Xiaomi’s phones are available in South Africa at last and, in keeping with the trend that’s made the Chinese manufacturer one to watch globally, the handsets offer tremendous value for money — achieved by the simple expedient of using some stellar components and charging very little for the privilege. The Xiaomi Mi 4 perfectly embodies this. Xiaomi has tried to include everything the modern smartphone user could want in a single package and by and large it’s succeeded, though there are a couple of items we would have liked to see included that haven’t been, but more on that later.
Ok, we’ll just come out and say it. The Xiaomi Mi 4 owes more than a little of its design to Apple’s iPhone 5. There’s the same front-and-back plainness and the metal trim that runs around the edge of the handset, all of which is very reminiscent of the styling of Apple’s former flagship. That said, it’s missing Apple’s iconic Home button, the handset is slightly larger and the metal edging isn’t quite as prominent as the iPhone’s. Also, there’s slightly different placement of the camera sensors, and the rear panel of the Mi 4 is curved and plastic, rather than flat and glass.
But, let’s face it, if you’re going to design a plain handset it’s going to wind up looking like an iPhone. That’s one of the problems with minimalist design: everything else tends to resemble everything else after a while.
Along the top of the Mi 4 is the headphone port and an IR blaster, down the right you’ll find the volume rocker and power button (in that order) and the base is home to the speaker vents and charging port. At the top of the left-hand side is the tray where you’ll insert your SIM card. As with the other Xiaomi handsets we’ve handled, the Mi 4’s build quality is excellent, surprisingly so given its pricing.
ALL The SpecsIf we’d been shown this phone when it launched in January this year, we’d still be using it today. The specifications are simply brilliant. Er, were brilliant, given the smartphone giants like Samsung and LG have since surpassed the Mi 4’s specs with their respective flagships. But, given its R4,000 price tag, Xiaomi’s offering is still very attractive today.
Sounding off, there’s a Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage (there’s a 64GB storage model out there as well, but we didn’t get it for review) all tucked behind the 1,920 x 1,080 IPS LCD display, which is a lot clearer and brighter than you’d expect from a phone in this price range.
But this is, technically, last year’s news. The original January 2015 launch of the Mi 4 would have seen it going toe-to-toe with every phone in our Top 10, but now that we’re closer to 2016, it’s at the bottom of the log. That said, it still offers excellent performance, once you get used to its “Performance” and “Balanced” mode options.
Pressing The BenchWe were really confused at the outset of testing — the Xiaomi Mi 4 really should have been hitting larger benchmark numbers than we were getting. After a spot of fiddling we got figures around the 900 mark in Geekbench for single-core performance (973 was the best achieved) and the multi-core score was 2997 at its highest, but we had to tell the Mi 4 that we were looking to run a performance benchmark before it’d produce these figures. Otherwise there’s a 100 to 300 point drop in Geekbench 3 tests because the phone is holding back in order to preserve battery power.
AnTuTu’s scores are similar — the Mi 4 managed 34,487 in our first tests, scoring below the LG G3 (which featured a Snapdragon 800 processor). The Mi 4’s hardware should have been doing a whole lot better than the numbers were saying and, sure enough, opting for performance from the Mi 4’s popup gave us 44,541 — a score a lot more in keeping with the Snapdragon 801’s capabilities.
What does this tell us? Not that much, really, other than that you can’t always trust benchmarks. And that Xiaomi is artificially limiting their hardware to squeeze out more up-time. Not that you need to switch away from Performance mode unless you’re a serious battery-miser. Another note, during the benchmark run the Mi 4 got quite warm over the camera sensor area where the CPU lives. Just an FYI.
Something’s Missing HereThe Xiaomi Mi 4 has just about everything. Good looks (you can’t really argue that point), great hardware (even if its been outclassed by current-generation flagships) and then there’s the additional features. Xiaomi have seen fit to include a 13MP rear camera, with an 8MP front cam keeping it company. Shots from either won’t disappoint, considering that Sony made the sensors, so they’re responsive and offer great image detail. It’s entirely possible to move to fast for the autofocus to catch up at time, but on the whole the camera performance is admirable.
Android 4.4, covered in Xiaomi’s MIUI 5.0 skin, is quick and easy to use. It’s also almost a complete visual knockoff of iOS — that’s either going to garner praise or derision from other Android users, but we have to admit we rather like it. It’s a bit like using an iPhone without all the hand-holding and mollycoddling.
Xiaomi have forgotten something here though, at least in the model we reviewed. There’s 3G but no support for LTE. This has been corrected since the phone launched, with the 64GB storage-toting version of the Mi 4 also slinging LTE access, but the 16GB edition here doesn’t have that luxury. Or NFC, come to think of it, but that’s okay because we never use it anyway. Your mileage may, of course, vary.
In short, you’re going to want this phone. That’s got a lot to do with how Xiaomi has… ahem… been inspired by Apple with its custom-skinned Android installation and with the Mi 4’s design. But it’s also the hardware, which is incredibly quick for a phone that doesn’t have an octa-core processor in it. Mostly, though, it’s going to be the price of the Xiaomi Mi 4 that will make it attractive. At R4,000 it would have been a must-buy even with lesser performance and a far less attractive design. There are a couple of niggles — like the lack of LTE and microSD card slot — but you’d still be silly to pass this one up. Very, very silly indeed.