Xiaomi Mi 4 review: Beautiful design and snappy performance combine to impress

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The Good The Xiaomi Mi 4 delivers snappy performance, a great camera, and good looks at a low price.

The Bad Availability is limited to select markets. The lack of microSD card slot could be a dealbreaker for some.

The Bottom Line Xiaomi's Mi 4 offers almost everything you want in a high-end flagship smartphone -- beautiful design and snappy performance at a price that's just too good to pass up.

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8.7 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9

Review Sections

The flagship Xiaomi Mi 4's design borrows liberally from Apple's iPhone, but it also possesses plenty of features that let it stand on its own, chief of which are its powerful hardware.

The Mi 4's is a steal no matter how you look at it. Its unlocked price in China is 1,999RMB (which converts to $320, £190, or AU$345) for the 16GB model, and 2,499RMB (which converts to $400, £235, or AU$430) for the 64GB.

The Mi 4 is limited to China right now, though we expect Xiaomi to soon sell the phone in other markets it currently serves, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, India and the Philippines. Other countries will have to rely on importers.

Also, while the phone will eventually come with 4G capability that works outside China, a revised 4G model isn't due until the end of the year. If you choose to import the phone before then, your Mi 4 will operate only on 3G networks.

Design, display and specs

At first glance, the Xiaomi Mi 4 bears a striking resemblance to the design of the iPhone -- especially the stainless steel banding around the sides. The company has obviously owes a good deal to Apple, and the white plastic inserts in the frame are definitely familiar.

Aloysius Low/CNET

If you look at the front speaker too, you can see another place where the Mi 4's designers got their visual cues. That said, there are distinctly different elements that make the Xiaomi Mi 4 design's unique.

For one, instead of leaving the plastic exposed, the Mi 4's steel band protects the front panel, preventing it from getting chipped -- which, on the iPhone 4S , can easily get damaged. The rear is plastic, but you can remove it with a suction cup and swap in a different design. Xiaomi has covers ranging from wood to something that resembles marble.

Aloysius Low/CNET

I quite like the feel of the phone. It sits comfortably in my hand, though the edges of the steel frame can are a little sharp. Despite the glossy plastic backing, the handset has quite a premium feel to it thanks to this metal edging. The power and volume rockers are on the right, and are easy to reach without any strenuous finger stretching.

Aloysius Low/CNET

The phone is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 processor, clocked at 2.5GHz. That's similar to what you'll find in other high-end flagships, so no surprises here. Other specs include 3GB RAM and either 16GB or 64GB of onboard storage, but there's no microSD for expandability. Knowing Xiaomi's usual modus operandi, it's likely that only the 16GB version will retail outside of China.

The phone comes with a 3,080mAh battery, but the bad news is that it's not removable even if you manage to get the back cover off.

The Mi 4 has a 5-inch display with a full HD resolution (1,920x1,080 pixels). According to Xiaomi, it has a color gamut accuracy of 84 percent, 17 percent higher than the iPhone 5S . I'm no expert on judging color accuracy, but I can tell you its colors look vibrant and lively and the screen is bright enough to use outdoors in bright sunlight.

As a high-end device, the Mi 4 comes with all the usual connectivity options, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. 4G is only available on the China Mobile network (TDD-LTE), which unfortunately does not work in most other countries that use the FDD-LTE standard. An FDD-LTE model is due at the end of the year, and possibly earlier.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Software features

The Mi 4 runs Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) but with the company's own MIUI skin. Xiaomi has made substantial tweaks to the Android operating system and MIUI has a whole suite of features you don't normally see on Android.

For one, instead of an app drawer, MIUI puts every app on the home screen just like iOS. While I would prefer my screens to be less cluttered with apps (especially if you have a lot), those switching over from Apple will find this a more simple transition.

MIUI keeps every app in the home screens. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

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