Xiaomi are the third largest Smartphone manufacturer on the planet. Surprised? The growth of far east mobile technology making it to western shores shows no signs of slowing and with the increased quality control seen on recent devices, Xiaomi are one name that are pushing hard to become established overseas. The Xiaomi MiPad is their mid-sized tablet offering which is presumably considered a rival to Apple’s iPad Mini and Google’s Nexus 7 lines. How does it compare? Let’s take a look in the Xiaomi MiPad review.
Xiaomi MiPad Review
Anyone with an interest in Custom ROMs and launchers will have heard of Xiaomi. One of the most popular ROMs in the community is MIUI which borrows many design cues from iOS in presenting a flat interface, with home screens filled with icons and folders of your applications. This ROM was developed by one Xiaomi Tech and was first mastered in 2010. Fast forward and Xiaomi are now a top mobile technology company based out of China with 18.7 million phones sold in 2013. In fact they recently bypassed Lenovo and LG and parked themselves behind Samsung and Apple as the World’s third biggest mobile device manufacturer. Impressive huh?
When we first saw that Xiaomi were developing smartphones we were relatively sceptical. It’s a safe statement to make that far east devices, whilst nice on the wallet have, in the past, failed to live up to the build quality and general longevity expected from technology in the west. However, all of this seems to be changing with each passing month. Xiaomi, along with Oppo, Oneplus, Meizu, and already established brands such as Huawei, are upping their game and have delivered some hot devices in 2014 already. However, the Xiaomi MiPad was the first tablet device announced by the company and signalled it’s intent to compete on multiple mobile fronts outside of China. A bold move considering it’s competition.
Overview & Specifications:
I’ll address the elephant in the room; price, later in this review. So for your money, what are you getting from Xiaomi? In the box, the tablet itself is front and centre. There is also a charger, USB cable, some documentation and quick start guides, along with a removal tool, not for a SIM but for the included Micro SIM card slot. Nothing too surprising here.
The specifications for Xiaomi MiPad are anything but run of the mill however.
- Chipset – NvidiaTegraK1
- CPU – Quad-Core 2.2Ghz Cortex-A15
- GPU – GeForce Kepler (192 cores)
- Memory – 16GB (expandable via microSD card by 128GB) *Available in 64GB option.
- Display – 7.9″ IPS LCD touch screen with a resolution of 1536 x 2048 pixels (~324 ppi)
- Rear Facing – 8MP 3264 x 2448 pixels capable of 1080p Video
- Front Facing – 5MP
- Battery – 6700 mAh non-removable
- Dimensions – 202 x 135.4 x 8.5mm
- Weight – 360 grams
Impressive no? The introduction of the Nvidia Tegra K1 chipset is extremely interesting also as this chipset (in its ‘Denver’ guise of course) is supposed to be able to compete with Qualcomm’s dominance of the market with their Snapdragon processors. A good start by Xiaomi.
Xiaomi have made a lovely looking device here. The version we’re reviewing is the White 16GB version, however it comes in many colour options: Pink, Yellow, Blue, Green, all available in 64GB variants.
The device itself backed with slick, slippery plastic which whilst unfortunate does feel relatively sturdy and premium once a firm grip is performed. Furthermore the reasonable heft, rounded corners and general svelte design of the MiPad almost distract attention from the possibility of ‘butterfingers’ moments.
On the front of the device sits the 7.9″ QXGA IPS LCD panel sporting 1536 x 2048 resolution. That’s the same as the iPad Mini’s Retina display, if you’re counting. The colours are bright and vivid and there seems to be zero bleed which sometimes plagues IPS displays. Centred above the display is the front facing 5MP camera. On the right of the device is a volume rocker in a chrome plastic finish, with a similarly designed power button underneath it. On the left hand side is the microSD card slot, which requires a removal tool to open up fully. This keeps the finish nice and sleek. On the back of the device is the rear facing 8MP camera capable of 1080p recording, a number of microphone slits, and at the bottom dual speaker grills. Finally, on the top of the device is the 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the bottom edge of the device is the USB port for charging.
