Xiaomi Yi action camera review: China kicks ass



October has been a rather bad month as far as writing 5 articles a week goes. I did it in September, and thought once the habit was in it would be easy to carry the momentum. In reality, I was burned out by the end of September, wanted to stay away from a laptop and from my bike as much as possible.

I can’t say October has been a very productive month, but then again I’m not a very productive guy to begin with. November’s aim then is even less exciting, to write no more than 3 articles a week. This month was spent watching TED talks, listening to Audio books, going on trips, and generally thinking about life and what I’m doing with it, apart from having an Instagram baby of course.

In case you’re not aware of how far today’s technology has come, allow me to awe you with the beauty of an Instagram baby. All you have to do is publish a photo of you holding a random baby’s tiny hand, just because it’s so creepily tiny, and everyone will instantly assume that it’s your baby. As we all know, anything which happens on the internet is by default true in reality, and what you end up with is an Instagram baby, a baby you didn’t know you had, a baby that didn’t hurt your wife at all, a baby that brings you all the benefits of being a father, without all the disadvantages of poop and piss.

For example, my sperm had never been this appreciated till date in my life, nobody had commented on the speed of my seed, nor had they valued its virility. The Instagram baby brought me so much of such admiration, that I was left with no heart to tell the admirers about the truth. I hope this knowledge will not change their behavior towards me, since after all, the primary aim of evolution, and in all seriousness, life, is to have your jizz treasured, respected and cherished through generations.

In light of the glory of my ejaculate, here’s a small video of the things I did with the Xiaomi Yi action camera lent to me by a friend, that should give you some sense of its capabilities in a wide variety of conditions.


Unfortunately, I would not be able to tell you much about the sound quality of the Yi. The owner of the camera is an engineer, with a fetish for soldering things. The camera that I reviewed had a 3.5mm microphone wire soldered directly into the jack. This meant that unless you connected a mic, no sound was recorded, which is why I can’t tell you how good the Yi’s default microphone is.

Xiaomi Yi action camera review: Positives

For the price, and for the moment forgetting about how much extra you have to pay for the mounts and accessories and stuff, the Yi is really impressive. Here are some of the reasons why I thought so.

1. Simplicity

After using GoPros in the past and then the SJCAM 5000X Elite, I can tell you, with authority, that the Xiaomi Yi is the most OCD satisfying of the 3. This has been achieved in a number of different ways, some of which you’ll understand as you read through to the end.

The camera is as simple as it gets, 3 buttons – Power, Start/stop, and WiFi, no screen, bright lights at the right places, and full control through the app only. Although I enjoy gadgets that let me tinker with their most settings a bit, an example of which would be the fact that I’ve never used an iPhone till date, it’s such a beautifully uncluttered experience when you don’t have a thousand things to think about.

The camera buttons give you the most basic controls, start camera, start video, stop video, shoot photo, start WiFi and stop WiFi, that’s it. For everything else, you go the app, which in itself is splendidly simple. Once you are connected, the interface is very basic and easy to understand. If you want a bit more detailed control of the camera, there’s a separate menu for that. And finally, if for the deepest level settings, there’s a separate place.

There’s plenty to hate in this camera, but one thing is for certain, the people who designed it, especially the user interface, knew their shit well.

2. Video quality

This is what matters in the end, a camera that vomits flaky, blurred, bland videos is not a camera worth spending your money on, no matter how good it looks, and how easy it is to use. The Xiaomi Yi performs ridiculously well in this department, at part with any GoPro/SJCAM footage that I’ve seen till date, in all conditions except too dark, where it gets very grainy.

The output video is crisp, colors are rendered correctly, brightness/darkness is handled quite well, and the overall look and feel of it is brilliant. I didn’t face any issues with the Yi as far as the final uploaded video quality goes, not with the field of view, not with clarity, bit rate, vividness or anything else.

I hadn’t expected this. Although Xiaomi is already known for producing good products at a very low price point, logic dictates that something must be wrong. However, in the few weeks that I spent with the camera, I couldn’t find any place where Xiaomi cut corners to price it the way they did.

In everything that matters, especially the video quality, the Yi performs outstandingly well.

3. Value for money

The first 2 positives naturally flow to this third, especially when combined with the nice build quality of the product. For a small fraction of a GoPro’s cost, what you get is a well made, sturdy looking, rattle free camera that does its job well and is a pleasure to use. That’s as value for money product as it gets.

Do keep in mind that comparing the price of the Xiaomi Yi directly with the competition, something like an SJCAM or even a GoPro, is not entirely justified. When you buy the Yi, you are only paying for the camera and a few basic accessories. You’ll still have to cough up a lot more for the mounts and screws and stuff. If you already have the bases and mounts sorted, you’ll be very happy with this camera indeed. If not, do keep in mind that just buying the camera is not enough, you’re still missing a big part of the picture.

