Xiaomi’s Musical Notes

Latest Mi Smartphones Join the Hi-Fi Audio Trend


The Mi Note and Mi Note Pro: thinner yet bigger, cheaper yet better. Xiaomi unveiled two versions of its latest flagship product this morning, pitting them against large-screen devices from Apple, Samsung and others.

On stage in Beijing, Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun compared the Mi Note side-by-side with Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus. The Mi Note series has a 5.7-inch display, the iPhone 6 Plus a 5.5-inch display, and the Note is marginally thinner (at 6.95mm) than the iPhone Plus (7.1mm). Xiaomi also highlighted that the camera lens in the Note doesn’t protrude from the back of the device.

The handsets aren’t revolutionary in their specs. Mi Note has a 1080p display, runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5 GHz processor and has a 13-megapixel, Sony-made rear-facing camera and a four-megapixel front camera. The Pro version has a 2K display (2560 x 1440 at 515 pixels per inch) and runs on Qualcomm’s high-end octa-core 64-bit Snapdragon 810. The devices are dual-SIM — a key selling point in India, now Xiaomi’s second-largest market after China — with one slot for a micro SIM card and another for a nano SIM. Prices for the Mi Note start at 2,299 yuan ($371), and the higher-specified Note Pro will sell for 3,299 yuan ($533). The products are keenly priced, but the Pro’s cost represents a jump to a higher smartphone price band for Xiaomi.

The Mi Notes solidify the reputation that Xiaomi is trying to throw off — of the company as a fast follower, responding spec-by-spec to leading flagships. We note the lack of a fingerprint sensor, a feature that’s becoming standard in many hero devices. However, Xiaomi joins a limited number of high-end smartphones that offer Hi-Fi audio to support “lossless” audio files. The devices use a dedicated audio chip for this purpose, and Xiaomi also announced its Mi Headphones for playback of Hi-Fi audio.

LG was the first major smartphone manufacturer to include hi-res audio support in a handset with the release of the G2 in late 2013. Samsung then released the Galaxy Note 3 with support for HD audio, and LG’s follow-up G3 also offers the feature.

Sony became an eager supporter of Hi-Fi audio in smartphones, releasing the Z3 series in late 2014 with great ambitions given the company’s stake in hardware and content. Last week, Sony unveiled a Walkman-branded music player with hi-res audio for consumers “seeking a higher-quality experience” than smartphones can supply. The product is priced at $1,400, and highlights the trend of HD music.

It’s not clear whether hi-res audio provides any immediate and meaningful benefits to users, but Xiaomi has joined a handful of smartphone makers to support the feature. Hi-Fi audio will sound good in marketing material, and that alone could make it an addition to the high-end checklist.