Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Xiaomi Mi3 Smartphone Review

Xiaomi has launched the Mi3 in Malaysia on May 19, 2014 and the first 4000 units of Mi3 was released for sale on May 20, 2014. It took 17 minutes for all 4000 to be "booked". 

The demand for the phone was overwhelming and by the time you read this review, another 6000 units of Mi3 is ready grabbed up during the second batch (May 27 May 28, 2014 12noon onwards, are you one of them in a few hours' time?). 

A few service provider will be offering the phone bundle with call plans on May 30th as well. So, if you are waiting to get this, or considering it, this is my almost non-technical review.
Why Mi?
1. Processing Power vs. Pricing 
The biggest attraction of Xiaomi Mi3 is none other than the price. RM889 for a smartphone with specification rivalling  popular iPhone and Samsung model twice the Mi3 price is hard to beat. I will not even start to compare the pricing of the phones as the (iPhone) 5s and (Samsung) S5 would require you to sign up and commit to mobile plans before buying it at a "discount". Jumping straight to what matters more, which is the hardware of the phones - as this is what you are paying for after the phone's "brand".
Mi3 vs S5 vs 5s. Data compiled from PhoneArena
Some may say that to compare the 5s against the two android phones is not fair, which i partially agree. We all know that the iOS is optimised for it's function and limited by the flexibility for customisation (unless you Jailbreak the iPhone). That given, now compare the specification of the S5 against the Mi3. Granted the clear winner is S5 with additional 140Mhz of processing power - but is that even justifiable to pay 2-times the price differences (S5 estimated to cost RM2K on lelong.com.my). 5s is selling at no less than RM2.2K and needed a 12-months contract at least (with minimal commitment of RM50 from Maxis).
2. Display And Camera - The Eyes Matter
A smart phone with crappy display and inability to maximise on it's camera capability will lose out as many users now prefer to carry a dual-device. There is a saying that the camera at hand is worth 10 kept at home holds true. While I do always have a full (proper) camera with me, having one with the phone actually increases the chance of me to use them to capture images in everyday's life. First, if we just take a look at the display capabilities of the Mi3, S5 and 5s, the clear winner is of course the S5 Super Amoled 5.1 inches display.
Data compiled from PhoneArena
Not only it has the largest display among all three phones, it has the Gorilla Glass as well for enhanced glass/resistance to scratch protection. However, it will still scratch and it is really dependent on how the user treats their devices. The 5s Retina display lost out badly in both size and pixel density. Again, one may argue that there is a limit to human eye (saturation to pixel density) capability to decode higher pixel density beyond the 5s; but so is the use of Super Amoled in devices, as one may argue the "organic" compound may die off, leaving dead pixel. Bearing this in mind, we need to ask what is our threshold to this. The Mi3 triumphs the other two phones with higher pixel density purely due to a full HD (1080) display on a 5-inch display. 
Then, the camera resolution (in megapixel or MP) comes in. S5 has a whopping 16MP and Mi3 a respectable 13MP. The video capability of the 5s has selectable mode between 1080p 30frame per second (fps) or a 720p 120fps. For normal viewing purposes, 720p 30fps is already sufficient (and easier file size management) and having a 120fps is a big bonus. Feature wise, the cameras are controlled mostly by the firmware and I can verify that the Mi3 can do "burst" mode too with the latest firmware (MIUI V5). This is a direct comparison to the 5s capability. Of course, winning hands down is the huge 4K resolution of the S5. Remember, you are paying double the price for these features - and perhaps you can gain back some money using the S5 to produce a short documentary that can generate income to justify it too. 
3. Battery Life
The Mi3 has the largest battery capacity when compared to the other two phones. Being an iPhone4 user for years, I know just how fast the phone drains battery and I find myself having to live with a powerbank if i am away from power sources. 
Twice the 5s at 1/2 the price. Comparison from PhoneArena
At the time of comparison, there is no data available from PhoneArena. A check at the (claimed) battery life at Xiaomi's website says that the Talktime is at 25hours (on 2G or Edge), with 21hours of 3G Internet use, 500hours of standby time (with everything except basic phone function switched off, obviously). The stats does not lie, as after 1 day of monitoring and usage approximately 18hours, I still have 28% of battery life in my Mi3 (50% on wifi). This represent pretty good gauge and for once in 5 years, I do not need to have my phone hooked up to a power source even at Standby.  Mi3 battery life rocks. 
I must admit I am no technical writer or reviewer when it comes to smart-devices as I am limited with what I have. Knowing the excitement of owning a new device, I took some time to take photos of the unboxing as I receive the unit from my friend that sold it to me without scalping the price.
What came in the post
My friend (Thank you Teng!) got the unit bundled with the screen protector and the flip-casing at additional RM36, which bumped up the total ownership price to RM925. 
Case protector (left) and Matte Screen protector
The unit has been "Malaysian" packed with British plug aka 3-pin plug. The USB charger churns out the expected 2.1A for charging.
Packing is fully recyclable
Would be nice if it comes with the US, EU and Aussie options too - for travelling
The main unit came shrink-wrapped. I did not take the photo of how the wrapped looked like as in my excitement, I tore it open.
 And here you are....the Mi3
The China market has the screen protector in Chinese
 Here, closer look
Only 3-buttons on the right side - volume up/down and power
The Micro USB cable is tucked at the top of the box, concealed in a wrapped up plastic. 
Jealous much?
 Inside the box also hold the SIM-tray pin and the unit comes ready for use with a Mini-Sim. As the iPhone4  (that i own) uses the Micro-Sim, Mi3 came with the tray to hold it as well. So, I have the option of using a Mini-SIM at countries that do not have a pre-paid micro-SIM card. 
The pin and manual
 This is a win as I don't need to look for a SIM cutter, or buy a SIM-adapter (and risk part of it jamming up the tray, rendering your phone needing expensive service to remove the tray).
The flip casing is very elegant with just the earpiece open. So you don't need to look silly answering your phone with the casing open and covering the side of your face. I admit it will get some use to as I am accustomed to answering the phone as it is without flip casing.
Business ready
The Flip-casing installation is via a back sticker that secure the phone at the back, along the camera part of things. This then allow it to be used as a standee -  as the 5inch screen can be used to watch videos too.
Shiny part is the adhesive back. Instructions in Chinese though
Usage Review
Disclaimer : I will not be comparing the phone to any of those Antutu or Hantu benchmarking as I am using this as a phone and way to stay connected on the Social Media, not as some gadgets to be obsessed about speed (and with no apps inside to put load on the benchmark rating).

