Xiaomi Mi Watch first impressions: We get our hands on the upcoming smartwatch

It won't get a global release until later this year, but here's what to expect
Xiaomi Mi Watch: First look
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Xiaomi officially revealed the Mi Watch in China last November, but there's currently no word on when the Apple Watch clone will be given a global release.

To help fill the gap until it does, and to get some idea of whether this is a viable alternative to the top smartwatches arriving in 2020, we've got our hands on the Chinese version of the Xiaomi Mi Watch.

Remember, this is the first smartwatch to receive the Xiaomi branding, with it previously only producing the in-demand Mi Band trackers.

Read next: Top Apple Watch alternatives

There's plenty to unpack with the first Mi Watch. Even though we can't access the device in full, due to location restrictions regarding the companion app, we can get good feel for the design, screen quality, responsiveness and more.

Here's everything we know so far about the Xiaomi Mi Watch – and why not check out the latest news on the Xiaomi Mi Band 5, which could be launching over the next few months.

Update: This article was originally written on 5 November when the Mi Watch was unveiled. We've updated it to offer more details about Mi Watch, and to include details of our first impressions.

Quick look: Xiaomi Mi Watch specs

  • 1.78-inch AMOLED display
  • 44mm case size
  • 410 x 410 display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100
  • Wear OS (with MIUI)
  • Quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7
  • 8GB memory
  • LTE
  • GPS
  • Accelerometer, gyro, heart rate, barometer

Xiaomi Mi Watch first impressions: We get our hands on the upcoming smartwatch

Design

In terms of design, the watch features a 44mm square face, with a 1.78-inch AMOLED display pumping out a resolution of 410 x 410 pixels and a pixel density of 326 pixels-per-inch.

At first glance, the Mi Watch screams of an Apple Watch imitation - which is something of a modus operandi for Xiaomi. And though it is thicker, it doesn't necessarily feel it on the wrist.

The build quality isn't as solid as the Apple Watch - and that's not necessarily a surprise, considering it will retail for potentially less than half the price of a Series 5 - but this does mean it's slightly lighter.

Read more: Best cheap smartwatches for 2020

Interestingly, the case matches the first three generations of the Apple Watch, offering the same square look, but the screen is prominently rounded, more in line with the later models.

This blends into the case much less elegantly than Apple's smartwatches, but it does also look more attractive than a square screen would.

And while it's hard to assess overall screen quality, since the initial menus only really offer white text on a black background, the AMOLED display certainly doesn't appear to be anything to worry about. It's also very responsive, whether you're swiping back or tapping through menus or using the crown to navigate.

Xiaomi Mi Watch first impressions: We get our hands on the upcoming smartwatch

That crown is, you guessed it, in the same style as the Apple Watch, and can be twisted to move through menus, as too is the side-button microphone and speaker on either edge.

Internally, the smartwatch is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 3100 platform - the latest version of its processor, though an upgraded Snapdragon 3300 version has recently been rumored.

And it has a lot to power, too, with LTE available for music streaming and voice calls when you're not connected over Bluetooth to a phone, joining Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS for location tracking and NFC for contactless payments.

There's a quad core processor on board that should be enough to keep things speedy, and 8GB of storage, which is pretty typical across the smartwatch world. That should offer plenty of room to store music.

Xiaomi Mi Watch first impressions: We get our hands on the upcoming smartwatch

Features

When you first turn the Xiaomi Mi Watch on, you're greeted with typical Wear OS load-up screen; the four colours start out as dots and begin to form the logo before you're prompted in Chinese to continue.

With this being the first-ever 'skinned' version of Google's smartwatch software, it does appear like it will be slightly different during setup - and the menus, like the one shown above, won't necessarily be in the usual Wear OS style.

Leaked: Xiaomi Mi Watch Color details

The personalized skin of Wear OS, called MiUI for Watch, has been designed to enable stripped-down versions of Xiaomi apps, like Mi Home, Tasks and Maps. However, it's not clear whether the watch will support current Wear OS apps when it lands or be paired with the Xiaomi Mi app.

That's new territory for Google, which has previously clamped down on brands forking its smartwatch OS. But with the market now moving quickly away from Google technology – it seems like something of a gamble from Google to help Xiaomi use its OS to aggressively corner some market share.

Xiaomi Mi Watch first impressions: We get our hands on the upcoming smartwatch

However, there's more here than meets the eye.

We already know that Firstbeat has been called upon to license its technology for VO2 Max and heart rate analytics during sport. It's the same algorithms that Garmin uses – and takes advantage of the Mi Watch's heart rate sensor and GPS chip.

That means there should be some decent workout features to take advantage of – and body energy measurement is listed amongst the features, which should be similar to Garmin's body battery measurement.

There's a blood ox sensor on board, too, and the Mi Watch gets one up on Apple by including sleep tracking.

However, it's not clear whether the pulse ox sensor will add data to the sleep tracking features, as we've seen on Garmin devices.

Aside from that, you can also expect the standard set of smartwatch features, such as notifications, alarms and more.

Xiaomi Mi Watch first impressions: We get our hands on the upcoming smartwatch

Battery life

Despite its similarities to the Apple Watch, it actually manages to outlast the device in the battery life department –at least on paper.

Xiaomi claims the Mi Watch will manage 36 hours of continuous use, even with LTE enabled, thanks to its 570 mAh battery packed inside.

Price and availability

We'll be testing the battery life claim during our full review, but, at least for now, the Mi Watch will remain exclusive to China, having released on 11 November for CNY 1,299. That translates to roughly $185.

At those prices, it seems like a compelling purchase – although Apple has really killed off some of the hype by reducing its Series 3 smartwatch to $199.

The Xiaomi Mi Watch is currently available on Geek Buying for around $279.99, but there's no English version of the app yet, so we'd certainly wait for proper support.

Xiaomi has said that the Mi Watch will land outside of China officially in 2020, and we expect that to happen some time over the first half of the year.