Earlier this year, I wanted to buy an affordable laptop for work (under Rs 40,000) this year but after seeing what’s available on the shelves, I was convinced to rely on my tortoise-of-an-office-laptop and the review units for now (yeah, I don’t have my own PC despite reviewing hundreds of them in a year). Honestly, all the options are rather disappointing. However, I went over the spec sheet of the newly launched Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition from Xiaomi and, at Rs 36,999, it seems to offer a solid deal.

There are compromises but unlike other budget laptops, it is getting the basics right. A 10th Gen Core i3, 256GB SATA 3 SSD, a 1080p display, 65W fast charging – there’s a lot to like already. But something must be wrong, right? How can something so tempting be this cheap? To answer these self-inflicted doubts that most of you may not bother about, I swapped the previous Dell XPS 15 in favor of the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition to see if I can finally convince myself to buy my first laptop.

Disclaimer: Do note that Xiaomi lent us a Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition review unit for a few weeks. The review is a subjective piece based on the writer’s personal opinion.

Design, build

When you go south of the Rs 40,000 mark, the laptops you can buy look dull and obsolete. Pick up any of the laptops from Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and HP, all of them feel like relics from the last decade. Chunky bezels, bulky plastic shells! Asus and Lenovo have tried going for exciting designs lately but they are built with cheap-feeling plastic. Xiaomi changes the equation here with its Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition.

This is a laptop that looks expensive and is built to feel expensive. The minimalist design with flat surfaces has been borrowed from standard Mi Notebook 14 Core i5 variants. Hence, you get a blank lid with no vulgar company logo or graphics. The matte silver finish looks classy and in a few year’s time, I bet it won’t look out of place. Plus, if you love “stickering” your laptop, you can decorate your PC the way you want and need not bother about hiding a logo. In fact, you can fool others by sticking an Apple logo (that would be unethical and stupid, right?)

The same minimalist design theme continues on the inside. The deck has the same MacBook-inspired layout with a small trackpad and a keyboard with island-style keys. Again, no backlit keyboard here but at Rs 36,999, I can live with the compromise. The inserts surrounding the display are done in rough black plastic but the slimmer bezels don’t make it bothersome. The silver paint helps in masking dust as well as smudges, which is a good thing for an Indian laptop user.

The biggest change? Xiaomi has managed to stuff a small 720p webcam on the top bezel accompanied by two mics. It isn’t a good quality webcam but for your Zoom-based classes as well as video calls, you at least need not attach an external webcam every time. There’s a “Mi” logo on the bottom thicker bezels – the only hint that this laptop is made by Xiaomi.

Since the entire chassis is made of metal, the fit and finish are great on this Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition. Xiaomi has chosen the I/O ports carefully on this model. You get two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, another USB 2.0 Type-A port, an HDMI port, a 3.5mm port for headphones and mics, and a proprietary charging port. I wish Xiaomi had included an SD card slot and a USB-C port but given the target audience, i.e. students, the current selection of ports is more than enough.

On the whole, the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition is built well and looks well. Surprisingly, despite having a metal body, the laptop weighs 1,5Kg, which makes it easy to carry around (once our offices and colleges open).

Display

Similar to the Core i5 Mi Notebook 14 models, the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition retains the 14-inch LCD display. The resolution stands at 1920 x 1080, which is a rarity in this price segment. The display gets an anti-glare coating and slim bezels make for a 81.2 percent screen-to-body ratio.

Now, Xiaomi does not state the color profile ratings but to my eyes, it seems like a good quality display. The brightness levels are fairly good for use in bright outdoors (under shade) but indoors, the display gets bright enough that I had to turn it down after evening. The colors seem vibrant with good contrasts, especially next to the 14-inch display on my office’s Dell Vostro 14. The Full HD resolution makes everything look sharp, which indirectly makes it a pleasure to work on.

The viewing angle is fairly wide but there’s a notable loss of colors and brightness from angles beyond 30 degrees to the center. That said, for a sub-Rs 40,000 Windows laptop, I think this is a very good display. I did my office work and watched a lot of YouTube videos on this display, and never did I feel I needed something more.

