Xiaomi’s international expansion is taking a major step forward today with the Chinese company’s debut in the United Kingdom. A year and a day after launching a range of products in Spain, Xiaomi’s European foray is arriving in the UK, headlined by the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro Android flagship phone and the opening of an Authorized Mi Store in the Westfield shopping center in London on November 18th.
Europe has proven highly receptive to Xiaomi’s charms of high-spec devices at breakthrough prices. The company has 10 stores up and running in Spain, it expanded into France and Italy in May, and now it’s coming to one of the biggest and most hotly contested consumer electronics markets in the region.
Speaking to The Verge ahead of today’s announcement, Xiaomi stressed that its first UK store won’t be just a pop-up shop, and it won’t be there merely to serve up Mi 8 Pros. The Mi 8 Lite that accompanied the 8 Pro when it launched in China in September will also be making the trip, and Xiaomi plans to offer a wide selection of its ecosystem products, such as the Mi Band 3, a Mi computer mouse, earphones, headphones, a laptop, a pen, various backpacks and luggage, an electric scooter, and a projector. If you want to think of it as China’s Muji, Xiaomi won’t mind that one bit.
The Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro is a device that earned some notoriety at its launch, mostly because of its looks. Up front, its notch resembles that of the iPhone X, while around the back, one of the color options is a translucent shell that shows off a set of smartphone components. Xiaomi says that the components are real — meaning that, should you decide to harvest them from the phone, presumably they’ll be functional. However they’re not the real Snapdragon 845, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage that make up the spec of the UK edition of this phone. Those are buried inside, whereas Xiaomi has just adorned the exterior with extra silicon for a decidedly techie (if somewhat false) look.
A pressure-sensitive in-display fingerprint reader is the highlight novelty with the Mi 8 Pro. This handset joins the OnePlus 6T and Huawei Mate 20 Pro in offering a fingerprint scanner built directly into the OLED display, though each manufacturer seems to be taking a slightly different approach to making that nascent technology work. In terms of size, the Mi 8 Pro is comparatively compact, with a 6.21-inch display that has a resolution of 2248 x 1080. Still a big phone, but it measures 154.9mm in height, which makes it a touch smaller than the most common form factor for large flagship phones today.
Xiaomi’s efforts to go beyond the boundaries of the Greater China region have been paying off so far this year, and they’re part of a wider push by Chinese hardware makers into Europe and beyond. Huawei started the year with ambitious plans to enter the US market with a partnership with AT&T, which was only thwarted by the US government at the last moment. OnePlus has also greatly expanded its UK mobile carrier partnerships for the OnePlus 6T, while also adding support for US carrier Verizon for the first time.
In the UK, Xiaomi’s phones will be offered by local carrier Three, part of the Hutchinson group that earlier this year agreed to promote Xiaomi phones across its stores in nations like Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, and the UK. Other retailers where you’ll see Xiaomi’s name showing up are Argos, John Lewis, Very, Carphone Warehouse, and Currys PC World.
At a time when the US phone market is quickly losing its diversity in favor of an Apple-Samsung duopoly, it’s encouraging to see OnePlus making a push to fill the void left by HTC and LG’s continuous struggles, and it’s also good to see Xiaomi inching that little bit closer to the US.