In the future, when people look back on the history of the evolution of the smartphone, 2018 will be looked upon as the year whereby pretty much every manufacturer was in a race to produce phones with the smallest bezels possible. Xiaomi had a fantastic effort long before this in 2016 with the then-groundbreaking original Mi Mix, managing to nigh on eliminate three of the four bezels that traditionally surrounded the screen on mobile devices.
Last year, the Mi Mix 2 built on this design by improving on things like the earpiece technology and reducing that last remaining bezel down as much as possible. However, the difficulty with going truly bezel free is one needs to come up with a clever way of dealing with where to put the front facing camera, and lesser so the sensors that usually sit above the screens on most phones.
This year, various companies (mostly Chinese manufacturers) have been innovating with several solutions to this problem. One option was opting for the selfie camera to pop out the top of the phone like the Vivo Nex S, Another solution seen was for the entire camera module to slide out the top of the phone using a motor when the camera was activated, as seen on the Oppo Find X.
Xiaomi has gone down a different route than the above two examples, opting instead for a solution that reminds me very much of the Nokia N95, an absolute classic in its time. The screen on the Mix 3 is separate to the back of the phone, and sits on a magnetic slider mechanism; slide the screen down and the front facing camera system is revealed, automatically engaging the camera as well. You can change the slide option to open up a “dashboard” of widgets, or open your favourite app instead, but by default it opens the selfie cam (which makes sense since you are sliding to uncover it!).
The slider feels pretty sturdy, with a decent amount of force needed to open, which I found difficult to do without using two hands. On one hand (or perhaps, in one hand) this means it is more of a faff to engage than just tapping a couple of buttons on the screen to start the selfie camera, whereas on the other this gives me some confidence that the mechanism isn’t going to wear out over a short space of time (in fact, Xiaomi say that it’ll work like new for over 300,000 slides, which is a considerable number of selfies).
Speaking of selfies, Xiaomi has gone mad when it comes to the selfie camera system on the Mix 3. It’s a dual-camera system to allow for fancy bokeh effects, with the main lens packing a whopping 24MP 1/2.8” sensor, and the secondary camera utilising a 2MP sensor purely for depth sensing.
I’m not a huge selfie taker, but I’m reasonably impressed by the photos that the phone was producing. There’s a host of fun “studio” filters that utilise the depth sensor, crop out the background and add various lighting effects to give your photos a bit more… glamour. I guess. It works pretty well and that’s as much as I will say on the matter!
There are a couple of things that disappointed me with this setup though. Firstly, using this design, Xiaomi has a lot more space to put sensors and cameras than most other phones do, where they are struggling to cram it in to as small a notch as possible. What would have been great to complement the high quality camera would be a front facing flash, and as I say, there’s plenty of space to put it on this phone (I remember even the Acer Liquid E3 from 2014 had one)!
Secondly, for a phone where so much effort has gone into the selfie camera, and it’s clearly being lauded as a main feature, at least make it a wide angle lens. The Pixel 3’s selfie camera is often touted as one of the best out there, with one of the main reasons for this being its massive field of view. And it makes sense, how many times have you seen a crowd of folk trying to squeeze themselves into a selfie on a night out, only for Jared at the end of the group to be inadvertently cropped out due to the camera not being able to get everyone in. Sorry Jared.
Unlike the Find X mentioned above, the rear facing cameras on the Mix 3 are not housed in any hidden compartment, so there’s no need to do anything when wanting to use them, they are activated as normal in the camera app. Xiaomi has adorned the Mix 3 with a dual 12MP sensor setup on the rear of the phone, with the module only very slightly protruding from the body of the phone; it’s not completely flush. One lens is a wide-angle lens, with a f/1.8 aperture and a sensor size of 1/2.55” and the other a telephoto on a 1/3.4” sensor.
As with a lot of other phones with this sort of setup, the phone allows smooth zooming within the camera app, switching seamlessly between the lenses as you zoom. This is in addition to a 1x/2x button on the screen that lets you manually switch between the lenses instead if that’s your thing.
Xiaomi has jumped on the old buzzword bandwagon and slapped an “AI” sticker onto its camera software in the Mix 3. So much so that by default the phone puts an “AI dual camera” stamp in the bottom left of your photos. Mental.
The AI aspect being touted here is the ability of the camera to identify what sort of scene that the phone is capturing and adjusting the settings of the camera in order for the photos to come out as good as possible. Xiaomi claims that the camera can detect 27 different categories of object and apply the best settings for that object.
