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Xiaomi's Mi 4 flagship phone innovates on the iPhone design (hands-on)

The 4G-capable Android device may take its design cue from Apple's smartphone but it adds its own flourish with a swappable rear cover and a 5-inch display.

BEIJING -- It's not the first time we've seen Xiaomi pull off an Apple-inspired design, so the look of the newest Xiaomi Mi 4 shouldn't be too surprising. For one, the recently announced Mi Pad borrowed elements of the iPad Mini and the iPhone 5C, while its Mi WiFi Mini router resembles the Apple Magic Trackpad.

The Mi 4, the company's new Android flagship phone, borrows its style heavily from the iPhone 5S, but the Chinese company has added its own touches to the design with a removable rear cover and a larger 5-inch display.

The 1,999RMB smartphone will be available in China for 1,999RMB (which converts to $320, £190, AU$345) for the 16GB model and 2,499RMB (which converts to $400, £235, AU$430) for the 64GB version at the end of the month, while the 4G version (TD-LTE, for China) will launch in September. There's no word yet on global availability.

Design and display

As mentioned, the Mi 4 takes a lot of design cues from the iPhone 5S. The stainless steel frame around the edges is similar to those on the iPhone, though the button placements are opposite each other. The phone looks completely different from the previous Mi 3 flagship, which looked more like a Nokia handset.

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Aloysius Low/CNET
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The stainless steel frame holds the phone together.

Aloysius Low/CNET

It's hard not to think of the phone as a clone of the iPhone, but Xiaomi has added its own touches. Instead of going with onscreen keys like some of the recent Android phones, the Mi 4 still keeps the old-school style of the back, home and menu buttons.

These touch sensitive buttons light up when depressed, and fade away to be hidden from sight when not in use. Perhaps it's a better design decision to use onscreen keys instead, after all.

Despite its 5-inch full-HD display -- which only has a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution -- the phone is incredibly light at a mere 149g. In comparison, the iPhone 5S weighs 112g, but is much smaller in size.

Unlike the iPhone's metallic rear, the Mi 4 comes with a swappable cover, in a bunch of varied designs. If you like Samsung's faux leather rear, Xiaomi has something similar. If you liked the Moto X's wood covers -- you guessed it -- Xiaomi also has one. And if your taste has no boundaries, there's also a marble-looking cover, for moments when you need your phone to match your floor.

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Aloysius Low/CNET

Specs and software

Internally, Xiaomi's Mi 4 comes packing what you'll find in most flagship phones. It's powered by a 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, has 3GB of RAM and comes with either 16GB or 64GB.

More importantly, Xiaomi has managed to squeeze a 3,080mAh battery into the phone's 6.7mm-slim frame, which should easily last you a day or more. There doesn't appear to be a microSD card slot, and the phone seems to still cater to the older large SIM cards.

On the rear is a 13-megapixel camera while there's a front 8-megapixel shooter for taking detailed selfie shots. The rear has a six-element lens while the front uses five-elements. Both cameras have a f1.8 aperture. Xiaomi also demoed an image refocusing capability similar to that found on the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy S5.

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Aloysius Low/CNET

The Mi 4 runs MIUI on top of Android KitKat (4.4.3), and is likely to be v5. While Xiaomi has announced a new upcoming v6 that will debut on August 16, the phone likely isn't running it as it will go on sale at the end of July in China. A quick check of the phone's MIUI version shows that it's running MIUI 4.7.20, but the last major release for v5 was 4.6.27 in June.

Outlook

With Xiaomi's CEO Lei Jun publically stating at the event that the company has enough facilities to ensure stock availability, the new Mi 4 could quickly launch in other regions outside of China after its local launch. Furthermore, the Xiaomi boss was quick to downplay the 4G version at the press conference, possibly due to the fact that if users wait for the LTE model, sales of the 3G-only model would be affected.

Given the popularity of the Chinese company's phones, however, that's unlikely to happen, especially as the phone is so reasonably priced for a high-end device. Given that Xiaomi's competition, such as Oppo, already have 4G-capable devices ready for an international market, Xiaomi will have to work harder to get the 4G version of the Mi 4 to the more mature markets, such as Singapore.

While the Xiaomi Mi 4 is one of the best phones to come out of the company yet, Apple's likely to launch a new model of its handset soon, and Xiaomi's design may feel a little dated once that's released.

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Aloysius Low/CNET

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