Samsung's already-ailing smartphone business could have another big problem soon. In a new interview with Engadget, Xiaomi global VP Hugo Barra noted that the company is well into testing its high-end, low-cost Android phones for U.S. networks, suggesting an official launch can happen as soon as 2017.
Barra told Engadget that the company has special versions of its Mi 5 and Mi Note 2 smartphones made specifically for testing in the U.S. Because the U.S. uses wireless bands that aren't often used around the rest of the world. Xiaomi essentially has to get comfortable with how wireless service works in the states before it officially starts selling its phones here.
To justify this rigorous testing, Barra took a subtle jab at the OnePlus X, which launched in the U.S. last year but had compatibility issues with AT&T's LTE network. OnePlus' phones are made in China, but are sold directly to U.S. consumers.
"We're not going to launch something until we're ready," Barra told Engadget.
The big difference between Xiaomi and other Chinese phone makers such as Huawei and OnePlus is that Xiaomi seems to want its phones to be sold directly through U.S. carriers. That could give its phones much greater visibility than its competitors, and would allow customers to see just how affordable Xiaomi phones are compared to offerings from Samsung and LG.
Barra had previously hinted at the possibility of a U.S. launch for Xiaomi, but now seems like the time to strike. Samsung is quickly losing its spot at the top of the Android heap due to the botched Note 7 launch and ongoing Galaxy S7 issues, and the experimental LG G5 failed to sell well.
Given how much Xiaomi phones offer for their low prices, they could also be a hit with consumers who simply can't afford a Google Pixel or iPhone 7. The company's Mi 5 flagship and Mi Note 2 phablet both pack the type of premium specs you'd expect from a high-end Samsung phone, but sell for the equivalent of about $305 and $423, respectively. And with envelope-pushing devices such as the all-screen Mi Mix complementing its standard flagships, the handset maker could have something for everyone.
Xiaomi seems to be taking the time it needs for a proper U.S. launch, but when it happens, expect a big impact.