Xiaomi Mi3

Xiaomi Mi 3 review: a blockbuster in every right

|July 28, 2014 |Android Phones, Android, Xiaomi, Reviews

“At a pricing of Rs 13,999, there’s no device that comes close to the Mi 3, making it easily the best option in its price bracket”

The state of smartphone market in India today can be considered similar to our multi-billion Bollywood industry. Yes, the similarities aren't apparent at the first glance, but look closely and you’ll see the two segments are similar in quite a few ways. Many heavily-promoted movies flop badly, with only a handful that do well. Then there’s a category of movies which don't make too much noise, but turn out to be a surprise package and then ride on the critical acclaim and word of mouth. That’s where Xiaomi’s debut device seems to be, coming from a brand which isn't well known in India, at least among general users. Right from the get go, it seems that there can’t be anything wrong with the Xiaomi Mi 3, considering the specs on offer and the price at which they're offered at. But how does it fare in real life? We’ll let our review do the talking.

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In a hurry? Have a look at the Xiaomi Mi 3 review in pictures

Specs at a glance

  • 5-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (441 ppi) with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor
  • Adreno 330 GPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage (non-expandable)
  • 13MP BSI camera with dual-LED flash, 2MP front camera
  • Android 4.4.2 KitKat with MIUI v5 
  • 3,050mAh battery
  • 3G, dual-band Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth, NFC and GPS

Oozes class all the way around

If the Mi 3 is just handed to you without divulging the price, we bet that you’ll consider it as a super-premium handset. Yes, it’s that good. It’s to the designers credit that they have chiseled the Xiaomi Mi 3 in such a way that it looks extremely plush. The unibody design adds to its mystique since it features zero-gap construction, which helps in keeping the device lightweight as well as slim. Tipping the scales at 145g and sporting an frame 8.1mm frame, you could argue that it’s not the lightest or thinnest smartphone around (which we agree upon, by the way), but hold it in your hands, and it feels just about the right size.

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What’s more interesting is that the Mi 3 gives the impression of a metal body, but in reality that’s not the case. It’s comes in a plastic casing with a metallic finish, which looks quite good. To keep the device robust, the company has made use of an aluminium-magnesium alloy frame coated with three layers of thermite inside. We loved the curved edges which make for good handling. Although, it’d have been better if the corners were also rounded off as they are a tad sharp, digging into your hands when you hold the Mi 3 from the sides.

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The fascia of the smartphone is adorned by a touchscreen display, with MI branding, earpiece, front-facing camera and sensors above, and a row of touch-sensitive keys below. The backlit keys provide the usual functionality of options menu, home and back. For opening the multitasking menu, you can long-press the options key, while long-pressing the home key brings up Google Now.

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The right spine is home to a volume rocker along with a power button, whereas the left edge is devoid of any controls. A 3.5mm audio socket sits on the top, alongside the SIM slot and microphones. The bottom has a micro-USB port along with a speaker grille.

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Being a unibody design, the back isn’t removable. The rear is home to a primary shooter with LED flash, a noise-cancellation microphone at the top and MI branding towards the bottom. The matte texture of the rear makes it easy and comfortable to use the handset, without making it slippery after prolonged usage.

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All in all, the Mi 3 is very well-built and exudes premiumness.

5-inches of goodness

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Cashing on the ‘bigger the better’ trend of mobile devices these days, the Xiaomi Mi 3 sports a 5-inch display. This display size has become a standard these days as it falls on the borderline of phablets, yet doesn’t hamper the phone’s usability and handling. The 5-inch display panel of the smartphone features a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resulting in a dense pixel density of 441ppi. In simple words, the display is simply stunning – you’d fall in love with it, be it for reading long pages of text, web browsing or viewing videos. The colours are crisp and brightness is also adequate. You’ll also not face any issue in viewing the screen under direct sunlight. The settings also allow you to select the colour temperature between warm, standard and cool as well as colour saturation between brilliant and standard for the display.

Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (98) Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (99)

That’s not all, as the Beijing-based manufacturer has added several useful features for the screen. First up, the touchscreen is sensitive to pressure, and thus responds to wet hands or even if you’re wearing gloves. The idea of using the device with gloves will strike the chords with people living in cold areas or bikers. The display is also protected by a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and is thus less susceptible to scratches. The touchscreen can accept 10-point multi-touch and the response is very fluid.

