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Xiaomi YI Action Sports Camera Review

by Linus 12

It seems that sports/action camera’s department is kind of occupied by the industry leader GoPro, which has been in the business for quite a while. However, the Chinese companies do not stay silent and some of them think that action cameras category is the way to go. One the companies is the Xiaomi’s sub-brand YI, which has something interesting to offer.

In case you want to check out the Xiaomi YI camera in action, we have also made a full video review:



As far as the packaging goes, it is a plain minimalistic box. Besides the YI logo on the front, there are some main specs of the device. Since the product is mainly designed for the Chinese market for now, the specs are written in Chinese. Still, some of the international terminology is used. The main features include the Sony’s 16mp CMOS sensor, f/2.8 aperture lens with 155 degrees point of view, the maximum shooting resolution at 1080p and 60fps. Other features will be detailed later in this review.
First thing that comes out of the box is the camera itself. I will take a closer look at it in the moment. Next up is the instruction manual, which is in Chinese, so there is no point for having it for international customers. Still, there is something useful in it, but I will get back to it later on. The last thing that comes in the packaging is the regular Micro USB charging cable.

Finally, let’s take a look at the main item of the review. This camera has a combo of quite flashy light and dark green colours. There is another version of white colour if you don’t like this one. The first impressions of the device is that it is really compact and very light. It has a size of a box of matches and weighs just 72 g. Moreover, the camera feels sturdy and well built.

