With yesterday's London launch of the Mi 8 Pro Xiaomi has officially entered the UK tech market. The move follows its recent entry to Europe in France, Spain and Italy, and incredible success in China and India.
Xiaomi smartphones are available today (9 Novemner) through Three, Amazon, Argos, John Lewis, Carphone Warehouse, Currys/PC World, Very, Go Mobile, Mobile Phones Direct and Mi.com, and on 18 November the eight-year-old company is opening its first Mi outlet store in London's Westfield shopping centre where you'll be able to enjoy a hands-on experience with all its available products.
The Mi 8 Pro (£499, reviewed) is just one of a number of phones in Xiaomi's range, and it has confirmed that the budget Redmi line will also be coming to the UK. The Redmi 6A (reviewed) will be sold at just £99. A Three exclusive offers a free Mi Band 3 as part of this deal. Also see: Best Xiaomi Deals
Xiaomi's phones, tablets and laptops are part of a much larger ecosystem, with Xiaomi-backed brands producing everything from electric bikes and scooters to fitness trackers and blood-pressure monitors. With 100 million connected devices Xiaomi says it has the world's largest IoT platform.
The Mi Band 3 (reviewed) will be available in the UK at £26.99, Xiaomi has confirmed, also available today (9 November) from Amazon, Three, eBuyer, Scan, BuyItDirect, Box, Currys/PC World, Carphone Warehouse and Mi.com.
The first 10,000 sold in the UK will come with a limited edition UK strap, and those sold between 12 and 23 November will be discounted to £19.99.
The first 100 units sold at the London Mi outlet store will be discounted to £299.99.
Other tech and lifestyle products will gradually roll out globally.
Why you should care about Xiaomi's entrance to the UK tech scene
Xiaomi is a name you might never have heard of in the UK, but it's the fourth biggest phone maker in the world.
According to IDC in Q3 2018 the global smartphone market was down 6% year-on-year, with heavyweights such as Samsung posting declining sales. But Xiaomi is growing at an incredible pace, up 21.2% on last year.
IDC's league table places Xiaomi in fourth position globally with a 9.7% share of the market, falling behind market leaders Samsung (20.3%), Huawei (14.6%) and Apple (13.2%), but increasing its lead over another Chinese brand you might never have heard of, Oppo (8.4%).
Xiaomi attributes a lot of this success to its fans, and it is very much a fan-first company, routinely posting news and updates on its social channels long before reaching out to the press. It has a large community of users who can be found in its MIUI forum (incidentally it was the MIUI OS, a custom version of Android, that came before the hardware), and a huge presence on Chinese social network Weibo.
The Mi 8 Pro launched in London yesterday has a fancy transparent rear cover that makes visible many of the phone's internal components, and there are some cute messages printed here for fans, too.
"Innovation for everyone" is Xiaomi's slogan; you can also read "Be the coolest company in the hearts of our users" and "Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen."
There's even a random reference to the date the Mi 1 launched.
Of course, Xiaomi is also popular with fans for its incredible value. We've been eyeing the significantly cheaper Chinese smartphone market with awe for some time, but even with this in mind it's often difficult to see how Xiaomi is able to produce high-quality goods at such a low price.
Scale is one reason for this, and the sheer number of devices that it or brands within its ecosystem produces means it is able to make big savings on buying components in bulk. It also manages every stage of the process from manufacture to distribution (at least within China - it will have less control in the UK), keeping a keen eye on costs.
Xiaomi doesn't keep these savings to itself, ensuring that Xiaomi-made and other ecosystem devices are sold with no higher than 5% profit margin. Its money is instead made from selling services via apps installed on those devices, many of which you won't see in the UK because they are designed for a Chinese audience. In future in the UK you might see some unobtrusive advertising within apps, but in our experience that is not the case right now.
Though we've been importing Xiaomi phones, tablets, laptops and other devices from China for some time (typically via GearBest) for review purposes, it's not always plain sailing. When you import consumer goods from China to the UK you must endure longer delivery times, remember to factor import duty (20%) into your budget, and when things go wrong coming to a resolution can be tricky.
Specifically in the case of Xiaomi phones, we've often been sent China- rather than Global ROM models that are not preinstalled with Google services (though you can install them) and don't support 800MHz (Band 20) 4G LTE, which is the sole 4G band used in the UK by O2 and other mobile operators that piggyback its network, such as GiffGaff and Sky Mobile.
In the UK around a third of smartphone users opt for SIM-free contracts, but those who can't afford or don't want to pay for the full value of the phone up front instead opt to pay a monthly charge that covers the cost of the phone as well as any minutes, texts and data they use. Until now this has not been possible in the UK with Xiaomi phones, but with UK mobile operators onboard you'll finally be able to buy a Xiaomi phone on contract.
What's interesting about the Mi 8 Pro and Mi 8 Lite?
The Mi 8 is Xiaomi's flagship smartphone, introduced in China on 31 May 2018 alongside the Mi 8 SE and Mi 8 Explorer Edition. The Mi 8 Pro and Mi 8 Lite were then added to the line in China on 19 September, and now are the first Xiaomi devices to be announced for the UK. (Though the Mi 8 Lite wasn't mentioned during the keynote it will go on sale at the same time.)
The £499 Mi 8 Pro is exactly the same phone as the top-end Mi 8 Explorer Edition, but lacking its 3D-sensing facial-recognition feature in favour of an IR version. It undercuts all its UK rivals, coming in £30 cheaper than the comparable OnePlus 6T with 8GB of RAM.
It's an upgrade on the flagship Mi 8 with an in-display fingerprint sensor and transparent rear cover, but the core hardware is otherwise more or less identical, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, Adreno 630 GPU, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, 12Mp + 12Mp dual-lens AI camera and 20Mp selfie camera.
The £279 Mi 8 Lite is the cheapest in the line, swapping out the 6.21in Super AMOLED panel for a 6.26in IPS display and fitted with the 2.2GHz Snapdragon 660, a mid-range processor with Adreno 512 graphics. That's the same chip as inside the Mi A2, another Xiaomi phone that's noteworthy for its inclusion of familiar Android One rather than MIUI 10.
The Mi 8 Lite fractionally larger than the Pro, but also packs a higher-capacity 3,350mAh battery (Mi 8 Pro is 3,000mAh; standard Mi 8 3,400mAh). Its fingerprint sensor is found at the rear, along with a 12Mp + 5Mp dual-lens AI camera (there's a 24Mp selfie camera at the front).