Can Xiaomi storm the laptop market like it has with smartphones and TVs?
By Jamshed Avari | Updated: 16 June 2020 12:14 IST
The Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition is priced starting at Rs. 54,999 in India
The Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition is available in two variants
Performance is good for a thin-and-light 14-inch laptop
The slim screen borders come at the expense of a built-in webcam
Xiaomi has entered the laptop market in India with its new Mi Notebook 14 and Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition product lines. These models are light and compact, with few bells and whistles. Xiaomi aims to have universal appeal whether you're an office worker, home user, or student. However, if you're expecting shockingly low prices, you might be a little surprised – Xiaomi isn't going to turn the laptop market on its head like it has with smartphones and smart TVs. With prices ranging from Rs. 41,999 (introductory offer) to Rs. 59,999, Xiaomi is aiming for the heart of the laptop market rather than the budget segment.
Instead of rock-bottom prices, there's an emphasis on style, specifications, and value for money. This is an interesting strategy for Xiaomi, which has a long history of pulling the carpet out from under its competitors' feet with unbeatable prices. Still, laptops are still very expensive investments for most people, and no one wants to spend Rs. 60,000 without being sure of the quality and performance they're getting.
Xiaomi's naming scheme is somewhat confusing, since the Mi Notebook 14 and Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition are in fact separate product lines. There are three variants of the Mi Notebook 14 and two of the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition. Within this latter product line, you have two choices: the variant priced at Rs. 54,999 has a Core i5-10210U CPU, 512GB SATA SSD, and no Type-C USB port, and for Rs. 59,999, you get that port along with a Core i7-10510 CPU and a much faster 512GB NVMe SSD. The price difference is so small that most people will choose the more expensive variant.
There are also three Mi Notebook 14 variants which aren't all that different, especially compared to the Core i5 version of the Horizon Edition. You can read all about their specifications right here. You'll be able to save quite a lot of money by going for the lower-end series if you don't mind a slightly larger and heavier laptop.
The lid of the laptop is completely blank, without even a company logo
Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition: Look and feel
Xiaomi has been accused of copying Apple in the past, and there is a trace of inspiration here as well. The Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition has an all-metal body, specifically an aluminium-magnesium alloy. We like the minimialist look that Xiaomi has gone with – especially the fact that there's no logo or any kind of design on the lid. It's just a plain flat surface, with nothing but the sandblasted texture of the metal for relief. We also noticed that the silver metal takes on a warm hue when seen under bright sunlight, and looks almost grey when it's dark.
Weighing just 1.35kg and at 17.15mm thin, the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition is extremely portable. It won't be too much of a burden in any backpack or sling bag even if you have to carry it around every day. Xiaomi is also proud of the balance of weight – you can raise the lid with just one finger, and the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition won't tip backwards or slide around on your table.
The hinge seems fairly sturdy and has a reasonable range of motion. The screen stays put without wobbling when using this laptop, and the lid itself barely bends even with pressure applied. Another thing we liked is that the keyboard bed does not flex when typing. The only slight disappointment was the trackpad, which was wobbly when we were just sliding a finger without intending to click it. Overall, construction quality is impressive.
Several low-cost phone makers including Xiaomi routinely try to incorporate design elements from high-end models into low-cost ones, most notably narrow screen borders. That idea has carried over to the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition which has a claimed 91 percent screen-to-body ratio (for the lid at least) with 3mm borders to the top and sides of the display panel. This is something we typically see on very high-end compact lifestyle laptops such as the Dell XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360 13, but there's a catch.
While Dell, HP and others have managed to integrate a tiny webcam into the screen frame, Xiaomi simply decided these laptops could do without one. The company says its research indicated that this would be okay with customers, but the recent lockdown situation and rise of remote working has led to a surge in demand for video, and so you'll get a simple USB webcam in the box with every Mi Notebook model.
