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The Mi3 phenomenon - Xiaomi's value for money android smartphone reviewed in depth

Sunday, August 3, 2014

/ by Srikanth Eswaran
I had sometime in the afternoon today and my son wanted to go on a drive with me. Since almost a couple of weeks I've been also trying to secure some time to take a quick look at the Xiaomi Mi3, which is the current rage on Flipkart (for the right reasons) and Facebook (for the wrong reasons). Thanks to [**Subra**](https://www.facebook.com/maya4u) - a close friend of mine, I got an opportunity to play with the phone for a few moments which was highly essential for me to write about the experience. Writing about a phone through perception is one thing, and writing about it after handling it is an entirely different thing.



Having set the context, you can easily get the specs of this android phone anywhere on the net. The notable points about it are

- The price - about 14000
- The configuration
- Snapdragon 800 CPU with Adreno 330 GPU
- 2 GIG RAM
- 5" full HD screen, 441 ppi pixel density
- 13 megapixel rear cam with 2.2 and dual LED flash, 2 MP junk front cam
- Wifi direct, dual band wifi (2 & 5 ghz) and WiFi display
- Single normal sim, GSM (non LTE)
- 3000+ mAh battery
- 16GB flash memory for basic version, no extra memory card slot
- Full HD recording
- Multiple sensors
- NFC and Bluetooth 4.0

First off, this is probably the most value for the money you pay. No other phone may currently give you this bang for this buck. Its got a good processor, sufficient RAM, good rear camera, great battery and other features support as well.

Since I got time to play with only few features, those are the only ones I will talk about here. Most people have always wanted to know whether they can go ahead and buy this phone or not. We have already seen Gionee and their sales pitch and now more Chinese manufacturers are stepping into the fray in India, with Xiaomi being the latest. The market is still expecting OnePlusOne, who is boasting of 4K recording and other such features and it is to be seen what impact with that phone cause in the market. India is not alien to chinese products and the Xiaomi is no exception. People are lapping up this phone so fast that the whole sale on Flipkart was over in a flat 5 seconds. Now this seems more like a PR pitch to me, but whatever said and done, this phone sold out pretty fast, somewhat like Moto G or E. Or even Asus Zenphone.



The phone itself is sleek at about 8mm, and its made of magnesium alloy. Its highly slippery and its highly recommended that you install a case which has a better grip on this phone to avoid breaking it. Its large in size thanks to the five inch display and Xiaomi too seem to have not understood how to use their bezel properly. There is too much of wastage of space on the screen which could have saved a few more millimetres. The screen is sharp and visible in any kind of light thanks to the 441 ppi density. The screen is in the same league of phones of higher cost and brand value thanks to this kind of density. This only goes to show that many manufacturers now have access to these kinds of display technologies and possibilities. I really feel Blackberry could have put in a 13MP rear camera along with a 441 ppi screen on the Z3. They shamelessly decided not to.

The screen is not such a fingerprint magnet after all and that's a good thing for this phone. I did see some reports suggesting that this phone does catch and retain fingerprints, but I didn't find it really that way. I did not get time enough to fiddle around with the on screen keyboard but I am assuming that it would provide the usual path input typing (swype), and it would look as good as any other android phone.

I do not want to talk much about the MiUi which is the proprietary version of user interface from Xiaomi, in this blog post but I will nevertheless cover some aspects of it. The UI is definitely progressive and similar to other android UI but a tad more smoother in terms of look and feel. The icons and folders are similar to any other phone but highly customisable. The expectation was that this phone could handle UI transitions pretty well, but it seems to show a tad bit of struggle at times to throw up a screen or two. I did not face problems seeing the screen though at any point of time. The customisability was not substantial enough in my opinion though there maybe umpteen choices available from Xiaomi.

In order to test the GPU I had to do some intense gaming which I could not due to lack of time with the phone. I am sure that with the additional GPU rendering graphics should be a cakewalk for this phone though I expect game loading times to be higher initially. I also found normal apps to load up a bit slowly but thats not considerably slower than any other similar snapdragon 800 phone. The application load times is something that android has not actively worked upon even after so many releases. Irrespective of the fact that people might attribute this to loaded flash disk and all that, apple does a better job with the screen and app load times in my opinion.



Ok, enough said about the screen and icons. Next up camera. I found that the camera started up pretty fast unlike my earlier [**Lenovo K900**](http://www.chowchowbath.com/2014/02/22/the-lenovo-k-900-in-depth-review/), Nexus 4, or even the current LG G2. So full marks here. It is yet to be seen whether the load speeds are still that high when it comes to having a fully loaded flash drive with lots of content and pictures mainly. Again I did not have much time to test different camera modes and options, but I assume that the camera would not come into the greatest of great category like Nokia, but would be pretty similar to the crop of other phones out there in the market. Having said this, I still feel the implementation and optimisation of Android on Moto G is by far the best and fastest for the price point in question.

WiFi dual band, direct are some good options considering that there are lots of televisions supporting these at the moment in India. Less wires, less fuss, more focus on movie playing without these gimmicks. Thats how I would summarise this feature.

With about a 3000 mAH battery, the natural expectation is that the phone will last for intense tasks beyond its normal hours unlike the other set of phones with 2000 mAh like the Gionee who try some gimmicks of constant update interval for apps and go nowhere with actual battery life. Given below are some readings derived earlier on for this phone, see if it impresses you.

Batter charger removed at 8:30am

- 8:30am to 1pm 3G
- 1pm to 11:30pm : Wifi
- 11:30pm to 12:45am (next day) : 3g - battery left is 52%
- 6:45am to 7:45am - phone calls - battery left is 23%
- at 12:30pm phone is at 0% and over and out

started to charge at 2:45pm upto 4:30 = 80%

- multiple games and youtube videos
- by 9pm the batter was at 39%

As for the 16GB flash, the effective usable space was just 11GB as per my friends report, but he has got a usb OTG disk which plugs just fine and he is able to use that on the phone. Still not an excuse for flimsy flash storage considering prices of flash have gone down in recent years. There is a fair bit of heating while charging on this phone. Game play also would likely heat up the phone as is the case with thin form factor aluminium body phones.



I did not get a chance to check the NFC or bluetooth, and video recording so I am unable to comment on that in this post. The rear of the phone is outstanding fit and finish equivalent almost to the HTC one of yesteryear. The phone itself is very thin like the Lenovo K900 which shows engineering prowess.



Finally to end this post there was a huge concern on the phone apparently locking to some Chinese server and sending data via the server to elsewhere. This one point alone for me is a deal breaker to NOT buy this phone. Even though configurations maybe lesser, I still trust Blackberry for such concerns compared to Xiaomi. The VP of Xiaomi has lately [**clarified**](http://gadgets.ndtv.com/mobiles/news/xiaomi-says-its-smartphones-do-not-secretly-upload-photos-text-messages-568279) that the phone latches onto the server in question to download greeting messages and other such MiUi specific information and nothing else.



Meanwhile Xiaomi also stated that the Flipkart sale was closed in a [**flat 5 seconds**](http://zeenews.india.com/business/news/xiaomi-mi3-sold-out-in-5-seconds-flipkart_105005.html) during launch which sounds more like a PR gimmick to me. However what it does not discount is the fact that this phone has a huge fan base (almost 100,000 registrations were done) and many people have given a thumbs up for the value it offers for the price. While in China the company has already gone into launch mode for the new Mi4, the Mi3 sales in India have set the charts on fire. It remains to be seen what OnePlusOne does to market its phone next. Whichever way you look at it there is one company which is slowly hogging the limelight with all these new phone launches - FLIPKART ! :-)



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