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Xiaomi buyer's guide: Everything you need to know
In certain countries, Xiaomi is the most popular smartphone brand by volume. In other countries, though, a majority of people may never have even heard the name (much less know how to pronounce it). This dichotomy brings a lot of potential confusion surrounding the brand and its products.
In the article below, we’re going to give you everything you need to know about Xiaomi. Hopefully, this will help you make sound decisions when buying a new smartphone. Conversely, it can also help you understand a bit more about one of the world’s largest smartphone brands that might not even have a footprint in your area.
Who is Xiaomi?
When you compare Xiaomi to other huge smartphone brands — including Samsung, Apple, Oppo, etc. — you notice one thing quickly: how young the company is. Xiaomi started in 2010, which makes it the youngest on the list of the top ten smartphone manufacturers around the world.
Xiaomi — pronounced “shee-yow-mee” — began when CEO and founder Lei Jun assembled a team of tech veterans as staff for a new venture. Based on the credentials of the staff (which included former Google and Motorola employees) as well as the mission statement of the company, Jun was able to raise millions in early seed funding.
Within a few months, Xiaomi had announced its first product: MIUI, the Android skin that would go on to power most of its smartphones. It wouldn’t be until a year later, though, in August 2011, that the company would launch its very first phone: the Xiaomi Mi 1.
The Mi 1 was an instant success. Sales were no doubt helped by the phone’s low price of just 1,999 Chinese yuan, which is about $300 today. However, the device was only available in Xiaomi’s native China, so it didn’t see any Western adoption.
After several successful smartphone launches in China, Xiaomi expanded to other countries. Today, it has smartphone products available in China, India, most of Europe, and many other countries. However, it has no smartphones available in the United States. In addition, the company sells many other non-smartphone products.
What does Xiaomi offer?
In the next section, we’re going to go over the Xiaomi smartphone lines in detail. Before we do that, though, we want to touch on a curated selection of other products Xiaomi offers. This is not a complete list, as the company creates and sells many different types of electronics. Instead, this is a list that focuses on the biggest categories in the company’s portfolio.
Tablets and laptops
Xiaomi sells laptops under its Mi Notebook branding (with the sole exception of the Mi Gaming Laptop that launched in 2018). The Mi Notebook line borrows heavily from the design aesthetic of Apple’s MacBooks. Inside, though, Windows powers the devices.
One of the more recent laptops from Xiaomi is the Mi Notebook Ultra. Like its smartphones, Xiaomi only brings its laptops to specific countries in which it operates, so you might not be able to buy one in your area.
Xiaomi releases tablets sporadically. Its most recent tablet offering is the Pad 5, which launched in 2022. It is very similar in design to Apple’s iPad.
Wearables and audio
Xiaomi has made some of the most successful fitness trackers on the market. Its line of Mi Band wearables brings high-end features to incredibly low-priced products. Here at Android Authority, we’ve given glowing reviews to nearly every Mi Band we’ve tried.
The latest in the fitness tracker portfolio is the Xiaomi Mi Band 7. It’s yet another terrific entry in the line. There’s also the Xiaomi Mi Watch and Mi Watch Lite, which are more capable smartwatches. The Xiaomi Watch S1, from 2022, is now the top-of-the-line smartwatch from the company.
Xiaomi also makes audio products. It sells both wired and wireless headphones in various styles, including in-ear and over-ear. However, its most recent product is the Xiaomi Mi True Wireless Earphones 2. The true wireless earbuds look very much like the industry-defining AirPods from Apple.
TVs and media streamers
Xiaomi creates its own TVs, but they are only available in limited areas, specifically China and India. Mi TVs usually run on the Android TV operating system, which allows you to stream media through many apps available on the Google Play Store. Recently, the company launched a massive 82-inch 8K TV that costs over $7,000.
For Western markets, including the US, Xiaomi foregoes offering full televisions and instead offers media streamers. These devices also run on Android TV and are usually priced very competitively. A popular streamer from the brand is the Xiaomi Mi Box S, pictured above.
