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Xiaomi Mi 4i review:

A surprisingly sleek low-priced handset

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The Good Xiaomi's polycarbonate handset sports a large bright screen, a decent 13-megapixel camera and a big replaceable battery packed into its slim frame. It feels surprisingly sleek and comfortable for a $200 handset.

The Bad Xiaomi's MIUI 6.0 interface replaces many native Lollipop features that may disappoint some Android purists. There's only 16GB of native storage and no expandable option. The lack of image stabilization hurts the overall camera quality.

The Bottom Line The Xiaomi Mi 4i packs in a surprising level of polish and solid performance for a low-cost global handset.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Camera 7.0
  • Battery 8.0

The Xiaomi Mi 4i packs some fairly impressive hardware, including a 5-inch full-HD display, a 13-megapixel rear camera and a solid compact build while still sticking very close to the lower end of the cost spectrum.

It's an impressive device for sure; however, the lack of optical image stabilization on the camera and low internal storage were disappointing.

Xiaomi is known for making affordable high-end devices and great low-end phones , but its latest Mi 4i sits somewhere in the middle. Positioned as a flagship device ( according to Xiaomi) for the Indian market, the Mi 4i will be sold online for 12,999 Rupees (which converts to around $205, £140 or AU$265). The Mi 4i will also launch in other global markets in May -- Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are all on the list.

Those thinking of getting one and aren't living in these countries, the Mi 4i will likely be available online from third-party resellers. Because it's skipping China, the Mi 4i will come with Google Services preinstalled. Unfortunately, this means there will likely a premium, which will bump up the cost. I'd still recommend getting one to try if you can afford it, though -- you'd be hard pressed to get an equally specced phone at this price point.

Design and storage

  • 5-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel IPS (441ppi)
  • 5.44 x 2.74 x 0.31 inches (138.1 x 69.6 x 7.8 mm)
  • 4.6 ounces (130 grams)

The Mi 4i has a very standard rectangle design, with no special curved edges or a bent screen , but it doesn't need such fripperies to make an impression. Its profile is a slim 7.8mm, and it weighs just 130 grams (4.6 ounces). Holding it in my hand, it has a reassuring heft -- but it's not heavy -- that exudes quality despite its plastic case. The steel power and volume buttons located on the right help sell the effect.

As you may already have deduced from pictures of the Mi 4i's rear, instead of the more premium glass and metal materials you typically find on flagship Mi phones such as the Mi Note or the Mi 4 , the Mi 4i has a polycarbonate chassis.

The soft-touch rear in black. Aloysius Low/CNET
Alternatively, you can add a soft-touch cover for a different look while still keeping the same feel. Aloysius Low/CNET

Its soft-touch matte design feels pretty smooth and luxurious, and Xiaomi claims it has an anti-grease coating that will even let you erase ink from permanent markers. I couldn't find any such markers to put that to the test, but you can check out Xiaomi's video demonstration below.

Taking a page from Apple's book of tricks, just like the iPhone 5C , the Mi 4i comes in a number of snazzy colors. There will be five versions to choose from: white, black, blue, orange and pink, and there will also be covers for more color options that you can snap on to the phone to protect it. Depending on the market, some colors may not be available, though I daresay I quite liked the bright matte yellow version best. It reminded me of Nokia's brightly colored Lumia devices.

Keeping in line with the move toward larger screens, the Mi 4i comes packing a 5-inch full-HD display -- that's 1,920x1,080 pixels, giving a pixel-per-inch density of 441ppi. This puts the ppi above the iPhone 6 's 326ppi and 6 Plus ' 426ppi, which Xiaomi was keen to point out earlier at the launch a few weeks back.

Everything looked sharp to my eye; fonts were crisp and colors were vibrant. It's certainly not the cheap low-end panel found on most budget phones that come with bad viewing angles. On the contrary, Xiaomi's display uses IPS technology and has a 178-degree viewing angle. This means the screen can be easily viewed from from the sides as well (which is great for sharing). Xiaomi claims that the screen is capable of rendering 95 percent of the NTSC color gamut, and while I'm no expert, things looked great to my eye.

The only thing that Xiaomi seems to have left out of the phone's design is a microSD card slot for expanding storage, but it does have space for a dual-SIM 4G slot located on the right side of the phone.

The Mi 4i has physical touch-sensitive menu, home and back keys. Aloysius Low/CNET

Hardware and software features

  • 1.7GHz octa-core Snapdragon 615
  • 16GB of storage
  • 2GB of RAM
  • No expandable storage
  • 3,210mAh non-removable battery

The Mi 4i is far more than a simple budget phone with nothing else to offer except good specs for its price. The phone actually comes with a built-in hardware feature called Sunlight Display, which uses local tone mapping to identify areas on the screen where it's darker and brightens it so details become clearer under bright sunlight.

Think of this feature as a form of HDR for the 5-inch full-HD display and you'd be right on the mark. One thing to note, though, is that this doesn't work indoors, so if your image is relatively dark, these areas won't be lit up unless you force Sunlight Display to activate by shining a bright light at the light sensor.

This feature does decrease the amount of glare on the display, making it very usable outdoors, which makes a lot of sense to me, since both India and Singapore (where I'm based) are usually bright and sunny. I tried it outdoors and it seems to help, though given the bright glare, it's sometimes hard to make out just when it kicks in.

Besides Sunglight Display, the phone packs a massive nonremovable 3,210mAh battery. It has a quick-charge feature that delivers up to a 40 percent charge in 1 hour and a full charge in 3. It's a really huge battery to squeeze into the 7.8mm frame. For comparison, the 5.1-inch Galaxy S6 is 6.8mm thick and has a 2,550mAh battery. The fact that Xiaomi managed to squeeze in quite a bit more battery capacity with only a slight 1mm increase in the thickness is impressive to me. I'll have more on how well the battery fared later in this review.

Xiaomi paid attention to the internals to make sure a large battery could be squeezed in. Aloysius Low/CNET

Hardware specs include a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor. It seemed capable of running the phone fine, and you'd be pleased to know that the Mi 4i is using a second-generation version, which boasts slightly faster main four cores at 1.7GHz, and 1.1GHz for the lower-powered cores.

Xiaomi's latest flagship also comes packing 2GB of RAM, which is fine, but only has 16GB of storage with no expansion. That's not a good sign, especially if you love watching videos on your phone. However, there are plans for a 32GB version for markets outside of India, though no details or price have been announced.

On the rear, you'll find a 13-megapixel f/2.0 camera, and a 5-megapixel shooter on the front. Xiaomi claims to have improved its HDR feature, and its "beautify" feature (found on its current phones) will also be present on the Mi 4i. This feature should make your selfies look better by smoothing out wrinkles and blemishes (more on this later). Connectivity-wise, it will come with dual-SIM 4G LTE capabilities, and based on previous experiences with Xiaomi devices, it should work on some carriers in the UK or Australia, but not in the US. Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and GPS complete the package.

The Mi 4i comes with Android 5.0 Lollipop. Aloysius Low/CNET

The phone comes powered by Android 5.0 Lollipop, but runs Xiaomi's own MIUI skin. Despite being powered by Google's latest version of its mobile operating system, MIUI is a totally different beast. It lacks an app drawer, and opts for a more IOS-like system where apps are all found on the home screen.

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