You may not know it yet, but there's a new wave of innovative smartphones coming your way. And no, these devices aren't being dreamed up by big firms in South Korea, Japan, or Taiwan. Instead it's mainland China that's becoming a hotbed of fresh handset approaches. The Mi3 from Beijing-based Xiaomi is a perfect example of the trend. Miles apart from your typically unexciting midrange droid, the Mi3 is clad in premium aluminum and positively crammed with high-end components from nVidia, Qualcomm, and Sony.
The gadget also features a large 5-inch screen and a massive battery to keep it chugging along. Xiaomi infuses the Mi3 with its own interpretation of Android called MIUI, too. Here's a rundown of why I find the Xiaomi Mi3 compelling. It even has Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak singing its praises.
With a slim and rectangular chassis that's just 0.3-inch (8.1mm) thick, the Xiaomi Mi3 looks very svelte and sophisticated. Also imparting a touch of class are the phone's smoothly curved sides and aluminum unibody construction. In fact, based on vendor-supplied images of the device, the Mi3 reminds me of both recent Nokia and classic Apple products, such as the Lumia 1020 and iPod mini.
Xiaomi says the Mi3 uses a 5-inch full HD (1,920x1,080) LCD screen with IPS (in-plane-switching) technology. In my experience IPS displays offer superior brightness and better viewing angles than their non-IPS counterparts -- Sony Xperia Z1S, I'm looking at you.
Software and interface
Similar to many phone makers like HTC, Samsung, LG, and to a lesser extent, Motorola, Xiaomi layers its own custom interface over the Mi3's stock Android OS. Referred to as MIUI, the software skin promises more streamlined navigation and "thousands of original themes" to personalized your Mi3 device. I'll have to give the gadget a proper spin in the flesh, however, to make a call on this boast.
One fact that does immediately jump out, however, is MIUI's unmistakable similarity to Apple's iOS. For example, all apps are placed on iPhone-like home screens that scroll sideways from left to right. The usual app tray I'm accustom to in Android doesn't appear to live on the Mi3 either.
Xiaomi takes great pains to tout the Mi3's digital camera system. The company says it's built from a Sony Exmor sensor that captures a top resolution of 13 megapixels. Additionally the camera uses a wide-angle 28mm format lens linked to a dual LED flash. Whether all this gear translates to a smartphone that snaps quality photos remains to be seen, but I admit that on paper, the Mi3's imaging system sounds impressive.
Much of what piques my interest in the Xiaomi Mi3 is what the phone-maker places under its hood. You won't find an underpowered Mediatek processor here. Instead, the Mi3 ships with either a brand new 1.8Ghz quad-core Tegra 4 chip from nVidia or a modern Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor.
This computing might is coupled with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. The latter seems a bit paltry to me since I expect any flagship smartphone worth its salt to have at least 32GB of onboard storage space, or an expansion slot to add to what memory it does come with. I do appreciate Xiaomi's decision to drop in a hefty 3,050mAh battery, which hopefully will help the phone last long on a charge.
Despite the Xiaomi Mi3's seductive styling and powerful list of components, there are a few details (or lack of them) that keep my excitement for the phone in check. For one, Xiaomi doesn't specify what version of Android the device's MIUI is based upon. Also, there's no mention of 4G LTE support on the Mi3's splashy product Web site, so I have a feeling it's not an option.
Additionally, the Tegra 4-equipped Mi3 (TD) model won't likely make its way out of China due to its TD-SCDMA radios, which are pretuned for China Mobile's network. Global customers will have to be satisfied with the less-exotic Snapdragon 800 Mi3 version that's built to link to WCDMA (UTMS/GSM) wireless carriers. Of course with a retail price tag of 1,999 Chinese Yuan (US$327), the unlocked Xiaomi Mi3's sounds like a good deal whatever processor it's running -- that is, if it does make it to US shores anytime soon.