Smart home products
Xiaomi offers quite a few smart home products, many of which are available all over the world, including the US. The Mi Smart Speaker, pictured above, is one of the many products it offers.
There are also smart plugs, smart thermostats, smart bulbs, and many more products. However, only certain devices are available in specific areas, so you’ll need to do some searching to find what’s available to you.
Xiaomi’s various lines of accessories are the products that are most easy to get wherever you might be in the world. You can find power banks, wireless chargers, Bluetooth speakers, etc., from many different retailers.
Above you’ll find one of the more unique products the company offers: the Xiaomi Mi 20W Smart Tracking Wireless Charging Pad. It actually locates the wireless charging coil in your phone, watch, earbuds case, or what have you, and then moves the charging coil within the pad to it. This allows you to avoid trying to find the charging coil for yourself. It sounds silly, but it finally allows you to just throw your phone on the pad and know it’s charging without needing to fiddle with it first.
Xiaomi phones: Each line explained
We’re not going to hold back here: Xiaomi’s smartphone line is ridiculously confusing. Each line usually has a numbered device, and that numbered device usually has multiple offshoots that either reduce or raise the asking price. The company also changes the specs and designs of various devices depending on where they launch and even renames devices in certain areas. It’s enough to make your head spin.
However, if you ignore all that, Xiaomi really only has five main lines of smartphones, some of which haven’t seen new releases in quite a while. We explain each line below.
Main numbered series
At the top of the heap, we have Xiaomi’s line of numbered smartphones. Each year there is a new numbered entry, with the most recent being the Xiaomi 12, shown above in its Pro model iteration.
Within the numbered line, there are a few variants. So far, we know of a Xiaomi 12 Pro and Xiaomi 12X. Later in 2022, there will also likely be “T” variants of the series, probably known as the 12T family. There could also be a Xiaomi 12 Ultra at some point in the future.
In general, every high-end numbered phone comes with that year’s flagship Qualcomm processor and a top-of-the-line camera system. In the case of the Xiaomi 12, the two highest-end phones come with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, the flagship processor of 2022. Some of the offshoot devices, though, come with less powerful chips.
Essentially, if you are looking for the best smartphone Xiaomi offers, you want something from the flagship numbered line. They are comparable to Samsung’s Galaxy S line and the main numbered series from OnePlus.
Do note that in 2021, Xiaomi announced that it was abandoning the “Mi” brand name. Previously, the numbered series also included “Mi” in the title, such as with the Xiaomi Mi 11 series. This won’t happen anymore, though.
Mi Note series
In the Samsung world, the Note moniker previously referred to the business-focused premium phones in its roster. With Xiaomi, though, the Mi Note line is actually a lower-grade series as compared to the flagship Mi line.
There are comparably fewer Mi Note phones than other families in the company’s roster. The most recent Notes are the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 and Mi Note 10 Pro, both of which launched in late 2019. Those phones feature the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor, making them firmly mid-range devices.
In general, the Mi Note line has lower-grade specs and features than a device with a similar number. Of course, with Xiaomi’s sprawling portfolio, this is sometimes not true. For example, the Xiaomi Mi 10 Lite has some weaker specs than the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Pro. There are a lot of crossovers, so you need to pay strict attention to spec sheets when buying Xiaomi phones.
Mi Max and Mix series
Xiaomi’s Mi Max line hasn’t seen new entries in a few years. The Mi Max line offers lower-grade specs and traditional designs but huge batteries. That’s what the “Max” moniker refers to. The most recent entry in the series, the Mi Max 3, has an enormous 5,500mAh battery. However, that device came out in 2018, and Xiaomi hasn’t released a new Max phone since.
