SMARTPHONES: Xiaomi Burned in New Mi 5 Overheat Gate

Bottom line: Overheating complaints surrounding its new Mi 5 smartphone are the latest technical snafu for Xiaomi, whose image as a cool and cutting-edge company will suffer further as a result of the problem.

Users complain of Mi 5 overheating

Xiaomi is hot once again, but not in a way the former smartphone superstar would probably like. That’s because the latest heat around Xiaomi comes from reports saying a growing tide of users are complaining about overheating batteries in the company’s latest smartphone, the Mi 5.

It’s a bit unclear how widespread this problem really is, and I’ll admit that reports in the Chinese and western media still aren’t that numerous. But there definitely appears to be a problem. That comes as the latest setback for a company that used to grab headlines with its slick marketing gimmicks, but lately has become a media whipping boy for its steady stream of snafus and missteps.

The Mi 5 itself is one of those missteps. The phone was originally supposed to come out last summer or fall, but reportedly ran into delays related to its fingerprint-recognition technology aimed at boosting its cutting-edge image. As a result of those delays, the company didn’t launch any next-generation models from its higher-end product line last year, causing it to badly miss its sales targets.

Xiaomi finally resolved the issues, and launched the Mi 5 last month without nearly as much fanfare as it would have received just a year earlier when it was one of China’s hottest companies. Now some media are reporting about the steady string of complaints from some Mi 5 users due to  the overheating problem. (English article; Chinese article)

An English-language report on the matter comes in the Gizomotimes, which admittedly isn’t a publication I follow regularly, but details complaints of a number of users. The problem seemed to be particularly acute when using certain functions like viewing videos or using the camera, or when charging the phone. In all fairness, this kind of overheating seems relatively common these days, and I’ve experienced occasional overheating on my current and previous phone, neither of which are Xiaomis.

One of the Chinese reports on the matter notes that a search on the term “overheat” in some Xiaomi forums yielded more than 50,000 posts, indicating this is definitely a problem. It further quotes some Xiaomi users saying that up to 20 percent of the new Mi 5 phones may have the overheating problem.

Xiaomi responded to the chatter by saying it is confident in the Mi 5’s central processor, which is supplied by US chip giant Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM). It adds that it hasn’t received any notice from Qualcomm about potential overheating problems with the chip, called the 820. The reports indicate the problem may be related to other parts of the phone, and that it may be possible to fix it through a software upgrade.

Overheating in India

This isn’t the first time that Xiaomi’s models have gotten bad publicity due to overheating problems. At this time last year the company’s previous generation Mi 4i also experienced similar overheating problems after its launch in India, providing a setback in a market that has become Xiaomi’s second largest after China. (previous post)

It’s a bit unclear how big this latest overheating problem will be, and the whole issue really highlights the fact that designing good smartphones is a complex process that requires lots of resources and expertise. But this kind of technical snafu certainly won’t help to restore Xiaomi’s rapidly fading image, since the company was previously trying to cast itself as China’s equivalent of a homegrown Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL).

It does seem like Xiaomi will probably be able to fix this problem with software upgrades, though the 50,000 user comments certainly seems to confirm that this is more than just a minor snafu affecting a small number of users. At the end of the day, this latest “overheat gate” will further cool down Xiaomi’s reputation, dampening its rapid expansion plans as it tries to recover its previous momentum.

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