Xiaomi introduces Mi 5 but still no word on U.S. expansion

BARCELONA, Spain -- Xiaomi unveiled its flagship Mi 5 at the Mobile World Congress, here, showcasing yet another impressive-looking smartphone at an affordable price, but providing little insight into when it might expand its business to the U.S.

At the company's first European press conference, Xiaomi unveiled a 5.15-inch smartphone powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 processor, and offering 4 GB of RAM and as much as 128 GB of storage. Like other Xiaomi smartphones, it wraps Android (this time it's Marshmallow, or version 6.0) in the latest version of its own MIUI interface. Other features include a 16-megapixel camera, a home button with a fingerprint sensor, and a 3,000mAh battery.

Perhaps most impressive, though, is the Mi 5's price tag: the entry-level 32 GB version will cost roughly $262, and the high-end 128 GB model will be available at $354. The devices will go on sale March 1 in China.

Hugo Barra, the company's VP of international, said the Mi 5 is "coming soon" to India and other markets where Xiaomi already sells phones. However, he declined to say which other regions the Mi 5 might be sold in, and when it might come to markets such as the U.S. and Europe.

Xiaomi enjoyed a meteoric rise in 2013 thanks to the exploding smartphone market in its domestic Chinese market, and it saw a funding round that valued the company at $45 billion. The 70 million smartphones it sold last year were well short of the 100 million founder Lei Jun once predicted, but it was the fifth-largest smartphone manufacturer in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to Gartner, claiming 4.5 percent of the worldwide market. It was also the top-selling smartphone vendor in China last year, The Wall Street Journal recently reported.

Smartphone sales are in China are slowing, however, as the country evolves from an emerging mobile market to a mature one. Xiaomi has long expressed an interest in expanding to the U.S., but has yet to enter the market. A little-known MVNO earlier this month began offering Xiaomi smartphones, but those devices were quickly pulled back after the manufacturer said it hadn't authorized those sales.

Many analysts believe that Xiaomi is hindered by a lack of patents and that any entry to the U.S. would swiftly be met with lawsuits from Apple, Samsung and other heavyweights. The company appears to be working to address that problem and reportedly recently acquired 15 issued patents and four patent applications from Broadcom.

However, Barra's silence about when U.S. users might be able to get their hands on Xiaomi's phones indicates the company still has much work to do on the patent front.

For more:
- see this CNBC piece
- read this Verge story

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