The manufacturer you may have rarely heard of is making some great devices.
Xiaomi is a smartphone manufacturer that is growing in stature day-by-day, despite having virtually no physical presence outside of Asia. Sales of its phones in territories including India and its native China have propelled the relatively young company into the top five smartphone manufacturers in the world. Impressive, certainly, and it seems Xiaomi is set to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Apple and Samsung in the higher reaches of the smartphone market.
And yet while so many may have heard the name, the phones are still relatively alien to many in the West. Xiaomi has a reputation for building devices that are an extremely good value without cutting corners in the process. If you're interested in picking up a Xiaomi phone or just interested in the brand, these are the phones you'll need to know about.
Article updated July 2016
1. Xiaomi Mi 5
Released March 2016: The Mi 5 is a big deal for Xiaomi. Not only has it been two years in the making, it was also Xiaomi's first product launch to take place in Europe. It's a harmony of fantastic design, high-end hardware and low price. The last two of those, at least, becoming hallmarks of Xiaomi phones in recent years.
The flagship product for 2016 and direct successor to the Mi 4, the Mi 5 comes in a regular and a Pro model, with minor differences between the two. Ultimately you're getting a Snapdragon 820 processor with Adreno 530 GPU, 3 or 4GB of RAM, 32, 64 or 128GB of internal storage and a 5.15-inch 1080p display. The Pro even has an option for a ceramic back, still costing just $354 on the direct conversion.
The Mi 5 also boasts a 4-axis OIS system on its 16MP rear camera, but more incredibly doesn't have a camera hump. The Mi 5 is pretty slim, incredibly light and has a camera that sits completely flush to the rear of the phone. It's also Xiaomi's first new phone to run MIUI 7 based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and while the West looks on with lustful eyes, the Mi 5 is on sale in China and India (where the model with 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage is available).
2. Xiaomi Mi Max
Released July 2016: Unveiled in China in June, the Mi Max is Xiaomi's largest phone to date, with the handset packing a huge 6.44-inch display backed by Gorilla Glass 3. The phone is available with either 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage and a Snapdragon 650, or a more powerful variant with Snapdragon 652 under the hood and 4GB of RAM and 128GB storage.
There's a 16MP camera with PDAF at the back, a 5MP shooter up front, LTE bands for India and China along with VoLTE, and a massive 4850mAh battery that Xiaomi claims will easily deliver two days of battery life on a full charge. On the software side of things, there's MIUI 7 with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The phone is up for sale in China, and will be available in India shortly.
3. Xiaomi Redmi Note 3
Released December 2015:The Redmi Note 3 represents incredible value for money while still offering a great experience. If you want a larger Xiaomi phone but would prefer to spend less than the Mi 5, this is the one to go for.
Hardware-wise there's a 5.5-inch 1080p display with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 paired with 16GB of internal storage and 2GB of RAM or 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM. There's a 13MP camera around the back and a whopping 4000mAh battery squeezed inside it's all-metal chassis. The Redmi Note 3 is also one of Xiaomi's first phones to feature a fingerprint scanner on the rear and it ships with the Android 5.0 Lollipop-based version of MIUI 7.
4. Xiaomi Mi 4i
Released April 2015: The Mi 4i is a trimmed down, cheaper version of the Mi 4 and is Xiaomi's first phone to launch first outside of China. Swapping metal for plastic all round, the Mi 4i has a 5-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 615 CPU, 16GB of internal storage, a 13MP rear camera with two-tone LED flash and a whopping 3120mAh battery. Oh, and you get all that for around $200. Crazy.
The Mi 4i was also the first new Xiaomi phone to debut running the Android 5.0 Lollipop based version of MIUI 6. And it's yet another example of Xiaomi packing in good hardware without jacking up the price.
5. Xiaomi Mi Note/Mi Note Pro
Released January 2015: Xiaomi's high-end smartphone for 2015 was also its best ever to that point. The Mi Note is a 5.7-inch phone running MIUI 6 out of the box and comes in two flavors depending on your thirst for the best-of-the-best hardware or saving a few bucks. The Mi Note is no slouch with a Snapdragon 801 CPU, 3GB of RAM and a 13MP rear camera with OIS. There's Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and back (or bamboo, if you fancy) and a 1080p display.
The tricked-out Mi Note Pro ups the hardware to a level that any Android flagship for 2015 would be proud of. The display resolution is upped to 2K (2560 x 1440), the CPU is a Snapdragon 810, there's 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. Xiaomi boasted this is the "best smartphone in the world" and while others will have something to say about that, there's no doubting the Mi Note Pro's credentials.
Xiaomi is working on a successor to the Mi Note that should make its debut sometime later this year. Early rumors suggest that the phone could be the first handset from Xiaomi to offer a QHD screen.
6. Xiaomi Redmi 3
Released January 2016: As if Xiaomi's smartphones weren't already affordable enough, the Redmi range takes it one step further. The Redmi 3 is the latest low-cost phone aimed at China and can be had, unbelievably, for a smidge over $100.
For that you get a metal body with a striking diamond pattern etched on the rear, a 5-inch 720p display, Snapdragon 616 CPU, 16GB of storage, 2GB of RAM and a 13MP rear camera. Oh, and it has a ridiculously large 4100mAh battery inside. It also runs MIUI 7, Xiaomi's latest, though it doesn't include a fingerprint scanner. But still, you get a lot of phone for not a lot of money.
The Redmi 3 is limited to China, and it doesn't look like the manufacturer will bring the phone to other markets. In India, the older Redmi 2/Redmi 2 Prime are still available, which feature a Snapdragon 410, 2GB of RAM, 16GB storage, 8MP camera, 2MP front shooter, and a 2200mAh battery.