The Mix line does have some new entries, though: the Xiaomi Mix Fold 2 and Mix 4. The Mix line is where Xiaomi puts its innovative, bleeding-edge tech, so it makes sense for it to be the home of its foldables. The Mix Fold 2 borrows a lot of elements from the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, but cheaper. The Mix 4, though, is the first phone from the brand with an under-display selfie camera.
Mi A series
One of the biggest complaints about Xiaomi phones is the MIUI Android skin. Simply put, the software experience of Xiaomi phones can fall into the “love it or hate it” realm quite easily.
Enter the Xiaomi Mi “A” series, which features the Android One platform instead of MIUI. This gives you a close-to-stock Android experience on Xiaomi hardware, which is perfect for any MIUI haters.
Unfortunately, Xiaomi hasn’t been consistent with its A-series offerings. The most recent device in the line is the Xiaomi Mi A3, which launched in 2019. Thanks to the Android One program, this phone is now running Android 11. However, its hardware wasn’t close to high-end even in 2019 so it will seem pretty weak compared to the phones of today.
If you love Xiaomi hardware but dislike MIUI, the A-series is for you. Hopefully, the company will continue to update this line with new products.
What sets Xiaomi phones apart from competitors?
As mentioned earlier, Xiaomi is a very young company with only about a decade under its belt. Without any hyperbole, it’s absolutely astounding that the company was able to grow as large as it has in such a short time. We’ve listed three of the reasons for its runaway success here.
Incredibly low prices
Xiaomi’s phones (and most of its products in general) feature razor-thin profit margins. The company usually sells its products with only a slight markup over the bill-of-materials price, which allows most of its offerings to undercut the competition, sometimes by hundreds of dollars.
How is it able to do that? The not-so-secret solution is that Xiaomi doesn’t really consider itself a hardware company. Instead, it’s a data company that incidentally offers hardware. Whether it’s the rampant ads in MIUI (more on this in a bit), user data collection across its plethora of apps, or other data-centric profit motives, Xiaomi offsets its manufacturing costs by monetizing your usage.
Xiaomi is able to keep its prices so low because it makes a bulk of its profits off your data.
This aspect of the company could be off-putting for some, especially since it (and most of its data servers) is located in China. However, most people either don’t know or don’t care about the data-mining aspects of Xiaomi and are happy enough with saving a ton of cash over competitor’s products.
Since Xiaomi’s profit margins are so slim, it can’t release tons of completely new phones each year. Research and development, advertising, and retail-related costs would be far too high. Instead, the company releases a handful of major phones each year and keeps them available for quite a while, much longer than most competitors. In the meantime, it releases subtle variations on those phones to stay fresh.
Unlike with most other manufacturers, you can buy Xiaomi phones years after they first launched.
As an example of what we mean, OnePlus usually releases two major phones each year: a new entry in the main numbered series and then a “T” variant of that same model. These phones are available for a few months each and then OnePlus starts winding down production to get ready for the next launch. Xiaomi doesn’t do this. Instead, it launches a big release and makes it available for a long time, sometimes years. This allows it to milk every possible dollar out of a device and prevent over-manufacturing, which allows it to strictly control supply and demand.
A focus on emerging markets
Because of Xiaomi’s rock-bottom prices, it makes sense that it focuses on smartphone markets where most people are looking for cheap devices. That’s why Xiaomi is most successful in places like China and India. In the latter country, it is by far the most successful smartphone brand, easily beating huge rivals such as Samsung and Apple.
Xiaomi's focus on emerging markets allowed it to pull the rug out from underneath its much larger rivals.
Rather than put equal focus on more premium markets, such as Europe and the United States, Xiaomi’s business model puts heavy emphasis solely on these emerging markets. This makes it so the brand itself is heavily associated with the emerging areas, which solidifies its identity. This was an incredibly smart move, as other companies — specifically Samsung and Apple — spent way too long ignoring places like India. Those brands are paying the price now as they watch Xiaomi grow and grow.
What’s the deal with MIUI, Xiaomi’s Android skin?