The webcam is a rather large grey block that can stay perched on the top of the lid of any slim laptop, but there's no clip or clamp so its angle can't be adjusted independently, and it won't stay in place if you're moving around. This isn't ideal, and you'll have to remember to carry the webcam around with you, but it's better than some other solutions we've tried, such as the Acer Swift 7's pop-up camera or the ones below the screen and off-centre on some Asus models.
The keyboard is fairly well spaced and laid out
Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition: Software and usability
Xiaomi's reputation for spam and bloatware precedes it, and many people have questioned whether the company's laptops will be full of annoyances like most of its phones are. We're happy to see that there isn't much preloaded software at all. Windows 10 Home is just the same as it would be on any other laptop, without intrusive overlays or apps running in the background.
You do get two preloaded apps: Blaze Unlock uses Bluetooth to detect a compatible Mi Band, and can lock the screen or sign you in depending on the band's proximity. This could be convenient, and Xiaomi promises that it's quick, but we were unable to test it for ourselves. The other app is called Smart Share, and it aims to be like AirDrop on Apple devices, letting you send files and bits of information from one to another. We also found an unnecessary Mi Support app that only linked us to Xiaomi's website for help.
As for overall comfort and ergonomics, the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition gave us no trouble. The keyboard is a little crisp, but we got used to it pretty quickly. We didn't like the cramped arrow key cluster, but the extra-stiff power button is a nice touch, because its location makes it easy to hit by accident. The trackpad doesn't have independent buttons, and as we mentioned before, the one on our review unit was slightly loose, which made it sink slightly under our touch.
At Xiaomi's asking price of Rs. 60,000, we're in premium laptop territory, and so we really would have liked a keyboard with backlighting – this is the kind of thing you can't live without if you're used to it.
We always prefer a non-reflective screen, which is easier to work with under overhead light and in bright surroundings. Some people prefer glossy panels because they make colours pop more, but we think the tradeoff is worth it. That said, the panel isn't great in terms of colour vibrancy or brightness. It's more than enough for work and casual entertainment, but don't expect great visuals. In our experience, black areas in videos looked blotchy and motion wasn't very smooth.
There are two 2W speakers that fire downwards from the bottom to reflect off a table. Sound is scratchy and hollow, but can get quite loud. You won't enjoy music very much but this is fine for the occasional casual video or game.
Only the higher priced variant has a USB Type-C port
Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition: Specifications and performance
The use of Intel's 10th Gen processors will give Xiaomi a marketing advantage, since many competitors are still selling 8th Gen models. The CPUs used here are from the mainstream 14nm Comet Lake-U family, not the more modern 10nm Ice Lake series. Our review unit has a Core i7-10510U processor with four cores, clocked at 1.8GHz with a boost speed of up to 4.9GHz.
The most interesting feature though is the discrete Nvidia GeForce MX350 GPU with 2GB of dedicated memory. The Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition is the first laptop we've tested with this GPU, which is meant only for entry-level graphics performance. It isn't anywhere near as capable as Nvidia's GeForce GTX or RTX families so don't expect to play heavy games. It's still a big step up over the CPU's integrated graphics capabilities though, and will come in handy for light entertainment as well as photo and video editing.
Unfortunately, the 8GB of DDR4 RAM is soldered down and not upgradable. 8GB should be enough for most people over the next few years, but Xiaomi doesn't even offer more RAM at the time of purchase. The SSD on the other hand is replaceable. There's also a 46Wh battery, which Xiaomi says should offer 10 hours of usage per charge, plus quick charging up to 50 percent in half an hour.
You get two USB 3.1 Gen1 (5Gbps) Type-A ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI video output, and a 3.5mm combo audio socket. The higher priced variant with the Core i7 CPU also has a USB Type-C port, which works at the same 5Gbps speed. Oddly, DisplayPort video output isn't supported, and neither is charging. The fact that the lower variant doesn't have this port at all is surprising, but its functionality is limited even if you do pay more. We're also disappointed that there's no SD or even microSD card slot.
The Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition (Core i7 variant) handled our usual benchmark tests well. PCMark 10 gave us 4,451 and 4,173 points in its standard and extended test runs respectively. Cinebench R20's single-threaded and multi-threaded test scores were 477 and 1,777 points. POVRay managed its ray tracing benchmark in a reasonable 2 minutes, 36 seconds.
We were also pleased with CrystalDiskMark's SSD test results. We got sequential read and write scores of 3,507.6MBps and 1,895MBps, and random scores of 1,074.3MBps and 475MBps respectively. As for our real-world tests, compressing a 3.24GB folder of assorted files using 7-zip took 3 minutes, 36 seconds, and transcoding a 1.3GB AVI file to H.265 took 2 minutes, 28 seconds.
The USB webcam does not need to be clipped onto the top of the lid
Xiaomi mentions gaming in its marketing push for the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition, which we thought was a bit of a stretch considering its specifications. Graphics benchmarks showed lukewarm results: 3DMark's Night Raid test posted a score of 13,723 points while the Fire Strike Extreme score was 1,955.
We did load up a few of our usual game tests, starting with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. We loaded it up at 1920x1080 with AA disabled and the quality set to medium, but got just 24fps on average, with severe dips. Still, the game was somewhat playable. At 1280x720, the average went up to 36fps but we still saw significant texture popping, lag, and poor graphics, especially around characters' hair.
Doom (2016), which is known to be forgiving to weak hardware, ran quite well at 1920x1080 with the quality set to Medium. This game was fully enjoyable, though the frame rate stayed at around 42fps. We wouldn't have tried a game like GTA V, but Xiaomi specifically cites it as playable. It defaulted to the lowest possible 800x600 resolution with all effects turned off, but we were able to get a playable frame rate after manually raising this to 1280x720 and tweaking some of the visual settings.
For a change of pace, we fired up Civilization 5, using a large map with plenty of AI opponents. This game also default to a low resolution of 1152x864, with most quality settings at medium. It was playable, but the experience was definitely scaled down compared to what we're used to.
At this point we have to note that the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition got extremely hot when we were playing games – the left side where our left hand rested was thankfully cool, and we could feel the fan pulling air in between the keyboard keys, but the right side, including the entire metal body, was too hot to touch for more than a second or two. Fan noise was not too bad, but you'll definitely hear it when the system is running full tilt.
Battery life is quite good. We were able to get through a workday with moderate use and with standby disabled. If your work involves document creation and being online, with a little audio and video streaming thrown in, you should be able to make a full charge last at least 8 hours. We noted that two hours of HD quality video streaming brought the battery level down by about 15 percent.
Verdict: Should you buy the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition?
The Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition is not another Xiaomi product that will cause stampedes because of an unbelievably low price. It is, however, a competent and attractive thin-and-light laptop, and its price is still quite reasonable. It would be most suitable for office workers or students who prioritise productivity and portability more than entertainment. Xiaomi has smartly chosen very modern specifications and gone with a style that anyone would be happy with. Sure, the lack of a webcam is unfortunate, and there are some things we would have liked done differently, but there are no dealbreakers here.
The thin-and-light laptop segment is definitely underserved – many laptops with comparable specifications are either too expensive or too bulky. Xiaomi has identified a comfortable niche for itself and we think a lot of people will be interested. On the question of whether to give Xiaomi laptops a chance, we would say yes. We also hope to see evenmoremodels serving a wider range of price points.
A lot of people reacted negatively to the launch of the premium-tier Mi 10 5G (Review) smartphone, because Xiaomi's brand is so intrinsically tied to low-cost devices. The Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition is even more expensive, and this year will mark a shift in perception for the Chinese giant in India. With its own-brand retail and experience stores, plus a vast after-sales service network in place, the time could be right for premium products. We hope the established brands are taking note.
Is Mi Notebook 14 series the best affordable laptop range for India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.