Xiaomi Mi4 Review – A prince among flagships

xiaomi mi4 review

After weeks of hands on time with the flagship Xiaomi Mi4, it is time we write how we feel and what we have learned about the phone in the GizChina Xiaomi Mi4 Review!

The Xiaomi Mi4 is the phone which continues Xiaomi’s legacy of producing affordable Android smartphones with super specifications. It could be argued that Xiaomi kicked off the current China price wars which has seen the likes of Nubia, Meizu, Huawei and OnePlus all launch phones to complete at the 1999 Yuan price point.

For 2014 though something changed at Xiaomi, and rather than just launch a phone with higher specs than ever before, we saw the company give the new phone a modest boost in performance while most of the changes came down to build quality and materials.

Xiaomi Mi4 Review – Design

The Mi4 wasn’t just highly anticipated as it was the next in the line of Xiaomi flagships, but because many fans who weren’t willing to buy the MI3 were waiting to see what the Beijing phone maker had up their sleeves.

xiaomi mi4 review

You see after the Xiaomi Mi2 and Mi2S, the Xiaomi Mi3 was a huge leap in performance, only to be let down by a very large body and overall ugly design. It was enough to prevent me from buying it and other have voiced their thoughts on this too.

So the Xiaomi Mi4 launched and proved that the Mi company can build a solid feeling phone while keeping specs up and price down.

xiaomi mi4 review

Big changes we see on the Xiaomi Mi4 design over the Mi3 are much narrower screen bezels which help reduce the width of the phone, and a new stainless steel metal chassis and good quality plastics.

In your hand the Xiaomi Mi4 is a solid piece of kit, and feels a whole lot more of a premium feel than the previous Xiaomi Mi3.

xiaomi mi4 review

Some have commented that the body of the Xiaomi Mi4, measuring 8.9mm, is too thick and looks ugly, but this isn’t really the case. The thickness of the phone is actually the same as the OnePlus One, and the rear is curved just enough for the rear of the phone to rest nicely in the palm of your hand.

As I have already mentioned the OPO, I may as well point out that the Mi4 is much more comfortablet in the hand than the OnePlus One. A narrower overall width, and tiny bezels, plus the improved materials really have raised the bar for Xiaomi.

xiaomi mi4 review

Stainless steel is the big change for Xiaomi and they have made sure that everyone knows what chassis this phone is rocking by having sides of the phone showing the bright metal off. The very sides are a dull finish, almost like a machined alloy, while the top edge that meets the screen tapers in and are highly polished.

Although the rear of the phone is removable it isn’t made easy to pull the back off and you will need a small suction cup to grip it and snap it off. The battery is build in and the single SIM is installed via a SIM tray in the left side of the phone.

xiaomi mi4 review

In the base we have a micro USB in the left and nicely machined speaker grill to the right.

xiaomi mi4 review

The top has a 3.5mm headphone jack and opposite that we have an IR blaster. This is an interesting move by Xiaomi who have decided that NFC is no longer worth adding but an IR blaster is more useful. Personally I don’t use either all that much, but do see that an IR remote app is far more useful around the house.

Finally the left side is where we find the power button and volume rocker. This is exactly where I wish every phone maker would place the physical buttons. They are in reach of either your thumb or index finger (depending on which hand you use) and there is no chance of accidentally taking a screenshot while locking the screen (Meizu take note).

xiaomi mi4 review

As already mentioned the rear of the phone is removable, but only as Xiaomi intend to release optional rear covers for the phone. The wooden options look especially interesting . The rear has the usual Mi logo and we also find a 13 mega-pixel rear camera and single LED rear flash.

xiaomi mi4 review

The compact size of the Xiaomi Mi4 makes it a very comfortable and easy to use phone, and a perfect choice for anyone wanting a flagship device that doesn’t exceed 5-inches (this is becoming increasingly difficult).

With a build of stainless steel, Gorilla glass on the screen and quality plastic, the Mi4 is a solid phone and you certainly won’t be bending the device by sitting on it or even physically attempting to with your hands. A very solid phone!

Xioami Mi4 Review – Display

Many Mifans were hoping that Xiaomi would build a phone with either a 5.5-inch display or a 2K resolution and were a little taken back when a 5-inch 1920 x 1080 FHD display was announced.

xiaomi mi4 review

It makes perfect sense really, the small size helps to keep the phone size down, and the high-resolution means a pixel density of 441ppi. Not only does this mean the screen is on par with other flagship phones, offering bright colours, and deep blacks but also helps to prolong battery life too.

The screen is a very bright and colourful piece of kit, something you will certainly notice when running MIUI V6 which pops off the screen.

xiaomi mi4 review

Photos taken with the rear camera also look wonderful on the panel as do games, movies and all media in general. So yes while this isn’t the 2K 5.5-inch panel we have seen on the IUNI U3 or what some fans hoped, but it is still a terrific panel.

Xiaomi Mi4 Review – Under the hood

Xiaomi have always shown that they are capable of launching some of the most powerful phones on the market. The Xiaomi Mi3 spent most of last year as the benchmark all other phones would be compared too.

For the Xiaomi Mi4 we see a slight boost in performance. Qualcomm are again contracted to to provide the processor, this time a 2.5Ghz Snapdragon 801 processor, with Adreno 330 GPU and RAM has been boosted from 2GB to 3GB.

These specs are what we have seen in the OnePlus One, and the top of the range Vivo and Nubia phones, and as you would expect the performance is blistering. Gaming on that bright display is wonderful, with silky smooth animations and transitions pushed around by the proven GPU.