I prep the phone for 1-night, signing into Google apps that came with the "Malaysian" version of Mi3. This is because the Chinese version comes with it's own "playstore" which may have content not applicable to be used for me, personally. I was apprehensive as review online mostly point to method on "installing Google Play" and the other Google Apps. I was happy that the transition was very easy. All I did was sign in with my Google account and everything (on my other Android devices - the Samsung Tab 10.1 first generation) was automatically downloaded and installed.
Looked/remind me of my scientific calculator
I am very much transitioned to Google as the place to store my contacts and such. So, re-adding my Google account into the phone was the second thing I did. Bear in mind I setup the phone without inserting my SIM-card, as I decided to let the unit be ready instead of having the process interrupted by normal phone usage until it is ready.
Original Mi flip cover
The MIUI or Mi-User Interface Version 5 (V5) is the latest UI that runs with the Android 4.3 or Jellybean. It enhances the OS and add on a lot of customisable functions that make setting up the phone to what I want a joy. The transition from iOS to Android was almost seamless for me. Perhaps I am a bit luckier as I may be slightly more technically (gadget) inclined compared to some others.
What greeted me first was the multi-direction (4-direction) touch on the screen that allows me to unlock, activate the message (sms), Turn the camera ON or use the phone to call (dial pad). This is like a shortcut key, instead of the normal "swipe to right" to unlock. 
Do bear in mind that if you activate the PIN or Password function to secure the phone (and also the expected pattern unlock), it comes in after you choose what to do at the first "locked" screen.
down to unlock
right to SMS
Top for camera
Left to Call
Once you gain access to the homepage, everything is pretty easy to learn. There was almost no learning curve as a colleague commented if I was still using my iPhone...and did it "grow larger" over the weekend. 
Essential Apps
 Being an Android phone, the biggest differences is the very busy status bar that may have many icons. The MIUI V5 allows for full customisation to remove just about everything short of the signal strength and battery life. But why go there when the whole purpose is to be connected?
The "tristupe" is actually the service provider name replaced - and done without any special apps
I've been using the phone since May 25th as a Phone (as in with SIM inserted) and has been very happy and impressed with the speed and responsiveness. There are however instances where I find the touchscreen to be too sensitive that i managed to activate things/apps without touching it, but by merely hovering my fingertips over the top of screen. I guess I need to "recalibrate" my finger to function with this phone.
Otherwise, user input has been great. I've chosen to use Google Keyboard (and spell check) instead of Swifty-input. I have reduced the instances of typos because I am made more aware of my mistakes and clicking/tapping the correct spelling is easier than pressing the back button or placing your fingertips to the spot you want to correct (which was what happened with my iPhone4). Rejoice, as I may now appear to be more educated with lesser typo. 
By the way, I did not install any screen protector, or rather, I failed to installed it to my satisfaction due to my own fault. I have ordered a tempered glass screen protector instead as a precaution against scratches. This is because the Mi3 doesn't come with any Gorilla glass. Though I do take care of my devices well, but you never know that one-in-a-million time disaster strikes - like a coin lodged between the flip holder and the phone glass surface.
Get this phone because :
- you need to replace and upgrade
- you want better value for your money
- you don't need to pay more than what Xiaomi.com/my is selling (RM889)

