Xiaomi phones on sale in the US…with a catch

Xiaomi phones on sale in the US with a catch

Phones made by Xiaomi – China's biggest smartphone maker – were briefly on sale in the U.S. this week, but with a couple of big catches.

Carrier U.S. Mobile – which uses T-Mobile's network – imported a number of Xiaomi handsets but they sold out in a flash.

According to PCMag which first reported the news, the phones on sale included the Xiaomi Redmi 2 for $119, the Xiaomi Mi 3 for $135, and the Xiaomi Mi 4 for $219. A phone by another Chinese manufacturer called the Meizu Note 2 was also on sale for $149. The key thing to note is that these products are not officially being sold by Xiaomi; they have just been imported.

Customers buying these phones will also have to deal with two major issues. Firstly, the phones will not be able to connect to 4G mobile internet because the phones were designed for China where the standards for 4G are different. Secondly, the software and apps that are pre-loaded onto the phone in China – one big reason for Xiaomi's appeal and success – will not work in the U.S.

CNBC has reached out to US mobile for an official comment around further availability of the Xiaomi devices. A customer care assistant said that new stock will be "available soon".

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Xiaomi is the fifth biggest smartphone vendor by market share, according to IDC, and sells around 90 percent of its phones in China. It has recently expanded into India and China as the smartphone market in China slows.

The company – often dubbed "China's Apple – has gained fans through online marketing techniques via social media and is known for its high quality phone sold at low prices, something that has attracted western audiences.

But fans in Europe and the U.S. cannot get their hands on Xiaomi devices as they are not officially on sale in any of those regions. Xiaomi did launch an online store in the U.S. and Europe last year, but it only sold accessories.

The brand has gained traction in the West and it seems Xiaomi is building on the hype. On February 24, Xiaomi is holding an event in Barcelona to show off a new device just hours after it launches in Beijing. This does not necessarily mean it will be on sale in Europe, but highlights the company's intent around spreading its brand beyond the emerging markets.

Xiaomi has had a tough year, shipping more than 70 million handsets but missing its 80-100 million forecast. It's still the biggest smartphone player in China though.