This all sounds great, and I’m sure it improves your photos over the function being switched off, but I don’t really buy it. Digital cameras have been detecting scenes for a number of years now (perhaps for a decade?!), albeit maybe not able to detect as many as 27 different types of scene, so I smell a bit of marketing mojo being put to work here as far as the “AI” element of the camera goes.
That aside, the phone takes pretty decent photos during my time with it. Colours are crisp and images are detailed. The camera actually scored a 103 on the DxOMark camera test, which although widely panned as not being the best test for a camera, at least gives some reference versus other phones out there (it ties with the Note 9 and is only 2 points shy of the iPhone XS Max).
Video wise, the phone is able to shoot 4K video at up to 60fps which is the best out there. It’s also able to handle 1080p video at up to 960fps for a super slo-mo effect. The camera also has 4 axis OIS which should help a lot with stabilisation when taking photos and video. All the other usual modes like panorama and time lapse options are also present here.
Stepping back from the cameras and looking at the phone as a whole, it’s a really nicely designed handset. The screen really does take over almost the entirety of the front of the device, with only the bottom bezel being slightly thicker than the other three. Xiaomi claim a 93.4% screen to body ratio which is one of the highest out there (for comparison, the Galaxy S10 is 93.1%).
On the back the cameras are positioned vertically in the top left corner a la iPhone X. In the middle we have a well placed fingerprint sensor – sadly no under-screen version! However I’ve found the sensor to be very fast and very accurate – far better than the one on my Galaxy S9.
Xiaomi has also chosen ceramic as the material of choice for the Mi Mix 3, an option that is becoming more and more popular nowadays – the S10+ has options for a ceramic back if choosing the higher memory variants. Ceramic has the advantage of being way stronger than glass, so is much less prone to scratches from day-to-day use.
On the flip side it’s way heavier than glass, with the phone clocking in at an impressive 218g. A Note 9 with an equivalently sized screen though larger in every dimension only comes in at 201g, so the Mi Mix 3 is quite a substantial handset! I’ve also found the ceramic to be extremely slippy. A few times I’ve placed the phone down on a surface around the house and it has very slowly slid off, only to realise when I hear the phone hit the carpet. In reality this means the phone can double up as an extremely accurate spirit level. I would recommend a grippy case!
Behind that ceramic back Xiaomi has installed wireless charging capabilities. They are going all in on wireless charging with the Mix 3, even including a wireless charging pad in the box instead of just the usual USB cable, which is definitely a nice touch. However due to the slippiness of the ceramic back, and me placing the charger on perhaps a slightly uneven area of carpet in the house next to my bed at night, I often woke up in the morning to find the phone having slipped off the pad during the night and thus not charged up, which is slightly annoying.
Thankfully the Mix 3 is capable of using Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 4 technology, allowing up to 18W of power delivery providing you have the right plugs and cables to deliver that power. The wireless pad provided in the box is 10W as well, slightly faster than the average wireless pad, and a third quicker than the iPhone’s maximum.
Elsewhere we have the usual buttons along the right edge: volume and power. On the left edge Xiaomi has added an additional “AI” button which launches the Google Assistant. Not really required when a long press of the home button does the same thing. I actually think that within China this button launches Xiaomi’s own AI assistant thus justifying its existence, but outside of China it’s palmed off to Google and is thus a bit pointless.
On the bottom we have a USB C port for charging, and a grille for the speaker and the mic. Sadly no headphone jack on this handset – it seems that Samsung may be the last remaining manufacturer to keep them on their flagships! There’s also a slot on the left edge above the AI button for the dual sim card tray.
Because of the sliding design, there’s no waterproofing protection at play here, which is slightly unusual for a flagship, however it is understandable in this instance. Just remember this if you are to get one and don’t be too carefree with whipping the phone out during a heavy rainfall!
One of my main gripes with the Mix 2 was it’s LCD display. It was bright and detailed enough, but I found the lighting round the corners of the display were uneven, and of course the blacks could not match the levels of an OLED. Well I’m glad to say that Xiaomi have stepped up the game with the Mix 3 and put a lovely Super AMOLED display in this time, a Samsung panel no less. And at 6.4” is massive considering the footprint of the phone.
This is a massive improvement since the last gen and the panel is lovely to look at. It doesn’t pop with colour quite as much as the displays on the likes of the Galaxy S9, and also is of a lower resolution, topping out at 2340 x 1080. I also found the automatic brightness of the display to be a little darker than I would like, so sometimes had to go in and adjust this manually. This may be to do with the fact that the sensor has to be squashed in round the display somewhere (I’m actually not even sure where it is!). Miraculously, Xiaomi have even managed to squeeze in a tiny notification light at the top of the phone just to the right of the earpiece, which is a nice touch.
