The Mi4 is the latest smartphone from Xiaomi, one of the most disruptive and successful Chinese smartphone vendors around today. The Xiaomi Mi4 made its debut in China a few weeks ago where it retails for 1,999 RMB, which is around $325 USD. The flagship from Xiaomi runs Android on the latest Qualcomm processor, with classy hardware continuing in terms of display and camera sensors. Is the Xiaomi Mi4 a worthy contender in the current flagship space? Read on to find out…

Xiaomi Mi4 Review: Another step in the right direction?

There is no doubting the potential of the Xiaomi Mi4 as a flagship killer, i.e. a device that boasts flagship class hardware but retails for less. Arguably OnePlus stole the flagship killer crown from Xiaomi when they launched the One smartphone, in my opinion taking the crown from the Xiaomi Mi3, a really popular smartphone choice in Asia that can now be acquired for around $230 USD here in Taiwan for example. Can the Mi4 help Xiaomi regain it place at the head of the Chinese manufacturing phalanx?

Xiaomi-Mi4-Unboxing-14

Don’t forget to watch this detailed and full video review of the Xiaomi Mi4:

Hardware Overview

The Xiaomi Mi4 was rumored to have a couple of very cutting edge features that few smartphones could compete with. We were initially distraught to see only a 5 inch Full HD display, having looked forward to having 1440 x 2560 pixels on a larger 5.5 inch panel, so you can forgive our first reaction. Likewise the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 is arguably the best performing mobile processor a man can have, but we had hoped to see a debut of their 805 chip. In terms of RAM we have a generous 3GB while the company offer two storage options with 16GB and 64GB versions, both of which can be either black or white. Check out the full specifications sheet below, with a direct comparison to other smartphones phones currently occupying the flagship space.

Xiaomi Mi4 - Flagship Specifications Comparison

Xiaomi Mi4OnePlus OneSamsung Galaxy S5Sony Xperia Z2
Display5.0" 1080p IPS LCD
441 ppi
5.5" 1080p IPS LCD
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
401 ppi
5.1" 1080p Super AMOLED
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
432 ppi
5.2" 1080p IPS LCD
Triluminous
424 ppi
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 801
Quad-core 2.5GHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Quad-core 2.5GHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Quad-core 2.5GHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Quad-core 2.3GHz
RAM3GB DDR3l3GB DDR3l2GB DDR3l3GB DDR3l
Storage16GB / 64GB16GB / 64GB16GB / 32GB16GB / 32GB
microSDNo microSD SupportNo microSD SupportUp to 128GBUp to 128GB
Cameras13MP & 8MP13MP & 5MP16MP & 2MP20.7MP & 2.2MP
Dimensions139.2mm x 68.5mm x 8.9 mm152.9mm x 75.9mm x 8.9mm142mm x 72.5mm x 8.1mm146.8mm x 73.3mm x 8.2mm
Weight149 grams162 grams145 grams163 grams
OSAndroid 4.4.2 Kit KatAndroid 4.4.2 Kit KatAndroid 4.4.2 Kit KatAndroid 4.4.2 Kit Kat
UIMIUI v5CyanogenMod 11STouchWizSony Xperia UI
Battery3080mAh3,100mAh2,800mAh3,200mAh

In purely hardware terms the Xiaomi Mi4 is in fact not too dissimilar to the Mi3, a fact that may have disappointed initially, but in truth the Mi3 is one of my absolute favorite smartphones, and the phone that I have personally used most in 2014 thus far. If the Mi4 can emulate the success of the Mi3, I am positive Xiaomi will be very pleased, but for me for it to beat the Mi3 it is going to have to work very hard indeed. If we head on straight to the design part of this review, I immediately find one major quibble.

Design and Build Quality

For some, the Xiaomi Mi4 is also a real contender for Apple clone of the year, with the company attracting widespread criticism from certain quarters for producing a flagship smartphone that looks very much like it could have been designed by Apple themselves. We have the white version of the Mi4 and I have to admit to having gasped as I first recognized it sitting on the desk. This is very much like a 5 inch iPhone 4 or 5 device. It’s rounded corners and tapered metallic frame that do it for me, but the in hand feel speaks of chiseled metal in a way that only the iPhone has in the past. HTC One devices feel solid in a similar but very much more rounded wa,y resulting in a different in-hand feel. The Mi4 is closer.

