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Xiaomi Yi Action Camera Review: Budget GoPro Killer

Xiaomi Yi Action Camera 07

We review the Yi Action Camera!

Xiaomi’s officially entered the budget action camera market with their latest product: the Yi Action Camera. Like most of Xiaomi’s other products, the Yi is priced far lower than the competition – priced at just RMB 399 (or Php 2903), the Yi definitely is one of the cheaper action cameras currently in the market. But did Xiaomi compromise on video quality to get the lower price?

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Overall build quality is solid, but the lack of a display is a pain

If you’ve ever handled the newer GoPro models before, you’ll see that the Yi is roughly the same size as the American company’s offering. Put side by side, they almost line up, enough that you’ll be tempted to stuff it in a GoPro case.

Unlike GoPro’s somber black colors, the Yi sports bright, youthful colors that draw people’s gaze when it’s out and about. The design is no accident – Xiaomi is obviously positioning this as a lifestyle product, as opposed to GoPro’s Hero line that’s aimed at thrill seekers. We’re already seeing a lot of people use action cameras (not just GoPros) as selfie cameras and camcorders, and it makes sense that Xiaomi would want to tap that underserved market with a bright, attractive design. Xiaomi even ships the Yi Action camera with an optional monopod on their website.

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There’s three physical buttons around the Yi’s body, and a total of 4 LED lights one embedded in the power button, one near the shutter on top, one for the WiFi and another one on the bottom of the device. The power button is prominently placed in the front of the Yi, with the shutter right on top. The switch for the WiFi is located on the side.

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The biggest difference of the Yi compared to GoPro’s offerings is the obvious lack of a LCD display. Since there’s no display, you’ll have to control and set the video shooting modes through the Android app that you’ll have to install from Xiaomi (it’s not in the Google Play Store). You have very limited control over the action camera without the app. You can change shooting modes from video to photo by pressing the power button once while the device is on, turn WiFi off and on and that’s it. The two LED lights on the top and bottom also tell you if you’re in video or photo mode – if they’re on, you’re in video mode. If they’re flashing, the Yi is recording.

The Yi also does not ship with a waterproof case. It’s listed as an optional accessory, which further reinforces the idea that the Yi is a lifestyle product, quite different from the GoPro. This limits the Yi’s use to no contact sports and activities, lest you break the lens of the Yi accidentally.

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Mobile app is easy to use, if you can find the English version

Since the Yi isn’t being sold to English speaking territories as of yet, the accompanying app that controls it is in Chinese. Thankfully, the folks at the Xiaomi MIUI forums made an English translation for it, though for some reason the one that we downloaded is no longer in the original thread. We’re re-uploading the app here in our Dropbox so people can grab it.

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The app is easy enough to use, and reveals all of the shooting modes of the camera. Compared to the GoPro the Yi has less shooting modes (no 4K recording) though it can do super slow-mo recording at 240FPS at reduced resolutions. It can also do 60 FPS recording on both HD and full HD resolutions without any issues.

The biggest issue we have with the app is that there’s a significant lag between pressing the record button and the Yi action camera actually responding, which is annoying especially when you’re trying to time your shots.

Image quality is quite good, especially compared to other affordable action cams

Image quality for the Yi is rather good, with good color reproduction, sharp contrast and excellent white balance. We shot the video above in Quezon Memorial Circle, and as you can see, the video quality is pretty good considering the price.

We did have trouble utilizing the slow mo (HD, 120FPS) and the super slow-mo (480p, 240FPS) shooting mode of the Yi. While they both shot and captured fine, we had issues trying to view both in slow-mo, as VLC showed them in normal speed while using a PC. Viewing them in Windows Media Player yielded slightly better results, though the slow-mo feature wasn’t as smooth, with buffering in between frames.

Even worse, when trying to edit the video on Vegas, you’d have to manually adjust the slow-mo time. You’re actually not seeing the true FPS of the slow-mo shot above, just our own approximation of what it should look like.

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Image quality is quite good as well and it can certainly go toe-to-toe with other action cameras out in the market today.

Battery life goes fast, especially when you’re shooting with WiFi on

We were disappointed with the Yi’s overall battery life, especially with the WiFi on. Shooting full HD 60 FPS videos drained our battery in less than 30 minutes. The Yi’s 1010 battery pack isn’t up to the task of keeping the lights on, especially with the WiFi on. With WiFi off, we managed to get around 40 minutes of recording time before the Yi gave up the ghost.

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Verdict: Get it if you’re looking for an affordable action cam for daily life

The Xiaomi Yi Action Camera is a great device for people looking for a portable, compact action cam that they can take with them whenever they’re out on a trip or with their significant other. It’s a great selfie machine, and its video modes are pretty comprehensive and cover most usage scenarios. It’s definitely not a rough and tumble action cam like GoPro’s Hero series is, though it can rough it out with the best of them if you buy it a separate case.

While Xiaomi has priced the Yi Action Camera at just RMB 399 (or Php 2903) for the basic version, you’ll have to pony up more than that here in the Philippines. Since it’s not officially being offered by Xiaomi, online sellers are offering it at around Php 5K for the base product. At that price, its a little harder to justify since other devices are priced similarly, with underwater cases to boot.

But if Xiaomi Philippines offers the Yi Action Camera officially, you better snap one up fast.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

5 Comments

  1. I found a cheap Xiaomi Yi Sports for 3998 at http://www.goods.ph Planning to buy this December. i search on the closest rival of go pro in term of specs and performance. so far this camera always on the list.

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