So, just exactly who are Xiaomi?
Well you may have heard of them being referred to as the Apple of China. Although it’s believed that founder Lei Jun, prefers to be compared with Amazon.
The phenomenal numbers tell why. Founded in 2010, they didn’t produce their first cell-phone until 2013. At the beginning of 2018, they were the 4th largest mobile phone producer in the world. 7 in every 10 phones in China are manufactured by Xiaomi.
Unfortunately for such a well-organised and powerful company, the product naming department seems to have the same naming strategy as the British Royal Family. In other words the find every name that they can pluck out of the air and stick it on the box, in total oblivion to the fact that the industry will choose, and even sometimes completely name any product that rolls of the production line.
Step Back To The Future
One of the ‘blue sky thinkers’ at Apple had seen the progression of personal tech. They had seen joggers no doubt wending their way around silicone valley, with their headphones plugged into a mp3 player, looking at their watch, answering their mobile phone and wearing a fitness tracker (most likely strapped to their chest in those days).
That’s when the light bulb moment happened and the iWatch was conceived.
The first iWatch, was indeed ground breaking, but someone at Xiaomi, was watching carefully.
As I have stated the iWatch moved the pace on massively. However, there were (and remain) a couple of monumental flaws in the concept. Firstly and most strikingly obvious, there was never, nor likely never will be a square action watch. Dive watches, aviator watches and all other activity watches are, through requirement, round. Now the square watch has always been an icon of the dress watch market.
More importantly to carry all that tech ability in one package was no doubt, a technological Nirvana, had all the functionality not been almost impossible to implement in a useable way. Quite possibly ‘Break Dancing’ made a big comeback purely based on the spectacle of watching joggers in Central Park throwing inventive new shapes whilst trying to change a track or answer the phone.
It is no coincidence that the death of ‘wearables’ was declared almost as quickly as it had been born.
Xiaomi, however had a worn on wrist fitness tracker that was gaining rave reviews, not only because of its durable and reliable hardware, but also the quality of the software driving the fitness program. The only problem was that the software had yet to be integrated into a mobile app, and relied on downloading to a PC.
Spotting the potential Xiaomi, quickly developed a watch with a round face and all tracking peripherals of their tracker, they didn’t bother trying to develop their software, instead dumbing down the idea and producing a mobile app. The not so smart, smart watch was born.
The little Xiaomi, with an extraordinary long name (from here we will call it the Amazfit), proved to be an immediate hit with demand in China far outstripping supply and within 3 months 6M, yes 6 Million were made. Xiaomi had not forecast this amount of interest and hadn’t even bothered to make any in any other language than Chinese.
However, demand was very much global and so the company introduced a software patch to convert the OS language to English. This was to give them time to produce a truly international version of their little market leader. To this day there are 100’s of thousands of Xiaomi Amazfit 1, watches with an only partially translated OS around western wrists.
Samsung Wakes Up
It was in a little Sushi bar, whilst taking a break from the war Samsung had raged upon it’s attempt to take over LG. That a little product developer brought the waring executive’s attention to what had been going on in the wearables market.
The leviathan had a watch waiting to go to market just after the Apple launch, but, and with some wisdom they had kept their powder dry. Now however they were in need of a war they could win and turned their attention back to the wearable sector. Luckily the Amazfit had one fatal flaw. It was about as waterproof as a string vest.
So a little tweak here, a little grommet there and the S1 was launched. And not only did it look like a proper watch, it actually looked almost like a proper sports watch.
Game over then?
Well no really, because Samsung went and did the same thing as Apple (no shock there I hear you say), and made it too complicated.
And that apart from an incremental tweak here and there, and ever more players with fewer and fewer ideas joining the market, is pretty much how things stayed until this year. And I guess now that Swatch have announced an all new OS, this year will be remembered as the OS wars.
Apple and Samsung have both hit the market this year with top=notch OS, while Xiaomi have finally got their OS to share data with an Android device.
That I have to say would seem to be the way of things, for now at least. But surely a proper watch maker can only be a step or two away from introducing a proper, well-thought-out smart watch.
My Daily Driver
If I am honest, I would love nothing more than Samsung to have dumbed down their OS and made a proper watch with fitness tracking ability software, because Let’s face it, the S3 is one of the best looking watches on the market right now, smart or no.
But they didn’t and therefore as impressive as the OS on the S3 is my choice of daily driver is the Xiaomi Amazfit 2 (plus several other marketing names). Why? Well it is far from perfect but it does look like a watch, it’s peripherals both work and are very accurate, and the OS is really good.
So right here, right now it really is the most workable compromise. Oh and to put anyone’s mind at ease, yes the new watch is waterproof.
Xiaomi Amazfit Stratos Pace 2
For starters there is a very comprehensive Sports Mode, including but not restricted to; walking, running, cycling, triathlon, swimming, elliptical, mountaineering, trail running, tennis, soccer and skiing.
The watch comes with built-in GPS and GLONASS support, which you’ll be able to use on most of the work-out modes.
The Xiaomi partnership with Firstbeat is worth mentioning, as this brings VO2 Max to the watch, along with Training Load and recommended recovery time – features you’ll find in a lot of the high-end sports watches. These are good metrics of overall fitness, and having them on board means the Stratos can give you a deeper analysis on your progressions, which you’ll be able to pore over in the app.
The Stratos does a solid job of tracking moderately intense runs: the GPS was accurate in testing, and heart rate was generally consistent with the chest strap that I used. However, when pushed up into the higher intensity bracket, the Stratos buckled, and the final average and maximum heart rates were off as a result. This is nothing new for sports watches and is generally what holds them back from being considered as a one stop answer. the physical sensor just isn’t up to snuff for those who want something that can really be pushed which is a great shame.
On the plus side the Stratos has the ability to support a strap-on monitor via Bluetooth which makes it a very flexible option.
The next third party algerythm to be integrated into the Stratos is Zepp’s tennis tracker and although in a concentrated practice session the results are somewhat variable, it does replicate Zepp’s actual software. And though the system will give you an indication of the workout and stroke play in a game.
Climbing and trail running will let you import GPX files (which contain lat/lon coordinates) via the computer and onto the watch, get altitude data and pair other Bluetooth sensors as well. Skiing gives you these and also Let’s you see your speed.
The third and final partnership we should mention is Strava. You can connect your Strava account in the Amazfit app and sync your workouts across.
And now to the (Smart) watch functions……or not. Xiaomi have stretched this a little further in this model. You now get an impressive 4GB of storage, so there is plenty of room for music and although you will get all alerts from your phone you cannot react to them on your phone, which is to most of us a blessing.