Xiaomi’s Mi Notebook Air breaks ultrabook cost barrier

by Haadi Bakar
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Ultrabooks are everything we’ve always wanted in a laptop: slim and lightweight design, durable construction and solid processing power.

But their high cost have put off some budget concious consumers. For PC manufacturers, constructing ultraslim and lightweight laptops without compromising on build-quality and performance are costlier than standard notebooks.

This is why you won’t be seeing an ultrabook priced under B$1,000. But Chinese phone company Xiaomi aims to change all that with an ultrabook that starts at US$525 (B$700).

Xiaomi is making its foray into the consumer PC market (after electric bicycles and air purifiers). It’s first notebook computer, Mi Notebook Air is a sleek looking machine with high-end performance but priced well below competing brands.

One of Xiaomi’s ads on its ultrabook Mi Notebook Air. Image courtesy of Xiaomi.

Powerful specs in an affordable package

The Windows 10-powered Mi Notebook Air comes in two variants: a 12.5-inch model which is 0.51 inches thick and weighs just a kilo, and a  slighly larger 13.3-inch model weighing in an extra .27 kilos.

The smaller 12-5-inch Mi Notebook Air is the cheaper of the two variants at roughly US$750, and is equipped with a Core M3 processor, 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage. Xiaomi claims 11.5 hours of battery life on this device, so its definitely tailored for the road warriors.

The larger model is even more impressive. For US$750 ($1,000), you get a faster Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 940MX graphics card and 256GB SSD storage. This one’s obviously made for more graphically demanding tasks and some level of gaming.

It also has a USB-C port, two USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI port.

Both variants are enclosed in an aluminium unibody construction, pretty much what you’d expect in a top-of-the-line ultrabook, except that these are more affordably priced.

To compare, you’d have to spend roughly US$1,199 (B$1,600) for a top-tier 13-inch Macbook Air to get the same processor, RAM and storage space, and Apple’s laptop don’t include a dedicated graphics card.

Meanwhile, the latest Macbook with Retina Display is even more absurd at US$1,299 (B$1,750), double the cost of the 12.5-inch Mi Notebook Air, yet the former only offers a single USB-C port while the latter comes with additional two USB 3.0 ports and HDMI.

Xiaomi’s new ultrabooks also easily crushes most Windows laptops with similar specs with that sub-US$1,000 price tag. My top ultrabook choice, the Dell XPS 13, costs B$1,699 and upwards at B$2,199 for the top-tier unit.

Meanwhile, HP’s Spectre 13, currently holding the world’s thinnest ultrabook title, will set you back for a whopping $2,299!

The Mi Notebook Air comes in two flavours: silver and rose gold. Image courtesy of Xiaomi.

If it ain’t broke

The Mi Notebook Air is also beautifully crafted, though it bears a striking resemblance to Apple’s Macbook Air, as well as some design influence from Microsoft’s Surface Pro.

Yet Xiaomi’s stylish laptops are easily distinguishable from its main rivals by its logo-less back, which gives them a more minimalistic and almost zen-like look. It’s only when you open up the laptop do you find Xiaomi’s logo.

The Mi Notebook Air comes in two colour options, gold and silver. Both the 12.5-inch and 13.3-inch variants have full HD displays and backlit keyboards.

Xiaomi isn’t making a convertible or a 2-in-1 laptop/tablet here, just basic clamshell ultrabook that should appeal to the masses.

It’s pretty clear that Xiaomi is opting for a tried-and-true direction with its laptops and not take huge risks by experimenting with the out of the ordinary.

In the wake of declining global PC sales, the best approach to sell a laptop is to really go all out with price, and Xiaomi’s ultrabooks are a step in the right direction.

Most people actually want a decent new laptop, especially an ultrabook, but the high price point is not going to get them to upgrade their old PCs anytime soon, especially when smartphones and tablets are becoming more capable mobile computing devices these days.

But with Xiaomi’s killer pricing strategy, the Mi Notebook Air will surely get a lot of attention from consumers in the next coming months.

More importantly, I would like to see more affordable ultrabooks like the Mi Notebook Air down the road.

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