“The Mi 4i may not be a clear-cut choice like the Mi 3 was, but is still one of the best options south of Rs 15,000”
If you haven’t been living in a cave thus far, surely, you’d have heard about Xiaomi, the brand from China that’s making waves not just in its home country, but across the globe as well? India is a significant market for the brand, and it has managed to amass a loyal fan-following in just under a year since its entry. The Mi 4i is one of the most important pillars of its growth in the country, as the company gets into overdrive to take things to a new level. Unveiled to the world first right here in India, the Xiaomi Mi 4i (first impressions | FAQs) stands out from the crowd as a compelling, flagship-grade smartphone that doesn’t cost a bomb. Of course, Xiaomi is no stranger to these, with the likes of the Mi 3 (review) and Mi 4 (review) offering great bang for the buck. However, the fact that it has chosen to introduce the Mi 4i in India first make it a very special device in our eyes. But that’s not it however, as we think there’s lots more to it.
Interestingly, the Mi 4i bridges the large gap in Xiaomi’s existing product portfolio rather nicely. Xiaomi’s smartphone range comprises the value Redmi series and the more premium Mi series, but before the Mi 4i came in, there was a huge gap between the priciest Redmi model (the Note 4G, which costs Rs 9,999), and the most affordable Mi device (the Mi 4 16GB, which now costs Rs 17,999). The Mi 4i fills the void left by the Mi 3, which was the first Xiaomi smartphone to launch in India, but was around only for a few weeks before it was taken off Flipkart’s virtual shelves. If you recall, Xiaomi had pioneered the flash sales in India with the Mi 3, and in those few weeks, managed to create a big ripple in the Indian market by selling available units in seconds.. something that us Indians hadn't heard of till then.
Read on to find out why we feel the Xiaomi Mi 4i deserves your cash.
The design of the Xiaomi Mi 4i focusses on three key points – a premium look-and-feel, compactness, and quality of components used. It’s the mixture of these three that makes the Mi 4i what it is – a phone that looks stylish and is great for one-handed usage. The 7.8mm thin chassis isn't the slimmest we've seen, but overall, the Mi 4i has to be one of the most compact smartphones with 5-inch displays.
The unibody design and the anti-fingerprint, anti-grease soft matte finish at the rear mean it feels great in the hand. More than the obvious things, it’s the attention to detail that shouts louder. The stainless steel keys on the side, the 114 precision-drilled holes that form the speaker grille, and the tiny 1mm protrusion below the same that makes sure audio doesn't get muffled when the smartphone is lying flat on a table speak volumes about the thought that have gone into the design.
The innards is a whole new story. Ensconced inside a magnesium alloy support structure are more innovations, such as the specially-designed two-sided motherboard and the densely packed 3,120mAh battery that aim to cram in as much as possible and yet, keep the dimensions small. The ultra-thin display is also custom made. The Mi 4i has been manufactured by Foxconn, and Xiaomi says it’s partnered with the best suppliers in the world to source top-quality components down to the smallest screw. What we can say with absolute certainty is that the Mi 4i gives the same premium feel that only a well-built device can. The compact size means it slips into the pocket with ease and one-handed usage is a breeze.
The top of the screen has the usual earpiece, a notification LED, the front cam and the sensors, while a row of backlit capacitive keys are at the bottom.
The placement of ports and controls is also standard, with the micro-USB port and 3.5mm socket located at the bottom and top respectively. The right spine sports the power key and volume rocker, while the ejectable tray that gobbles up a pair of micro-SIMs is on the left.
The rear holds the lens for the primary camera on top, flanked by the dual-tone flash and the secondary microphone on either side. Closer to the bottom, you’ll see Mi branding, regulatory info, the speaker grille, and the aforementioned protrusion right below.
The 5-inch display on the Mi 4i comes with full HD resolution and a pixel density of 441 ppi. The screen uses IPS tech and boasts viewing angles of 178 degrees. The fully laminated OGS technology keeps things super-slim, and there’s a layer of Corning Concore glass as a safeguard against scratches. In terms of capabilities, it’s superb… with sharp, high-res visuals that are the treat for the eyes. While there’s no glove mode, the touch responsiveness is excellent, with even the lightest of touches garnering a response.
What takes it to a different league however, is the so-called Sunlight Display tech that Xiaomi has incorporated. This aptly-named technology enhances screen viewability under harsh lighting conditions (such as direct sunlight) by using hardware-level wizardry to adjust the contrast of each pixel in real time. Conventional smartphone displays just crank up the brightness when the ambient light sensor detects bright lighting, making the screen look washed out and negatively impacting battery life. On the other hand, Sunlight Display tech only enhances the contrast on the darker areas of the screen, leaving the other areas more or less untouched. This makes the screen looks even and more natural. And as we found, it works well too. Especially noticeable while using the camera under bright sunlight, the technology brings what you see with your naked eyes and what you see through the camera viewfinder closer together, without impacting battery life much. Just like the way the compact size helps enhance usability and one-handed usage, this tech adds a small, yet significant bit to better usability when you’re out and about in the sun.
