The Xiaomi Phone (小米手机) began shipping to customers this past week and mobiSights received their batch of phones today. The phone is made for the Chinese public, and after the boot this clearly became evident. It met expectations overall, though there are a few things missing we would have liked to have seen. The price of the machine though, makes these missing options easier to forgive.
The video work for this article was done by Duncan Leung.
Ok, we’ve been hearing about this phone for months and today we finally got to play with one of our own. The Xiaomi phone, a brain-child of Lei Jun and his company over at Xiaomi, was created with the Chinese public in mind. It packs some impressive specs and an equally impressive price tag considering those specs. Will it be able to conquer the Chinese market? Too soon to tell, but after playing with the phone for an evening, I think Xiaomi has developed a phone that can at least call itself a contender.
Duncan and I created an “unboxing” video which you can watch below. But for those that either don’t want to watch it, or would like a textual briefing along with the video, I will opine. The Xiaomi phone comes boxed in a very non-flashy box. A quality box, mind you, but raw cardboard brown is the predominant theme. As mentioned, it gives the phone a very eco-friendly feel. The box contained the phone, battery, and a charger – very no thrills, but again, for the price, it is understandable.
Background on the Reviewer
Some background on me before we go any further. I have never used an Android phone before, besides snagging a random friend’s phone to send a message or read an email. Ever since switching from my old Samsung E-901, I have been an iPhone user and love my iPhone. I do not own a Mac PC, and have no desire to do so anytime soon. I am a Wintel/Linux bred techie. So I appreciate convoluted screens and the ability to alter anything on a computer to the way I want it. That said, I’m not sure I want my phone to be like my desktop and laptop. My current thought is that I like the iPhone/iOS because it’s simple and does what I want quickly. But I am going to use this Xiaomi phone until my iPhone 4S arrives from Singapore, so we’ll see if Android can win my heart. (I can’t help but picture Andy Rubin in the background singing Reba McEntire’s Fancy, “Here’s your one chance, Fancy don’t let me down…” Powerful song about the South and perhaps could translate to some of the social situations here in China currently, but I digress.)
The phone is a little larger than my aging iPhone 3GS, but slightly lighter. The lightness I attribute to the use of plastics over the iPhone’s harder casing, but it doesn’t feel cheap. The screen is great, very clear and not something they cut corners on. There is a power button, volume control, headphone jack, and what Xiaomi calls the Mi Button. The Mi Button can be assigned to do a number of different things when not in camera mode. In camera mode, it acts like a digital camera’s shutter button – half press to focus, full press to snap the shot. You don’t have to use it to take the picture though, if you like you can just tap the screen to snap the shot as well.
Speaking of the camera, the phone holds an 8 megapixel rear facing lens, but no front facing lens. This was my first big item I wish they had included. It would have increased construction costs, but front facing cameras are pretty standard issue on all the latest phones. The camera software itself hosts a number of fine tuning options from motion stablilizing to color filters. That said, in auto mode, we didn’t find the shots to be that great. The main thing is the lighting – it doesn’t handle it well, but perhaps this will be corrected in later MIUI builds. If you are willing to play with the settings though, you can take some very nice pictures, so its clearly not a hardware issue.
The Xiaomi phone uses MIUI, a modified version of the Android OS. Built to resemble iOS in some ways, it did make my initial run with the phone a little more intuitive. However, do not think that MIUI is iOS on Andriod. As I dug deeper into seeing what the phone could do, I was quickly faced with the having to deal with endless setting screens. This is either a pro or con to Android depending on your tastes. Still, it was not so overwhelming that it killed my ability to use the phone, but I definitely wouldn’t give it to my aging parents unless I just wanted to torture them.
MIUI was very responsive on this phone. I have yet to encounter any lag or stuttering during use. The UI is capable of many fancy graphical tricks from the standard issue moving backgrounds to a more 3D like window switching. Duncan, who is a long time Android user, and currently owns a Nexus One, said he really enjoyed the experience, so he is probably a good benchmark. From his Twitter: “Initial thoughts on the 小米手机 Xiaomi Phone. FAST and smooth. I like it a lot. Only thing- no front facing camera.”
Xiaomi made this phone for the Chinese market. Baidu maps is the default mapping app, Baidu’s keypad is built in, Chinese pinyin input methods and all the hottest Chinese social networking apps come pre-loaded, UCWeb’s brower is installed…it’s a Chinese phone for the Chinese people. If you’re reading this though, and you don’t want all these Chinese things, have no fear. Android Market comes pre-loaded as well, so you can easily switch out and delete what you don’t want. For instance, the first thing I did was switch the keypad over to the standard Android keypad in the options menu.
But the question quickly becomes, will all this be enough to entice the Chinese public. I think in time, yes. The biggest hurdle Xiaomi has right now is some bad press concerning shoddy construction that was leaked while the Xiaomi phone was being developed. I can safely say that right now, nothing that I read in those reports is true. Lei Jun and crew forged a worthy phone. So while it isn’t as sexy as the 4S or the upcoming Galaxy Prime, this model-T of the Chinese-phone world gets the job done, and done well enough. And just like Ford’s first cars, it comes in any color you want…as long as it’s black!
Here you go, the Xiaomi Phone! Youtube if have access outside the Great Firewall and Youku in two parts if you do not.
Note on some errors within the video:
1. Slip of the tongue when talking about the battery and SIM card. You can infact swap out the SIM card without removing the battery, but this is not the way Xiaomi intended it to work. A holding lever that can only be used allows easier insertion and removal of a SIM card, but the slide can only be used if the battery is removed first.
2. The Theme Market in the film is actually free. That is not to say there won’t be premium themes in the future, but for now everything is free.
3. The Facebook and Twitter integration are actually browser shortcuts, not pre-installed apps. This is my noobish knowledge of Android shining through.