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Disassembly: Xiaomi Mi Watch smartwatch

A fitness machine packed with features for price-conscious people.

During lockdowns, there has been a lot of talk of strong sales for more traditional consumer electronics – laptops, PCs, monitors, tablets, phones – if only in the context of the trend of the trend’s impact on semiconductor shortages.

As restrictions relax, it may be time to take a closer look at the wearables market. While many of us practiced during the pandemic, the wisdom received is that just as many (if not more) have packed on the pounds.

So there is an opportunity here and most likely the inventory to back it up. The Xiaomi Mi Watch is a fitness-led smartwatch and the Chinese company’s latest entry in the category.

At £ 99, it’s aimed at the budget conscious and those planning restorative workouts rather than the complete Arnold. To this end, it combines creditable aesthetics, broad functionality and the fruits of Xiaomi’s experience with not only its predecessors, but also the basic fitness trackers in its low-cost family of Mi bands.

Like those products, the Mi Watch has functions such as heart rate measurement, sleep tracking and stress analysis. These are now complemented by a blood oxygen monitor – albeit one that Xiaomi carefully describes as not medical grade – and more accurate sensors in general.

In addition, the Mi Watch automatically picks up when you start exercising – there are 117 pre-installed modes – and offers algorithmic activity rating based on Garmin Firstbeat technology through the companion Xiaomi Wear app.

There is built-in GPS, thanks to a platform with four systems from Mediatek subsidiary Airoha Technology, and compatibility with Amazon Alexa. The screen is a 1.39-inch round AMOLED, with 454 x 453 pixels (329ppi). It also has text warnings.

The next impressive claim made for a smartwatch that does all this for its price is battery life: 16 days “typical” with the screen always on; 22 days of “low battery mode”; and 50 hours of “outdoor sports”.

The Mi Watch’s mobile phone is rated at 1.62 Wh, higher than competitors from Apple (1.17 Wh), Samsung (1.3 Wh) and Huawei (1.6 Wh). However, compared to a Mi Band, the aspect that personally appeals most to the Mi Watch is that it has two prominent physical buttons.

Trying to get the correct result from a touchscreen while exercising has been a longstanding complaint against the Bands (and other trackers like it). Being able to launch the home screen or cycle through exercise options in such an old-fashioned way represents progress for this product sector.

In addition to the more practical and less Apple Watch-like industrial design compared to Xiaomi’s first smartwatch, innovation mainly lies in the software.

As an iFixit teardown shows, the components are mostly commercially available from stock (COTS), from the standard Airoha positioning platform to the ST microcontroller and much more (although Xiaomi in those markets where it is now targeting higher margins, reportedly also towards designing its own silicon). Comparisons with Amazon’s COTS-heavy approach to cost containment seem reasonable.

For software, in particular, there is the energy-efficient optimization and the integration of the phone with various Xiaomi apps.

This is slick in terms of both analytics and the user interface. However, when optimizing at a very internal level, the company has omitted the brackets for the wider infrastructure of fitness products.

For example, you cannot retrieve raw data or its analysis and transfer it to generic apps such as Strava. For the more casual owner, this might not be that big of a deal, but it still feels like a bit of a miss.

The in-house smartwatch design keeps getting better when it comes to repairability, but there are some issues that the form factor continues to show.

Marking the Mi Watch with an average of 5 out of 10 for reparability, iFixit noted that “many components are grouped together and cannot be individually replaced”.

There are some positive comments. Access can be mainly achieved via screws and iFixit saw less glue than other products. The connectors are modular and do not overlap. The battery is quite easy to replace.

However, the teardown team further notes, “Smartwatches that open from the back usually come with very difficult screen fixes, and the Mi Watch is no exception. To clear the display, we had to use a heat gun at about 300 ° C and a razor blade, which caused some damage to the display.

“Problems like this need to be resolved over time. It’s not just a matter of enabling third-party repairs. It suggests that warranty costs will generally cut margins as more units may need to be replaced completely.

certain and more general design tradeoff with fitness wearables. Some consumers are initially willing to pay for all the bells and whistles, but then find themselves concerned about the risk of damage from something so expensive while exercising.

Xiaomi comes at a price The device does much of the work without making the user too paranoid, and if it follows the path it takes in phones, it wants to make more profit out of it soon enough – and it can’t be the only company that thinks that way.

Xiaomi Mi Watch: key components

Exploded view

1. Rear panel

2. Button cable

3. Motherboard

4. Bezel

5. Battery

6. Mid-frame

7. Display

8. Bezel gasket

9. Sensor bracket

10. Daughterboard (sensors)

11. Navigation buttons (2x)

Motherboard

12. Positioning module, Airoha Technology

13. Flash memory, Paragon

14. Microcontroller, STMicroelectronics