Even so, at this price point, it’s hard to complain about the camera, not that there’s much to diss on anyway.

4. Ease of use

The Xiaomi Yi is a great slave, but a rather bad master. What I mean by that is if you use the Yi as your secondary camera, like something fixed on the handlebar that just keeps looking at you, or something mounted to the back of the bike, basically any fixed location from where the camera isn’t moved around much, you’ll have an extremely pleasant experience.

However, if you plan to use the Yi as your primary camera, which will be the case if this is the only one you own, then you might end up getting a bit frustrated from time to time. This is because every time you change the location of the camera, like from your helmet to the fuel tank, you’ll need to re-calibrate the view the camera is shooting. Since the Yi does not have a screen, this is a bit of a time-consuming process.

Start the camera, wait a few seconds for the power button light to stop blinking, push the WiFi button, start the camera app on your phone, wait as it slowly connects, adjust your field of view, stop the app, stop the camera WiFi, and you are done. If you don’t stop the WiFi, your battery life is severely reduced.

Yes I do sound like a bitch with giant first-world problems when I cry about you having to push a few buttons and wait a few seconds, you have to understand that for someone like me, who likes to capture a lot of different angles for one video, this is a pain in the ass. However, when I used the Yi at just one location, it was awesome, just set it up and you are done, since now the physical buttons on the camera can be used to start/stop the videos.

On the even brighter side, the app is fantastic, whoever was the design head of that thing deserves a sloppy kiss on the cheek, followed by a tissue paper or something. Someone who designed such a beautifully organised app must suffer from uncontrollable OCD urges, and consequently wouldn’t want a bit of someone’s wet saliva near their mouth.

The app is extremely intuitive, very easy to use, has all the options neatly organized in levels of depth, and just feels like a well put together product. I haven’t used the GoPro app, so I can’t tell you how good that is, but the Yi app is in total contrast to the SJCAM one, which feels like something designed by a cow in painful labor.

5. Light weight

This may be a bit of a pointless point, all action cameras are light weight, that’s kinda the entire point of this technology. Nevertheless, the Xiaomi Yi is tiny and doesn’t weigh much, I mounted it on my helmet’s chin and it wasn’t any more uncomfortable than the rest.

6. Battery life

The battery life of the Yi that I got was kick ass. I once charged it to full and took it to the terrace to shoot a timelapse of the upcoming storm. It kept shooting for more than 2 hours, I was so bored, I really wanted it to be over, but the damn thing kept shooting. After a while it started raining, and I was like “Cammmaaaann”, and then it finally died after 20 minutes.

It goes without saying that the credit for this goes to the lack of a screen, and the overall simplicity of design. Do keep in mind that keeping the WiFi on will eat up the battery real quick.

However, there have been plenty of reports about the large differences in battery lives of cameras originating from different countries. For example, if you get the Yi from the US, it’s great. If you get the China version, the battery life can be as low as half of what you get from the US version.

Since the batteries are replaceable, this isn’t a major issue, but it’s kinda weird that there should be so much difference between the same product when bought from different geographical areas.

Xiaomi Yi action camera review: Negatives

I’m nitpicking in these negatives. Whenever you look at a product, you must first look at the price and then see what you’re getting for the money you’re spending. With the Yi, the initial investment is so small that it’s hard to complain at all. Even so, here are a few little things that wrinkled my butt.

1. Lack of a screen

Like I said before, even a small, tiny little screen would have made the task of moving this camera around very easy. Even something as basic as one of those minuscule windows in front of a GoPro would’ve been great, at least you would’ve known what mode you are in, how much battery is left, and how many more videos you can take.

If I was in the designer’s situation, I would’ve probably made the same decision. Removing the screen makes the camera light, consumes less battery, makes it thin and just makes the overall design easier and simpler. This shouldn’t stop you from giving at least some sort of indications for battery, mode, and space though. Connecting to the app every few minutes is not something I would like to do.

2. Availability

This is the biggest problem with the Yi right now. If you want one, and I’m sure you do, you either have to beg a friend to pick it up from the states, or you have to pick one up from some shit Chinese website. In both cases, a lot of time is wasted in waiting. In the second case, you may end up paying a lot of money for customs and shit. All in all, buying a Yi is a far more painful experience than it ought to be.

Xiaomi already has a huge presence in India, I don’t exactly understand the reasons why they haven’t officially launched it here. I’ve never understood their marketing strategies though, that stupid farce of their phones being only available for a few seconds was disgusting to me. I’m sure they are following some similar crackpot philosophy with the Yi, but it’s just sad.

