Monday, March 24, 2014

Xiaomi Chinese Phones for use in the USA


Xiaomi has been called the "Apple of China" by a lot of industry watchers. In the space of three years, Xiaomi has released the Xiaomi HongmiMI-2, MI2S and their flagship MI-3 series smartphones, a 3D smart TV that looks like it could have been designed by Apple, hired Hugo Barra, formerly VP of Google’s Android platform, and achieved a valuation of $10.5 Billion that is almost three times as large as Uber’s $3.5 Billion (a company that is a year older).
Xiaomi Mi3
(buy it here)

Their top of the line Xiaomi Mi-3 flagship phone was released end of 2003 and has been selling very well. It is compatible with AT&T's 850 MHz and 1900 MHz 3G bands in the US. It has a Snapdragon 800 Quad Core Snapdragon 2.3GHz CPU, Android 4.2 OS, 2GB RAM and 64GB ROM and a 5 inch 1080P OGS Corning Glass screen with full 1920*1080 441PPI resolution. According to this report Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak who is a Xiaomi endorser owns one.

Xiaomi Redmi Note from ibuygou
Xiaomi recently introduced the very low priced Redmi Note 5.5" dual-SIM phablet. It features the new Octa-Core  MTK6592 1.7GHz CPU with 2GB RAM and 8GB ROM with max. 32GB of expandable storage, and a 13MP 5.5 Inch IPS Capacitive Touchscreen. It has TD-CDMA/HSPA support on the first SIM slot and GSM/EDGE on the second SIM slot. Connectivity options include Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n. pricing starts at around $130 and will be available on March 26 in China. There is no word on release dates for other countries. Read this post about the introduction of the Redmi Note on Hugo Barra's Facebook page.

Back cover and battery removed
Xiaomi smartphones are highly popular and widely used in Asia and Europe but are practically unknown in the USA: 
These phones are currently not being sold in the USA, but can be ordered and shipped to the US from several reliable online sources such as Xiaomi authorized distributor ibuygou
Don't be fooled, these are full-featured, well built, high-quality phones. I have been using the Mi-2S on an AT&T off-contract account for the past 3 months, and I am very satisfied with it. With the Mi2S, Xiaomi has produced a phone that is (for now) outselling the iPhone. The Mi2s has a brilliant 4.3" screen. Its very clean no-nonsense modified interface and rounded corners are quite reminiscent of the iPhone, although it is somewhat thicker and heavier. See this link to compare the two phones. This phone uses the heavily customized MIUI 5 OS based on the Android 4.1 Jelly-Bean ROM that already has a widespread global user base and a well supported website that provides weekly English and multi-language ROM updates, a FAQ and a users forum. 

Why this phone when there are so many other unlocked choices available? 

