It took what Android had at the time, added a ton of additional thoughtful features, and then packaged it in this polished iPhone-like aesthetic. And for that, it created a cult-like following in the Android communities, where the diehards would eagerly await each and every new update. So this meant that when Xiaomi was finally ready to launch a phone of their own, powered by the latest version of this MIUI software, the appetite was so enormous that they sold out their entire stock of 300,000 units in the first 34 hours.
And they went on to sell 3.4 million of these in the remainder of 2011. I can see why people were so excited about this. Like, I am shocked at how well this holds up, even in 2022. Oh, I love the way it turns off as well. So let's get it on this comparison rig.
'Cause for each phone, we're also going to run a performance test to see how much more powerful they get compared to the first ever Android phone, and take one photo to see how much better the cameras get. With a start like this then, all eyes are on Xiaomi to see what they would come up with next.
And they defied everyone's expectations with the Mi 2 in 2012. That name did not age well. Xiaomi took their formula, their same rock bottom price and software focus, and dialed it up to the next level. All while their competitors were making price bumps all around. It does feel like the next generation. It definitely feels like it has more character. And just generally, this was a very exciting time to be a tech fan. Because just within one year, Xiaomi doubled the original's internal memory from one gigabyte to two gigabytes, increased the now bigger screen's resolution from 480p to 720p, and doubled the processor core count from a dual core to a quad core. And this new chipset, known as Qualcomm's S4 Pro, was actually an enormous deal. It was the chip that raised the bar for Android phones. And it's what allowed the Mi 2 to run the top of the line mobile games at the time. I can't believe that there used to be a day when being able to play Cut the Rope was a sign you had a good phone. But then the cherry on top was that this huge processor upgrade just so happened to coincide with Project Butter, which was Google's mission to achieve buttery smooth animations on the software front, meaning that this phone felt a world apart and made the Mi 2 roughly 2.3 times faster than the Mi 1. And just for some perspective, six times faster than the first ever Android phone. And so it was really the Mi 2 where Xiaomi's insane growth trajectory was set, doubling their sales to 7.19 million phones in 2012. That said, they were still a small fish compared to the 385 million that Samsung sold in the same year.
And so even though they just had two absolute knockouts with the same concept, Xiaomi felt like they needed to shake things up if they wanted to really go mainstream. So they tried a new sharper design, which differentiated them much more from Samsung and instead resembled the tried and tested formula of the Nokia Lumia Windows phones.
- No, God!
- In isolation, the Mi 3 looks like a game changer with their first 1080p display, a 39% larger battery capacity, a new chip that made this 2.1 times faster than the already rapid Mi 2, and a new 13 megapixel camera, which I mean, compared to their earlier phones is a marked improvement with noticeably better sharpness and also less noise in that wall behind me.
No way, remember Flappy Bird? This is reminding me of the fever that happened when this game got removed from the App Store. How people were trying to sell phones that still had the game on them for thousands of dollars. What a strange time. Forgot how hard this game was. Wow. The problem though for Xiaomi was that the competition was also moving fast. And when you compare this Mi 3 to Samsung's competing Galaxy S4, I think the S4 is a way more desirable looking package. What still made this special though, the one thing that hadn't changed was the price. It's the fact that you could get a comparable experience with a budget that would have previously not even have allowed you to think about flagship phones, leading the Mi 3 to still sell like hotcakes. Going out of stock within minutes at multiple retailers. The stock shortages were so bad, especially in India for the first time in Xiaomi's history, that after multiple sale windows, that actually ended up lasting under 10 seconds each on the online store Flipkart, Xiaomi decided to only allow you to buy a Mi 3 if you had previously tried to buy one five times or more. They didn't have enough stock to serve any more customers than that. This is also the year where Xiaomi created their first ever Redmi budget phone, which you can probably imagine based on this whole Xiaomi fever, helped them to catapult their total smartphone sales all the way up to 18.7 million in 2013 alone. You'll notice very quickly that with the Mi 4, yet again, the design looks nothing like their last phone. And it kind of resembles the iPhone 5S that launched the year before, as far as its square sides are concerned. And I'd guess it was this similarity combined with Xiaomi's iPhone looking software and the fact that they were starting to become known even outside of China in markets like the US where the iPhone dominated, that started to create the reputation of Xiaomi being an iPhone imitator. But then equally, you could argue that if it's half the price, who cares? The Mi 4 yet again launched at the same price as the previous three phones, which at this point was completely unheard of. And the only way that Xiaomi managed it was A, their whole online-only strategy, which saved them all the costs associated with brick and mortar stores, and B, their willingness to accept a profit margin as low as 3% at the point of sale, with the idea to then make that money back as people continue to use the phone. 'Cause yeah, it was around this time where Xiaomi started to integrate money generating services into their software. The things like Mi Home, which encouraged people to also buy Xiaomi's new ecosystem products, and even Mi Financial Services. The strategy was working though, with Xiaomi selling upwards of 61 million phones in 2014. But the extreme focus on price did eventually start to create a bit of a squeeze on how much of a leap Xiaomi could make here, which is why the Mi 4 is only 1.8 times more powerful than the Mi 3, and why it only took very slightly better photos, thanks to the only real change being a slightly wider aperture. Oh, and a sub to the channel would be, Mi Ningfou.
