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A Chinese phone with an 'i' for India

By Himanshu Juneja
Last updated on: May 14, 2015 12:04 IST
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A successor to Mi 4, the 'i' in 4i reflects Xiaomi's focus on India even as the Chinese company is losing ground to Apple on home turf.

With India becoming Xiaomi's largest overseas market, the company went officially with the high priority it attaches to the country. Recent reports of Apple displacing Xiaomi, on its home turf of China, makes Indian market all the more important.

To Xiaomi's credit, they have brought forward products which has enticed the price conscious Indians every time. The Xiaomi Mi3 not only created ripples, it redefined how Indians viewed and valued their devices from there on. The Mi4 again proved that the Xiaomi spark wasn't a flash in the pan.

Xiaomi has now released second of its budget phone in the form of Mi 4i, where the second 'i' has been appended to denote its India focused creation. This in itself should strike a cord of some sorts.

Let's take a closer look at what the Xiaomi Mi 4i is capable of.

Build

Measuring 138.1 x 69.6 x 7.8 mm in dimension, the phone is comfortably thin and manageable with a single hand. At 130 gms the weight doesn't raise eyebrows either. The phone is constructed without too much bling, and has not been compromised on the build quality or aesthetics. Basically, it ticks all the right boxes.

The phone has been imparted a unibody design, using a polycarbonate plastic as the built material. It isn't a finger print magnate, and isn't slippery either. The back wraps around the phone in a snug fashion. Being a unibody design, the rear panel isn't removable.

The top edge of the phone carries the 3.5 mm audio jack. Right side of the phone comprises the power button, and the volume rocker is located just above. The left side of the phone carries the dual micro SIM tray, and the micro USB port is located at the bottom.

All the keys provide good tactile feedback when pressed.

The camera is pretty much flush with the rear panel, removing the chance of a wobbly device when placed on a flat surface. Upon turning the phone, one finds the speaker grille at the back.

The phone gives a solid feel when held and allows for a good grip. The whole slab is well built comprising of quality material and thin bezels overall.

Display

The Xiaomi Mi 4i has a Full HD 4.95-inch IPS screen, and carries a resolution of 1080 x 1920p. The pixel per inch density comes out to be a whopping ~441 ppi. It is a bright display, and colours appear to be crisp and text looked sharp.

There is no doubt that a display like this will attract the users with extra vigour, given the price range the phone is being offered in.

Another ace up Mi 4i's sleeve is the Sunlight display technology which comes with the display. Some smart algorithm working behind the scene makes only the darker areas of the image a few shades more brighter to allow for a more balanced viewing.

This bumping up of brightness especially on a bright summer day will make the user experience a lot more easy on the eyes.

Another feather in the cap is that the analysis for brightness adjustment is made via a separate signal processor rather than the main one, saving the battery from taking a huge hit in terms of performance.

For enhanced protection, the screen has been made from Corning's Concore One Glass Solution. Xiaomi claims the material provides protection as good as the Gorilla Glass 3.

Taking an overall stock of the features and performance on offer, Mi 4i may well have brought forward a class leading display here.

Hardware

The phone has been equipped with Qualcomm 64-bit 1.7GHz octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor. This is the second generation processor, and consists of the main Cortex A53 quad core (clocked at 1.7 GHz), and the power saving quad core A53 (clocked at 1.1Ghz).

As for the GPU, the phone is packing Adreno 405. The phone also boasts about the luxury of 2 GB of RAM. Xiaomi has supplied the phone with the hardware which seems sufficient for the phone of its price range.

For storage capacity, the phone comes with 16 GB of storage. As a huge downer, it doesn't comes with a memory card slot. The content consumption has only been going up, and 16 GB sounds insufficient.

Interestingly, one reason Xiaomi VP (global), Hugo Barra provides for the exclusion of the memory card slot is the limited space within the chassis after packing in a bigger battery. It meant that there was no scope to accommodate the external memory card circuit board.

Legit reasoning or not, the fixed memory of the phone is pretty big killjoy.

Connectivity

The Xiaomi Mi 4i is a dual SIM mobile phone. Equipped with 4G compatibility for both SIM cards, the phone operates with dual stand by feature.

It boasts of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot connectivity, Bluetooth v 4.1, A2DP and GPS (A-GPS, GLONASS) as well. Given the Indian users' penchant, the phone coming with FM radio option also boosts its chances quite a lot.

As a big relief, owing to its limited storage capacity, the phone supports USB OTG (On The Go) as well, allowing users to carry essential data and access it immediately.

Operating system

The Mi 4i is running MIUI 6 (6.5.0.3 to be precise), which is based on Android Lollipop, ver 5.0.2. Incidentally, the Mi 4i also happens to be the first phone from Xiaomi to be running the latest OS.

For some reasons, Xiaomi has left the OS looking more like Kitkat than the latest of the OS; as a result the phone misses out on features like the acclaimed material design and improved notification system for starters.

The MIUI OS generally is typical Xiaomi affair and the consistent obsession of skipping the app drawer continues. Plus there are clear 'inspirations' from Apple's iOS as well.

