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Xiaomi Mi3 Review: All You Need To Know Before Buying

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Xiaomi Mi3 –  one phone that is clearly rocking India. Thanks to its solid partnership with the Indian e-retailer Flipkart, the Chinese company has now stepped into the subcontinent, which houses the third largest smartphone market in the world. And there is genuinely a lot of hype regarding the device – people saying all kinds of stuff about it. Some satisfied buyers are calling it the latest and greatest smartphone in the market, thanks to its aggressive pricing, lots of high-end specifications and reliable performance, while there are lots of people who are criticizing the whole initiative, mentioning the somewhat discouraging marketing strategy adopted by Xiaomi and Flipkart.

What’s the fuss?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the entire story, Xiaomi Mi3 is a very aggressively priced high-end smartphone, that packs in some of the greatest features you can ask for. Now, what exactly are the things that make the Mi3 so popular? Well, a simple look at the specifications and the price will tell you the answer.

Price: The Mi3 is priced at Rs. 13,999 (INR) on Flipkart.

Specifications at a glance

RAM: 2 GB
Processor: 2.3 GHz (CPU) + Adreno 330 (GPU)
Chipset: Qualcom MSM8274AB, Snapdragon 800
Sensors: eCompass, Gyroscope, Light Sensor, Accelerometer, Pressure Sensor, Proximity Sensor
Display: 5 inch Full-HD display, with 441 pixels per inch (way greater than an iPhone’s), with 1080×1920 resolution. Comes with Gorrila Glass protection.
Android: 4.4.2 KitKat out of the box, with MIUI V5 custom skin (comes with regular OTA updates). Strong possibility of getting Android L upgrade once it’s released.
The MIUI Security app
Camera: 13.0 MP primary camera, with MIUI official camera app pre-installed, with 2.0 MP front-camera (auto-beautification of selfies inbuilt). Comes with dual LED flash, and can record videos at 1080p resolution, 30 fps.
Battery: 3050 maH non-removable battery
Storage: 16 GB inbuilt, non-expandable. No
SIM: Single-SIM, 2G/3G. Full SIM slot.
Clearly, other than the single-SIM part and the non-expandable storage issue, you need to rub your eyes before believing what you read. So much for just INR 13,999? But then again, don’t get your hopes too high. There are things that every buyer needs to know before hitting the Add to Cart button. And that’s what this review is for.

 

First look – The unboxing experience

So, I registered for the Mi3 flash-sale on Flipkart on 5th of August, took part in the sale that took place on 12th, and finally got my unit delivered on 13th, thanks to Flipkart’s paid and prioritized In-A-Day Guarantee facility. The thing that appealed to me most was that, the packaging of the device is just rock-solid. And I mean it. As any of the YouTube reviews of the phone would tell you, Xiaomi clearly makes these boxes especially for online transactions. And they are sturdy, wood-textured (cardboard, steel), and really really hard.
After I opened the case, I found my prized possession, the Xiaomi Mi3, truly shiny, robust and spectacular! But first, let’s talk about the contents of the box.
Ok, so in order to cut costs and focus their resources solely on developing the device, Xiaomi doesn’t provide headphones with it. It might seem underwhelming to most users, since we are usually accustomed to get officially packed headsets or earbuds at least, but I couldn’t blame Xiaomi after seeing through their reasoning. Indeed, the device itself needs to be better above everything else. The box comes with minimal contents. All in all, it has the following:
1. The phone
 
2. Xiaomi official travel charger (Chinese-styled) 
 
3. USB cable for data transfer and charging
 
4. A pin for popping out the SIM tray
 
5. Official booklets (not that we ever read that, eh?)
 
6. Warranty and documentation 
Naturally, it’s a very skeletal, barebone packaging, right?
But that’s the beauty. Xiaomi is focused on the KISS philosophy (Keep It Simple & Silly). And they’ve focused on the device itself.