On the front side of the camera there is a power on/off button, which also acts as a camera or video recorder switcher. Next to it is a 16MP Sony’s sensor, which sticks out of the whole body quite a lot. If you press and hold the front key, you will power on the camera. There is an LED ring light around it, which indicates the battery levels. It flashes in blue, purple and red, according to the juice left, respectively. The Red is the low light sign as it turns on, when the battery level reaches 14%. On the left side of the camera there is a WIFI switch along with the LED notification light. I will get back to it very soon.
On the back, there are two removable covers, where you can access the battery, micro SD card slot as well as charging and syncing ports. On the top, there is a camera shutter key along with the LED notification light and the embedded mic for sound recording. On the bottom, there is a standard port to connect the camera to any tripod or selfie stick. Also, there is what I think another embedded mic along with the another LED light.
The initial setup of the device is very simple. You have to start by inserting the battery by removing the back cover. As you can see, I have already done that. If you want to remove it, you have to pull the battery on the strap. The capacity of the battery is 1010 mah, which is not bad, but I will get back to it later. Next up is another removable cover. Once you take it out, you find a Micro SD card slot, Micro USB charging port and micro HDMI port. For the device, which is so compact, I can say that it has quite a lot of connectivity options.
As far as functionality goes, the camera is really simple to use for basic operations. To start off you have to power on the device and it is confirmed by the LED flash ring and the beeping sound.
The camera has a picture taking mode set as default. You can only change the default mode within the application, which I’ll show you later. All the commands you do are confirmed by LED lights and beeping sounds, which can also be turned off using the app. If you want to go to the video recording mode, just press the power button. The recording is comfirmed by the flashing LED’s on the top and back sides.
It doesn’t matter that the instruction manual is in Chinese, but we still need it for QR code, which allows you to download the camera app immediately. I have already installed the app, so I will show you how it looks like and what you can do with it.
The first thing you want to do is turn on the camera and then press and hold the wifi switch till you see the blue light.
Just to let you know, the app is in mainly in English, but still has some Chinese left in it. There is a completely translated app available, but it is an older version, so I sticked with this one. During the video review, the app version was 1.2, but at the moment of writing this review, I received both the app update to 1.3 version and the firmware version update for the camera itself.
One major shortcoming is that sometimes the camera struggles to connect to the phone using the app, which says that “The device will try searching again when Wifi light flashes”. I haven’t figured out yet if it is a bug that can be fixed with a software update or there is something I’m doing wrong. After some time, the Wifi light starts flashing and then it gets connected easily.
Once the camera connects to the smartphone via devices built-in wifi network, which is said to work up to 100 m, the viewfinder turns on automatically. However, I’ve noticed a significant lag between the camera movement and what I see in the viewfinder. It is not happening all the time, but more than enough to annoy you. Anyway, the camera is designed to use it on its own since I don’t see the point in carrying the camera in one hand and the smartphone in the other. Still, it would be nice if it gets fixed in the software updates as we know that the product is just released.
UPDATE TO THE VIDEO REVIEW: the just received firmware update for the camera improved the WIFI transmission to the smartphone, so the viewfinder is not that laggy as before. Still, there is a delay between movement of the camera and what you see on the smartphone, but not that bad. 
You can adjust the resolution of the video and pictures within the app. The maximum resolution of video is 1080p at 60fps. The FPS can go all the way to 240, but the resolution goes below HD. As far as resolution of pictures, the maximum is 16MP at 4:3 aspect ratio and can go all the way to only 5mp to save up some storage space. The app has quite a lot of settings that cannot be set up using only the camera. Most of them are self-explanatory, so you don’t really need an instruction manual to understand it. On the bottom side of the main screen of the app you see the power left in the camera’s battery, connection status and the phone’s battery status. The funny thing is that camera’s battery is at 0% and it is still running for 30 minutes already.
The neat function of the app is that you can check out the photos and videos taken with the camera on your smartphone’s screen. In case you like the photo and you want to save it to your phone’s internal storage, you can hit a download button.
Another interesting feature is the ability to take the snapshots. These are short clips that can give others an idea of what is going on around you. Also, they can be saved either in MP4 or in GIF formats. Sharing is kind of limited to the Chinese social networks for now, but you can still save it as a file on your smartphone and then share it using Facebook or other social networks that are used in the west (see the demonstration in the video review).
You can also watch the videos you shot using your smartphone. However, there is one trick that this camera does. Once you capture a video, it saves two files. One is in original format, while the other is a very low resolution file, which is used for the preview on your smartphone. It is quite logical since it may take forever loading up the Full-HD video via wifi on your smartphone. Also, it is much easier to share the smaller file immediately on the social networks.
Screenshot 2015-03-15 16.40.53
The original files and the reduced size files are not divided into different folders neither in the app (which is actually the most annoying, because if you try to hit the original size file, you are greeted with a negative Chinese warning) nor on the Micro SD. I think this will be fixed very soon with a software update.
As far as the picture quality, it is not on par with the flagship smartphones, but it is still good for a sports action camera. The major advantage for the camera is that has a much wider field of view, so you can fit much more in your shot. Also, you can just capture anything you see without the need to take out your smartphone.
The 16mp Sony’s CMOS sensor takes “You get what you see approach” as it captures true to life colours. Also, the camera snaps a decent amount of detail and the white balance is not bad either. All in all, I’m not saying it is the best shooter around, but has its own advantages. Also, it is quite fun taking pictures as it takes little to no effort.
As far as video recording quality, it is great, but not that good like  cameras of the flagship devices. The 1080p video seems to be smooth, the sensor is able to capture a decent amount of detail. Also, the colour reproduction is natural, with no visible artefacts. What is more, the white balance is being adjusted properly and quickly.
Please check out other video quality (different resolution and FPS) samples in our video review.
In conclusion, this was the first time ever I’ve reviewed the action camera. It was because I thought that is was not a useful gadget since you always have a smartphone around. However, after using it for some time I started loving it as it can be used for different purposes. The creativity options are endless here.
I liked the size of it, which makes it very portable to use. As far as design, yes, it takes a lot of inspiration from the GoPro cameras and it may become a direct competitor. However, the Chinese company offers its product for a much lower price. The official price in China is just $64, which is ridiculous. On the other hand, the resellers are quick to make business here as it would cost around $90 or $100 for the international customers.
What is more, the picture and video quality is good enough for the action sports camera. The flagship smartphone may win the head-to-head camera shoot-out, but I don’t see any significant drawbacks and all in all I’m glad with what the 16MP Sony’s CMOS sensor is capable of. The major advantage over the smartphone is the insane field of view (155 degrees), which is almost double of what the smartphone’s sensor can do.
The negative aspects should be also considered as there are some bugs within the application. Also, the viewfinder on the smartphone shows a laggy view from the camera’s sensor, so it may become annoying. Moreover, the battery life could be better as it died just after a few hours of intense usage, which included shooting videos, taking pictures, using the wifi etc. The battery can die even quicker if you use it only for shooting videos. If you do that, it would last you just around 30-40 mins.
I will update this review if I notice any significant improvements in any department after just received firmware update.
All in all, I still think it is a great action camera as it has a killer price tag and offers a good overall package, which is worth your attention.