Mi 4: 2 month usage review

Xiaomi Mi 4 unboxed
Xiaomi Mi 4 unboxing

I finally replaced my Galaxy S3 in April after almost 3 years of service. It had begun to show signs of aging for a while, and I had managed to extend its usability for a few months by flashing Cyanogenmod on it last year. The gadetitis relapse hit me in March this year and I began scouting for my next Android phone in March. After lots of debate, it boiled down to the 64 GB versions OnePlus One and the Xiaomi Mi 4, and the Mi fan festival ensured that price was not going to be a factor when choosing between the two. In the end, the smaller form factor and IR port of the Mi 4 won and I even ended up renewing my Flipkart First subscription to get the phone in a day.

In terms of build quality, the Mi 4 has a very premium feel to it with its steel frame and from the front it has a striking resemblance to the iPhone 5\5s. The back though is a lot more mundane plastic, but there is a faint pattern visible under direct lighting. When it comes to the specs, it is pretty much a Nexus 5 in a prettier package. While it is missing NFC, it does have an IR port that can let you control TVs, ACs etc.

The camera, while pretty decent, pales in comparison to the iPhone 5s that I also own. Colours can turn out a bit oversaturated in shots and the video stabilization has its own issues resulting in jitters if you pan around quickly with shaky hands. I also discovered that the Carousel app from Dropbox can prevent you from shooting videos if you enable the camera overlay option in that app. I missed quite a few video opportunities before I was finally resolved the issue.

The on board storage of 64 GB for the price is the real icing on the cake, and this makes a difference over SD card slots when you have a huge library of games like I do thanks to the Humble Mobile Bundle sales. The 2014 flagship class specs comprising of a full HD display powered by the SnapDragon 801 ensure that games fly on the device. It is definitely a lot faster than my iPad mini that’s based on the aging A5 platform. I haven’t faced any heating issues with the phone so far, and the only time it heats up is when the signal is weak or while charging a severely depleted battery.

On the software front, MIUI also adds a touch of iOS-ness to the usability with some of its design philosophies and then some. Though it’s based on KitKat (without ART support at that), there are also a lot of thoughtful additions that MIUI brings that has kept me from switching to the Google launcher and making Google Now a first citizen. Lack of Lollipop is a bit of a downer, but ART brings its own set of compatibility issues with many games, and I’m quite happy with the phone’s performance and usability for the time being.

The missing NFC hasn’t bothered me much so far, and it was a rarely used feature of my Galaxy S3 as well. However, with Android Pay around the corner, NFC is bound to become a must have feature. That said, it will be at least a year or two before there’s any significant penetration of the service, and that always leaves room for a phone upgrade.

Battery life has also been quite good for me and it easily lasts a day even with some gaming and maps usage. During days of lighter usage, it even manages to stretch to 2 days. In fact, it easily beats my iPhone 5s in the battery life department and I can rely on it to get me through a busy day unlike the iPhone. Overnight discharge is also minimal – around 5-6%, while charging is also quite fast and I can get through a day by charging the phone for an hour in the morning.

Overall, I’m quite happy with the phone and don’t find any compromise or downgrade unlike some of my earlier purchases. It represents one of the best value devices on the market currently, though the Mi 4i is arguably better value if you’re not too fussed about metallic builds and IR ports.

Advertisements

My Gadgets of 2014

A laundry list of all the gadgets I used last year:

