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First look at Xiaomi's flagship Mi Note phablet

Don't hold your breath for a US launch

Xiaomi is having a US coming-out party of sorts today in San Francisco. No, the company isn't going to start selling its phones here just yet, but the company did announce that it'll be selling some of its other products in the US later this year. To top it off, the company let us try out its latest phone, the 5.7-inch Mi Note. While I haven't gotten the phone online yet (there's no SIM card, and the Wi-Fi networks here are rather flaky), it's still notable to get a chance to check out Xiaomi's flagship, which doesn't really have a presence outside China just yet.

Much has been made of Xiaomi's penchant for copying Apple's design language, but the first thing this phone reminded me of was not the iPhone 6 Plus — in my hands, it felt much more like a larger version of the HTC One M8. The sloping, curved back plus the aluminum band around the middle both looks and feels quite a bit like HTC's flagship. That said, there are a host of small details here and there that call to mind a number of iPhone models — in particular the dual glass front and back design is unavoidably reminiscent of Apple's iPhone 4 and 4S. That aside, it isn't really fair to call this a straight iPhone knockoff, not by a long shot.

For such a large phone, the Mi Note feels surprisingly comfortable in my hands — the power button is perfectly located, at least for me, and the glass back makes it a lot less slippery than the iPhone 6 Plus. The 1080p screen is predictably gorgeous, and the gentle slope of the front "2.5D" glass makes swiping through screens quite pleasing — I love that feeling on the new iPhones and I love it here, as well.

Software-wise, the Mi Note is running Xiaomi's custom MIUI software on top of Android. In my brief usage, it feels a lot like a mix between Samsung's more garish TouchWiz UI and Apple's iOS. There are a lot of errant bleeps and bloops as I make my way through the OS, but there's a uniformity and cleanliness to the design that invokes iOS a bit here. It's as fast and fluid as you'd expect a phone with such powerful hardware to be, though again I haven't tested it extensively yet. Fortunately, Xiaomi is letting us keep this phone for a while, so we'll get to dig in more soon and find out exactly what is making its hardware so popular in China and elsewhere.

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