This is the new Xiaomi Mi Watch. Yes, it is clearly the secret son of the Apple Watch and the iPhone 4. And no, that’s not a bad thing at all. Especially when you look at its specs — with LTE and two-day battery life — and its ridiculously low $185 price.
Xiaomi launched the device today in a special event in Beijing, China, as reported by Gizmochina. It’s not Xiaomi’s first try at wearables — its popular sports-oriented Mi Band has been one of the company’s best sellers since 2014. But it’s the company's first watch — and Xiaomi's first device that uses Google’s WearOS, albeit with a custom interface developed in-house just like its phones run MIUI on top of Android.
The most striking aspect of the Xiaomi Mi Watch is that it looks like a mix between the Apple Watch — with its rounded shape and big crown designed for user navigation — and the classic iPhone 4. While the Apple’s device has a markedly rounded body everywhere, the Mi Watch only has rounded corners, using a flat band that reminds of the iconic Apple phone.
The body is made of matte aluminum, with sapphire glass protecting the display and ceramics on the part with the heart rate monitor. It comes with interchangeable straps that seem to be made of a polymer called fluoro rubber, which Xiaomi claims is hypoallergenic. There’s also a special edition that uses stainless steel for both the body and the straps. The base model is available in white, blue, silver, and black.
The watch also has a button on the side, a hole for the microphone, and a speaker grill that seems to hold a rather large speaker. Apparently, Xiaomi believes that people will use this a lot for calls — and watching videos, for some reason (it comes with a video app).
Xiaomi claims that you can use this for swimming too, so it’s waterproof.
The user experience
In terms of interface and user experience, the Mi Watch uses touch and a crown for navigation. The faces remind me of the Apple Watch. The interface seems to use the same design language as Xiaomi’s Android interface — MIUI. It has a variety of faces and fitness apps, calendar integration, video playback, music, voice calling, SMS, etc.
It comes with its own app store, with more than 40 apps made for it. However, these seem to be Chinese-centric at the moment. There’s no news about things like WhatsApp or Google apps.
Screen and guts
Unlike Apple’s smartwatch, the Mi Watch only comes in one size, featuring a 1.78-inch AMOLED touch display with a relative resolution of 326 points per inch — 448 x 368 pixels. This is exactly the same size and resolution of the 40mm Apple Watch Series 5.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch is powered by a Snapdragon Wear 3100 4G chipset. This thing has four Cortex A7 cores running at 1.2GHz, which would make it pretty zippy. More importantly, all the watches come with LTE connectivity with eSIM support.
The company also used its long experience on fitness bands in this machine. The Mi Watch has heart rate monitoring, sleep monitoring, body energy monitoring, and an oxygen blood level sensor. And NFC for Google Pay.
A giant battery
Xiaomi went all-in with the battery, as the Mi Watch sports a 570mAh pack. Xiaomi claims that it will run for 36 hours, giving a two-day life per charge. For comparison, the Apple Watch Series 5’ battery capacity changes depending on the model, going from 296mAh to the top 455mAh.
Apple claims that the Series 5 with LTE has an 18-hour battery after an overnight charge — which it says qualifies as an “all-day battery life.” We will have to check the Xiaomi to see if it can live up to the expectations but, with that battery pack, its claim seem reasonable.
This is the most shocking part: it’s only 1299 yuan, which is roughly $185. Like, what the actual what? Even the top of the line model — the special stainless steel edition — is just $285. Color me amazeballsgasted.
So, what’s the catch?
What’s the trick for having these specs and cost a fraction of a comparable Apple Watch? Is there any catch? Will this watch fall apart after a month of using it?
If past user experiences with Xiaomi devices are any indication — I bought a Mi Mix 3 myself at the beginning of 2019 after reading so many good reviews and user comments — there might not be a catch. The Chinese brand is well known for making solid and high-end devices at very low prices because of its profit margin.
According to its CEO, competitors’ profit margins are absurdly high but Xiaomi’s profit margin is capped at 5% for all products. A company like Apple have a gross margin of around 64% for its iPhones while Samsung and Huawei apply similar margins to their high end flagships. Xiaomi is using the same components, materials, and finish — just not doubling the production cost to get the final price tag.
The most recent example of this 5% profit cap is the company’s latest flagship phone — the Xiaomi Mi CC9, announced today alongside the Mi Watch. It matches the 121 DxOmark camera benchmark score of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro — which previously reigned alone at the top of the list over the iPhone 11 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S10.
This device runs on the latest Snapdragon silicon, has an AMOLED screen, five cameras that go — from Samsung’s latest Isocell Bright HMX 108MP sensor to 12MP — coupled with five different optics — from wide, ultra-wide, telephoto, macro, and one for specially for portraits — and a fast charging 5,270mAh battery. The price? $400. That’s one third of the price of the Mate 30, which retails for $1,200 and has worse specs.
In the case of the Apple Watch, some analysts believe is the product with the highest profit margin for Apple, so it’s not hard to believe that the final price of the Mi Watch is $185 vs the $500 of the LTE-equipped Apple Watch Series 5. That’s a considerable difference even if you factor in the EKG in the Apple Watch. If you compare it to the $300 Series 3 with LTE— which has worse specs — the Mi Watch is also cheaper.
Without having used a Mi Watch yet, it seems like we are about to get a WearOS device that can actually make a dent at Apple’s dominance. After using the Mi Mix 3 for almost a year, I’m excited for this device, especially for the two-day battery and the LTE. So excited, in fact, that I’m going to buy one to see if the specs and UI can actually deliver on its promises.
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Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story and wrote old angry man rants, among other things. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce, and currently writes for Fast Company and Tom's Guide.