The 13-meg shooter is good, but not the best

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The Xiaomi Mi 3 comes equipped with a 13-megapixel camera featuring a backside illuminated sensor from Sony with f2.2 aperture, assisted by a dual-LED flash from Philips. The interface of the camera app is fairly minimal giving easy access to flash settings, toggling between stills and video, and another toggle for switching on the  front camera. The image preview, options and circular capture button are at the bottom. But that’s the simple mode – if you want to get more options, then hit the settings menu and turn it off. The good part is that the advanced mode also provides all the modes in a single menu only, but adds more options.

Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (40) Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (42) Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (43)

The Mi 3 allows you to capture HDR photos, panoramas and photos in hand-held twilight mode (minimises noise and blur from hand shake in low light) along with the auto mode. There are a ton of adjustable options including the ability to change focus mode, set ISO, exposure and white balance. Offering Instagram’s capability within the app itself, you can choose from various filters to add flair to your photos. The audio mode captures an image if it detects a sound which is above the ambient noise levels. This option is handy when you’re taking a group shot or want to click images hands-free, and better implementation than the limited word detection available on devices like the LG L90 Dual (review). There’s also an option of using the volume keys as a shutter key or for shooting pics in burst mode, which is very handy.

The image quality offered by the smartphone is pretty good, with accurate detail and colours. However, the colour seems to be on the muted side and get overwhelmed by ambient brightness. That said, it’s definitely one of the best smartphone cameras in its segment, though it may not hold up to the super-premium handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 (review | camera review). We were also hoping to see great HDR photos as the brand is publicising that quite a bit. However, we were quite disappointed as the mode doesn’t add to the scene much when compared to results seen on many other devices.

Xiaomi Mi 3 camera review - HDR on Xiaomi Mi 3 camera review - long shot Xiaomi Mi 3 camera review - close up

Need more details on the camera quality of the smartphone? Read our camera review of the Xiaomi Mi 3

For selfies and video calls, the handset sports a secondary 2MP snapper. Interestingly enough, the camera interface offers most of the features it provides for the primary shooter for front-facing camera as well, including adjusting ISO, exposure, white balance and filters. The audio mode is also available, which makes even more sense for clicking self-portraits. The device also packs in a beauty enhance mode that automatically enhances the image based on your age, which is detected automatically. The age detection was hit-and-miss when we tried it though, and since the intensity of the beautification mode varies depending upon detected age, you mileage could vary.

Both the rear camera and front shooter are capable of recording full HD videos at 30 frames-per-second.

The app also comes with built-in QR code reader, which allows you to decode QR codes seen on print or digital ads in a jiffy without the need of downloading a separate app. It might not be that useful, but at least you don’t need to first download a third-party QR scanning app to scan a code when you need something like this.

Little touches can make a big difference

We aren't big fans of customisations on top of Android in general, and believe that most third-party skins don’t add much value. Some them even affect battery left and hog precious hardware resources, especially when compared to simplicity of stock Android. The Xiaomi Mi 3 sits at the extreme end, since it goes beyond an overlay, and uses a custom firmware built upon AOSP (Android open source project), in the same vein as Amazon Fire devices and Nokia X (review | FAQs). However, if you ask for our experience of using the UI for about a week, then we’d say that the device challenges our perception, and we mean that in a good way.

We loved the philosophy behind MIUI, the name of the custom firmware available on Xiaomi devices (and many others, since it’s available to download freely as custom firmware meant for other devices too). Unlike other manufacturers who customise their devices just for the sake of differentiation, MIUI’s aim is to make the OS simple to use for even first-timers and offer features baked right into the OS. The device runs MIUI v5, which is based on Android 4.4 KitKat.

Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (12)

However, it does takes time getting used to the MIUI’s interface. While the lockscreen might not give away the OS characteristics, the home screen is strikingly different from the usual ‘Droids. For making the OS user-friendly, the MIUI’s home screen takes inspiration from Apple iOS and is also similar to Gionee's Amigo UI. The home screen also doubles up as app launcher, since there’s no separate app drawer to access all the installed apps or games. But there’s a key difference between MIUI’s home screen and others – the ability to use widgets, which is quite useful. For organising the apps and games, you can also collate them into custom folders. You can also choose different transition effects when moving from one screen to the other.

Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (2) Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (3) Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (4)

As Android users ourselves, the idea of unified home screens doesn’t make much sense at first glance, but that’s because of the way we’re accustomed to using the OS since its inception. We are so used to accessing apps via the app drawer that we even turn off the automatic creation of app shortcuts on the Play Store, though we do add place home screen shortcuts for those we frequently need to use. But over our review process, we started liking MIUI's implementation. It also made us a better organised as we grouped similar apps into folders and thus they were quicker to access, in comparison to sifting through rows of titles in the drawer. Here’s a look at our home screen on the Mi 3.

Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (75) Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (76)

Not only the homescreen, the notification panel is also tweaked with a small data counter to show cellular data being used towards the bottom, along with displaying notifications. The quick settings menu also offers more toggles and options such as taking screenshots and activating DND mode, along with the usual ones. At any point of time, it can have up to 11 options and the best part is that it’s configurable so if you need to use the torch frequently, then you can do so by a simple tap.

Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (81) Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (82)

But what if you don’t like the home screen at all? Or the icon pack or the wallpaper? Don’t worry, you don’t need to go anywhere as the devices comes pre-loaded with a themes app. It lists a number of downloadable themes offering you the ability to change the look-and-feel of the device with tap. Sadly, not all the themes have been ported to English yet, and you might see traces of Chinese here and there. Going a step further, the app gives you the option of mixing-and-matching different themes for wallpapers, icon packs, etcetera. However all the themes have different features. For instance, the default theme has a useful lockscreen which can display music playback controls by double tapping, and it also shows unread messages with a single tap.

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However, we noticed a glitch in the messages shown on the lockscreen in the default theme. While the subject of the messages was fine, it always showed the same sender of the message, which wasn't correct.

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The customisation isn't just skin-deep though, as it runs across all the default apps including the basic ones. The dialler menu is pretty basic, but the call log has a simple yet useful option of showing the number of times your phone has rung before you missed the call. The in-call menu also holds several tricks up its sleeve. You can take notes while in a call (the notes are also tied to the contact you were in conversation with, to make it easier in accessing them later), record the call and much more. The interface also shows the state and telecom operator from the number you’re getting the call, a feature for which we normally use an app like Truecaller (though it also shows the name associated with the number if it’s saved in its database). Call recording can be pre-activated for all the calls you receive, or for a particular list of contacts as well. The messages app has also been made easier as it shows your last six contacts while composing a new message. Another hidden feature in the messages app is the private messages section which is only displayed when you swipe downwards, covering more than half the screen. The section can be password-protected and you can select the numbers from which the messages will be listed here. Whenever you receive any such SMS, the smartphone will not display its contents as a preview. Yet another nifty feature for calls is that if you’re using an app, then an incoming call doesn't take over the entire screen and pops up as a notification above. So you can decide if you want to take the call or not, or take it after few rings, without being distracted from the task at hand. Messages arrive as notifications as well as pop-ups, allowing you to quickly reply to them.

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The smartphone also offers you the option to choose between Google Keyboard or one of our most-recommended swipe-to-type keyboard, SwiftKey. The same can be done by going to language and input section under the settings menu.

Along with the customisations, there are several pre-loaded apps in the security section which give a greater control over the device to power users. It gives you an option of one-touch optimisation, along with option of accessing different sections individually. Cleaner allows you to clean cache, downloaded APKs (once the app is installed, they aren’t useful) or residuals which remain even after uninstalling the app. Data Usage shows you the exact cellular data being used by various apps, and you can give data access to particular apps to save your precious MBs in case you want to keep a check on data used. Like all data-tracking apps, you can also set limits for mobile data and it’ll prompt when you exceed it. Blocklist gives you the ability to block calls and messages from specific numbers by creating different rules, and we appreciate the option of whitelisting saved contacts. Power helps in managing the battery life by giving you the estimated time before the device dies, the option to choose between different configurations of default, marathon (disables Wi-Fi and cellular data) and sleep (disables almost everything includes calls and messages), auto-switch mode when battery drops below a certain point and pre-scheduling the mode switching. There’s also built-in Virus scan to check for any malicious files. Permission is the feature we loved the most – giving you the control over what different apps are able to access. For instance, if you find an app which has no need of GPS location data, but has permission to access that, you can disable that functionality with the permissiosn manager. Similar to Windows, it also has Auto-start management, which gives you the ability to select the apps which should start whenever the phone boots up. You can also get the security app in your notification shade for quick access.

