Mobile World Congress 2016

Xiaomi unveils Mi 5 flagship at its first global smartphone launch - and it seems worth the wait

For first time, Chinese market leader delivers a smartphone featuring NFC function for mobile payments, ceramic body

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 February, 2016, 8:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 February, 2016, 10:03am

High-flying Chinese technology start-up Xiaomi is looking to make a big push into more markets and the higher-end segment of the global smartphone industry, following its first-ever global product launch on Wednesday.

The Beijing-based company unveiled its latest flagship model, the ceramic-encased Mi 5, that appears part of a master plan to differentiate it from the other aggressive Chinese smartphone suppliers, like Huawei Technologies and Lenovo Group.

“It’s the most beautiful device we have unveiled so far,”said Lei Jun, founder and chief executive of Xiaomi, speaking at the global product launch in Beijing.

Xiaomi ranked as the world’s fifth-largest global smartphone supplier last year and the market leader in China, according to data from research firm IDC.

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The Mi 5 runs on the super-fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and has 128GB of storage. It costs 2,699 yuan (US$410), about 30 to 50 per cent the cost of a similarly premium model from Samsung Electronics, Apple or even Chinese electronics maker Huawei.

Lei said it will be available for purchase in China from the company’s shopping website and retail outlets from March 1. The company did not say which other markets it would be available in later.

Customers in Hong Kong may need to wait a few months, however. Xiaomi’s previous flagship, the Xiaomi Note, was released in the city six months after it debuted in mainland China.

The Mi 5 also features a function crucial to mobile payments: the use of near field communication (NFC) technology allows people to use it instead of their credit cards or octopus cards in Hong Kong.

Xiaomi is expected to roll out its own mobile payment service to compete with Apple Pay and Samsung Pay at some point. It recently purchased a majority stake in a Chinese company that is fully licenced to run an internet and mobile payment business in the country.

READ MORE: Chinese phones from Xiaomi to Oppo go global after pushing aside big-hitters Apple, Samsung

This is the first time Xiaomi has included the widely adopted NFC function in one of its devices.

Xiaomi also took the opportunity to release a smartphone dedicated to female customers: the Mi 4s, an updated model of the company’s 2014 flagship, the Mi 4.

Apart from its extra storage and fingerprint reader, the Mi 4s has received a makeover with a new purple option for lighting, a metal frame, and glass front and rear covers.

Xiaomi is looking overseas as it has traditionally depended heavily on the Chinese market, which is now experiencing a slowdown.

“[This] may be the last year for Xiaomi to enjoy sizable growth,” said Alex Ng, an analyst from China Merchant Securities.

“It needs great products and to diversify its business to gain growth momentum,” he added.

The Mi 5 will retail for 1,999 yuan with 32GB of storage. The 64GB version will cost 2,299 yuan.