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Xiaomi Mi 4i review: A surprisingly sleek low-priced handset

Xiaomi's first smartphone for the global market punches above its weight class with a large battery, bright display and affordable price.

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Aloysius Low
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Aloysius Low

Senior Editor

Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.

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9 min read

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.

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7.6

Xiaomi Mi 4i

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.

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.

Xiaomi Mi 4i is a cheap 'flagship' that impresses

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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.

There are, however, some aspects of Google's Material Design language present -- when scrolling to the end of a page, you'll see an arc to let you know you've reached the end -- similar to other Lollipop phones.

Other features of MIUI include themes you can download from a store -- this lets you change the look of the phone to even something like iOS if that's what you want. You can also quickly move apps from screen to screen by flicking a finger in the right direction while your other finger holds down the app you want to move. In India, MIUI will have a clever virtual voice menu system that lets you skip quickly through voice menus ("Press 1 for...") by simply selecting the option on the phone's screen, which would then correctly input the sequence. Xiaomi says it has plans to bring this to other markets as well.

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MIUI's has a pretty flat style, but you can change that with the built-in themes app. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET



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One of MIUI's great features is the ability to quickly rearrange your apps. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Camera

  • 13-megapixel rear camera
  • 1,080p HD video
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera

The rear 13-megapixel camera on the Mi 4i uses the same module and technology as Xiaomi's Mi Note, but it lacks optical image stabilization. This means a f/2.0 aperture and five-element lens, and in the right settings the Mi 4i can take pretty good pictures. But you'll need to have a steady hand; I found some of my shots were blurry because of a slight hand shake when I hit the shutter key. In low light, the camera does well, though noise is quite apparent. The phone also supports manual shooting, but to be honest, I find the automatic settings more than sufficient. Check out the shots below.

On the front 5-megapixel shooter, the beautify mode does let you take nicer selfies, but the skin smoothing and wrinkle removal can be a bit too aggressive, so your very nicely taken self-portrait may look a bit too touched up with digital magic.

For videos, you get to choose between 480p, 720p and 1,080p, and it's really all about the lighting -- in bright outdoors you'll have no issues with what you shoot. For a bit of fun, the Mi 4i comes with both a slow- and fast-motion mode.

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This outdoor shot feels a little dreary, but looks a lot better when you turn on HDR (next picture). Aloysius Low/CNET

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With HDR the picture looks a lot better, and the greenery at the bottom is a lot clearer. Aloysius Low/CNET



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The camera managed to capture the fine details of the shells, but it wasn't as good as I thought it would be. Aloysius Low/CNET

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The picture here seems a little cool compared to another shot I took with the Galaxy S6. Mind you, though, this was taken under incandescent lighting. Aloysius Low/CNET

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The phone can take pretty good night shots, but you'll need a steady hand! Aloysius Low/CNET



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Of the three test shots I took, this was the sharpest -- the rest had issues with hand shake. The lack of optical image stabilization does hurt the picture taking quality. Aloysius Low/CNET

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The front camera's Beautify mode helps you look better when taking selfies, though the effect is quite obvious. Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance and battery life

Compared with the recently reviewed Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 , which runs the first-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor, the Mi 4i uses the slightly faster 1.7GHz second generation chip. There doesn't seem to be any sluggishness with the phone, and everything seemed to churn along fine. I also managed to try out Hearthstone on the phone and found it smooth. Check out the results of the benchmarks below.

The Mi 4i easily matched the more expensive Idol 3, but still lags behinds more powerful and expensive flagships such as the Galaxy S6, of course. Obviously, benchmark numbers aren't really the end-all to a phone's performance, but they do give you a general indication how a device holds up against its competition. Also, the tests were all done with the phone set to Performance mode -- this does eat up the battery, so it's best to leave that mode off.

Performance test

Test 1Test 2Test 3Average
Geekbench 3 2,9092,9262,9432,926
Quadrant 25,59023,65024,57824,606
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited 7,4317,8477,8867,721

As for battery life, I've been putting the phone through the paces for a week or so now, and it easily lasted me a full day of use. On the CNET Labs video test, the phone lasted 13 hours 18 minutes, which is pretty decent and similar to other phones with battery capacities around the 3,000mAh mark. While I would've guessed that the phone would last longer, a full day is usually good enough in my book.

Call quality

  • GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
  • 3G: WCDMA 850, 1900, 2100 MHz | TD-SCDMA 1900, 2000 MHz
  • LTE: FDD 1800 (band 3), 2600 (band 7) MHZ | TD 2600 (band 38), 1900 (band 39), 2300 (band 40), 2500 (band 41) MHZ
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n | 802.11ac

I've had no issue with making voice calls or hearing the person on the other end, and the phone's rear speakers were loud and clear. This was tested in Singapore, on the SingTel network. I also had no issues connecting to 4G. Speeds seem to hover at around 50Mbps, though this is determined by network strength. Still, 50Mbps is pretty good for watching YouTube videos.

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Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Conclusion

Xiaomi says the Mi 4i was designed as a flagship phone for "emerging markets." And while its specs can't compare to those of high-end phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6 or the LG G4, its performance is good enough for most everyday tasks and it is available at an impressively low price.

Compared with say, the slightly more expensive $250 Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 , the $205 Mi 4i is a bargain, but you'll need to be able to get one first, especially if you don't live in the markets where the phone is sold. It has mostly the same specs, but the Idol 3 does have expandable storage (though you'll pay more for it).

Against the $180 Samsung Galaxy Prime, well, the Mi 4i handily beats it, with better all-around specifications, camera and a higher-resolution display for only $25 more. The 4i is also better designed -- both phones have a 5-inch display, but the Mi 4i is thinner and lighter with a bigger (though nonremovable) battery.

Xiaomi's handset could easily be the phone that jump-starts the company's future Western ambitions, but this isn't something it's looking at right now. While it may have plans to sell its popular accessories in the US and Europe, handsets will continue to remain elusive. This is unfortunate, as the Mi 4i is a really good phone that would shine even in developed markets.

Aloysius Low/CNET

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7.6

Xiaomi Mi 4i

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Camera 7Battery 8
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