DNA Test: It’s all about Mi … the Xiaomi Mi4i, that is
By the DNA Test Team July 9, 2015
The latest addition in its Malaysian line-up, the Mi4i, blends a Snapdragon 615 processor, a Full HD display and a 13-megapixel Sony or Samsung sourced camera, into a casing with a sub-RM750 price point.
Design and hardware
Externally, the Mi4i looks very well constructed despite its RM749 price tag. The casing is 7.8mm thick, with a matte finish on the polycarbonate backplate that repels fingerprints and adds a modicum of grip to prevent it from slipping when held.
One particular interesting addition to the design is a subtle raised nub of plastic at the base of the speaker grille, to prop the phone slightly up when placed on a flat surface to ensure that the phone is not muffled when in use.
The backplate is not removable without special tools, and hides access to the built-in 3,120mAh battery that is also non-removable – which means you can’t swap it for a spare when you’re outdoors.
The battery is however larger than the norm for something in the Mi4i’s price category and size.
The right side of the phone comes with a power button and a volume rocker made of plastic, with a silvery finish. The buttons are responsive, though the button edges feel somewhat rough and detract from the otherwise polished feel of the phone.
Both dual-standby SIM card slots support Cat 4 LTE connectivity. The top comes with a 3.5mm audio jack while the base has a micro USB port for charging the phone.
The top edge of the display comes with a 5-megapixel selfie camera with an f/1.8 aperture.
The phone also comes with 2GB RAM and a paltry 16GB of onboard memory.
Minus the firmware, you only have an effective 10.4GB of usable storage for apps, photos, games and whatnot.
If you happen to be a power user or someone who totes around a fairly large music or e-book collection, you’ll find this a major flaw. With such limited storage for a phone, you’ll have to be diligent with daily housekeeping and regularly upload anything you want to the cloud.
While Samsung has gone down this path with the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, its phones pack a vastly more substantial 32GB of onboard storage at the minimum, though with a commensurately higher price tag of course.
Xiaomi’s vice president of International, Hugo Barra, described this omission of the SD card in its flagship devices as the wave of the future.
After launching the Mi4i in Hong Kong, he told Engadget that his team didn’t want to sacrifice battery capacity, ergonomics, appearance or a second SIM card slot for the sake of letting users add a microSD card slot.
Oddly enough, the lower end Redmi 2 retains a microSD card slot.
Display and camera performance
The 5-inch 1080P display on the Mi4i is bright and crisp, with good colour rendition belying its price tag. Images were displayed with excellent colours, and fonts were pin-sharp with good viewing angles.
If the display’s colour rendition doesn’t quite fit your preferences, you can opt to go into the settings and swap it to your choice of the Standard, Warm or Cool.
You’re also able to adjust the display to an increased contrast setting, or a dynamic contrast setting.
Something that Xiaomi took pains to elaborate is that the Mi4i has built-in hardware that dynamically adjusts the brightness of the display based on ambient sunlight settings from a front-mounted light sensor, so that the screen remains viewable even under direct sunlight.
In effect, the display brightens up dark parts of an image and darkens bright ones to ensure an image remains viewable on the display.
This feature unfortunately doesn’t work indoors, unless you have a bright light at the sensor.
The rear 13-megapixel camera has an f/2.0 aperture, a five-element lens, and comes with an array of modes and filters accessible via three panels accessible by swiping left and right.
Swipe right, and you get to select an array of filters with effects that you can view in real time. Swipe left, and you get access to a panorama mode, night mode, manual, beautify mode and a refocus mode that helps to artistically defocus the background when you take a shot.
The camera also has an HDR mode that lets you default between turning it off or on with either Live HDR or Enhanced HDR mode. Videos are captured in 1080P at 30fps.
The Asus ZenFone 2 still does a better job under bad light conditions.
An image stabilisation mode is available though you can only implement it at up to 720P resolution.
The front selfie camera has a skin smoothening beauty mode that minimises wrinkles that is on by default, though you can dial the effect down or turn it off. An age-guessing feature is also integrated into the firmware that has the Mi4i guess the subject’s age, though it’s not particularly accurate. It’s fun as a lark though.
For the price you’re paying, you get a pretty good camera that’s more than sufficient for the usual use cases for a smartphone – social media, selfies, short videos, and the odd printout or two.
Performance and battery life
The Mi4i runs Android Lollipop 5.0.2 with Xiaomi’s latest version of its own user interface, MIUI version 6.5.6, overlaying it.
Four customisable shortcuts that can be swapped for any app on the phone are at the bottom, and like previous versions of MIUI, the phone lacks an app drawer.
Over the course of a month as a primary phone, the Mi4i did an able job without any hint of lag, while handling calls, web browsing, e-mail, the odd YouTube clip or two, as well as the occasional indulgence in Candy Crush.
It did however get somewhat warm when running processor-intensive apps.
Audio playback was adequate, though the Mi4i isn’t the loudest or clearest phone we’ve tested.
Video playback was excellent, with support for most codecs including MKV and RMVB, and it even supports FLAC files, though the weak speakers detract from the experience.
Battery life on the Mi4i was excellent and easily lasted more than a day, which isn’t a surprise seeing that the size of the battery exceeds even the Galaxy S6, which easily costs three times more.
Overall, the Xiaomi Mi 4i shines on account of an up-to-date OS, a good camera, and all-day battery life, though the lack of expandable storage detracts from what is otherwise an excellent bargain.
Xiaomi sells 2.12mil smartphones in 12-hour online sale
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