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Xiaomi Mi3 Full Review, The Most Affordable Flagship Phone

We all know that Xiaomi is making a lot of noise in the market recently due to the specifications-to-price ratio of its products. Mi3 is no exception, especially after the price drop from RM889 (USD 280) to RM769 (USD 240 ). I have posted about the unboxing and hands on earlier. But how does it actually perform? Let’s find out!

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Before we get started, I would like to clarify that the Mi3 I reviewed is using the stable ROM although I understand that developer ROM is available. This is due to the fact that common users will be using the stable build and prefer not to mess around with the device too much. I hope you understand. If you find the review too lengthy, feel free to proceed to the conclusion for a brief view.

Design & Physical Appearance

The dimensions of the phone are 144×73.6×8.1mm. While the phone is quite thin for a mid-range phone, its not the case when you consider it as a flagship of a company. I think the thickness is still acceptable but the bezels are too thick, especially the top and the bottom. It is longer and broader than the cheaper Huawei Honor 3C I reviewed earlier. This will create some problems for using it with single hand. I hope the next generation will have a smaller bezel. It weighs 145g, which is just fine.

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I have a hard time determining whether I like the design of the phone or not. The phone has a very simple look and I like minimalistic designs very, very much. The metallic grey unit I own has only two colours on it, silver and black. The front is plain black and you are almost unable to find the buttons, camera and sensors. The only thing you can see is the Mi logo in the top left corner. This is the part I don’t like very much as mentioned in the unboxing due to the asymmetrical design.

The back is almost the same situation by being all silver. The silver, reflective logo placed slightly below the centre is a great plus to the design of the phone. While the back logo is in the middle, the camera and the flash are on the left too. I like symmetry design so this design will not be my favourite and I can totally understand if you have opposite opinion. This phone is far from ugly but not mind-blowing either. I will describe it as simple yet unspectacular.

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There is no question that this phone is well-built. The body of the phone is actually made of graphite film with magnesium alloy frame in it. A lot of reviewers had mistakenly written that the body this phone is built from metal (a mistake I made too in my unboxing) but apparently it is not. However, this shows how well this phone feels in hand. The phone feels substantial and premium, much better than some plastic phones. The side of the phone is curved but the top and bottom is flat. For me, the corners will hurt my hands after a long period of holding it and the flat back does not rest well against my hand. A slight curve will be welcomed.

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One big concern I have with the design of the phone is that the glass of the screen protrudes slightly out of the body of the phone. This will make the glass more vulnerable to scratches. In fact the Mi3 I have had suffered a very small hairline scratch and I have no idea how it got there as I have been very careful and I never place the phone with sharp items like keys. I have applied the screen protector even since.

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The buttons give good feedback but they are a bit loose, which reminds me of its price tag even though I would like to believe that it is a premium phone. However, the position are correct and I have no problem reaching them. One good thing about this phone is that it will not attract much fingerprints. While the back is totally fingerprint-proof due the color and material, the fingerprints on the front glass can be wiped off easily. Usually when I pull it out of my pocket the screen is already cleaned by the pocket itself when I walked, which is a great thing.

Hardware

Basically the internals in Mi3 are the best you can expect during its launch. Xiaomi packed in Snapdragon 800 Quad Core 2.3GHz, 2GB of RAM, a 5″ Full HD 1080p display, a 3050mAh battery. The phone also has 13MP rear camera and 2MP front camera which we will discuss later.

The Mi3 I reviewed has 16GB internal storage and it is the only option available in Malaysia. Since micro-SD expansion is not supported and only around 13GB is available out of the box, I would prefer the 64GB model. Luckily USB OTG is supported here to ease the situation. If you are a huge media consumer, you will want to wait for the 64GB to arrive or just opt for other phones as 16GB is not really much to be frank.

Mi3 Spec

The quality of sound and the loudness produced by the speaker is just fine. Nothing too great nor too bad. You certainly cannot listen to it properly in a noisy environment. The other problem is the placement of the speaker at the bottom of the phone. When I use the phone in landscape, I will either  cover up the speaker with my hand or I have to hold the phone with a very odd way like below. I would prefer to use an earphone, which is not provided. This is probably to save cost.

