I’m sick of my Nokia 720. It’s performance is dire, app support is non-existent and its continued attempts to gain self-awareness almost ended with it adopting a Chinese orphan on my behalf. I’ve also had a small tax rebate recently and taken the decision to find a budget replacement that will (hopefully) deal with these issues and get me out of trouble with immigration. While conventional wisdom would suggest my best course of action would be to find a good deal on an unlocked Motorola Moto G4 to go with my PAYG SIM card, my nose for a bargain has led me to take a bit of a gamble. Making it’s way through the postal system right now, I’ll soon be taking delivery of a Xiaomi Mi 4C.
Xiaomi used to style themselves as the Apple of China. They “borrowed” heavily from Cupertino’s marketing and product style guides while building their successful mobile phone business, but aimed their high-end and mid-range spec’d products at the budget and mid-range markets, giving their customers value for money workhorses with style instead of expensive status symbols. The 4C I’ve selected is a mid-range unit on Xiaomi’s lineup from 2015. It may have a design that’s “inspired” by the competition, but times change quickly and Xiaomi are now doing a little inspiring of their own with their recently unveiled almost-bezel-less Mi Mix, making the iPhone 7 (and pretty much everything else) look dated and chunky by comparison. They’ve also diversified their product line-up over time, selling everything from tablets, laptops and action cameras to fitness trackers, Bluetooth speakers, VR headsets, air and water purifiers, smart bathroom scales and Internet-connected rice cookers.
Which is all well and good for them, but I’ve got a device in the post right now that hasn’t been designed to operate natively in the UK. While most people familiar with purchasing foreign would immediately think “import tax”, that’s actually one thing I don’t have to worry about having purchased from an eBay seller in the UK that seems to be some kind of pre-imported drop shipping operation. Or something. However, that’s far from the only pitfall to face here. I’m hoping I’ve considered enough of the important issues to avoid ending up with a paperweight that looks like a fat iPhone 5C rip-off – I’m reasonably sure it speaks English, but it’s not too much to ask for the seller to have set the language already; I know it’ll work with the 3G signal from my mobile provider, but 4G support might be a bit hit-and-miss; Xiaomi don’t ship the phone with Google Apps installed; It’s also likely the device will have been tampered with somewhere along the line.
Quite a laundry list of problems for all us prospective importers, and I’m hoping there won’t be any nasty surprises, but that’s on top of the problems this particular model of phone is known to have. It’s performance may be great, but it’s battery life is merely average and heat management is a known problem. MIUI looks nice and I’m certainly not Apple-phobic when it comes to aesthetics, but some folks have had problems with the app permissions and power management systems Xiaomi have implemented interfering with background processes. I’m also committed to a scant 16GB of non-upgradeable internal storage.
It’s going to be a bit of a journey honing the functionality of this device into a usable daily driver. Will the practical nature of importing a mobile phone thwart me before I even start? Will I be pulling my hair out in frustration, confronted with issue after issue? Will my tech-savviness see me safely through the compromises, or will disappointment rear it’s ugly head? Stay tuned to hear how my adventure into the world of international mobile devices fares!