Xiaomi Mi3 review

Weekly updates, powerful kit and an undercutting price

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Xiaomi Mi3
  • Xiaomi Mi3
  • Xiaomi Mi3
  • Xiaomi Mi3
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Fantastic software
  • Weekly updates
  • Powerful hardware
  • Relatively inexpensive

Cons

  • No expandable memory
  • Rivals undercut it on price

Bottom Line

Plenty of fun can be had with the Xiaomi Mi3, but the standout has to be the software. Week by week, idea by idea, Xiaomi has fleshed out its vision of Android, until it has evolved into own comprehensive solution. For people who enjoy configuring the minute details of their smartphone, who relish the nuts-and-bolts of software, tinkering with the Mi3 will be a source of great pride.

Would you buy this?

Xiaomi has quickly grown to prominence in the world’s biggest smartphone market by delivering powerful devices at a bang-for-buck price. The company’s flagship Mi3 is now available from a local reseller for $455, but is this newcomer, with its top-shelf specs and fantastic software, better than what’s on offer from the reigning heavy-weights?

Intriguing design, Mesmerising screen

Bipolar! That’s how we’d describe the Mi3’s design language. Parts of it subtly nod to the smartphones of yesteryear, while other attributes are uniquely its own. Commemorations include the volume rocker and power button popularised by Nokia’s N9, while staring at the smartphone front-on brings to mind any member of Sony’s Xperia family.

Numbers that high put the Mi3 in Samsung, HTC and Sony’s champion division

Separating the smartphone from the pack is its pronounced screen. Although it sits flush from top-to-bottom, the screen bulges atop curving sides. The form is provocative — ”notice me” the screen demands — but at the same time, the wholesome screen adheres to minimalistic principles.

Power the screen on and it’s a different story. A vibrant 5 inch display presents Xiaomi’s unique software story in glorious colour. A total of 1920x1080 pixels populate it for a stellar density of 441 pixels-per-inch. Numbers that high put the Mi3 in Samsung, HTC and Sony’s champion division.

Beneath the screen is a laser-cut speaker grille. A microUSB port sits adjacent. The precision of these traits, in addition to that of the 3.5mm auxiliary up top, look nothing short of striking.

But not all of this smartphone is cutting edge. Capacitive buttons border the base in a time when rivals have opted for the on-screen variant, while a tray at the top houses a near extinct full-sized SIM.

Note: Xiaomi's Australian resller, who provided us with a review unit, is currently selling the Mi3 at the discounted price of $389 for a limited time.

Software, Software, Software

Xiaomi’s homeland of China knows the company for its constantly evolving software. It starts with Google’s Android and then week-by-week Xiaomi releases updates to improve the functionality, design and performance. The Mi3 runs an almost unrecognisable version of Android 4.4 KitKat, and in spite of our traditional aversion to software overlays, Xiaomi’s MiUI is welcomed.

Tasty 4.4 MiUI

The Mi3 conforms to the trend set by many Asian smartphones before it by not featuring an application draw. Apps are randomly dumped on the homescreen in no particular arrangement or order, nor is there any way to tame the anarchy. Neat-freaks would benefit from downloading a launcher to compensate for the shortfall.

Read more: Buying guide: Panasonic's 2014 TVs

Constant updates is one way a phone can keep its glisten over time

Otherwise Xiaomi’s UI is a fine balance between detailed menus and tasteful aesthetics. It brings to mind the kind of uniformity that characterises Apple’s iOS software — only presented on a vivid 5-inch screen — and that is as high as praise comes.

There’s a touch more intuition to Xiaomi’s rendition of Android. Sliding the notification window down when there’s no news is futile; for this reason MiUI automatically alternates to the ‘shortcuts’ screen.

Similarly the ‘settings’ menu is just as easy to browse. Settings used most often are grouped under a ‘quick settings’ tab, while everything else resides under a secondary tab. Such small improvements are applied holistically to the Android OS, from pop-up menus to its SMS application, each one adding a fraction more to the already enjoyable experience deliver by Android.

Then there’s the multimedia suite, which is comprised of a tasteful gallery, music and video player. Options are aplenty, but Xiaomi has laid them out in a manner free from clutter.

Usually we advocate vanilla Android, mainly because manufacturers only add a thin overlay that clashes with the way Android looks and works. Xiaomi’s MiUI isn’t one of these overlays. The refinements to the software don’t feel like an on-the-surface overlay; Xiaomi has sanded it way down, primed it and then added a couple of coats for a fresh finish.

Orange Fridays, Stable builds

Read more: Apple iPod Touch pricing slashed by up to 25 per cent in Australia

Xiaomi’s comprehensive software is the result of continuous updates. Almost every Friday is known as ’Orange Fridays’ with the release of small software improvements. Bigger updates, also known as “stable builds”, are made available every month or two.

Constant updates is one way a phone can keep its glisten over time. Xiaomi’s ongoing support ultimately makes the Mi3 a great purchase for people who tire of the same phone easily.

Read more: MiPad: Hands-on with Xiaomi's first tablet

Aggressive hardware, Sony camera

Xiaomi built its name on premium smartphones donning a budget price and the Mi3 follows that formula stringently. Inside is a Snapdragon 800 chipset complete with a 2.3GHz quad-core CPU, an Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. The HSDPA smartphone doesn't accommodate expandable memory and is powered by a large 3050 milliamp-hour battery.

For those who enjoy configuring their smartphone, tinkering with the Mi3 will be a source of great pride

Coupling the smartphone’s refined software with hardware this capable explains why the Mi3 zips through intensive applications with ease. No way could you tell based on its performance that undercuts the flagships from Samsung, Sony, HTC and Apple on price.

Read more: Xiaomi's Mi4 brings a touch of Apple to the open world of Android

Xiaomi has turned to Sony for the camera featured in the Mi3. The 13 megapixel camera sits flush on the smartphone’s back, has a f/2.2 aperture and is joined by a Phillips dual-LED flash. This hardware is controlled through an easy-to-use camera interface.

Photos captured by the Mi3 were generally impressive. Shots taken on a sunny day revealed the Mi3’s proficient contrast levels and its fluency in colours. These photos looked just as grand on a large-screen, and this is despite noticing slight bleeding in some areas.

Night photos looked great on the smartphone’s screen and should bode well with people keen on social networking. Review these photos on a big screen and you will be confronted with a heavy dose of image noise.

Recorded Full HD videos aren’t as rich in quality as still photos. The Mi3 is slow to focus and grainy image noise plague videos. In its defence, video playback was free from jarring and smooth.

The Mi3 does have a front facing 2 megapixel camera capable of recording videos in Full HD resolution.

Final thought

Plenty of fun can be had with the Xiaomi Mi3. The smartphone is filled with the kind of unique traits that give it character, like the protruding screen and its attention to detail. It’s powerful too, especially when you consider it isn’t expensive with local resellers quoting $455 as the sale price.

The standout has to be the software. Week by week, idea by idea, Xiaomi has fleshed out its vision of Android, until it has evolved into own comprehensive solution. But we’re afraid it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

Brutal honesty compels us to concede the Mi3 won’t be the smartphone of choice for the masses. Anyone looking to spend $400 is spoiled for choice with the LG Nexus 5, the Desire 816 and the 4G Motorola Moto G. Of the bunch, the Xiaomi is the most expensive.

But for those who enjoy configuring the minute details of their smartphone, who relish the nuts-and-bolts of software, tinkering with the Mi3 will be a source of great pride.

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Read more on these topics: Android, MiUI, nexus, sony, KitKat, Xiaomi, Orange Fridays, Apple, samsung, 4.4, htc
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