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There are several other apps on offer in MIUI such as Recorder (which sports a nice interface that looks like a cassette), FM Radio, Compass (makes use of the compass sensor to determine cardinal directions), PonPonTile (configure NFC tags to initiate different actions), MiTalk (Xiaomi’s instant messenger, similar to the likes of WhatsApp and WeChat). Even default apps have nice touches, such as the clock app which vibrates indicating the tick-tock of a real clock, the notes app that can open a new note when one swipes on it towards the bottom, Calculator that replicates the buttons and interface of a real one and so on. Other apps include calendar, a weather app powered by Accuweather, and Explorer that neatly categorises the installed files. There’s also WPS Office to access MS Office docs, Facebook and Flipkart apps preinstalled on the Mi 3.

Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (49) Xiaomi Mi 3 screenshot (50)

Unlike the Chinese version of the Mi 3, which is stripped off Google services since they are banned by the government, the model sold here is Google CTS (Compatibility Test Suite) certified and hence gives access to the Play Store to download apps and games. The device is also loaded with most of the apps from the search titan.

Another nifty feature of MIUI is Mi Cloud allowing users to see their contacts, messages and notes, along with the gallery on a web browser. Though the website is yet to be optimised for Indian audiences (as it's mostly in Chinese), it’s immensely useful as you get 10GB of storage for syncing  your images and thus avoiding the need of having a cloud storage app such as Dropbox. Moreover, not only can you see messages, but reply to them from the computer itself. It also lets you track your smartphone and lock or wipe it remotely, in an unfortunate event of loss or theft. Though for some reason, it wasn't able to show the right location of the smartphone when we tried the feature.

Mi Cloud 2 Mi Cloud 3

Even after almost a week of use, we kept stumbling upon new features of the OS everyday and that’s what makes it very exciting. There are many more hidden functionalities, but the aforesaid features would have given you an idea of MIUI’s power. Finishing off the UI discussion, we’d say that the little touches along with the slew of useful features by default, for which one has to scour the Play Store otherwise, makes MIUI one of the stronger points of the Xiaomi Mi 3.

Power on steroids

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The Apple of China has left no stones unturned in making the Mi 3 a class-leading smartphone and that's evident from its hardware department as well. The device is loaded with a chipset from the leading manufacturer Qualcomm. Xiaomi has gone a step ahead of others by using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 MSM8974AB, which is among the brand’s top-of-the-line chips, which is clocked at 2.3GHz for four cores. Most others, including the Google Nexus 5 (review in pictures) use the processor in its 2.26GHz clock speed configuration only. Along with the Krait 400 CPU, the SoC also offers the Adreno 330 graphics processor, which handles the graphics aspect of the device. Complementing the SoC is a generous 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM. The combo results in a smooth performance, and there was nary a hiccup while performing basic tasks or running processor-intensive apps or games. Playing heavy games like Asphalt 8: Airborne was an enjoyful experience even for long periods of time. The smartphone tends to become hot after a few minutes of playing the game. However, it didn’t impact the performance and cools off pretty quickly.

Coming to the storage department, the smartphone packs in 16GB of flash memory. After taking into account the OS and various resources, users are left with about 11.95GB for installing apps and games, and storing their files. Sadly, the device lacks a microSD expansion slot for extending the storage further. However, you can make use of the phone’s USB on-the-go capability to connect a USB drive.

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Connectivity-wise, the Xiaomi Mi 3 offers support for the latest technologies including 3G (full-sized SIM slot), dual-band Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS and wireless display mirroring. Call reception was great during our usage and both sides were easily able to hear each other.

Xiaomi also highlights that the precision-grilled speaker holes on the bottom of the device offer double the sound of the usual speakers on other handsets. But we didn’t find any truth in the statement as the output was average at best. Furthermore, the speaker section gets covered by the hand whenever you’re holding the device in landscape mode for playing games or watching movies. However, if you plug in your headphones, then the Mi 3 does have some neat tricks. It features Dirac, which automatically amplifies the sound based on the headphones being used with it. However, the feature is better optimised for Xiaomi earphones, and since the box came without one (Read: Xiaomi Mi 3 unboxing), we weren’t able to test the feature. There’s a significant difference in sound quality when using regular ones as well.

