Reviewing Xiaomi Mi 4 - The Chinese High End Android Smartphone
Xiaomi is a chinese manufacturer that gained a lot of popularity in recent years, especially in the Asian markets. In the rest of the world however, they are not very well known. As they began expanding, some of their devices arrived on the European markets. As a result, we managed to get our hands on their top smartphone: the Xiaomi Mi 4 that comes with Android 4.4.4 preinstalled. After playing with it for a few weeks, we are now eager to share with you everything we found. Read this review to learn whether it is worth buying or not:
Hardware Specifications & Packaging
The Xiaomi Mi 4 comes in a very simple and minimalistic package. It's a simple cardboard box, with nothing printed on it except the Xiaomi logo. On the bottom of the box you will find some information about its contents, but it's mostly written in chinese, so it's pretty hard to understand what you just bought.
Once you open the package, you immediately see the Xiaomi Mi 4.
Inside the box, under the smartphone, you'll find a charger and its detachable USB cable, a small pin for taking the SIM card out of the smartphone, the warranty and a quick start guide. Unfortunately, even though this is a high-end smartphone, you don't get any headphones.
Xiaomi Mi 4 is available in two versions: a 4G LTE version and a WCDMA version. The model we received in tests is the Mi 4 LTE one. In terms of body colors, this smartphone is available in white or black. As you've seen in the previous pictures, the model we received for testing was the white variant.
Mi 4 uses a beautiful 5 inch IPS LCD display, with a Full HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels and 441 ppi pixel density. In terms of hardware specs, the smartphone is powered by a Snapdragon quad-core processor running at 2.5 GHz, complemented by 3GB of RAM memory and a fast Adreno 330 graphic chip. When it comes to the storage space available, you can opt to buy the Mi 4 with 16GB or 64GB of internal memory. Unfortunately, this device doesn't include a microSD slot, so you'll be stuck with the storage space you get from the start. Mi 4's autonomy is handled by a generous 3080 mAh lithium-ion polymer battery.
The rear camera on the Mi 4 is powered by a 13 megapixels Sony image sensor, has a 6 element lens, flash and high speed focus. The front camera is also powered by a Sony image sensor, but offers a resolution of "only" 8 megapixels.
In terms of connectivity options, you get support for microUSB 2.0, Bluetooth 4.0 and wireless networking using the 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac standards, meaning the Mi 4 is able to connect to both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz wireless networks. An interesting addition in connectivity terms is the fact that Xiaomi Mi 4 has an IR (infrared) emitter. That means you can use your smartphone as a remote control for other various devices, like your living room TV.
Xiaomi Mi 4's body is built from aluminium and plastics, but weighs only 140 grams. The smartphone has a width of 68.5 mm, a height of 139.2 mm and is only 8.9 mm thick.
If you'd like to see more details about the specifications of the Xiaomi Mi 4, check its official website: Mi 4 Specs.
The Mi 4 is Xiaomi's flagship smartphone and it has a lot to show off. With a high end 2.5 GHz quad-core CPU, 3GB of RAM memory and a 13 MP camera, the Mi 4 is one of the best Android smartphones on the market. Its hardware will handle with ease any kind of app or game. The only thing we would hold against it is the fact that Xiaomi doesn't include any headphones inside the package.
Design & Build Quality
The Xiaomi Mi 4 looks like a unibody device, but it appears it is not. While it's not easy to remove the back cover, you can if you use a suction cup. The smartphone looks and feels like a premium device. Its rims are made from aluminium and the back is built from high quality plastic. The thin 8.9 mm profile also adds to this feeling.
The power button and volume rocker are both found on the right side of the Xiaomi Mi 4. They are easy to press and their positioning makes it comfortable to use the smartphone even with only one hand. On the other hand, we didn't like that the smartphone doesn't have a dedicated camera button. This would have been a nice addition to a smartphone with such a good camera.
On the bottom of the Mi 4, you'll find three capacitive buttons for Recent Apps, Home and Back. These buttons are small and have a minimalistic design, but they look good and fit nicely on the bezel.
The back of the Xiaomi Mi 4 also looks and feels good. Even if the backplate is made of glossy plastic, its quality is good. Being slightly rounded on the edges and having metal rims, the Mi 4 feels comfortable when you hold it and doesn't give you the impression that it will slip from your hand.
