As they say, time never stops for anyone. Laptops were a pretty dull category till a few months ago. That is how it had been for a few years, and everyone had pretty much written off the relevance of laptops in the work or home scenarios. Everyone said tablets and convertibles are the way forward. And phones, as powerful as they have become over time, will become the second screen for most productivity and entertainment tasks. But as it turns out, the reports of the demise of the good old laptop, were greatly exaggerated. They are back. And now, everyone wants one. Work from home is becoming the default for many, and they need a good laptop to get work done remotely. Good timing then, for Xiaomi to make its mark in the latest product category the company is eyeing intently. The Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 and the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition are two lines that they have introduced first. To be honest, the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition laptop review has to be one of the toughest ones I’ve done in a while, purely because there is just so much to talk about, so much to link to and try to make sense of the changes as they are happening.
Xiaomi’s first tryst with the laptop market in India includes the Mi Notebook 14 and the Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition, with prices starting Rs 41,999. Most definitely, the likes of HP, Asus, Acer, Lenovo and Dell will sit up and take notice, particularly because these go into competition with their laptop lines that also are priced roughly upwards of Rs 40,000 all the way through to the Rs 60,000 mark. If you look at it objectively, Xiaomi isn’t driving prices down with these laptops, as much as trying to up the game by offering more than rivals, at similar prices. There was a lot of assumption, and to be honest Xiaomi never said it, that the company’s laptops will be ultra-affordable and cause the same sort of flutter they did in the smartphone market many years ago.
What really is the Horizon Edition?
At this time, there are four laptops that Xiaomi is selling in India. At the very top of the ladder sits the Horizon Edition which we are reviewing here. This gets an Intel Core i7 processor, a Nvidia MX350 graphics chip, bezels that are just 3.3mm thick for the edge-to-edge display and the option of the much faster NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) storage as compared with SATA drives. The variant that we are testing here is priced at Rs 59,999 and is the highest spec option among the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition and indeed the entire Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 line-up.
Design: Sophistication, probably a bit too much
The Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition has a very distinct personality. You may not agree with the lack of any visible branding on the lid, for instance, but it is a very refreshing change. At least visually. The clean lid does also add a sense of intrigue for someone who may be looking at the laptop you may be using and wondering what this is. A conversation starter, for sure. The grey colour looks sophisticated and there is a definite minimalism that Xiaomi is going for here. It has worked.
Pick this up, and the magnesium-aluminum alloy is an instant upgrade from the plastic that makes up most laptops in these price bands. This is the sort of stuff that will force rival laptop brands to rethink their strategies, and within the next few months, someone spending around Rs 50,000 will get significantly better built laptops for their money. That being said, this finish still catches smudges and fingerprints rather easily, though it is quite resilient to scratches as you may absent-mindedly scrape it against something.
If I did have to nitpick, it could be perhaps the fact that grey as compared with silver doesn’t really offer that much of distinction with the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 series. At least visually. Even though there are differences, they still look too similar. Maybe a bit more could have been done to make the Horizon Edition buyers feel more special, at least as far as the visual appeal is concerned. A slightly different colourway might have done exactly that. Who doesn’t mind a laptop in wine red colour?
If you think the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition looks smaller than what a 14-inch screen laptop should be, you are absolutely right. Xiaomi have done a very good job of thinning the bezels around the screen and that means the millimeters shaved off give you a laptop that is as big as what most 13-inch screen laptops are. This tips the scales at 1.35kg, and that definitely makes this one of the lightest laptops to carry around. As and when you are able to step out or return to work, this will sit lightly in your backpack.
But the really slim bezels around the screen do come with a compromise. There is no webcam integrated in the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition. What you get instead is a USB webcam that comes as part of the package. Plug it in, do your video calls and keep it in the workstation drawer. If nothing else, that’s good for privacy—there is one less camera looking at you, which means one less device that can potentially spy on you.
Xiaomi has done it right with the ports and connectivity options as well. There are two USB 3.1 ports, one USB 2.0 port, a 3.5mm audio port, an HDMI port and a USB-C port. Remember though, the USB-C is for data transfer only and not for charging the laptop. There is no card reader though, which means you’ll need to get an accessory for that.
Display: Gets the job done
The 14-inch display panel is a basic LED one with the Full HD resolution. Nothing to shout about really, but what stands out is how bright it can go. This is also a matte display, which means reflections don’t really get in the way. In most office environments, you will have badly thought out overhead lights reflecting back off a laptop screen and into your eyes—that’ll be much less of a problem with the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition.
