BEIJING -- Xiaomi has been causing a stir in the smartphone world with its low-cost, high-quality handsets and the Chinese company is hoping to do the same with its Mi Pad tablet. But it might be its rather familiar design that ruffles the most feathers.
With a design closely resembling the Apple iPad Mini, albeit with the iPhone 5C's candy-colored glossy plastic shell, the Mi Pad potentially has the power and price to give Apple a run for its money. That is, if it doesn't get sued by the California company first.
The tablet will be available as an "open beta" in China in June -- that is to say, the company will be handing out preproduction samples to its dedicated fans. When it will go on general sale has not yet been announced, nor whether it will head to other countries. The 16GB Wi-Fi-only model will cost 1,499 Chinese yuan (roughly $240, £145, AU$260), whereas the 64GB version will go for 1,699 Chinese yuan (around $270, £160, AU$290), which is a commendably small price increase for the extra storage.
Design and display
The Mi Pad liberally borrows from Apple's design. The tablet is clad in shiny plastic that's very similar to the iPhone 5C, and comes in five vibrant hues. The appearance and shape, however, is similar to the iPad Mini -- in fact, the company made several comparisons to the Mini's features during its presentation.
To be fair, Xiaomi's other products don't really resemble Apple's stuff, though the same can't be said about the company's marketing efforts.
Like the Mini, the Mi Pad has a 7.9-inch display and the same resolution of 2,048x1,536 pixels, for a retina-quality density of 326ppi. Xiaomi claims the Mi Pad has better color accuracy than the Mini, and it uses the same hardy Corning Gorilla Glass 3.
The rounded corners of the Mi Pad are very similar to Apple's iPads, and the tablet has a very thin bezel as well. Like Apple, Xiaomi includes palm detection, which means you won't accidentally tap or swipe on the screen when you're holding the tablet.
There's a drawback to using plastic for its rear though -- it is quite slippery to hold, and frankly, I didn't like the oily feel. Xiaomi has shown it can use premium materials such as aluminum, though doing so would mean the company's slate would be even more closely resemble the iPads, or Huawei's MediaPad X1.
Specs and software
Xiaomi's Mi Pad is the first device to use Nvidia's Tegra K1 quad-core processor, and from my brief time with the tablet, I found the interface to be as smooth as butter. I can't tell you now that the K1 would do better than Qualcomm's chips, but leaked benchmarks do indicate blazing-fast performance.
Apart from the processor, the tablet comes with 2GB of RAM and either 16GB or 64GB of onboard storage. A microSD card with support for 128GB cards will let you store all the movies you want without fear of running out of space any time soon.
The Mi Pad has two cameras, an 8-megapixel version on the back and 5 megapixels on the front for video calls. It trumps the iPad on one last spec -- its 6,700mAh battery, which is 500mAh more than Apple's effort.
MIUI, the company's customised Android software, will be the OS of choice for the Mi Pad. It will run the latest version, which is based on Android 4.4.2 KitKat. My initial impression of this new tablet version is that it greatly resembles Apple's iOS 7, but that's likely no surprise by now.
Xiaomi's CEO Lei Jun said onstage today that he hopes the low price of the Xiaomi Mi Pad will prompt Apple to lower its prices, but I think that's highly unlikely. The company is likely betting that its Apple-ish tablet will attract people who want the design of the iPad without getting a second mortgage. That seems like a great idea, but what makes the iPad so good is its ecosystem. While Android has millions of apps, few are properly optimized for tablets (unlike iOS).
The Mi Pad is currently only slated for sale in China, and there's no word yet on whether countries such as Singapore, where Xiaomi is currently selling its products, will be getting the slate. Given Xiaomi's careful pace of expansion, don't expect to see the Mi Pad in Europe or the US anytime soon -- unless you're willing to pay a premium via an online importer, of course.