Xiaomi-Mi4-Unboxing-03

The Xiaomi Mi4 however manages to resist temptation to completely imitate the iPhone when it comes to the back panel. Instead of the flat matte finished back you are getting a slightly convex back cover that can actually be removed. The back cover can also be replaced by a selection of great looking alternatives that we look forward to trying out, not least because the default white cover from Xiaomi looks to be wholly inferior to those shown at the launch event. This back cover has a glossy, reflective plastic finish that feels exactly how it looks. The glossy white finish doesn’t really feel cheap, but it does feel like plastic and can actually attract grease, cat hair and other blemishes very easily. I have never understood the attraction of white phones, so maybe I am the wrong person to say it, but I am really, really looking forward to experimenting with other back covers on this one.

Xiaomi-Mi4-Unboxing-05

The other details regarding ports and buttons are actually pretty consistent with what we saw on the Xiaomi Mi3, which is good because that is what myself and other Mi3 fans are used to. HTC users for example will know the pain of inconsistent button placement between models and designs, so I am happy to Xiaomi keep to the same implementation. The power button is located just about two thirds of the way up the right side edge, the volume rocker just above that. The micro USB port is located on the far right side of the lower edge, the headphone jack on the right side of the top edge. The top edge also reveals an IR sensor which is touted as being the best of its kind, while the camera on the rear is located centrally on the rear flanked by a light sensor and a single LED flash. The Mi4 places the speaker slot centrally on the top bezel with a discrete Xiaomi logo in the top left. The device also sports hardware buttons, which unlike the OnePlus One cannot be switched off in favor of on-screen buttons.

Glam with Mi3_004

In general, the design philosophy of the Mi4 is in complete opposition to that used to create the Mi3. The Xiaomi Mi3 stood out from the pack with rounded side edges and square top and bottom edges and a screen that seemed to float atop the chassis. The design was unique to Xiaomi and set them apart as a innovating hardware manufacturer, and was one of the principle reasons I grew to love the device. The Mi4 seems to be designed to win over a different crowd, and while taste can account for a great deal, I think I personally prefer the Mi3.

Glam with Mi3_008

Display

As far as the specs sheets are concerned, the Xiaomi Mi4 seems to use a very similar display to that which we see on the Mi3. They are both IPS LCD capacitive touch screens with 1920 x 100 resolutions and pixel densities of identical 441PPI. The outer glass however seems to be quite different as the Mi3 uses Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and the Mi4 is instead coated with a laminate that, if anything, feels more like plastic and less like glass.

Glam with Mi3_001

According to Xiaomi the display is manufactures by Japan Display Inc (a joint venture between Japanese heavyweights Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi) and features OGS or One Glass Solution. OGS technology reduces the thickness of the display by removing one layer from the touchscreen stack. This seems to account for the finish of the panel, and even though responsiveness is difficult to measure and quantify, we would have to say that the Mi4 has a screen that is a treat to use.

Xiaomi-Mi4-Unboxing-11

In terms of viewing angles, the display on the Xiaomi Mi4 is exceptional. From virtually any angle, colors and brightness appear to be very consistent. Likewise the brightness of the display is fantastic. Overall the display is an improvement on that found on the Mi3, despite basic similar fundamental details. The Mi4 is brighter with better color accuracy and real deep blacks compared to the Mi3 which is a pretty damn impressive display in its own right. As well as brightness, it is also easy to adjust both color saturation and color temperature, a very nice touch that shows the versatility of the panel itself.

Xiaomi-Mi4-color-contrast-adjustment

It is interesting to note that JDI also manufactured that 5.5 inch panel on the OnePlus One smartphone, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised with the top notch offering here on the Mi4. To conclude, the Xiaomi Mi4 has one of the best IPS LCD panels we have come across.

Software

The Mi4 debuts the very latest MIUI Android ROM from Xiaomi, a heavily customized UI that generally speaking combines a quite Apple flavored launcher experience with some really fantastic customization options and plenty of good looking custom made apps. The Chinese market is not allowed to enjoy Google apps as freely as we are in the West so Xiaomi instead dedicated themselves to creating a wealth of alternatives, many of which relate to their own services, plus many more which hook directly to the Chinese app eco-system.

Xiaomi-Mi4-UI-1

The UI looks great for the most part with simple colorful, square icons that launch directly from the home screen (no app drawer here) and easy access to folders which include a Tools folder which includes apps such as flashlight, email, compass, downloads, audio recorder and more. The drop down menu offers quick access to notifications and what Xiaomi call Toggles. These include quick access to Airplane mode, Bluetooth, a shortcut for taking screenshots, WiFi controls, screen brightness and more. These can be customized with ease.

