6 December 2019
While Lei Jun gloats over his latest sales figures, I undergo the tribulations of a Xiaomi fan. Photo: Bloomberg
While Lei Jun gloats over his latest sales figures, I undergo the tribulations of a Xiaomi fan. Photo: Bloomberg

Confessions of a Xiaomi fan

I have never been a loyal customer of any brand, but I have bought a couple of Xiaomi smartphones just these past three months. I’ve become an unofficial fan (“mi fan”, which means rice noodles).

Xiaomi on Wednesday announced its sales jumped 270 percent in the first six months to 26.11 million handsets from a year earlier. That translates to 33 billion yuan (US$5.3 billion).

In a 50-word weibo, chairman Lei Jun broke the good news with a thankful note: “Because of your company, I have the courage to be myself.”

In three years, Xiaomi has become the world’s fastest-growing handset maker, ranking No. 3 in shipments in China behind Samsung and Lenovo.

It is arguably the most successful imitator of handset models, too. RedMi (red rice), its first model in Hong Kong, looks like iPhone 4, its Mi 3 fares well with Sony’s Xperia Z1, and its latest, RedMi Note, is almost indistinguishable from Samsung Note 2.

Xiaomi models are heavier but at least 50 percent cheaper. Which is why Red Mi Note, with dual Sim card and 8-core processor, is selling for HK$1,400 (US$181) each at the Golden Arcade in Sham Shui Po.

Buying Xiaomi is not for the faint-hearted, however. While waiting for a group tour in Xiamen over Easter, I bought an Mi 3 at a China Mobile outlet for 2,500 yuan because I could not find one in Mong Kok. Two weeks later, Xiaomi announced a 20 percent price cut for the same model, and Xiaomi phones suddenly sprang up in many stores in Hong Kong. There are now special Xiaomi shops in several districts in the city.

A bigger problem: I found my Android phone had not pre-installed Google Play because Google is banned in China. I sought help from a local mobile operator who kindly sent me a manual which I had trouble following. I then called a former China Mobile Hong Kong acquaintance who kindly referred me to a very senior executive.

“I can fix your problem,” the executive told me. “But I’m afraid your handset is fake.”

“But I think I bought it at a China Mobile store in China.”

“Sorry, I believe you bought it in one of our re-sellers. Your processor is not the real one.”

Since cursing serves no purpose, I decided to use it for a while before I could find a replacement and throw the knockoff into my closet along with my retired Blackberry and Nokia models.

But after a month, the phone conked out and I was told to replace a component. I went through half a dozen shops in Sham Shui Po and got the same answer: they did not have the parts for replacement because Xiaomi was not a popular brand in Hong Kong.

Undeterred, I went to Shenzhen’s Huaqiang Road, Asia’s largest marketplace for phones and accessories, on Tuesday and waited for an hour before the repairman was able to find a component to fix my problem.

I also bought a RedMi Note, this time from a China Unicom store, which looked like it was the real deal. The salesman was kind enough to install Google Play but I had to come back to the shop the next day to solve a synchronization problem.

Considering I paid the price of a Samsung for two Xiaomi phones plus all the aggravations, I would say my education as a telecom consumer has just begun.

Probably iPhone 6 is not for me, but I have the patience to wait for the release of RedMi 6 next year.

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EJ Insight writer