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(Pocket-lint) - Xiaomi launched in the UK in 2018 part of an expansion across more areas of the globe, making inroads into Europe around the same time.

The company will be familiar to many technology fans, one of a number of Chinese companies looking to challenge the established brands like Samsung, and fill the shoes of the declining Huawei - especially in smartphones.

But who is Xiaomi, what phones does it offer and should you be excited?

How do you say "Xiaomi"?

Xiaomi - 小米 - literally means green millet or little rice, a staple of the Chinese diet. The word Xiaomi is actually the Anglicised version of the Chinese, Xiaomi tells us.

The slightly awkward thing is phonically "X" is usually "ex" or "zee" in English, and it's neither of those sounds, it's a "sh" instead. 

The easiest way to approach it is to break the word down into Xiao-mi. The "mi" part it easy, it’s like "me", so we can forget that.

Xiao is like the "show" part in the word "shower" (not like show as in Broadway). It's the central sound that causes the problem - like "ow, I've hit my thumb".

Put the two parts together and you have Xiaomi - Shh-ow-mi.

Who is Xiaomi?

Xiaomi is a Chinese company founded in 2010 that would consider itself to be a software company. Based in Beijing, the company was founded by billionaire and entrepreneur Lei Jun, having previously been CEO of Kingsoft, a software giant, behind applications like WPS Office.

One of Xiaomi's early ventures was MIUI, ROM software for Android phones, at a time when Android wasn't totally consumer friendly. The company built its reputation and gained fans in smartphones with regular updates and a community-based approach, with software very much at the heart of things. MIUI still runs on most Xiaomi phones.

The company now offers a full range of smartphones for which it is best known, but also offers a wider ecosystem of devices. Many of the Xiaomi branded devices are made by third parties, but Xiaomi invests and supports in these third-party companies to bring these products to market.

One of the founding principles of Xiaomi is that good technology shouldn't cost you a lot of money and the company pledges not to make more than 5 per cent profit on hardware sales, which often means really competitive prices.

What other smartphone brands is Xiaomi behind?

There's a lot more to Xiaomi's phones that just Xiaomi. Xiaomi, despite being a more affordable brand than many, has a budget brand, called Redmi. The "mi" here ties these brands together.

Xiaomi is also behind the Black Shark gaming brand, offering highly-competitive gaming phones.

Pocophone is another Xiaomi brand, with Pocophone being pitched as the phone for phone lovers - fewer models, but targetting the important details.

What phones does Xiaomi offer in the UK?

Xiaomi phones are widely available in the UK, selling direct through Mi.com where the company often hosts sales for those looking to buy SIM free, as well as through mainstream retailers like Amazon.co.uk and other phone stores.

Xiaomi devices are also available from Three and Vodafone on contract.

Xiaomi phones

Xiaomi phone numbers generally reflects the year they were launched in, but the release of phones isn't the same across all regions, so there will often be one model available in India or mainland Europe that's not in the UK, as well as different designations and specs in different territories. 

Generally speaking, here's how the years and numbers match up, giving you an idea of how recent models are:

  • Mi 11 family - 2021
  • Mi 10 family - 2020
  • Mi 9 family - 2019
  • Mi 8 family - 2018

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Within those families there are lots of different models: Mi 11 Lite, Mi 11, Mi 11 Pro, Mi 11 Ultra positioning models in different slots and prices, usually followed up T models later in the year.

That will often mean that you have a phone like the 2020 Mi 10T Pro that's fairly close in spec and performance to 2021 models, but still widely available and at competitive prices

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Redmi phones

Redmi phones generally track the release Xiaomi branded phones, often with numerous variants with a devision into Redmi and Redmi Note, the Note often being slightly more powerful and popular, while still being affordable.

Again, the numbers track the years those phones were (mostly) released:

  • Redmi 10 - 2021
  • Redmi 9 - 2020
  • Redmi 8 - 2019

Again there are T models that appear later in the year, which can cross over into the following year offering great value for money.

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Pocophone

The pocophone brand has grown over the past few years with the Poco m, f, and x models - but much fewer options than Remdi or Xiaomi brands.

To confuse things further, some models launched in some regions will appear branded as Pocophone in other regions - the Redmi K40 in China launched as the Poco F3 in other areas, for example, but they generally stick to the sort of specs that customers want - like Qualcomm Snapdragon hardware, for example, rather than MediaTek.

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Black Shark

Black Shark is a dedicated gaming phone brand and is much simpler than other Xiaomi brands - because there are much fewer models. That's because there's generally one model, with the 2021 model being the Black Shark 4 and the 2020 model being the Black Shark 3.

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What other devices do Xiaomi offer?

Xiaomi offers everything from luggage to fitness trackers, with the Mi Smart Band and Mi Watch being popular.

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As we said, many items come from the wider ecosystem, rather than being manufactured by Xiaomi themselves, but they stick to the same principle of offering good value for money, while having grown from Xiaomi's investment in the company.

That includes brands such as Roborock, who make popular robot vacuum cleaners.

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Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Stuart Miles. Originally published on 31 October 2018.