Xiaomi Mi 3 review: The game changer

first_imgXiaomi Mi 3.Every now and then, there comes a phone which strives to shake things up. The original iPhone did it and some of the early Nokia phones did it. Now many believe that Xiaomi Mi 3 – the flagship phone of the Chinese company – may have such an effect on the industry. Of course, the Mi 3 is no revolution in terms of technology; it’s a revolution in terms of pricing. Never before has there been a phone with such impressive specifications at a price of Rs 13,999. On paper, the Mi 3 looks like the “perfect” budget phone that India consumers want. Does it meet expectations? We find out…Look and FeelIt has a monolithic form.The Mi 3 reminds us of some of the earlier Nokia Lumia smartphones. Perhaps, its closest kin would be the Nokia N9 and Lumia 800. But this is just an impression the phone gives from afar. A closer look reveals a design, which has a character of its own. The Mi 3 is not warm like the polycarbonate Lumias. It feels slippery and cold and its finish is somewhere between the high gloss plastic and the matte finish. Fortunately, it feels tougher than your average plastic phone largely because of the magnesium-aluminum frame inside the phone.The Mi 3 is no cheap smartphone. Despite the relatively modest price, it feels genuinely premium. If we have to make comparisons then the Mi 3 can hold its own up against some of the big players like the One (M8), the Sony Xperia Z2 and the Samsung Galaxy S5. Yes, it’s not as superlative as the One (M8) or the iPhone 5, but it definitely compares well to the Galaxy S5.advertisementIn the hand, the Mi 3 feels a little unwieldy. It has a tall design like the One (M8) and its flat back make it a little difficult to grip. Though, in the grand scheme of things it is minor issue.The front of the phone punctuated with a 5-inch IPS display, three capacitive buttons, the front facing camera and a number of sensors. On the right side there is a volume rocker and the power key. The quality of the buttons is very good and they provide ample tactile feedback. The top of the device has the SIM tray slot and the 3.5mm jack. Notably, the phone uses a standard SIM instead of a microSIM. The bottom end of the phone has machine-drilled holes for the speaker grill and a microUSB slot.The back of the Mi 3 houses the 13-megapixel camera and a dual-LED flash sourced from Philips. Its 3,050mAh battery is housed inside the frame and is not removable.With thickness of 8.1mm the Mi 3 is among the thinnest smartphones. It weighs 145 grams, which is neither heavy nor too light. The weight is balanced nicely across the frame so the phone never feels cumbersome in hand.Overall we feel, Mi 3 is a nicely designed phone that successfully competes with the devices sold by big players like Samsung and HTC. At its price there is nothing in the market that is as well designed. Motorola’s Moto G is also well put together device, but it’s devoid the class that the Mi 3 reflects.DisplayClick here to EnlargeThe 5-inch IPS display on the Mi 3 has a 1080P (FullHD) resolution. The display is topped with a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which makes it really tough.We found the display to be very impressive. It has great viewing angles, superb colour fidelity and great outdoor visibility. In our use we found that the display provided good experience in all situations. We enjoyed web browsing, gaming and watching movies on it.Xiaomi allows users to tweak the colour settings of the display. The option is there within Settings and if a user is not happy the way colours are represented by default, he can manually change them.  The screen sports super sensitive tech, which allows users to use the Mi 3 even when they are wearing gloves.Long story short, the Mi 3 has the best display in its price bracket, which competes with displays found in devices like the HTC One (m8) and the Samsung Galaxy S5.  CameraA macro shot taken from the Mi 3.Click here to EnlargeThe rear camera on the Mi 3 is a 13-megapixel snapper with a Sony sensor and f/2.2 aperture. It also has a dual-LED flash sourced from Philips.  We found the imaging package to be thoroughly capable. It takes some great shots in daylight, with a shallow bokeh effects on macro shots, ample detail and natural colours.In most conditions, the camera is rather capable and is actually better than cameras found on some high-end smartphones like the HTC One (M8).Its HDR mode is very impressive, something that really helps in low light. With HDR mode, low light photography is not a strong point of the Mi 3. High-end phones like Lumia 1020 can shoot better. But considering the price of Mi 3, we have to give full marks to the phone when it comes to photo clicking abilities.advertisementThe Mi 3 has an easy to use panorama mode. The camera app is well designed and offers ample options for users to quickly and easily snap good photos. Out of the box, the app has a simple mode that offers a HDR mode, panorama, skin tone, filters and an audio mode. But go into the advance mode, and you can control finer aspects of the shooting process. In advanced mode, one can tweak white balance, exposure levels, select manual exposure and set a focus mode.The Mi 3 is equally good when it comes to videos. It takes some great videos that are relatively stabilized despite the phone not having optical image stabilization.We thought the Asus ZenFone 5 had the best camera for a sub-Rs 20,000 smartphone, but the Xiaomi Mi 3 handily displaces it.  