The screen is also HDR10 certified, which means when watching videos with HDR data embedded in it, you’ll see much better contrasts between light and dark. I tested this with a couple of videos on YouTube and it does indeed seem to work.
Inside the phone, Xiaomi hasn’t slouched with components either. We have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (the best in the biz, until the 855 hits with the 2019 flagships), combined with a variety of storage and memory options: 128GB of memory paired with 6 or 8GB of RAM, or a 256GB option with 8 or 10GB of RAM. I tested a 128GB/6GB version (i.e., the cheapest!) and it was plenty quick, I didn’t notice a single instance of slowdown in my time with the phone.
I tried out a couple of games on the phone: Asphalt 9 and Fortnite. Both ran perfectly. Asphalt was smooth even with loads of destruction and action on the screen. Fortnite was also smooth at almost all points in the game. Slight hiccup when exiting the bus but you can even experience this on an Xbox One X so I’ll forgive the phone for this! Still can’t enjoy playing it on a phone with the on-screen controls though but that’s personal preference!
Battery life has been pretty good, with the battery capacity stated at 3200 mAh. This is actually quite a bit smaller than the equivalently physically sized Galaxy S10+ managing to squeeze in a 4100 mAh battery into a thinner body. Nonetheless, I have been using it as my main handset over the past few weeks and it has never given me the “battery anxiety” of looking like it’s not going to make it through the evening, even with work emails and loads of work calls coming through to the phone over the course of the day. I’m certain with lighter use you could eek 2 days use out of it.
Xiaomi ships the Mi Mix 3 with heavily skinned version of Android Pie which they call MIUI (now on version 10.2). Like Huawei’s EMUI software, MIUI gets rid of Android’s app drawer completely and forces you to put every app on the home screen, much more akin to how iPhones order their apps. I’m not a great fan of this setup, so installed Nova Launcher in order to get the app drawer back.
There are a couple of other MIUI gripes that I have. One of these, which I believe I mentioned on a previous Xiaomi review, is the fact that you cannot dismiss a notification by swiping left, you have to swipe right. This is infuriating as depending on which hand I’m holding the phone dictates which way I’ll swipe to dismiss. There doesn’t even seem to be an option to change this, and unfortunately a launcher doesn’t solve this issue either.
There’s also occasional design flaws with where buttons are placed such as in the above screenshot. There is a large button at the bottom of your notifications to dismiss them all at once, but it floats above the notification. Thus I can’t hit pause on the podcast notification in the above example!
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to get Android Auto to work in my car with the phone. I know that certain cars can be hit or miss with what phones work with them though, so I didn’t come away completely shocked that it didn’t work, but it might be something to bear in mind if you were interested in getting this phone and did a lot of driving.
Lastly, Xiaomi has cloned almost every system app from Android/Google and created it’s own version which it tries to get you to use instead of the stock Android version. Even down to a “Mi Calculator” app?! Why they felt the need to do their own calculator app escapes me. I counted 12 apps that I relegated to a “Mi Apps” folder that I haven’t touched since using the phone. A disappointing amount of bloatware!
Other than these small gripes, it’s actually quite a nice UI to look at. Menus and text looks clean and crisp and navigation around the phone is sensible and smooth. Plus at the end of the day, it is Android, so you have access to the millions of apps available on the Play Store. Provided you are outside of China…
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the price. This blog is focussed on non-flagship phones, which will run you up far in excess of £600. Yet all through this review i’ve been comparing the Mix 3 to handsets like the Galaxy S9 which are of a similar size and specs. The reality is that i managed to pick this phone up for just over £400. Bearing that in mind, the performance and features of this phone are outstanding. I can’t think of another phone around this price that offers similar features and quality of manufacturing: Snapdragon 845, excellent cameras (front and back), 6.4” AMOLED screen, 128GB starting memory and ceramic back for that price is incredible. If this was priced 60-100% more expensive I’d still call it decent value considering an S10+ will cost you £899.
All in, Xiaomi has hit it out the park with the Mi Mix 3. It has only just arrived officially in the UK in the last week , and with some marketing might well convince potential new handset buyers to give it a shot, and save a small fortune in the process! Xiaomi have also recently announced they are planning to release a 5G variant of the handset in the coming months, which may be an important handset in the race to bring 5G into an affordable segment of the market.