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Xiaomi Mi3 review

evan kypreos

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Reviewed:

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Xiaomi Mi3
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Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Pros

  • Smart, unusual design
  • Good value
  • Bright, colourful and sharp screen

Cons

  • Hard to fully westernise
  • Iffy custom interface
  • No 4G
  • Inconsistent screen backlight

Key Features

  • 5-inch 1080p LCD screen
  • 15/64GB storage
  • Android 4.3 with Mi interface
  • Manufacturer: Xiaomi
  • Review Price: £205.00

What is the Xiaomi Mi3?

Sometimes smartphones can seem a bit boring. Every year, the same companies make the same phone but with a few tweaks, a bigger screen and a new name. Phones like the Xiaomi Mi3 are here to shake things up.

The Xiaomi Mi3 isn’t available in the UK yet aside from as an import, but Chinese companies like Xiaomi and OnePlus have a chance at changing the face of the phone market. Of course, that’s all stuff for the future.

We got out hands on one of Xiaomi's phones right now to see whether this £200-odd wonder is really worth considering as an import alternative to something like the Nexus 5, or even Samsung Galaxy S5.

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Xiaomi Mi3: Design

Chinese phones are infamous for nicking the looks of other better-known models. There are more Samsung Galaxy knock-offs over there than you could count. But the Xiaomi Mi3 is different, it has a look all of its own.

Granted, there are shades of the Nokia Lumia series to its curved sides, but the Xiaomi Mi3 has a distinctive look that proves surprisingly recognisable for something most of us have never heard of. The back, bottom and top edges are all completely flat, but the semi-circle curved sides give the phone quite a nice, soft feel in-hand.

First impressions of the Xiaomi Mi3 suggest it’s ‘just’ a high-end plastic phone – again, in the Nokia mould. But it’s not. This is a magnesium alloy phone, and it is one of the first to use magnesium as its outer layer rather an inner casing. To be specific, the outer part of the Mi3 is a magnesium-aluminium alloy with three layers of graphite on top.

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Xiaomi Mi3

This gives a slightly soft feel that’s less hard and cold than standard aluminium. As a result it is also not going to impress you with how expensive it feels on first touch. While technologically superior – magnesium is lighter and stronger than aluminium – this is one of the reasons why phone-makers tend to favour aluminium.

Leave the magnesium shell a while to bed in and you really start to appreciate how well-made the Xiaomi Mi3 feels. The shell is much more rigid than plastic, giving the phone a higher-end feel than phones like the LG G3 or Samsung Galaxy S5. Both are more expensive than the Xiaomi Mi3 too.

There are nice little design touches too. The buttons have a nice crisp action with a high-quality feel, and they’re placed on the side (rather than the top) for easy access.

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There are plenty of things to be improved, though. There’s no microSD memory card slot, and with just 16GB of storage in the standard version, you only have about 11GB to use for music, pictures and such. You can get a 64GB version, but it costs a fair bit more.

The Xiaomi Mi3 also uses the big ‘full-size’ SIM, which slots into the phone on a tray that seems the size of a dinner plate when you’re used to microSIMs and nanoSIMs. Full-size SIMs are still used commonly in China, but are all-but extinct here unless you’re looking at phones that only cost as much as a pub lunch.

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The curvy-sided design affects the width of the Xiaomi MI3, which is perhaps the dimension you need to worry about most when considering if a mobile will be too big for your hands.

The Xiaomi Mi3 is a millimetre wider than the Galaxy S5, and that phone has a slightly larger screen. However, as the Xiaomi Mi3 is just 8.1mm thick and otherwise pretty sound ergonomically, it’s really a design choice rather than a design issue.

Using magnesium also helps with weight. The Xiaomi Mi3 is just 148g according to our measurements, making it roughly the same weight as the Galaxy S5, and a good bit lighter than the HTC One M8 or Nokia Lumia 930. Of course, it’s very easy to overemphasise how important weight is when we’re talking about phones that are all pretty light given how big they are. Having one in your pocket isn’t exactly going to tire you out by the end of the working day.

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Xiaomi Mi3: Features

When dealing with a phone that’s essentially designed for a market other than your own, it’s important to check there aren’t missing features you’ll need. The Xiaomi Mi3 has most, apart from one – 4G.

As we’re starting to see 4G implemented in phones at all levels in the UK, from the £80 Alcatel One Touch Pop S3 up, it’s a bit disappointing to see the Xiaomi Mi3 top out at 3G. The one other obvious missing bit is an IR transmitter, although it still has NFC, GPS, Wi-Fi and an MHL-compliant USB port.

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Prem Desai

August 7, 2014, 2:45 pm

A decent enough phone but lacking some key features.

I understand that different people have different requirements, but I'm still struggling to understand why anybody would want to import this. There are some really decent phones out there for less or not much more in the UK. These come with full support, warranty and after sales service ....

Graham Culleton

August 7, 2014, 4:10 pm

mmm get the Mi4...

mygoodness

August 8, 2014, 3:37 am

The mi3 is very easy to convert to a westernised phone, much easier than any other Chinese phone. It literally takes 15 seconds to install google apps and another 15 to disable the chinese ones you don't want, all without root needed. If you really want every sign of the phones origins gone then you can easily install the international rom version, which comes installed by default from most resellers. Then the only Chinese thing left is the Theme store which I don't understand why you didn't mention as it's one of Miui's best features.

mygoodness

August 8, 2014, 3:53 am

What phones are there that can offer a snapdragon 800 with 5" full hd display 16gb rom/2gb ram for under 200 pounds? (or under 250 pounds for 64gb)

Almost all locally available phones in these price brackets are mid range at best with limited storage options, average screens and old processors.

