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.

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4 Years of Smartphone use

It was a little over 4 years ago that I got my first smartphone, and a little over a month ago since I got my 7th one (I do have 2 connections so it’s not that bad). These 2 phones cost me almost the same, but in terms of specs, they couldn’t be any less similar. Here’s looking back at my many smart life companions:

Samsung Galaxy S LCD (2011)

This was my first smartphone bought in Mar 2011, well after the smartphone revolution had started. It cost me around Rs 19,000 at that time and came with a then decent 8 GB storage and the Samsung staple microSD slot. In terms of overall specs, it was just below the Galaxy S flagship of its time but the performance was pretty reasonable to start with. I loved the fact that I finally had Google Maps in my pocket. My primary usage of the phone was also for internet access as my main voice connection was CDMA based and it was on a dumb phone. The phone began to show signs of trouble around a year later when it used to require a soft reset every other morning to wake up. Plus the OS was also stuck on Android 2.2 FroYo with no immediate update in sight.

HTC One V (2012)

I finally grew frustrated with the recurring freezes and lack of OS update in my Galaxy S and decided to scout around for a replacement. Found the just launched HTC One V whose looks I liked quite a bit, plus it had the then shiny Android 4.0. I bought it without too many second thoughts at Rs 17,000 though the phone was in many ways a downgrade from the Galaxy S with its lack of a front facing camera and no magnetometer meaning trouble navigating maps. Still, I was quite happy with the phone and a few of my friends and family members even bought this model based on my recommendation. Then less than 2 months later, during an office offsite meet, it decided to die on me. It turned out that a lot of people had been facing similar issues with this model. Haven’t considered or recommended a HTC phone since.

Samsung Galaxy S3 (2012)

I bought this phone more out of frustration with my last purchase and decided to buy a phone with no compromises that’ll last me a few years. It had just been launched and so I ended up paying a hefty premium at Rs 39,000. However, the phone was a huge jump in both usage experience and quality over the last ones and I ended up using it for nearly 3 years before it finally bit the dust. It started off on Android 4.0 and went all the way up to 4.3 officially. KitKat was not released officially for it due to its 1 GB RAM, but I flashed it with Cyanogenmod last year for its unofficial KitKat upgrade. It had also begun signs of slow down around the 2 year mark, but the flash gave it some breathing room. It also became my Android gaming platform for my Humble Bundle games, and a mobile mini tablet of sorts.

Samsung Galaxy Pop CDMA (2012)

I finally upgraded my CDMA connection with this device out of barely a dozen choices as I had grown tired of having to maintain a disconnected phonebook on a dumb phone. It cost me around Rs 8,000 which was a significant premium over the equivalent GSM model, and that too for just 256 MB of on board storage. Moreover, my CDMA SIM did not support data and I actually ended up using it as a wifi only smartphone. Though it was stuck on Android 2.2, it wasn’t a bad experience overall considering the fact that I used it almost exclusively for voice calls. Overall, not the best deal but given the limited options in the CDMA space it served its purpose. This was also my first online phone purchase.

Nokia Lumia 720 (2013)

I began having network reception issues with my CDMA connection, and after a few months of bearing it, decided to move over to a GSM connection which obviously meant a new phone. Windows Phone was looking quite promising at that time with 8.0 having been launched a few months back with pretty positive reviews. I was sure that I didn’t want another flagship and so narrowed down to the Lumia 720. It cost me around Rs 17,000 and was one of the best value models of its time. The camera was the best in class and the battery lasted 2 days comfortably. It wasn’t a fast phone, but it had a smoothness that Android lacked. The OS update situation was also quite rosy with the Windows Phone preview updates trickling in without any troubles. I was very happy with the phone until I dropped it at home and shattered the screen. That of course meant a replacement of the phone and not the screen.

Apple iPhone 5s (2014)

I made some nice phone comparison spreadsheets to rationalize the different model features, and the iPhone 5s was definitely not the best value even though it had a price cut due to the imminent iPhone 6 launch. I was looking for an upgrade in the photography department as well. The Lumia 925 and not yet launch 930 were top contenders as the 720 replacement, but the app situation finally won over as I had built up a good collection of iOS apps thanks to my iPod touch and iPads. I ended up getting the 16 GB gold model for around Rs 46,000. Almost a year later, the only gripe I have with it is the limited storage, but the iCloud photo library optimization has managed to keep things going. The photography has definitely been a revelation, and I don’t see the performance of the phone becoming a limiting factor anytime soon.

Xiaomi Mi 4 (2015)

This completes the Android circle for the time being, with the 64 GB model coming in at Rs 22,000 – just a little over 10% more than my first smartphone. It has pretty much all the bells and whistles one can hope from a flagship including an IR blaster and the specs are top of the line as well. It was a long deliberation between this and the OnePlus One, but the size and IR blaster finally won out. So far, I haven’t had any reason to complain, but given that it’s an Android phone I’ll reserve the final verdict for a year down the line as that’s when the slowdown begins. For now, it is definitely an excellent phone and a big upgrade over the Galaxy S3 it replaces. Let’s see whether it matches the 3 years of service as well.

Xiaomi diversifies in India #MiFanFest

On the company’s 5th anniversary, they’ve announced additional partnerships with the 2 other Indian e-commerce heavy weights – Amazon & Snapdeal. The Amazon Xiaomi store is up and running with many products already looking sold out, while Snapdeal looks pretty much similar though the product listings don’t seem to be active at the moment. The Mi Pad is also back on sale after a hiatus on Flipkart. There are also a bunch of special offers today.

I’ve attended their 2 major launch events in Mumbai for the Mi3 & Mi4 and the difference in scale between the two was palpable. Things are also getting tighter as other Chinese mobile OEMs have also followed in Xiaomi’s footsteps and setup similar exclusive deals and flash sales strategies as Xiaomi did with Flipkart. Exciting times for the consumers for sure.