Sunday, August 31, 2014

Xiaomi Mi3

The technology narrative in the Western press about industrial design on 'foreign' shores used to be how non-Western countries start off by making cheap copies of great American technology, then achieve quality parity, then start making beautiful designs, but never to the specialised ultra-chic European level.

Well, China is not having it. A number of manufacturers want to make beautiful and thoughtful design their trademark as much as Apple does, and I have had the pleasure of briefly carrying one of these devices, the Xiaomi Mi3. It is a highly specced mobile, beautifully manufactured with a gorgeous HD screen and a lovely camera, at a very affordable price. There is a hunger for design and beautiful experiences through all levels of the market; this device sold out in mere hours when a production run was imported to India, with the same story in other countries that are usually sales wastelands for $600 devices like iPhones and Nexuses.

I have been planning to wax rhapsodically over how carefully it seemed to have been put together, how lovely its cover fit the device down to the millimetre to compliment its curved shape and how well it folded into a pretty stand, how odd and humorous it was to use a device that was Chinese at its core and would still throw up the odd dialog box or voice-recognition prompt in Chinese characters, impenetrable to me, even after I had set the whole device to English. I wanted to carefully describe how Xiaomi had used the Chinese mobile properties and its own store to create an ecosystem to rival iTunes for all kinds of media, and how it allowed something the iPhone most definitely did not, full re-skinning, in ways beyond just switching out some icons and  background wallpaper, and nod to the controversy that the device used to upload your whole phonebook as part of becoming part of this ecosystem, even your Google phonebook.

Alas, I can't. Coming back from the US to London, swapping my US SIM out for my UK SIM somehow rendered the SIM card reader inoperable, a known design flaw in these devices only a minority of users will encounter. But when it comes to hardware, I am one of those blessed users testers love so much: I always run into the edge cases. Xiaomi does not have a presence in the UK, I got this device through an importer who, after first being slow at answering my emails, requested me to send the device back to China on my dime for exchange with Xiaomi.

And this is again an area where Apple has transformed consumer expectation: repairs. Yes, the Genius Bar doesn't always give joy, but at least there is a place to go to get your Apple kit looked at and diagnosed, often in your own metropolitan area, by the actual brand itself. Compare this to most other brands where you are still supposed to pack your electronics up and send them to a national service centre, or find a repair shop, hopefully authorised and hopefully not too stuffy, dusty, down-market, or otherwise dread-inducing.

So off it has gone, by airmail. I hope it arrives and we can then do something. Yes, I sent it untracked--tracking a package to China was expensive and I do not want to sink more costs into this device. The Mi3 has been out for a while now, and competitors are nipping at its heels, and I'd rather save money up than sink it into something that went from a joy to use to no longer fit for primary purpose within a minute of performing a normal operation.