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 January 2017.
Xiaomi Mi Mix
Released October 2016: The Mi Mix is Xiaomi's latest and greatest, and quite possibly the most futuristic phone on the market today. With a 91.3% screen-to-body ratio, the Mi Mix has virtually no bezels, allowing Xiaomi to fit a 6.4-inch display in a handset that's the same size as a 5.7-inch phone.
To achieve an edgeless design, Xiaomi had to innovate in other areas as well. The front camera module is located at the bottom of the screen, and is 50% smaller than an average sensor. As there isn't room to accommodate an earpiece, Xiaomi relied on "cantilever piezoelectric ceramic acoustic technology" to transmit sound. And as it couldn't fit a traditional proximity sensor, Xiaomi went with an ultrasound sensor that's located behind the glass panel.
The Mi Mix isn't just about the design either. The phone has the latest hardware in the form of a Snapdragon 821 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 256GB storage, 16MP camera at the back, and a 4400mAh battery.
The end result is that the Mi Mix is a stunning phone to look at, and given the internal hardware, it is fully capable as a daily driver. The only problem with the phone is that it is limited to China, and won't be sold outside the country. Trying to buy it through resellers turns into a costly affair, as they're charging a healthy $300 markup, bringing the cost of the phone up to $900.
Xiaomi Mi 5s
Released October 2016: The Mi 5s is Xiaomi's second phone in its flagship Mi series for 2016. The design is an evolution of the Mi 5, with Xiaomi eschewing the glass back for an all-metal chassis. Making high-end hardware available at an affordable price is what Xiaomi excels at, and the situation is no different with the Mi 5s. For what amounts to $400, you get a phone with a Snapdragon 821, dual rear 13MP cameras, 6GB of RAM and 128GB flash storage.
There's a standard variant of the Mi 5s that offers a single 12MP rear shooter and 3GB of RAM along with 64GB storage, retailing for $300 in China. Other specs include a 5.15-inch Full HD display on the Mi 5s, and a 5.7-inch Full HD panel on the Mi 5s Plus. The smaller Mi 5s has a 3000mAh battery, while the larger Mi 5s Plus offers a 3800mAh unit.
Both phones are now retailing in China, and as of now there's no information to suggest they'll be making their way to other markets. That could change in the coming months, but with Xiaomi rumored to unveil the Mi 6 sometime at the end of Q1 2017, it looks like the Mi 5s will be a China-exclusive. However, you can buy it from reseller sites for the equivalent of $295, which comes out to be a pretty sweet deal for those located in Asian markets.
Xiaomi Mi Note 2
Released October 2016: The Mi Note 2 doesn't get as much attention as it deserves, primarily because it made its debut alongside the Mi Mix. That said, the phone is important to Xiaomi's global ambitions as it is the first from the manufacturer to offer global LTE bands. With support for over 37 LTE bands, you'll be able to use the Mi Note 2 on most carriers around the world.
The phone itself isn't all that bad. The Mi Note 2 features a 5.7-inch dual curved display similar to that of the S7 edge, although Xiaomi partnered with LG on the display front. Although it is an AMOLED panel, it is Full HD and not QHD, a letdown in an otherwise great phone.
Other specs include the Snapdragon 821, up to 6GB of RAM and 128GB storage, 22.5MP camera at the back, 8MP front camera, and a 4070mAh battery. Even though the phone has global LTE bands, it is sold exclusively in China.
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 recently picked up a Marshmallow-based build of MIUI 8.
Xiaomi released the Redmi Note 4 in China in late 2016, but the phone is yet to go up for sale outside the country. It doesn't offer anything extra in terms of hardware prowess, with Xiaomi instead tweaking the overall design and introducing a much better camera. Even after a year since its debut, the Redmi Note 3 is a great buy.
Xiaomi Redmi 3S
The Redmi 3S is Xiaomi's latest budget wonder. The Chinese manufacturer's claim to fame two years ago was the Redmi 1S, and this year's offering in the entry-level series offers even more value for money. For what amounts to $110, you get a phone with a 5-inch 720p display, the all-new Snapdragon 430 SoC, 2GB of RAM, 16GB storage, 13MP camera, 5MP front shooter, and a massive 4100mAh battery.
Xiaomi is also selling a Prime version of the Redmi 3S for $140 that offers 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage, as well as a fingerprint sensor at the back. And in a bid to target offline buyers, Xiaomi is rolling out a variant of the phone called the Redmi 3S+ that will be sold exclusively offline in India. The phone will be available from over 7,000 retail outlets across the country.
Overall, the Redmi 3S solidifies Xiaomi's position in the budget segment. For more on what the phone offers, read our review:
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 now available in India for ₹14,999 ($225).