Design

The 16GB variant that we can get in India is an exquisite beauty. It has a candy-bar shape overall, with a shiny black finish in front, and a pseudo-metallic finish on the back. Inside, it has a magnesium-aluminium frame, but outside, it’s all plastic. But it’s good quality plastic anyway.
Front: On the front side, we have the secondary speakers, 2.0 MP camera, MI logo, proximity and light sensors. Below the 5 inch full-HD IPS display, we have the three backlit touch-sensitive buttons for MENU, HOME and BACK, which gives it a +1 over Moto G and similar devices that don’t have hardware buttons for the job.
Back: On the back, we have the 13.0 primary shooter at the top-left, with dual LED flash next to it. A secondary microphone for capturing sound during video-recording is next to the flash. The whole back side has a metallic silvery polish, and it has a sticker with a barcode that you shouldn’t remove for warranty purposes. On the lower side, we have the MI logo once again.
Top edge: The top edge has the 3.5 mm headphone slot (TRRS), and the SIM tray. Remember to use caution while taking out the tray with the pin. There’s an official YouTube video by Xiaomi showing the process. If broken, it can be rather difficult to fix, and would probably cost you around Rs. 8,000 for the repair (seriously).
Bottom edge: The bottom edge houses the USB slot, and the laser-precisioned holes for the speaker.
Left edge: Nothing, seriously. Enjoy the clean, polished, squeaky feeling.
Right edge: It hosts the power button, and the volume +/- buttons.
The secrets behind Xiaomi’s aggressive pricing strategy
The phone is a workhorse in all aspects. It’s powerful CPU can handle almost all tasks that you throw at it. More than that, gaming is a breeze with the power-packed GPU, a place where al budget handsets compromise. We have budget phones, and we have premium phones. But looks like Xiaomi Mi3 is a budget-premium phone, to be honest. It’s a high-end device nearly at par with Google Nexus 5 or LG Optimus G series or Samsung;s high-end Galaxy sets, that is priced at part with Moto G, Micromax Canvas Turbo or Karbonn Octane devices.
“So, the phone should actually have a price tag of around INR 30,000 at the very least”, you can genuinely argue. And that was my feeling at first, too. But after actually using the device and remaining more than satisfied with it, I have seen that there’s no monkey business with it. But how can Xiaomi still provide the premium device at such dirt-cheap rates?
Well, here are the reasons:
1. Xiaomi has no physical shops anywhere. So, they can cut costs on all those shiny hoardings, office spaces and so on. This also ensures that almost all their staff are focused on actually developing the device in one way or the other.
2. Xiaomi also doesn’t spend a buck on advertising, at least here in India. It’s simply circulated on a word-of-mouth basis on social networks like Google+ and Facebook. In addition, Flipkart has set up a Mi3 official store, and at times it internally advertises the device to its users, all without paying a penny. And believe me, this is where most Indian and Chinese companies are losing the race – they’ve been spending more on advertising and less on actually improving the phones. But Xiaomi has just skipped the step, saving a lot of money.
3. Only a limited number of Mi3 devices are released in India every week, on Flipkart (as of now). Registered users of Flipkart have to register separately before the sale day, for getting a chance to buy the device. This ensures that Xiaomi knows how many devices it has to ship. This creates many issues, especially because Xiaomi doesn’t have mass-production capabilities like Samsung and LG, but it also helps the company greatly. Not a single device is wasted anywhere, and this gives them the maximum possible profit.
4. It’s a Chinese company, so it can capitalize on China’s low labour costs.
5. Shipping is done by Flipkart, so there Xiaomi doesn’t have to spend money.
An honest review of the device – Pros & Cons
After using the device for more than 4 days, I can tell you honestly that I am more than pleased with the experience. Not only it is a premium unit that I got for so less, it’s also greatly supported online – thousands of MIUI fans gather online to share resources, info, tips&tricks about the device. This gives it a much needed community feel, something I appreciate very much since I am from the Linux community. However, there are occasional glitches – some minus points for the unit which could have been improved further. Let us discuss the plus points first.
Pros
1. Exceptional build quality and performance
At this price point, one can’t even dream of anything better. The phone is sturdy, lightweight and sincerely a joy to use. The screen comes with Gorilla Glass protection, as I already mentioned. Naturally, this gives you an extra edge. The Mi3 is on the slightly bigger side, with spacious bezels on the upper and lower sides, but since it’s really lightweight at around 145g, that doesn’t raise a major issue.
Performance is just nifty! Xiaomi Mi3 has been hailed as The World’s Fastest Phone at a time, and still now it’s one of the fastest phones ever built http://www.tweaktown.com/news/33099/xiaomi-s-mi3-is-the-fastest-smartphone-ever-costs-just-327/index.html )

