Xiaomi’s current high-end model is the Mi4, but before then it was the Mi 3 and it offers specs similar to those of most of 2013’s flagship Android models, combining a 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 chipset (as seen in the Nexus 5, LG G2,Xperia Z1 Compact and many, many more top-spec mobiles) with a 13MP camera, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage and a 5-inch 1080p resolution display.
- 5″ IPS 1080p capacitive touchscreen with 441pi pixel density; Corning Gorilla Glass 3
- Android 4.4.2 KitKat with MIUI v.5
- 2.3GHz quad-core Krait 400 CPU; 2GB of RAM; Adreno 330 GPU; Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset
- 13MP camera with dual-LED flash, 1080p video capture
- 2MP front-facing camera with BSI sensor; wide-angle f/2.0 lens; HDR; 1080p video recording
- 16/64 GB of built-in memory
- Active noise cancellation with a dedicated microphone
- 3,050mAh battery
- No LTE
- No 4K video recording
- Non user-replaceable battery
- No wired TV-out connectivity option
- No micro SD card slot
- Sold exclusively online
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 recognizable 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.
The Xiaomi Mi3 has a display that can – for the most part – compete with its much better-known rivals. It’s a 5-inch LCD screen of 1080p resolution.
You don’t get the ridiculously high QHD resolution seen in the LG G3, but then we’re not entirely convinced it’s necessary in a 5-inch display. In most respects, the Xiaomi Mi3 screen is great. Colour, top brightness and outdoors visibility are all up there with the best. It’s bright and vivid, but colours aren’t oversaturated to the extent that people’s faces in videos or pictures look unrealistic. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is better outdoors and offers better black levels, but among IPS LCD phones the Mi3 is a top contender
Performance and Battery:
The Snapdragon 800 chipset has been benchmarked to death, seeing as it’s inside the majority of flagship smartphones released in the last year or so.
The Xiaomi Mi 3 generates a Geekbench 3 score of 2,998 on the multicore test, an impressive number that eclipses the 2,579 scored by the similarly powered Nexus 5.
It also obliterates the 1,792 multicore score of the Huawei Ascend P7, a phone that claims to offer a similar high-end level of performance to the Mi 3.
The Mi 3 offers high-end performance, but offers very little internal storage
The phone in operation supports these numbers. The Mi 3 is smooth to use throughout, with the home screens quick to scroll, apps downloading and installing in the background without interrupting performance.
There’s also a generally solid performance when using GPS apps, running 3D games and flipping between apps.
The one small hindrance to ultimate smoothness is the lack of a dedicated multitasking button. Android’s recent apps tabbed section is accessed through a long-press of the options button, which, depending on where you are on the phone, might mean the phone first tries to open an app’s settings tab, before closing it quickly when it realizes you’re keeping the button pressed for longer than usual.
Battery life is impressive for the most part. I was able to get two days of moderate-use uptime out of each charge of the large 3,050mAh capacity battery, but only when being a little careful about screen brightness settings.
The standard TechRadar video test involves playing a 90-minute clip with the phone set to full brightness and volume. The Mi 3 battery went from 100% charged to 67% remaining after this, which is quite a whack of power eaten up by playing a clip.
Battery life is impressive but will run down quickly if you’re watching video
Given that the onboard speaker is very loud and the screen brightness is very high when at maximum, the Mi 3 seems to use more power than its rivals when operating at full brightness and audio output.
If you’re a full brightness kind of person, battery life will suffer accordingly. But leave it low or on auto and you’ll get two days from most charges without too much effort.
Have you ever seen an LG and a Samsung TV next to each other in a showroom? Notice how colours on the LG looks duller but sharper, while the Samsung looks more vibrant but has noise around the edges. The Mi3’s 13MP camera is akin to the LG—your images won’t have vibrant, luscious colours and that can be a disappointment. But they’ll be sharp and capture detail exceptionally well.
With videos, the Mi3 has one issue: the microphone. It picks up too much ambient noise while shooting, so you often don’t get the audio you want.
User interface – MIUI v5 on top of Android 4.4 KitKat
Xiaomi Mi 3 runs on Android 4.4.2 KitKat out of the box skinned with company’s proprietary MIUI v5. The MIUI ROMs have been around for quite a while and are fairly popular among the Android community. Xiaomi’s customizations run very deep and replace everything including all Google services, but you can get them from the Mi Market.
In fact some regional versions of the Mi 3 come with the Google Services built right in so you don’t even need to install them. The Mi 3 review unit we have is for the Chinese market, so there might be differences with other regional versions.