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A battery that doesn’t give up easily

Battery life is the Achilles’ heel of most smartphones these days. What’s the point of having a powerful mobile device that dies in the middle of the day? Well, we’re glad to tell that the Xiaomi Mi 3 scores well in this regard. The phone is supplied with a beefy 3,050mAh Li-ion battery, a capacity which even premium flagships don’t offer, including the HTC One M8 (review), Samsung Galaxy S5, etcetera.

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With usage of about an hour'a worth of calls, Wi-Fi on for instant messaging and web browsing, and a few minutes of gaming, the Mi 3 gave us a backup of about a day and a half. Even with heavy usage of gaming and using GPS for navigation, it can easily last more than a day on a single charge. The excellent battery life might be a function of the device power management as it hardly drains during standby. At night, when battery level in other devices drop as much as 10 percent, the Mi 3 loses just about three to four percent only. In our standard battery test, where we play an HD video on the smartphone on loop keeping both the brightness and volume at 50 percent, the Xiaomi Mi 3 ran close to 12 hours.

You can squeeze in more battery juice, if required, by using one of the battery saving modes available.

Offers more than what you pay for

In the end, everything boils down to the price being asked for, and that’s where Xiaomi has nailed it (or should we say killed it?). At the superb pricing of Rs 13,999, there’s no smartphone that comes close to the Mi 3. It comes equipped with class-leading specs that not only blow the competition in its segment out of the water, but also gives a tough fight to others costing almost thrice its asking price. After using the Mi 3 for a week, buying a Rs 40,000 (or above) smartphone doesn't really make sense anymore (something on which we opinionated a while ago).

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We’re not saying that there aren’t any other capable devices in the price bracket of under Rs 15,000, but comparing them to the Xiaomi Mi 3 seems to be an apples to oranges comparison (Read: Xiaomi Mi 3 vs Moto G vs ASUS Zenfone 5).

The only reason(s) we can think of not opting for the Xiaomi Mi 3 is brand loyalty or in case you need a very specific feature such as resistance to water. Then there's the misconception behind Chinese brands. While it’d be difficult to convince you to switch your brand loyalty, we think it’s time to bust the myth related to Chinese brands in India. Though the perception is waning now, many of us still consider Chinese devices as unreliable and of poor quality. In essence, all smartphone companies, be it Samsung or an Indian vendor like Micromax, get their devices manufactured in China, so you can’t dismiss Xiaomi's products as low quality. Additionally, unlike most manufacturers, Xiaomi is transparent about the components it has used in the Mi 3 – the display panel from Sharp or LG, the camera sensor from Sony, the dual-LED flash from Philips and so on. However, there’s one reason which could affect your purchase in case you're planning on buying the Mi 3. The smartphone is being sold exclusively online in partnership with Flipkart, and the first lot was sold out within 38 minutes, so you need to have a lot of patience to buy it.

Xiaomi Mi 4 vs Xiaomi Mi 3

As of writing this review, the brand has outed the Mi3’s successor, the Mi 4 in its home country, which brings even better hardware to the table. So, if you’re contemplating purchasing that, you might want to read our comparison between the Xiaomi Mi 4 and Xiaomi Mi 3. The bottomline is that if you can wait, then the Mi 4 is a better choice for sure, but we don’t see it hitting our shores anytime soon and hence you’d be better off with the Mi 3 if you’re in a hurry to get a new daily driver.

Any doubts lurking in your mind regarding the device? We might have answered them in the Xiaomi Mi 3 FAQs

Overall, the Xiaomi Mi 3 redefines the price vs value factor in smartphones, and definitely earns our recommendation as the smartphone to go for under Rs 15,000.

Price: Rs 13,999

Editor’s rating: 9 / 10

Pros

  • Premium build quality
  • Pressure-sensitive 1080p display
  • Decent camera
  • Intuitive MIUI with latest Android build
  • Powerful internals
  • Long-lasting battery

Cons

  • Non-expandable storage 
  • Available in limited stocks

Photos and video by Pratik Vyas



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