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The capacitive keys are back-lit which has the right brightness. It is visible under sunlight and never too bright to strike your eyes in the dark. There is a multi-color notification light which is super useful to know if there is any notifications. I had no problem with the sensitivity of the screen at all. The screen can recognise my touch accurately even when the screen is wet or my fingers are with sweat. There’s glove mode for people living in winter too.

Display

Mi3 has a 5″ IPS display and it is gorgeous. Having an IPS screen means that the viewing angle is great.  As mentioned the glass will not attract a lot of fingerprints, so the viewing experience will not be compromised here. The glossy screen is not a problem at all too. The resolution of 1920 x 1080 brings the pixel density to 441 ppi, which translate to perfect sharpness. I have never seen a 2k display on a phone before, so this is one of the sharpest display I have came across. I cannot tell between individual pixels no matter how hard I try

The colour reproduction is great too. The colour is rich enough yet not overly saturated. White is really white and black is really black. This sounds ridiculous but there are a lot of phones which are unable to achieve this although they are in the same price bracket. Under auto brightness, the brightness is low enough for reading in the dark comfortably but often enough I had to crank up the brightness so that I can read it outdoor. The display is quite dim for me when viewed under the sun.

Performance

The Snapdragon 800 chip is only second to its derivative, Snapdragon 801, which has a slightly higher maximum clock speed. Despite it is not being the best, I really have no complaint to the speed. While a lot of budget-friendly phone are capable of providing very smooth UI navigation, this phone is no exception. The app loading speed is significantly faster than phones like Honor 3C, which is the phone I used before Mi3. One thing to be noted here is that Honor 3C is not slow at all too.

While playing titles like Asphalt 8, there is hardly any frame-skip and the graphics are rendered perfectly. It can just power any apps we have in the market without any hiccups. I think credits need to be given to Xiaomi here as there are no phones at the same price point that come near to the powerfulness of Mi3.

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MIUI is heavy on RAM, at least this is what the number shows. With all background apps clear, only around half of the 2GB RAM is free. At normal use usually you will have less than 500MB of free RAM, which looks bad right? But the truth is that MIUI is great at RAM management. While the free RAM left might looks limited, I never experience any lag at all and more importantly the background apps usually don’t get killed. There are times when I close the apps on the day before and when I open it back the next day, the original states are kept nicely and I can restore back to what I was doing previously. In short, multitasking is great. If you can ignore the number shown, actually there is no issue with the RAM at all.

Battery Life

The battery is not removable in Mi3. A lot of people prefer removable battery but it is just fine for me. The battery capacity in this phone is huge. 3050mAh battery is not commonly found in a 5″ phone so I would expect great battery life. However, Mi3 disappoints me. Don’t get me wrong here. The battery life is not bad at all. It can last a full day with 20% spare at the end of the day with normal use. If you are careful, the phone can last you 2 or 3 days too. But when I played games heavily, the battery dries up within a day.

This is quite normal for a lot of phones. But having a normal battery life with an exceptionally big battery is not great at all as the charging time will be longer. The 1A adapter in the box is certainly not fast enough for such big battery. A 2A charger will be welcomed but if you have a thought of the price, you will understand why only 1A charger is included.

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Once, I experienced leaving Mi3 idle over the night with WiFi on but data connection off and it lost all the charge when I woke up the next morning as shown above. The battery dropped drastically even though the screen is off and I was asleep. This was a one-time incident and I have not faced this the second time. I guess this is fine as the problem did not reoccur.

Phone Call & Connectivity

Sim card is inserted to the phone by using sim card tray and Xiaomi has provided two types of sim card trays for normal sim and micro-sim. Although nano-sim is shown no love from them, it is still a welcomed move from Xiaomi to provide 2 kinds of sim card tray. There is no problem for voice call quality in Mi3. I can listen to what the person says clearly and it is the same for the recipient side. Using speaker phone for a phone call on Mi3 is quite a good experience if compared to the phones with rear facing speaker. For data connection, Mi3 only supports up to 3G only. 4G LTE is not supported and this might be a deal breaker for some people. If you want 4G connection then you might need to wait for the next iteration. Dual-sim is not available too.

