Friday, June 13, 2014

Field trip to Sim Lim Square Digital Mall in Singapore: Special focus on Xiaomi products

Sim Lim Square has a reputation of being one of two major digital malls in Singapore for all kinds of cutting-edge electronics products. In its heyday of the 90s and early 2000s, it has always differentiated itself from Funan IT Mall by being grittier and more supportive of the DIY culture, as well as being quicker to embrace new products and technology.  However, that also became its Achilles Heel, in a way making Sim Lim more susceptible to major changes in the market, and being significantly impacted by the change in technology away from customized PCs and laptops, towards tablets and smartphones. After-all, how much hardware DIY can you really perform on the iPad, iPhone or Android products?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

For a short while in the late 2000s, it tried to ride the wave of tablet and smartphone accessories, but with high rentals and pricey parking, it did not really have any competitive edge over the neighbourhood stores or any of the online portals.

Curious about how it was faring now, and keen to see how much Xiaomi has penetrated this digital mecca, I decided to make an independent field trip to investigate. 

Level 1: OPPO Find 7A spotted; strong Xiaomi competitor

After a brisk walk through the central façade to gaze at the latest accessories, I was a little disappointed not to spot any Xiaomi product. My attention was caught by a prominent presence of an up-and-coming Xiaomi competitor, the OPPO Find 7 and 7A! I took a brochure to scan at the specs; OMG, 4G LTE on the OPPO 7A at a price point of $599! (Note: M1 is offering it as $168 on the LiteSurf+ plan)

From the shop owned by the Song brothers 

I was particularly interested in the Oppo Find 5 as this is one of the supported models for the MIUI V5 ROM. However, I did not see it on display. I was however able to run through all the OPPO display models N1, R1, Find 5 Mini and Find 7A and came away very impressed with the screen sharpness and camera of the Find 7A.

Brochure from Level 1

Level 3 – Redmi Note spotted

I hit the Xiaomi jackpot on this level! 

I was very excited to see the Redmi Note 1W on display running the China WCDMA ROM. 

The shop was also selling a range of other products and the Xiaomi parallel imports were tucked in the corner next to the android TV boxes. The salesman is from China and he was very busy trying to sell a TV box to an uncle who wanted to be very sure that he could watch HK drama series on the box (He was still there an hour later when I re-visited the shop). As a result, all I could do was to ask about the price, which was $279. I did not bargain as I was not going to buy it. The Redmi Note seemed authentic under the Settings page, running on JHDCNBA with 2Gb RAM and 8Gb Storage.

Next, I investigate another shop on the same level that was offering many smartphones and tablets from China. The focus seemed to be on Ainol 艾诺 tablets. I did not notice any Mipads...yet.

Level 4: Some Xiaomi phones, but watch out for Coolpad 4G LTE!

On this level, there was another shop selling many PRC gadgets and the Xiaomi phones were prominently displayed. I could try out the Mi3 and Redmi phones on display. However, I could not understand why anyone would be interested in these models which can be purchased directly from the official Xiaomi website at very competitive prices. I guess they must be targeting the tourist market.

However it is clear that Xiaomi has overturned the market for smartphones because there are now many models offering dual-sim. I have even seen a triple sim smartphone from Lenovo (i think)!

Of the ones on display, I was drawn to the Coolpad 7296 on display, because this model is supported by the MIUI V5 ROM. Unfortunately, the listed price was $199, which I felt was not competitive compared to the Redmi. However, there could be room for further bargaining. 

Coolpad 酷派is a very well-known PRC smartphone manufacturer (3rd largest in China), who is venturing into 4G LTE. In my opinion, they are not as Cool as Xiaomi - You can check out their website (especially the homepage) here and decide for yourself. 

Their next generation of products hitting the market appear to be very impressive. In particular the Coolpad K1 promises dual sim 4G LTE on a 5.5 inch screen. There is also the Coolpad Halo with a 7 inch display and dual sim 3G.

Xiaomi has to keep up with 4G LTE!

If you are keen, you can also try out the less well-known brands such as THL (糖葫芦) and Ulefone (欧乐风). Some of their models are officially supported by Miui V5 ROM. 

Huawei phones are pretty mainstream now, hence I did not check them out. They are easily available.

The unofficial ROMs for Huawei, THL and Ulefone are listed in the MIUI forum thread here

Level 4: Xiaomi Accessories.

I finally made a stop at one of my favourite accessory stores on Level 4. This accessory store on level 4 has all sorts of phone covers and casings. However, the sales lady led me to a rather small selection of casings for Redmi, Redmi Note and Mi3. The casings range from $10 for the silicone cases, $15 for the cases with covers, and $25 for the metallic ones. Unfortunately, I did not see any oem replacement back covers for Redmi. You will easily obtain a better selection from Taobao.

