Kunal Dua is the Editorial Head at NDTV Gadgets, the largest India-based technology news website with over 19 million monthly unique readers around the globe.
Xiaomi unveiled the Mi 4i smartphone on Thursday in New Delhi, India — its first major launch event outside of its homeland China. "The 'i' stands for India," said Barra, while unveiling what the company is calling its new flagship for India. "Of course when I go to Indonesia, the 'i' will be for Indonesia," he said, before adding a half-hearted, "I'm just kidding."
All the elements you associate with a Xiaomi launch event were present: Hugo Barra on stage doing his best Steve Jobs impression, countless digs at Apple, hysterical "Mi fans" in attendance, constant comparisons in which the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus came out second best to the star of the show, and of course local as well as international tech media and bloggers in attendance. Did we mention the digs at Apple?
The Mi 4i isn't a radical departure from the Mi 4 in terms of design, but there are enough changes to make it perhaps the best-looking Xiaomi phone we've come across to date. The Mi 4’s metal frame has given way to a fully polycarbonate body, but the Mi 4i has more emphasized corners and an overall finish that's reminiscent of high-end Lumia devices. Most importantly, by pricing it at 12,999 rupees (about $205), Xiaomi has ensured it won't be repeating the mistakes it made with the Mi 4, which cost significantly more at launch.
The Mi 4i has a faster processor than the Mi 4, but a lower price tagThe new phone is powered by a second-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon 615, which offers some improvements over the previous generation chip, such as a faster speed. The octa-core processor now has four 1.7GHz cores to do the heavy lifting, while four more power-saving 1.1GHz cores handle background activities. Other specifications include a 5-inch 1080p display, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, MiUi 6 based on Android 5.0.2 Lollipop, and a 3120mAh battery that's "designed to give one and a half days of real-world usage."
The 13-megapixel rear camera features improved HDR capabilities, and the 5-megapixel front camera comes with a "beautify" feature that purports to remove blemishes from your selfies. The frequency with which this feature is popping up on new smartphones sums up everything that's wrong with the world today.
Two features that Barra demonstrated while on stage captured our attention more than any others. The Mi 4i comes with what Xiaomi is calling a "Sunlight Display" that adjusts images to look good under all types of light. The demo video showed the phone — when exposed to a bright light — automatically adjust under- and over-exposed parts of the picture to give it a more consistent look. As soon as the light source was removed, the image went back to its original state. We are not sure how useful this will be beyond tricking people into thinking they are better photographers than they actually are, but we can't wait to test it and find out more about how it works.
Visual IVR aims to do for Interactive Voice Response menus what the original iPhone did for voicemail
The other feature is Visual IVR. In name as well as function, Visual IVR aims to do for Interactive Voice Response menus what the original iPhone did for voicemail, though funnily enough, this was the one time when Barra didn't make any Apple references. If it works as advertised, you will no longer have to wait through a prerecorded 60-second spiel to learn that you have to press 9 to talk to a real human being — all options will be on your screen the moment you dial in. The technology behind this is as low-tech as it gets — Barra and company are planning to crowdsource the building of IVR trees for various services from the legions of fans the company has amassed.
With Mi fans outnumbering the press and other attendees at least three to one for this event, Barra needn't have worried about any of his jokes falling flat. Pretty much everything he said was greeted with enthusiasm, with the loudest cheers reserved for instances when the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus were featured in yet another unflattering comparison against the Mi 4i.
And if there's one thing we learned from the sea of people that rushed toward the stage to get their selfies with him, it's that Mi fans will always find time for Xiaomi.