Mi3 can support WiFi with 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. One thing I noticed is the ability of Mi3 to hold WiFi signal. For your information I have very weak WiFi signal in my hostel and I always have connection issues with other phones. Mi3 performs exceptionally well in retaining WiFi and it really surprised me. Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC also make their presence here in this phone.

For GPS signal, it can be a little bit slow to get my accurate position solely depending on GPS itself without Internet connection. Sometimes a wrong position will be shown first if I am not moving around (but not too far away) and then it will eventually get to the right position. However, the signal capturing still will not take more than 1 minute so it will not be a big problem. It does well in retaining connection and I have not being disconnected suddenly before.

Camera

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The rear camera is a 13 megapixel camera with 5 piece lens and f/2.2 aperture. The camera does live up to its specifications. The 13 megapixel sensor does provide a lot of details in the photo. The photo below shows how much details a 13MP camera can get. The plane in the sky is barely noticeable at all without zooming in and although it is pixelated after a 5-time zoom, the outline of the plane is still visible. You probably need to click in the photo to have a better look. This is great for me as a student as I will take shoots of lecture slides during my class.

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The camera is capable of taking great photos at both outdoor and indoor, provided that the light is enough. One thing I like about this camera is the natural look of the photos taken. The photos are quite close to what my eyes see. The software processing does not make the photos too saturated or washed out. The auto-focus is very accurate too, but sadly the auto-focus speed lags greatly behind the other flagship phones. The amount of blurry, unfocused photos I took is just more than I can remember. The shutter speed is fast enough for me but its shutter speed is definitely not the fastest among the devices I had used before in my memory. Sometimes the white balance will be little bit off under auto mode but luckily manual control is available and we will talk about that later.

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I am very satisfied with the camera until I started shooting in the low light condition. The above photo is taken in a night with full moon (The moon is in the middle of the picture) and with some road light. However, it seems that the photo is very dark and the image is grainy. This is quite expected as the aperture is not that big (f/2.2) and the 13MP sensor will not have enough light for each of the pixels. So if you are a night owl or you tend to go to dark places, this will not be your favourite camera. The dual LED flash is very, very bright but both LEDs are white so the pictures with flash turned on will look very unnatural and washed out. Dual tone LED like the one found in iPhone 5s will be much welcomed.

One thing to be noted is that the 13MP photos taken are in 16:9 aspect ratio and this ratio is very weird. If you want the normal 4:3 ratio you have to sacrifice some pixel count. But I guess this would be fine for most of the people.

Here are some photos taken by the Mi3 without being edited.

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The camera software is largely likeable. First of all you can choose between simple mode or “expert mode”. In simple mode things are very straight forward and you will have few modes to play with, such as HDR, panorama, filters, skin tones editing and audio capture. This is perfectly fine for people who wish to take photos with simple way without changing anything.

But with simple mode off, you can control the ISO, white balance, exposure, focus and many more manually. Having more control to the camera means that you can capture photos that suit your taste and they really work very well. I think Xiaomi has done a great job between balancing the needs of normal people and more advanced photographer with a tidy and useful UI. I only have some small complains here. The manual control took away too much of the screen area and it might be difficult to adjust them properly. There are no labels for icons in “expert mode” and I have to select the setting I want by guessing which function each icon represents. However, these can be improved through software and it is not a deal breaker at all.

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I think the HDR mode here is quite useful especially in situation that is tricky. For example in the photo above, I have problem finding correct exposure as there is light from the glass window on the left but inside the room it is a bit darker. With HDR, I managed to get better photo. Under normal daylight HDR mode managed to produce photos with more saturated color.

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Panorama mode is not that perfect for Mi3. The photo below is not stitched together nicely (look at the roof of the building) even though I panned the phone slowly. Perhaps I need to hold the phone steadier and move even slower.

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The front shooter is a 2MP shooter. I noticed that the shooting angle for the front camera is quite narrow and the picture quality is barely acceptable but not too disappointing. Given that more and more phones are having 5MP or more “selfie” camera, the one in Mi3 might find trouble satisfying consumers’ requirement in coming days. Video can be taken at 1080p. The videos taken are great in colors but the lack of optical image stabilisation means that you need steady hands to avoid shaky videos.