MIUI — pronounced “mee-yoo-eye” — is Xiaomi’s Android skin. Very few companies release phones with a stock Android experience. Instead, they customize the look and feel of Android as well as introduce new features. This helps companies “brand” their phones, and MIUI is Xiaomi’s identity in the Android world.
Unfortunately, MIUI is not universally loved. It drastically alters the Android experience, which frustrates a lot of users. It also has advertisements littered throughout the operating system, which is one of the reasons the company can sell its phones for such little cash. This makes it so ads can pop up when you’re doing things within Android itself, such as altering settings or checking out your notification shade.
In its early days, MIUI also didn’t feature some Android staples, such as an app drawer. These omissions combined with some of Xiaomi’s design choices caused critics to negatively compare MIUI to Apple’s iOS.
Recently, though, Xiaomi has made attempts to make MIUI more akin to stock Android and less like an iOS clone. While this has been a welcome change for many users, the advertisements and history of slow Android upgrades are still sore spots.
What are the Xiaomi sub-brands?
In a previous section of this article, we went over the various smartphone lines Xiaomi offers. That list used to be a lot longer, but the company has recently started pushing out some of its smartphone lines into brands of their own.
Now, to be clear, these companies still operate under the umbrella of Xiaomi, sharing things such as R&D, manufacturing, etc. Xiaomi itself, though, allows the brands to conduct day-to-day operations on their own, which helps them create their own identities.
Redmi started as a line of low-cost smartphone offerings from Xiaomi. In general, Redmi phones existed as the cheapest way to get a phone from the company, giving a nice option for buyers who couldn’t afford a flagship numbered phone or even a Mi Note device.
In 2019, Xiaomi made Redmi its own brand. This allows Redmi to do its own thing and (sort of) cleans up Xiaomi’s smartphone portfolio to make it a little less confusing.
Recently, Redmi has started making phones with flagship specs. The Redmi K50 Pro, for example, features the Dimensity 9000 processor, the premium flagship silicon from Mediatek for 2022.
In 2018, Xiaomi launched the Poco F1 (or Pocophone F1, depending on your location). This new smartphone line brought the then-flagship processor (the Snapdragon 845) to a phone that cost around $300 in its base configuration. The device received solid reviews and was incredibly popular around the world.
For some reason, that one phone was all we had for the Poco line for quite a while. Eventually, the Poco branding split off from Xiaomi and issued a follow-up to the Poco F1, the Poco F2 Pro. There have been a few other mid-range Poco phones as well, such as the Poco X3 and the Poco F4, pictured above.
It’s not quite clear yet how Poco is going to differentiate itself from Redmi and Xiaomi. For example, the Poco F2 Pro, Poco X2, Poco M2 Pro, and Poco F3 were all reformatted Redmi phones. Time will tell how Poco will hone its identity, but for now, it’s settled on making good phones at good prices and leaving it at that.
Black Shark is technically a sub-brand of Xiaomi, but it doesn’t appear to be as independent as Redmi and Poco. On paper, though, Black Shark is a sub-brand that focuses solely on gaming smartphones.
The most recent Black Shark phones are in the Black Shark 5 series. These phones feature either the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or Snapdragon 870, a display with a high refresh rate, good specs, and a unique design that centers on gaming. For example, the phone has built-in shoulder triggers that should help gamers get a leg-up on their competitors.
Interestingly, Black Shark phones are actually pretty easy to get in the United States.
Competitors you might want to consider
With Xiaomi’s success in India and China, a bunch of newer smartphone brands have popped up looking to steal some of its market share. Most of these brands, though, are sub-brands of larger companies, not brand new companies like Xiaomi was when it first began.
The most notable competitor brand is Realme. Like Xiaomi, it offers high-quality devices at incredibly low prices and focuses mostly on the two biggest smartphone markets: China and India. Even the name “Realme” is incredibly similar to Xiaomi’s own Redmi.
