BEIJING -- The Xiaomi Ninebot Mini is a personal transporter that's really pretty much a mini Segway. That shouldn't be too surprising since Ninebot acquired US rival Segway earlier this year thanks to an $80 million investment from Xiao. The Mini costs 1,999 yuan, which converts to around $315, £205 or AU$440. It's available only in China starting November 3.
Besides being one of the big players in the global smartphone market, Xiaomi is doubling down on its efforts to build an ecosystem of devices. After releasing products like the Yi Action Camera , smart water filters and weighing scales, the Chinese company's latest effort focuses on making getting from place to place less of a pain.
The Ninebot Mini has a range of 22 kilometres (13.6 miles) and a top speed of 15 kilometres per hour (10 miles per hour). Other specs include a 4-hour charge time and a weight limit of 85 kg. The Ninebot mini itself weighs around 12.8 kg (28 pounds) and should easily fit in the trunk of your car. It's capable of handling 15-degree inclines, but any steeper and you'll be pushing the transporter yourself.
I had the chance to spend some time with the Mini, and the self-balancing "hoverboard" is certainly a lot of fun to ride. Xiaomi says it takes an average person 3 minutes to learn how to ride one, and I found this to be fairly accurate.
The first minute is spent learning how to get on and off safely, which means mastering putting one foot on the machine before making a quick, confident step up with your other leg. The Mini's balancing algorithm means it's pretty hard to fall off, though you'll likely have trouble standing upright for the first minute or so. Once you get used to it though, it's as natural as standing up straight.
Like the Segway, moving forward is a matter of just leaning forward. The Mini's sensors will detect the shift in balance and will start rolling ahead accordingly. The more you lean out, the faster the Mini moves. To reverse, simply lean backwards. Learning this takes up your second minute, and though at first I found myself moving backwards when I thought I was standing straight, once you get the knack of it it's easy enough.
Turning will take your the last minute of learning. While it looks like you're supposed to grip the centre stick with your knees, that's actually not the case. Instead, you nudge it with your knee or calf in the direction you want to turn and the Mini swivels accordingly. You can even spin on the spot as long as you aren't moving the Mini forwards or backwards.
Once you get the hang of it, the Ninebot Mini is fun to ride. I was soon able to weave back and forth like a pro outside the Xiaomi Mi Home store at the company's Beijing office. That said, I wasn't going very fast as I wasn't wearing safety equipment -- Xiaomi says each Ninebot Mini will come with a helmet and elbow pads.
Xiaomi might be branching out, but it's still a smartphone company, so it makes sense that the Ninebot Mini has added one smartphone-centric feature -- you can use your phone to control the Mini. You can make it go back and forth like a giant Sphero BB-8 toy (minus the cuteness), though this feature is disabled as soon as the Mini detects someone stepping on it.
If you've always envied people scooting around on a Segway and didn't want to pay the expensive asking price, the Xiaomi Ninebot Mini is actually a viable alternative. The only issue, however, is like all the good stuff from Xiaomi, it's limited to its home market for now. While it's likely you'll soon be able to get it (plus a premium) through third-party online resellers, I suspect stocks will be very limited due to high demand in China itself.