Okay, this isn’t the latest or the greatest smartphone, but the reason I’m reviewing the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G is relatively significant for a few reasons; it represents what could be called a budget price for a smartphone, whilst still offering a lot of top-tier features, and the latest cellular technology in 5G.
- Good all-rounder
- Great battery life
- Eye catching 'status' with slider
- 5G coverage is sporadic at best currently
- Slider-engagement takes some effort
First off, a disclaimer. I purchased the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G myself. This is not a review unit. The purchase was made direct from Xiaomi as part of a promotion and was heavily discounted. The device was priced at £699 from their store page, but the purchase itself cost only £250. The device can be found, brand new and unlocked from as little as £350 under normal circumstances from e-tailers.
I already have a device I use daily. Hell, I already have 6 devices that are all less than 2 years old that I could use to do a job on a day to day basis, so what made me stump up my own cash for this device. Well, that’s the most simple question I’ll be answering in this review; 5G. I don’t own a 5G device and having recently picked up a data only EE SIM for my MiFi for mobile broadband, I thought this device, at the price I was paying, would be a great fit.
Unboxing & Overview
The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G is quite a heavy device weighing in at 225g, but to me, that feels reassuring. The last Xiaomi device I had was the 2nd generation MiPad and build quality certainly wasn’t the first thing on their mind when they were assembling that! The Mi Mix 3 5G justifies some of that heft in delivering a Snapdragon 855 (a 2019 flagship chip that could be seen in the OnePlus 7 Pro and the Google Pixel 4/4XL) 6GB of RAM, 128GB of UFS 2.1 internal storage as well as a 3800 mAh battery. I know we’re well into 2020 now, but these are still not bad specifications at all. See below for the full suite of tech specs.
- Dimensions: 157.9 x 74.7 x 9.4 mm
- Weight: 225g
- Materials: Glass front (Corning Gorilla Glass 5), Ceramics back with an Aluminium frame
- Display: 6.39-inch Super AMOLED 2340 x 1080 (403 ppi) with HDR
- CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
- GPU: Adreno 640
- RAM: 6GB LPDDR4
- Storage: 128GB UFS 2.1
- Battery: 3800 mAh
- OS: Android 9.0 (Pie)
- WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth 5.0
- GPS, NFC, USB Type-C charging
- QuickCharge 4+ 18W Fast charging
- Rear fingerprint scanner
- Colour: Sapphire Blue
- Sub 6Ghz 5G network supported
- Rear Camera(s): 12MP f/1.8 (wide) + 12MP f/2.4 (telephoto) – HDR capable
- Video options up to 2160p (4K) @ 60fps with slow mode options for lower resolutions
- Front Camera(s): 24MP f/2.2 + 2MP depth – HDR capable
- Video capped at 1080p @ 30 fps
The unboxing of the Mi Mix 3 5G is also something that feels rather premium. The typical black Xiaomi box with their logo front and centre is to be expected now, and opening the box sees an offset device, with user guide, warranty papers, wall charger with a USB Type-C cable, as well as an included SIM ejector tool and a really rather nice soft-touch case. The case has an open bottom which allows for the ‘slider’ function to continue to be used as I wondered how they were going to get around that. Sadly, and the only disappointing part of the unboxing, there is no included earbuds of any description.
Taking a look around the device, outwardly it’s rather standard; on the right edge is a power button with a volume rocker, whilst over on the left edge is a multi-function button (read: Google Assistant button) and the SIM card slot. On the bottom is the loudspeaker and the charging port whilst up top there’s only a pinhole microphone.
Rounding out the overview, flipping over to the back is the camera setup, and the fingerprint scanner, and when you flip the device back over, and slide down on the screen, the front-facing camera array is revealed. I still smile doing it now, for this review!
Performance & Use
The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G is a bit of a mouthful, and the fact that there’s a 5G on the end does suggest there is a non-5G version hanging around. The original Mi Mix 3 was released a few months before the 5G variant. The 5G offering loses Wireless Charging, but gains more battery (3,200 vs 3,800 mAh) and of course, adds 5G capability if you’re lucky enough to have coverage in your area.
Given I haven’t had hands-on with the non-5G variant, I feel it’s only right to give this device the Full Monty so to speak.
