Xiaomi may be skipping Mobile World Congress, the year’s biggest phone show, but it is still making news this week after it unveiled its first processor and the first phone it is powering.
The device is the Mi5c, an updated model of its 5.15-inch Mi5 that it launched at Mobile World Congress last year.
The Mi5c is powered by the Surge S1, Xiaomi’s first SoC chipset and its bid to reduce its reliance on industry suppliers like Qualcomm, and also build customization and differentiation into its phones. That’s important because 2016 wasn’t a great year for the company, it stopped providing annual shipment numbers amid reports that sales had dropped below the 70 million-plus it sold in 2015. Xiaomi thinks that a new strategy, which includes designing its own silicon — something only Samsung, Apple and Huawei currently do — and growing its offline retail presence can turn things around.
So what of the Surge S1. Well, it’s an octa-core 64-bit processor that Xiaomi said runs up to 2.2GHz. In terms of tangible developments that you’ll see in phones running the chipset, Xiaomi claimed it is 40 percent more power efficient (thanks to its quad-core GPU), while call quality will be clearer. The chip can also improve photos, it added, with better low light scene shooting and increased light sensitivity.
“For Xiaomi, the move is an essential next step in our development. In order to deliver on our promise to make innovation available to everyone, we need to master the core technologies of our industry and tightly integrate the development of our hardware with our software, helping us to make even better smartphones that will consistently surprise the industry and delight consumers,” Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun said in a statement.
Xiaomi added that the process to create the chipset has taken 28 months, starting October 2014. It put forward some benchmarking data for those who are into the details:
Chipsets are all well and good but phones are what people buy and use.
The Mi5c will sell for 1,499 RMB ($220) in China which makes it a budget Mi5. The device includes a fingerprint sensor on the front, a downgraded 12-megapixel rear camera, 3GB RAM and 65GB of storage. Xiaomi said that using the Surge S1 gives the device those aforementioned camera, power and performance benefits.
Xiaomi is only the fourth phone-maker to design its own processor, but the launch device is underwhelming. There’s plenty of speculation around the Mi6 while Xiaomi wowed the industry with the impressively designed Mi Max, yet here it is trotting out a budget version of last year’s flagship phone.
That may be disappointing to some onlookers, but it is not uncommon for phone-maker to introduce custom silicon to non-flagship phones first, giving themselves an opportunity to tinker and iterate before loading it into their halo device for the year. That looks to be the case here. A Xiaomi rep decline to comment when we asked if the Surge S1 would power the upcoming Mi6 so you’ll have to wait and see on that.