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China's Xiaomi lands in the US and Europe, but leaves some things behind

Ambitious but cautious, too, the smartphone maker puts the focus of its new online store on accessories like headphones and the Mi Band activity tracker.

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Xiaomi brings its Mi Store to the US and Europe. Xiaomi

The 5-year-old upstart Xiaomi, whose smartphones and tablets have been hot commodities in China, is now opening up shop in the US and Europe -- but without those smartphones and tablets.

On Monday evening, Xiaomi will launch an online marketplace for US consumers through which it will offer a handful of accessories, including a pair of portable battery packs, the $80 Mi Headphones , and the $15 Mi Band activity tracker. Some hours later, on Tuesday, the store will also launch in the UK, Germany and France.

Founded in 2010, Xiaomi holds to a business model that revolves around selling more than 1,000 products at or near cost -- everything from mobile phones to accessories to television sets to stuffed animals. Its low-priced smartphones and tablets are intended to appeal to budget-conscious buyers.

The launch represents Xiaomi's first significant step toward bringing its many products to the West. It has already made a name for itself by offering its low-cost smartphones in emerging markets, including China and India. It's also looking to start selling phones in Brazil within the next few months.

But the company wants to be known as more than just a gadget maker. "We increasingly see ourselves as a lifestyle brand," Hugo Barra, Xiaomi's global vice president, said in March, speaking of the pending move into Western markets.

Big bets are already being laid on Xiaomi's success. In December, the company became the world's most valuable startup, after raising an additional $1.1 billion in venture capital funding, giving it a valuation of $45 billion. (The US-based ride-sharing startup Uber appears poised to edge ahead, with rumors of a new funding round that could push it to a $50 billion valuation.)

Xiaomi has been compared to Apple for its ability to captivate consumers with well-crafted, high-quality mobile devices. Its founder and CEO Lei Jun often conveys a stage presence like Steve Jobs. and new products typically sell out within minutes of hitting store shelves. In April, for instance, Xiaomi in just 12 hours sold 2 million of its smartphones, which run on Google's Android operating system.

In the first quarter of this year, the company shipped 13.5 million smartphones in China, putting it in second place after Apple, which shipped 14.5 million iPhones there in the same period.

Other comparisons to Apple haven't been so kind. Critics last year called the Mi 4 smartphone a copycat of the iPhone.

Xiaomi Mi Band
The Mi Band, ready for charging. Aloysius Low/CNET

Earlier this year, Xiaomi launched the Mi 4i in India with the goal of becoming the No. 1 smartphone maker in that country. It had already cracked the top five of market share in India in just a year, though it trails far behind Samsung.

While its smartphones get much of the attention, Xiaomi also sells a GoPro-like wearable camera, a MiWiFi network router and a smart television called the MiTV. The company even sells an air purifier and blood pressure monitor.

In the US, the Mi Band will be competing against the likes of the Fitbit, the Jawbone Up, the Microsoft Band and the Apple Watch, which also incorporates activity-tracking features.

For now, the Mi Store will offer just a handful of products that Barra in March called Xiaomi's "hero accessories." Barra also said at the time he didn't expect Xiaomi to sell its smartphones through the US Mi Store, adding that such a move is "nowhere near the top of our priority for now."

Consumers thinking of buying products through the Mi Store should know that Xiaomi said it will ship all products from its China warehouses, which means they must clear customs. Xiaomi said it will make "every effort" to deliver the products to customers within seven business days. The company does not offer free shipping and will charge customers the cost of import taxes and duties.

Xiaomi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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