Why the Mi Notebook 14 isn’t the dream notebook Xiaomi claims it to be


Xiaomi’s notebooks have always made the same promise as its smartphones — speced up and affordable. And for this reason, the demand for its notebooks has been astronomical in India as people are yearning for a Xiaomi product in the segment to disrupt the pricing dynamics the way it has disrupted the TV and smartphone space. Prima facie, Xiaomi has delivered this promise with the launch of the Mi Notebook series in India with the standard 14-inch model starting at Rs 41,999 while the high-end “Horizon Edition” model starting at Rs 54,999. Things do look hunk dory on paper, but there is more than what meets the eye and while good, these notebooks aren’t as delectable an offering as some would imagine them to be.

What’s impressive

  • For starters, it is pretty well speced out. You get Intel’s 10th generation Comet Lake processors. The Horizon edition is offered in the i7 and i5 variants while the standard model is offered in an i5 variant. You also get discrete graphics on this notebook with the NVIDIA MX350 on the Horizon edition and the NVIDIA MX250 graphics which is kind of wild for a sub-Rs 60,000 notebook.
  • Xiaomi tops this up with SSD storage across the range. On the high-end Horizon model, you get NVME storage while the lower-end model gets SATA based storage. Xiaomi has also outfitted the notebook with DDR4 storage; 8GB of its across the range which is also pretty good.
  • Design-wise, these notebooks are very minimal with no branding on the backlit. They are also very light, lighter than even an iPad Pro with a magic keyboard. Xiaomi has also stressed that they have designed the lid in such a way that it is easy to open with a single finger. It is not a big deal but a nice touch.
  • For multimedia junkies, Xiaomi is providing a nice display size of 14-inches. The Horizon edition gets a Horizon display which is a panel with a screen to body ratio of 91% enabling it to put a larger screen in an area where traditionally there would be a smaller screen. Across the board, it also has a full HD resolution. On the Horizon edition, there is even an anti-glare screen.
  • It also comes with a wide assortment of ports. For instance, it provides a combination of multiple USB 2.0 ports and also a faster Type C connector which can also be used for fast charging the Horizon edition to 50% charge in just 30 minutes. It also gets a claimed battery life of up to 10 hours.
  • Xiaomi has provided a pretty decent keyboard with solid key travel and traditional scissor-switch keys. It has also provided a pretty spacious trackpad which is also a neat touch often overlooked at notebooks at the price point.

What Xiaomi doesn’t tell you or wouldn’t want you to believe

  • There is no web camera integrated into the frame of the device. That’s how they are achieving the 91% screen to body ratio. It would be a grand engineering feat if they would’ve achieved this without nixing the web camera, but they haven’t. And the web camera is very important in the age of video calls and work from home. For good measure, there is an attachable USB web camera that’s part of the package, but that will take up one USB port apart from the fact that it only has an HD resolution so it is not going to be of a crazy good quality.
  • As much as one should appreciate the specs on these notebooks, they aren’t game-changing specs. The Intel i7–10510U is an ultra-low voltage processor which means that it even though it is from the i7 family, it isn’t the performance beast that most would think it is. At best this is an above-average CPU which needs to be complemented by a great thermal architecture for the best performance. Considering the slender frame of the Mi NoteBook Horizon edition, it may not have the most viable thermal architecture for peak performance for creators or gamers. This is the feedback I’ve received from some reviewers who have started testing the notebook. It certainly wouldn’t have the performance of an AMD Ryzen 5 3500U CPU. It should also be noted that the Comet Lake processors are on the older 14nm process which means they wouldn’t be as power-efficient as the 10nm Ice Lake processors which are also part of Intel’s 10th generation CPUs.
  • Like the processor situation — NVIDIA’s GPUs the MX series of GPUs are essentially entry-level GPUs which are made to augment the limited capabilities of Intel’s Iris graphics. These graphics cards are meant for rudimentary gaming and not professional-grade video editing. Xiaomi claims that these notebooks can handle a triple-A title like Fifa 2020 at 60 frames per second. Even on medium settings, that will be highly unlikely. Video editing is unlikely to be straightforward thanks to the combination of the GPU and the thermal envelope. That being said, if you will use Photoshop quite a bit, the combination of the SSD and fast specs should make these notebooks pretty decent.
  • Xiaomi has also not provided LED backlighting on the keyboard. Many reviewers who have received the notebooks for testing claim the key travel isn’t the best, though it is adequate. Most people will not have any issues with the keyboard on this apart from the lack of the LED backlighting. It also not clear if Xiaomi uses the Windows precision drivers for the trackpad to scrolling smoother.
  • Windows notebooks are notorious for not delivering the battery life the manufacturer claims. It happens all across the Windows landscape. I will be really surprised if this notebook is able to give upwards of 7 hours of battery life which by the way will be really good.

How does it stack up to the competition

Xiaomi has certainly created a notebook line which has superior specifications to what one gets on most notebooks sold in India. However, the Mi NoteBook 14 could be held back by the limitations of Intel’s silicon which is fast falling behind what AMD has been doing with its Ryzen line of CPUs for notebooks and PCs. For most people who want to do heavy-duty web browsing, office work on Microsoft Office and photo editing on Adobe Photoshop, this should be a great notebook experience. However, if you’re looking a pro workflow for video editing, then this notebook will unlikely to cut it. It seems that Xiaomi is also dabbling in hyperbole when talking up the gaming credentials of this notebook fundamentally NVIDIA’s GPUs aren’t made for anything more than casual gaming. I’d say, don’t buy into the Xiaomi hype but be pragmatic with what you’re getting — surely the specifications and design are impressive but real-world performance has more variables than on-paper specs and Xiaomi is yet to prove its credentials in this space. It would be prudent to be cautiously optimistic about these notebooks. The base-level models do look more enticing but at the same time, the market is very crowded, but when looked after discarding the hyperbole, these machines indeed look impressive.