I travel a lot and it’s always a hassle changing out the SIMs whenever I need to check for calls and messages. A friend of mine, in a similar situation, brought a nice dual HTC SIM phone although he had to order it from Dubhai and it was £500. That’s a bit steep I thought… and decided to see what else might be available in my price bracket.
After checking around I discovered two things: first, outside of Europe and USA, having dual SIMs is considered almost normal, and secondly, it is possible to buy them on Amazon.co.uk from importers.
It’s easy to consider Chinese phones to be a cheap knock off of “Western” designs but in reality the Chinese market dwarves the European market considerably and they make a wide variety of well-made and affordable phones, usually based on Android. The big problem is getting them in the UK and the fact they do tend to be in Chinese. Chinese is a beautiful language to look at but means absolutely nothing to me.
A very popular one is made by Xiaomi (now renamed as Mi), a company based in China (or HongKong or Taiwan depending on what you read) that makes a range of phones, a set-top box, a messaging application and produced an Android ROM, the MIUI (which is really quite good :) ). They first appeared on the mainstream Western media when Hugo Barra left Google’s Android development team to head up their Global division
The Xiaomi Red Rice 1 (and 1s) get good reviews and I could get them on Amazon UK for £130 from WMicroUK.
So, I took the jump and ordered one… you won’t believe what happened next! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself there).
It arrived promptly and first thing one notices is that it’s well packaged and all the packaging and paperwork is in Chinese. I could kind of guess what the paperwork was about (warranty and warnings I guess) and started by putting the phone in the charger. Charged, and I switched it on. It’s cute, a little chinese voice says something then a (chinese) welcome message and off to choose the Language (English is available), timezones etc. But… just do the minimum setup, first thing is to install a true European/English ROM. Continue the setup to get a basic system going (skip all the things about setting up accounts). This setup will give you an English language installation, but it will be an English version of the Chinese installation. As such it doesn’t have any Google apps and most of the native apps will be in Chinese.
I wrote to WMicroUK to get a suitable ROM, they replied the next day with a link to a ROM from CeloGeek. The link is out of date now, but the right one can probably be found easily on the site. For myself I used “xiaomi.eu_multi_HM2013023_WCDMA_JHBCNBD15.0_jb-4.2.zip” which was the latest in June. Miui has a built in update function so there is no need to go through the Recovery/Fastboot root, you just need to copy the zip file in to the folder
downloaded_rom on the phone.
Flashing the ROM was straight forward (see the Flashing Guide for details, this page also provides links to another ROM from MIUI but I haven’t tried it).
After you have a new ROM and rebooted then you can setup the phone as per a normal Android installation. There are a few ‘strange’ artifacts (for example, an apparent need for a Xiaomi account) but overall things worked well.
It might seem like a lot of trouble to flash a new ROM into the phone just to get where you would be if you bought a regular Samsung/HTC/etc phone, but you will end up with a £300 phone for the price of £130, which for me is the clincher.
I’ve been using the phone for a month now and I’m delighted with it. It’s smooth and fast and when you take it out your pocket to use it there is certain ‘Wow’ factor, especially when you say the price. The build quality is excellent (I dropped it once with no damage), every app I’ve installed has installed cleanly. And the dual SIM part of the phone works flawlessly. I use one SIM for my UK number and the other slot is for a data GiffGaff when I’m in the UK, or a foreign SIM for the country I’m in. Perfect!