Xiaomi Mi 3

Xiaomi is the number one smartphone OEM in China but the company has little presence outside of its home market. However, ever since the company hired ex-Googler Hugo Barra as its VP, it has been expanding rapidly in many new markets.

In July, the company announced its intention of jumping into another fiercely competitive smartphone market — India — with its last year flagship handset — the Xiaomi Mi 3 at an extremely tempting price. So, how good is Xiaomi’s last year flagship? Is it worth the money (and hype) or is it just another “Chinese phone from a Chinese OEM”? Read our review to find out.

Display & Build Quality

The first thing that will strike you about the Mi 3 is its weight. For a handset with a 5-inch display, it is extremely light even though the weighing scale suggests that the Mi 3 is roughly 145g heavy. However, this does not mean that Xiaomi has cut corners on the build quality. The phone has a unibody polycarbonate construction with a magnesium-alloy frame giving it a rigidity that even the likes of the Galaxy S5 and Note 3 cannot match.


The same cannot be said about the volume and power buttons on the phone though, which are located on its right side. While the buttons feel fine, the feedback on pressing them is not really confidence-inspiring. The front of the Mi 3 is adorned by a 5-inch Full HD (1080p) IPS panel, which is covered by Gorilla Glass 3.  For a device of its price, the display on the Mi 3 is over and above what the competition offers, including the Moto G. Not only does Xiaomi’s offering have a bigger and higher resolution display than the latter, it is also of a much higher quality, which can easily rival the likes of some of the previous generation flagships like the Moto X, the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One M7.

The viewing angles, contrast and black levels are all excellent and much better than what most users can imagine in a device of this price. At the bottom of the display are the three capacitive navigation keys of the Mi 3 — Menu, Home and Back (in that order). While experienced Android users would cringe at the order of the buttons and especially the menu button, it does not really hamper the usability of the device in any way, which is what ultimately matters.

The SIM card slot and the 3.5mm audio jack on the Mi 3 are placed on the top, while the microUSB port and the speaker are located at the bottom of the device. The latter might not be a BoomSound competitor, but it is definitely better than what you most phones pack nowadays.


Apart from its price, the most remarkable thing about the Mi 3 is the software — MIUI — that it runs on. While MIUI v5 is based on Android 4.4.2 KitKat, it does not look or feel like Android at all. To put it crudely, MIUI is a blatant rip-off of iOS UI wise, but retains the flexibility offered by Android.

The stock homescreenThe stock home screen

Unlike all other Android devices out there, MIUI does not offer an app drawer. Instead, in typical iPhone style, users can access all their installed apps by simply swiping to the left from the main home screen. Another surprising thing on the Mi 3 compared to all other Android devices is the lack of bloatware. Apart from the usual bunch of apps like Browser, Contacts and Dialer etc., Xiaomi only ships the Mi 3 with the Flipkart and Facebook app pre-installed, both of which can be uninstalled as well.

While Xiaomi devices do not ship with Google’s suite of apps and services in China, the Mi 3 does come with the Play Store and other Google apps pre-installed. This means that users can sign in with their Gmail account credentials to instantly sync their contacts, emails and photos on the handset. Interestingly, Xiaomi allows users to uninstall all the Google apps from the phone if they wish to, including the extremely important Google Play Services — something on which many other apps and services depend to work properly. Even some of the pre-installed apps from Xiaomi like the browser can be uninstalled without any issues.

Mi Cloud offers more backup options compared to GoogleMi Cloud offers more backup options compared to Google

Xiaomi also offers its own cloud services under the Mi Cloud moniker, which is very similar to Apple’s iCloud in functionality. Once the user has signed up for a Mi Cloud account, they can backup their Contacts, SMS, Photos, Call Log, Wi-Fi AP details, recorded calls and more. It also has a Find Device functionality like Apple’s Find My iPhone.

Overall, Mi Cloud is more extensive in backing up your important data to the cloud than even Google, though I am not sure how many users would feel secure about storing their private data on a server located somewhere in China.