In short, the camera in Mi3 is great at almost all condition except on low light. I enjoyed shooting with it and I managed to get some good photos even though I have nearly zero skills in photography. The software can meet the requirement for both worlds and it is packed with some useful features. I think most people will have fun with it.

Phone Software

Software is the part where Mi3 really excel at. The software packed in Mi3 is MIUI version 5 on top of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. As mentioned above the Mi3 I used is running the stable version of ROM. In my opinion, MIUI does not have flashy, eye-catching features at all. It performs well in all the little things and cumulatively they bring a very good overall experience to me. There are a lot of features in the phone and naturally I cannot list them all. So I would mentioned few that I like.

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The UI is heavily skinned and I am not a fan of that. However, in MIUI we can install any theme in the market and I can choose the one closer to stock Android to suite my taste. Xiaomi has designed Malaysia theme when they just launched the phone too. So depending on what you like, either install the theme you favour or even design one for yourself.

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All apps on MIUI will be shown on the homescreen, just like what we have in iOS and you can organise them by using folders. All Google apps are packed in here, including Google Play Store which is not available in China. The apps installed by Xiaomi are mostly useful and some of them such as MiTalk can be uninstalled if you are not using them. I really appreciate this as the storage is limited. I hope this will be the same for other phones to reduce the amount of bloatwares. (Especially Samsung, please let me delete ChatOn.) For Mi3, the bloatwares are coming from Google in my case as I don’t use Play Music, Play Books and the others that much and I can’t get rid of them.

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As Mi3 has a 5″ display and it might be difficult to use it with one hand. You can turn on one-hand UI to shift the keyboard to left or right for easier typing. Usually, swiping from the top edge will access the notification center. However, Xiaomi allows it to be accessed by swiping down anywhere on the homescreen except on widgets. This means that you don’t really have to shift the way you hold the phone to access the notification center. You can also choose what settings to be listed in the quick setting menu in notification center. You also can lock individual apps in the multitasking windows so that they will not be killed when you clear the RAM.

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Moving icons around can be very troublesome and Xiaomi lets you select multiple apps and place them at the bottom first. Then you can go to the other page and place them accordingly. This is very thoughtful and comes in handy when I want to shift things around. MiCloud is available for users to back up their contents. You can store up to 10GB of things.

One thing I like the most in MIUI is the updates provided. Although the device is still in Android 4.3, there is a developer ROM which is running on Android 4.4 being developed and it will be official any time by now in Malaysia as the China model already received it. Xiaomi puts in effort to get feedback from users and it will provide updates on every Friday which is known as Orange Friday in the Xiaomi community. The weekly update is only for the developer ROM but it is a good sign that Xiaomi is committed to squash any bugs and add in improvements frequently. This is not done by some other major OEMs.

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I have only very few complaints about the softwar. The first will be the multitasking window. Only icons are shown here and the top portion of the screen is totally wasted. The saved state of the apps should be shown like what we have in stock Android as it will let me find the app I want to use faster. The other thing is that the clock widget will not refresh until I go to that particular page. This is not exactly a problem but somehow I find it very irritating visually.  

The software is really great in day-to-day use and you have great control on customisation. I can totally understand why MIUI is so widely flashed in other devices. It is very well thought and responsive. One of the drawbacks of choosing Mi3 is that MIUI is available for a very wide variety of Android phones and you do not really have to buy a Xiaomi phone to enjoy it.

Community

You just cannot simply skip about the community behind Xiaomi phones and MIUI. Xiaomi has officially established forums for different languages. The strength and the activeness of the community members are just too impressive. Whenever you have any problem, the people there are willing to help. If you are too shy to ask, most of your questions are already answered in the forum and you just have to search for them. Tips and recommendation for different products will be shared.

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The other special thing is the involvement of Xiaomi itself in the community. They do not just provide the platform for the community. The employees are very active in the forum to help out and to organise activities and contests. They will take feedback from the community for the future software and hardware too. This is quite impressive and I have not seen any OEMs taking such steps to listen to customers.