Unlike Xiaomi, though, Realme is a sub-brand of Oppo, which itself is a sub-brand of BBK Electronics. That backing has allowed Realme to “skip the line” as it were, and grow much quicker than most other brands would. Still, Realme creates some great phones, with the Realme X2 Pro being the winner of Android Authority’s best device of 2019.
Because of its size, Xiaomi also competes with the heavyweights of the smartphone world, including Samsung and Apple. However, Apple’s mid-range offerings are pretty anemic and Samsung is only just now working seriously at earning back its dominance in India. A day might come when Xiaomi loses its crown in India and China to Samsung or Apple, but it will be quite a while before that happens.
The greatest moments in the history of Xiaomi
Xiaomi is just getting started as a company, considering it only began in 2010. With that in mind, we don’t have decades of history to pull from for its biggest and best moments. However, there are still plenty of enormous milestones the company hit, and we’ve listed three of the biggest below.
The Mi 3 and expansion out of China
In September 2013, Xiaomi announced the Mi 3 smartphone, its then-newest flagship. The phone sold incredibly well in its native China and helped the company move 18.7 million phones that year, an unbelievable achievement for a three-year-old brand.
The company's first steps outside of China were unabashed successes.
In early 2014, Xiaomi released the Mi 3 (and the Redmi 3) in Singapore, representing the first time the company expanded outside of China. That launch was also astoundingly popular, with initial Singaporean batches of the Mi 3 selling out in just under two minutes.
Xiaomi would go on to expand throughout many different countries after this first big step, but its initial success out of the gate will always be remembered as a landmark moment for the brand.
The number one brand in India
In the third quarter of 2017, Xiaomi officially overtook Samsung to become the top overall smartphone brand in India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market. Since then, Xiaomi has held onto that lead. In Q1 2022, Xiaomi held 21% of the Indian market compared to Samsung’s 18%. The third- and fourth-best players in the country are Realme and Vivo with 16% and 15% market share respectively, which puts Xiaomi in a very strong position.
Since 2017, Xiaomi has been the top smartphone company in India, the world's second-largest market.
Of course, very few companies can stay in the lead forever. Even Apple has had its dark days. For now, though, Xiaomi shows no signs of letting up its lead, and that moment in 2017 when it dominated Samsung will always be a significant event.
An enormous Hong Kong IPO
At one point, Xiaomi boasted that it was worth $100 billion. As a private company, though, its funding would always be limited by what it earned and what it could raise from investors. With the razor-thin margins of its products, going public seemed to be the best solution to that problem.
When it went public, Xiaomi became the world's third-most-valuable smartphone brand.
In June 2018, Xiaomi went public on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange with a valuation of around $50 billion. Obviously, that’s a lot less than $100 billion, but it was still an astounding achievement. It made Xiaomi officially the world’s third-most-valuable smartphone manufacturer, behind only Samsung and Apple. In under a decade, Xiaomi went from nothing to standing next to the titans of the tech world.
The not-so-great moments in Xiaomi’s history
Despite its current status as one of the world’s biggest smartphone brands, Xiaomi has had more than its fair share of controversies. Below, you’ll find three times when the company’s actions faced some heavy scrutiny from consumers and the industry at large.
Entering (and then exiting, and then entering) Brazil
After Xiaomi successfully expanded outside of China (see the previous section), it started popping up in various places around the world. Each time it expanded, it saw quick success. However, its expansion into Brazil didn’t go so well.
The company's expansion into Brazil was pretty much a disaster.
In 2015, the company announced its intentions to both build and sell the Redmi 2 in Brazil. That it did, but only a year later, it left the country entirely. It would take until 2019 for Xiaomi to start selling phones in the country again. This time, though, it stuck to mostly online sales.
There’s no telling how much money Xiaomi lost with this overzealous expansion.
GNU GPL violations
Smartphone manufacturers that release Android phones need to adhere to the GNU General Public License. This is a bit complicated, but the basic gist is that, since Android is an open-source system, companies like Xiaomi need to provide to the public the source code kernel of every device it manufactures.
