Review by Sunetra Chakravati,11/11/2014 3:18:08 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Storage not expandable.
Customisation options still not geared to the western market
By Sunetra Chakravarti
Xiaomi is the third largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world. Pronounced SHAO-mee, the company trails only Apple and Samsung in the global smartphone market- without even selingl directly in the western world.
As far as entrepreneurial stories go, the company's rise to $1.6bn in sales is a classic one. New York Times ran an article on how the CEO syles himself after Steve Jobs- from his style of dressing to his ideology to running the company.
Known as Apple of the East, Xiaomi has shown dopplegangers how to create products modelled on premium ones and then sell them at a fraction of the price for a profit. In China, Xiaomi sells through its website, cutting out middle-men, managing to keep a very close reign on costs. In Europe too, Xiaomi phones are sold online.
This is the first time we have reviewed a Xiaomi product... and it has been immense fun. Realise that we dont always get to say that, but it has been an absolute hoot.
I didnt find it entertaining because it was under-whelming but quite the opposite in actual fact. I didnt know what to expect- I havent read many reviews of the handsets and I was pleasantly surprised with it.
It is a very good product at an astonishingly good price but it still maintains its unique Chinese quirks and that is what we loved most about it.
Those who were in charge of designing the phone had one brief: make it look as close to an iPhone as possible with maybe nor so much metal on the back...
And they listened.
They came up with a phone which looks like a mash-up of a Samsung Galaxy Alpha and an Apple iPhone 5... It is all about chamfered metal surround and impossibly tiny bezels with a plastic back.
The Mi4 is a very handsome phone, have no doubts about it. The phone feels premium in hand and is the same size as the iPhone 6 with a 5-inch screen which feels and looks a lot bigger than what it is.
The back plastic plate is a high-gloss one with a diamond pattern over it. As with all high-gloss plastic phone plates- it is very very good at picking up prints and grime. The camera lens is at the top middle of the phone unlike that of the iPhone but in a very similar fashion to that of the Galaxy Alpha.
At 145g, the phone balances on the right side of optimal phone weight and the 8.9mm depth is partly because of the slight convex nature of the back plate.
The Mi logo makes an appearance on the top left of the front panel and at the centre of the back panel in silver, with the camera lens being just a dot, again not in a very dissimilar fashion to the iPhone.
The primary camera is 13-MP and Sony's Exmor IMX214 gives it serious bragging rights. The front facing camera at 8-MP is almost faultless.
Outdoor pictures on a typically gray London day picked up all the colour details in all their depth and ones taken from a distance, like the one above performed as well as could be hoped for.
The biggest quirk of the front-facing camera is that it tries to second-guess your age... I went from an apparent 19-year-old male to 46-year-old female within a matter of seconds, depending on how I held the camera.
A more jowl-y angle led to the higher age band classification while holding the phone slightly above my head led to me being labelled 16.
Those who saw the feature immediately wanted to test it and when faced with a not very flattering age classification- called it politically incorrect.
To be fair, I dont see any difference between this and the face altering gimmicks that the HTC Desire Eye sports.
Although the Mi4 selfie camera too has the beautify tool... however, it is not of the slider variety, but a two step process of getting airbrushed and soft focussed.
A pixel density of 441 pixels per inch on the 5-inch screen means it has a better pixel density that the Samsung Galaxy Alpha as well as the Galaxy S5- and the resolution of 1080 X 1920 beats most of the flagships in the race.
The screen is light, bright and an absolute joy- responsive with excellent colour reproduction. The whites were perfectly white with no tinges or hues and colour reproduction perfect.
Again, there are some quirks that that some getting used to... swipe down to unlock the phone unlike the usual swipe up from the bottom... there are three physical touch sensitive buttons on the phone, the first one on the left brings up a menu like list where you can change the wallpaper, edit widgets, search, preview and get quick access to launcher and general settings. the button at the centre is as usual the home button whereas the one on the right is the 'back' button... The phone runs Android 4.4.2 (Kitkat) with a heavily customised interface called MIUI which can keep you entralled with the number of customisations it has.
Swiping down on the screen brings up the notofication centre as well as the toggles for quick access. The phone doesnt have the apps sorted into a central drawer but thwy are scattered across the three screens. There is, however, a pre-created drawer titled 'Tools' which has everything from mail to voice recorder, clock, FM radio and torch in there.
For browsing, there is a choice of browsers, but Baidu (Chinese Google) is the pre-selected option.
The available themes are primarily anime and Chinese themed, several of them with soft-focussed images of very young far east asian women... some of which werent appropriate for a young audience. I was quite amazed with the number of iPhone and iPad wallpapers that were available... the only 'local' theme was a multicoloured one, which if you are as unfussy as me, you will find very acceptable.
The battery, again, was good... we got about one and half days out of it based on medium to heavy usage. 3080mAH went a long way and the battery dropped just 30% for every hour of movies streamed over wifi with bluetooth on and brightness at 100%
The Mi4 packs a 3GB RAM making it blisteringly fast and in what can be classed as its only step-down from others, the storage capacity is fixed at 16GB and it does not have a microSD card slot.
However, with several storage options available- this shouldn't be as collosal a problem as non-expandable memory is on an Apple product.
There is nothing about the Xiaomi Mi4 that I could single out to name and shame- for me it is a stand-out Android smartphone. Crystal clear display with a non-gimmicky UI and lightening fast speeds with incredible price point ($349) at about £300 make it an almost no-brainer for me.
Yes, there are more Chinese themes than local and some that are blatant iOS copies... but when was the last time you bought a phone for its themes?
Phones are bought and sold based on their specs- primary camera qualities and display and the Mi4 checks all the boxes... striding shoulder-to-shoulder with the best in its battalion while costing a fraction of other mega brand flagships.
it is a far-eastern brand, but so are all almost all other mobile phone manufacturing brands.
Pound for pound, the Xiaomi Mi4 is a better phone than any other in the market- not just for what it delivers, but also what it stands for... value for money and brilliant specs.
(The Mi4 for this review was supplied by XiaomiShop.com)