Conclusion

Mi3 is a great phone externally and internally. The phone has a simple design, excellent build quality and it feels premium in hand. The chipset is the best in its price class and the performance is fast and fluid even though you are running graphics-heavy games. The 3050 mAh battery is huge but the battery life is not exceptionally impressive but it can definitely last you a day. The camera will satisfy most people but has a mediocre performance in low light. The phone is running MIUI and it is one of the best Android skin I have ever used. The strong community behind Mi3 means that you can find help anytime.

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The phone really has an almost complete package here. Only 4G LTE and micro-SD expansion are missed out here. The specifications are equal to what the other flagship phones offer. However, I do feel that it lacks of a “wow” factor. There is no special feature that will make it stand out of the crowd. Without the killer feature, it will only stay as a good phone, not the best.

If price is not an issue, I would definitely skip this phone. Luckily, in the real world, price is the biggest consideration for most people. It is the insanely low price that pushes Mi3 to its height to be honest. Without the low price, I doubt this phone will be as successful as it is now. I do hope that Xiaomi will think about this in the next iteration.

Good

  • Best phone you can get with the price.
  • Powerful chipset.
  • Simple Design & great build quality.
  • Camera performs well except in low light.
  • MIUI is a good Android skin.
  • Great community to seek for help.

Bad

  • Huge battery to charge but ordinary battery life and not removable.
  • Lack of stand out feature.
  • No 4G LTE.
  • Micro SD expansion not supported & only 16GB model is available in Malaysia.
  • New iteration might be coming soon.

Should You Get It?

So if you are asking whether you should buy this phone, my opinion will be simple. This phone will be suitable for a lot of people as it has no major shortcomings. If your budget is near to RM1,000 (around USD 300) and given that this phone only cost you RM769 (around USD 240) , just get it and you still have some budget for accessories such as cases and Mikey. It is the best midrange phone you can get with that price as it has a flagship specification with budget friendly price tag.

However, if you are searching for the cheapest phone, you should look somewhere else as there are cheaper yet totally usable phones. If price is not your concern and you are looking for the best phone, Mi3 is not for you either and the new model should be coming soon as hinted by the price drop.

So that is all for my thoughts on this phone! In case you are planning to get this phone, make sure you only buy from Xiaomi Malaysia for the lowest price and also the warranty coverage. This phone is not that difficult to get if you have fast Internet connection and prepare accordingly before the sales commences.

[Update] Xiaomi Mi4 is announced !!

10 Comments

  1. I got the phone last week and to me it’s a great phone. Like u said, price is the greatest consideration and I was about to get the 5s before I saw this model. I can buy a new xiaomi every year for 3 years and it’s gonna be cheaper than the 5s.There are cheaper models like the honor3c or RedMi 1s or Note which is coming but for 200-300 dollars extra I would pay for a faster phone and a better camera. But it all depends on the user actually. I just need a decent camera, surf the net for information, whatsapp and watch some movies when I’m bored. Value for the price of 769.

    • Yea. I totally agree with you. This phone will be suitable for so many people out there and there is no doubt why it is so successful right now.

  2. lucasakakarl

    1 July 2014 at 6:23 pm

    Great review, very detail. Looking forward for your next review

  3. The aperture is alr big enough I think just that the sensor of the camera is nt big enough which is common in hp. And that’s y it doesn’t really perform well in low light.

    • The exact sensor size is not stated by Xiaomi at all and I cannot evaluate on that. But typically phones that performs better at low light such as Lumia 920, 925 and HTC One has bigger aperture than Mi3′ f/2.2. Sensor size is exactly the issue. Its the high megapixel count that brings down the pixel size and causing less light on each pixel that matters in my opinion.

  4. Very nice review,please help me i am going to buy this fone but my main concern is that will it last for years because it will be my highend fone and im very good taker for my fone right now im using a cheapest galaxy y for 3years now, please help me.

    • It is very hard for me to promise if it will last for how long as quality of electronics gadgets depends on luck. Some people will get bad units if they are unfortunate. However, in terms of specifications, Mi3 should be able to last for more than 2 years before getting too slow. Software support from Xiaomi is usually good and quite long too. Coming back to your question, I do feel that this phone can last few years personally if you can use galaxy y for 3 years.

  5. Huawei Honor 3c and Mi3 has the same price tag in India. Which is better. Whose camera is better???

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