MIUI_customizationThe level of customization offered by MIUI can be overwhelming for a first-time smartphone user

On the customization side, MIUI offers a plethora of options that no other OEM skin can match. Users can customize nearly every aspect of the OS including how the quick tiles are displayed in the notification bar, bind different actions to the hardware capacitive keys, change the display color temperature and saturation, block notifications from certain apps to show up in the status bar and more.

If you have ever used a custom ROM and been wowed by all the customization options, be assured that they are all present in MIUI as well. Even apart from the customization options, Xiaomi has filled MIUI with some very handy features. For example, a simple swipe down on the Notes app will open a small pop-up window so that users can quickly take down a note.

The built-in Theme engine is another novel feature that allows users to change the system colors, shortcuts, icons and more in just a simple tap by applying different themes from the store.


Sadly, not all is perfect with MIUI. Some of the basic features that seasonal Android users have come to take for granted are completely missing here. For example, there is no way to expand notifications on it, and all notifications by default open in an expanded mode only. Multi-tasking is a bit cumbersome as well, since the menu button needs to be long pressed to bring up the app switcher, which greatly slows down the experience.

Worse, in certain Android apps pressing the menu button does nothing since the app no longer supports it, while in others it brings up the Settings menu, leading to a very confusing user experience.



The Mi 3 comes with a 13MP F/2.2 camera and utilizes Sony’s Exmor R camera sensor. It is also capable of recording videos in Full HD (1080p) resolution as well as in 720p slow-motion at 120FPS. The MIUI camera app is pretty simple and offers a large shutter button on the right side, along with a menu button above it that allows users to switch to HDR mode and change other camera related settings. Thankfully, the company has not gone overboard with scene support on the Mi 3 and only includes a few handful of them.

Camera performance of Mi 3 is, again, one of its strong points, at least in daylight. The shot-to-shot lag is nearly non-existent and keeping the shutter button pressed will allow users to take burst shots.

The camera manages to capture excellent details in daylight with very accurate color reproduction as well. It does struggle in low-light though, and surprisingly even with an F/2.2 aperture, the camera takes in a very limited amount of light. Switching to the twilight mode helps in such situations as the phone takes multiple images and then stitches them into one, but the user is then required to keep their hands extremely steady.

The dual-LED flash can get plenty bright and is extremely handy in situations when your subject is within its effective range. Below are some sample images from the Mi 3 in various lighting conditions:

IMG_20140809_114250 IMG_20140808_162357 IMG_20140809_195231

Overall though, the Mi 3's camera performance is excellent, and it easily rivals the likes of the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One.

Performance & Battery Life

Under the hood, the Mi 3 comes with a Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. On paper, its specifications match those of last year’s flagship devices like the Note 3, and are in fact better than the likes of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One M7.

With so much power at its disposal, the Mi 3 performs admirably without nary a hint of lag or stutter, something at which even the likes of the Galaxy S5 and the LG G3 fail. Even while multi-tasking heavily or playing games like Asphalt 8, the handset remained extremely smooth without skipping any frames.

Even the idle battery life is better than what my Nexus 7 (2013) can manageEven the idle battery life is better than what my Nexus 7 (2013) can manage

The Mi 3 comes with a 3050mAh non-removable battery, which provides more than enough juice for it to last a day of heavy usage. Over a period of 10-days, I consistently managed to end the day with nearly 30% battery remaining with a screen-on time of around 4 hours.


Irrespective of its price and its Chinese origins, the Mi 3 is an excellent handset by all means and can easily stand its own against devices that retail for nearly double its price. The handset performs admirably in all key aspects – display, build quality, performance, camera and battery life — with only its software being a slight catch here, which might not be to everyone’s liking.

At its current price of Rs. 13, 999 though, the Xiaomi Mi 3 obliterates its competition including the hot selling and current reigning mid-range champion — the Moto G. It is almost an instant buy, provided you don’t mind MIUI, and can manage to snag one from Flipkart whenever the retailer puts it up for sale for a few seconds.

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