Few years back, a certain Chinese company called Xiaomi took the smartphone world by storm, what with some top-of-the-mill phones launched at super affordable prices. Xiaomi has now paved its way into multiple avenues such as fitness bands, power banks and action cameras among others. Speaking of action cameras, Xiaomi decided it’s time to venture into this burgeoning market by releasing its very first action camera last year, the Xiaomi Yi action camera. I’m sure most people have heard about this action camera. Mind you, it’s one of the most popular action camera out there, looking at sales figures and various posts on forums. In fact, it has become so popular that Xiaomi has officially launched the Yi in the United States too. So what is the key to its popularity? The aura of the “Xiaomi” brand, the features, the quality, or all of it? Let’s find out in the detailed review below!
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Specifications
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Box Contents
In the box, you get the camera itself, a USB cable, a battery and a user manual. The user manual that came along with the sample unit is in Chinese, but I guess you should get an English one at least in the US version. Nonetheless, going by the pictorial representations of the device, I can tell you that the manual shows the placement of various elements like buttons and LEDs, the specifications, and some information about the Yi Action app.
Note that no mounts and accessories are present in the box, but you can purchase them separately. Click here for our compiled list of the 5 best accessories for the Yi action camera.
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Design and Build
One glance at the Xiaomi Yi is enough for the mind to conclude that this is one of the best looking action cameras out there. It simply looks classy any which way you look at it. As far as the build is concerned, the camera is well built and shouts “quality” all over. Buttons are sturdy, provide great feedback while the LED status lights are bright and aplenty. A note however is that there is no screen on the Yi.
The front of the camera houses the 155-degree wide angle lens with the power button placed besides it. Encircling this button is a circular multi-color status LED. The top of the device houses the microphone and the video recording/image capture button with an orange-ish notification LED besides it. At the back is yet another LED, with a USB (AV out) port, micro-HDMI port and microSD card slot being enclosed in a small cover that is not attached to the camera. This means you can easily lose the cover, especially considering the good number of times you will need to remove the cover in order to charge the device. That being said, a replaceable 1010mAH battery is enclosed in a battery cover at the back that is easy to remove and insert.
Moving to the right-hand side of the device, you get a WiFi on/off button with a blue WiFi status LED placed just above it. Coming to the bottom of the device, there is a speaker and a universal screw-hole to attach your tripod or any other compatible mounts.
All in all, I am impressed with the neat design, build quality and the number of status LEDs all around the device.
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: User Experience
Since the Yi has no screen, the buttons on the camera can be just used for basic functions. Short-pressing the power button powers up the device, but may result in you accidentally powering up the device. I would have thus preferred a long-press to boot up the device. That being said, switching off the camera is via a long-press of about 2 sec of the same button. As far as boot time is concerned, it takes about an acceptable 8sec for the device to enter a usable state.
You can toggle between video and image capture mode by long-pressing the power button when the device is switched on. And you can of course capture video and images by pressing the shutter button at the top of the device. When video is being recorded, all the LEDs flash simultaneously to let you know the same.
Owing to the lack of a screen, WiFi is of course needed and rightly so, available on the Yi. It can be switched on by pressing the WiFi button. Once the blue WiFi LED starts blinking, your camera is ready to be synced with your smartphone.
WiFi, Yi Action app:
The app for the Xiaomi Yi named Yi Action is the best I have seen so far. It can be installed on your Android or iOS device. Once installed, it can be easily connected to your smartphone by enabling WiFi on your phone. There were two gripes which I found though: the video resolution when changed through the quick menu in the app doesn’t actually change the resolution of recorded videos. You need to go to the settings menu to do that. Secondly, I need to switch off mobile internet on my smartphone in order to get the app connected to the camera.
Apart from these 2 anomalies, the app works great. It is intuitive, self-explanatory, fast and stable. The look and feel of the app is impressive too. You can capture videos and images of course, you can change various settings and you get a lot of quick-change options in different modes which I liked a lot. Not to forget you can play videos and images through the app as well.
A few other useful features I found is the ability to mute all device sounds and set the LED mode to all on, off, or just have the main multi-color status LED on.
There is another neat addition to the app in the form of a “Discover” mode where you can view some awesome videos and images captured by Yi users across the world. Plus, you can upload your own amazing videos and images as well.
Last but not the least, the app or the camera did not hang up even once during operation, so kudos to Xiaomi for that!
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Video
Supported Video Resolutions:
The Xiaomi Yi supports a wide range of video resolutions as follows: 1080p (60, 48, 30, 24fps), 960p (60, 48fps), 720p (120, 60, 48fps), 480p (240fps). All videos are recorded with a .avi file extension and a H.264 compression standard.
1. 1080p, 60fps daylight video:
2. 1080p, 60fps video just after sunrise:
3. 1080p, 60fps video with the camera mounted on a motorcycle windscreen:
4. 1080p, 60fps night-time video:
5. 720p, 120fps daylight video:
6. 720p, 60fps daylight video:
Note: For all the above video recordings, a SanDisk class-10 microSD card was used.
