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Xiaomi M1 phone arrives at ITDullard Towers

Why the Xiaomi M1?

This is going to be a long one. Now the heavily trailed Xiaomi M1 phone has finally arrived at ITDullard towers I guess you might want to know a bit about it. So this is a bit of a review but not in the conventional sense. Most people just want a phone but I have got this for a very specific purpose.  So getting the emotional response of ripping off the packaging  playing with it out the way, I should reflect on how and why we got here.

As previously posted, I own an HD2 currently running a MIUI ROM. I bought it second hand and I never want another phone again. It is amazing and as you can see here it is still being usefully developed. The problem is that time is taking its toll on the poor thing. Daily use will shorten its lifespan. So to extend its life I need a daily use replacement.

The quintessential aspects that distinguished the HD2 were: it had a high spec; it could be modded; had developer support; and it was cheap (face it, a windows mobile phone just wasn’t cool at the time). So the first hurdle is what could replace that?

Enter the Xiaomi M1. Here is a phone that has a comparable spec (see here), designed to be modded, has the backing of MIUI developer base and dirt cheap.  Incidentally, if you don’t know what MIU is (no shame in that) then check this Blog which explains it pretty well.

So sorted then. Well yes but there were other hurdles to overcome.

Getting the Xiaomi

My successful experience is documented here, however things have moved on since then. The queueing ticket system is now abandoned. At time of writing you can buy directly from Xiaomi from January 15th. I posted the details here. Just to be clear, you can buy it new in China and from Xiaomi’s website at that. Any offers anywhere else are either second hand or a fraud. This is looking to change soon with the phone becoming available in Taiwan and also on contract via China Telecom.

Additionally, they are scarce. In fact they they’ve currently run out of stock for the third time because they are extremely popular in China. Xiaomi have announced that 500,000 handsets will be on sale on the 15th. My speculation is they will sell out in a matter of days if not hours if previous experience is to be followed.

This does beg the question about whether the Xiaomi M1 will ever be sold internationally. So I am going to digress at this point based on some of the feedback I’ve been getting because it is a fair point and I am not sure what the answer is. So

BEGIN SPECULATION>

I believe that Xiaomi fully intends to sell phones on an international basis. Primarily because it is a vehicle for MIUI. The coverage in the western press was no mistake. Lei Jun actively solicited this. However the M1 was pitched as a specialist phone for enthusiasts. What caught them completely by surprise was the phone went mainstream in China. Their are over 14 smartphone manufacturers in China. Can you name them all? No I can’t either. All of them are bigger than Xiaomi. Until October nobody in China had heard of Xiaomi. Besides many Chinese dislike their domestic brands. And then the iPhone 4s went on sale. This raised Chinese awareness to smart phones and they wanted one. Xiaomi’s product, price and approach could not have been better timed they have become the counter cool built upon the MIUI following. Baidu (China’s main search engine) recently featured a blog  where a guy criticised  iPhone users in the cinema for wasting money – he had a Xiaomi. What was interesting was the support he got and the Apple brand backlash. This has resulted in a run on Xiaomi phones. We can’t get them in the rest of the world but it is really really hard to get one China too as Xiaomi just didn’t have the capacity to cope. The  official Chinese Xiaomi forum has been inundated with complaints by potential customers who can’t get the phone. Xiaomi has responded but it takes time. They have moved production to Foxconn, added Toshiba along with Sharpe to make screens and recently announced a deal with a cable supplier. So they will move from only making a thousand a day to tens of thousands. Additionally, Qualcomm among others have recently invested in Xiaomi. These are not small players. However, the Chinese competition have not gone to sleep as the Huawei Ascend P1 S announced a CES yesterday clearly indicates and in turn Xiaomi will respond. So although I believe a Xiaomi phone will come to the rest of the world I wouldn’t be sure that it will be the M1. The rumoured quad core or something like it would seem more likely to me

<END SPECULATION

OK so assuming that can actually get the phone you have to get it out of China which erm… hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as I would have hoped but this had been down to a number of people who have been very helpful to me. I owe a lot of favours  and deepest thanks to all those involved.

I have pre-ambled enough… moving on.

First impressions

Contents

The packaging is very understated. A simple brown (but strong) cardboard box with a cutaway print of the phone explaining the various components. Inside, there is the handset, a luminous orange battery – you can get these in different colours if you wish, a black rear cover. USB to miniUSB data cable that doubles up as power cable, a Chinese power adaptor, instructions – in Chinese but the diagrams tell you all you need to know and a welcome card. I ordered an additional rear cover (purple since you ask) and that was also inside the package. There are no earphones. These can be ordered cheaply at the same time as a matching accessory (£5) but I prefer to use my own earphones.

The phone

The phone feels noticeably lighter than the HD2 but it still feels solid. The early prototypes received criticism over their build quality. This was my biggest concern however this has obviously been resolved and the build quality is on a par with the HD2, namely excellent. The HD2 has a partial metal casing but the plastic on Xiaomi does not feel cheep. Stylistically, the Xiaomi looks a bit anonymous and could be mistaken for many other phones out there. I guess this is where the cynics will claim that this is just another shanzai knockoff. They would be wrong. The design has been thought through. For example you can remove the SIM or SD card without having to remove the battery. This is not something you can do on the HD2. This is also phone designed to run MIUI and has a configurable button designed for this purpose. Many phones can run MIUI but none have been designed for it up to now. The Xiaomi feels better in the hand but then the screen is smaller and dimensions are smaller than the HD2. So it doesn’t feel or look cheap.