Now, the Mi 5 that came after that was where things started to go a little bit wrong. Oh, the design is so much cleaner though. See, Xiaomi wanted to release the Mi 5 in 2015, the year after the Mi 4. But seeing how the Snapdragon 810 chipset, that was kind of the go-to for flagships in that year, was consistently overheating, the company decided to delay the launch by an entire year, and instead release the Mi 5 with 2016's Snapdragon 820 chip. Which, fair play to them.
They wanted to wait to make the phone great. Problem was though, if you wait two years to launch your phone, then even if the chip is now up to date, the rest of it isn't going to be. I mean, the Mi 5 is nice, don't get me wrong. The glass back and Chrome accents definitely make it the most premium Xiaomi phone to date. But Samsung's just announced Galaxy S7 Edge had not just a better screen and more RAM under the hood, but also just felt more ambitious and futuristic, thanks to the brand new curved glass display. Not to mention that Xiaomi's initial advantage with having all these extra software features, it was starting to erode, thanks to Google's Android that was being used as the base for every company starting to catch up. All leading to Xiaomi's yearly sales taking their first ever dip at just under 55 million units in 2016. But at least compared to the Mi 4, the new 16 megapixel camera is easily an improvement. You can really feel that resolution bump, and the image no longer has any obvious imperfections. Do you know what I can't wait to see? The first phone versus the last phone. It took until 2017 then, until Xiaomi realized that they had to start playing catch up in the high-end market. They realized that their insistence on keeping their phones so cheap, ooh la la, was becoming a limiting factor. And now that their software advantage was fading, it was making them lose relevance in the face of brands who were just doing more exciting things. So they finally upped the price. Which considering that every phone so far had launched at the exact same figure, and that out of nowhere there was suddenly a 25% bump, was definitely a shock to fans.
But it allowed them to do so much more. It has stereo speakers, 50% more RAM at up to six gigabytes versus four last time. It has the newest Snapdragon 835 chipset, which for the first time allowed it to start edging out Samsung in performance. And allowed it to score a staggering 3.3 times higher power score than the Mi 5. And even more impressively, a 126 times leap over the first Android phone. Not to mention Xiaomi's biggest battery yet, as well as their first dual camera system.
