Xiaomi Inc., China’s biggest smartphone maker, and the world’s fifth largest, held its first product launch outside of China, in India, a market the company views as critical to its long-term success. The only misstep was the super glitchy live streaming of the event, which was held in India’s capital New Delhi.
Xiaomi, which doesn’t sell its phones in the U.S., has risen to prominence in just five years since its founding in April 2010, getting a valuation of $45 billion after its last round of funding. It launched Mi 4i, a cheaper but exquisitely engineered version of its popular Mi 4 smartphone, in India at 12,999 rupees (a bit over $200).
At that price, the handset probably beats any other Android phone in the market today in a feature-to-feature comparison.
To drive the point home, Hugo Barra, Xiaomi’s vice president for international operations, who was formerly a top-level executive within Google’s Android business, put up a table comparing Mi4i’s specs with those of much more expensive handsets including the Moto X second generation, Samsung Galaxy A7 and HTC Desire 826, NDTV Gadgets reported, in a live blog from the event.
Mi4i will arrive out of the box with Xiaomi’s latest version of its MIUI skin, MIUI6 on top the latest Android software, Lollipop. In addition to hardware from the best names, including the display from Sharp and JDI, and the camera and the battery from Sony and Samsung, the phone offers nifty software tweaks such as the “Sunlight Display,” which improves exposure to those areas that get darkened over in harsh sunlight.
The feature is extended to the screen and keyboard as well, when one is trying to tap out a text or email in the glare of a bright sunny day outdoors.
Xiaomi confirmed much of the details already out via various leaks, including the Snapdragon 615 processor, 5-inch 1080p display, a 13Mp main camera, dual SIM support and plastic body. It added finer points such as the system-on-chip being second-generation, having eight cores and of 64-bit architecture, the unibody design, and a massive battery for a phone this compact. And the phone supports 4G on both SIM slots.
To get everything working and the 3120mAh battery into the design, “this is the smallest motherboard we’ve built, and the densest,” Barra said to shouts of approval from fans who’d travelled from several cities and towns across India to be at the live event. Many had queued up outside the venue, evoking scenes seen only with Apple Inc.’s iPhone launches.
Thursday’s launch of Mi4i, was the first outside-of-China global product launch for Xiaomi, which in the five years since its birth on Apr. 10, 2010 has become the world’s fifth largest smartphone maker, without selling a single phone in America.
The company views India, where only one in six of some 950 million wireless subscribers owns a smartphone, while the rest use older feature phones, as a market critical to its long-term success and is investing in setting up a research center and manufacturing in the subcontinent.
CEO Lei Jun, who made the trip to India for this event, announced he was giving away a Mi Band, Xiaomi’s fitness band, to every fan who was present at the venue. Xiaomi announced on Thursday it would soon launch the Mi Band in India.
The Mi4i will initially go on sale exclusively on Indian online shopping site Flipkart, first on Apr. 30, for which registrations opened on Thursday. It is later expected to be available on other sites including Amazon.com Inc.’s Indian site.