  • This is one of the few low-cost, full-featured, unlocked Chinese 3G phones that is fully compatible with AT&T's GSM and WCDMA 850 & 1900 MHz frequency bands used in the USA.
  • Note: The Xiaomi Mi3 and Mi2s are compatible with AT&T's 850MHz and 1900MHz 3G bands, but not all other models support them. Check this link to make sure that a particular model will work with your carrier. 
  • The Quad-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon CPU and sharp ~342 ppi density display make this a fast, responsive alternative to most phones in this price range.
  • I have not tried it with T-Mobile, but according to this discussion if you're not in the zone of T-Mobile's 1900 MHz coverage areas you will only get 2G Edge Speeds.
  • It has no 4G LTE radio, but you do get an FM radio, Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11b/g/n WiFi plus WiFi Display.
  • A good alternative to the larger and bulkier "phandroid" phones, it has a 4.3″ IPS screen with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels and a very clean no-nonsense user interface. 
  • The screen is made with Asahi "Dragontrail" glass. Supposedly, this is similar to Corning's Gorilla glass.
  • It uses the heavily customized MIUI 5 OS based on the Android 4.1 Jelly-Bean ROM. The MIUI OS comes with a host of handy tools, most of which exist for the sake of privacy (SMS filters and caller blacklist), security (antivirus and app permission monitor) and network usage monitoring (monthly bandwidth reminder and prompt for large file downloads).
  • It has support for over-the-air firmware updates (OTA). The phone has two system partitions installed, one active and another as back-up. After an updating your phone it downloads and installs the new OS in the background to the second system. Rebooting activates the new update with all existing settings and data in place. The backup system is always there allowing reboot to the old OS to be recovered. 
  • It has a removable 2,000mAh (7.4Wh) battery under the swappable back cover, and users can also purchase the thicker 3,100mAh (11.47Wh) cell with its special cover.
  • There's also a standard-sized SIM slot, but no micro or nano variant.
  • There are plenty of accessories available for this phone. I found lots of OEM and aftermarket back covers, cases, batteries, headsets and even an add-on 10X camera zoom lens. Many of these items are available on eBay and from the Xiaomi factory authorized dealer ibuygou.
  • I was initially disappointed by the lack of a MicroSD slot, but now think that 32gb  should be more than enough for me for a long time. However, you need to think carefully about additional storage space when considering a purchase.
  • The MI-2s is available in 16GB and 32GB versions, the 32GB version has a 13 megapixel front facing camera as compared to 8 megapixels on the 16GB version. 
  • Camera picture quality is excellent, even under low light conditions. I avoid using the flash, which I find produces a bluish tint. 
  • The camera comes with panoramic, front & rear camera and HDR functions.
  • Google apps can be added easily but you must first install the Google Play Store and sync with your Google account.
The 2 issues I have with this phone: 
  1. The plastic back is difficult to open - you have to press down with a thumb just above the "MI" logo on the back, and simultaneously lift up the bottom of the cover away from the body by using a finger nail inserted into the rectangular opening for the micro-USB connector.
  2. The capacitive buttons on the bottom of the display do not light up and are difficult or impossible to see in the dark.
Beware of Imitations: Because of the popularity of this phone in the Asian market, there are a large number of clone copies available, many of them sold by dishonest sources online. I need to stress the importance of buying an item like this only from a reputable, well respected dealer with a full guarantee. Here is my own story:

  • I first ordered a Xiaomi MI-2S 16GB phone through Amazon from a 3rd party seller that had the lowest price for a "new" phone with free shipping. Even though it was a "real" Xiaomi phone in its original box and not a clone, it had been opened and the seal was broken. After powering up, I found that the phone's menu was entirely in Chinese, without the normal new phone introduction menu or English language selection that I was expecting, I also noticed that an aftermarket screen protector had been applied. All this led me to conclude that this phone was used and not new as advertised. After inserting an AT&T SIM card, I was unable to make or receive phone calls because the sound was totally distorted. I then tried installing the recommended download update but this froze and bricked the phone with no recovery possible. Fortunately Amazon's A-to-z Guarantee policy saved the day. 
  • I then decided to give the MI-2S Xiaomi phone a second chance, and after 
     considerable online research I ordered a second brand-new MI 2S 32GB version of this phone straight from China from a well user rated, factory authorized dealer called "ibuygou". I found them to be very professional and responsive, and they offered quick DHL 1-3 day shipping from China for a reasonable price. Click on this link for for pricing, shipping and ordering info for the US. I also ordered a nice "binli" flip-top leather case from them. 
  • This second phone from ibuygou worked seamlessly straight out of the box, and I updated the phone right away to an English ROM using its built-in download/update menus (see US Setup Guide below). Everything now works like a charm - so far I can say that this is one of the nicest smartphones I have used.
  • Xiaomi MI-2s phones are also available on Amazon from several 3rd party Chinese merchants, and Amazon's A-to-Z guarantee is one of the best return protection policies around. Check out this link to see what's available, but as the saying goes, "buyer beware", so before ordering make sure you are buying from a reputable merchant. I ended up buying my phone directly from ibuygou who stands by the one-year factory warranty and provides reliable expedited DHL and FedEx shipping.
MI-2S Setup Sequence: