Xiaomi has fired up its photocopier and created a shameless iPhone X rip-off called the Xiaomi Mi 8. The device has Xiaomi versions of the iPhone X’s trademark notch, Face ID, and Animoji, along with basically the same rear camera layout and back design. There’s a cheaper version called the Mi 8 “SE,” and some of the press images are even remakes of the iPhone X press images.
Xiaomi is actually applying some unique Xiaomi goodness to this shameful design, though. First, the phone starts at $420, and second, if you opt for the high-end model, you can get one with an in-screen fingerprint reader and a transparent back.
First up is the base model Mi 8. For ¥2,699 ($420), you get a high-end smartphone with the usual 2018 spec sheet. There’s a Snapdragon 845, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, dual 12MP rear cameras, and a 3400mAh battery. The display is a 6.21-inch, 2248×1080 AMOLED panel, with a notch up top and a sizable bezel on the bottom. The front notch contains an earpiece, a proximity sensor, a 20MP front camera (way larger than the rear camera, oddly), and a second camera and infrared LED for face unlock. There’s a rear fingerprint reader on the back and no headphone jack. Design wise, it’s definitely a not as nice as the Xiaomi Mi Mix 1 or 2, but those are meant to be higher-end phones.
For the in-screen fingerprint reader, you have to upgrade to the Mi 8 Explorer Edition, which is ¥3,699 ($580). This has more RAM (8GB), a base storage of 128GB, and a neat-looking transparent back. The in-screen fingerprint reader seems to just work anywhere on the lower-third of the display.
With both HTC and Xiaomi pushing transparent-backed phones, the idea of internal design starts to crop up. If the press pictures are accurate, Xiaomi seems to be doing a lot of work to beautify the inside of the phone. First, the plastic mid frame, which is often needed for glass phones, has a “chip display window” cut out of it so you can see the primary chips—usually just peeling off the back of a phone does not reveal the motherboard. Second, Xiaomi appears to be silk-screening an actual Qualcomm Snapdragon logo onto the Snapdragon chip and clearly labeling everything else. Third, there appears to be absolutely no RF shielding—normally, most of the chips would be covered with aluminum. There even appears to be a nicely engineered square NFC coil and a woven battery cover.
The Verge published an article raising questions about the feasibility of a design like this, Xiaomi responded by saying, “The transparent back on Mi 8 Explorer Edition is indeed made of transparent glass, and there isn’t a sticker with a picture on it. The parts that you see on the back upper half, for example, are parts of the actual mainboard.”
Still, the fine print of Xiaomi’s own (Chinese) product description apparently says something about the rear image not being entirely accurate. We have serious doubts that the inside of a smartphone can look as it does in the images, but there can’t be much room for visual trickery inside a smartphone, with devices being as thin as they are.
The phone comes with MIUI 10, which is Xiaomi’s super-heavy Android skin. There’s not a lot of English-language documentation on MIUI 10 yet, but from what we can tell, it features iPhone X-like gesture navigation (of course!), Animojis on the Mi 8, a new recent apps screen, and a Xiaomi voice assistant. It looks like it finally allows Android’s lock screen notification feature.
For now, the Mi 8 is only being released in China, but this doesn’t inspire the distribution envy that past Xiaomi phones have. Xiaomi is also expanding into Europe, so a release there is a possibility if the lawyers allow it. The regular Mi 8 is launching June 5, while the “Explorer Edition” will launch a month later.