Over its history, Xiaomi has had a tough time with this. In many cases, its public posting of kernels would be delayed, and in some cases, it simply didn’t post anything. For various reasons, repercussions for this inaction didn’t fall too hard on the company.
There are very clear rules related to Android's open-source nature, and Xiaomi hasn't done a great job following them.
For Android enthusiasts, developers, and people generally concerned with ethical practices in technology, this was a huge problem. Over recent years, Xiaomi has gotten a bit better at addressing this issue, but it has never earned a reputable reputation when it comes to respecting the GNU GPL.
Multiple security and privacy scandals
As mentioned earlier, Xiaomi doesn’t consider itself a hardware company: it considers itself a data company that incidentally sells hardware. Unfortunately, it’s been caught a few times playing fast-and-loose with customer data which created huge privacy and security concerns.
Early on, Xiaomi faced scrutiny for its cloud servers in China, which allegedly held private user data from people outside of the country. Under public pressure, the company eventually created servers that operate outside of China for non-Chinese users.
If you're a person who truly values their privacy and security, you might want to read up on this company before buying its products.
In 2020, an article in Forbes exposed that certain Xiaomi apps — most notably the default browser on the company’s phones — transferred unencrypted user data to company servers. Xiaomi tried to downplay the revelation at first but eventually succumbed to pressure and altered the way certain apps functioned to give users more secure options.
The bottom line is that if you value privacy and security above all else, Xiaomi has a long way to go before it will earn your trust.
Other details related to Xiaomi
If you’ve come this far, you likely know more about Xiaomi than you did when you started. However, there are still a few miscellaneous things we want to quickly address before closing this out.
Since Xiaomi’s ecosystem is fairly large, the company offers a Mi Account that ties its various products together. Like with a Google account or Apple ID, your Mi Account will work on most Xiaomi products and allow various devices to integrate.
A Mi Account is totally free. However, using it permits the company to use your data for financial gain, just like with Google. If you are uncomfortable with this for whatever reason, you might want to think twice about a phone from this particular brand.
For a lot of its products, Xiaomi offers temporary promotional periods called flash sales. These promotions allow users to be among the first to buy new products, but they must buy them during a limited time. If a buyer misses a flash sale, it could be a while before they’ll be able to buy during a different flash sale or a general sale.
Xiaomi doesn’t do flash sales for all of its products, but they do happen quite a bit. If you are excited about buying the next big phone from the brand, you might want to pay attention to its various social media accounts to stay on top of any flash sale announcements.
Unlike a lot of smartphone companies that mostly sell online, Xiaomi actually has dozens of brick-and-mortar shops around the world. As you’d expect, the shops sell smartphones, electronics, smart home gear, and other products from the company, all under one roof.
In addition to selling products, some of these stores also offer services, such as repairs. You’ll need to check online if there’s a store in your area and what kind of products and services it offers.
Frequently asked questions about Xiaomi
Yes, all globally released smartphones from the company have full access to the Google Play Store and the millions of Android apps therein. Unlike Huawei, Xiaomi does not appear on the US government’s Entity List, so it is not affected by the various limitations Huawei faces.
Unfortunately, Xiaomi takes a highly regionalized approach to its products. As such, certain devices aren’t available in certain areas. If you can’t find a product from the company’s website or authorized third-party retailers, you will need to either import it or go with a competitor product.
Yes, the Mi A3 is the most recent phone from the company that ships with Android One instead of MIUI. You can also search online for instructions on unlocking the bootloader of a Xiaomi phone and installing a custom Android ROM on it. However, outside of the Mi A-series, all phones from the company (and most of its subsidiaries) will come with MIUI out-of-the-box.
Yes and no. MIUI has options built-in that can limit or even fully remove certain ads from the platform as well as specific apps. However, there is no surefire way to remove every single ad in MIUI as of now.