The Xiaomi Mi 4i is the second best value-for-money handset from Xiaomi after the Mi3. Priced at Rs. 12,999, the Mi 4i aims to set a new benchmark for what to expect in phones under Rs. 15,000. But instead of just cramming up hardware, Xiaomi has also paid attention to the form and feel of the device.
Let’s take a moment to thank all the gods in our country for the Mi4i’s form factor. It is thin at 7.8mm, light at 130 grams, and small enough that it can be used with one hand easier than the monster-sized phablets. You can even keep it in your front pocket and the Mi 4i won’t weigh it down. The build is made out of plastic, so it isn’t as premium-feeling as the Mi4, but it certainly doesn’t feel cheap.
The phone is well-built and the unibody design doesn’t exhibit any creaking sounds. The only trouble I had with the Mi 4i physically was the size of the capacitive buttons — which I felt were a little hard to tap with one hand. That, mixed with the somewhat slippery matte back made the phone uncomfortable to use at times. But I suppose a grippy back cover could help with this.
The 5-inch 1080p IPS panel is an unlikely feature at this price point, and it looks pretty darn good. It is very much visible in daylight, it is adequately bright and vivid. All in all, no complaints except for the protection, as there’s no mention of a protective surface like Gorilla Glass. In our experience, we could see a tiny scratch appear within a few days of careful usage. If you care, better put some kind of screen protection on this.
At the bottom, there’s a slightly odd-shaped microUSB port, which makes it confusing to know which side to put the cable in. The supplied charging cable is tough to push all the way in, and once in, will not come off easily. When using with typical microUSB chargers, the port doesn’t go all the way in, which is a little weird. But it charges the phone just fine. The two 4G-enabled micro SIM slots are on the left side, and the volume/power buttons have fair tactility.
Quickly reciting the spec-sheet, the Xiaomi Mi 4i is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core chip, with four cores clocked at 1.7GHz, while the remaining power-saving four cores are set to 1.1GHz. There’s 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage with no microSD card slot. Oh, and this chip is 64-bit, and the OS is 64-bit ready too. So how does the Mi 4i perform?
Not bad, in my overall experience. There is a very noticeable stutter in the interface sometimes, especially when launching the camera from the lockscreen. This happens despite putting the phone in “performance” mode, which in my experience doesn’t feel very different than the ‘Balanced’ mode in typical usage. Ironically, the camera opened up quicker in Balanced mode than Performance. But the phone feels just fine when multitasking among many apps. Is it a deal-breaker? Maybe — if you were expecting blazing-fast performance like a Nexus device on stock Android, this isn’t it.
But I think it shouldn’t bother too many people. Also, Xiaomi is known to deliver software updates that have remedied similar lag issues in their previous devices like the Mi4 or the Redmi 2, so there’s hope it will get better with time (hat tip to @krazyfrog). This is the first Lollipop-running MIUI OS after all.
Let’s talk more about MIUI. It brings some very interesting features to the table. There’s a pocket mode, that will prevent your phone from operating if there’s any obstruction in front of the proximity sensor. You can record phone calls from the dialer directly. You can pull down anywhere on the homescreen to bring down the notification drawer. You can turn the torch on by holding the home button on the lockscreen. If you like to customize the look and feel the phone, then the themes app should keep you entertained with a variety of crazy themes.
MIUI 6 is one of the better looking Android skins out there, but it is not without it’s flaws. Personally, I find the default font size too small. But if I bump it up, then everything else looks unnecessarily bigger. Expanding notifications still requires two fingers, which is laughable because Android has supported one-finger a pull down gesture since 2012. The notification center has scrolling menus within it, that can get confusing at times.
Lastly, although this MIUI 6 is based on Android Lollipop, many Lollipop features like multi-user mode, floating notifications, quick settings, etc aren’t implemented like how they work on stock Android. Granted, many Lollipop specific features were available in MIUI from before, but some of implementations are inferior. Bottom line: if you are okay to adjust to this slightly different user interface, MIUI isn’t particularly bad, and you can use it daily without pulling all your hair out.
Battery life is satisfyingly good on the Mi 4i. It’s got a large-sounding 3120mAh battery. The OS also regularly cleans all unlocked apps from the memory a few minutes after the device goes into standby. Because of these, I could easily use this phone from dawn till dusk and beyond on one charge. To be specific, on most days I got 15 hours of runtime with 2.5 hours screen on time, with some 20 percent battery to spare. You can also set custom battery profiles, which will automatically dial down some battery-draining features when the battery is that low.
The cameras are also pretty good. Apart from the delay in waking up the camera that we mentioned before, it did take some nice shots in daylight. The camera interface is simple and I really like how you can adjust exposure very easily. Also, the point where you tap to focus also becomes a shutter button, making it easier to click. The duo-tone flash also helps taking photos of people in the dark without making them look like ghosts.
The front-facing camera has an age-detection tool that’s accurate most of the times, and will put a smile on your face as you marvel at it while taking a selfie. The video quality is acceptable. The speaker at the back is loud enough. It is also, a phone at the end of the day, and the call clarity was good.
So, should you buy the Mi 4i for Rs. 12,999? Long story short, this phone is one of the best value-for-money options you can get today. It is mostly a quality product, if you were to forgive the few software glitches of MIUI. If you want a high-performance device, this is not it, yet. If Xiaomi can up their software game, then it could very well be the phone for almost anybody.
Rohan Naravane works for PriceBaba.com where he manages the Content & User Experience. He’s a first-gen Moto X user, he is also a smartwatch fanatic and believes in a world where mundane tasks can be accomplished by simply talking to your electronic device.