These days many are prioritising dietary changes to improve overall health. This, combined with a surge in cooking at home (thanks to the pandemic), means many people are looking for healthier cooking alternatives.
While I am not a fitness enthusiast, I do like my experiments with food. I also warm up easily to newer technology that claims to transform traditional cooking.
It was about a decade ago that we got the first air fryer—Philips had just launched its product in India. What does an air fryer do? It circulates hot air at high speed around the food to cook it, ensuring the same crisp finish you get from deep-frying, but using far less oil. So, fried food without conventional frying methods. The marketing imagery led a lot of people to assume, wrongly, that an air fryer works only for frozen food like French fries, nuggets and cutlets, and Western meat dishes. In my experience, it’s very useful to fry vegetables like bhindi, arbi, etc., dishes like aloo tikki and baingan bhaja and even samosas, as well as desi meat delights like chicken or mutton tikka and Amritsari fish. You get the drift.
Now Xiaomi is challenging Philips’ hegemony in the category with its very own air fryer.
First up, the Xiaomi Smart Air Fryer is a nice-looking appliance with a glossy finish and minimalist design. It’s also very compact, and ideal if you have constraints of space in the kitchen. But the quality of the casing and cooking basket is middling. I often struggled to fit the basket in the slot. Not a good first impression.
Instead of an array of buttons or indicator lights, there’s just the power button and a dial, which also acts as an OLED touch display. The dial allows you to scroll through the eight presets for cooking. Of course, there’s a manual mode allowing you to select the cooking temperature and duration. There’s also a grill rack which can be used to create two shelves inside the frying basket. The lower section isn’t tall enough but should work for cutlets, tikkis, chicken wings and such. The grill and the basket are easy to clean, and dishwasher safe. I found it more convenient than the double-basket implementation on my Philips air fryer.
I could make crispy, crunchy French fries using the frozen fries available in the market. That said, the preset for fries (15 minutes) wasn’t enough, it took me about 5-10 minutes more to make them the way my four-year-old would like. Same for hash browns. The home-made fries didn’t come out so well. Maybe I should have parboiled the chips but that defeats the very purpose of a quick snack.
While cooking fries, I also got a reminder to turn the food over (shake the fries, essentially). As a pro air fryer user, I know this needs to be done midway in the frying cycle but this is a useful feature for those who are starting with an air fryer or are sticklers for recipes and processes.
For chicken wings, the preset cooking duration wasn’t enough. Even after adding 10 minutes, though, the texture wasn’t crisp. The meat, however, was succulent.
Interestingly, the Xiaomi Smart Air Fryer is very quiet, making as much noise as the gentle hum of a refrigerator. Purely on the basis of observation, my Philips air fryer is definitely noisier.
One of the highlights of the Xiaomi Smart Air Fryer is the wide range of temperature settings that it offers—between 40-200 degrees Celsius. So, one can use it not just for air frying but also defrosting, baking, dry meats, etc. You can even ferment yogurt, although my attempt wasn’t successful. Drying meats takes days but Xiaomi claims the air fryer can do it in a few hours.
Overall, the Xiaomi Smart Air Fryer offers hit-and-miss results but practice plus time, and being reactive on frequent visual checks, helps you use it to the best of its ability.
The smart edge
The marquee highlight of the Xiaomi Smart Air Fryer is, well, its smartness. The air fryer supports Google Assistant, so you can remotely control the appliance via voice commands. And the fryer can also be controlled via the Xiaomi Home app. The app also includes over 50 recipes for quick inspiration for your next meal.
It’s also possible to schedule the air fryer to start cooking up to 24 hours in advance but the food will need to be left in the frying basket.
Xiaomi manages to pull off the smart shenanigans of the air fryer quite well. It’s quite handy to tap on a preset setting or select temperature and cooking duration on the phone instead of fiddling with the dial and the display. The voice commands are a neat touch. But it takes a while to get the hang of the dial operation. Philips’ rotary dials for temperature and duration are much more intuitive and straightforward.
Priced at ₹9,999, the Xiaomi Smart Air Fryer is a pretty good package. It gets the job done, looks quite good, and the companion app is a nice add-on. However, if you have used an air fryer before, you might find the experience a hit-and-miss—with chicken wings, certainly.
Also, since this one has a “3.5L” suffix in the name itself, I am hoping Xiaomi will launch a larger variant for bigger families. The basket is considerably smaller than the 4.1L capacity that the Philips one offers (Philips even has a 6.2L model). It almost looks inadequate for baking, one of the pitches of the appliance. It works for couples and small families.
And, lastly, it isn’t “cheap”. Usually, the company undercuts pricing in a segment, delivering exceptional value for money. The Xiaomi Smart Air Fryer, however, is more expensive than the entry-level Philips Airfryer, which retails at ₹8,499. Of course, Philips variants can cost as much as ₹17,099. That said, Xiaomi’s pitch is the “smartness” of the appliance, and it doesn’t disappoint there. In the case of Philips, only the top-end variant is compatible with Amazon Alexa, while the companion app is only for checking out recipes.
It’s understandable that the firm prefers to focus on the value or the differentiators. Xiaomi’s got that right. Nevertheless, it may need to push harder to dent Philips’ mindshare in the category.
Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant