My first exposure to Xiaomi devices came when I ordered the Mi4. Positioned as a flagship, I was impressed by the build, performance, features of MIUI and just by how well the whole experience worked together. Of course, I moved on, but I’ve now had the opportunity to try out the Mi4i, a mid-range device with more than a passing resemblance to its more expensive sibling . Here are my thoughts!
At under £150, you’d expect decidedly entry level specs and from a Chinese device, you’d probably expect a MediaTek CPU or similar. You’d be wrong on both counts!
The Mi4i packs:
- Android 5.0 Lollipop with MIUI
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 64bit Octa Core 1.7GHz CPU
- Adreno 405
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB ROM (no microSD expansion)
- 5” FHD (1920x1080) IPS OGS screen
- 13.0MP, 5 element lens, f/2.0 aperture back camera with dual tone LED flash
- 5.0MP, 80 degree wide-angle, 5 element lens, f/1.8 aperture front camera
- Light sensor, G-sensor, Proximity sensor, Gyroscope, Compass
- Dual-band 802.11 ac WiFi
- Bluetooth 4.1
- Dual micro SIM
- 2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
- 3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
- 4G: FDD-LTE 1800/2600MHz
- 3120mAh battery
- 138.1 x 69.6 x 7.8 mm
Pretty impressive eh? As is typical with Chinese devices there’s no NFC and of course there’s no wireless charging, but you’re not left wanting for much else. Qualcomm Quick Charging also doesn't appear to be supported.
Design and construction
Again, you wouldn’t expect it, but the Mi4i oozes quality. The phones eschews the fingerprint-magnet shiny back of the Mi4 for a matte plastic finish, which feels good to hold and is much less susceptible to showing marks. Unusually for a Xiaomi device, the back cover is not removable - the dual SIMs are housed in a slide out tray. This does allow a 3120mAh battery to be squeezed in but it's worth noting that there is no microSD expansion on the device.
The back of the phone has the camera, dual tone LED flash, secondary microphone and the speaker at the bottom, with a smart looking shiny silver MI logo. microUSB and the primary mic live on the bottom. The 3.5mm headphone port is on the top and the volume and power buttons are sensibly placed on the right, functioning with a comforting click.
On the front of the device, at the top live the same silver MI logo, the earpiece, front facing camera, notification LED and sensors. At the bottom there are 3 capacitive buttons, invisible when not illuminated by the white backlight, in the unconventional order of menu / recents, home and back. The black front is, of course, dominated by the 5” Full HD screen.
If you love stock Android, then it’s likely MIUI is not available for you. Currently at version 6 with a Beta release of version 7 available for download (and updated weekly), it re-skins virtually every element of the Lollipop OS it is based on. It bears more than a passing resemblance to iOS, particularly with its lack of app drawer (everything gets dumped on the home screens), but actually, if you can look past the fact it’s just a bit different, there’s a lot to like.
The stock MIUI builds don’t include the Google Play Store and associated apps, but the version we have from GearBest does have them pre-installed and if you flash a stock MIUI image, it’s very easy to add them yourself. So that’s really a non-issue.
As you head into the Settings menu you’ll find a whole host of new features you’re more likely to find in CyanogenMod than stock Android. Granular permissions management, simplified management of app notifications, auto unlock with Bluetooth devices, customisable toggles, battery percentage, connection speed display, privacy protection, cloud backup and restore, one handed mode, enhanced battery management on a per-app basis, button customisation and much much more - they’re all here. If you flash a developer version of the OS (downloadable directly from the MIUI site), you even get root access and management built right in!
With that said, MIUI certainly isn’t going to be for everyone. There are a number of MIUI images available for download for non-Xiaomi devices, so if you’re not sure, maybe it’s worth heading over and seeing if you can give it a go on your existing device.
The Mi4i has a 1.7GHz Snapdragon 615 processor and 2GB RAM, which should be more than enough for good performance and on the whole, the device delivers.
When you boot the phone up, the first thing that will wow you (literally!) is the screen. It is simply stunning and one of the best 5” panels I have ever seen, no question. With the ability to adjust the colour temperature to suit your tastes (another MIUI feature), you can also tune it as you please, although there’s really no need. It’s exceptional. Outdoor performance too is great.
As you navigate around doing your usual tasks, you’ll notice that everything feels super-smooth. We’ve seen the SD615 on a number of devices now and performance has varied between excellent (Desire 820) and disappointing (Alcatel Idol 3). I’m glad to say that the Xiaomi is towards the better end of the spectrum - you’ll notice a little lag when operations such as installing apps are going on in the background (which, to be fair, is Android’s nemesis), but on the whole things run nicely, even more demanding graphically intensive games.
The phone comes with the Xiaomi versions of calendar, calculator, clock etc. installed but one of the beauties of Android nowadays is that so many Google apps are in the Play Store, this is becoming less and less of an issue. I installed Google Search, Now Launcher, Chrome, Gmail, Clock etc. and it really masks a lot of MIUI. It’s almost just the lockscreen and SystemUI you have to live with (and you get all the benefits of the software enhancements).
It quickly becomes clear the Mi4i is a very easy phone to live with, not least because of just the size of it - with everyone trending towards 5.5” monsters, 5” still feels like a great size for a phone (and at 7.8mm thick and weighing 130g, the Mi4i does feel svelte).
Let’s start with the front facing camera. It’s a 5 Megapixel units with a f/1.8 aperture and 80 degree wide-angle lens. It’s really good. It has that hilarious function where it finds your face and estimates your age, but at least you can then use the built in beauty shot function to smooth out those wrinkles and imperfections! Selfie lovers will be impressed with this phone.
The rear camera too is one of the best (if not THE best) we've seen at this sort of price point. Focusing is extremely fast and taking the pictures themselves is even faster. The camera performs pretty well in low light and pictures taken with the dual tone flash are better than we’d normally expect. The camera app itself is well featured with timer, refocus, panorama and even manual modes, the only thing we’d like to have seen that isn’t included is automatic HDR. Manual HDR is included, including a live HDR preview mode.
I’ve found Xiaomi devices to be pretty well optimised for battery in the past and the Mi4i is no exception. With the assistance of the frugal processor and large battery, I easily get through a day of heavy usage with up to 4 hours of screen time. Of course, your usage will be different to mine, so your results may vary.
Pros and cons
What I like about the Mi4i
- Good construction and finish
- Excellent screen
- Decent performance
- Good camera
- Impressive battery
- Dual-band WiFi
- Weekly MIUI developer builds
What I don’t like about the Mi4i
- MIUI can be polarising
- No Gorrila Glass on the screen
- Lack of microSD
- Device can get warm under intensive usage
- Speaker is just average
Once again what we have here is a mid-range device at a low-end price point that punches above its weight. If you like the idea of MIUI, there’s really nothing to put you off the Mi4i. Consider purchasing the 32GB if you use a lot of storage (remember, no microSD expansion).
One little bit of food for thought though... the Xiaomi RedMi Note 2 (5.5" with a Helio X10 CPU) is just $160 for 16GB!
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