selfies in tandem with the beauty mode that makes these look good.



Xiaomi Mi 4i offers video recording in 1080p, 720p and 480p resolution and includes an image stabilizer anti-shake feature (doesn't include Optical Image Stabilization though). It takes good quality video and the quality of audio was also good.

We have to say the phone has one of the best cameras available in its price segment.

Performance
Unlike the Mi 3, the Xiaomi Mi 4i doesn't come with a high-end processor but instead the company has powered the phone with Qualcomm's new 64-bit 1.7GHz octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor. It has Adreno 405 graphics and 2GB of RAM along with 16GB storage but no microSD card slot.

In one week of using the phone we felt that while overall performance matched premium budget and mid-range phones there were a few niggles. Firstly, the transition effects and animations part of MiUI 6, were a little jerky with occasional frame drops. Tweaking the settings in the developer options settings helps but why not smoothen these up by optimising the hardware (GPU and processor) out of the box?

We also observed that the phone had the tendency to get a little warm after playing games and with multiple apps running in the background. As the phone gets warmer, the CPU performance is affected and the user experience gets sluggish. We measured the the temperature of the battery and found it to be in the range of 37 to 40 degree celsius at these times. Our typical usage comprises of a Twitter client with updates on (Fenix), WhatsApp, Facebook, Chrome, Spotify/Google Play Music, Instagram and some news apps.

We played games like Leo's Fortune and Asphalt 8 and found minor frame drops with the latter in the Balanced mode. The Performance mode does improve things and makes the experience better but takes a toll on the phone's battery backup.

If you turn the brightness levels to full and use two to three email accounts (with push), have 3G turned on, and enable notifications for Twitter and Facebook, the phone will last 10-12 hours in Performance mode and 13-14 hours in Balanced mode. Turn down the brightness or set it to automatic and you'll gain 2-3 more hours. We also had Bluetooth turned on with Xiaomi's Mi Band and an Android Wear watch connected all the time.

For a 3120Ah battery, we expected better from the Mi 4i but the backup is at par with most modern mid-range phones, lasting you almost a full day. We were in awe of how Xiaomi managed to fit in a big battery in such a compact phone!

The phone scored 38,006 in Antutu, 24,534 in Quadrant and 59.6 in Nenamark 2. Though we usually do not recommend a phone based solely on benchmarks as real world performance is different at times, here the results are in line with our observations: Mi 4i lags a little behind the Mi 4 but scores better compared to YU Yureka.

Network reception was pretty good and we did not have any issues while making and receiving calls, even in weak reception areas. The phone was able to get a GPS lock within seconds and dual-sim functionality worked without any hiccups.



The phone supports most popular audio and video file formats and with USB OTG support you can even play the ones stored on an external pen drive. Be warned that USB OTG also drains the battery faster. Unfortunately, the Mi 4i doesn't support microSD cards so you won't be able to store your complete library if you carry a lot of multimedia files with you. The phone has about 12.9GB of storage.

The phone has FM radio and even supports recording. It supports the two Indian 4G bands but we weren't able to test 4G since there are no live LTE networks in New Delhi at the moment. Both sim card slots of the phone support 4G which is commendable.

Xiaomi has a pretty good record of updating its phones' software consistently to enhance performance. We've seen this happen with the previously released phones and expect the company will roll out updates to iron out the optimization issues in the future.

Verdict
There is a lot going in favour of the Xiaomi Mi 4i. It's one of the few phones under Rs 15,000 to sport a brilliant, full-HD display. The camera is also best in class and the wide range of connectivity options along with the compact, one-hand use-optimised form factor make it a compelling buy. The only problem areas are the underwhelming battery life (we expected better from a 3120Ah one) and some minor performance issues in the Balanced mode.

At Rs 12,999, the Mi 4i is not only a worthy rival to the likes of the Asus Zenfone 2, Motorola Moto G, Huawei Honor 4X and the YU Yureka but also to much expensive phones such as Samsung Galaxy A7 and HTC Desire 826. We have no qualms in recommending the Mi 4i.



The YU Yureka is the closest, with similar hardware, better performance but an inferior screen and camera. Also, the Yureka is a phablet.

If you're looking for a better alternative and can spare Rs 2,000, then the Zenfone 2's full-HD variant is also a good option. It has expandable storage and a bigger screen.
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