Xiaomi-Mi4-Unboxing-12

The MIUI experience is really slick and pleasant, and I think generally speaking, it has a design and organization that will be attractive to most users in the West, but there are still a few rough edges. Firstly getting Google apps installed on a phone imported from china may prove to be a hassle. There are work-arounds, but they still take a bit of time and effort. My Xiaomi Mi3 was purchased in Taiwan which is thankfully rich and fertile Google territory and presented no such issues. Secondly, some of the UI and attendant apps retain Chinese in certain areas. The English version of the OS is 98% English, but on the current V5 MIUI ROM at least, you will still find some residual Chinese under the hood. I am sure this is something that Xiaomi will address as they move into European and US markets. Likewise the default keyboard might phase a few people and also contains Chinese text, but you can always download more suitable keyboards once you have your Google Play Store up and running.

Xiaomi-Mi4-UI-2

In my experience the Xiami MIUI is one of the best custom Android ROMs available. The user experience is excellent and there are absolutely tons of great free apps and themes that you can get from Xiaomi that really give you the feeling that these guys totally know what they are doing. Once it has all been tweaked and translated better for English and other languages, I am sure it will be very popular indeed.

Performance

The Snapdragon 801 from Qualcomm is a beast of a mobile processor, and one of the components found inside the Xiaomi Mi4 that truly qualifies it to be regarded as a real flagship level device. We ran our usual suit of benchmarks and found the raw performance under the hood to be pretty comparable to what we found with Samsung Galaxy S5, the Sony Xperia Z2 and others that also feature the 801 chip from Qualcomm.

Check out this performance comparison chart which shows how the Mi4 keeps pace with its Snapdragon 801 brethren.

Xiaomi Mi4 - Benchmark Comparison Table

Xiaomi Mi4OnePlus OneSamsung Galaxy S5Sony Xperia Z2Xiaomi Mi3 (Snapdragon 800)
GFX Bench T-Rex27.4fps28.4fps27.1fps26.9fps27.2fps
Quadrant2453123616240461791320156
AnTuTu3553336031351443273234986
Vellamo Metal12951733164215831190
3DMark - Ice Storm1977119654183731875318851
Geek Bench 3 - Single Core1005979923756946
Geek Bench 3 - Multi Core29282570280123742793

The table above shows that the Mi4 is keeping pace with most of the other Snapdragon 801-based devices. It scores highest in Quadrant and 3DMark, but its we noticed that Mi4 would recognize the fact that the 3DMark app is a benchmark app and offered to switch to high performance mode. This is interesting not least because it implies that in fact the 801 SoC is not configured to to perform at its highest levels by default. This might explain why the Vallamo benchmark is off the beat a little.

3Dmark - performance- configuarion-Mi4

The Snapdragon 801 manages to wipe the floor with pretty much all other mobile processors because it contains four Krait 400 CPUs based on the ARM Cortex A7 architecture. These guys are clocked at 2.5Ghz and and are backed by a leading graphics processor in the form of the Adreno 330. These elements are very similar to what we saw on the Xiaomi Mi3’s Snapdragon 800, but basically they have been tuned for higher performance, especially when it comes to 3D graphics performance.

Xiaomi-Mi4-3dmark-score

The difference between the Mi3 and the new Mi4 in terms of raw power is relatively small however. I will not in truth be able to feel a real difference in performance from using the Mi4, but I will have a really good mobile experience in terms of games etc, and I will be able to claim bragging rights, which always count for something.

Battery Life

The Xiaomi Mi4 is fitted with a 3080mAh battery, which is pretty generous by all accounts. The Xperia Z2 for example is considered a top dog in this area with its 3,200mAh battery, so the Mi4 is certainly not far off top spot in terms of the raw energy packed into its shell. In our regular battery life test from Laptop Magazine we saw the Mi4 keep going for 7 hours and 44 minutes. This is with WiFi enabled and upper medium brightness, so a reasonably good score.

In everyday usage we found that the Mi4 would easily get you through the day on a single full charge, which is the minimum we would expect from a high-end smartphone in 2014. Indeed the Snapdragon 801, despite being a very powerful processor, actually manages to reach very low idle power states which will also help a great deal in maximizing battery life.

Cameras

The Xiaomi Mi4 features a 13MP rear facing camera that once again could seem, on paper at least, to be of a similar ilk to that which we saw on the Mi3. However as with comparisons regarding the display, the two are actually quite different. The sensor itself is a Sony IMX214 and alongside the OnePlus once again, the Mi4 is one of the first smartphones to use it. The 13-megapixel CMOS sensor has a pretty impressive f/2.0 aperture, designed so that more light can be captured when shooting in the dark. The sensor itself is a BSI stacked CMOS sensor, 1/3.06” in size.

