Mi3 more than a match for pricier rivals
IF XIAOMI'S $169 Redmi was a warning shot aimed at lower-end smartphones from makers such as Nokia, then the China handset maker's follow-up, Mi3, is clearly a full-frontal assault on the big boys Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC.
As a flagship device, the Mi3 mirrors the hardware specifications of its competitors: quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processors, full high-definition displays, 13MP camera and Near Field Communication (NFC) support.
But where the competition opens at $800, the Mi3 very nearly halves that entry price to $419.
This is more than twice what the Redmi costs.
But where the Redmi comes in a plastic shell and has a 4.7-inch screen, the Mi3 has an aluminium-magnesium alloy frame and a full high-definition 5-inch display.
In terms of design, the phone looks like a collaboration between HTC and Nokia's designers, with its sealed back and curvy sides.
The metal chassis gives it a more polished feel than the plastic and glass of Samsung and Sony devices. The trade-off is that you cannot remove the cover of the Mi3 to put in a spare battery.
The interface is identical to the Redmi's in look and feel - and has more than a whiff of Apple about it.
A great strength of China-made smartphones is that they tend to skip the software bloat that major vendors love. Instead, Xiaomi has put in useful features such as user access to permissions and start-up apps, which give users greater control over the phone's memory and hardware resources.
Of course, there are similar free apps available from the Google Play Store, but most China vendors have included them out of the box.
The theme store remains intact, as does the private SMS message inbox for those who prefer to keep some incoming texts private.
Of course, both the Samsung and LG flagship phones have bigger screens and are considerably thinner, but they also cost twice as much.
While its pricing and hardware are eye-catching, the Mi3 does have its limitations:
Its single speaker at the base of the device is weak, both in volume and bass;
The flash is a useful addition, but the camera's performance in low light is weak;
The camera does not handle colour reproduction as well as the LG G Flex or Samsung Galaxy Note 3;
There is no microSD card slot, so users are stuck with only 16GB of internal memory.
The Mi3 is a 3G-only device and does not offer 4G LTE speeds that come with other flagship phones.
The battery life is also on the low side, lasting a little over six hours on Digital Life's battery test.