Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Xiaomi Mi3 16GB Snapdragon 800 hands-on review

 
During the past days we were able to test the current flagship phone from Xiaomi, the Mi3. If the device was able to convince us and if it is worth the money you will get to know while reading this review. Have fun!
The Xiaomi Mi3 is available for quite some time now in China, but only the TD-SCDMA version with a Nvidia processor. User of a WCDMA network and international customers had to wait a bit longer for the WCDMA version with Snapdragon 800 processor to be released. Now the phone is available for quite a while already, but mostly out of stock because of the high demand and low production count we are used to from Xiaomi phones. But thanks to our German sponsor NoZoll.de we were able to get one of the devices into our hands and did an in depth test of the device. We received the 16GB version in silver.

UNBOXING

P1030829NoZoll.de did deliver the phone to us in a white carton box with their logo on it. The packaging has been done very well and with attention to security of the goods. The phone itself is packed in another carton box with the Mi logo on it. On the rear of this box there is a Chinese sticker with lots of information regarding the device and the manufacturer. Xiaomi decided to use a box made of recycled paper for the Xiaomi Mi3, which is looking not bad at all and creates a positive "green" impression.
It is not that easy to get into the inner side of the box, as the gaps are very very thin. But it helps to put a fingernail into the gap and then start to pull a bit. It will then slowly slide out. After you removed the upper part of the box you will directly look at the Xiaomi Mi3. You can pull it up with a small flap and then remove it. Below it there is a small envelope made from the same material as the box. Inside there is a SIM removal tool as well as a warranty card and the user manual – both in Chinese. The user manual has a lot of pictures, so you should understand it even if you can't speak Chinese.
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After you removed the inner part of the box, you will notice that the inner part has two small departments on each side which contain the Micro USB cable with a Mi Logo on it as well as a power supply which has a German plug in our case. What we did miss was an OTG cable as well as a pair of headphones. But this is not the end of the world. ;)

DESIGN

P1030831
The design of the Xiaomi Mi3 did convince us and it is a real eye catcher. The front of the Xiaomi Mi3 is completely black and protected by Gorilla Glass 3. On top of the front we find a Mi Logo, a proximity sensor as well as a light sensor, the phone speaker, as well as the front camera and a status LED. Below is the nice 5-inch IPS OGS screen of the Xiaomi Mi3. And again below are three soft buttons for menu, home and back which are illuminated and not showing any signs of light bleeding.
When you look at the Xiaomi Mi3 from the sides, you will notice that the phone is very thin – 8.2mm to be exact. The sides are slightly rounded, which will ensure that the phone feels great in your hands. The rear and the sides of the phone are one part by the way, so there are no gaps. It is made of a high quality polycarbonate that feels like it is metal at first. Inside the phone is an aluminum frame that ensures a great stability. So what is on the sides? When looking at the phone from the top, we do not find anything on the left side. On the lower side we find a Micro USB port along with a large opening for the internal speaker. The speaker is placed conveniently when you lie the phone on the ground and listen to music, but not so conveniently when you hold it in your hands. If you cover the hole you will not hear anything anymore.
On the right side we find the on / off switch as well as the volume rocker. We did not like the placement of the on / off switch on this side, as you can turn off the phone by accident when you use it. We would've preferred the on / off switch to be on the upper side, or they could have least made it harder to press. However you get used to that pretty quick, so it should not be a problem in the long term. On the upper side we find the SIM tray which is made for a SIM card with normal size – pretty unusual nowadays. So if you only have a Micro SIM card you should make sure to get an adaptor along with the phone. There is also another microphone or some sort of sensor on the top (not sure about that). We also find a 3.5mm headphone jack up there.
P1030835
The rear of the Xiaomi Mi3 is quite empty, but exactly this is what makes it look kinda "sexy" as well. On the upper left corner we find the rear camera, two LEDs for the flash and a microphone. On the lower half we find another Mi logo that is made of metal and some device and manufacturer specific printings along with a warning to to put the phone into the trash.