The Mi 4i is the first smartphone from Xiaomi to use Android Lollipop out of the box. However, you’d be hard pressed to find the usual Lollipop interface design elements, since Xiaomi’s custom ROM, MIUI v6, covers all the Material Design aspects of Google’s mobile OS almost completely. Apps from Google’s own suite and other third-party ones that have embraced the Material Design philosophy continue to use the same however.
Other than that, MIUI is still the same feature-rich and customisable platform we’ve experienced on the likes of the Xiaomi Mi Note (review) earlier. The mainstays of the OS remain the same – a flat look with clean typography, extensive theme support with an assortment of downloadable themes, and useful features like call recording and a password-protected private area for SMSes. Call recording can be enabled on a per-call level, for all calls or calls from numbers in a predefined list.
The extremely useful Security suite we’ve seen earlier on MIUI is there too, integrating a cache cleaner, a data monitor, a blocklist for calls and messages, a battery manager, a virus scanner and a permissions manager. The battery manager allows you to set up custom profiles and switch to specified ones automatically at certain times of the day or depending upon battery level. The data monitor, apart from letting you specify data limits, also lets you control data access on a per-app level, and you can choose to disable the same over Wi-Fi and/ or cellular networks as you deem fit for any app(s). With the permissions manager, you can control auto-start capabilities and access to permissions, app-wise or based on permissions themselves. Of course, it’s not the first time we’ve seen MIUI’s security suite, but it’s worth a mention again for the granular control it offers.
Talking about control, you’re free to change quite a few other things too – from the colour of the notification LED to the behaviour of the capacitive keys. From the device settings, you can manage notifications from all installed apps, specify the sequence of the quick settings toggles, set up a guest mode, and lock specific apps using a pattern, apart from controlling quite a few other settings. One tiny gripe we have with the UI settings is that the notification icons are turned off by default, and need to be enabled from the notification settings if you want them. We’re referring to the tiny icons you see on the notification bar when you have incoming alerts, and without these turned on, the only way to see new notifications is by pulling down the notification shade.
Under the main device settings, you’ll also see a head labelled ‘Additional settings’, under which you’ll find more options to control your device. There’s one for tweaking the contrast and colours displayed on the screen, changing the font and its size, and controlling things like the notification light. There’s a one-handed mode option that shrinks the display to either the left or the right side of the screen by swiping from the home button in either direction. You can set the size of the shrunk display to either 4.0- or 3.5-inches, and the window can even be extended or made full screen later. Another option is to control button functionality. Since the leftmost capacitive button below the screen works as a recents key by default, letting you switch to a certain app or kill them one by one (or all of them at one go) to release memory, you can change the functionality to show the app menus instead. You can also change the long-press functionality of the three hardware navigation keys.
One of the most crucial settings is hidden under battery settings, and this is the power profiles. It’s set to balanced mode by default, but you can choose the performance profile in case you want to squeeze out the most that your smartphone can offer in terms of sheer number-crunching power. Do note that this mode consumes more battery than the balanced mode, just like driving your car fast sucks more fuel. We’d recommend you tweak the quick settings toggles to bring this control up closer to the top, since this is something you may need, especially when playing intensive games.
A new feature called Visual IVR will be in the offing soon too. This aims to simplify dealing with interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Instead of having to listen to the entire recording and then tapping a number on the keypad to choose an option, the Visual IVR feature presents the available menu options as a list on the screen, and you can just tap the desired option. However, we couldn’t try it out ourselves, as Visual IVR isn’t available publicly yet and is only there in beta builds of MIUI 6. The Xiaomi Mi 4i should get the feature as an update in some time, along with other smartphones from the brand.
Suffice to say that there’s tons packed inside, and if you can take the time to explore and try out each and every option and tweak, you can drive your Xiaomi smartphone exactly the way you want.
The 13-meg rear camera on the Xiaomi Mi 4i comes with commendable specs – including a stacked CMOS sensor from Sony / Samsung, f/2.0 aperture, a 5-element lens and a dual-tone flash. There’s a selfie-freindly 5MP shooter at the front. The camera app is minimalistic and comes with a handful of interesting features, including filters with live previews, and modes such as panorama, HDR, refocus, manual and HHT (handheld twilight). The manual mode allows you to tweak parameters such as ISO and white balance, while the HDR option also includes Live HDR that provides a preview of the end result before you shoot. There’s an exposure ring available if you tap on the screen, while the flash options include a torch mode that keeps the LEDs on throughout as you shoot.