Don't get it because:
- everyone want one to see what is the hype
- you already own some awesome powerful phone and just want to see what the hype is about. Don't, as you may just disappoint yourself with your more expensive investment

Could be better:
- if the phone has IP67 rating or dust and water-resistance feature like the S5 and the Sony Xperia Z-series. I was actually waiting to get the Z1 Compact once the Z2 Compact is launched to capitalise on reduced pricing...then this RM889 offer rolled in. I could get a tough casing for about RM60 for Mi3 and it will defeat the whole purpose of having a slim-light phone altogether (like what I did to my iPhone4 having an Otterbox casing)
- My wife is using a Lenovo Vibe Z, which was purchased from my friend Kam. This phone (5.5inches and share the same specs as the Mi3) was the benchmark and at an affordable RM1599 price tag (though I bought at a cheaper price from him, used). Some of the Lenovo Vibe Z features such as auto-lock when used with a magnetic-enable flip will make it sweeter. 
- LTE and Expandable storage. While the Mi3 has 4G or HSPA+, having LTE would be sweeter. I blame the Lenovo Vibe Z on LTE for this. The speed is like comparing the 3G as dial up modem against Broadband as LTE. Expandable storage is a plus if any. The Mi3 has OTG or On-The-Go function, which meant I only need a Micro-USB OTG cable to connect any USB or HDD for expanded capabilities or file transfer/storage.

Note: I managed to obtain this phone through my friend that bought it during the initial 4000 unit sales at the same price he bought. Thank you for being more than a brother Arthur Teng!


  1. Lenovo vibe Z has better megapixel for front facing camera. I think 5 or 8, don't remember exactly. Good for ladies who like taking selfie.

    1. 5mp for awesome selfie...I would had Lenovo Vibe Z-ed if i had the extra laying around.

  2. Excellent review bro! Next... video review :)

    1. Video review? My Adixxion XA2 in service centre. Maybe I will use another camera to film it. Show how fast it is?

  3. I think lenovo UI is much better than Sony. If only Lenovo have waterproofed phone and smaller in size like Z1 compact, i would have stick to Lenovo.

    1. Correct! I was actually waiting for Z2 Compact to be out so i can get the Z1 Compact at a reduced pricing...

      The Vibe Z 5.5 inch screen is awesome.