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Benchmarks only give a small inclination of the performance of a smartphone, but as usual I have performed so of the most popular benchmarks for your reference.

Xiaomi Mi4 Benchmarks:

  • Antutu: 41,041
  • Antutu X: Failed to run (dev OS)
  • Ice Storm Unlimited: 19,411
  • Ice Storm Extreme: Maxed Out
  • Quadrant: 19,711

Xiaomi Mi4 Review – Camera

Two great cameras come fitted to the Xiaomi Mi4, the most important of the two being is the 13 mega-pixel main camera which on the surface is the same as the Mi3, but this time around the aperture is a much better F1.8 for better lower light performance.

Front facing cameras are becoming more important in the smartphone market, and the sensor on the front of the Xiaomi Mi4 is an exceedingly good 8 mega-pixel shooter also with a good F1.8 aperture.

xiaomi mi4 review

Throughout all my phone reviews you will all have noticed that the main camera on a phone is something which I really keep an eye on, and I am happy to report that the Xiaomi Mi4 does not disappoint.

Compared to other phones on the market I have been happier with the performance of the main camera on the Xiaomi Mi4 other the OnePlus One and enjoy the speed and results as much as I do on the Vivo Xshot.

xiaomi mi4 review

The camera app on the Xiaomi Mi4 is a simple to use app with all the normal features we expect. HDR, Panorama, and selective focus are all available in the default mode and in MIUI V5 you can also switch to a ‘professional’ camera mode for more settings but this seems to have been removed from the version of MIUI V6 that I am currently using.

Xiaomi Mi4 camera samples

Xiaomi Mi4 Review – Battery life

Xiaomi set the standard for large battery sizes in flagship phones last year with the Xiaomi Mi3, and they weren’t likely to go back a step with the Mi4 and they didn’t. The Xiaomi Mi4 has a 3080mAh battery which is just a shade smaller than the OnePlus One battery, but a smaller display means equally amazing battery life.

MIUI allows you to switch the phone to different modes in the battery settings depending on if you want better performance or battery life. The balanced mode is default and is basically how everyone will use the phone on a day to day basis and that keep me going well in to the next day.

Xiaomi Mi4 Review – Connectivity

The first batch of Xiaomi Mi4 which launched came with only 3G connectivity and that’s the phone that we have on review here. The WCDMA (850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100MHz) model is the one which anyone outside of China will want to get their hands on and we can confirm it works in Europe and the UK.

xiaomi mi4 review

Newer versions of the phone also get 4G LTE again outside of China you will want to get the FDD-LTE version. Although we haven’t tested this version of the phone we have seen evidence that it works well in the UK, Europe but U.S customers will need to know that the Mi4 only works with HSDPA networks.

Xiaomi didn’t give NFC to the Xiaomi Mi4, but they did include an IR blaster, but so far I haven’t found it to be compatible with much. Dual band WIFI 2.4/5Ghz is available on the phone for fast WIFI performance.

Xiaomi Mi4 Review – MIUI

The Xiaomi Mi4 that you will buy now from Chinese resellers will ship with MIUI V6 which is based on Android 4.4 Kitkat. MIUI is Xiaomi’s own taste of Android and is heavily influenced by iOS.

What this means is you don’t get an app draw, and the system is very simple to pick up and use straight away. All features and setting are exactly where you would expect to find them. I find MIUI a great ROM to find your way around with nothing hidden and all settings listed under the right menus.

For the phone I have been using, I have MIUI V6 which is a developer version and hasn’t all the final features added. Compared to MIUI V5 the new OS is much cleaner and simplified further still, but is even more iOS like than ever before.

MIUI has a great community around the world, and Xiaomi have already announced that they will be launching an international version of the ROM with more languages than just English and Chinese the current ROM offers.

Being a Chinese phone and due to the problems with accessing Google services in China, Xiaomi have removed the Google Play store from MIUI, but installing it yourself is extremely easy and doesn’t even require root.

Read how to install Google Play services on MIUI.

google installer app xiaomi

Downloading a handy Google installer from the build in Xiaomi app store brings all your Google services back to the Xiaomi Mi4 in just a few minutes. Anyone can do it.

MIUI also has it’s own theme center so you can customise the look of MIUI just how you like it, so if you are not a fan of the iOS style you can easily change it to how you want.

Xiaomi Mi4 review – MIUI V6 hands on

MIUI V6 gallery

Xiaomi Mi4 Review – any problems?

Not having space for a micro SD card is a shame but hardly a problem unique to just the Xiaomi Mi4. Customers in the US will have to carefully choose the Mi4 if they want to use it on their network and all customers will need to be aware that the phone does produce a little heat while in use.

Xiaomi Mi4 Review – Conclusion

The Xiaomi Mi4 might have disappointed a few fans when it launched and it may have gained a reputation for being an iPhone and iOS clone, but if you look at the device on it’s own merits it is a device that I would highly recommend.

Performance hasn’t been an issue for Xiaomi since the Mi2s, and the Mi4 is a stormer of a phone. The quality and craftsmanship that has gone in to this new flagship is perfect and just what Xiaomi needed to do to stay in the game.

xiaomi mi4 review

The Mi4 in black is especially a stealthy looking smartphone and one I would certainly be happy to buy and use as my own.

The Mi4 isn’t what we had expected from Xiaomi, but what they have delivered is a flagship phone in every respect from design, build, OS and hardware!

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