One handed holding of this device, for book reading, or media consumption is very easy and comfortable. One handed usage however is not possible unless you have gargantuan hands. Luckily, most users expect to use two hands when using a tablet-sized device, and the Xiaomi MiPad is no exception.
We have however found two slight annoyances. The sheer amount of fingerprint and touch residue that is left behind on all visible surfaces on this device mars the sleek design and often requires cleaning over and above what we’d like. This is a minor niggle however which only detract from the fun of using the device when, well, you’re no longer using it. A more fundamental issue is the overly reflective nature of the screen. Outdoor use is, as with a lot of modern devices, difficult in direct sunlight.
Hardware & Performance:
The Xiaomi MiPad internals are on par with almost anything else on the market at a similar price/size point. It really can compete with the big boys. The Nvidia Tegra K1 chip is both powerful and energy-efficient which is a must on larger devices not only to increase battery longevity, but also keep the heat disbursement to a minimum also. With 2GB RAM we can’t help feeling that 3GB would really future proof this product, but we’ve found little issues with this amount during our time using it.
The Xiaomi MiPad cuts through day-to-day activities such as browsing the internet and composing emails with absolute abandon, whilst manages to complete more taxing tasks such as demanding games, with not much more effort. It really is a pleasure to use this device and power users will love its horsepower. However, it’s clear that the performance is not streak ahead of its competition. Devices sporting Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs provide equivalent performance and we can see no overall difference between the two. Nevertheless, the performance of this device, on its own, is very good.
As an illustration of its power, AnTuTu gave it a great score of 46826. We have found one or two slight blips in performance when resuming applications residing in memory which calls into question the speed of the included RAM rather than the overall hardware package.
Be aware that some of the titles available in the Play Store are clearly not Tegra K1-friendly and either play poorly or simply do not function. This is an issue and something that we expect to be rectified by developers once more tablets are utilising this Chipset.
The Xiaomi MiPad comes with the usual array of connectivity sporting Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac however this unit does not have a GPS or Radio for GSM connectivity. The Accelerometer and gyro sensors combine to offer speedy rotation transitions, and the device even has compass. We’ve yet to find a use for that one though!
Moving on to the MiPad’s optics, we’re again a little surprised at the performance of the rear facing 8MP camera. We all know the age-old adage; thou shalt not photograph with one’s tablet. The MiPad makes a strong case to buck that trend however. It’s not awe-inspiring by any means, but the package is a very credible one.
The 8MP rear facing camera produces real to life colours, with only a hint of noise in standard light. In low or fading light it isn’t particularly usable however. Xiaomi have bundled in a few features too, with filters and skin tone settings. More on that in the Software section. The front facing camera at 5MP is arguably the more surprising inclusion. It’s picture quality is more than good enough for the occasional video call and the ability to run a filter to improve the exposure of blemishes on your face is a nice addition, if rather gimmicky. Check out the Flickr gallery for a couple of test shots.
The battery on this device is, on paper, more than acceptable. The 6700 mAh manages to get through an entire day of heavy use, and we’ve managed to get 7-8 hours of continuous HD video playback before reaching for the charger. Stand-by time is immense however. Leaving this device with the screen off sees only very minimal percentage drops over a 1-2 day period. Impressive. We’re left feeling that the battery is more than adequate for this device and borderline excellent.
Software & UI:
Software on the Xiaomi MiPad takes the form of the Android skin, MIUI. Running atop Android 4.4.4 Kit-Kat, MIUI v6 provides a very “Apple-esque” feel to the UI. The first thing to say about MIUI for anybody who hasn’t experienced it is, well, it’s not for everyone. Those that use Android on a daily basis might ask themselves why they are being forced to use an “Apple” themed version of Android? Fortunately new launchers on Android are a dime a dozen and only a tap away. We’re focusing on MIUI itself here though. Those willing to get their hands dirty can flash the Developer ROM which has consistently seen updates over the last 2-3 months providing even more stability, performance and bug fixes. Good work Xiaomi.
