Xiaomi’s recent U.K. launch was something of a mixed bag, but between the arrival of mega-affordable flagship phones, electric scooters you can’t ride in public, and a ‘Flash Sale’ that went terribly wrong, there was one intriguing announcement that went a little under the radar.
Unlike other Android OEMs — including other Chinese imports in the U.K. like Huawei, Honor, and OnePlus — Xiaomi didn’t just go through the usual motions of signing deals with carriers and opening a regional e-store.
Instead, the Beijing firm announced plans to open a brick-and-mortar Mi Store in the U.K on November 18.
Less than a week after a successful opening day where hundreds of Mi fans rocked up to grab themselves a bargain, Xiaomi brought me along to see the Mi Store in all its sparkly new glory and browse the company’s first wave of products for the U.K. — here’s what I saw.
Apples and oranges
Xiaomi’s new store is located in London’s Westfield shopping center in Shepard’s Bush — a gargantuan palace of shops and restaurants that stretches out over 1.6 million square feet and houses U.K. high street mainstays like Marks & Spencers, Boots, and Next, as well as luxury brands like De Beers, Mulberry, and Versace.
The Mi Store, which proudly stands out among the rest thanks to Xiaomi’s bright orange logo, sits on level one of the main interior, just a few shops down and across from another enormous store occupied by a certain tech industry giant from Cupertino, California.
Funnily enough, after strolling into the Mi Store and taking a quick glance at the layout and color palette, you can’t help but think of Apple either.
The light beige tones punctuated by lit-up landscape advertisements with simple product renders adoring the walls. The adjacent wooden tables with multiple demo products to play with at your leisure. The checkout counter at the rear sandwiched between two wall racks of accessories. It all reeks of Apple Store.
As if product design similarities weren’t enough (just check out those AirPods-esque earphones pictured above), it seems Xiaomi can’t help but mimic the iPhone maker in its stores too… bar a few significant caveats.
Xiaomi has built a solid reputation for delivering phones with insanely high price-performance ratios, culminating in the uber cheap, Snapdragon 845-powered Pocophone F1, which just so happens to dominate the entire front table of London’s Mi Store.
This ethos extends far beyond the company’s phones, however — a fact that becomes immediately clear when you look at the sheer scope and diversity of products on sale, particularly those without any touchscreens.
You could as easily walk out of the Mi Store with a new phone as you could a new bit of smart tech to play with like a sonic toothbrush, a self-dimming desk lamp, a 60 pound Android TV box, or a torch (that’s also a portable charger), or even a set of bathroom towels, precision screwdrivers, a pair of UV protected glasses, or an umbrella. That’s without even mentioning those eye-catching electric scooters that greet you as you first enter the door.
Perusing any aisle that isn’t covered in smartphones is like being dragged on a dizzying journey through the scattershot minds of Xiaomi’s product team. Think of a mini Ikea (or almost any other scandinavian-style design) and you’re about there.
Confusing or not, it’s a nice change of pace from the rigid phones-computers-watches-accessories tech store blueprint popularized by Apple, and it’s quite easy to find something you probably don’t need but find yourself incredibly tempted to buy — a feeling that’s even harder to deny when you see the price tags.
Most reading this article here on Android Authority will be acutely aware of the corners Xiaomi has necessarily (and understandably) had to cut to offer iPhone-lookalikes at less than half the price.
Almost every single one of Xiaomi’s products is carries a price tag that belies its stylish design and solid build quality.
However, for anyone walking in cold, unaware of those caveats, the allure of a phone that looks, mostly feels, and undoubtedly performs like an elite, 800+ pound flagship may be hard to deny. In fact, almost every single one of Xiaomi’s smorgasbord of products is accompanied by a price tag that belies its stylish design and generally solid build quality.
Accessories like USB-C cables and dongles are less than half the price of their identical equivalents at other major electronics stores. Likewise, if you don’t care about sound quality and just want the cheapest way to listen to podcasts on the go, you can grab a mega-cheap pair of earbuds for only five pounds.
Related: Best earbuds you can buy
Mixing it up
The downside of Xiaomi’s bit-of-everything approach to its Mi Stores is that the phones almost get lost among the many fun distractions. What chance does another rectangular slab with a display on it have against a swanky smart kettle that can keep water fully boiled for up to 12 hours?
It’s a shame, because as well as the Pocophone F1 and the Mi 8 series — which includes the newly released Mi 8 Pro — Xiaomi has an impressive selection of Android handsets on display.
Be it the Redmi Note 6 Pro, the Android One-powered Mi A2 Lite, or the aforementioned Pocophone F1, these are phones Xiaomi neglected to mention on its U.K. launch livestream, but thankfully get their time to shine face-to-face with the public.
The Mi Mix 3, Black Shark gaming phone, and Xiaomi’s Mi Notebook laptops should all arrive in 2019.
There are some notable absentees, however. The most obvious is the Mi Mix 3 bezel-less slider phone, which Xiaomi hasn’t confirmed for a U.K. release, but seems likely to make its way over early next year.
There’s also the Black Shark gaming phone and Xiaomi’s Mi Notebook Air and Mi Notebook Pro laptops. The former I was told will launch sometime in 2019, while the Mi Notebook family (which I can’t wait to get my hands on) will apparently start making its way to the U.K. in Q1/Q2 2019.
Despite these omissions and the store’s unashamed Apple knock-off aesthetic, I came away fairly impressed by Xiaomi’s new store.
It’ll certainly surprise those who only see Xiaomi as a smartphone maker, which is an image the company seems far more keen on retaining for its online business than it does in the physical retail space.
I initially had my doubts about this approach, but the store staff say on a good day they can shift up to 20 of those hilariously impractical electric scooters. As for the best seller overall, that goes to the automatic folding umbrellas.
I have to say, after giving one a feel… those are some damn fine umbrellas.