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Featured Review: No 1 Mi4 – Me Too or Mi Four?

November 29, 2014 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Phones these days are one in a million but not necessarily in a good way.  To many people out there so many phones look alike it’s hard to tell what’s good, what’s bad and what’s somewhere inbetween.  Price sets the marker for what’s most likely the majority of people out there and while this isn’t always a good way to shop for something like a smartphone it is often the crux of the decision.  So what if I told you that you could get a phone that’s almost exactly like Xiaomi’s excellent Mi4 for one-third of the price and most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference?  That’s the idea behind No 1, a newer Chinese manufacturer that specializes in making look-alikes of popular phones and selling them for a fraction of the cost, cutting corners where necessary to deliver such an inexpensive product but making sure to mimick the parts of the phone that make it feel most like the original.  Does it live up to the original Mi4 or does it feel like it’s one-third of that device’s cost?  Let’s take a look!

Specs

  • 5-inch 720p IPS LCD
  • MediaTek MT6582 Quad-Core 1.3GHz processor
  • Mali-400 GPU
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • 16GB internal storage, no microSD card support
  • 1800 mAh Li-Po battery
  • Android 4.4.2 MIUI 5
  • 8MP rear-facing camera, LED flash
  • 5MP front-facing camera

What’s obvious here when comparing this with the Xiaomi Mi4 is that basically every part of the spec sheet has been compromised in order to deliver a cheaper phone to your door.  What you’re getting though is a device that looks and feels like a high-end device but performs much closer to an upper-mid range one, which means essentially everything you’re going to do on the phone works perfectly fine.  The biggest concession that was made that users are sure to feel are the storage space, which is low but not anemic at 16GB, and the battery size.

  • 2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • 3G: WCDMA 850/2100MHz

Taking a look at the bands supported we can see that it’s not quite as wide of support as the Xiaomi Mi4 enjoys and therefore won’t work as well on certain carriers as the Xiaomi Mi4 would.  We’ll take a look at performance and compatibility in a bit though.

Display

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At 5 inches this is a fairly standard sized display and does a good job of providing a great canvas to work and play on while not being too small to be useless or too large to be uncomfortable.  5-inches seems to be the sweet spot for many people and that’s what you’re going to get here.  At 720P resolution it’s not nearly as crisp as many 5-inch displays out there, including the one on the Xiaomi Mi4, but it’s still small enough that you’ll likely not notice the difference between 720p and 1080p in daily usage.  The biggest issue here is the color accuracy of the display which needs some serious adjustment.  It’s not oversaturated like the Xiaomi Mi4, and I really appreciated that because that display often looked very cartoony, but the No1 Mi4 has a very cool blue tint to everything which is more obvious the more white is on the screen (because white isn’t white here).  Outside of that though this is a solid display.

Hardware and Build

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Here’s where the biggest shocker comes in and something I wasn’t expected.  At $149 out the door this is a very cheap phone and you would expect a cheap build quality to go with that.  Definitely not so here as the phone feels almost exactly like the Xiaomi Mi4 including the metal band around the outside, the shiny plastic back and the nice, heavy weight that comes with owning a truly solidly built device.  This feels like a $400+ phone without a doubt.  The only area I felt differed at all from the Xiaomi Mi4 were the buttons which don’t feel as clicky and are a much more soft press.

There’s even the same ports on the phone, USB on bottom and headphone jack up top, as well as an IR blaster next to the headphone jack.  Capacitive keys rule the world of Chinese phones and this phone is no different, featuring the old standard menu, home and back keys in that order from left to right.  The notification LED is below the home button, which was interesting and a little different from other phones out there, and was sufficiently bright to actually be useful unlike some phones out there.

There’s no NFC support to be found here, which isn’t a surprise if you’ve had any kind of experience with Chinese phones.  There’s also no expandable storage which can get a little worrisome if you’re not a heavy cloud user.  16GB isn’t exactly a lot of data storage for 2014 but it won’t keep you from installing apps, taking pictures or video or listening to music until you’ve used it for a while at least.

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Performance and Memory

This is the area that received the biggest concession from the Xiaomi Mi4 and one that I was not sure about when originally reading the specs.  I can happily report though that MediaTek has done it again and the phone is super responsive and took everything I could throw at it.  Multi-tasking was great although there were definitely some reloads in spots, especially navigating back to the browser after using other apps for a while, but that’s all down to the fact that this phone only has 1gb of RAM.  Thankfully they used Android 4.4 KitKat here which was the first Android platform in a while to be optimized for phones with as little as 512mb of RAM, so everything is a smooth experience.