Performance

This is the crucial bit for most budget laptop buyers. Most of my readers as well as acquaintances want a cheap laptop that runs nicely for at least three years without troubles. The Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition has got a few elements under its beautiful minimalist body that could keep it useful even after three years.

Xiaomi is offering a 10th Gen 2.1 GHz Intel Core i3-10110U Comet Lake processor as standard on the e-Learning Edition. This is paired with 8GB RAM DDR4 RAM clocked at 2666MHz and a 256GB SATA 3 SSD. There’s a genuine copy of Windows 10 Home onboard while the graphics part is dealt with the onboard Intel UHD 620 graphics.

This setup in itself is by no means a powerhouse. However, it is more than enough to do basic laptop stuff – stuff such as typing long documents, working on Google Chrome with 8-9 tabs open simultaneously on an average, streaming music in the background, and binge-watching YouTube videos. In my daily office routine, I did not find the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition struggling for breath. All the Chrome tabs were in memory all the time and there wasn’t any unnecessary loading time or crashes during my usage.

Since my day job is about writing and posting reviews, I found myself doing light photo editing tasks on Adobe Photoshop as well online photo editors. Even with high-resolution 8K photos, the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition handles the loads well. Video editors may stay away from this one due to the lack of a dedicated GPU.

That said, I am concerned about the limited 256GB storage. Granted that it is an SSD storage and guarantees faster load times but most students buying this laptop require a lot of space to store files. Xiaomi could have paired a 1TB HDD with the SSD to make life easier for users. In the standard configuration, I bet you will need to invest in an external hard drive if you need to store lots of documents.

I used the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition for most of my office video calls and the new integrated webcam works as advertised. The camera quality isn’t great and like most laptops, you will need to adjust the lighting in order to make yourself and your surroundings visible.

Xiaomi says it is using scissor mechanism keys for the keyboard that has a fair amount of key travel. The key travel is good enough but the feedback isn’t nice. The keys feel “mushy” while typing and I wonder how well these hold up under rough usage over a long time. I did not have mistyping issues as the keys are spaced out well. The trackpad is small but I found it fairly responsive. All the Windows 10 multi-finger gestures worked nicely for me while the keys are tactile.

Sadly, the stereo speakers are sub-par like all laptops in this price range. The speakers get loud enough in silent rooms but the audio quality is tint at best. There’s no depth in the audio and I found it useful at best for video calls. I plugged in my Bluetooth speaker or my headphone for a good audio experience.

Battery

Xiaomi is using a 46Whr battery (3220mAh) in the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition and it claims up to 10 hours of battery life. However, in real-life usage, the 10-hour claim is a dream number. On average, I usually maxed out the laptop at six hours on a regular office day. Do note that I kept the laptop connected to the Wi-Fi network, kept the brightness between 50-70 percent, worked on the power-hungry Google Chrome, and kept the laptop in Sleep mode during lunch hours.

The 65W power adapter provides for fast charging and I was able to top up the battery from 2 percent to 48 percent in half an hour. This is a laptop that you can use throughout the usual workday without plugging, provided you are a bit cautious.

Conclusion

Is the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition worthy of it Rs 36,999 price tag? I think it is. In fact, the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition has got me interested in finally buying my first laptop, given the specifications and the overall user experience. Xiaomi has set a benchmark for budget laptops and given the others quite a task to catch up on.

Not only does it look good and is well-built, but it is also lightweight to carry around. Most importantly, it performs fast and has a good display, which is usually unseen in this segment. This isn’t a high-performance laptop and hence, you won’t be able to do heavy-duty photo or video editing, or play modern resource-intensive games. Additionally, the limited 256GB storage could be a deal-breaker for many who stores a lot of files, movies, and more. That said, for basic computing, it works nicely and if you are seeking a laptop to do “just laptop things”, I can’t find a better option to suggest as an alternative. At Rs 36,999, the Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition is the best of its kind money can buy.

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