We’ve done a fair amount of reporting on Xiaomi’s M1 smartphone, and apparently I got caught up in the hype, because a little over a month ago, my wife and I both bought one. I wanted to actually use it for a while so I could offer a review based on a longer period of use, and put it through the rigors of life as a cell phone in China.
Here’s my fill review in video, but if you dislike watching things (or are on a Youtube-challenged connection), scroll down for the text review below.
In short, I’m really impressed with the phone. Prior to the Xiaomi, I was using an iPhone 3G, and the Xiaomi feels like a big step up. Even after a month of fairly heavy use and installing a whole bunch of apps, it runs really smoothly and I’ve had almost no performance issues. Games, even ones with pretty advanced 3D graphics, play like a dream.
The MIUI (Android-based) OS is great, with really deep customization options and some useful tools. Thankfully, it is available in English as well as Chinese, although the English version isn’t totally complete and you’ll still come across some Chinese every now and then. Everything important is in English, though. I’ve even been impressed with its Miliao chat software, although that is only useful if you know someone else using it. My wife owns a Xiaomi too, so I use it fairly frequently; if she didn’t, I probably would never have opened it.
Physically, the phone is good. It doesn’t feel iPhone-solid, and the removable back of the case feels especially flimsy, but when it’s all put together it feels nice and doesn’t look bad, either. The entire back half of the case is removable, allowing easy access to the battery, SIM card, and MicroSD card slots.
It does appear to have some strange quirks. Occasionally, my wife and I will be in the same place and find we’re getting different types of service (i.e. I get 3G and she doesn’t) even though we have the same phone and carrier. I’ve also noticed some odd quirks in the Chinese-only tool that helps you monitor your data usage.
My biggest complaint is the camera, which produces images that are just not that good. It is awful in low light, but even in daylight outdoor scenes, the auto white balance is slow and many pictures end up with weird tinting as a result. There is a decent amount of manual control enabled, and using one of the many third-party camera apps available can mitigate the effects somewhat, but software can only do so much. If you want a camera phone for the occasionally fun photo, it will serve. But if you want good images and you use the camera on your phone a lot, look elsewhere.
The battery hasn’t impressed me either. It’s not bad, but at best it will still only get you through a day — typical of any smartphone, I suppose — and with heavy use you won’t even make it that far. Still, at least with the Xiaomi you can switch batteries easily, so for long trips or heavy gaming sessions you can charge an extra battery to back you up.
Despite that, the Xiaomi M1 is a pretty impressive offering, especially when you factor in the 1999 RMB ($313) price. Of course, it’s pretty tough to actually get the phone at that price, as Xiaomi keeps selling out. I’d recommend you avoid the China Unicom-branded version, which is more widely available but has some Unicom bloatware installed and costs about $100 more.
All in all, it’s a good phone at a great price, and I won’t be looking to replace it any time soon.