BEIJING -- Xiaomi's latest phone is a phablet, but it's a cut above the wallet-friendly devices we're used to seeing from the huge Chinese smartphone maker (a.k.a. the world's most valuable startup).
As always with Chinese phones, availability is complicated. For context, Xiaomi's Mi 4 has yet to make an appearance outside of China due to the phone's limited 4G LTE frequencies -- though the company is considering selling the phone in India (where the brand is hugely popular) as a 3G device. It seems likely the 4G-capable Mi Note will be heading global first, thanks to its wider band support.
It'll cost 2,299RMB for the 16GB version -- this converts to around $260, £245 or AU$455 -- and 2,799RMB ($450, £300 or AU$550) for the 64GB model. The phablet will be on sale in China on January 27, with global availability via the company's website to be announced soon.
Xiaomi also announced the potentially even more exciting Mi Note Pro, which will sport the powerful new octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, a 2K display and high-speed downloads courtesy of Cat 9 LTE. It will retail at 3,299RMB ($530, £350 or $AU$650), though when it would go on sale was not disclosed.
Despite Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun making comparisons to Apple's iPhone 6 Plus in his unveiling, the Mi Note is a very different beast. The design borrows ideas from many current phones, but it still manages to offer something of its own.
Featuring both a curved glass front and rear, this concept sounds like something you'd expect from a Sony Xperia phone or the older iPhone 4S. That's where the similarity ends. Xiaomi has opted for rounded edges that resembles the iPhone 6 Plus on the front, but the rear curved glass (Xiaomi calls this 3D glass) is more like bend of the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge -- but without a display, of course.
The result is a very beautiful phone and the build quality in the demo sets I saw was top-notch. The black version, in my opinion, is better looking than the white. If there's a flaw though, it lies with this glass rear -- I saw plenty of smudges on the black model, though it's not so obvious with the white.
For those who are worried about the glass breaking, Xiaomi showed a video of the Mi Note surviving drop tests with nary a crack. We'll see how practical that really is in our full review, of course.
Powered by Android 4.4 KitKat running Miui 6, Xiaomi's latest custom skin, this large phone has software tweaks to let you handle it one handed, simply by sliding left or right on the home button to shrink the onscreen display. Generally speaking, the UI is similar to Apple's iOS.
The phone has a 13-megapixel rear camera, and a front 4-megapixel camera that, like the HTC One M8, boasts large 2µm pixels. This should let selfie fanatics take decent low-light shots.
Impressively, unlike Apple's noticeable camera bump, Xiaomi has managed to get its 13-megapixel camera flush to the back while still making room for optical image stabilization. That's certainly impressive, and Xiaomi says the company has a patent on that technology.
Other hardware specs include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, 3,000mAh battery, a full-HD display (1,920x1,080 pixels) and either 16GB or 64GB of onboard storage. There's no microSD card slot, but it has two 4G SIM slots and is compatible with the 4G LTE networks of the countries it will be sold in.
Besides the phone itself, Xiaomi will launch alongside a new pair of headphones, called the Mi Headphones, which take advantage of the Mi Note's HiFi audio feature, which boasts a built-in amplifier. The headphones will have 50mm beryllium diaphragm speakers and be used either as on-ear or over-ear.
Xiaomi has a great product in the Mi Note, but getting it out of China will be the company's first challenge. From what I've been hearing from Xiaomi representatives, I expect this won't take too long.
The Mi Note's quality and build speaks for itself, and I expect it to do remarkably well when it launches, despite the slightly higher price than Xiaomi's other offerings. Considering it's not much more than half the price of the Galaxy Note 4, Android fans willing to import could be getting an incredible deal.