Xiaomi has made a name for itself over the last few years by making reasonably-priced but high-quality Android phones running its custom Android ROM, MIUI, but rumors regarding a possible Xiaomi (pronounced “shee-ow me”, by the way) entry to the red-hot notebook market had been swirling around since over a year ago.
In late June of this year, we started to hear more buzz—some of it quite ridiculous, such as the “leaked” specs claiming an NVIDIA 980m in a 13.3” notebook. At the end of July, the Mi Notebook Air was officially launched in two screen sizes: 12.5-inch and 13.3-inch, with an availability date set for the beginning of August (ours should be here not too long from now).
What Xiaomi revealed in many ways beats expectations (unless you believed those 980m stories), as Xiaomi appears to be offering good looks, solid aluminum construction (available in silver or gold), decent performance and ample battery life—all at a highly-competitive price point.
The “Mi Notebook Air” is actually a line consisting of two discrete models with a slightly different chassis, but significantly different specs. The 13.3-inch model has a 2.3GHz i5-6500U, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, 256GB of PCIe SSD storage with an additional empty m.2 SATA bay, and most interestingly, an NVIDIA Geforce 940MX graphics chip. All of this in a 309.6mm x 210.9mm x 14.8mm package weighing 1.28 kg for $750 USD.
The slightly smaller and lighter (yet less powerful) 12.5” Mi Notebook is cheaper, at around $525 USD. That gets you a Core m3 processor with Intel HD 515 integrated graphics, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. It’s a significant drop in specs, but at the benefit of being cheaper, smaller, lighter and fanless – plus with more endurance.
Take a look at the full specs in the table below for a complete breakdown of the differences between the two models.
|Mi Notebook 13.3”||Mi Notebook 12.5”|
|CPU||i5-6200U (2.3-2.7GHz)||M3 6Y30 (1.5-2.2GHz)|
|RAM||8GB DDR4 (soldered)||4GB DDR3 (soldered)|
|Storage||256GB PCIe SSD (replaceable) + expandable SATA m.2 SSD slot||128GB SATA SSD (replaceable) + expandable SATA m.2 SSD slot|
|GPU||NVIDIA Geforce 940MX (1GB DDR5)||HD Graphics 515|
|Display||1080p IPS glossy non-touch w/ sapphire protective glass||1080p IPS glossy non-touch w/ sapphire protective glass|
|Battery||39Wh, quoted as “9.5 hours”||37Wh, quoted as “11.5 hours”|
|OS||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0, 1x HDMI, 3.5mm audio, USB Type-C for charging||1x USB 3.0, 1x HDMI, 3.5mm audio, USB Type-C for charging|
|Wireless Connectivity||Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11AC (2×2)||Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11AC (2×2)|
|Dimensions||309.6mm x 210.9mm x 14.8mm (12.18″ × 8.3″ × 0.58″)||292 x 202 x 12.9mm (11.5″ × 7.95″ × 0.51″)|
|Weight||1.28 kg (2.82 lbs)||1.07 kg (1.35 lbs)|
There are many ultrabooks offering PCIe storage and Core i-series processors, but the the Mi Notebook 13.3-inch has something that very few other ultrabooks have in any price range: dedicated graphics. The 13.3” Mi Notebook is more attractive to many (speaking for myself, here) over the 12.5” model due to its dedicated GPU.
While the Geforce 940MX only has 1GB of memory, it is of the faster GDDR5 variety. This is likely the same GPU found in Microsoft’s Surface Book, and should perform similarly. The low amount of memory will preclude gameplay of modern AAA games on even medium settings, but it should prove adept at playing casual games, such as DOTA 2, on high details. Xiaomi themselves point out that the notebook is able to reach over 80 FPS in DOTA 2 at FHD resolution with high settings. We will have to wait for our review unit to fully test the limits of the card, however.
Another selling-point of Xiaomi’s 13.3” offering is the additional SSD bay. While it’s advertised as only SATA (not the faster PCIe interface), it is still a nice, rare touch to have a second open bay for upgradable storage. This expandability is usually only found in larger, premium, desktop-replacement-class notebooks.
However, Xiaomi is quoted on some websites using some interesting language to describe the Mi Notebook Airs’ storage: they claim that the 13.3” Notebook has a SATA bay open for expansion of storage “up to 256GB”. Why is it only up to 256GB? Is this a translation error, or are the machines limited by BIOS somehow? It would be the first I’ve heard of a 256GB size limit on a laptop.
The Mi Notebooks make use of Type-C ports for charging. This is good for compatibility purposes, especially as USB Type-C becomes a more common standard for devices. However, it isn’t clear if the Type-C port is also a functional USB port or not. Since it isn’t advertised as a USB 3.1 port, I suspect it’s only capable of power delivery. I will certainly test this.
Early reports say that the full-body construction is very solid and the keyboard has good travel (1.3mm), which is a good sign. They did mention a fair amount of flex in the keyboard deck, however, which I hope is improved in the retail models.
The screen quality also remains to be proven. FHD is a fair resolution for the price (and plenty for the 12.5” notebook), but no information has been given on color accuracy or brightness. If the everything else is solid but the screen is terrible, these laptops will flounder in the tough, shrinking, Chinese notebook market.
Speaking of the Chinese notebook market, that’s also exactly the only place they’re currently set for release. Certain websites are reselling the Mi Notebooks internationally though, and you can find the 13-inch model here and the smaller 12-inch version here.
If the price goes above a certain point, then Xiaomi’s value proposition for the foreign market will drop, especially given the difficulty of using warranty service for a laptop from a Chinese company without much international presence. That is hardly new, though, as it as has always been the unspoken bargain struck when buying Chinese products not made for export.
The combination of solid all-around specs, materials, and bargain price for the 13.3-inch Mi Notebook look great on paper. There are very few 13-inch notebooks offering its features and dedicated graphics for its price, and that could make it a popular choice over current similarly sized options such as the Asus UX303 series or the Dell XPS 13. Specs aren’t always the whole story, though, and the build, keyboard, and display will need to be up to snuff in order to succeed in such a competitive market.
The even lower price for the 12.5-inch model may make it a favorite for road-warriors who do a lot of light work on the go, but in my own opinion, I don’t really see the attraction when compared to its larger sibling. A 12.5-inch display is only marginally smaller than a 13.3-inch one, but you’re taking a huge drop in specs (chief among these is the 4GB of RAM, which is the bare minimum for basic tasks in Windows 10) along with it. If performance is what you are after, it’s not likely the 12.5-inch model will cut it.
That said, I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on the 13.3-inch model and putting it through its paces. It looks like Xiaomi is getting a lot of things right on paper, let’s see if it translates to real-world goodness!