The home screen experience, of which there are two out of the box – 1 for widgets and one for icons, is, as previously mentioned, similar to Apple’s iOS. General swiping from left to right, navigates through the available home screens, whilst a pull down from the top reveals the skinned Android notification tray. Swiping left and right within this switches back and forth between the quick toggles and notifications. Tapping and holding on an application icon will allow re-positioning, moving to a new home screen or, if moved atop another icon, will create a folder.
Pinching in from all angles on the home screen will present a number of options to change the wallpaper, add widgets, change transition and more. MIUI also comes bundled with a number of applications to further it’s design aesthetic. Mi Apps, an App Store, a Mail application that is seemingly a mash-up of the stock Android Mail application and GMail, Notes, Clock, Calendar, Calculator, File Explorer, Gallery, Contacts, Games and a Browser, as well as Music and Video players. In our testing, only 50% of these applications were useful. They all share a similar design philosophy which is nice, but they are laden with Chinese instructions/content which makes it difficult for non-Chinese natives to master. The exceptions here are the Calendar, Contact, and Mail applications which all provide more than enough utility to make the useful.
A note of caution to all here. The Xiaomi MiPad is not a Google Play Services device and as such, out of the box, there is no access to the Google applications most Android users would be used to. Using the Mi App store one can download the required applications for the most part, and there is (linked below) a simple solution to this and a nice workaround to get Google Play on your device. During our usage, this was a must. It begs the question whether this is a feature that, as they become even larger global players, Xiaomi will have to seek to include out of the box, along with more multi-national friendly language options. Again, understanding that this device is from predominantly Chinese-market based operators up until recently is key to enjoying this product. There are menus in Chinese, and sometimes without any other language in sight. All of these little niggles will no doubt be looked at as MIUI develops on this, and other Xiaomi devices.
The settings menus are quite well crafted if a little strangely grouped for Android natives. The usual catalogue of settings from Sounds, Security, Lock Screen to Connectivity and Applications are found easily however. MIUI’s Mi Credit, Games and Apps have a separate section to enable you to control how the device deals with the updates and functionality of the Mi Apps store. Mi Cloud (similar to iCloud) can be found and configured here also. By default users get 5GB of Mi Cloud storage which can be used to synchronise settings, game files, contacts, music and more.
We can’t help feeling that MIUI still feels and acts like a first generation software offering. Despite MIUI V6 making strides in stability, we still found numerous stutters and anomalies when traversing the software which made the experience, at times, jarring. Given the beastly processing power this device carries, we’re loathe to point the finger at the hardware package and instead hope to see Xiaomi progress on the software front. Alongside the occasional glitch comes the issues surrounding the language. Whilst a native Chinese product, the push to export this and similar Xiaomi devices worldwide should really have triggered a more immerse development cycle which took care of the dual-tone language often found in the software. Menus often show in either the chosen device language or Chinese, and sometimes shoe as both. These do detract from the enjoyment of using the software on this device and has us reaching for another Android Launcher as soon as we could. Be aware, that doesn’t cut the problem out entirely, but soothes the irritation sufficiently.
Whilst we’re discussing language, it seems like the perfect time to look at the MiPad keyboard. MiPad ships with the Google Pinyin keyboard by default which is a Google designed input system optimised to simplify the input of Chinese characters. It provides a Chinese and English looking keyboard, both QWERTY, and can be switched between the styles easily by tapping on the tabbed ‘EN’ or Chinese equivalent. As learning Pinyin is all but mandatory in Mainland China, it stands to reason that we’d see this method here as the default input method. However for us English natives, a quick download of the Google Keyboard from the App Store was in order. We simply couldn’t suggest how well the keyboard works or not due to this, however we can say that swiping on the keyboard seemed to lag slightly and sometimes ended with simply one key press, something that was rectified when using the Google Keyboard..