2. Superb display

The display is fabulous – and the Mi3 plays virtually any format you throw at it. The highest-quality videos I had, played smoothly on it. And it’s a joy to watch them all with 441 PPI, full-HD resolution. e-Reading is a joy as well, with superb clarity and flawless rendering of characters and lines. Aldiko, MoonReader, Google Play Books, TOI News, no matter what you start, you can see the difference. If you’re migrating from a similarly priced device, you can especially get amazed.
3. MIUI V5
Nova launcher

MIUI V5 is a custom skin developed by Xiaomi for Mi devices. But it’s more than a skin, actually. The MIUI series started out as a set of ROMs or alternative firmwares based on Android, and as such, a MIUI skin outshines all those custom LG or Samsung skins, because they’re just skins and don’t feature ground-to-top modifications like the MIUI series does.

The V5 is based on Android 4.4.2, so you get kitkat out of the box. In addition to providing all the native Android utilities, MIUI V5 packs in some much needed tools in addition, such as a compass, a torch app, a full-featured Security system and more. On any general Android OS, you can get most of these utilities with the help of third-party apps, but MIUI supports them natively out of the box. And this also keeps those apps in tighter integration, without slowing down the phone.
The Security System deserves special mention. It has the following integrated tools:
    1. Integrated Data Usage monitor, which keeps track of your mobile and WiFi data and can restrict apps from using it. There’s also bill-shield facility, as well as data usage warnings. It’s quite similar to Onavo data count in functionality, but it’s natively integrated with the system. Hence, it’s better.
    2. Inbuilt blocklist, that blocks unwanted calls and SMSes from different numbers.
    3. Clear, which keeps your device free from old cache, ad files, package apks and residual data.
    4. Power Monitor, which gives you an estimate of the remaining power, helps you save different profiles for different times of the day, automatically switches between those profiles, etc.
    5. Cloud-based virus scanning.
MIUI V5
  1. Permission Manager, which kicks into effect whenever you install a new app, or any of the existing apps begin some suspected behaviour.
In addition, MIUI has custom apps for handling calenders, calculator functions and so on.
And if even that’s not enough, MIUI is easily themeable. You can download a large number of quality themes from the server, and decorate your phone as you like.
Two things, however, are to be noted. Widgets are out of the picture with MIUI, and there’s no app-drawer. All your apps are placed on other homescreens, which may not appeal to everyone. But you can always install a separate launcher, like I did with Nova, my favourite.
MIUI also packs in some nifty tweaks to help you, such as the custom music-lockscreen feature. Whenever you play music, the lockscreen displays the name of the track, and controls change to PLAY, PREVIOUS and NEXT. But the moment you touch the circular area between the buttons, controls change to UNLOCK, CAMERA, MESSAGE and PHONE.In a way, MIUI combines the best features of an Android and the iOS system. It takes slightly getting used to, but believe me, once you use it for a day or two, you won’t be willing to switch to another launcher.

 

4. Full Play Store compatibility

Unlike many Indian and Chinese makers, Xiaomi has taken pains to make the phone perfectly compatible with Google Play. Everything runs smoothly out of the box.

