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Surprise: Xiaomi’s Mi Watch looks like the Apple Watch

Mi Watch runs the Android-based Wear OS and has a familiar shape, but it’s much cheaper than the Apple Watch

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Xiaomi has a new smartwatch. And it looks very familiar.

There’s a lot of things I’d like to talk about with the Mi Watch. I’d like to talk about the fact that it runs the Android-based Wear OS, or that Xiaomi says it’s the first smartwatch to use Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset.

But it’s hard to overlook the obvious here: Xiaomi’s smartwatch looks just like the Apple Watch.

Even the watch face displays a similar overlapping-circle pattern to the Apple Watch. (Picture: Apple/Xiaomi)

Despite support for circular screens in Wear OS, Xiaomi has gone with a rectangular display like Apple. There’s a circular dial and longer button on the right side, with a little hole (presumably for the microphone) in between -- all exactly the same layout as the Apple Watch.

The Mi Watch comes in two different configurations. The base model has an aluminium finish in either silver or space gray dark gray, while a premium model has a shiny stainless steel case with a sapphire glass screen. And yes, those are the same materials as the low-end and mid-range Apple Watches.

But there’s one area where it stands sharply apart from Apple: Price. The base model Mi Watch costs about US$185 with LTE. In contrast, it’ll set you back US$299 for an Apple Watch with cellular connectivity, and that’s for the two-year-old Series 3 model. 

To be fair, the Mi Watch is less rounded than the Apple Watch; the sharper edges look a bit like the iPad Pro instead. (Picture: Xiaomi)

The gap is even wider for the premium models. The Mi Watch with a stainless steel case costs just US$285, while the cheapest Apple Watch with the same material starts at US$699. (Unlike the Apple Watch, there is only one size option for the Mi Watch.)

Xiaomi has long denied that it copies Apple, but the fact that the company is so frequently accused of doing so tells a story in itself. Take Xiaomi’s retail stores, for instance, with their familiar long wooden tables; or their Mimoji avatars, which closely resemble Apple’s Memoji avatars; or even CEO Lei Jun’s old habit of dressing up in a black T-shirt and blue jeans for product keynotes like Steve Jobs.

Xiaomi’s new Mimoji reminds people of Apple’s Memoji

While this is Xiaomi’s first branded smartwatch, the company has offered wearables before. Xiaomi has a stake in Huami, one of the many companies in its “ecosystem,” which sells a line of basic smartwatches called Amazfit.

But there's another product that has long hogged the wearable spotlight at Xiaomi: The Mi Band. They’re extremely limited in capability – early models didn’t even have a screen – but their ultra low price was a big hit with consumers. IDC says Xiaomi was the top seller of wrist-worn wearables in the second quarter of 2019.

Of course, that low price comes at a, uh, price: We witnessed the Mi Band 3 pick up a heartbeat from a roll of toilet paper.

Why is Xiaomi’s fitness tracker detecting a heartbeat from a roll of toilet paper?

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.