While China’s Xiaomi is best known for its budget-friendly phones, the company has recently branched out into all sorts of other tech products. From action cameras to smart weighing scales to water purifiers, the $60 billion startup has been building a diverse ecosystem around its core business.
Xiaomi’s latest product, the Mi Notebook Air, isn’t quite as novel as a hoverboard or the company’s latest drone, but it does have one thing most other ultraportable laptops lack — a discrete graphics card (discrete graphics cards are typically faster than their embedded brethren). A Nvidia GeForce 940MX, to be exact.
Other specs include a 256GB solid state drive and 8GB of RAM, and if you need more space there’s an additional SATA slot available to boost storage by up to 256GB.
Unveiled at a press event here in Beijing alongside the dual-camera wielding Redmi Pro phone, the 13.3-inch Mi Notebook Air was designed to fill a niche, Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun said. Similar ultraportables, such as the Razer Blade Stealth, lack discrete graphics and rely on Intel’s integrated graphics to do the legwork, which means their gaming capabilities are limited. Xiaomi says you can play games like Dota 2 at 85 frames-per-second at full-HD resolution on its Notebook Air.
Clad in aluminium, the device lacks any exterior logos. It’s a very clean look. Only when you open up the laptop do you find a Mi logo. While Xiaomi is selling the Mi Notebook Air under its own branding, the laptop is actually made by a partner called Tian Mi.
Xiaomi’s making an interesting bet in the laptop segment, though. IDC Research analyst Bryan Ma isn’t too optimistic about the Chinese notebook market, saying that IDC “expects China’s consumer notebook market to contract by 10.4 percent this year versus the -7.7 percent in the US and -9.3 percent worldwide.”
But if anything could help turn things around, perhaps it’s this high quality notebook from Xiaomi. I tried out the notebook at the press event and came away impressed with the build quality. There are some things that could still be better, though, such as the flex of the notebook at the keyboard area. It just doesn’t feel as solid as the Apple MacBook Air that it imitates.
I do, however, like the keyboard. It feels great to type on and the keys have just the right amount of clickiness. It’s definitely a lot better than the Asus Zenbook 3, which I also tried out when it launched in June this year. While the audio doesn’t feel hollow compared with other laptops, the sound is blasted through the bottom of the notebook, which makes the palm area vibrate. That can be a distracting sensation, so it’s best to use a headset if you plan to game with the Mi Notebook Air.
- Intel Core i5-6200U, up to 2.7GHz
- 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
- 3-inch, full-HD (1,920×1,080-pixels)
- 309 by 210.9 by 14.8 mm; 1.28 kg (2.82 pounds)
- Type-C USB for charging, 2x USB 3.0, 1x HDMI, 3.5mm audio port
- 40Wh battery, 9.5 hours
Xiaomi also announced a 12.5-inch version of the Mi Notebook Air that is slightly thinner and lighter at 12.9 mm and 1.07 kg (2.36 pounds). The 12.5-inch will lack discrete graphics, have only a 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM and use an Intel Core-M processor. That downgrading of specs comes with an upside, however — a battery life of 11.5 hours, 2 hours longer than the 13.3-inch model.
If you’re lusting for either one of these laptops, the bad news is that Xiaomi will only officially sell the Mi Notebook Air in China. They go on sale on August 2 and will retail for 4,999 yuan (this converts to about $750, £570 and AU$1,000) and 3,499 yuan (or about $525, £400 and AU$725) respectively.