The amount of brains Xiaomi spent in creating this camera is far higher than the amount of brains they are using to sell it.

3. Accessories

When you buy an SJCAM, you get a bunch of stuff with it, sticky mounts, screws and extenders, even remotes and selfie sticks with some models. When you buy the Yi, you get the Yi.

The sex thing here is that Xiaomi decided to make the Yi compatible with GoPro mounts, something that retardbuckets like Sony and Contour didn’t. If you are like me, who has already spent a shitload of money getting cheapass stuff from DX.com, you are sorted. If not, you’ll end up spending more than what the camera cost before you’ll be able to properly use it.

It’s obvious that Xiaomi doesn’t give you any major accessories with the camera to keep the costs down, but I’m sure a lot of people would rather prefer to pay up a bit more and get the whole shazam.

4. Slow startup speed

This is quite annoying. Imagine you are riding into some forest, there’s a calm wind flowing around, the track is meandering through the trees, and the air is full of wild sounds and freedom of the mind.

Suddenly you take a turn, and there, right there in front of you, there’s an Elephant fucking a Kangaroo, straight up from behind. You look at it, you look at them, and you realize this is gold, National Geographic will pay millions for this footage. You hurriedly start the Yi that’s mounted on your handlebar, and the light keeps blinking, and blinking, while the Elephant keeps thrusting an in out of the obviously slutty Kangaroo.

Suddenly the Elephant pulls out , the Kangaroo turns, and sticks its tongue out. You know what’s happening, you know it’s not going to last long, you press the record button a number of times, nothing happens, you must wait for the blinking to go away.

And it does! You’re so happy, you push the button to start the video, all the right red lights are going off, and it makes that nice little sound too. You look up to find the spent Elephant walking away into the trees, and the sexually satisfied Kangaroo with an unnaturally white face jumps up and away out of view.

It didn’t happen with me, but might happen to you.

5. Lack of warranty/support

Since Xiaomi doesn’t sell the camera officially in India, you can go fuck yourself for all they care if you end up breaking it, or even if you find some genuine manufacturing defect. This means that the already painful process of importing the camera from outside India is in reality even more problematic and risky.

This is one of the major reasons why I would still prefer to buy an SJCAM over a Xiaomi, the peace of mind you get knowing you are getting a genuine product that’ll be taken care of even if you screw up somehow, is worth the extra money in my opinion.

However, most of the people who’d end up picking the Xiaomi would be young, broke guys who simply can’t afford anything that costs more than 10K. For them, the risk is worth the reward. For others, not so much.

6. Lack of stabilization

An action camera by its very design is meant to be used in rough conditions. On a motorcycle, in the sea, while climbing a mountain. This means that getting shaky footage is not just a possibility, it’s a given. From that point of view, it’s strange that the Yi doesn’t come with any form of built-in stabilization.

I know, I know, the price is too low for me to demand more features, but as far as I understand, digital stabilization isn’t too complicated a thing. You have an accelerometer inside the camera which talks to the chip, and rest is done by software. Stabilization, even just something basic, is very important for any action camera, and it would be just a good thing if the Yi had it.

You can’t really expect cheap fucks that buy this camera to have enough money to invest in gimbals and shit, do you?

Xiaomi Yi action camera review: Verdict

If you are new to the world of video making, if you’ve never edited or uploaded a finished video before, if you are too obsessed with the popular motovloggers on Youtube, this is a great camera to waste your money on. I say it’s a waste of money, because the majority of you will shoot Petabytes of footage, and then never do anything with it. The few who do will probably move onto better things with time.

A lot of people have asked me if I had a very tight budget, which action camera would I get. My answer is the SJCAM M20, not the Yi. Yes the Yi is kick ass, especially the simply orgasmic app, but I’m a very conservative guy, I don’t like to take risks.

I don’t have any friends/family in the US, and I don’t have the heart to buy something from Aliexpress and then wait for it to arrive like a jackass for months, only to end up paying far more than I had initially planned to, not just on customs etc., but also the basic infrastructure without which an action camera is useless.

If Xiaomi decides to start selling the Yi directly in India, there’s simply no competition to it, in any department. Till such time that they do, make sure that your risks get you some reward in the long run.

If you’ve used the Yi, you can put your review of it below in the comments.

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  1. GaribNawab

    Man you should become the creative head of Brazzers 😀 😀
    I’m sure there are people who’ll pay to watch the elephant and giraffe porno

    1. AK

      😛 I’m up for it.

  2. Kateřina Kubíková

    Looks awesome. Your video looks great, even though the light conditions weren’t the best. 🙂 Anyway, we’ve recently launched an Engligh version of our Czech website focusing on drones. Wondering what you guys would think of it. Thanks for the feedback. http://www.drones-cams.com team 🙂

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