Xiaomi-Mi4-Unboxing-06

One thing you will notice is just how fast the auto-focus is, even HDR shots are taken much quicker than most phones we have come across. Xiaomi talks about locking auto-focus in 0.3 seconds, which sounds about right to me. In good conditions the HDR function worked really well to boost the color vibrancy and overall brightness and clarity. In fact some of the shots we took with the Mi4 are simply stunning. The only complaint was that at times when you zoom in to a photo, there seemed to be just a touch too much post-processing going on, which in the worst cases could cause a little pixelization to occur.

Auto Mode

Auto Mode

HDR Mode

HDR Mode

In low light the Sony sensor claims to have the edge, and in reasonable low lights conditions, it does quite well, but as the light wanes, so the noise levels increase. The Mi4 handles these situations better than most smartphone cameras, but it still tends to produce its best work in better light conditions. Some of the detail produced in certain shots, is simply phenomenal.
The Mi4 13MP camera also features 4K video at 30fps and it also supports real-time video HDR. The camera app itself features nothing too out of the ordinary; HDR, Panamara, Skin Tones and a range of filters that can be added in real time.

The Mi4 also has an 8MP front camera which features the smaller Sony IMX219 sensor. Its certainly one of the better selfie cams around and also has a fast auto-focus and an 80-degree field of view that helps with selfies. The front camera has a interesting gender recognition filter which pretty much amounts to a fairly smart beautification mode. How does it work? It decides if you are male or female, figures out how old you are and then applies filters accordingly. I was quite chuffed to see the Mi4 regard me as a 26 year old male.

Xiami-Mi4-Example-Photos-010

All in all, we are very impressed with the Mi4 camera array which certainly seems to sit near the top end of today’s smartphone camera leader-board. Some of the photos we took are simply stunning. It has proved to be an exceptional camera in most situations.

Audio

The Xiaomi Mi4 has one mono speaker located on the bottom edge of the device. It’s louder than most smartphones on the market, but not as loud as the HTC One series boom sound speakers that are doubtless the best smartphone speaker implementation on the market right now. The clarity is good and overall there is enough bass going on to actually hear the bass in most tunes.

Glam with Mi3_003

The built-in speaker on the Mi4 actually appears to be an area where the device does not actually shine too brightly. Most aspects of the device are exceptional. The audio is distinctly average, however.

Note: Xiaomi do not provide headphones in the retail box, a move which I think is not entirely bad news. Most brands actually provide pretty unimpressive ear buds anyway.

Price

The Xiaomi Mi4 is priced very aggressively in China right now at 1999RMB ($325 USD)for the 16GB version and 2,499RMB ($406 USD) for the 64GB version. Compared to the current Xiaomi Mi3 which is available here in Taiwan for NT7,000 ($235 USD), and other devices like the OnePlus One which is available here for NT9,999 ($330 USD), the Xiaomi Mi3 has plenty of competition. These prices are still way cheaper than other major brand flagship phones, so I would not describe the asking price for the Mi4 as steep, nor is it the best bargain in town. For the money, you really are getting a seriously good phone.

Xiaomi historically have been known to adjust their prices in quite an aggressive way. The Mi3 has dropped from around $330 when it first launched earlier this year to just $235 today, and you can look forward to seeing the same happen to the Mi4 in the coming months.

Final Thoughts

The Xiaomi Mi4 is without doubt a fantastic phone and one that will make the vast majority of users who purchase it very happy. The styling of the Mi4 may actually divide opinion, even among Xiaomi fans who may, like myself, tend to prefer the design of the Mi3. The Apple inspired looks of the front face is not helping its cause in my opinion, but of course that is very much a matter of individual taste.

The main points to grasp here today are that the Mi4 has an industry-leading processor, a fantastic display and a really good camera. The battery life is solid and the user interface is a joy to use (despite a few language issues here or there). There is a great deal to enjoy about this phone, and we are convinced that Xiaomi’s additional back covers will actually invigorate our love of the device further.

Xiaomi-Mi4-Scorecard

In short, the Xiaomi Mi4 is a fantastic device that stands tall among today’s top, top 5 inch Android smartphones. I still harbor a special adoration for its predecessor, but that should not detract from the fact that the Mi4 is a very strong product from a manufacturer that continues to grow in stature and reputation as the months tick by.

The Xiaomi Mi4 is available from E-Fox here.

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