As we mentioned earlier, Xiaomi Mi 4 uses a 5 inches IPS LCD display with a Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution. Because it uses an IPS panel, you get wide viewing angles and natural colors. Then, the high Full HD resolution put together with the 5 inches screen size means you also get a high pixel density (441 ppi). A high pixel density means bright colors, deep blacks, sharp edges and smooth text. The smartphone also benefits from an ambient light sensor, which automatically dims or brightens the display depending on the amount of light around you. You won't have any kind of trouble when using this device outdoors.
Xiaomi Mi 4 is a beautiful smartphone with really good build quality. To mention just a few of its strong points: the display is great both indoors and outdoors, the camera is really fast and takes nice photos and the smartphone's body feels like a premium device.
The Smartphone Experience On Xiaomi Mi 4
Phone conversations on the Xiaomi Mi 4 are of very good quality. In-call sound is clear and loud enough, in all circumstances. Even if you or the person you speak with is in a noisy environment, neither of you will have problems in understanding each other. We also didn't encounter any problems when it comes to the signal reception. That is true even in not so perfect conditions, as we tested Mi 4 in a geographical area where 4G is available, but the signal strength isn't that great.
The audio quality when listening to music or making calls using a headphones set is excellent and the available sound enhancements are really good. However, things are not so great when using the smartphone's internal speaker. Mi 4 doesn't distort any sounds, but the speaker's highest volume levels are quite low and the low frequencies (bass) don't sound too great. It's OK if you use the speaker for phone calls, but not for media playback.
In terms of the operating system, Xiaomi Mi 4 uses Android 4.4.4 Kitkat, but with Xiaomi's own skin - MIUI 5.5.15. But we'll talk more in a later section about the software found on the Mi 4. For now we'll just say that the operating system, even if heavily modified, is very fast and fluid.
Like many other high end smartphones, the Mi 4 doesn't disappoint when it comes to the camera experience. Xiaomi isn't a company that keeps the hardware components a secret and, because of that we know that the main camera on the Mi 4 uses a Sony image sensor. The end result of the powerful hardware and good image sensor is a fast camera and good photographs.
The 3080 mAh battery is also impressive, and in normal use it should be able to keep your smartphone running for more than a day. However, that depends a lot on how you use your smartphone: if you you play lots of games you will have to charge it more than once a day. But we'll see more about its performances, later on, in the benchmarks section of our review.
Overall, the Xiaomi Mi 4 offers a very good smartphone experience. Phone calls are clear and the signal strength is good even on 4G networks. The smartphone's internal speaker works well for phone conversations but we wouldn't recommend that you use it for media playback. For that, use a headphones set and you won't be disappointed. Also, the operating system is very fast and fluid, and the battery is generous.
The Camera Experience On The Xiaomi Mi 4
The rear, main camera on the Xiaomi Mi 4 has 13 megapixels, it uses a Sony image sensor and is complemented by a LED flash for low light photographs. Mi 4 also offers a front camera with 8 megapixels that is also manufactured by Sony.
The default camera software available on the Xiaomi Mi 4 comes with quite a few features. You will find that this smartphone is capable out-of-the-box of taking pictures using HDR, is able to do burst shootings, it can take panoramic photos and you can also lock the focus of your picture on a subject.
In the gallery below, you can see how photos taken with Xiaomi Mi 4 look. We included some photos taken with Mi 4's main camera outdoors in a bright sunny day, but also indoor pictures, close-up pictures and a few selfies taken with the front camera. Note that for every picture we used the auto settings for the camera, and for the outdoor pictures we also turned on the HDR capabilities.
While the main camera takes very good photos, especially in well lit environments, the front camera is not that great. However, it's 8 megapixels are more than enough for video calls and it's more than decent even when it comes to taking selfies.
When it comes to the video quality, the Xiaomi Mi 4 took us by surprise. The smartphone captures videos in Full HD (1080p at 30fps), but it is also capable of recording videos in 4K (2160p at 30fps) with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels and a bitrate of 40 Mbps. The sound you get is stereo and it's captured at a 96 Kbps bit rate.
In order to get a glimpse on how videos look when recording moving objects, check our sample below.
And further on you can see another video, in which we recorded a static panorama using HDR, while moving the phone.
The camera is also able to capture time lapse videos, for which you can also set the shoot interval, and slow motion videos. For an example of how slow motion videos look, check the sample below.
Xiaomi Mi 4 features a great camera. While it might not compare to the cameras other vendors equip their smartphones with, it is still great. Considering that the Xiaomi Mi 4 is a high end smartphone but comes at a better price than its direct competition, we cannot be anything else but satisfied.
