After several years of threatening Xiaomi has finally entered the UK with a series of good-value smartphones starting from £99 including the range-topping Mi Mix 3. But has “China’s Apple” delivered something new, or just another forgettable Chinese smartphone?
At first glance the £499 Mi Mix 3 looks fairly boring. The front has a giant display, just like the rest. The back appears shiny glass, just like the rest. It’s got polished metal sides, just like most. But pick up the phone and you realise it’s hiding more than one secret.
Closer inspection of the good-looking 6.39in full HD+ AMOLED screen shows there’s no notch or camera hole anywhere, and it only has a very slim bezel all round. Instead the screen slides down like something from yesteryear revealing a dual-camera ready to capture your selfies.
The screen slides with a solid and reassuring clunk, and can be accompanied by your choice of tone. By default the slider launches the selfie camera, but it can be configured to launch other apps.
Also, the back is not glass, but ceramic. Highly polished and a fingerprint magnet, but surprisingly grippy in the hand, which combined with the curved sides makes holding on to the Mi Mix 3 relatively easy considering its size.
But the Mi Mix 3 weighs 218g, which is a full 38g heavier than the Honor and heavier still than Apple’s 208g iPhone XS Max, which makes it more difficult to handle.
A dual rear camera pops out at the top left of the back, while a good and fast fingerprint scanner is located within easy reach of your index finger in the middle.
Screen: 6.39in FHD+ AMOLED (403ppi)
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
RAM: 6GB of RAM
Operating system: MIUI 10.2 based on Android 9 Pie
Camera: rear dual 12MP camera, front dual 24MP selfie-camera
Connectivity: dual sim, LTE, wifi, NFC, Bluetooth 5, wireless charging and GPS
Dimensions: 157.9 x 74.7 x 8.5mm
The Mi Mix 3 packs the same top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and 6GB of RAM as most of the competition from 2018 and so is just as capable. Despite the cheaper price you are buying a flagship phone.
That means the Mi Mix 3 will handle pretty much anything you want to do, be it graphically intensive gaming, photo or video processing. Nothing about it feels sluggish with apps loading promptly all round.
Battery life is also solid but not exceptional, lasting around 25 hours between charges with fairly heavy usage, which places it around five hours behind its direct competition. If you forget to charge it overnight, it’ll at least survive till your wake up alarm the next morning.
Charging via included cable charger hit 50% in just under 30 minutes and reached full in 90 minutes. A small circular wireless charging pad, into which the cabled charger plugs via USB-C, is included in the box, which is pretty rare for any phone, let alone a cut-price one.
Like many of the Chinese smartphone brands, Xiaomi customises Android for its phones with software called MIUI (Mi user interface).
The Mi Mix 3 runs the latest version, MIUI 10.2, which is based on Android 9 Pie, but looks like a cross between Android and iOS. There’s no app drawer, for instance, with all apps having to be placed on the homescreen like iOS, which inevitably leads to folders full of app icons you wish you could hide.
It also comes with a variety of apps pre-installed, such as AliExpress, Twitter, Facebook, Opera and the MIUI forum, but you can delete them.
Generally MIUI works fine, but there are some odd choices. For instance, you can’t swipe notifications away to the left, only to the right. The leftmost homescreen panel is the company’s own screen with shortcuts, your calendar, a “security” widget and a notepad, which I’d trade for Google’s discover feed any day of the week. There’s also a confusing mix of do not disturb (DND) and mute buttons, which can conflict. Turn off DND and it switches on the ringtones and sounds, even if you have the phone set to only vibrate, which means hitting the mute button again.
One good part of MIUI is its navigation gestures, which come a close second to Apple’s best-in-class system for iOS. Swipe up from the bottom to go home, up and hold for the recently used apps. Swipe in from either edge of the screen for back or swipe and hold to go immediately to the last used app.
The rear dual 12-megapixel camera has a similar set up to most with one acting as a regular wide-angle camera and the other a 2x telephoto camera.
Images shot in good light are great, with a good amount of detail and texture, relatively balanced colours and accurate focus, when you get a lock. I found it struggled to get a solid focus occasionally when using the 2x zoom, forcing me to repeatedly tap the screen and slowing down the shot as a result.
Zoom all the way up to 8x matches some of the best too, preserving a good amount of detail at maximum zoom.
The AI system identifies scenes and tweaks colours accordingly, which worked fairly well and wasn’t too aggressive with Instagram-like colour blowout that some similar systems create. Low-light performance was OK, but not up there with the best. Portrait mode was equally good, but not great.
The slider selfie camera is a bit of a mixed bag. It is capable of capturing a good amount of detail, but struggled to focus properly more than once. Beauty mode is there to smooth out skin imperfections if too much detail is a little unflattering. Low light performance was middling, introducing a lot of noise.
Overall, the Mi Mix 3 has a highly capable camera system that keeps up with most of last year’s top phones, but falls short of being the absolute best in a few areas.
You get a 10W wireless charging pad in the box which takes the phone’s cabled charger
There’s an AI button you can configure to launch Google Assistant, or a variety of other apps or functions
The Mi Mix 3 vibrates every time anything turns up in the notification shade, including the download manager for app updates and other bits, which can get annoying
A 5G version of the Mi Mix 3 is due to go on sale later this year
The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 costs £499 in either blue or black.
For comparison, the 128GB Honor View20 costs £500, the OnePlus 6T costs £499, the 128GB Huawei Mate 20 Pro costs £900, the Google Pixel 3 XL costs £869 with 64GB, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 costs £899 with 128GB and the 64GB iPhone XR costs £749.
Xiaomi’s entry into the UK is a very welcome one. It is capable of producing some really good smartphones at very competitive prices and the Mi Mix 3 is no exception.
At £499 the Mi Mix 3 isn’t just another boring Chinese smartphone. Instead you get something unique with the sliding mechanism solving the problem of where do you put the selfie camera. If you’re someone who doesn’t take many selfies, then this is the ideal solution.
The screen is good, performance is excellent, battery life is solid and camera performance is good too. Plus you get a wireless charger in the box. However, Xiaomi’s MIUI software isn’t up to the competition from Google, OnePlus or Samsung, even if it does have very good gesture navigation.
The Mi Mix 3 is also pretty heavy, even for its size, which makes handling it more difficult compared to lighter devices such as Honor’s View20.
If you want something a bit different the Mi Mix 3 is a great option, and an excellent opening gambit in the UK from Xiaomi.
Pros: notchless all-screen design, good screen, slide-out camera, wireless charging and pad in the box, top performance, solid battery life, good camera, excellent value, great gesture navigation
Cons: MIUI software isn’t as good as the competition, heavy, no water resistance, no headphone socket
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