Xiaomi Mi4 review: Xiaomi's best yet
The Mi4 is a beautiful smartphone in its own right.
- Well designed
- One of the most attractive Android overlays
- Great 8MP front camera
- IR Blaster
- No 4G
- No expandable memory
- Not ideal for heavy gaming
- No NFC
Young Xiaomi is proving it belongs in the big league with its Mi4, a 5-inch smartphone mature in design and fluent in Xiaomi’s custom MiUi software. It packs the kind of hardware found in flagships from Sony, Samsung and HTC, and yet it sells for a fraction of the price — if you can source one.
The Mi4 is testament to Xiaomi finding its stride. Whereas the older Mi3 looked like an amalgam of different smartphones, struck by a case of split-identity, this one adopts a design that is far more cohesive. All the small details match one another in the same way a belt matches your shoes.
Note: The Xiaomi Mi4 reviewed by Good Gear Guide is on loan from Yatango Shopping, which is currently stocking the smartphone for $629.95.
The Chinese company has copped a lot of slack for imitating the design of Apple’s iPhone. We think there are enough subtleties to differentiate the two. The machined buttons are rectangular and not circular; it has a single grille on its base; and the back is radically different from the design of the iPhone 5S.
We commented in our preview that the case was an absolute dust magnet. Fortunately its propensity to attract dust wears off over a fortnight.
A case can be made that the front of the smartphone looks like the year-old iPhone, but which touchscreen smartphone doesn’t? The Mi4’s saving grace is its larger screen, which if anything, makes it more desirable.
The smartphone has a 5-inch Full HD display, an IPS LCD panel that packs an impressive 441 pixels into each inch. The screen is a standout for its punchy colours, high brightness, wide viewing angles and, above all, for its clarity. We often found ourselves marvelling over its quality, which is above par for a smartphone in its price-range.
Punching above its weight is a theme for the Mi4. Inside the smartphone is a quad-core 2.5GHz chipset, 3GB of RAM and storage options of 16GB/64GB. Sore points include no space for a microSD memory card, Internet that maxes at HSPA and not 4G, and, to a lesser extent, its integrated body, which means the battery cannot be easily interchanged.
Other smartphones packing similar hardware include the Sony Xperia Z3, the LG G3 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The only difference is, in its home country of China, the Xiaomi Mi4 sells from $US320.
Working with this hardware is a heavily revised version of Android 4.4 KitKat. Xiaomi’s MiUI overlay is one of the few to cultivate a loyal fanbase; owed to its refinement and a consistent string of software updates. Small tweaks are pushed out on Fridays, while larger updates are released every month or two. The frequency of updates means MiUI is an evolving platform, with tired facets of it benefiting from a refresh so that it feels new.
MiUI is an unusual blend of Android’s functionality and Apple’s aesthetics. Take the default screen for instance, which integrates the application dock with the homescreen so that apps sit alongside widgets. It works like an Android phone and yet looks like something from the world of Apple. Applications ask for permission the first time they’re used and some wallpapers scream MacBook, though the bulk of the software is uniquely Xiaomi. And it is good.
The software is heavy as the hardware is powerful. Most applications are handled with ease, while animations guide between calls, texts and other everyday functions. Using the Mi4 makes the mundane enjoyable, but it is not without fault.
Rare moments of stutter reveal the kit powering the Mi4 is straining. Playing an intense game, such as Real Racing 3, is even more telling as frames tick over just slow enough to notice. The smartphone fares better with less intense games, the likes of Temple Run 2 and Boom Beach.
Blending this hardware with a Full HD display bodes well for the Mi4’s battery life. We used the Mi4 as our primary phone over a two week period for calls, texts and emails, for social networking, to stream videos, play music, take photos and for some light gaming. Good Gear Guide found the 3080 milliamp-hour battery would average 22 hours of life, although it did last 26 hours with lesser use.
Xiaomi has jumped on the ‘selfie’ bandwagon by arming the Mi4 with capable cameras from market leader Sony. The front camera will capture photos at 8 megapixels — that’s the same resolution as the rear camera found on the iPhone 6 — and it is backed by software clever enough to guestimate your gender and age.
The rear camera proves even more proficient as it captures photos at 13 megapixels and records videos in Ultra high-definition. Photos are characterised by little image noise, great detail and a wide colour gamut. Our only gripe with the rear camera involves the HDR mode, which leaves a halo effect on some photos. Xiaomi’s fluency in software shines through as the camera interface ranks among the best.
Xiaomi has managed to do with the Mi4 in four years what it has taken its rivals decades. The powerful smartphone is marked by aesthetic software and will quench the needs of any multimedia lover. The lack of 4G and its limited gaming credentials aren’t enough to turn us off this smartphone.
What does complicate matters is its availability. Xiaomi does not operate in Australia, and it prohibits resellers from selling its smartphones in Australia. Yatango Shopping is selling the Mi4, but at a premium of $629.95. The price means the Xiaomi Mi4 remains an alternative, though it is no longer a must-have steal.
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