Android 4.4.4 Kitkat, MIUI 5.5.15 & Bundled Apps
The Xiaomi Mi 4 we received in tests runs on Android 4.4.4 Kitkat. However, it's not the original Android operating system, but a heavily customized version of it, called MIUI. At the time of our testing, MIUI was on version 5.5.15.
Although it's not the original Android, we must admit we loved how fast and responsive the smartphone feels. Secondly, MIUI really looks great, since beauty was a very high priority for its developers. An interesting difference from what we were used to see on Android devices is that, instead of offering an app drawer, MIUI rather keeps everything on its homescreens. However, in order to organize your things a little, you can always create folders.
Instead of offering Google's native apps, Xiaomi prefers to bundle its own apps. Our test device had everything you need in terms of core apps. It came with its own Mail app, Music app, Camera app, cloud storage app - Mi Cloud, File Explorer and so on. However, even if you cannot remove them, if you don't like any of these apps, you can install your own and then set it as default.
In our opinion, Xiaomi Mi 4 offers a good software experience. It runs on Android 4.4.4 Kitkat, but with the manufacturer's own skin: MIUI 5, which offers a very beautiful and responsive user experience. We love it and we consider it to be a lot better than other custom skins we've seen, such as Samsung's Touchwiz.
Important Things You Should Know Before Buying A Xiaomi Mi 4
Xiaomi is a Chinese manufacturer and its devices are sold mainly on Asian markets. Because China is the main target of the Mi 4, Xiaomi is rather cautious about offering Google services to their clients. By default, Mi 4 uses Xiaomi's own Mi Market instead of the Google Play we're all used to. Furthermore, the apps preinstalled on the smartphone differ from country to country, depending to where Xiaomi sells its device.
Before purchasing a Xiaomi smartphone, double check that it is a variant for European or American markets, not Asian ones. The smartphones that are created for Asian markets have no Google applications preinstalled on them. By that, we really mean nothing: no Google Play, no Gmail, no Google Calendar and no Google Docs. If you plan on buying the Xiaomi Mi 4, be sure to check first if it has Google apps preinstalled.
Performance In Benchmarks
We already know the Xiaomi Mi 4 is a beast when it comes to the hardware it packs inside. But just knowing the specs doesn't mean much, without testing the hardware. So, to get a better idea on how much performance the Mi 4 offers, we ran some benchmarks.
In order to measure how fast the CPU is, we used Vellamo, a popular benchmarking app for Android.
The first test we ran was Vellamo Multicore, which aims to measure the CPU's performance when running multiple tasks at the same time. Xiaomi Mi 4 managed to get 1696 points, which puts it above the Samsung Galaxy S5, but just under HTC's One M8.
Then we wanted to see how well the CPU handles single task operations. This test is especially important, because many apps don't know how to use more than one processor core. Xiaomi Mi 4 got 1586 points in the Vellamo Metal test, which this time around puts it above other flagships such as LG G3, HTC One M8 or Samsung Galaxy S5.
Another important aspect, especially for gamers, is the gaming performance of a smartphone. To test that, we use GFXBench GL Benchmark. The two tests we think are the most relevant from a gaming point of view are Manhattan and T-Rex. We take into consideration only the Offscreen version of them, because that way, the tests are run at a resolution of 1080p, no matter the native resolution of a device.
In the Manhattan test, Xiaomi Mi 4 obtained 706 frames, which puts it on par with Samsung's Galaxy S5.
In the T-Rex test, Xiaomi Mi 4 got 1534 frames. This score shows that the gaming performance offered by Mi 4 is similar to what you'll get from an Apple iPhone 5S or an HTC One M8.
Then, we got to our final benchmark, which is testing the autonomy of a device. To do that, we fully charged the battery of the Xiaomi Mi 4, and then we ran the PCMark Work battery life test. The Xiaomi Mi 4 managed to resist for about 9 hours, which is rather impressive.
Where To Buy
The Mi 4 is the flagship of the chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi. It's a device with very strong hardware, good design and good build quality. The custom Android flavor - MIUI - is also a fine tuned user interface that is both beautiful and simple to use. If you also take into consideration that it's price is lower than its direct competitors with similar hardware and features, you can't but think that this is a very good buy. We really like the Xiaomi Mi 4, and we recommend it to everyone. However, if you don't live in China or other close Asian country, you should make sure you buy a model that includes Google Apps.