At another store, I saw some Xiaomi powerbanks and Xiaomi piston earphones. I could not tell for certain whether they were authentic, but they seemed poorer in make quality compared to those I have purchased from the Mi store during the Singapore online sales. 

Xiaomi will face a strong challenge: China smartphones gaining traction

Xiaomi’s presence was not strongly felt at Sim Lim, but overall, I felt that Xiaomi is leading a wave of better quality Chinese phones that has transformed the local smartphone market for the benefit of consumers. Sim Lim Square has seen its heydays, and only time will tell if Steam OS consoles and other smartphone technological innovations to come will bring back the crowds to this venerable mall.

Note: All logos in this article are provided for illustrative purposes and belong to the respective copyright of the owners. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

First look at the Miclick - delivered by 65daigou to Singapore

After several days of waiting, I was rather excited to have received my Miclick today from the 65daigou deliveryman, using the 65daigou service recommended by 杰x杰 in the Miui forum thread here. The Miclick was purchased from the official website in China.

The service was punctual as I had received a reminder sms that the deliveryman will be arriving today at the scheduled timeslot. It took about one week from ordering it from the official website in China and finally receiving it in the evening.

The Miclick is a customisable button that plugs into the 3.5mm audio jack of any handphone. It is a quite a snug fit, and you have to really give it a go and push it all the way in. The tight fit means that it will not accidentally slip out.

As you can see, the button is not completely flush and will be sticking out slightly from the headphone jack, but not in an uncomfortable or excessive manner.

The Miclick requires that the Miclick (米键) app be installed from the Xiaomi market. The Miclick is supposed to work with any android phone that can install the Miclick app.

Once the app is installed, the insertion of the Miclick will activate the UI which allows the customisation of the button. Miui forum moderator Clintonccy has a good tutorial over here on how to install the Miclick app.

For my Miclick, I am using the default one click to activate the toolbox (工具箱) that allows me to choose the camera, torch or voice recorder.

The default setting for two-clicks (双击) is the torch. The Miclick app makes it easy to customise the button clicks.

I have customised three-clicks to make an automatic phone call. This is useful in an emergency situation. 

You can also customise the button to send an automated sms, just with one press of the Miclick button!

There is a lot of novelty and entertainment value in this little device, and all only for RMB 4.90 (about S$1)!

However, if you are using a service like 65daigou, the chargeable amount inclusive of land freight to its Guangzhou office did cost me more than that, and I had to pay S$3.67 as an initial payment for the domestic shipping.

Once it reached the Guangzhou centre, there will be an email prompt for international shipping. I chose the Economy Air option for the shipping to Singapore and opted for home delivery (an additional $5). Once the parcel reached Singapore, I had to make the second payment of $11.57. 

In summary, I had to make the following payments:
  • 65daigou purchase and PRC Mainland freight to Guangzhou $3.67
  • Economy Air freight and Home deliver $11.57

Grand total: $15.24

You can save $5 by opting for self-collection at one of the collection centres in Singapore.

Given that the 3.5mm audio jack is still likely to be with us in the near future, I think the Miclick is an entertaining accessory for any android user. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The flagship Mi3 from Xiaomi

I bought a Mi3 recently to replace my dad's iPhone 4 which was getting long in the tooth and frankly, unacceptable to the eyes with what we now consider a tiny 4" screen! The infamous unresponsive iPhone 4 home button was also becoming an issue.

Despite all the good reviews that I have seen, I was still pretty stunned by the quality of the IPS screen on the Mi3.

There has already been several good reviews about this phone such as one by Hardwarezone here and others comparing the Mi3 with the Samsung S5 over here and I am generally in agreement with them. The lack of 4G LTE would be a step-backwards for some, and 16Gb internal memory without an sd card slot might not be acceptable for power users.

Hardwarezone did a decent review of the Mi3 using various benchmarking apps over here. However, most Singapore Samsung S4 users would only have the S4 LTE i9505 that runs the Snapdragon 600 quadcore 1.9Ghz instead of the i9506 that has the more powerful Snapdragon 800.

Hence I decided to offer an enthusiast's approach by adopting a variation of the usual benchmarking reviews by using the Antutu benchmark to compare my stock Mi3 (android 4.3) with a Samsung S4 LTE i9505 running Cyanogenmod 11, which is also based on jelly bean 4.3. I will then try to push my S4 to the limit to see how close I can come to the Mi3's performance.

Stock Mi3 performance

I ran my favourite CPU-Z ID to gather all the necessary information about the Mi3.

Now comes the Antutu benchmarking! The Mi3 trashes all the competition!