Though still not a household name outside of Asia, China’s Xiaomi is gaining in global market share for smartphones, and it’s not stopping there. Like so many of its rivals, it’s also breaking into wearables, with its debut device being the Mi Band fitness tracker.
Perfect for anyone who wants to try out a fitness tracker, the Mi Band’s minor flaws are easily ignored, especially when you consider its exceptionally low price. On sale in China at 79RMB (which converts to around $13, £7.50, AU$13.50), it undercuts other basic models like the Misfit Flash and the Fitbit Zip that retail at around $50 (roughly £3o or AU$60) while still delivering the same features.
Good luck getting one, however. There are no plans yet to release the bracelet for other markets, so you’ll have to either get it through an online reseller (and pay a little premium), or hope you manage to snag one while in China at the Xiaomi online store.
Xiaomi keeps the design simple for the Mi Band. There are no buttons you need to press and the Mi Band comes in two parts — a rubber strap and the fitness module. Once on the wrist, the 13g Mi Band doesn’t stay in your mind.
As it’s water-resistant — the Mi Band has a IP67 rating — you can bring the Mi Band with you in the shower, though the rubber strap is uncomfortable when it’s wet. The strap is adjustable, so you can either wear it loose or tight depending on your preference.
The Mi Band lacks a screen. Instead, it has three indicator lights that flash when you do a “look at your watch” gesture. However, the Mi Band is really picky about when it lights up; you’ll have to actually have your arm fully extended at your side, then raise it up like you’re looking at a watch before it works.
The three lights show your walking progress for the day, so if you set the target to, say, 8,000 steps, when you hit around 5,000 the second light will be fully lit. When you hit your target, the Mi Band will vibrate to alert you while the lights will blink for a few seconds.
You’ll need to take out the dongle for charging, but you’ll really only need to do this once every 30 days or so. The Mi Band comes with a custom USB cable that attaches to the dongle, and you can plug that into a PC or a USB charger.
Mi Band app
Unlike the more fully featured app that comes with the higher-end Jawbone Up24, the Mi Band app is clean and simple and supports both English and Chinese. There’s no option to measure your caloric intake — instead, the app just shows the steps you’ve taken and your sleep patterns, such as when you fell into deep sleep.
You can also set an alarm to wake up to, and the Mi Band will buzz at the appropriate time. An early bird alarm is also available and will wake you 30 minutes before your preset time if the band detects that it’s the best time to wake you up.
Apart from the two functions mentioned above, the Mi Band app also adds a sit-up and jump rope tracker. You’ll need to manually activate this, though, as the Mi Band itself only works for your steps and sleep. There’s also an option in the settings menu to let you vote for other sports such as cycling in future updates.
One feature that’s limited to only Xiaomi’s phones is a proximity unlocker. If you’re holding the phone in the same hand that’s wearing the band, you won’t need to enter a passcode or perform a pattern unlock.
Currently, the Mi Band only works with Android 4.4 devices, and there aren’t any third-party apps available that support this. It’s also unknown if Xiaomi will ever add iOS support, though there are pictures on Weibo from Xiaomi developers showing the app running on an iPhone 6.
As mentioned, the Mi Band claims a 30-day battery life, and two weeks with the Mi Band have shown me that this looks to be true. The fitness band still had 75 percent left, meaning it could last as long as 2 months instead of the promised 1. This is pretty impressive, given that the more expensive Jawbone Up24 is only rated for a week. However, the Mi Band’s rechargeable battery can’t compare to the six-month battery life of the Misfit Flash or the Fitbit Zip.
Given the Mi Band’s absurdly low price, it’s impressive and gets a free pass for its minor flaws. The rubber material used in the band takes a while to get used to, but it’s light and not at all unpleasant to wear most of the time.
It’s really hard to see how other screenless fitness bands can now justify their exorbitant prices, especially when the Mi Band does the exact same thing but is a lot more affordable. Of course, these fitness trackers do have options such as keeping track of your caloric intake, but these are software-based, via an app, so it’s possible Xiaomi may be able to add these in as well in a future update.
Lastly, getting your hands on the Mi Band can be challenging since it’s limited to China for now, and until the company starts making it globally available, people in other countries will likely will have to pay a lot more for the current fitness bands. With that in mind, I still heartily recommend the Mi Band, even if you have to get it at a premium from an online reseller. You’ll still save quite a bit compared with other brands, and the Mi Band makes for a great entry-level fitness band to try out.
THE GOOD The Xiaomi Mi Band is a water-resistant fitness tracker that measures your steps and sleep patterns. It’s ridiculously cheap with excellent battery life to boot.
THE BAD It’s only compatible with Android 4.4 devices and the gesture motion to light up the Mi Band’s indicator lights can be hard to master. There’s no word on iOS compatibility.
THE BOTTOM LINE At $13, it’s really easy to forgive the few flaws the Mi Band has, though getting one will be challenging unless you’re in China.