Hugo Barra started off the presentation of the Xiaomi Mi 4 in India with a two minute video called The Journey of a Piece of Steel. And lovely though the video is (we got goosebumps when we saw the waterdrop test), it did for a couple minutes hide the fact that the Mi 4 is very unlike the phone that preceded it, the Mi 3.
“They have gone from being like Apple to being like Samsung,” a young blogger (was he out of school early that day?) remarked wryly.
We think he was being unduly cruel because Samsung can make some gorgeous phones (check out the Galaxy Alpha, we say!). But yes, what cannot be denied is that the Mi 4 is unlikely to stand out in a crowd because of its looks. Unlike the Mi 3 which had a metal body, this one has a prominent plastic component. The chamfered metal frame on which it rests does indeed bring memories of the iPhone and the Galaxy Alpha, but the phone itself on first glance looks relatively routine. The front has the 5.0-inch display with a speaker grille and 8.0-megapixel camera above it, and the back is all plastic white (perhaps inspiring the Samsung comparison) and curves gently outwards, bearing the 13.0-megapixel camera with flash (which has been moved to the centre of the top, unlike in the Mi 3 where it was towards the left of the top). The sides are straight (not curved as in the Mi 3). The sim tray is on the left (and not on the top as on the Mi 3), and the volume rocker and power/home button are on the right. The top has a 3.5 mm audio jack and right next to it is a small dark dot that is the IR blaster. One the base the micro USB port and a speaker grille.
Seems routine? At first glance, yes. But look more closely and nuances of design spring out. The back is not plain plastic but has a weave-like pattern (perhaps a bit too subtle). And when you hold the phone, you realise just how surprisingly compact it is. At 139.2 mm, it is actually shorter then the Mi 3 (144 mm) which had the same sized display, and at 68.5 mm, surprisingly less wide as well (the Mi 3 was 73.6 mm wide). Yes, its 8.9 mm thickness is more than the 8.1 mm of the Mi 3, but all said and done, this is perhaps one of the most compact 5.0-inch display devices we have seen. Xiaomi have shaved a lot of the bezel off the sides of the device, leaving it only slightly longer than the Nexus 5 and less wide. It is marginally heavier than the Mi 3 at 149 grammes (the Mi 3 was 145 grammes), which is surprising given the fact that the latter had a metal body, but gives us the same reassuringly solid feeling that the Mi 3 did. We think the black model looked far more classy but the Mi 4, while not capable of turning heads, will certainly not be hidden either. It is definitely a smart device, no matter what the plastic panning punditry says.
Significantly what has NOT changed is the fact that the Mi 4, like the Mi 3, offers very good hardware at a surprisingly low price. No, the price tag of Rs 19,999 might not have got the kind of response that the Mi 3’s Rs 13,999 did in terms of geek rapture. But there is no denying that getting a device with a 5.0-inch full HD display, powered by a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, with 3GB RAM, 16 GB storage, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS, with a 13.0-megapixel rear camera and a 8.0-megapixel front facing one, is a VERY good deal indeed. Top that off with the fact that the Mi 4 comes with MIUI 6 running on top of Android KitKat (Mi 3 has MIUI 5) and the Mi 4 seems like a very good proposition indeed.
Of course, it is not perfect – we have already people complaining about the absence of 4G support and expandable memory, which is more a reflection of how smartphone prices and expectations have changed over the past six months, in no small measure thanks to Xiaomi itself (we did say that they had scuttled the expensive Android flagship). And no, it is not quite the traffic-stopper the Mi 3 was in the looks department, but the Mi 4 has got a wonderfully solid and compact feel to it. And some awesome hardware. Oh and that price (even though some call it “slightly overpriced” – oh how six months can change perceptions and markets).
Just how well it performs will be revealed in our review which is in the works. But our first impressions of the Xiaomi Mi 4 can be summed thus: it looks good, but heavens, it feels a lot better. No you won’t brandish this phone in public, but it will make just about every other phone with a similar display size feel large and a bit ungainly. It won’t rock your world. But it will grow to be a part of it. But should you make it a part of your life? Patience, ladies and gentlemen. The review cometh shortly…