Thoughts on Xiaomi Mi 4i

Every product has a reason to be, a story of sorts which it needs to execute, When the iPhone launched it was a ‘Smartphone that doesn’t Suck’, to execute that it got three things right: Phone, Internet Communication and iPod. The Amazon FirePhone had a reason to exist too, ‘People buy a lot of things, Let’s make that experience easier for them’. They came up with something called ‘FireFly’ for it. When the Mi 4i was announced last week, I was compelled to look back into the story of Mi Series. Their reason is simple: “There’s a lot of economic disparity in the economic markets. A lot of people can get premium phones, but a lot of them can’t. Let’s provide something that looks premium for a more affordable price.”. Mi 4i is perhaps the biggest, best example of this thought process.

The Mi 4i is a phone made for a price point. It’s made with the idea to provide as much as possible for less than 15,000 Rupees. And since its cheaper, the target audience is slightly different from those of Mi 4. A younger audience and so, the basic design is extremely similar to that of Mi 4 but with more colourful shells. It’s a story of aspiration. The aspiration of a phone to to look just like the industry standard in smartphones. But somewhere down the line, the ‘want’ to look and feel like the industry leaders, the desire to imitate becomes greater than the desire to provide a premium phone at an affordable price.

Coming back to the Mi 4i. Mi 4i’s hardware is a winner. Staying true to Xiaomi’s culture of making phones with hardware way above than what’s being offered at the price point, Mi 4i packs a punch. The 441 ppi display is extremely well done, the camera shots are pretty good, if not DSLR quality, but then it’s a long shot to even hope for something like that in a budget phone. More than the speed or performance, It’s going to be Mi 4i’s Construction, Display and Camera that are going to be key to Mi 4i’s success. That’s where Mi 4i is blowing pretty much every other budget phone out of the water.

However, if there’s one thing that’ll probably nag Xiaomi is, the absence of Stock Android Lollipop.  MiUi is a cross between being an iOS imitation and Lollipop’s structure. It’s a curious place to be in. Every Mi App could exist on the iPhone and not look out of place, but it’s not on an iPhone, it’s on an Android device, which now has a different Platform convention. The Material Design apps are completely different, they look nothing like MiUi apps and this hampers the experience. To it’s credit, MiUi is far better than TouchWiz, it’s fast and lag free.

The hardware’s impressive. the Software’s fine. However, it’s still difficult to not call an Mi phone, a Rolex Imitation. It’s that beautiful watch looks better than it feels, it looks like a Rolex, it tells you the time alright but it just doesn’t feel like one. To be honest, a lot of people are fine with those watches and a lot of people are ‘okay’ with Mi 4i being the fake Rolex Equivalent of a smart phone. I’m not one of them. So, even if this is the best phone at less than Rs. 15k, I’ll always be slightly hesitant to recommend it. For Xiaomi, somewhere down the line, “A premium phone at a budget” becomes “Let’s imitate the premium”. And that’s all the difference that Xiaomi needs to cover to make a dent in the budget smartphone space.