For many, Xiaomi’s Mi 4 is the talismanic smartphone that is almost invisible in the West. Xiaomi, often referred to with the moniker ‘China’s Apple’ is seen as the leading ‘clone’ company of Apple’s iPhone. Now I’ve reviewed the Mi 4 here on Forbes, that labelling is out of place. Yes there are similarities, but put any two modern touchscreen smartphones next to each other and you will find areas of commonality. You’ll also see the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two handsets.
So let’s do that. Let’s take Xiaomi’s Mi 4 (released August 2014) and put it in a head-to-head next to Apple’s iPhone 6 (released September 2014).
Design, Duplication, And Differentiation
As noted, at first glance the Xiaomi Mi 4 does have an echo of the iPhone. It’s just that it echoes the more angular design of the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S family. With a metal band running around the edges at 90 degrees to the glass screen, with a slight chamfer at the join to prevent a hard edge being felt, and thin metallic buttons for power and volume, that first glance is the closest you will get to mistaking the handset for an iPhone.
You’ll note that the back of the Mi 4 has a convex bevel, which lifts the edge of the handset up from the surface of the table, and provides a touch more internal volume. The camera and LED flash is in the central axis, not left of centre like the iPhone, and the plastic back is slippy and does not match the tactile quality of the iPhone 6.
That said, the greater surface area on the edge of the Mi 4 and the curve on the back plate mean the Xiaomi handset sits far more comfortably in the hand than a naked iPhone 6.
The Mi 4 does not go for ‘thin and fashionable’, it is a square-jawed chiselled-chin powerhouse of 8.9 mm (compared to the iPhone 6′s 6.9mm), and is 20g heavier than the 6.
The iPhone feels like a little bit more care has been spent on it. The physical home button is far easier to locate by touch than the touch sensitive area of the bevel on the Mi 4 (and of course it has TouchID, useful for unlocking, security, contactless payments and more); the volume and power buttons on the iPhone have great haptic feedback, and the choice of materials in the iPhone make it feel like a ‘better’ phone.
The iPhone 6 wins the design category, not because it was ‘first’. It wins because it feels more modern, it feels like it has been designed with a huge amount of attention, and it looks unique.
Two Evenly Matched Displays
With a five-inch display and 1080p resolution (1080 x 1920) the Xiaomi Mi 4 screen is both bigger in pixels and physical size than the iPhone 6′s 750 x 1334 4.7 inch screen. Apple’s handset sticks with the by now traditional 326 pixels per inch, while Xiaomi clocks in at 441 ppi.
Given the extra pixels, it is strange that the iPhone screen feels like it can show more information. Through smaller fonts and a tighter user interface, iOS 8 in the iPhone 6 offers more information on the screen at one time. Because of the increased density, it actually feels older than the Mi 4. Its use of MIUI pushes a palette with more pastel tones, featuring gentle gradients of color. The extra pixels are used for a better environment, rather than more information.
This is a tough one to judge. Both screens are IPS LCD based screens, with LED backlighting, both are comfortable to use and offer wide viewing angles and the ability to alter the color tone on display. But the cramped nature of the iPhone 6 is pushing me every so slightly towards the Mi 4, and I don’t want to chicken out and say a score draw.