Xiaomi Mi 3 review: China's Xiaomi delivers a metallic smartphone for very little cash

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MSRP: $465.00

Xiaomi Mi 3 (black - 16GB)

(Part #: Mi3)
3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars 1 user review

The Good Xiaomi's flagship phone has a beautiful aluminum-magnesium chassis, solid build quality, powerful performance, and a great UI for a relatively low price.

The Bad The smartphone lacks LTE connectivity, and a microSD card slot means you'll only ever have 16GB of onboard storage.

The Bottom Line Xiaomi's Mi 3 is a showcase of how Chinese phonemakers can create quality hardware without breaking the bank. If you don't need 4G LTE, and you can get hold of it, this is one of the best smartphones you can buy in its price range.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0

Xiaomi isn't quite a household name outside of China yet, but that's just for what Hugo Barra, former Googler and now Xiaomi's global VP, is aiming. And if the Xiaomi Mi 3 is any indication of the price and build quality of the company's future phones, Xiaomi's competitors should start paying attention.

Announced last year, the Mi 3 is quite the looker -- it comes with an aluminum-magnesium chassis and has a beautiful face with a 5-inch full-HD display covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 3. It's hard to deny the value that this phone represents -- it costs just $270 (£160, AU$290) off-contract -- and once you get your hands on one, you'll be impressed with the build quality and feel.

Currently it's widely available in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore only, but the 3G phone will work globally if you can import one. Online retailers in the UK do stock the phone, but at a premium -- you'll be lucky to find it for less than £220. In the United States, expect to pay at least $375 from online retailers.

Without 4G LTE support, however, the Mi 3 isn't meant to go head-to-head with this year's flagship smartphones from Chinese brands such as OnePlus or Oppo -- instead it is a great alternative if you only need 3G and don't want to renew your contract or pay through the roof for a powerful new phone. Bear in mind, though, the Mi 3 is almost a year old, and a new, refreshed model is likely around the corner.

Design

Since the first Mi Phone released three years ago, Xiaomi has gained a reputation for making good-quality Android devices, and the Mi 3 is no exception. I'm impressed with how great it looks and its build quality. The phone really feels like the 5-inch Android phone Apple would make -- if Apple made 5-inch Android phones.

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Aloysius Low/CNET

Compared with other devices from China that tend to have plastic builds, the Xiaomi Mi 3 stands out. It looks like an expensive phone -- and it feels like one. The designers paid attention to the details of the construction, which you can see easily from the machined speaker holes to the seamless joining of the plastic but metallic-looking body and glass front.

There has been much talk of how Xiaomi is trying to copy Apple's approach to industrial design, but the result speaks for itself. I would argue the Mi 3 also rather resembles something from Nokia at its best.

Weighing just 145g (5.2 ounces), you'd expect the phone to be heavier given its plastic body. The Mi 3 is light in your hand, however, and comfortable to grip.

Located at the bottom are the aforementioned speaker holes, as well as a Micro-USB port. On the right side, you'll find the conveniently placed power button, with the volume rockers a little higher up. At the top are the speaker jack and the SIM-card slot. The Mi 3 takes a big, old-fashioned SIM card, since it comes from China (where such cards are still used), so you'll need an adapter if you're switching from a micro- or nano-SIM.

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Aloysius Low/CNET

When powered off, the display is a uniform sheet of glass, with the Xiaomi logo at the top left corner. When you do turn on the screen, however, you'll find the touch-sensitive menu buttons in their usual place below the screen. Packing 1,920x1,080 pixels, the Mi 3's screen is capable of handling full-HD video.

Internally, the phone packs a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 80 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of onboard storage. The phone has no microSD card slot, and while there's a 64GB version of the phone available, it's not sold outside of China. Connectivity-wise, the smartphone packs all you need to connect to any 3G GSM network around the world, but no 4G LTE. It does have NFC, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

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Aloysius Low/CNET

Finally on the rear, you'll find the 13-megapixel camera as well as a dual-LED flash. Xiaomi's attention to detail is also present here: you'll find that instead of making the camera hole a circle like most other smartphones, the company took time to make it square -- just a cool piece of design.

Software and features

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MIUI is a very pretty UI with plenty of features. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

One of the biggest draws of Xiaomi's Mi 3 is that it runs the company's own version of Android, called MIUI. You can actually download this and install it on your own phone, but Xiaomi's devices all come running this out of the box. As you can see from my screenshots, it comes with all Google's mobile software, including the Play Store.

I've talked about the MIUI in my earlier review of the budget Redmi, but here's a quick recap on the notable features of the OS.

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