Gaming was surprisingly excellent and it again took everything I threw at it.  Asphault 8 and Overdrive, Real Racing 3 and Into the Dead were a few games I tried on the phone and they worked perfectly.  There were no frame rate stutters that I haven’t seen on plenty of other devices and I think that’s helped both by the fact that this is a Mali-400 GPU, which is in quite a few phones out there so compatibility is high with many games, and the fact that the phone is only 720p.  This means it needs less RAM in order to operate the same way as the more expensive phones out there and you end up getting a similar experience.  AnTuTu scores weren’t great, putting this under Xiaomi Mi2 levels of performance, but I personally don’t like to use benchmarks outside of sheer reference points.

Battery Life

This was my biggest area of disappointment with the phone.  Yes it’s only a 720p panel and the processor is a lower power one than many others on the market right now, but only putting an 1,800mAh battery in a modern phone is asking for less than a day’s battery life, and that’s what I got here.  Expect to charge this puppy somewhere around mid-to-late afternoon every day if you’re a heavy user, although light users may just be able to squeeze a full day out of it.  Regardless I was wishing for a larger battery inside the entire time I used the phone although it’s not nearly as bad as phones with this size of a battery used to be a few years ago.

Software

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The No.1 Mi4 is powered by a custom version of MIUI 5 and features basically everything that you’d find in MIUI 5 on any other phone running the ROM.  The biggest thing missing was theme support and I surmise this is because it doesn’t have the Xiaomi store, which makes sense given that this is a competitor’s phone.  The only other weird issues I ran into is that the phone takes a little longer to wake up than most do, with a full 1-2 seconds of waiting for the screen to come on after you hit the power button.  Still you’re going to get great tools and features like Do Not Disturb, the security center, root support out of the box, IR blaster universal remote control, the ability to choose long press actions for capacitive keys, changing the LED light color for some things and more.

Check out our Xiaomi Mi4 review for everything you can do on MIUI 5, as it doesn’t make much sense to repeat it here.

Sound

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Sound is about as good as I can imagine a phone with a single small speaker producing.  The single speaker is located on the bottom of the phone next to the USB charging port, which is a much better location than the back of the phone as some have it.  It’s also identical to the Xiaomi Mi4 from what I can recall and I found it to be sufficiently loud on both loudspeaker in the phone app and while using it for watching videos or listening to music.  Calls were clear and clean as they come over a cell network without being HD Voice, although of course you’ll get that if you use Hangouts for data calls.

Camera

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Here’s where things get really interesting, especially since the phone is only $149.  First of all the camera is supposedly an 8 megapixel shooter but it produces 13 megapixel images.  This is a sort of weird interpolation method that we’ve seen before on phones like the Moto X which actually shoot at 10 megapixels but produce a 12 megapixel image.  As far as overall quality goes this isn’t the greatest smartphone camera in the world by any stretch, but it’s also not the worst either.  Shooting speed varies depending on which mode you used, but auto focus was generally very quick and took just a fraction of a second in most scenarios.  HDR shooting speed leaves quite a bit to be desired and definitely requires a steady hand to get shots clear of ghosting.

Overall color balance was pretty poor in most situations, especially where there were harsh lighting conditions.  There’s also lots of blooming going on where strong contrasts between light and dark exist.  On the bright side though the image shooting modes helped significantly in certain situations.  HDR can sometimes produce a much better image than auto mode, although when there’s lots of harsh lighting the camera struggles in general.  Night mode also significantly enhances low light situations making photos taken from auto mode look like they were taken from another camera altogether.

The software camera interface is pretty easy to navigate and includes a menu button on the bottom left which houses all the settings.  You can switch from simple to advanced mode to unlock things like manual ISO, exposure, etc.  There’s no exposure wheel here like there is on the Xiaomi Mi4 but that’s not on any other phone anyway.  Check out the sample shots below and form your own opinion.

Conclusion

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Overall I was thoroughly impressed with the No1 Mi4.  The phone only costs $149 yet the build quality is superior to most $600+ phones on the market, leading me to wonder where all the money in manufacturing those phones actually goes.  It’s a great size for most people with a 5-inch screen and very minimal bezels, although I personally could do without the capacitive keys.  Everything from sound quality to screen quality is above average, especially in this price range, and it handily competes with many phones no matter the price level in the performance area.  The camera is pretty weak but it’s not impossible to use with a little bit of practice in knowing what to shoot and what not.

A custom version of MIUI 5 graces the software side of the phone giving users plenty of features and options, as well as a bit of customization.  The theme engine from MIUI 5 isn’t included here unfortunately so you’re stuck with the standard look unless you find a way to mod the phone.  The phone worked perfectly on AT&T’s network with HSPA download speeds, giving you some of the best 3G could ever deliver.  For $149 you’d be hard pressed to find another phone that feels this good, outside of some of the Android One phones of course, but there’s no telling if you’ll be getting the update support those phones get, so the tradeoff is likely MIUI and better build quality vs cheaper price and guaranteed updates.

If you’d like to grab one for yourself our friends over at 001phone.cn are selling it for $149, so click here if you’re interested in grabbing a No1 Mi4 for yourself!