HTC HD2 and Xiaomi M1

The screen is much brighter than the HD2. You can struggle to see the HD2 screen on a sunny day. Not that sunny days are a common occurrence in the UK. So a smaller screen but you can read it when you go on holiday.

First start

The power button but is discreet to the point of being obscure. Once you turn it on the MIUI logo glows for about 10 seconds and you are in. Fortunately it offers English as an option so setting up is pretty much plain sailing from there. However not everything translates to English and a few things – like MIUI’s firewall persist in Simplified Chinese. There are a selection of popular Chinese Apps – Yoku, Weibo, QQ and others preinstalled. Google Market is there however so you can add what you need. Before I did that I tried the OTA update. This had never worked on my HD2 MIUI ROM. It worked seemlessly on the Xiaomi. The backup utilities also worked including the cloud option – again a feature that hadn’t worked on my HD2 MIUI ROM. A good description of how the backup and update process works can be found on this Endgadget video here.

Configuring

Installing apps is as straightforward as the HD2. Xiaomi is faster but comparisons are unfair at this juncture. The Xiaomi has the hardware clout and was designed to be an Android phone. The HD2 stood up well though. In general the Xiaomi is much smoother in transitions while the HD2 is not slow (at least with a NAND ROM) it can occasionally have lags. Again this might say more about the ROM than the phone so it is hard to draw conclusions. In general, configuring the Xiaomi is straight forward. The are three minor issues. Setting the default keyboard to Android doesn’t stick and the Baidu one kept coming back. The easiest way to resolve that was to simply delete the Baidu keyboard and the phone is forced to accept the Android one. The the second one to watch for is the GPS server which is configured for Asia. The setting is easy enough to change and GPS lock is quick. Finally, MIUI Music doesn’t behave which is both a shame and odd because it works fine on HD2. WinAmp works fine however so it is not a show-stopper.

Daily use

For daily practical use again the Xiaomi does better. My short experience is that battery on the Xiaomi is much better. I am lucky if I get a day out of the HD2 but the Xiaomi is good for 36 hours at a push. Signal strength poses an interesting issue. My network is 3G only so I can only really talk about that. The HD2 is quick to find a signal but also quick to loose it. Good for web browsing but not so much for streaming. Again this could be down to the Radio I’ve chosen but then anyone who’s rooted a HD2 will know about that. The Xiaomi is little bit more reluctant to catch a signal but is tenacious once you have got it. There is no grip of death – Xiaomi apparently learnt from the iphone and installed double antennae. Using the TuneIn App for example has been wonderful over the last couple of days. Obviously, as China is outside the EU the phone hasn’t had its volume limited so you can destroy your hearing if you so choose. Sound quality is consistent with the HD2 if not better and the noise cancelling mic makes a real difference on calls.. The camera/video on the HTC is loathsome – especially indoors. The Xiaomi (when I remembered to take the protective covering off the lens) is much better. Not great but much better. An interesting contrast of its capabilities is posted on MICGadget here. Another area is  the FM Radio. The HD2’s radio basically didn’t work no matter what operating system or ROM you put on it. The Xiaomi’s has very good FM reception but no RDS. I’ve not tried bluetooth pairing yet but intend to try it with my Garmin Sat Nav next weekend. I’ll let you know if there are any horror stories. This was something you could never really do with the HD2 because of the battery consumption. I must admit to missing the larger screen of the HD2 but the speed and smoothness of the Xiaomi compensated to an extent. 

Connectivity to Windows 7 and OpenSUSE 12.1 pose no issues. There are drivers on the Xiaomi site should you need them.

Future Use

Well this is just a double win. Both phones are suitable for running development ROMs but the HTC has more form.

Xiaomi M1 taken by the HD2

The Xiaomi is great for daily use so when I find a good stable ROM I can run with it on this phone.

HTC HD2 taken by the Xiaomi

The HD2 is great for playing with those unstable ROM’s or who knows I might even try Windows Phone 7 one day.

Finale

The HD2 is a truly classic phone. But it had a miserable start in life. It has matured over time to become what it is. Will we say the same about the Xiaomi in 2 years time. Hard to say but it has the potential and these are interesting times. Lei Jun wants to run Windows Phone 7 on the Xiaomi. So it could just happen starting with ICS at the end of this month. Told you it was a long one

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  1. Steve
    January 16, 2012 at 10:57 am

    just a little curious. did you pay any tax when you received this phone? i have someone in the UK and might buy it then ship it to him the he can forward it to me.

    • January 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Customs duty and VAT are due on mobiles shipped to the UK

      • Steve
        January 16, 2012 at 4:23 pm

        thanks for the heads up!

  2. alex
    January 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Where have you ordered the phone? How much is it?
    Thanks!

    • January 25, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      I bought the phone on Xiaomi’s website and it cost 1999 renmimbi Yuan – about 200 pounds or 310 dollars. See my earlier posts for details.

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