The idea of having two separate cameras on a smartphone was only first properly done by LG earlier the same year. But it very quickly took off and became the thing that every modern phone should have. Sadly in Xiaomi's case, it actually meant that they spent a bit less on the main camera, resulting in photos that were largely the same, but propped up by just better software that saved it from feeling like a downgrade. Oh, and they took out the headphone jack too. But given Apple's groundbreaking move to take it away with the iPhone 7 that same year, it actually had the effect of making the Mi 6 feel even more premium. Even though it was technically a negative for the consumer. The key takeaway that Xiaomi took away from the Mi 6 experiment was that this strategy worked. This phone proved that people were willing to spend more to get a more premium experience. With total 2017 sales, rocketing all the way up to 96 million smartphones sold. So of course, Xiaomi doubled down on it with the Mi 8. Yeah, they skipped the number seven because apparently this jump was too big just to go up one number. And they even went as far as to create a separate Mi 8 Pro to go along with the standard Mi 8. And pro it very much was. The Mi 8 Pro went all the way up to eight gigabytes of RAM now. It could record 4K video at 60 frames per second. And Xiaomi finally put some serious care into their displays with a larger super AMOLED HDR 10 panel protected by Gorilla Glass 5. Oh, and this was also the debut of Xiaomi's transparent Explorer Edition smartphones. I remember being so insanely excited watching this thing first get announced. Feeling like the future was here. That said, you could argue that this year was also when Xiaomi alienated a lot of its core fans. 'Cause A, the Mi 8s are unmistakably inspired by 2017's iPhone X. Bringing back flashes of Xiaomi's past reputation as an iPhone imitator, as opposed to an original brand in their own right. B, that this was the first year that Xiaomi introduced ads to MiUI as another way to monetize their users. Which felt like such a 180 for people who had initially come to MiUI in the early days because of how it was more premium than base Android. But not just that, it's also the fact that C, after Apple hugely bumped up the price of their flagship to $1,000 for the first time ever, Xiaomi kind of follows suit. The 8 Pro was about 30% more expensive than the Mi 6. Meaning that while it was still significantly cheaper than Samsung, it was no longer close to the half price that Xiaomi once used to be. But the thing is, it worked. By making their phones luxurious enough that they could stand toe to toe, while still keeping a healthy gap in price, this was the first year that Xiaomi finally hit the triple digits, selling a whopping 119 million phones in 2018. So they did the exact same thing with the Mi 9 series. Wow, the color. They used their now higher budget to increase the screen space on the front, dramatically bump up the battery size from 3,000 mAh to 4,000 mAh, and equip this phone with the very best chip on offer, which brought the performance up by 1.4 times over the past phone.
Now remember, 1.4 times may not seem like a big deal, when with past phones, we've literally seen two times, even three times improvement sometimes. But because of how each improvement is compounding on top of the previous improvements, just this 1.4 times boost alone is the equivalent of improving the performance by 26 Xiaomi Mi 1s. And also, of course, the double camera has now become a triple camera. And it wasn't just a triple camera to say that it was a triple camera. You had a two times zoom telephoto lens, an ultrawide lens, and now a main camera that sits at no less than 48 megapixels. Just check how much of an upgrade this is over, say, the Mi 6. Can you see how there's more background separation? How the AI is starting to understand my skin and treat it separately to the background? And how there's improved dynamic range, meaning that even in the darker parts of my hair, you can still make out the details. The Mi 9 was where Xiaomi started to really climb in the smartphone camera rankings. Sadly, it was also where Xiaomi's overall smartphone lineup starts to get pretty confusing.
Because just this year, as well as the Mi 9 and the Pro and the Explorer Edition, there was also the Mi 9 SE, which was slightly weaker than the Mi 9.
There was the Xiaomi CC9, where the Cs just stood for camera plus camera. Don't ask me. You even had the CC9e, which was a trimmed down version of that phone. Not to mention the entire Redmi lineup, the Redmi Note lineup, the full screen Mi Mix 3, the completely crazy Mi Mix Alpha, and then also starting this year, the T-phones, which were basically a set of slightly updated flagships that Xiaomi would start to launch at the end of each year. Except that instead of being higher end than the originals, like you would kind of expect, the T-phones were the cheaper ones. The point is by now, Xiaomi's becoming a much bigger company, but perhaps because that growth has happened so quickly, haven't really planned out how to deal with it in an organized, cohesive manner. But 2020 was something truly special.
Enter the Mi 10 Ultra. Because yes, at this point, Xiaomi is making a real spread of phones, but the Mi 10 Ultra was a device that sat in complete isolation at the very pinnacle of their lineup and is, I think, the most important phone they've made since the very first one. Up until this point, Xiaomi was considered by most of the West as just a cheaper Samsung alternative, a way to save a bit of money if you're willing to put up with software that you might not like as much. But this is the phone that changed that for a lot of people, myself included. For starters, it's the most differentiated looking phone to ever come from the brand.