Video quality is obviously a major factor when one decides to take the plunge and purchase an action camera. And the Xiaomi Yi with its 16MP Sony Exmor R image sensor doesn’t disappoint one bit . As you can see in the samples above, video clarity is up there among the best, whether you record at 1080p or even 720p. The camera works really well under broad sunlight, at dusk, and even under quick changing light conditions. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, video quality is decent at night time too. In all cases, color reproduction is natural, no aliasing is present and videos captured are sharp and pleasing to the eye. All in all, the Yi is a winner in the video quality department.
The Xiaomi Yi is also capable of recording 720p at 120fps, allowing for slow-motion video capability as well. Do note however, that audio is not recorded at 120fps.
Coming to the negatives, if there is one con with the Yi, it would be the lack of gyro stabilization, the result of which can be seen in the shaky video captured when the Yi was mounted onto a motorcycle windscreen.
Coming to the various video related settings on the Yi, here is what all you get:
When enabled, it records videos in segments. When the microSD card is full, the first video is erased, and so on.. This particular feature is useful when the camera is used as a dash-cam. Talking of dash-cams, when used as one, the Yi sadly doesn’t start video recording automatically when connected to a power source.
The Xiaomi Yi can capture still images at intervals ranging from 0.5 to 60sec. Once done, the device automatically stitches all the images together and gives a time-lapse video as output.
This can be set to high, normal or low, but I would recommend setting this to “high”.
This particular feature allows you to record short 10sec videos.
The video standard can be set to NTSC or PAL.
Overall, the Yi gives you enough power to tinker around with settings and other video related stuff.
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Image Capture
Generally speaking, capturing still images is not a forte for action cameras. But does the Yi dispel this commonality? As a first, it can capture images up to 16MP. I managed to click a few pictures at 16MP in broad daylight on default settings. You can click on them below to view them in their uncompressed form.
As you can yourself fathom from the pictures above, image quality is on par with video quality. Images are clear, crisp and color reproduction is natural. There is no hint of aliasing or blur as well. However, there is a fish-eye effect present at the edges of each image, but this is due to the very nature of wide-angle lenses, so no complaints there.
Sadly though, you will need to capture images through the Yi Action app since the action camera has no screen. But if you want to capture pictures of scenery and the likes, simply pointing the Yi in that direction and clicking will suffice.
To sum up in one line, still image capture on the Yi is a pleasant experience and something that I would certainly use to mainly capture scenery.
There are a lot of options available when it comes to image capture as well:
As the name suggests, this option allows you to set a timer between 3 to 15sec for capturing images.
In this mode, you can capture still images at intervals of 0.5 to 60sec that you can stitch yourself together manually later.
Burst mode is another shooting option on the Xiaomi Yi. In this mode, you can capture 3 pictures per second to 7 per second. In addition, you also get an option to capture 7 pictures per 2 seconds.
In addition to these options, in both video and image mode, you get lens distortion adjustment, auto low-light and video rotation options that can be kept on or off.
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Battery Performance
Powering the Xiaomi Yi action camera is a removable 1010mAh Li-ion battery that slots at the back of the unit. While the unit is being charged, the LED around the power button turns red and goes off once charging is complete. One useful addition I found while using the camera is how the LED color around the power button goes from blue when fully charged, to purple when there is about half the battery backup left, to red when the battery is about to die.
At 1080p (60fps) with WIFi off, the battery managed to last a reasonable 75min after a full charge. As far as power saving options go, you get auto power-off and the ability to switch off the status LEDs.
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Other observations
The sample device shipped to us came with firmware version 1.12.6 which was released in June 2015. I tried upgrading to the latest version but failed in my attempts to do so. The first way to upgrade is via the app. But hey, little did I know that once I request the app to download the update, it tells me there is no internet connection. Well of course there is no internet connection as the phone is connected to the camera via WiFi. So the next logical thing to do is disconnect the camera from my phone and proceed with the firmware download. But who would have thought that I simply cannot access the settings menu (which contains the update firmware option) without having the camera connected to my phone.
Now there is supposed to be another way to do the upgrade: download the latest firmware off the Xiaomi website, based on the model number. Then you are supposed to format the microSD card in the FAT32 format, copy the firmware file to the root of the memory card and then rename it to firmware.bin. On reboot, the Yi action camera is supposed to automatically install the latest firmware. And again, I followed these steps but the camera simply didn’t do anything. So I am basically stuck with firmware 1.12.6. I don’t know if this problem is specific to this sample unit, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. On the positive side though, the only major change with the latest firmware updates is the addition of 2K video support.
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Verdict
Xiaomi ventured into the action camera world with a lot of expectations on their shoulders. And boy have they delivered, especially considering that the Yi is their very first action camera. It excels where every action camera should, that is on the video recording front. It also scores brownie points in the image capture, user experience and build quality department. Available for under $80, the Yi makes for a value for money product, though the inclusion of a waterproof case and mounts in the package would have been icing on the cake.
Now if there are any shortcomings that come to mind, it’s the lack of a screen that makes image capture and settings manipulation a tad bit cumbersome, along with a few minor niggles with the app.
To sum up, the Xiaomi Yi action camera ticks almost all the right boxes and one year since its launch, it expectedly still is as popular as ever.
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Image Gallery
You may also have a look at some other action camera reviews in the reviews section.
Design and Build