Xiaomi’s New Transparent Phone Doesn’t Actually Show Off Its Components

Xiaomi’s New Transparent Phone Doesn’t Actually Show Off Its Components

As features go, transparent devices have always struck me as a bit meh. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve seen some gorgeous case mods and interior lighting systems — but generally speaking, a transparent window into how a piece of equipment looks inside has never struck me as all that compelling. That said, a fake transparent window is clearly dumber than a real one, and yet, there are allegations that Xiaomi’s new Mi 8 flagship will field just such a feature.

First, a bit of backstory. Xiaomi is a well-known Chinese manufacturer with a reputation for building high-quality handsets that are much less expensive than their mainstream counterparts from Apple or Samsung. Worldwide, Xiaomi is the fourth-largest phone manufacturer, behind Samsung, Apple, and Huawei, and it hopes to enter the US market this year after an IPO. There’ve been questions about whether the company can make a dent in the US market, which is both heavily saturated and generally divided between Apple and Samsung, but that’s the basics of the company.

The new Mi8 is Xiaomi’s latest flagship, and its built around a Snapdragon 845 with a 6.21-inch OLED screen. The Mi 8 Explorer Edition — that’s the version in question — also adds a pressure-sensitive fingerprint sensor, 3D facial recognition technology, and the aforementioned transparent rear panel, all for $577 (the starting price in China, anyway).

But according to Chengming Alpert, the situation with the Mi 8 is a bit sillier. That nifty transparent window you can see does show off the phone’s components — but it’s actually a dummy block of chips, not any sort of physical window on to the smartphone’s IC. Here’s a different shot of the block:

Photo by Chengming Alpert
Photo by Chengming Alpert

And here, for comparison, is an image of the Samsung Galaxy S8’s mainboard, from iFixit’s device teardown:

Image by iFixit
Image by iFixit

Different smartphone vendors use different boards and chips, but it’s not hard to miss just how different Xiaomi’s “design” is from what’s practically under the hood of a smartphone. Devices like the iPhone X, which fold the logic board effectively in half and solder it, don’t look much like the Xiaomi’s Mi 8 board, either. And if this is meant to be a mock-up or idealized design of what’s underneath the aluminum and glass, well, that’s fine. It’s even cool, in an incredibly nerdy way, to think that people are interested enough in what chips and SoC structures look like to want to decorate with them.

But ultimately, we go back to what we said before. A transparent panel on a piece of tech equipment as a form of bling never made much sense. A transparent panel that literally doesn’t show you what’s inside a piece of equipment makes no sense at all.

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