Xiaomi, the mystical Chinese company, has been regularly popping up in the news since its launch in 2010 — and with good reason. They’ve successfully managed to grab attention of the pro-technologists by supplying quality products at unbelievable prices. They finally made their entry into India this week with a press conference held in Delhi, followed by a up-close-and-personal session with bloggers in Mumbai. Rajat Agrawal of BGR India asked all the right questions to Hugo Barra, the ex-Googler who joined as VP of Xiaomi last year. I too got a chance to probe Hugo and team Xiaomi with some burning questions, and here are some key takeaways that you need to know about Xiaomi and their products.
1) Their most expensive phone, the Xiaomi Mi3, will sell for Rs. 13,999. After asking how Xiaomi makes money if they sell their handsets almost at cost, they suggest that every product has a lifecycle of 12 to 18 months. Over a period of time, the components used to build the phone get cheaper, thereby increasing their margins. They also sell a lot of accessories; albeit many of them are priced reasonably (their 5200mAh battery pack for example costs about Rs. 500 in China). They also sell theme packs and Manu Kumar Jain, their Head of India Operations, also teased the possibility of mobile ads as a way to make some revenue.
2) Their phones will have International warranty. This is unlike many phone brands, that don’t offer the same.
3) Xiaomi as a company is accepting of people tinkering with their phone’s software. The phones come with unlocked bootloaders and if any of your rooting/custom ROM experiments bricks the phone, Xiaomi service centers will help in restoring it to a working condition. This is again unlike big brands, many of whom have their bootloaders locked and deem the warranty void if you tamper with the software (something as basic as rooting the phone).
4) Speaking of after-sales support, people are usually wary of new phone makers when it comes to this. I’ve personally heard of bad service stories particularly with Indian brands where the turn around times have been close to a month. Xiaomi has deployed over 30 service centers in 20 Indian cities at the time of launch (click here to view). Hugo Barra said that the average time taken for repair is currently one business day; which in itself sounds fairly quick. But he said they’re aiming to bring it down to as low as a couple of hours in the future (the two exclusive Mi service centers already have this). Mind you, these are repairs and not replacements of the phones.
5) As for the phones themselves, their hardware is top-notch and the forked version of Android that they call MIUI has many useful features. For instance, call recording is built right into the dialer menu along with an option to record all calls by default. This is important because although there are 3rd party apps on the Android Play Store for this, they’ve not been reliable in my experience. They’ve provided a way to backup the phone entirely, apps data included, and pack it into a single file. There’s a ton of features baked into MIUI that will appeal to the pro-users.
When asked about the speed to update the phone to the latest version of Android, Hugo admitted that there have been delays in the past, and its a problem he wants to solve. Right now, their flagship Mi3’s MIUI is based on Android 4.4 KitKat, but it might be left behind once Android L is launched later this year. To its credit though, we noticed a feature like heads-up notifications, which is debuting in Android L, is already part of MIUI. Further, Xiaomi has plans of hiring developers in Bangalore to create a variant of MIUI that’s tailor-made for Indian needs.
Bottom line — if you’re a stock Android lover, Xiaomi phones shouldn’t be your first choice. But the combination of useful software features, top-notch hardware and ground-breaking pricing make Xiaomi products too hard to entirely ignore for anybody.
Update: A few people asked us on Twitter if Xiaomi phones support Google Play store and other Google apps. We’re adding the answer to the post that, yes, all Xiaomi phones are fully compatible with the above mentioned. This means that unlike Amazon’s Kindle Fire or Nokia X series are built on the AOSP version of Android and are void of Google services, Xiaomi products comply with Google’s Compatibility Definition Document (CDD) and pass the Compatibility Test Suite (CTS). Read more about these terminologies here.