Xiaomi is not a stranger in phablet market. The Xiaomi Redmi Note is a popular choice of many but the success is brought by the competitive price instead of the phone being the greatest. Nevertheless, Xiaomi has a plan to change that. The new Mi Note is the company’s first step into the premium phablet category and it is challenging the big players like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus. So what exactly does Xiaomi bring to the table?

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There are actually two models being launched, namely the Mi Note and the Mi Note Pro. Both of them have the same design but the Mi Note Pro is actually a beefed up Mi Note. The front looks like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 as the 2.5D curve glass and metallic frame is used. Flipping to the back and you will notice that the two are just different. Xiaomi has chosen 3D curved glass for the back where the glass curves sideways. Both glasses used are Gorilla Glass and they really give the phone a fresh look.

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Both models have 5.7″ display but the basic model is equipped with a 1080p display (386 ppi) where the Pro model has a QHD display (515 ppi). Mi Note is powered by Quad Core 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, Adreno 330 GPU and 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM while the Mi Note Pro is running on Octa Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor (Quad Core 2GHz + Quad Core 1.5GHz) mated with Adreno 430 GPU and 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM. Both models support LTE, but the LTE Category 9 supported by the Mi Note Pro can reach the maximum speed of 450Mbps as opposed to the maximum speed of 150Mbps supported by LTE category 4 in the basic Mi Note. The basic model will have a 3,000mAh battery while the Pro has a marginally larger battery capacity at 3,090mAh. Both of them support Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 for fast charging.

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The cameras on both models are actually the same. The rear camera is a 13MP shooter with OIS. Xiaomi took their chance to mock Apple as the Mi Note has OIS equipped within a thinner chassis as compared to iPhone 6 Plus (6.95mm VS 7.1mm) and this is done without having the camera protruding out of the body. There is a dual-tone LED flash too. The front camera has a 4MP sensor and the each pixel has a size of 2µm, which is very large. The sensor has the same specifications with the Ultra Pixel camera found in HTC phones and the larger pixels are expected to capture more light to deliver better pictures under low light condition.

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To make use of the larger display, Xiaomi has updated its MIUI 6. The OS has been optimized to show more content instead of enlarging everything. One-hand mode can be activated by swiping from home button to the back button on the capacitive keys. It will shrink all the content to the lower corner so that you can reach everything on the screen while holding the phone with one hand. To accommodate all hand sizes, users can choose between 3.5″, 4″ and 4.5″ for the shrunk-down window. Xiaomi has pointed out that the Mi Note and Mi Note Pro can support 24-bit/192kHz lossless audio support. This feature will not be useful to most people who are listening to MP3s but people who prioritize audio quality will love this.

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The Mi Note will come in 16GB and 64GB variants and buyers can choose between black and white models. Premium products will come in premium price. The 16GB model is priced at ¥2299 (around $370) while the 64GB model will cost ¥2799(around $450). The Mi Note Pro, on the other hand, comes in black, white and gold but the only storage option will be 64GB. It is priced at  ¥3299 (around $530).  They are quite expensive by Xiaomi’s standard in the past.

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The Mi Note will be launched on 27th of January in China and the Mi Note Pro will only be sold later as Xiaomi claimed that the Snapdragon 810 processor is not fully ready yet. As usual for Xiaomi’s products, we have no idea when both models will be available outside China. However, Xiaomi has already confirmed that the 2014 flaghip phone Mi4 will not be coming to Malaysia at all.

[Update] Xiaomi Malaysia announced that Mi Note will come to Malaysia in Q2 2015.

Impression

Personally I am not fully sold by the new models. I don’t mean that these phones are bad. In fact, they are good phones. The Mi Note will be able to provide good experience to most users. However, I am not convinced by the price. In my opinions, Xiaomi’s success is largely driven by the attractive price. Without the insanely cheap price, Xiaomi products are not that appealing to me. There was basically no competition in terms of specs for the price Xiaomi is charging previously in the past few years.

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But the truth is that Xiaomi is not the only player in the budget-friendly market anymore. Brands like Honor, OnePlus, ASUS and Meizu are catching up very fast. The Mi Note is only marginally better than the OnePlus One in terms of specifications but it is priced $70 higher for the 16GB model and $100 more for the 64GB model. More importantly, the OnePlus One has already been launched for more than 9 months, which is a long, long time in the smartphone industry. The Mi Note is still cheaper than the flagships from major brands but I think that the largest weapon Xiaomi used to have is not there anymore. It will be hard for me to choose it over its competitors.

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The Mi Note Pro is really a powerhouse. Other than the camera, all the components on the specifications sheet are the best at this moment and Xiaomi claims that the Mi Note Pro is the best smartphone in the world. However, whether the phone with all the best parts in the market is the best phone remains debatable. We know that specifications are not everything to ensure a complete user experience. I also have some doubts with the battery life as 3,090mAh might not be sufficient to power up the QHD display for a sufficiently long time. The specifications might be quite common for future flagships and will the close-to-premium price be good enough to fight off the competition might be a question. Don’t forget it will not be coming anytime soon.

Moreover, the fact that Mi4 will not reach here will be a bad news for local Mi Fans. It means that you have to choose other brands if you do not want a phablet. It also raises doubts that the Mi Note will come here. I think Xiaomi has lost its chances to build on its strong momentum it had during its arrival last year.

So what do you think about the announcement?

Source: Xiaomi, MIUI Forum