Xiaomi’s new iPhone 6 Plus rival could be catnip for e-book lovers, if it lives up to the ballyhoo.
It comes with a high-res 5.5” screen, some 2GB of RAM, an eight-core 64-bit processor, a swappable 3,060mAh battery, the 802.11ac WiFi protocol, two SIM slots, a 2Ghz chip in the entry model, and a 13-megapixel main camera.
The price of the basic Redmi Note 2 for Chinese customers? Just $125 for the 16GB model—well, within most e-booklovers’ budgets here in the U.S.
Of course, the $125 does not include shipping or import duties. What’s more, this could be a carrier-subsidized price—in the end, meaningless if you’re buying on your own.
Still, even with the above factored in, the Note 2 has caught my eye. Screen is the same size as the iPhone 6 Plus’s, but that’s just the start. Resolution is said to be 1920×1080, also identical. The Redmi offers “up to 400” pixels per inch and a simultaneous viewing angle of “up to 178 degrees.” The screen is supposedly bright enough for the beach. True? On top of everything else, an optional mode can display books in a “pale yellow” without the blue rays said to disrupt sleep habits.
The weight is a mere 160 grams, or 5.64 ounces—lighter than a Kindle Voyage or the 6 Plus. And almost surely, unlike the $200 Voyage or other recent E Ink devices from Amazon, the Note offers text to speech with the right software: not just a color screen, a higher PPI count or a screen merely half an inch smaller. Oh, and another detail: you can even use the Redmi Note 2 as a phone.
A deluxe configuration of the Redmi Note 2, the Redmi Note 2 Prime, with a 2.2Ghz CPU and 32GB of memory, will also be available, for $160.
The Note 2, the Verge says, has “a microSD card slot, an IR blaster, and phase-detection autofocus (a flagship-tier feature first introduced in the Galaxy S5 and now present in the iPhone 6).” ZDNet and Engadget pass along more, including the fact that the chipset is MediaTek’s Helio X10, the same as in an HTC M9+ selling for nearly four times the Note’s price.
I of course use the term “rival” loosely in discussing the iPhone 6 Plus itself. Beyond the other issues, remember that the Redmi Note 2 isn’t an iOS machine. It’s Android.
Let’s continue the caveats. The Redmi Note 2, apparently also known as the Red Rice Note 2, will start out just in the Chinese market. There’s no telling if the interface will offer satisfactory English-language options (though I suspect it will). And what about the documentation? Or connectivity options with U.S. carriers? The manufacturer says the Redmi Note 2 supports two 4G bands (FDD-Lite and TDD-Lite).
Also, how often will operating system updates happen? And what about other support in the future? Will Xiaomi even remain in business? Perhaps. It just doesn’t have the same track record as bigger rivals.
If you’re still sufficiently adventurous—and realize that the Note 2 might not be usable as long as a phone from an established brand without quite the same support questions—you might be able to buy one directly through Xiaomi or through such outlets as Merimobiles.
Right now I don’t know the date of availability to U.S. customers through these means. In China, the Redmi Note 2 is already on sale.
All the pros notwithstanding, do you want a Note 2? With the above unknowns in mind, Verge warns of the perils of buying from unknown brands.
So far, however, buyers of the Xiaomi mi4 phone, sold by Merimobiles, seem happy on the whole if the posted reviews are truly representative. I’ll let others call this one. But at the least, I’m highly intrigued.
One remaining downside is the effect that the rise of Xiaomi could have on other brands, and I don’t just mean Apple. As noted by the Verge, HTC is laying off workers. What happens if Xiaomi itself gains a major global presence and the accompanying distribution and marketing expenses? Will another upstart, with lower costs, usurp it? This is no less Darwinian than the Hunger Games at Amazon. One study reports the existence of 1,300 brands of Android phones.
Detail: I’d have preferred to go with the first image on the home page, since the real news here is the phone, not the beach lady, however attractive. In fact, the first image is the intended default. But for now, the software has other ideas. A pro bono consultant and I are working on this issue and others.