It is a great time to be an Indian consumer looking to purchase a phone with high-end specs at a relatively low price. Or an awful one. It really depends on how you look at it. As we wrote a few days ago, the likes of Hugo Barra and Co. seem to be well en route to scuttling the high-priced Android flagship by coming out with devices with top notch hardware at prices that seem embarrassingly low by Android flagship standards. And no two devices symbolize this new trend of “top hardware, low price” as do the OnePlus One and the Xiaomi Mi 4. Both devices offer staggering hardware topped off with some innovative hardware at relatively low prices.
And both by some quirk (we wonder!) of fate are going on sale tomorrow (February 10th) in India.
Which of course, has led to a spate of queries about which device one should go for. The answer, as always, is not easy. So here’s our attempt to make some logical sense of the awesome twosome and which one works for whom.
Design and appearance
On the surface, this would appear to be a bit of a gimme, given the much talked of sandstone black finish of the OnePlus One, and the slightly plain looks of the Mi 4 (a blogger very unkindly compared it to a Samsung device). But we must confess that when it comes to ‘feel’ the Mi 4 comes roaring back into contention. For whereas the OnePlus One is an unabashedly ‘large’ device, the Mi 4 (as we pointed out in our initial impressions) is incredibly compact for a device with a 5.0-inch display. Both phones are 8.9 mm thin, but the OnePlus One is significantly longer at 152.9 mm against the 139.2 mm of the Mi 4, and also wider at 75.9 mm against 68.5 mm. Of course, this is mainly due to its larger 5.5 inch display, but at the end of the day, all things being equal, the compactness of the Mi 4 and its much more solid build cancel out the slightly bulkier OnePlus One. So in terms of design and appearance, we would give this one to the Xiaomi Mi 4 – mind you, if you want a larger display, then it is the OnePlus One for you!
Winner: Xiaomi Mi 4
In terms of hardware, the OnePlus One and Mi 4 are pretty much toe to toe in most departments – both are powered by quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processors clocked at 2.5 GHz, come with 3GB RAM, 13.0-megapixel main cameras, and have full HD displays. There are however some very significant differences beneath the surface – the OnePlus One has a larger display (5.5 inches to 5.0 on the Mi 4), while the Mi 4 comes with an InfraRed port, FM radio, neither of which is available on the OnePlus One, and also has a more powerful 8.0-megapixel front facing camera, as compared to the 5.0-megapixel one on the OnePlus One. But we suspect that two specs will really swing consumers to the side of the OnePlus One – the fact that it comes with 64 GB storage (four times that of the Mi 4 – neither phone has expandable memory) and 4G LTE support. We are handing this one to the OnePlus One.
Winner: OnePlus One
Software and UI
When it comes to software, the battle between the Mi 4 and OnePlus One is going to be one mainly of taste. We reckon the geek squad will prefer the cleaner look of Cyanogen running on the OnePlus One, but mainstream users will love the colorful and feature rich MIUI 6 running on the Mi 4. Of course, a deterrent for many could be the fact that OnePlus One devices sold in India would not receive over the air (OTA) updates from Cyanogen and would instead move to a different UI, called OxygenOS (thanks to the hassle with YU). In sum: we think the geeks will go for the OnePlus One, the mainstream users for the Mi 4. We are voting with the latter for this one – out of the box, MIUI lets the general user simply do much more with Mi 4 than Cyanogen does with OnePlus One.
Winner: Xiaomi Mi 4
Camera and multimedia
If the OnePlus One seemed to pull away from the Mi 4 in the hardware department, then the Mi 4 returns the compliment in terms of camera and multimedia. The display of the Mi 4 might be smaller than that of the OnePlus One but it seems far more vibrant and bright (at times it almost seems close to being a bit oversaturated when it comes to the reds). And then there is the matter of the camera – while both the OnePlus One and the Mi 4 have very good cameras in terms of detail (and technically the same Sony IMX214 lens), the Mi 4’s shooter wins when it comes to capturing colors (although we can see purists coughing and complaining about colors being a tad too bright). In the battle of the selfie cameras, the Mi 4’s camera fairly takes out the OnePlus One. Round that off with sound that seems a notch above that of the OnePlus One in terms of quality and a better camera interface, and it is another win for the Mi 4, although we can see some video-viewers preferring the OnePlus One for its larger display.
Winner: Xiaomi Mi 4
It is a very close contest between the two devices when it comes to general phone performance. Of the two, the OnePlus One seemed to stutter just a tad more often when in high-definition gaming and video territory, although such stutters were rare in both cases and happened only when we literally tried to overburden the devices. Both delivered surprisingly good battery life, lasting a bit more than a day of heavy usage. In call quality, we felt that the Mi 4 was slightly better than the OnePlus One, but that said, the extra inches of the OnePlus One made it better for viewing and editing documents and mails. No, we cannot pick a winner here!
Conclusion: Which should you go for?
At the end of it all, this is a contest that SO reminds us of the face-off between the Redmi Note 4G and the YU Yureka. As in the case of that battle, it is really going to boil down to your requirements. If you are the type that likes to tinker endlessly with your device, fiddling with on-screen buttons, lock screen gestures etc, and are not worried by no future Cyanogen updates being available for the OnePlus One (as you can install them yourself manually), the OnePlus One at Rs.21,999 is your weapon of choice. But if your needs are more mainstream and what you are looking for is a compact, powerful device with a feature inch and colorful interface and good multimedia, the Mi 4 seems a more viable option at Rs.19,999, although the absence of 4G LTE and expandable memory could deter some. For those with high storage needs and a 4G LTE connection, the decision is an easy one – it is the OnePlus One for them.
At its heart, this is a battle between the geek and mainstream users – the former will love the OnePlus One, the latter (and so we suspect will the girls, with smaller hands) will love the Mi 4. Speaking honestly, we do not think the mainstream user will be deterred by 16 GB storage or the absence of 4G in the Mi 4, as 4G is more conspicuous by its absence than presence in the country as of now, and well, not too many complained of 16 GB storage in the likes of the Moto G and the Mi 3, not to mention the iPhone’s basic models. So, no, we do not think that is as big a deal as some in geekdom are making it out to be – we know some users who were upset because the OnePlus One had no FM radio! [Update: Xiaomi has announced that the 64GB version of Mi 4 is on its way and will cost Rs.23,999, and again with no 4G LTE support. That shouldn’t change our conclusion drastically]
The best thing? No matter which device you opt for tomorrow, you will have in your hands a lot of mobile awesomeness. You can buy BOTH devices for less than the price of a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Talk about being spoiled!
And of the era of expensive mobile phone flagships coming to an end… but ah, that’s a story we have already written.