To bring up the recent apps, the left capacitive button will do the job, and the button marked 'X' will come in handy to turn off some of the apps as per user discretion. There is also the ability to lock an app against forced closing, accomplished simply by swiping downwards on the app icon.

It will be worth a mention here that MIUI isn't really the lightest of the OS skins around.

Even though the phone comes with what seems like ample amount of RAM (2 GB), the phone at times struggles to smoothly execute the animation and transition effects. This maybe due to rushed in, unoptimised OS. Another factor which goes against MIUI is that Xiaomi phones tend to be heavy RAM consumers.

Xiaomi has brought an innovative feature here, allowing the users to sail through the interactive voice response (IVR) calls. The IVR menus appear on the phone, along with the details for options, allowing the users to navigate to their desired option way before the automated call response finishes or even kicks in.

This is an exciting feature, and while it promises to cut down on the frustrations a caller faces with such calls, it will have selected reach and limited use only.

The feature is still a beta version, and is yet to add good number of sites. Currently it helps with few sites like Indian Railways, Indigo, Cleartrip, etc. With support for six Indian languages ( Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada ) this feature has potential.
Xiaomi should have promoted this officially rather than crowd sourced. That way more credibility and future assurance about the software's continuation would have been guaranteed.

The user interface in general looks polished enough and gives the user enough room to tweak the settings and personalize the milieu to personal taste and preference.

Camera

The phone comes equipped with 13 MP rear camera and has a 5MP camera as front-facing. Xiaomi usually doesn't disappoint with its cameras, and it was again good to see Xiaomi not cutting the corners in terms of specifications here either.

The performance of the rear camera was pretty impressive. The photographs clicked during the day, and otherwise in well lit conditions came out to be detailed and sharp in appearance. Although, there was presence of noise while working in not amply lit conditions.

The shutter speed and post processing of the camera on the Xiaomi was very impressive. The camera app is pretty straightforward as well, with a swipe from right side bringing up the filters available, and a swipe from the left bringing the camera modes.

A worthy mention here being the HDR mode coming in two flavours here. The Normal mode delivers three results, with Underexposed, Normal and Overexposed settings. The Live mode HDR gives the user a good idea about the final outcome of the image. The results for the HD
video recording was pretty impressive as well, with the final outcome packing in good details and colour palette.

The front facing camera delivers good results, but only when there is ambient light to provide a helping hand. The photographs taken in darker surroundings clearly looked grainy and had noise as well. Selfie addicts won't be too disappointed.

Performance

The phone hasn't got the top of the line hardware, which is owing to the price point on offer, but it still is very much capable of performing the tasks thrown at it.

The presence of 2 GB RAM only lends credence to the notion. The phone does deliver the results, mostly that is.

The phone performs admirably well, but there were instances when the transition effects felt to be stuttering. Similarly, the animation elements were not entirely smooth all the times either, and it seemed like a case of unoptimised software.

The phone otherwise was able to play HD games without too many hiccups. Multiple tabs being opened while browsing didn't pose any threat to the experience either, and the phone delivered on the promise it showed earlier with the spec sheet. The performance mode only enhanced the experience while battery life took a little hit.

However, the phone does get heated up with prolonged usage, and this resulted in a clear sluggish performance of the device. A good possibility being that the polycarbonate rear panel not allowing enough heat dissipation, and a slim profile of the phone only adding to the issue.

A good app management and keeping the simultaneously running apps under check would take care of the heat build up to a good extent.

The phone had no issues with its call quality or network reception.

Overall, the phone has the capability to deliver the performance and should be good for the average use. One should not get their hands on the phone thinking of smooth performance delivered under heavy load.

The loudspeaker does gets muffled when placed on a flat surface, and the problem worsens if placed on softer surface like seats etc. This design goof up should have been avoided.

Battery

Xiaomi Mi 4i comes with a 3120 mAh battery, which sounds good. While the company claimed that the phone will last a shade under 36 hours, the actual performance was a bit short.

From moderate to heavy usage, the phone made it through the day easily, but definitely demanded to be rejuiced few hours later. Choosing the Performance mode means the battery drains a bit faster, yielding reduced time of almos 2-3 hours.

In the hindsight, sacrificing the memory card slot for a larger battery was an absolute necessity, as anything less and the phone would have had its chances seriously jeopardised. Needless to say, that would have meant losing quite a bit of sheen as well.

Something to cheer about is the fact that the phone does come with quick charge technology.

Verdict

Xiaomi has brought forward a very enticing device in the form of Mi 4i. The phone has been kept remarkably low at just Rs 12,999, and this should be the masterstroke the phone needed to become another hit from the company.

The pricing becomes essential, as the phone has been robbed of an external memory card slot, and the phone does heat up quite often. The performance does get affected with rise in temperature, but with some conscious app management, users will be able to make the phone chug along nicely to accomplish the task.

Hardware restriction apart, expect improved performance with the next and better optimised OS' upgrade from Xiaomi.

The bottom line is, while still not being perfect, Xiaomi has come up with a phone which is a serious contender at Rs 12,999.

Photographs: Courtesy, Xiaomi

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Himanshu Juneja
Related News: Xiaomi Mi, i, MIUI OS, RAM, SIM