SCREEN

P1030843
 
The Xiaomi Mi3 is equipped with a 5-inch screen that has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. It is an IPS OGS panel which is, as mentioned before, protected with Gorilla Glass 3 against scratches and the not so beloved spiderman app. During the test the screen convinced us through total perfection. It is the most beautiful screen we have seen so far in a smartphone. It is showing images with an amazing amount of details, it has a perfect contrast, colors are really vivid and natural looking and you can even control the color tones and the saturation of it within the settings. Also worth mentioning is how great black does look with the screen. It is also impossible to see any pixels, even if you come very close to the screen. Not even a camera can really recognize the pixels.
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The brightness of the screen is perfect as well. At maximum settings it is in no way too bright. Another feature worth mentioning is the great automatic brightness control. It is always choosing the perfect brightness, and it is adjusting the brightness in a ways so that you are almost not noticing the change. This is often a problem with Chinese phones: They are controlling the brightness too fast and too often, so it starts to get annoying. This is not the case here. No matter if you are inside or outside, it is always regulating the brightness perfectly.
Another thing that we noticed is the great viewing angle stability. Even if you are directly looking at the screen from the side of the phone, you will still be able to see everything completely unchanged. The brightness is only reducing by a minor percentage, far better than any other phones screen we tested so far.
The touchscreen of the Xiaomi Mi3 was working very well in our test. Fingers are gliding easily on the glass and it is very sensitive. A great feature: When outside with the phone in the cold and wearing gloves, you can enable the glove mode in the settings. Thus, you can use the screen even with gloves on, which is very nice. However you should enable this only when needed to avoid malfunction.

HARDWARE PERFORMANCE

The Xiaomi Mi3 is known to be the most powerful 5-inch phone in the world. Not only because of the powerful Snapdragon 800 processor but because of the well optimized MIUI V5 as well. Because of this we had quite some expectations that needed to be satisfied. And we can tell you in advance: We were not disappointed! Our first test was the Antutu benchmark. Here the Xiaomi Mi3 reached an impressive score of 35,596 points. When looking at the comparison tablet of the benchmark you will find the Xiaomi Mi3 to be on the top of the list, right in front of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The next benchmark was 3D Mark. Here the Xiaomi Mi3 did surprise us! We did already expect "Maxed Out" for the 720p benchmark, but not for the 1080p benchmark. But exactly this was the case. Maxed Out for both! The Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark was finished with a score of 19,273 points.
Our last benchmark was the GFX Bench app. This is a very demanding graphics benchmark with tests that need high end hardware to run smoothly. Here the Xiaomi Mi3 was able to convince as well. With a result of 1,800 points the phone was not on top of the list, but it definitely plays on top. So one thing is for sure: The Xiaomi Mi3 does not need to hide behind the flagship phones of other well known brands outside of China. But do those great results really show the performance in real life?
The answer to this question is a clear yes! The whole operating system is running very smooth. During our test we did not notice any lags. The performance of the phone is especially noticeable while surfing the Internet. Big websites with lots of content are scrolling smoothly, zooming is working smooth as well. Even complex JavaScript animations such as slideshows are working smooth, almost like on a PC. Even when having several big websites opened in several tabs the phone is not getting slow and when switching tabs the sites do not re-load.
When playing demanding games you will again notice how powerful the Xiaomi Mi3 is. Demanding games such as Real Racing 3, Dead Trigger 2 and Asphalt 8 are running perfectly smooth. Unfortunately we had some issues with Asphalt 8 during our test. The games crashed after a few seconds or sometimes minutes of playing. This seems to be some software bug either within the game or the ROM, but we believe that will be fixed soon. However, playing games is real fun with great graphics on the great screen.

