While smartphones exploded in the last decade, this decade starts with a disruption unlike any we have seen before. Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a pandemic for the first time in a century which has also reinvigorated the laptop market. The coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to work from home which has driven the sales of laptops and desktops faster than ever as everyone scrambles to work from home indefinitely. While there are numerous usual suspects — Lenovo, Apple, HP, Dell and many more, now there is a new player in town. Xiaomi. Its new Mi Notebook Horizon Edition has been designed specifically for India and comes with power-packed specifications and affordability that one associates with its products. It has the potential to be a formidable offering in the mid-range laptop segment, punching well above the weight of the industry standard.
- The Mi Notebook Horizon Edition is a feature-packed package. You get the Intel Comet Lake 14nm 10th generation core i7 CPU, coupled with 8GB RAM, fast SSD storage (512GB) and an Nvidia discrete GPU called the MX 350. The end result of this package is a very reliable machine for even hardcore computing tasks like video editing on software like Premier Pro or photo editing on Photoshop. Basic tasks like running the Microsoft Office suite or web browsing with more than 20 tabs open at the same time seems like table-stakes. All-round as a work notebook for anyone from a corporate professional, to a student or a creator, it works really well. Almost as well as a MacBook Air, if not better thanks to the discrete GPU, better thermals and Intel’s latest CPUs.
- The Horizon Edition gets its nomenclature as that’s what Xiaomi calls the cinematic edge-to-edge wide-angle panel on this notebook. It is quite impressive and very impressive for content viewing. It also helps that the resolution is at full HD which makes it pin-sharp for most day to day tasks including watching a video. The most impressive thing was the fact that there was no Xiaomi branding on the device. In fact, you’ll find logos of Microsoft, Nvidia and Intel, but Xiaomi branding.
- Xiaomi uses magnesium to build the Mi Notebook Horizon Edition which makes sure the notebook is very light for the type of specs it has. Magnesium is usually used by Microsoft on its Surface products. On top of this, one also gets a full suite of ports which includes a USB Type C connector for data transfer, USB 3.0 ports and even HDMI.
- The battery life of this notebook is impressive. Xiaomi claims 10 hours of battery life on a single charge, but I managed around 7-8 hours regularly in my battery test and regular use. This included having 15 tabs open on Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Outlook on all the time while doing other tasks like editing video on Premiere Pro and Photoshop. This was a solid battery life for a notebook of its class.
- The software experience on the Mi Notebook is peerless. It comes with a clean version of Windows 10 home. Now, this is nothing special but most Windows notebooks come with tons of preloaded crapware like antivirus software which slow down the machine from the get-go and are hard to remove. Xiaomi just preloads two apps — one that helps you unlock the device when in the proximity of other Mi devices and the other helps with sharing of files.
- Thankfully, the keyboard is very clicky with nice travel and space making typing excellent for touch typists like myself. Even the trackpad is fast despite it not supporting Windows precision drivers. It is an above-average experience for a Windows notebook where these things can get muddled.
- While Xiaomi does use magnesium in the build of the device, its fit and finish aren’t as polished as some premium laptops. This is decidedly mid-range laptop build quality. It is not a bad thing, but it can always be better. One usually gets a higher grade of build quality on Xiaomi’s phones.
- Xiaomi made a cockeyed claim of the Mi Notebook Horizon Edition being good for gaming. It’s not. It cannot play Fifa 2020 at 60 frames per second even at medium settings. This is a verifiable fact. The MX350 GPU isn’t meant for resource-intensive gaming. In fact, Xiaomi fans would probably have more fun playing the mobile version of Fifa 2020 on the Mi 10 smartphone.
- One of the pitfalls of developing a machine from the ground up for India was the removal of the web camera. Xiaomi took this decision in isolation and without the context of a pandemic which has triggered work from home for almost everyone. In 2019 when this notebook was being designed there was no pandemic and it was a truism that people barely used web cameras on their laptops. That changed — thankfully Xiaomi reacted by throwing in a USB web camera in the package that can clamp on top of the screen. This also comes with trade-offs. You lose one USB port while using the device and Xiaomi doesn’t give a bag in the package which means if you want to carry around the web camera, you’ll need to get a bag for the laptop and storage of the accessory.
- The keyboard does come with compromises. Big compromises. The quality of the keys is decidedly cheap. There is no doubt Xiaomi has cut corners on the plastic. It feels rough to touch and it seems like the alphabets or numerals on the keys could also fade away in time. Then there is no backlight for the keys which makes it impossible to use the laptop in the dark. I used the laptop during a couple of power outages in the night and I had such an unpleasant experience typing in even web pages that I reverted back to my phone. Last but not least is the trackpad click button. It is weird. It has a spongy click which will seem strange to many people. The gestures could’ve been better as well something that Xiaomi can remedy by adding the Windows Precision drivers.
- The display on the Mi Notebook Horizon Edition is good for content consumption but it is quite indecent for creation. It is washed out with colour shifts and inaccurate colours and blown up highlights. For photographers, the horsepower is there but their screen isn’t. It would be pretty hard to colour correct photos and videos on this notebook.
Should you buy it?
There is no denying the fact that the Mi Notebook Horizon edition is providing very good value for money with the specs it provides at its price. But then again, it is definitely not the absolute best. There are notebooks from Asus which will give more grunt via AMD Ryzen graphics, there are notebooks from HP and Lenovo which will provide better build quality, typing and video conferencing facilities. The Mi notebook Horizon Edition straddles a thin balance between all these contenders providing a kind of middle ground between performance, features and quality of experience. In more ways than one, for a creator, it is a Windows equivalent of a MacBook Air, but just with too many compromises for some.