Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has been gaining ground in the mobile phone market ever since the company burst onto the scene just four years ago.
Currently, Xiaomi is ranked as the world’s fifth largest smartphone vendor, ahead of more notable smartphone brands. I have personally witness Xiaomi’s rise as a handset juggernaut in this part of the world.
From what started as a heavily skinned Android-based ROM which can be flashed/installed to other manufacturer’s smartphones, the company has grown to become a full-time electronics manufacturer with product lines that includes smartphones, accessories, headphones, powerbanks, TV and just recently, tablets.
I spent one week with Xiaomi’s MI3 as my daily driver and will tell you the things I love or hate with the MI3.
What’s in the box
- USB cable
- Wall charger
- SIM ejector pin
At the core of the MI3 lies a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset paired with a 2.3 GHz quad-core processor and 2GB worth of RAM. A 16GB on board storage is available with no option for expansion. Though there is a 64GB version of the phone, it has not been released yet in the international market.
Benchmark geeks would drool over this phone as scores from notable benchmarking apps are very impressive — in fact, the highest we’ve seen. The Antutu benchmark average is 43467, while Nenamark2 scores it at 60fps, and it garnered averages of 22507 on Quadrant.
But do these numbers translate in real life? Yes. The Mi3 was able to run all the applications I threw at it without delays or lags. I was truly impressed how fast this phone is, especially considering its low price tag.
The MI3 screams quality when you hold it in your hand. The build of the MI3 is very good with no apparent creaking sound when you apply pressure on it.
According to Xiaomi, the MI3’s body is made of aluminum magnesium alloy coated with three layers of thermal graphite. Though quite tall for most 5 inchers, it is relatively easy to hold and has that slight heft to it (145g).
For the display, the MI3 has a 5-inch IPS LCD with a resolution of 1080×1920 and covered with Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3. Images are rendered clear and very sharp and viewing angles are wide. The gap between the glass and display seems non-existent which makes it look like the pictures and icons are floating on top of the glass.
The display is also quite legible even outdoors with the brightness scaled to the max. With the display off, the MI3’s display looks like a single piece of glass as the borders of the LCD blends with the bezels.
At the bottom, you can find the speaker grill and micro USB port while the top part features the 3.5mm jack, the SIM card slot (standard size) and a noise-canceling mic. The volume rocker and power button are conveniently placed at the right side of the phone and are very easy to press.
The MI3 features a multi-colored (RGB) led notifications light and can be configured in the settings. It has a 2MP front-facing camera and a proximity sensor.
The front camera has a “face recognition” feature which recognizes faces and tries to predict your age. While it easily distinguishes gender, the age predictions can be inaccurate. It makes you feel good about yourself.
Flip the phone over and you’ll see the squarish 13MP camera with dual-LED flash, another noise-canceling mic, as well as the laser-etched MI logo at the bottom part of the phone.
For the main camera, it uses the Sony IMX135 sensor, the same sensor used by the LG G2. The main camera UI is user-friendly and offers multiple shooting options like panorama, HDR, manual and auto exposure, white balance, and filters, among others.
We did notice that it takes about a second for the camera to refocus and colors are not as vivid as I would like, but for the average user this should suffice. Below are sample shots from the MI3?s main camera.
The biggest selling point of the Xiaomi phones would be the MIUI (pronounced as “Me You I”) OS, a heavily modified Android-based ROM. The MIUI interface reminds you a lot of Apple’s iOS interface, thus the nickname “Apple of China”.
Contrary to other smartphone manufacturers, the MIUI ROM is almost always updated depending if you’re using the stable (monthly) or developer version (weekly). If you just used the phone right out of the box, you’re using the stable version.
The developers version of the ROM requires rooting and most suited for more advance users. From what I have read, Xiaomi will not void your warranty for rooting and flashing a developer ROM which is great news for some, but still, novice users might not be comfortable with the idea.
MIUI OS’s biggest draw would be the theming capabilities. Users can apply free or premium themes that can drastically change the user interface from the notifications panel, dialer, messaging app, lockscreen etc.
Also, as mentioned previously, the MIUI ROM can be flashed to a number of devices from other manufacturers but would require you to root the phone which will definitely void the manufacturer’s warranty. Below are screen shots from the MIUI V5 with a MIUI V6 theme.
Speaking of MIUI V6, at the time of this writing, the MIUI V6 has been released to the MI3 and MI4, Xiaomi’s current flagship phone, but only for the developer version of the MIUI ROM.
Despite being pretty thin, the MI3 packs a 3050 mAh non-removable battery. There are two modes available for users: performance and power saving.
The performance mode would last me at least day with WiFi always on, heavy messaging and a few minutes of call. For the power-saving mode, normal usage should last you at least a day and a half.
Battery life will depend on how you use the device. Among the phones we have reviewed so far, the MI3 is a pretty decent performer in terms of battery life.
Switching from performance to power saving mode offers almost no drawbacks in terms of speed so there might be almost no reason to keep the performance mode always on, unless your playing a super high-definition 3D game.
The speaker is loud enough for most users taste but doesn’t have that “oomph” from other flagship phones. The sound quality from the phone is very good and with the built-in equalizer, users can choose presets or manually configure the settings to make the sound experience enjoyable.
I was kind of disappointed though that the unit does not come with a headset. This is part of the company’s strategy to keep the price of the phones as low as possible and sell the accessories separately. Other notable features of the MI3 include NFC and FM radio support.
The MI3 is exclusively being distributed by Lazada.PH at just P10,599.00 — almost a third of the price of other flagship phones with the same specifications in the market today. With that price tag, the phrase, “you get what you pay for” clearly does not apply to the MI3.
What we liked:
- Build quality
- Speed and multi-tasking capabilities
- Good battery life
- MIUI ROM
- Decent camera
What we didn’t like:
- No Micro SD slot
- Slow refocus of camera
- MIUI browser would occasionally crash (an update should fix this)
- No headset along with the package