Asia 2014 Debrief: In Search of Xiaomi

I’m back from my annual pilgrimage to Hong Kong, with a bonus side trip to Kuala Lumpur. As I become reacquainted with life in the Eastern Time Zone I thought I’d share a few mobile insights from what I saw overseas.

This final installment will document my quest for the ultimate mobile souvenir from China, the elusive Xiaomi Mi3.

To find a Chinese smartphone in Hong Kong seemed a lot harder in 2014 than it had been in 2013 or 2012; the Meizu flagship store which I had visited on previous trips was no longer there. And though Xiaomi supposedly has an office on Nathan Road the surging holiday crowds in Mongkok made it pretty much impossible to find.

Fortunately, a day trip to Shenzhen was in our itinerary.

Getting to the border was as easy as taking the MTR East to the end of the line; crossing it required a China Visa, which I had procured back in Canada. Once we were on the other side I can best describe Shenzhen as “joyless”, an endless grid of dreary grey buildings. It didn’t help that once in China proper our SIM cards no longer worked.

Fortunately my girlfriend’s sister (our tour guide) knew exactly where to take us — to the Huaqiangbei commercial electronics district. At least two of the massive, multi-floor buildings we visited were a bust; the SEG Electronics Market and Yuanwang Digital Mall were both devoted entirely to wholesale phone parts. We had better luck at a place called Huaqiang Electronic World (citation needed), where I almost bought a Hongmi…

Xiaomi Hongmi Box

Good thing I didn’t, as I later found out from another vendor’s sealed box that the Hongmi doesn’t support North American 3G.

I did manage to track down the elusive flagship Mi3 at a couple of places, but couldn’t ultimately pull the trigger and buy one. It all just seemed incredibly sketchy… With China’s reputation for fakes how could I possibly know if I was getting a legitimate product? I was wholly expecting to find a Xiaomi flagship store — it was only later that I found out that official product is sold direct from the company’s website, most often in sudden flash sales as a new batch of phones arrives from the factory. So whatever you find in brick and mortar stores is sold at a premium.

Sure enough, back in Hong Kong there was some Xiaomi product available from a more trustworthy source, the mobile phone mall in Mongkok known as Sincere Podium. A vendor there had an Mi3 but was selling it for an inflated $500 CAD. Even the Xiaomi portable phone charger was too dear for this cheapskate, going for about $40 CAD rather than the original $11 price tag.

Though I didn’t end up bringing anything Xiaomi back with me from Hong Kong the experience yielded at least one happy development: my girlfriend’s sister has apparently put in an order for a Hongmi to call her own!

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