Monday, June 29, 2015

Xiaomi Mi 4: The Outstanding Phone That I Just Can't Recommend

Outside of Vertu, there's nobody making a higher build quality phone than +Xiaomi MIUI. Period. Vertu uses forged titanium. That mythical material is what a lot of us assumed Apple would be using for the iPhone 6 when they announced plans to copy Vertu's use of sapphire for their screens. And of course, neither of those things happened and Apple went back to using cheap bendy aluminum, which isn't surprising, or something to get mad about. True quality is expensive. A Vertu phone starts at 9,000 dollars. They are the kings of high end phones. Everyone else is a pretender. But stainless steel is very nice. It's also expensive, and hard to work with. Not just any company can attempt it. And other than +OPPO, I'm not aware of anybody that has. Anybody other than Xiaomi.

The Mi 4 is a work of art in stainless steel. Mine came with a sourwood back. Something I'd never heard of. Being a typical American, I assumed sourwood was an "asian thing". A quick trip to Wikipedia confirmed I'm a dumbass, and it's actually a tree I grew up with in the Appalachian mountains. The main thing (as you can see) is it's beautiful. Words do not begin to describe how great this phone feels in your hand. That uneasy feeling you have with either of the new iPhones (especially the Plus) because they feel eggshell fragile and both have known bending issues? The fear when handling the new Samsung or usual Sony phones because they are essentially one big piece of glass? Gone. I've never held a phone that felt this solid. Ever. The body matching Stainless Steel buttons don't hurt, and they also look and feel better than any controls on any phone I've ever used. And I mean that.

Xiaomi should just be hired to teach other makers how to do buttons this well. Headphone jack on the top? I prefer it that way. I have no idea why people want their phone in their pocket upside down when they listen to music. I find that ten times more irritating than having to remember to loop the cord between my hand and the phone when I'm holding it with headphones plugged in. Still, no big deal. And not the "deal killer". We'll get to that...

Look how beautiful that is. That's my phone. Those icons? Free. Nothing is as customizable as MIUI 6 currently. This is technically stock MIUI (with a live wallpaper called Galaxy Pack from the brilliant +Maxelus). And it will remember my settings between updates and just look like this forever. But that's just the tip of the iceberg for MIUI 6.


Essentially, you've got tens of thousands of free themes. Want flat? they got it. Want girly? they got a LOT of girly. If you can't find something you like, you can just pick one of the hundreds of stock iOS or Google looking themes. I like mine.

So we've covered hardware and theming. Both outstanding. How about battery life?

That 2 days, 10 hours remaining isn't an exaggeration. It will do it. You don't even THINK about battery with this phone. The only phones that do battery better are Sony phones, with Motorola getting an honorable mention. Accidentally forget to plug your phone in before bed? Oh no. I'll go to work with my phone at 70 percent. There's none of the frantic battery stress you have with Nexus or Apple phones. And the software is smooth as silk. Nothing on this earth currently (windows phone is close) is as smooth as MIUI. Nothing. It's like glass, at least on the Mi 4. 

So lets recap:

1) Outstanding class leading build quality
2) Beautiful theme engine (but Cyanogen's is probably better)
3) Outstanding battery life
4) Glasslike UI. Better than anything else. No question.

So what pissed you off Scott?

This is the recent apps menu on the Xiaomi Mi 4. It's kinda slick. See that little orange lock up in the upper right?

The idea is when you pull down on an app in the recent apps list, you can toggle a lock that will say "don't fuck with this app MIUI. This one is important"

And it would be awesome if it actually fucking WORKED.

The reality is that MIUI suffers from the same problem iOS does where third party system app support is total shit. I use a third party alarm clock that I prefer. Twice now, despite that lock being set, MIUI has killed off my alarm and I've been late to work because of it. And it will kill off ANY app you ignore long enough (that isn't theirs) no matter how you have battery savings configured. I've even witnessed it in "performance mode". This is how MIUI achieves such outstanding battery life. Now, this wouldn't be a big deal if it was just my alarm clock. I'd just use whatever clock I wanted, and use the system clock to wake me up. 

But it isn't...

For work I use Duo Security's two-factor auth. It kills it. I'll get a push sent to my phone, and nothing happens. I end up having to pull my phone out of my pocket, run the app, then restart two-factor auth. Same thing with Google Music. I'll go to my Android Wear device (Zenwatch) to restart my music when I'm about to ride my bike home, and dead. Not working. I have to pull my phone out of my pocket, and start Google Music AGAIN just to listen to music while I pedal my bike home from work. Same thing with Google Keep. Same thing with ANY app that didn't come on the phone. And this gets VERY fucking old. I don't mind that Xiaomi copies some things from Apple. Apple copies everyone. But they didn't need to copy this shitty thing about iOS. On iOS, because Google Photos is a third party app, it won't just automatically sync your photos to Google regularly. You have to open the damn Google Photos app after every picture to get it to do it. SAME THING with MIUI 6. That shit has gotten old while doing this review. 

Now, for most people this won't matter. Especially iPhone users looking for a better device (it's better than anything Apple has ever made in every way) because iPhone users by definition aren't power users. If they were power users, they wouldn't have an iPhone. But for a true power user like me, this is a definite deal killer. I do NOT need to waste 10-30 seconds of my life restarting apps to get shit done when my backup Moto X does all this shit flawlessly. I also don't need reminded why I can't stand how childish iOS is. Power users exist. We need actual power. We need the things we use to work when we go for them, and we need features like a sexy orange lock in recent apps to actually work. 

And this breaks my heart. They got so many things right. And damn, just what an amazing phone.

Now, on the bright side I can install Windows 10 Mobile if I want (no idea why anybody would do that) or stock Android Lollipop (which is what I'll probably do) while I wait for Xiaomi to fix their broken OS. But yanno? the typical consumer isn't as technical as I am. Granted, the typical consumer isn't going to care about these "issues" with MIUI either. They are going to adore the best in class hardware, battery life, camera (oh yeah, outstanding camera and camera software), and customization. They'll love the compatibility with Google's world owning ecosystem, and how all the things they love work great. They'll love the accessories which are crazy high quality and inexpensive (like those 20 dollar Xiaomi Piston 2's that sound better than 200 dollar earbuds from other makers) and they'll love how it feels to use MIUI. It's very intuitive. Imagine iOS with all the idiocy removed. 

But powerusers are going to HATE this phone. 

I'm sorry Xiaomi. : (

Love You,