The new Xiaomi machine offers virtually unbeatable value for what it delivers.
When Xiaomi landed in India in 2014, selling the Mi 3 smartphone for Rs 14,999, it shook the market up. It had specs comparable to Nexus 5, which was already a “value flagship” at almost double the price. When Xiaomi launched its first laptops last year, however, the impact was far more muted. Hobbled by the lack of a built-in webcam in the midst of a video-calling pandemic, and sporadic supplies, the initial line of Mi Notebooks, while praised for their value, didn’t really set the market on fire.
The second set of models in the Mi Notebook line, however, is a whole different kettle of fish. With a 14” Mi Notebook Pro series, and a 15.6” Mi Notebook Ultra series, these laptops when announced, sounded terrific on paper, and right here in the first of our series of reviews, I’m having a look at the top-of-the-line Mi Notebook Ultra, with an i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of NVMe SSD storage, that retails for Rs 76,999. While the review focuses on this model, many of my conclusions would apply across the line, right down to the entry level Mi Notebook Pro which sells at Rs 56,999.
Solid build, large trackpad.
I’ve had this laptop for close to two weeks now and I’ve been using it as my daily driver, and for those who want me to cut to the chase, let me start by saying this: this machine is agonisingly close to perfect, with one small flaw, and virtually unbeatable value for what it delivers. Now, let me get down to the details.
The design of the laptop borrows heavily from Macbook Pros of a few years ago, and this is no bad thing. I mean a distinctive aesthetic would be fun, but understandably not a high priority for a manufacturer looking to deliver maximum value. It’s a handsome, understated machine that feels good to hold. The chassis is made from aluminium alloy and exudes the kind of quality and finish that it has no right to at this price point (and yes, the lid opens with one hand). To put it bluntly, it really just feels remarkably close to holding and handling a Mac. The laptop weighs 1.7 kg, which is par for the course for this size.
Aluminium alloy build.
The 16:10 3.2K matte display is another standout feature. With a brightness of 300 nits, 100 percent sRGB coverage, and a 90 Hz refresh rate, it’s a solidly capable display, even if not quite top-of-the-line. For the price it sells at, you’ll struggle to find a better screen. It’s very much usable in bright outdoor conditions, even if it doesn’t quite get as vivid as the 400+ nits display on more pricey models. The colour temperature of the display is a touch on the cool side, out of the box, so this may be less than ideal for colour-critical work without some calibration.
The backlit scissor-switch keyboard is good, with a generous amount of travel and satisfying responsiveness. I scored 107 words per minute on 10fastfingers typing test at 92.25 percent accuracy, which is not too far off what I’d score on my mechanical keyboard. The windows precision trackpad is large and sharp, with no flex and satisfying clicks. Zero complaints with input/output.
The port selection should satisfy most people, with two USB A ports (one 3.0), one thunderbolt 4 and one regular USB-C port (both of which can be used for charging), an HDMI port and a headphone jack.
USB-C, HDMI, USB-A and Thunderbolt 4.
Headphone jack and USB-A.
In fact, it’s incredibly hard to find fault with the hardware on this Mi Notebook Ultra, except for one baffling annoyance: the sound. The speakers are feeble and tinny. A notch below the quality you expect from even mid-range laptops. It’s just about usable for calls and listening to talk-only YouTube videos, but for anything more exciting than that you’ll need reinforcement. While it’s not a deal breaker, it’s still disappointing when they’ve nailed virtually every other hardware element in this laptop.
The model I’m testing features a Core i7-11370H processor, while the i5 chip on offer is the i5-11300H, which means that Xiaomi has chosen to sacrifice a little bit of efficiency for a little more performance, by using the workstation class H-series chips instead of the U-series chips that are commonplace among its competition. That said, the differences are not so vast that this alone would be a factor in your purchasing decision.
The machine is fast and smooth, booting in a quick 13 seconds (a full restart coming in under 25 seconds), and with barely a stutter or lag even with a great number of browser tabs open, and multiple applications running simultaneously. Both Lightroom and Photoshop run smoothly, and I was particularly impressed with how quickly tasks like the GPU-intensive sky replacement feature were completed. Adobe’s super resolution enhance task was completed in roughly half the time it took on my 2018 i7 Mac Mini. There’s little you can throw at this machine that it can’t dispatch with aplomb, which is saying something for a laptop well south of the Rs 1 lakh price point.
The laptop has a 16:10 high resolution display.
While the internal Intel Xe GPU is not going to match up to discrete GPUs for gaming, it is comparable to the nVidia MX350 and paired with the H-series chips should be able to run a good range of casual gaming titles at playable frame rates, with that 90 Hz refresh rate adding to the fun. The presence of a Thunderbolt 4 port means that you can even hook up an external GPU and get top-class gaming ability as well, if you’re so inclined.
Thermal management appears to be adequate. While the fan does spool up under heavy load, and the rear of the chassis gets a bit warm, very little of it is felt on the keyboard and wrist-rest areas.
While the 70 Whr battery is rated for 12 hours of life, I found I was getting around 6-7 hours with my (admittedly demanding) usage, but of course, your mileage will inevitably vary. That said, it should be adequate for most users and with a little tinkering of power profiles and switching down to 60 Hz on the display, you should be able to extract even more endurance. The 65 W power supply charges rapidly, and gives you a 50 percent charge in around 45 minutes.
The presence of the 720p webcam comes as a great relief after the camera-less offerings from Xiaomi last year, and the unit delivers serviceable performance, roughly on a par with what you’d get in this price range.
Should I buy it?
For most people, the answer is a resounding yes. Xiaomi has delivered excellent value with this line of laptops. For Rs 56,999, the Mi Notebook Pro with the i5, 8 GB of RAM sounds like it’s comparable on paper with some of its price-rivals which we covered in our laptop buying guide, but the screen alone puts it in a class above. With 100 percent sRGB coverage, a 2.5K resolution, and a 16:10 aspect ratio, in each of these regards it stands above the competition. Add to this the premium aluminium alloy build, the presence of a Thunderbolt 4 port, and expansive trackpad, and it’s a few lengths ahead of the pack already.
Generously sized keyboard.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, this Mi Notebook Ultra at Rs 76,999 also has little direct competition. Essentially this is clever positioning from Xiaomi. The pricing is just above the mid-range options from the laptop stalwarts, while delivering build quality and some of the features more commonly found in more premium options. With models available with a choice of both i5 and i7 processors, and with 16 GB RAM options (while the RAM is soldered, the SSD is upgradeable) you can future-proof yourself to a reasonable extent. Add to this Xiaomi’s fairly extensive service network, and it’s a very compelling proposition.
Like I said before, the feeble speakers are the only real downside of this laptop, and if that is not a key factor in your purchasing decision, this line-up of laptops is definitely worth buying. The flash sales are annoying, as always, but for the generation of Indians forged in the fire of Tatkal bookings on IRCTC, even that shouldn’t be too much of a downside.
Update: A representative from Xiaomi has clarified that the Mi Notebooks will be sold on Amazon and the Mi website without any flash sales.
Contact the author on Twitter @vinayaravind.
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