Xiaomi

Review: Xiaomi Mi3

Abhishek Baxi

What is it?

Xiaomi (pronounced as shao-me), the latest Chinese brand on the horizon, is often called the 'Apple of the East' and has garnered quite a fan following in the little time that they've started selling outside of mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Xiaomi sells premium hardware at mid-range prices, at almost the cost price of the bill of materials, and makes money over the life cycle of the product and by selling accessories with higher margins and add-ons like themes. For consumers, Xiaomi phones pack in top-of-the-line specifications and user experience at a fraction of the cost of phones with similar specifications from other tier one OEMs.

Who is it for?

Xiaomi Mi3 is the company's first flagship smartphone in India, and offers terrific specifications at an affordable price. If you are a looking for an Android smartphone without spending a lot, the Mi3 is a great option to consider.

Design

Xiaomi Mi3 looks and feels premium, and the matte finish plastic on the back panel could almost be mistaken for metal. In India, Xiaomi has launched the phone in only metallic grey color.

The phone's built from an aluminum-magnesium alloy frame that gives it a kind of sturdiness that should translate to durability. At 8.1mm, the Mi3 is not slim by any measure, and the long frame has sharp corners. That makes it different, but not awkward, and the phone is pretty comfortable to use and hold in one hand.

In an aberration from the latest trend, the Mi3 features a regular-sized, mini SIM card, and not a micro-SIM.

Hardware

The Xiaomi Mi3 sports a 5 inch Full HD IPS LCD display which offers crisp text and pictures with pretty good viewing angles. The color rendering of the 1080 p display with 441ppi density is impressive and quite vivid. However, the screen is very reflective, and has sub-par legibility outdoors in sunlight.

The phone offers three modes for color temperature - Warm, Standard, and Cool - and two for saturation - Brilliant and Standard.
Powered by a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB RAM, the phone packs quite a punch and the performance is snappy. The phone breezes through the UI or with HD videos and even while playing graphic-intensive games.

The 16GB internal storage with the absence of a memory card slot would disappoint most. There's about 12GB of memory available to the user, and while that should work for a majority of average users, content hoarders would find it tough.

The phone packs in a 3,050 mAh non-removable battery which lasts the day on average use, but pushing it a little doesn't augur too well for the battery life. While this could be just me, but for the big battery the phone boasts of, the mileage could be better.

Software

Xiaomi smartphones are powered by MIUI, a heavily customized Android fork based on AOSP (Android Open Source Project). The MIUI version in Mi3 runs on the latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat but mimics iOS a lot. Unlike in China, the MIUI includes Google suite of apps and services as well as the Play store in India.

MIUI is not just a UI customization skin, but adds many nifty features to enhance the functionality and experience. MIUI, like Gionee's AmigoOS, does not feature an app drawer and all your app icons and widgets stay on the home screen panorama. For a traditional Android smartphone user, this is an awkward shift, but it's well thought and should only take a few days of getting used to.

Xiaomi provides users with a number of downloadable themes that doesn't just change the basic look-and-feel of the phone, but completely transforms the user interface. Since the company hasn't set up their payment channels in India as yet, all the themes are free to download.

MIUI allows uninstalling pre-loaded apps, and is a welcome feature. In most Android smartphones, most of the bundled bloatware apps continue to take a lot of space and be an eye-sore since there's no way to remove them. If I had to give star ratings in my reviews, just this feature would get the phone an extra half star maybe!

Few security features included in MIUI are pretty good and take care of the usual Android annoyances. There's a built-in virus scan and an innovative permission manager for apps through which you can allow or deny an app access to a certain feature or functionality. The MIUI app switcher also includes the ability to free up memory by killing background tasks and clearing the cache.

Camera

The Xiaomi Mi3 features a 13-megapixel camera that works pretty well in good lighting conditions. The photos are sharp with good level of detail, and the color reproduction is great. A little noise in some photos could be ignored.

In low light conditions though, the photos turn out to be a little grainy and washed out. It isn't too bad, and mostly happens with photos where you zoom in, and still is one of the best cameras at the price point.

The camera app offers a Simple as well as an Advanced mode, apart from the useful HDR, Panorama, and Burst modes as well as filters. The camera packs in an anti-shake feature to stabilize photos, although it's a poor sibling of optical image stabilization (OIS), a feature missing on the Mi3.

Should you buy it?

If you are looking for a mid-range Android smartphone, at Rs 13,999, the Xiaomi Mi3 is an automatic choice. In fact, even if your budget is higher, you'd want to consider the Mi3 since it packs quite a punch to rival higher-priced smartphones in the market. The Mi3 doesn't come with headset or a case though, clearly to cut costs.

The exclusive partnership with Flipkart to sell the phones in India and the limited stocks available though would turn off a lot of potential customers. To zero in on the device, and still not manage to get your hands on one is frustrating. It's a crowded market, and you might want to move on.

The best part
  • Checks all the boxes on the specifications sheet
  • Enhanced functionality over stock Android as part of MIUI
  • Great value for money
The tragic flaw
  • Lack of microSD slot for expandable storage
  • Hard to purchase
(Image: Mi 3 official page)
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