5. Useful pre-installed apps

There are companies, especially in India, which install tens of bloatware apps on their devices, which you can’t remove unless you root and void the warranty. And not everyone knows how to root their phones. As such, things like Vodaphone TV, Fruit Devil etc remain on your device. But Xiaomi doesn’t pack in a single bloatware app. It has some rather useful additions, such as the Kingsoft office, Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Play Games, Facebook and so on. The only third-party app that comes an an extra is the Flipkart marketplace, but it’s an absolute necessity if you’re here in India.

6. Feature-rich front camera

The front camera is only 2.0 MP, but it’s a grand piece of utility once you start using it. MIUI’s custom camera app automatically (although not with much precision) detects your age and gender when you look at the camera, and masterfully beautifies your selfie, making you appear brighter and better. Great for selfie-addicts.

7. Excellent music playback on headphones

If you buy a good quality headset, you can make use of Xiaomi’s audio enhancer to boost your audio experience. The default video player also has integrated enhancer. Audio not great, but it’s really good.
8. Powerful and long-lasting battery
Thanks to smart profiling and other software tweaks, the 3050 maH battery is more than capable of delivering you quality experience for over 1/2 days. With heavy usage such as high-end gaming, full-HD playback or total utilization of sensor data, it can stay alive for a whole day. With general usage, you can get battery life nearing 1.5 days.
There are many users complaining about battery drain issues, but if that’s the case, then there might be a rogue app eating your power. Thanks to auto-optimization under different profiles, you can get it fixed easily. Apps like Greenify save power further.
A word of caution though. By default, the brightness is set to automatic, which makes use of the light-sensor to get the lighting conditions around. With this, the device can maximize its brightness in broad daylight, thereby spending more battery. It’s better to set it to manual brightness.
The MIUI Explorer app virtually curates
your contents for you

9. Extra-sensitive screen

The device has a glove mode, which ensures that you can even use the touchscreen with your gloves on. Even normally, the screen is very sensitive to touch. My Rs. 300 Griffin stylus works like a charm on it, and I feel like using a Galaxy Note at times. Drawings and handwriting are no issues at all with the phone.

10. Wonderful GPS and Navigation

Thanks to powerful eCompass and GPS settings, the device can detect your position accurately without even using Network Triangulation process. Navigation is magical, simply. In fact yesterday I caught my metro with the help of this device, when it guided me through the rainsoaked streets of Kolkata and a downpour to the Central Metro Station, from Fairley Street in the west.

11. Good network reception and powerful sensors

Data reception is good, and bluetooth, WiFi and even USB data transfer are quite fast. You get version 4.0 bluetooth on it. Tethering is also smartly done.

12. Absolute reliability and regular OTA updates

Yes, like most geeky users I am extremely dependent on my smartphones. And my previous Micromax A110 was a pain, seriously, with its crappy GPS reception and occasional crashes. But thanks to Mi3, that’s no longer the case. It does everything I ask of it, and I am happy to have a reliable device.
The Updater app on the phone is easy to use, and Xiaomi regularly releases tweaks, bug-fixes and complete upgrades over the air. It feels great to have both the community support and the company support.

13. Redefined gaming experience

Gaming is a GO with Xiaomi Mi3. The only con is the
slightly odd placement of speakers

Yes, no matter what game you play, Mi3’s 2 GB RAM, 2.3 GHz quad-core CPU, Snapdragon 800 chipset and Adreno 330 GPU would be powerful enough to run it. I ran GLU’s graphic-intensive FrontLine Commando: D-Day, which usually lags in most other devices, but on Mi3 it’s absolutely stunning.

14. Official accessories

In addition to all these, a whole bunch of official accessories will soon make their way into India, over Flipkart. These range from flip-covers and ear-buds to even dirt-cheap fitness trackers that Xiaomi is going to officially launch today in China. And similar to the Xiaomi phones, the accessories will be cheap as well, we can say that. Yet, since they are official, there won’t be any compromise on quality.

