Xiaomi's latest India releases show nascent shift towards costlier phones

The Chinese smartphone maker is already the largest in India behind only Samsung Electronics, but has done so mostly selling cheaper phones

Harichandan Arakali
Published: 10, Oct 2017

I'm the Technology Editor at Forbes India and I love writing about all things tech. Explaining the big picture, where tech meets business and society, is what drives me. I don't get to do that every day, but I live for those well-crafted stories, written simply, sans jargon.

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Two recent releases by Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi in India seem to reaffirm an emerging shift in the subcontinent. Indian consumers now aspire to higher-end specs than those on the cheaper Redmi sets that helped Xiaomi establish itself in the market.

When Xiaomi entered India in July 2014 via online marketplace Flipkart, it actually started with the Mi 3, which at the time, could be seen as one of the Chinese smartphone company's top-end phones. The Mi 4 also made its way to India and was quite popular, especially among those Xiaomi customers in the country who considered themselves discerning buyers.

After that, however, Xiaomi has largely become known for its Redmi series phones, which became popular enough to sell in the millions, helping the company garner market share mostly at the expense of Indian competitors. After an initial period of losing some ground, because Xiaomi was offering similar or better specifications for much lower prices, Samsung fought back and has consolidated.

Today, Samsung still commands leadership in India, but any new Xiaomi sale draws a lot of interest. The Redmi phones – typically selling in the ₹5,000 to ₹7,000 range – established Xiaomi in India. And barring the Mi 5, which is available in India if one really goes looking for it, Xiaomi hasn't really brought any of its blockbuster phones to the country.

None of the Mi Note phones have been officially launched in India, for instance. The market was always seen as one where consumers were very price conscious. This year, that has been changing, as one could already see with the popularity of the higher priced Redmi Note 4, at about ₹10,000.

Now, at pretty much the very top end, Xiaomi has decided to offer its Mi Mix 2 in India in a sale on Oct. 17. The company held the phone's India launch on Tuesday at an event in New Delhi.

The phone showcases the best of Xiaomi's engineering and design prowess. It has almost no bezel, except at the bottom, with a 5.99-inch display. The phone is equipped with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chip and you can fill in the corresponding top-end specs yourself for the rest of the hardware yourself, for such a phone.

A couple of things worth pointing out, is that it has a ceramic backplate, with an aluminium alloy frame. It will set you back only ₹36,000. There really isn't another flagship smartphone with these specs at this price right now. Now if only this came with stock Android.

For that there is the Mi A1. It is a more conventional looking smartphone with a couple of higher-than-the-price-bracket features. The big difference with this one is that it runs on stock Android Nougat out of the box, and is part of Google's Android One programme. With specifications that make it a solid top-of-the-line phone within the mid-range price bracket, the Mi A1 appeals to those of us who like Xiaomi's minimalist designs, but prefer the stock-Android experience versus the Chinese company's highly-tweaked MIUI.

Some specs make it even better, such as the dual 12MP cameras, one telephoto, one wide-angle, with 2X optical zoom. The phone, priced at about Rs. 15,000, can be had for less via various offers when it is on sale.

The A1 and Mix 2 are appealing for different reasons, and of course they aren't really comparable as one costs more than twice as much as the other. That said, they are both representative of the next generation of smartphones that the Indian consumer has begun to aspire for. We might have started on the Redmi, but we want the A1 now, and the Mix 2 too.

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