Xiaomi Mi 4 review – great value for money

Mobile in Africa Group recently opened pre-registrations for the launch of the Xiaomi Mi 4 in South Africa.

The device will initially be sold through a flash sale, which MIA said is fairest way to meet initial demand.

Priced at R3,799, the Mi 4 falls squarely in the mid-range smartphone category – though without knowing the price, the only hints that this isn’t a flagship device are the processor and network support.

That’s not to say the Snapdragon 801 system-on-chip in the Mi 4 is a slouch. It did power several previous-generation Android flagship smartphones such as the LG G3, Samsung Galaxy S5, and HTC One M8.

While the spec sheet certainly raised my expectations of the device, it can only tell you what to expect. The question is, does the Xiaomi Mi 4 live up to those expectations?

What’s in the box?

Although you get a solid set of hardware with the device, the box contains the bare minimum otherwise. Charger and cable only.

No headphones, and no other bells or whistles.

Specifications Mi 4
Dimensions 139.2 x 68.5 x 8.9 mm
Weight 149g
Operating system Android 4.4 KitKat with MIUI
Display 5″ 1080p (1,080 x 1,920)
Rear camera 13MP
Front camera 8MP
Storage, internal 16GB
Storage, expandable No
RAM 3GB
Processor 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AC)
Graphics Adreno 330
Battery 3,080mAh (non-removable)
Cellular data HSPA+
SIM type Single SIM
RRP R3,799

The Basics

Battery life. Typically longer than a day, thanks to the a 3,080mAh battery. Non-removable.

Display. Bright, clear, content visible in sunlight. Good touch response.

Storage. 16GB single partition internal, no microSD support.

Network. All SA 3G & 2G supported, no SA LTE support.

Cameras. Solid hardware, though software features are limited.

Display

Arguably the most important component of a smart device is its display, as it acts as the interface for both input and output.

Here Xiaomi does not disappoint, with the Mi 4 delivering a high-quality full HD screen – that you would usually associate with more expensive devices – along with a great touch experience.

That seems to be the prevailing theme with the Mi 4: give customers a premium phone for a mid-range price.

The Mi 4 is hardly perfect, though, and it does lack many of the features you’ll find on top-end smartphones.

This is not unexpected. Whenever you’re trying to bring down the price of a smartphone, there have to be trade-offs.

Design

One aspect of the Mi 4 where the trade-offs are clear is its physical design.

The phone has a good heft to it and a solid build, with the hard plastic front and back coming together on a smooth metal edge.

When you hold the Mi 4 it feels like you’re holding a well-built smartphone. It also grips well, which is a bonus.

If you look closer, though, it becomes apparent you are dealing with a device that isn’t quite at the highest end.

The SIM tray on our review model, for instance, looks like it sits flush with the rest of the body, but when you run your finger over it you can feel that it isn’t completely flat.

Xiaomi has also opted to use hardware capacitive buttons rather than Android’s new software buttons.

While this doesn’t necessarily indicate whether a device is expensive or not, the Mi 4 still has the iconography for Android’s old menu button on the left-most capacitive button.

When you press it, however, it acts like the new Recents button.

Software: Android 4.4 KitKat with MIUI 7.0

MIUI 7 home screen and notification tray
MIUI 7 home screen and notification tray
Xiaomi Mi 4 front camera test
While the front camera will take a guess at your gender and age, it doesn’t offer features such as front flash for taking selfies in low-light.

The Mi 4 ships with Xiaomi’s own skin for Android, which it calls MIUI.

While nothing stops you from installing a new launcher, there are a few things about the software on the Mi 4 you should know.

Firstly, our review unit came pre-installed with SwiftKey, Facebook, WPS Office, and Google’s suite of apps – all of which are removable.

Secondly, MIUI is a great skin for Android, but it does have some odd behaviours that might frustrate users.

When using a lock screen without a passcode, if you slide up all the way beyond the top edge of the screen the device doesn’t unlock, the lock screen just bounces back to the bottom.

Swiping right on notifications in the drop-down notification tray also doesn’t dismiss them – to dismiss notifications without tapping on them, you have to swipe left (or use the dismiss all button).

MIUI also doesn’t have an “all apps” screen. Instead, it works much like Huawei’s skin for Android in that all apps are placed directly on the home screens.

From there, apps can be organised by dragging them onto other home screens, the launcher bar, and folders or groups.

Another oddity I noticed while testing the device was an occasional slight delay between tapping on a folder or group, and it actually opening and displaying the apps it contains.

There was also sometimes a slight delay between tapping on an app icon, and the app launching.

The Verdict

The Bottom Line: Xiaomi Mi 4
The Good The Bad
  • Good value for money
  • Feels like a more expensive phone
  • High-capacity battery
  • Decent camera
  • Other than maybe MIUI, not a lot of bloatware
  • Micro USB port oddly placed – might not work with all accessories
  • No microSD support
  • Battery not removable
  • Capacitive hardware buttons, featuring a Menu button which works like Recents by default
  • Camera let down by feature-sparse software
  • MIUI is not everyone’s cup of tea

Overall, the Xiaomi Mi 4 offers great value for money.

Considering the price you pay, you get a well-designed device that has great hardware, almost no bloatware, and performs at a similar level to last year’s high-end devices.

If you’re in the market for an affordable smartphone that you want to buy off-contract, the Xiaomi Mi 4 is certainly worth considering.

Review disclosure: MIA provided the Xiaomi Mi 4 for review. Review devices are returned within 2 weeks, so the experiences above are not based on long-term use.

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Xiaomi Mi 4 review – great value for money