Xiaomi Mi3: Affordable flagship Android smartphone
Published on Apr 15, 2014 3:35 AM
If Xiaomi's $169 Redmi was a warning shot aimed at lower-end smartphones from makers such as Nokia, then the China handset maker's follow-up, Mi3, is clearly a full-frontal assault on the big boys Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC.
As a flagship device, the Mi3 mirrors the hardware specifications of its competitors: quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processors, full high-definition displays, 13-megapixel camera and Near Field Communication (NFC) support.
But where the competition opens at $800, the Mi3 very nearly halves that entry price to $419.
This is more than twice what the Redmi costs.
But where the Redmi comes in a plastic shell and has a 4.7-inch screen, the Mi3 has an aluminium-magnesium alloy frame and a full high-definition 5-inch display.
The camera gets a bump up (8 megapixels to 13 megapixels) and a dual-LED flash. On the downside, the Mi3 lacks the dual-SIM feature of the Redmi.
In terms of design, the phone looks like a collaboration between HTC and Nokia's designers, with its sealed back and curvy sides.
The Power and Volume controls are on the right edge; speaker and microUSB slot at the base and SIM card and 3.5mm audio slot on the top.
The metal chassis gives it a more polished feel than the plastic and glass of Samsung and Sony devices. The trade-off is that you cannot remove the cover of the Mi3 to put in a spare battery.
The interface is identical to the Redmi's in look and feel - and has more than a whiff of Apple about it.
A great strength of China-made smartphones is that they tend to skip the software bloat that major vendors love. Instead, Xiaomi has put in useful features such as user access to permissions and start-up apps, which give users greater control over the phone's memory and hardware resources. Of course, there are similar free apps available from the Google Play Store, but most China vendors have included them out of the box.
The theme store remains intact, as does the private SMS message inbox for those who prefer to keep some incoming texts private.
As for those wondering about the hardware configuration, the Mi3 recorded a reading of 36,689 on the AnTuTu Benchmark app. The five-month-old Samsung Galaxy Note 3 clocked a slightly lower reading of 35,528, while the three-month-old LG G Flex netted a score of 36,552.
Of course, both the Samsung and LG flagship phones have bigger screens and are considerably thinner, but they also cost twice as much.
Frankly, the Mi3 makes one wonder if the added premium other vendors load on for waterproofing and dustproofing, unibody frame, stylus and Gorilla glass screens is worth it.
While its pricing and hardware are eye-catching, the Mi3 does have its limitations:
- Its single speaker at the base of the device is weak, both in volume and bass;
- The flash is a useful addition, but the camera's performance in low light is weak;
- The camera does not handle colour reproduction as well as the LG G Flex or Samsung Galaxy Note 3;
- There is no microSD card slot, so users are stuck with only 16GB of internal memory.
- It uses the old standard full-size SIM card instead of the newer micro and nano SIM ones.
- The Mi3 is a 3G-only device and does not offer 4G LTE speeds that come with other flagship phones.
The battery life is also on the low side, lasting a little over six hours on Digital Life's battery test and this is rather surprising as the device holds a bigger 3,050mAh battery. Given the lack of 4G LTE, battery life when connected to a 3G network should be less taxing on the device as well.
If you are thinking of getting this phone, stock up on power banks as well.
The way that Xiaomi sells its devices can also test the patience of would-be buyers.
When it launched the Mi3 online last Friday, Xiaomi said it sold out in two minutes, but remained silent on the number that it had made available, though it has been more open about initial sales figures in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
For all we know, it may just be apeing Apple's marketing tactic of offering only limited stock at launch in order to declare it ''sold out''.
Of course, some enthusiasts may be prepared to wait. But at the end of that wait, Xiaomi could have Huawei and its upcoming new toys, such as the Huawei Honor 3X, to contend with.
At such a time, any pent-up desire from the ''sold-out'' hype can easily be transferred to some other China brand with stock to spare.
- The lack of 4G connectivity and a microSD slot, together with a less-than-stellar battery performance, might be a deal breaker for some. But the low price and commendable hardware and software performance more than make up for those missing features.
This story was originally published in Digital Life on March 12, 2014.
Processor: 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm
Display: 5-inch full HD 1,080p LCD
Operating system: Android 4.3
Camera: 13 megapixels (rear), 2 megapixels (front)
Memory: 16GB, 2GB RAM
Value for money 5/5
Battery life 3/5