Cons

1. Single SIM slot

This is seriously an issue. Most of us use 2 SIM cards, usually, but with Mi3 that’s not going to be the case. The SIM tray is also very fragile, so make sure you use caution while taking it out. Before ordering the device, I was half-hearted about it, simply because of this reason. If you have 2 SIM cards, you’ll have to sacrifice one to use this device as your primary choice.
Also, it doesn’t support micro-SIMs or nano-SIMs. The mini-SIM card (the ones that we get over the counter) are the only ones supported on the Mi3.

2. Not so good camera

Under low-light conditions, the camera performance takes a serious beating.
A great deal of noise, together with soft elements, ruins the shot

The camera is 13.0 MP, but still it just works in most situations. The daylight performance is good, with good saturation levels and noise reduction, but HDR performance is rather bad. The MIUI camera app is feature-rich, but that doesn’t save the hardware. It’s rather puzzling, since Mi3 has some really great amount of work done on the lens. Still, it’s no respite.

The camera gets especially bad in low-light scenes. There’s a lot of noise, and images are really soft when you don’t use the flash. While using the flash, colours are slightly washed away.
Solution: However, there are ways to make the camera better. Xiaomi is releasing updates, and one of them might fix the issue someday. In addition, thanks to the camera software, you can enable some advanced features normally found on high-end bridges. For most conditions, the camera is OKAY.

3. Average sound output

The sound output (without speakers) is average. The quality is good and there’s virtually no distortion, but it’s just not that loud. Still, it’s doable somehow. Mono speakers as opposed to dual stereos found in premium devices, also makes the scene worse. But then again, we can’t complain at this price tag.

4. Poor placement of speaker

The speaker is placed on the bottom edge of the phone. So, when you play games or watch movies without headphones, sound might get blocked if you don’t position your hands carefully.
Solution: Not an issue if you prefer to use headphones.

5. Non-expandable storage

The storage is around 16 GB, and out of that you get only around 13 GB for all your movies, games, apps, music and eBooks. There’s no microSD slot, which is disheartening.
Solution: USB On The Go (OTG) is supported natively. With a nice USB stick (preferrably with micro-USB plug) you can easily resolve this issue by storing your high-end movies on that.

6. Non-removable battery

Yes, the battery is non-removable. So there’s not much the local repair shop can do if it’s damaged.

7. Limited, disheartening marketing strategy

Xiaomi releases only around 20,000 devices each week, and you have to pre-register to get a chance to buy the device. The flash-sale process is just too rapid, and if you don’t manage to click BUY NOW button on time, you’ll lose the chance. There’s too many people trying to get their hands on the device. Heavy demand and poor supply has also caused the emergence of shameless black-marketers, who hoard the devices and then sell them at much higher prices. It’s seriously discouraged to buy from them.
Also, as opposed to at physical stores, you can only buy it online.
How to get your Xiaomi Mi3

Ok, so first and foremost of all, it’s a matter of luck, patience and attention that will make you the proud owner of a Mi3 device. Do remain optimistic, but don’t lose hope if you don’t get it, because the demand : supply ratio is clearly against an individual customer. Still, there are some tips and tricks which can help you register your device easily.

I personally got mine registered in a single try. Make sure you register for the sale beforehand. And as for me, I followed the tutorial offered by DealAajka.in which you can get HERE: http://dealaajka.in/xiaomi-mi3-buying-guide/

Also, since there’s a lot of black marketing going on concerning Mi3, the Flipkart deliveryman will ask for an ID before handing over your order. Make sure you have something ready. Anything ranging from your school’s ID card to a driver’s license etc will do.

Conclusion

Other than a few minor glitches such as a poor low-light experience with the camera or the single-SIM issue, the Mi3 is a solid, premium phone that we can get at a budget price. The phone is more than enough for daily usage, and it’s absolutely reliable, which we can’t say for most other budget phones that comprise on essential quality. If you can live with a single SIM and use the phone’s camera not as your primary means for taking photos, the Mi3 is definitely for you.

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