Apart from that, this screen does well on the sharpness bit as well. Things are easy to read and media doesn’t look smudgy. This is an okay display as far as the colours and the richness are concerned—not necessarily the most accurate, if you are looking for something to do photo editing on.
Performance: Lot of power
The Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition is powered by the Intel Core i7-10510U processor clocking at 1.8GHz with the single core boost up to 4.9GHz and multi-core boost up to 4.3GHz. This chip is part of the Comet Lake family of chips that Intel has for the 10th generation Core processors—the other being Ice Lake. There is 8GB of RAM to go with that, as well as the Nvidia MX350 graphics.
On paper, this is a pretty powerful configuration. And it is, to be honest. As a work machine that you can stretch with multitasking, the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition is always willing. This will tick off the requirements for most users who need a good machine for work from home. Performance isn’t a compromise and what you get is a rather good experience of using a Windows 10 laptop. Most of us, with our Word documents and Excel spreadsheets and the web browser usage, will probably not be able to make the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition stumble. A lot of times, the focus is on the processor to drive the power. But the bottleneck is often the storage. The 512GB PCI Express Gen 3 NVMe SSD clocks as fast as 3,000MB/s for sequential read speeds and up to 1,800MB/s for sequential write speeds. That means apps will just respond much faster on this variant.
That being said, the 8GB RAM is soldered on, which means it is not upgradeable. If at some point in the future you want to do so, that’s not an option. Chances are you may want to at some point, because 8GB RAM may not provide enough headroom if you are quite generous with the Chrome tabs that you leave open while also having Spotify, Microsoft Word documents and a couple of other apps running at the same time. Which is why I wonder why Xiaomi didn’t offer a 16GB RAM upgrade as an option, simply for futureproofing?
Xiaomi has designed the vents of the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition in a way that they provide good amount of ventilation for the Core i7 chip and the innards. There is one cooling fan whirring away inside, and Xiaomi says that has a larger diameter than most similar laptops. For the most part, the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition runs silently and cool. A lot depends on the ambient temperature, but this laptop is prone to heating up if you really stress it. The fan becomes clearly audible and the underside of the laptop becomes quite hot.
Keyboard: This is definitely one of the better ones around
I have often remarked that not many Microsoft Windows laptops offer the same sort of keyboard experience as I get from most HP laptops. And those get close to the sort of key size, layout and responsiveness that the Apple MacBook keyboards have spoilt me with. The Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition gets very close as well. Everything just reminds me of the Apple MacBook Pro 13 keyboard, and I had no problem switching to this from the much wider spread that is the MacBook Pro 16 keyboard. The touchpad is generously large as well. This isn’t a Precision Touchpad, something that could have enabled a slicker gesture experience, but it still gets the job done.
It is quite a big miss, particularly on these top spec machines, that the keyboard doesn’t have backlighting. One would assume that we don’t usually work a lot while sitting in the dark, but at this price, a backlit keyboard is still a must have.
Battery Life: You may be able to leave the charger at home
The big question. How good is the battery life? Xiaomi’s claims of 10-hour battery life stem from optimism around the 46Wh battery. It may not be impossible, but in my experience, I got close to 8 hours with the frugality in settings that I always attempt to achieve—power mode set to Best Battery Life, display brightness at its lowest (I’m one of those people who believe even 0% brightness is too bright) and no unnecessary apps or Microsoft Edge tabs running. For most users who aren’t this careful, the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition will surely last upwards of 6 hours, but you’re still looking at less than 7 hours on a single charge. For an Intel Core i7 powered machine, that is by no stretch of imagination a bad deal. Or an inadequate return.
It is a bit perplexing that the USB-C port on the machine is only for data transfer and cannot be used to power the laptop. That means it’s another adapter for you to carry for your next travel. Even with the more conventional power delivery implemented, Xiaomi has given the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition a fast charge feature that juices up a fully discharged battery to 50% in 30 minutes.
The Last Word: It is your call between the Core i5 and the Core i7 options
There is a lot to like about what Xiaomi is attempting to do in the laptop space in India. And a lot to like about the Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition as well. This isn’t short of performance if you need a machine for typical office work, heavy multi-tasking or for a mix of work, home and educational usage scenarios. It just fits very well in most of those, barring the lack of a backlit keyboard if that is important for you. It is good to see Xiaomi focusing on premium materials to put together the laptop, and the fact that an SSD storage is standard across the range—that really helps with performance. In effect, you could go for the Intel Core i5 powered variant as well, which is priced at Rs 54,999 and that should be mighty powerful for most usage scenarios too.