The Mi 10 5G is a big move into uncharted territory for Xiaomi, as far as smartphone pricing goes. The premium Mi 10 5G is a "value flagship" device that challenges the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which costs nearly twice as much. Xiaomi boasts of a 108-megapixel primary rear camera, 5G, the top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, fast 30W wireless charging, and a sculpted metal-and-glass body. There's a lot to suggest that you would get good value at the starting price of Rs. 49,000 with the Mi 10 5G, but that doesn't necessarily mean that people will flock to this device.
Xiaomi has spent a long time building itself up as a budget-friendly brand in India. Having entered the country in 2014 with the Mi 3 (Review) priced at Rs. 13,999, the Chinese brand soon found its niche not with the more expensive Mi series, but with the lower-cost Redmi models that delivered excellent value for money. As far back as 2016, we noted that Xiaomi's Mi 5, launched at Rs. 24,999 would struggle because of the brand's growing association with the low end of the market. That was the last (non-experimental) Mi-series model the company launched in India – until now.
The Mi 10 5G has been a long time coming – Xiaomi told Gadgets 360 during a pre-launch briefing that it has waited to get back into the high-end space for a number of reasons. First, Xiaomi readily admits that it is harder to sell premium phones in India, and so it wanted to develop its network of Mi Home stores to ensure that the sales and support experiences would be adequate.
That makes sense, as it usually comes down to specifications when buying phones online, but people might appreciate premium materials and construction quality if they experience a device in-person. Xiaomi will have to put in a lot of work to demonstrate the Mi 10 5G's features and ensure smooth after-sales support – but it is in perhaps a better position to deliver these things than many other brands in India thanks to its existing reach.
The company has also been working to strengthen its Mi ecosystem of accessories and products – the Mi Wireless Power Bank for example deliberately plays to the Mi 10 5G's support for wireless charging. A Wi-Fi 6 router is also possibly on the horizon; another product that this phone can take advantage of.
Furthermore, the Xiaomi brand has been consciously distanced from the Redmi name, which most of its top selling devices are very prominently labelled and marketed under. Rather than creating a separate low-cost brand, products such as the Redmi K20 Pro (Review) have shown that this is Xiaomi's mainstream portfolio, and the Mi series is reserved for halo products. There will be no confusing the Mi 10 5G for an overpriced low-end model.
The 65-inch Mi TV 4X smart television is priced at Rs. 54,999 in India, and was before today the most expensive product listed on the company's website. (Its official MRP is Rs. 64,999, which is still unmatched.) Clearly, people are willing to spend money on big-ticket products, and being a phone manufacturer hasn't hurt Xiaomi there. Rs. 54,999 is relatively inexpensive for a 65-inch TV, and therefore great value, but it's still a lot of money. That's the exact same logic that the company will be hoping translates to the Mi 10 5G.
Still, Xiaomi does seem to feel that there are some limits. The Mi 10 5G has weak secondary cameras and no IP rating, all to keep the cost from going any higher. The top-spec variant with 12GB of RAM hasn't launched here, and the Mi 10 Pro isn't on the horizon either, as these would cost considerably more.
It also seems as though this is a favourable time to launch a premium smartphone. Xiaomi isn't alone at this price point – after being relatively stagnant for many years, we've recently seen the launches of the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro, Realme X50 Pro 5G (Review), iQoo 3 (Review), iPhone SE (2020), all priced starting between Rs. 35,000 and Rs. 55,000. If there's a growing appetite for premium-priced smartphones, Xiaomi shouldn't let itself be left behind.
We'll always hope for better low-cost models that give more and more people the benefits of modern phones and help them stay connected, but it's also good to see the high-end market flourish. We want more choices for consumers, and if companies can make money with premium models, they'll be in better positions to survive the cut-throat low-end market. There's also a vast untapped middle ground between the budget segment and today's top-end iPhones and Samsung Galaxy models that now sell for well over Rs. 70,000 each.
A for Xiaomi in particular, we hope that this marks a new phase for the company in India. Its enormous portfolio in China includes laptops, projectors, bikes, toys, smart home equipment, lifestyle accessories, and much more. We've been eyeing several of these, and it seems as though Xiaomi might be starting to take more risks in bringing them to India – the ongoing crowdfunding campaign for the Mi Robot Vacuum Mop is one such example.
The Mi 10 5G has every chance of being a success. It certainly won't sell in stratospheric numbers like most Redmi models, and it probably won't be too much of a thorn in OnePlus's side, but it could have some impact on the market. More importantly, it will help Xiaomi broaden its reach and pave the way for many future products.
Is Mi 10 an expensive OnePlus 8 or a budget budget S20 Ultra? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.