Goondu review: Xiaomi Mi3 still good value, but can do with more polish

March 16th, 2014 | by Alfred Siew
Goondu review: Xiaomi Mi3 still good value, but can do with more polish
Cellphones
5

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Like its first foray into Singapore through the budget Redmi phone, Xiaomi’s high-end Mi3 comes packed with features at a very reasonable price. The much-awaited S$419 phone, however, doesn’t seem to punch as hard as its smaller, cheaper sibling when it comes to being a giant killer.

The main reason for that is the removal of some standout features. The Mi3 comes with only one SIM card slot, not two, so you can’t use it as adroitly as a roaming phone like the Redmi. The battery is not removable, likely because of the slim design.

The lack of a microSD card slot also limits the storage to the onboard 16GB, which isn’t too bad, though it won’t hurt to be able to slot in your own memory cards, of course.

To be fair, the Mi3 is an excellent phone for its price. The quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip, running at 2.3GHz, is a speed demon. For geeks interested in performance, the Mi3 is often trotted out by Xiaomi as the top of the class when it comes to acing benchmarks like AnTuTu.

In real-world usage, too, it ensures there isn’t the slightest hint of lag when you switch between your Android apps, which can sometimes be detected in phones sporting slower processors.

Certainly, there’s no slowdown when using Xiaomi’s excellent MiUI interface, which has the look and feel of an optimised Android experience, along with a lot of added power features. For Android fans who want a powerful yet neat and fluid interface, the MiUI will be a key feature on the Mi3.

Xiaomi has done away with some of the ugly icons and bloated add-on software that the likes of Samsung annoyingly throw into their phones. What it does offer are useful features, for example, the ability to set certain apps to only use Wi-Fi and not your precious 3G or 4G data.

On the Mi3, Xiaomi’s extensive work on the MiUI impresses as it did on the Redmi. You can read our review of the Redmi for more on Xiaomi’s themes and other MiUI features. As before, the MiUI is one big reason to buy a Xiaomi phone like the Mi3.

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One other thing that impresses is its sharp 5-inch screen. Standard on high-end models now, the Full HD resolution here ensures that text and icons are crisply shown. Your eyes will thank you for the extra detail when you’re reading e-mails or documents attached to them.

The display, made by either LG or Sharp, also offers very good contrast, with deep blacks and vibrant colours, while not over-saturating things too much. It’s also very bright, making things easily readable even in sunny Singapore.

The 13-meg camera on the Mi3 is another able performer. Fast to focus and fire away, it comes with an f2.2 aperture that lets you capture images relatively well at low light and close up. With good natural lighting, it takes pictures with very good detail and contrast. It’s certainly not worse than most of its more expensive rivals out there.

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The same can be said of the Mi3’s audio. The down-firing speaker faces you at an angle if you place the phone flat on the table, so it’s better than silly designs with the speakers at the back. The output is also robust and meaty, so there’s none of the common brittleness and headache-inducing distortion that you get on many phones.

When it comes to vocals, say, from Kiki Ebsen or Melody Gardot, which I tried out on the Mi3, the phone performed well with a clarity that is missing on many rivals. Don’t expect a whole lot of detail from instruments though. They can sometimes sound distant and a little empty, as with most smartphones, to be fair.

Having said that, I have also heard better with the same lossless FLAC tracks I played on the Mi3. The HTC One comes to mind. That’s a more expensive phone, of course, but here’s where you start wondering if the Mi3 is the all-conquering giant killer that you’d hope it would be.

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Perhaps the one area that the Mi3 could clearly have improved on is the final polish that will elevate its status as a good phone for its price to a great phone at any price. While Xiaomi’s design around its magnesium alloy case is competent, the 145-gram phone doesn’t have the same sleekness seen on some of its more established rivals.

For example, the bezel is still thicker at the edge of the screen than, say, Samsung’s Galaxy S4. The one-piece glass panel in the front still looks like it’s bolted on to the main body, unlike, say, HTC’s unibody design that makes you think the entire phone is chiselled from one solid piece of metal.

For now, Xiaomi is only bringing a model with a silver-coloured back plate to Singapore. I’d think that the one with a black case would have made the Mi3 a sleeker, all-black package, but there’s no word on whether that is coming here.

The other thing missing on this phone is 4G. The service is starting to be rolled out in China, where Xiaomi is based, so it makes sense perhaps to not have 4G in yet. However, it’s a feature that is a must in any high-end phone in markets like Singapore.

In the end, the Mi3 remains an great phone for its price. It is priced on the low side of the mid-end market, yet it has many of the high-end features of top-end models, so it still offers excellent value. However, this segment of the market is also where the competition is especially keen, with lots of alternatives to choose from.

That makes the Mi3 a must to check out, but not one where we’d advise you to head to the Xiaomi website to order immediately.

For its asking price of S$419, it’s definitely a phone that should be on your radar, but it’s not the same slam dunk deal as its cheaper Redmi counterpart. Perhaps our expectations have been unfairly raised.

PHOTO
GALLERY

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