There is nothing else on the planet that looks like it. It was the most powerful phone that money could buy, with its Snapdragon 865 and 16 gigabytes of RAM, giving it a monumental 2.4 times higher peak performance than the 9 Pro. Add to that an even bigger battery, 120-watt charging that could fully charge that battery in just 23 minutes, compared to 50 minutes of the Mi 9 and 90 minutes of the competing Samsung, plus a new quad camera array that could pump out 8K video and 120 times zoom. You could argue that this was also the best smartphone camera in the world when it came out. So it's not surprising that it beat their last offering. It does look a little more processed, with me almost artificially crisp, which some won't like, but I reckon the majority will. Put simply, the Mi 10 Ultra gave Xiaomi the opportunity to show people what they could do when budget wasn't a consideration. In some ways, it was probably better marketing for the company's brand perception than it was something that in itself would sell in huge numbers. And this is also where MIUI got its second big visual overhaul, where it looks like Xiaomi finally figured out what its own brand identity is and went all in on it. It's far more lively and animated. You get power user features like floating windows and a really unique wallpaper experience called Super Wallpapers, which, I mean, just see for yourself. While the Mi 10 Ultra wasn't necessarily the phone that was going to sell hundreds of millions, I definitely think that it contributed towards the feeling of Xiaomi being a desirable brand, and thus trickled through to more sales throughout the entire company, which led them to end up this year with no less than 147 million. And honestly, Xiaomi's success only multiplied in 2021 when we found out that alongside their Mi 11 Ultra, they'd just topped Apple to become the second biggest smartphone company in the world in terms of sales, with this year very nearly hitting the 200 million mark. To think this phone company started just 10 years ago. That is a, that is a stupendous feat. As for the Mi 11 Ultra itself, I'd say it was a really, really strong phone that didn't quite make the same impact that the 10 Ultra did. It comes with less RAM, maxing out at 12 gigabytes. It looks largely the same from the front. And while this secondary display on the back is an extremely cool feature that lets you take some of the best selfies available on a smartphone, it feels a little half-baked on the software front. That said, just before the last phone, I feel like we do need to appreciate how far we've actually come. Man, the difference in game graphics, screen quality, brightness, like everything is so much better now. It's crazy to think how much the quality of our lives in general have improved in 10 years. And this has led them to my favorite Xiaomi phone ever, the 12S Ultra, which is a weird name for two reasons. One, that Xiaomi decided to ditch the Mi that used to come before the names of each phone, which is probably for the best. And two, the fact that there's an S after the 12, which is because, incredibly, it seems like Xiaomi has added yet another lineup of phones to their roster. No joke, as well as the Xiaomi 12 series and the Xiaomi 12T series, there is also a Xiaomi 12S series and they all kind of look the same, apart from this Ultra, which just so happened to launch alongside that S series. Now, in my mind, this is the peak of Xiaomi's design. It's more practical than before. It's more luxurious than ever. It's faster on the inside too, of course, around 1.4 times faster than the 11 Ultra, 350 times more powerful than the original Mi One, and 900 times versus the very first Android. But it's all about this big fat camera. This phone's main 50 megapixel camera with its one inch sensor and Leica tuning is the best photography you can get on a phone. The photos are moodier than we've seen before from Xiaomi, but this stylistic cinematic look is kind of what they see as the next level. And I'm a fan. And check this, if we go back through all the previous phones and pull up the original Mi One now, let us just take a moment to appreciate that difference. So you might know that when I went to go and see Mr. Beast earlier this year, that guy kind of got me addicted to anime. He showed me a series called Death Note on Netflix, which I powered through start to finish in a month. And really that was just a gateway to much, much more. Problem is though, you can't find them on the UK version of Netflix. So imagine my smug face when I realized that I could already use the existing Surfshark VPN subscription that I had, and that I already used to encrypt my internet traffic to just swap my location to the United States and access the US version of Netflix, which did have access to those shows. And the craziest part of this is that the whole Surfshark package together, which includes the VPN, the antivirus, the protected internet searches, and real time data leak monitoring is just 249 a month, which split between the seven people I share it with, works out to 36 cents. So hit the link in the description, use the code BOSS, and you'll get it not just for that 249 a month price, but also three extra months for free on top of that. Fully refundable.