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. 


  1. Great news. MOL is giiving away a free Xiaomi powerbank with the 2014 Hari Raya Promo.

  2. Nice blog, thanks for sharing the information. I will come to look for update. Keep up the good work.
    Laptops South Africa