Media consumption on the Xiaomi MiPad is par for the course and is what we’ve come to expect from high-end tablets, which is a compliment to this device. Videos are crisp and stutter free, even at 1080p, with the native Video application which is something that many other tablets have a hard time with, often forcing users to download additional codecs and video players to meet their demands. Kudos Xiaomi. Audio is also quite crisp and the built-in software does a good job of masking distortion at higher volumes. Obviously we’d love to see an implementation of front facing speakers here (as on every device) but as rear facing speakers go, these aren’t the worse we’ve heard. Streaming media will also provide this device zero problems, especially with the speed it’s 5Ghz WiFi capabilities (with a compatible wireless router/access point of course).
The camera software on this device is a mixed bag. The view finder is minimalist and nondescript which isn’t a bad thing, but it offers little in terms of features with only a number of filters to choose from and a skin tone effect to smooth blemishes. The filters included are interesting with a personal favourite of ours being the Sketch filter, but there is nothing here that will keep users wanting to come back. There are many more Camera applications in the Google Play Store, however it would have been nice to see more out of the box.
The Xiaomi MiPad is something of a milestone device as far as we’re concerned. The tablet space is now burgeoning with powerful devices and few offer something different outside of separated ecosystems. The MiPad brings Android 4.4.4 with the MIUI skin which provides a unique combination of experiences on a tablet device. It’s not entirely without its faults; the software has bugs and holes and requires more innovation and work to bring it up to scratch. A good start would be optimising the performance of the skin (other Launchers work flawlessly on this device) and presenting a truly system-wide user experience without the jarring language issues. The hardware is, as far as we’ve seen, beyond reproach however. It sits proudly at the top table of tablet performers and that, with the likes of Apple and Samsung’s R&D budget, is no small feat. The Nvidia Tegra K1 is undoubtedly one of the main reasons for this and the MiPad was the first tablet device to see this system architecture with the Nvidia Shield, and Nexus 9 (64bit version) following.
So, we said we’d address the rather large elephant in the room at some point, and the time is now. The price. Let’s just take a second to set some context. It’s clear that this is Xiaomi’s attempt to compete with the big tablet players in the market. As an example, an Apple iPad Mini can now be purchased for £199 from the Apple Store. It sports very similar specifications dimensionally, comes with a 1024 x 768 (163 ppi) resolution display, 512MB RAM and a 5MP/1.2MP optical package. The iPad Mini 2, released a year ago in November 2013 sports similar dimensions, the same resolution display as the MiPad, 1GB RAM and a 5MP/1.2MP optical package at a £239 price point. Finally, the recently announced iPad Mini 3 brings similar dimensions, identical display resolution, 1GB RAM and the same 5MP/1.2MP optical package as seen in previous generations. The iPad Mini 3 is priced at £319 for a 16GB WiFi model
The Xiaomi MiPad 7.9″ 16GB version is currently available for £179. Let that sink in a second.
Yes, the iPad Mini processor upgrades will of course play a part in comparative benchmark tests, and the Mini 3 might well destroy the MiPad in similar tests. The fact remains that many consumers still use tablets as a luxury device to be used when a phone is too small and a Desktop/Laptop machine is just overkill. This suggests general browsing and email functionality, with some media consumption high on the agenda along with casual gaming. With that in mind, the price point of £179 makes this almost a no brainer.
Are there faster tablets out there? Pound for pound, yes. However at the size, build quality, specification and price point, the Xiaomi MiPad is out on its own. MIUI needs only to shed a few pounds of excess weight, and tidy up around the edges and Xiaomi truly have an unbeatable product on their hands. For a first tablet release, you really have to hand it to them. They’ve embraced the global market, and if they continue to develop and deploy devices such as the MiPad, the global market will embrace them right back.
Let us know if you’ve used any Xiaomi technology in the past and whether you’re looking to in the future, in the comments below.