RECEPTION QUALITY AND SOUND

In the category reception quality the Xiaomi Mi3 unfortunately disappointed us a bit. At our place all phones have quite a hard time, as the network signal is very low here. Still most phones manage to achieve quite good results. The Xiaomi Mi3 however did only show two bars within the house and 3G reception was completely impossible most of the time. However when going outside there are no problems at all. So all in all the reception quality is below average, but not an issue outside the house. Only inside the house you should use your Wi-Fi network to browse the Internet. Phone calls are no problem.
The Wi-Fi reception quality is good. We had good Wi-Fi reception in the whole building, except some edges that were very far from the router with lots of walls in between. When going outside the building the phone still had a signal but it started to get slow. A few meters away from the building the signal finally broke off. What we did notice however is, that the Wi-Fi signal indicator is not working properly. Sometimes it is showing full signal strength, even if there is almost no signal at all. This is something Xiaomi has to fix within the next updates. Bluetooth did work very well in our test. The connection to our Bluetooth speaker broker off after around 15 meters. This is quite a good performance. NFC was working flawlessly as well.
As with most phones that are equipped with a Qualcomm processor, the Xiaomi Mi3 has an excellent GPS reception quality. After activating the GPS and going outside the phone found a GPS signal almost instantly. It showed 20 satellites in-view, a fix for 12 satellites after only a few seconds and an accuracy of 4 meters. Inside the house right in front of a window the phone had still 16 satellites in-view, a fix for 10 satellites and an accuracy of 6 meters. Even in the middle of the house the phone still found satellites, but the accuracy went down to 40 meters.
During our test call our interlocutor was able to understand us clearly, however in the opposite direction the interlocutor sounded a bit "muffled". But this could be caused by the low 2G signal. However the call was working flawlessly and the connection was established very fast. The audio quality of the internal speaker is great as well. It is very loud with no distortion at maximum volume. Music does sound very clear, but it is lacking bass.

CAMERA

The camera of the Xiaomi Mi3 did disappoint us a bit unfortunately. In this price class we did expect something better. Lets start with the positive things about it first. The camera is creating very good images and full HD videos when the lighting conditions are good. The pictures show great colors, a great depth sharpness and lots of details. In addition to that the camera has some useful features such as manual focus. But unfortunately it starts to produce almost unacceptable pictures inside buildings or under bad lighting conditions. Pictures do not get sharp anymore and the show a lot of noise. The internal flash is powerful, but still not powerful enough to get acceptable pictures. Another issue is that the auto focus is not working with the LED flash. You need to adjust the focus manually to create pictures with at least a bit of sharpness. The front camera did surprise us however. Even though it only has 2 mega pixels it creates good images, so it is suitable for selfies.

BATTERY LIFE

In advance there wer quite some negative voices regarding the battery life of the Xiaomi Mi3. Yes, 3,050mAh do not sound like a lot when combined with such a powerful processor, but Xiaomi somehow managed to do a lot of optimization here. The result is a battery life that is amazing! On the first day we did a hard test with the Xiaomi Mi3. After charging it at 100% we did 10 runs of Antutu, 3 runs of the 3D Mark 1080p benchmark, another 3 runs of the GFX Bench benchmark, lots of reception quality test, YouTube videos, internet browsing, pictures and gaming. All that was done for around 7 hours and the battery still had 47% left. Under average usage the Xiaomi Mi3 should manage to go up to 3 days, maybe even longer for some of you, without being re-charged.
The Battery HD benchmark did show us the following results:
  • Standby time: 122 hours 30 minutes
  • Music: 10 hours 48 minutes
  • Video: 9 hours 48 minutes
  • Internet (Wi-Fi): 9 hours 48 minutes
  • Internet (3G): 4 hours
  • Talk time (2G): 10 hours 26 minutes
  • Talk time (3G): 6 hours 1 minute
  • 2D games: 4 hours 49 minutes
  • 3D games: 3 hours 36 minutes
  • Reading: 10 hours 10 minutes

FINAL CONCLUSION

The Xiaomi Mi3 is definitely a beautiful smartphone with a lot of power. The design is beautiful and the phone is very tough, the performance is amazing as well as the battery life and together with the great MIUI V5 the Xiaomi Mi3 is leaving almost no wishes unsatisfied. The Xiaomi Mi3 is a great phone you will have a lot of fun with.
Only if you need a perfect camera that has nearly the quality of a modern compact camera, you should look at the Meizu MX3 or the Oppo N1 for example. All in all we can recommend you to buy the Xiaomi Mi3. The 16GB version of the phone is available for around $440 in China with international resellers. However we recommend you to buy the phone from a local shop, as it is worth the money. If you live in Europe we recommend you to buy the phone from NoZoll.de where it is available for 420€ together with a 2 year warranty and a 14 days return guarantee. In addition to that you will not pay customs fees, as it will be shipped from Germany. If you wait two or three months the phone might get even cheaper, because of the Mi3S being available and the demand going down a bit.

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