Somewhere in this technological New Wave lies Xiaomi, a Chinese firm founded in 2010 that has become impossible to ignore. That’s driven partly by its unapologetic Apple mimicry: its marketing, product strategy, and design aesthetic all borrow elements from Cupertino’s playbook. It’s also driven partly by the high-profile hiring of former Android boss Hugo Barra from Google. But increasingly, it’s driven simply by the fact that Xiaomi is making genuinely interesting products. And at a valuation north of $40 billion, it’s apparently doing something right.
The company will open an online store in the US later in 2015, but it’ll only sell accessories like headphones and fitness bands; in the lead-up to that, the Mi Note is intended to be a showcase of what this five-year-old company is capable of. And, yes, if the Mi Note is well received, perhaps it foretells an American phone release down the road. For now, we’re just getting a taste. (In fact, the model being distributed doesn’t support US LTE bands, so I wasn’t able to do a full-on review; there’s no battery test here, but I’ve been able to compile some thoughts on the hardware and software.)
I’d describe the design of the Mi Note as an amalgam of the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy Note 4, with a little bit of Xiaomi originality mixed in. That’s not a knock — it really works quite well, marrying large glossy surfaces on the front and rear with a thin metal rim along the edges. On the back, the left and right sides slope abruptly, which gives the phone something different from the bog-standard "thin, large rectangle" profile. The volume rocker on my unit is a little fidgety, and the metal edges are too sharp, but otherwise, there’s absolutely nothing about the Mi Note that screams "low-end," "knockoff," or any other derogatory term that you might hurl at a brand you’ve never heard of. It’s solidly built; there’s no creaking. Seams where glass meets metal are tight and even. I’m surprising myself by saying this, but if Samsung or LG had released this phone, I wouldn’t bat an eye — it’s that good. It looks and feels like a device from a company that’s been doing this for a long time.