As far as the image quality is concerned, it can shoot some impressive stills, especially if the ambient light is good. The close-ups look great too, while the HDR mode does wonders to liven up the image quality as well. Shots taken in low light and at night show mixed results though, with apparent softness and noise. The front shooter comes with the Beautify mode turned on by default, but it can take decent selfies even without it. If we were to rate it overall though, we’d say that the Mi 4i’s shooters are very good, and won’t leave the casual photogs disappointed. We have more details and camera samples in our camera review, but here are some more shots from the Mi 4’s primary shooter for a quick dekko.
Providing horsepower to the Xiaomi Mi 4i is a second-gen Snapdragon 615 processor that comes with two quad-core clusters clocked at 1.7GHz and 1.1GHz respectively. These clock speeds are slightly higher than the first-gen Snapdragon 615 chip. Notably, this processor is 64-bit capable, and since the Mi 4i uses Android Lollipop as base, the device should be able to eke out the performance advantages that come along. There’s 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and in what has to be our biggest, and only gripe… 16GB of fixed storage. Sticking with the same concept as followed by all smartphones in the Mi range, there’s no memory expansion slot on the Mi 4i. However, unlike the Mi 4 and the Mi Note, Xiaomi hasn’t launched a higher storage variant of the Mi 4i, as least not yet. A 32GB variant is in the pipeline we hear, but since there’s no ETA on it, we’d have to rule it out for the time being.
Out of the 16GB provided on the Mi 4i, you get about 11GB for your use, and while that should suffice for most, it may not be enough if you want to carry a large music collection and tons of your favourite videos with you. If you’re a gamer, or want a large assortment of apps and games on your smartphone, you might feel short-changed too. The USB OTG feature should work well in a crunch though, especially for carrying around and playing your media files.
Day-to-day performance is smooth, with a hint of stutter while multitasking or heavy gaming. This happens only rarely… in case you have lots of apps running in the background or upon firing up a heavy game. Clearing out the background apps and switching to the performance profile works well to resolve this. The phone tends to heap up a tad after a few minutes of gaming, but nothing that’d alarm us. It's not a rocket, but overall, we were satisfied with the Mi 4i’s performance.
In terms of connectivity, the Mi 4i’s headlining feature is 4G support. Both SIM slots on the device support it, and are compatible with both LTE bands in India – the current band 40, as well as the upcoming band 3. Apart from this, you also get dual-band Wi-Fi (along with the latest 802.11ac standard), Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi display, Wi-Fi hotspot and Wi-Fi Direct, plus support for a slew of navigation positioning systems covering GPS, GLONASS and BeiDou.
It’s the battery life that elevates the smartphone to a whole new level. The 3,210mAh battery does its job well, and while your mileage could vary depending upon usage, you can expect it to last through the day comfortably. With our medium usage, we returned home after work with over 35 to 40 percent still in the bag… and this was with 30 to 45 minutes worth of phone calls, two push email accounts, intermittent usage of Twitter, WhatsApp, and other productivity apps… with Wi-Fi connected throughout. With 3G data usage and some gaming thrown in, we still made it through the day. Our standard battery drain test that involves playing a 720p video on loop with all data turned off and the volume and screen brightness set to 50 percent ran for 10 hours and 30 minutes, which is quite respectable. This was in balanced mode, with both SIM cards inserted and connected to cellular networks.
Xiaomi debut offering in India, the Mi 3, was a no-brainer when it launched. Put simply, no other smartphone at the time could match it for what it brought to the table for the asking price. A lot of water has flown under the bridge in that time, and now there are tons of options if you’re looking for a capable smartphone but don’t want to pay through your nose. Most of the recent noteworthy options in the sub-Rs 15,000 category however, come with 5.5-inch screens, leaving a large window open for a device like the Mi 4i. Phablets such the YU Yureka (review) and the new ASUS ZenFone 2 have become increasingly popular, no doubt, but there’s still a sizeable number of people who prefer more compact daily drivers that can slip into a pocket easily and can be used with one hand without getting their fingers in a twist. And that’s exactly the user segment that the Mi 4i addresses.
The 5-inch screen size hits the sweet spot, offering pretty much the largest screen real estate without affecting single-handed usability. And notably, the Mi 4i is even smaller than most others with 5-inch screens. It’s not that there are no other compact options below Rs 15,000 at all. The likes of the Lenovo A6000 Plus (first impressions | FAQs), and the upcoming Honor 4C look like worthy VFM smartphones with 5-inch displays. However, there’s nothing in the same league as the Xiaomi Mi 4i in its price range, especially if you combine parameters such as full HD screen resolution and 4G support. From the gorgeous Sunlight Display-powered screen, solid build, reasonably smooth performance, capable shooters… right up to the excellent battery life, the Mi 4i has it all. With the only thorn in the bush being its fixed 16GB storage, we can safely say that the smartphone not only bridges the gap in the brand’s portfolio, but also the great divide that currently exists between the budget and the high-end smartphone space in general. In a nutshell, it’s the compact handset that offers almost everything a flagship would, for an attractive price. If you can manage with the offered storage, it should at the top of your shortlist.
Photos by Raj Rout
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