The best value high end smartphone in the UK is arguably the nexus 5. You could get the 16gb nexus 5 for 300 pounds, which for more money gives you significantly less storage, worse battery and imo a bland stock android. 340 pounds will get you the 32gb, still half the storage of the mi3 and 100 pounds more. At this stage it's no longer 'not much more' but alot more. The mi3 offers amazing value for money.

kadajawi

August 9, 2014, 8:31 am

I mostly agree, though I'd take bland stock android over any customization any day of the week. I did have the chance to play with a Redmi (international version of the Hongmi), which feels pretty snappy in day to day use, despite coming with some Mediatek CPU. MIUI is rather efficient. It also looks good, nowhere near as tacky as many other manufacturer's customizations (then again it looks much like iOS used to... and MIUI 6 is coming soon (in a week they'll launch it, and start a public closed beta, ...), which I guess will be very much like the latest iOS iteration. It has some smart improvements on Android, though some let downs too (the browser won't let you request the full version just for the current site... it's either all or nothing, and it's buried in some menu far away).
Basically, as far as non-stock Android versions go this is, despite the big modifications, perhaps the best (after all Xiaomi started with offering a very popular custom ROM called MIUI for many different phones... and later only started making phones for that OS. Stock is still better. But this is quite close, and may, for some users (coming from iOS perhaps?), be better.

I wonder if a different camera app could fix the problems mentioned.

The phone also really could use a microSD slot. All the other Xiaomi devices, which are cheaper, have it. 16 GB is not enough, I notice that all the time on my Galaxy Nexus. 64 might be a bit excessive and is hard to find. 32 would be fine, or better yet a microSD slot.

Prem Desai

August 11, 2014, 4:42 am

You focus too much on the specs and not the usability.

Yes, with some tweaking, you can get some of the software to be usable (only power users will be at home with this). But you can't get away from the fact that it has no 4g, no expandable storage and has a less than decent camera. No amount of tweaking will make these go away.

I take your point about the hardware and price, but for me, I could spend less and be happier with a Moto G or spend a bit more and get a Nexus 5 or G3 ....

mygoodness

August 11, 2014, 9:19 am

I wouldn't even call it software tweaking as if you buy mi3, most likely it will come with international software already. If you do happen to get one completely stock, all you need to do is visit Mi market which is already installed, search for google and install the first app.

Lack of 4G is negligible issue for most people and Moto g / nexus 5 don't have expandable storage either. LG g3 is in a completely difference price bracket.

Where I live, importing mi3 16gb is same price as 16gb moto g. It really depends on what you need. Mi3 is a no brainer unless you are a stock android fanatic or like a smaller phone as it is much better in every other aspect.

Prem Desai

August 11, 2014, 1:14 pm

The Moto G does have 4g and removeable storage (new model released in June).

I'm using 4g because it made no difference in cost, so I doubt I would go back to 3G.

I do accept your point as the Mi3 does represent good value - if you are prepared to tinker with it.

For me, and I suspect most people, out of the box usability is key.

If you do go for the Mi3, let us know how you got on ....

Tiktian C

August 11, 2014, 4:56 pm

I just got the mi3, it costs 150gbp brand new in hong kong for the 16gb version, it's got all the regular android applications in a folder titled "google" or something like that.

I think you might have gotten a chinese domestic market version (mine is a hong kong market version), a relative has a chinese domestic market htc smartphone (mid-ish tier), and it's version of htc sense is pretty different from the one my brother got in hong kong (no play store only htc app store thing, a number of chinese applications, no google applications, chinese search engine default).

my mom uses a nexus 4 (bought it a few weeks before the 5 came out! oh well) and the mi3 is much better made, and better functioning than that phone.

the only nitpick I have is that it doesn't have expandable storage, otherwise, it's a great size, high performance, and also stupid good value!

kadajawi

August 25, 2014, 11:55 am

As for the camera, keep in mind that there is a free app for this phone that lets you capture raw photos in the DNG format. You'll get much better dynamic range, sharp photos without any compression artefacts, etc, though the files are a bit bigger. 25 MB per photo. Most other phones won't let you take raw photos.

point

August 28, 2014, 8:11 am

Only draw back is storage. With OTG support it does negates to some extent. Regarding camera -it is definitely equal or better than nexus 5. The author himself has compared with Galaxy 5 indicates the camera is something . Regarding 4G- using 1GB and 2GB for a month which most UK people are hooked to - it doesn't matter whether you use 3G+ or 4G or LTE. Uk's 3g networks give 8-10mbps minimum and go upto 22mbps at some place where LTE is also same in terms of speed with 3G in many places. This phone for less than 150 pounds is worth the price

point

August 28, 2014, 8:14 am

Probably MIUI V6 will sort out

Wissem 'Dens' Corleone

October 21, 2014, 2:04 pm

What do you mean is hard to Westernize? Mine have everything. Playstore etc... The MIUI is the best UI I ever used. The camera is really good, you are all lying. You just have to put quality and all high. That's simple. If you need more just buy a camera. The updates of the phone are the most easy I ever had. Some people talks but never had the phone on their hands...

Zaibatsu

February 27, 2015, 5:57 pm

The best Android phone i've ever seen or used (being iPhone user for long now and i find it better than Galaxy S5)

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