Xiaomi Mi 4i first impressions: changing the game, once again

“With the Mi 4i, Xiaomi has filled the void left by its debut phone in India, the Mi 3”

Xiaomi has a knack for launching smartphones that change the market drastically by defying the usual price vs specs ratio. So, it’s no surprise that its latest offering, the Mi 4i might do the same. What’s surprising however, is the fact that with the Mi 4i, Xiaomi is betting big on the Indian market as it made its global debut in the country yesterday. The company also claims that the device is specifically made for India (signified by ‘i’ in its name) and has followed users’ feedback in terms of its design and software features.

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The grand scale of the global premiere of the Mi 4i can be gauged from the fact that Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun and President Lin Bin were present at the event. The Chinese upstart also called its fans to attend along with the media. We were able to spend a few minutes with the smartphone at the packed event to form our initial opinion. Here’s what we think of the Xiaomi Mi 4i.

The brand has worked from the ground up while designing the Mi 4i and it’s apparent from the moment you hold it. Even though the casing is polycarbonate, it feels extremely good in the hand. The phone has an impressive screen-to-body ratio, making one-handed usage a breeze. Measuring 7.8mm, the smartphone is quite lean and tips the scale at 130g. Unlike the glossy back panels of the previous devices in the Mi series, the Mi 4 (review) and Mi Note (review), the handset features a soft-touch matte rear cover. Along with improving the handling, it also ensures good grip even when the hands are sweaty. Available in choices of black, white, blue, green and pink, the Mi 4i can suit everyone’s personality.

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While the display panel occupies the major portion at the front, the Xiaomi Mi 4i also has an earpiece, front-facing snapper and a few sensors above and a row of three capacitive buttons below. The right spine has the power button and volume rocker, which are made out of stainless steel and thus offer good tactile feedback. The slot for inserting the SIM cards can be found on the left edge. The 3.5mm headphone socket is available on the top, while the micro-USB port is at the bottom. The rear of the unibody smartphone hosts the primary camera with the true-tone LED flash and a speaker grille towards the bottom.

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Just like the Mi4, its sibling is based around a display measuring 5-inches. Xiaomi has opted for One Glass Solution-based display panel which is based on IPS technology to ensure that the device remains slim. With a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (~441ppi), the display offers sharp text and impressive visuals. It has good viewing angles as well. While the brightness levels seem adequate, the smartphone has an immensely useful mode called ‘Sunlight Display’. Most users struggle in reading their phone screens under direct sunlight, but that shouldn’t be the case with the Xiaomi Mi 4i. The device adjusts the contrast of each pixel in real time to ensure that not only the screen is viewable, but colours come out well too, especially when it’s being viewed outdoors. The display also gets a protective layering of Corning’s Concore glass against scratches.

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The insides of the Xiaomi Mi4i include the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615, an octa-core chipset complemented by 2GB of RAM. The processor offers two quad-core clusters of 1.7GHz and 1.1GHz which come to the fore depending upon whether the user is running high-performance tasks or low-power ones. While we didn’t face any stutter in our brief usage, we’d like to test the device for some more time during our review before giving any verdict. Handling the storage aspect is 16GB of eMMC flash memory, which sadly, can’t be extended further, just like the previous offerings in the Mi range. But you can make use of its OTG capabilities to use USB drives with it.

The dual-SIM dual standby smartphone features support for 4G (compatible with both the TDD Band 3 and FDD Band 40) on both its slots. It also boasts support for the Wi-Fi ac standard, along with the usual options like Bluetooth and GPS.

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For photography, the Xiaomi Mi 4i comes equipped with a 13-megapixel shooter at the back with Samsung / Sony sensor with f/2.0 aperture. To ensure that images don’t look artificial when clicked with the flash turned on, it has a dual-tone LED flash to provide illumination on the basis of colour temperature. At the front, the handset gets a 5MP shooter with 80 degree wide-angle lens for shooting selfies or making video calls. The indoor shots we took offered good amount of details and vibrant colours, though we’d need to use the camera over varied conditions to rate its quality.

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On the software side of things, the Xiaomi Mi 4i is the first device in the brand’s portfolio that’s based on the latest iteration of Android, i.e., 5.0 Lollipop, with MIUI 6 (overview) custom ROM on offer. Along with a different interface, security controls, and preloaded apps, the device also features an interesting service called Visual IVR. Instead of listening and navigating through the complex IVR voice systems, the service will lay out all the available options on the screen, so that you can directly access what you want to. While we weren’t able to test the feature, it can be a game changer if it works as promised. While the service will be available in beta mode on the Mi 4i, it will also be available on all of Xiaomi offerings afterwards.

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To offer a long-lasting battery life, Xiaomi has packed in the largest unit it has ever packed in its smartphone, 3,120mAh. What’s more applaud-worthy is the fact that the brand managed to keep the device slim with such a powerful battery.

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Xiaomi is positioning the Mi 4i as a flagship, yet its pricing of Rs 12,999 brings it in the affordable smartphones territory. What’s interesting is that while it may seem like a lower variant of the more premium and pricey Mi 4, it’s actually a different device altogether and is quite loaded. With the Mi 4i, Xiaomi has filled the void left by its debut phone in India, the Mi 3 (review | cheatsheet) and now it has a device between the Rs 10,000 – 15,000 bracket. While the Mi 4i will be competing against a multitude of offerings including the base variant of the recently-launched ASUS ZenFone 2 (unboxing | first impressions), it comes across as a better choice thanks to its powerful hardware.

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