  • iPod Touch: I’d got this 2nd gen device in early 2010, and it has been pretty much reduced to the role of a music player now. The battery does not hold up for very long, but otherwise it’s fine. It’s stuck on iOS 5, and it made for some stunning contrast when I got my iPhone later in the year.
  • Lumia 720: This was my primary phone for nearly half of the year before I dropped it and busted the screen. It was a pleasure to use and I captured lots of photos & videos using this. I continue to recommend Windows Phones to people switching to modern smartphones for the first time.
  • Galaxy S3: A phone I got way back in mid-2012, and it never became my primary phone. It did serve as my primary internet device on the go till I got my iPhone. The performance also degraded over time and with my version of the device being omitted by Samsung for the Kitkat upgrade, I flashed it with Cyanogenmod 11. This did give a much needed performance boost, but I lost most of my gaming progress and ended up installing a lot fewer apps than I had before.
  • iPad mini: I had got the 64 GB version on the day it launched in India in Dec 2012, and it has become my go to browser & gaming device at home. iOS 7 & 8 have performed pretty decently on this though some of the newer games have performance issues due to the old old hardware. Even though I got the highest capacity, I still run into storage issues due to my large collection of games, music & comics (tons of them through Humble Bundle). Apart from this, my iPhone and office MacBook Air have ensured that I have companion devices to exploit the continuity features introduced in iOS 8 & Yosemite.
  • Kindle Paperwhite: I had gotten impatient and bought the 1st gen device in Dec 2013, just a few months before the launch of the second gen in India. Haven’t regretted the purchase though as my Kindle library has a couple hundred books plus there’s a bunch of them from other sources. I have read quite a few books on it and it is definitely more convenient than the iPad mini in that regard.
  • Canon EOS 550D: My DSLR completed 4 years this August, and I do manage to shoot special occasions on it – mostly cultural shows & family trips. The Lumia 720 & iPhone pretty much took over the casual (and not so casual at times) shooting role. Plus the phones are a lot more convenient for shooting video. My 4 lens kit along with a flash didn’t see any addition this year which is probably a sign of things to come.
  • Acer laptop: This Windows 7 machine has been through a hard disk replacement due to failure but manages to trudge on. I had bought it with the intention of gaming, but it seems to be having heating issues of late when running heavier games. Its role has been pretty much reduced to that of a home server, handling the occasional download and streaming duties. Gaming & browsing have been pretty much shifted to the iPad & smartphones though it manages to hang on to the printing duties.
  • TP Link modem & wifi routers: I had started off with a 3G wifi router a couple of years back to make the most of my MTS connection. We eventually went for an MTNL connection and a DSL modem cum wifi router took over as the main connection, and I shifted the old router to the role of a range extender for my bedroom. They’ve been doing pretty well apart from the streaming issues with the Apple TV.
  • MacBook Air: Thanks to my role of managing the official mobile apps at work, I ended up replacing the work HP Windows laptop with a MacBook Air in April. It’s been a pleasure to use, and took me a few weeks to appreciate the difference between Windows & OS X. In terms of the OS both Windows & OS X have their strengths & weaknesses. The real difference in user experience comes from the hardware – the default SSD in particular. This makes a ton of difference to the responsiveness of the machine and guarantees a near tablet\smartphone like response. I’m sure Windows laptops can feel the same way, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything priced below a MacBook Air equipped with SSDs by default.
  • Google Glass: Another device that I got to use for a few weeks due to my work role. Definitely not a mainstream device, especially in its current form, but it will certainly have a major role to play in the enterprise. The hardware is almost certain to get an upgrade this year and things should be interesting once more.
  • iPhone 5s: Ended up replacing my broken Lumia 720 with a gold 16 GB iPhone 5s after lots of debates. Bought it just before the 6\6+ launch when the prices were on the way down to reduce the cognitive dissonance a bit. The storage is definitely a limiting factor and the screen a tad small now that we have the larger iPhones, but everything else is just the way I wanted. My photo shooting has increased even more after the purchase, and so has my video taking. I’ve also finally got all the apps I use on my primary phone – Windows Phone was limited that way. TouchID is of course what it promises to be and has made me quite lazy. I suspect I’m now firmly in the iPhone camp with a finger in the Android camp.
  • Apple TV: Yet another Apple device for home. AirPlay is certainly handy to have for uses ranging from photo slideshows to showing off online videos. Plus the home sharing feature allows me to stream content from my laptop a lot more reliably (my TV could play some stuff, but not all formats). The Youtube channel also got a much needed overhaul towards the end of the year and I have finally started catching up on my Watch Later list.
  • Apple Airport Express: With the Apple TV came the limitations of my routers streaming capabilities. I’d faced it before when I’d tried to stream to the iPad, but the Apple TV just highlighted the problem even more. Did some research and zeroed in on the Airport Express instead of some ac capable router since I don’t have any device with ac yet. Things have been pretty smooth since then, though the range of the router is not that different from the TP Link ones.
  • Honourable mentions: I’ve still got my Altec Lansing ATP3 speakers purchased way back in 2007 as my primary speakers. The Senheisser HD 239 headphones purchased in 2013 saw a lot more use last year, though the SoundMagic earphones have been sparingly used. I also got a JBL bluetooth speaker that’s come in handy on many occasions. My Plantronics Voyager Pro HD bluetooth headset from 2012 is also going pretty strong and sees almost daily use.

2015 is probably too early for getting anything VR related, but I have a very strong suspicion that I’m going to end up with a wearable this year.