And before, anyone compares its camera to the Google Nexus 5, we’d like to end the argument by saying it’s vastly superior.SoftwareIt runs on Android 4.4.2 KitKat.Click here to EnlargeMiUI is the secret sauce behind Xiaomi’s magic. It may be based on Android 4.4.2 KitKat, but in practice it’s more like a lovechild of iOS and Android. Offering the best of both worlds – the simplicity of iOS and the adaptability of Android. In essence, MiUI offers a springboard of apps on the homescreen. There is no app drawer, something which is similar to how aps are organized in iOS. Gionee’s Amigo UI is also very similar, but the major difference is that MiUI accommodates widgets.We find that MiUI allows a person, who struggles with the complexity of Android, to easily adapt to the OS, without going through a learning curve. The highlight of the MiUI experience is themes. There is a preloaded themes app from which the user can download thousands of themes that completely change the look of the software. Icons, widgets, wallpapers, animations, transparency levels change with themes and users can also mix and match elements of different themes creating an experience of their own.Also there are a number of other handy tweaks. Instead of a power key and volume button combination for taking a screenshot, one has to go into the pull down settings toggle to take a screenshot. The phone has pre-set profiles for type of headphones and Xiaomi’s own Piston earphones. We have seen similar functionality on the Amps audio player on iOS, but to our knowledge this is a first on Android.For the app switcher, one needs to long press the menu key and like iOS 6 a bunch of app icons appear. To close apps, users can swipe them.advertisementXiaomi offers users a choice between the stock Google keyboard and SwiftKey. Both keyboards are very good, but we gravitated towards SwiftKey, which we found to be better than the Google Keyboard.Unlike many Android OEMs, Xiaomi allows the user to uninstall some of the preinstalled apps. So one can also uninstall the stock web browser. Though that will not be needed because we found the stock web browser to be better than Google Chrome. The browser has a reading mode like the one in Apple’s Safari browser and can compress data like UC browser for frugal network usage.Besides the entire entree of Google apps there is the Flipkart app, which is preloaded along with Xiaomi’s custom music player, gallery app, Mi Cloud app and mail app. It also has apps for a torch, calculator, a recorder and a compass.We found the music player to be attractive and intuitive. Xiaomi preloads a suite of security apps that include a virus scanner, a cleaner, a call blocker, data usage monitor and a power consumption monitor. Again, these are all handy additions.Xiaomi claims that it constantly updates its phones and the online community contributes heavily for MiUI. Though the updates may be Google’s Android updates.Hardware PerformanceIt’s rock solid in terms of performance.In our first impressions of the Mi 3 we likened it to Aryton Senna’s McLaren from the late 80’s and early 90’s. We’d like to revisit this as now we think it’s the Starship Enterprise cruising at warp 9.9. Yes, it is lightning fast for a Rs 13,999 Android smartphone, Simply put, no smartphone in this price bracket competes with it.But this is on the expected lines expected as it’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 MSM8274AB chipset with four cores humming along at 2.3GHz. This SoC works in tandem with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal memory and the very capable Adreno 330 GPU.This is essentially last year’s Android flagship package. Phones like the Xperia Z1, the LG G2 and the Google Nexus 5 have similar specifications. Though Xiaomi claims that the variant of the Snapdragon 800 in the Mi 3 is 20 per cent faster than the similar processor used in last year’s Android phones.In our tests we found this to be true. In benchmarks like AnTuTu, the Mi 3 was closer to newer phones like the HTC One (M8). While using the Mi 3, we found it to be a fast phone. We could glide across the UI of the Mi 3 with ease and it rarely showed any lag.While gaming, the Mi 3 was great. We played Injustice: Gods among us, ShadowGun and Dead Trigger 2 without any lag or dropped frames. Graphically, it was on par with flagship phones like the HTC One (m8) and the Sony Xperia Z2BatteryThe Mi 3 is a roadrunner. Its 3,050mAh battery lasts easily a day and a half when not pushed hard. Realistically speaking, it lasts around 16 hours on a single charge, with two Gmail accounts, some music streaming, lots of photography, social networking, instant messaging and around 2 hours of calls.The phone also charges pretty quickly. While we have not conducted any objective tests, we found that it charged faster than devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5.If you are traveling and looking to get more out of the battery, you can also use battery saver mode, which can toggle between balanced, low power and high performance settings. We largely used the balanced setting and managed to get extra two hours.Call quality and network performanceThe call quality on the Mi 3 was impressive. We did not face the problem of dropped calls. Also, the voice during calls was loud and clear.In terms of network performance, we found that the 3G speeds of the phone were slightly slower than what is possible on flagship devices but the difference was minor.Final ThoughtsIt’s safe to recommend the Xiaomi Mi 3. It is a no compromise budget phone Indians have been waiting for. The design could have been a little more ergonomic and the device doesn’t have support for microSD card and LTE. But these are hardly deal breakers. Minus these three points – the Mi 3 has everything high-end phones like Galaxy S5 and HTC M8 offer to consumers. It’s a game changer.For Rs 13,999, there simply is not a better phone. In fact, now one has to question the logic behind Rs 50,000 smartphones if one can have such a brilliant experience for so less. Heck, for Rs 50,000 you could have three Xiaomi Mi 3s and still save Rs 8,000.The only major problem with the Mi 3 is the availability. It has already sold out on FlipKart. It was catastrophic launch as the phone was out of stock in a matter of minutes and the online retailer was grappling with excessive traffic. Now the phone goes on sale on July 29 and we hope the availability this time will be better.DESIGN – 8/10DISPLAY – 9/10CAMERA – 8/10SOFTWARE -8/10PERFORMANCE -9/10BATTERY -9/10CALL QUALITY -8/10VALUE FOR MONEY – 10/10INDIATODAY.IN RATING – 8.6/10 Follow writer on Twitter @DigitallyBones Watch the G&G show on Headlines Today on July 26 @10:30PM for the video review of the Xiaomi Mi 3.last_img


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