You may not have heard anything about it, because it's flying under the radar, but there's a new smartphone out this week.
It's the Mi Mix 2 from Xiaomi.
Xiaomi, which sold more smartphones in China than Apple (AAPL) in the second quarter, calls the phone the "iPhone 8 Killer." The Beijing-based company purposefully released it a day before the iPhones 8 and X landed.
The Mi Mix 2 is the latest in a stream of Chinese-made phones going up against the newest and shiniest offerings from the likes of Apple and Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) . Apple has suffered declining sales for six months in a row in China, the world's largest mobile-phone market. There are some 2.33 billion devices doing the rounds here.
Not that Xiaomi, which saw a sharp drop in sales last year, has it all its own way. Xiaomi wasn't even in the top five Chinese smartphone sellers for 2016, which it called a "make-up year" after rising to No. 2 in 2015. It stopped releasing annual unit figures, sales were so bad.
So both Apple and Xiaomi have something to prove.
The new phone is Xiaomi's most-expensive model to date, just like the Apple X. The original Mi Mix started the "bezel-free" trend that you can say Apple is copying with efforts to get a "full-screen" phone without edges.
The Mi Mix 2 sports a "unibody" carapace with sleek ceramic curves designed by Philippe Starck. With a full-screen display, it sells for 4,699 yuan ($720) for the top-of-the-line phone, and around $500 for the cheapest.
Huawei Technologies, Lenovo Group (LNVGY) , Oppo and Vivo all provide home-grown competition for Xiaomi (and Apple) within mainland China. Besides Apple and Samsung, the top two dogs, Huawei, Xiaomi's Mi and Lenovo round out the top five in sales. LG Electronics, Sony (SNE) and the Taiwanese manufacturer HTC (HTCCY) land in the top 10 alongside the other Chinese brands.
The Chinese manufacturers are fighting hard to overcome the prejudice against their products. I did a quick poll of my buddies here in Hong Kong as to who has tried out a Chinese smartphone, and one of the "half-joking" comments is that all the phones would be bugged by the Chinese government.
Of course, people make similar jokes about Apple. Fresh off the pressers for the iPhone X and 8, the satirical newspaper The Onion reports that the new iPhone "Will No Longer Secretly Record Every Word You Say."
The new iPhones may kick off a "super-cycle" of sales for Apple's products. Sales have been flagging for iPhones but we'll soon see how much of that is due to people waiting to snap up the 10-year anniversary model.
Chinese phone makers are certainly making headway outside China. As of mid-year, Chinese smartphone makers account for a record 48% of the market, according to Counterpoint Research. They're truly global in reach.
Huawei has "co-engineered" its most-recent phones with high-end-lens maker Leica. It has also partnered with "color company" Pantone to come up with the latest shades. The P10 came out in "color of the year 2017" Greenery as well as Dazzling Blue.
I struggle to pass through an airport without noticing Huawei's ads. Scarlett Johansson was taking selfies with a Huawei handset at one point; David Beckham has sported them, too. The company is, through its partnerships, attempting to outdo competitors not only on hardware and performance but equally on the "phone as fashion accessory" front.
The Huawei Nova 2 Plus comes with a 20-megapixel camera (eight more than the latest iPhone) and is a "Selfie Superstar," according to the company. Its Mate 9 Pro has a curved-edge screen and a battery that charges in 20 minutes.
As for the Mi, my daughter's 11-year-old BFF gave me the most-thorough review. The camera is clear for daytime shots and great because you can just press anywhere on the back to take a photo. But nighttime shots are really blurry. The apps worked quite well until it started getting laggy. The battery is really durable but the phone sometimes got really hot.
So that's the pre-teen take. Her Dad, who is a fire chief, says the performance is even and the phone is steady. Good enough.
Xiaomi's Mi Mix phones were some of the first to have an "edge-to-edge" display, the front of the phone virtually all screen with little in the way of bezel edge. It's very similar in size to the Samsung and LG phones, taller and thinner than an iPhone.
The Mi Mix 2 isn't for sale in the United States, but it works on American phone networks. Its 12-megapixel camera is like the latest iPhones, and in the eyes of one reviewer the whole package "is legitimately a premium device" that "packs plenty of wow factor."
One of its shortcomings is similar to that of other Chinese phones -- consumers simply aren't used to handling them. So the operating systems can seem a little strange at first. Xiaomi has its own take on the Android system that the fire chief struggled to get around at first when he switched from a Samsung.
Apple has ceased being first-to-market with every technology that comes along. I guess, on this 10th anniversary of its smartphones, consumers can be thankful that competition is sometimes forcing the company to play catchup. But its products are famously intuitive as well as sleekly "designed in Cupertino" (and of course made in China).
Here in Hong Kong, there are still plenty of Apple devotees (I would say 50% of my friends polled). But buyer beware ... there are knockoff Banana and Pear phones that look awfully similar in China ...
Apple is doing its part for technical advances. It does promise that these new phones are already designed with augmented reality in mind -- and that they are prepared for wireless charging when the AirPower wireless charging accessory comes out in 2018.
And Apple undoubtedly has its eye on China, where it has cooperated more with the government on curtailing errant VPN use than you might expect in the United States. I note that its newsroom release for the iPhone 8 has, as a sample of its new translation feature, the question "How do you say what are the most popular dishes in your restaurant in Mandarin."
Expect Xiaomi and Huawei to be telling you where to find the best chicken wings in Buffalo while chasing after a T Rex next.
(This article originally appeared at 9:00 ET on Real Money, our premium site for active traders. Click here to get great columns like this from Jim Cramer and other writers even earlier in the trading day.)
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