Latest 'concept phone' could make or break Xiaomi

Lei Jun, founder and CEO of China's mobile company Xiaomi gestures during a launch of the company's new products in Beijing, China, September 27, 2016. Picture taken September 27, 2016.
PHOTO: Reuters

The Xiaomi launch event that I attended in Beijing last week was an exercise in contrasts.

The Note 2 was a predictable phone, flogged by a staid Tony Leung, who gamely smiled and posed for photos.

The Mi Mix "concept phone" was a risky, limited-run device endorsed by garrulous design titan Philippe Starck.

The pair of new products represent two ends of the spectrum for Chinese electronics company Xiaomi.

Hands on with Xiaomi's Mi MIX

  • The Mi MIX uses a 6.4-inch LCD screen with a 2,040 x 1,080-pixel resolution.
  • Its uncommon 17:9 aspect ratio / resolution is sort of a real estate buffer that Xiaomi has provisioned, so that when the on-screen navigation controls pop up at the bottom of the screen, what remains for your content is still a nicely sized 16:9 display.
  • Xiaomi has gotten rid of the earpiece and sensors typically found at the top of a smartphone.
  • The Mi MIX has a ceramic chassis. Almost everything is ceramic - the back cover, the frame, even the power button and volume rocker.
  • The screen-to-body ratio of the Mi MIX is incredibly high at 91.3%, and that’s because the phone has very thin bezels, no 'forehead', and a very small 'chin'.
  • Specs-wise, the standard Mi MIX packs a Snapdragon 821 SoC, clocked at 2.35GHz for the two performance Kyro cores, 4GB LPDDR4 RAM, and 128GB UFS 2.0 internal storage.
  • There'll be an exclusive edition of the Mi MIX that uses 18K gold for the rear camera’s and fingerprint scanner’s rims.
  • Because the ceramic housing takes seven days to make and involves multiple polishing steps, Xiaomi has sort of warned that yield may be low.
  • The Mi Mix was designed by Philippe Starck, andit is drop dead gorgeous.

While the Note 2 is traditional and somewhat safe, the Mi Mix is chock full of electronic wizardry to win over technophiles.

The launch comes at a critical time. Mr Daniel Gleeson, senior analyst, consumer technology at Ovum, said: "It's no secret that Xiaomi is struggling in China to hold on to its market share."

Under heavy fire from competitors such as Oppo and Huawei, is the Mi Mix enough to turn the tide? The answer, I think, is a cautious "yes".

Smartphone buyers are a fickle bunch who chase not just top specs and an elegant design, but also a unique experience.

Xiaomi's new store in Singapore

  • After much teasing on social media, Xiaomi officially unveiled their new flagship store in Singapore.
  • Located in Suntec City, this marks the first time that Xiaomi has opened a full fledged retail store outside of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
  • The Singapore store is not 100 per cent run by Xiaomi though, and is a product of a collaborative effort with Singapore's current go-to tech e-commerce site Lazada, which will manage the sales.
  • In it, you can find the the full range of smartphones that you can also find from Mi Singapore's online store. There's also the familiar and hugely popular powerbanks too.
  • Products such as the Mi Drones, Notebook Air, 4K Mi TVs, even Mi rice cookers were on display for users to get a feel of, but comes a pasted tag which reads in bold "NOT FOR SALE".
  • A pity, and a missed opportunity.

A phone has to be exclusive- and special - to pique a buyer's interest.

And creating that unique experience is something that the Mi Mix does well.

The large, edgeless screen and gunmetal ceramic body go a long way towards making the phone feel a cut above your usual device.

Mr Thomas Husson, vice-president and principal analyst of marketing and strategy at Forrester, said that it "fits quite well with Xiaomi's DNA in innovation and design", while various international publications have called it a "game changer", "sci-fi" and "magical".

Not all who have seen the phone agree, though.

Principal analyst at IHS Markit Jusy Hong said: "The Mi Mix has a beautiful design and screen, but I don't know what new experience this feature can bring. Xiaomi needs to figure out what benefit this edgeless design can give users."

Whether Xiaomi's gamble with the Mi Mix has paid off will become evident over the next few months. The company will be testing the waters by selling the phone in limited quantities in China, and seeing how consumers respond.

Hopefully, the Mi Mix's blend of technology and design fares well because, if it does, we can see many more of these devices around.

This article was first published on November 02, 2016.
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