Straight out of the box, my worry was just how slippery it felt. The ceramic material choice for the back makes it look gorgeous, but I’m almost always living in fear of dropping the device. That’s evidenced further when I attempt to shoot a selfie. Attempt to open the slider one-handed at your peril! The Gorilla Glass is so smooth that it’s a little difficult to slide down on the screen to expose the dual front-facing cameras. I found myself using two hands more often than not.
With the included case attached, and holding the device in a slightly tighter grip than I would do normally, the slider functions well enough, but I can almost hear the Mi Mix 3 5G mechanism moaning at me for asking it to do work.
Build quality wise the Mi Mix 3 5G is actually a lovely device, The only exceptions to this is again, in the slider. Not the exposure of it, but depressing the touchscreen in the general vicinity of the slider. As can be seen below, there is a small but noticeable gap between the display and the front-facing camera array. When tapping at the top of the display, occasionally I noticed a give in the display, and a hollow sound as that area has less mass behind it for support. It’s not a deal-breaker but I noticed it within 5-minutes of using the device.
The Super AMOLED display is sharp and bright, and at 6.39-inches, and FHD+ (2340 x 1080) is still, for me, more than acceptable for daily use by almost anybody unless they have to chase the bleeding edge regardless of diminishing returns. That display is coated with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 for added protection. Due to the slider mechanism, those 6.39-inches are pure screen. No cut out for the camera, or notch here. There’s nothing but display here!
The Snapdragon 855 is still a more than competent chipset. Games and daily tasks are brushed aside with ease, and benchmarks deliver the expected ‘numbers’. It’s when you are multi-tasking that the true tests begin, and truth be told, I only found a few times where an application had to be re-loaded, after a period of time unopened led it to be discarded from the 6GB of RAM included. That says more about the software than the hardware, and we’ll get to that.
WiFi capability delivers the requisitioned speed, maxing out the broadband connections I tested the device with, whilst phone calls were relatively clear for others whilst I found it a little difficult to hear people my side. The loudspeaker did help in this regard, but I refuse to be one of those people.
The lack of Wireless Charging is offset somewhat by the inclusion of 18W Fast Charging. Whilst Wireless Charging is extremely handy when you’re out and about and staying in one place over a period of time, having a cable handy and a charger capable of giving a significant boost is still almost always preferable. Wireless charging would have been nice, but I would swap it for the battery size increase.
That battery size increase, 600 mAh over the non-5G variant to 3,800 mAh, is a significant one too. In my testing, I managed to easily get through a full day of emails, browsing, social media, video streaming and a few phone calls and picture taking. I wouldn’t say my average day with the Mi Mix 3 5G was heavy use, but it was far from mild, so ending up some days with 40% left was a bit of a surprise to me.
On to the software, and here’s where things take a little bit of a turn for Android purists. MIUI has been on the block for some time, with many citing it, and EMUI, as the two most pervasive skins in the business. I’m inclined to agree, but as with EMUI, MIUI has taken a few steps forward, just not quite as many as I personally would like.
The Mi Mix 3 5G runs Android 9.0 (Pie) with MIUI 10 atop it. There’s no application drawer a-la iOS, and more infuriatingly there is no option to enable one, as with recent EMUI builds on Huawei devices. Users are forced to organise their applications in folders or let them roam free on their desktop real estate.
There are a number of ‘Mi’ apps bundled with the Mi Mix 3 5G, such as a QR scanner, compass, ShareMe to transfer information to another device, as well as their Mi Browser which should be immediately ditched. Some of their included apps are fine, however. I like their contacts and calendar apps and use those as standard but most of their apps are weird and wonderful.
There are some familiarities though, with Google Assistant in tow, and now accessible via the dedicated button on the left edge of the device, as well as staples such as Dark Mode and Gestures to control the home screen navigation, all of which are now, thankfully, second nature to me.
In truth, as I type this review, the UI itself isn’t necessarily the universal cause of my raised eyebrow towards it. My ire is perhaps saved for the memory management aspect of MIUI; an area of Xiaomi devices I have a long, painful and storied relationship with.
The aforementioned battery performance is amazing, in part, due to the overly aggressive memory management of MIUI. Yes, applications can be discreetly managed and put onto a virtual whitelist, however it takes some trial and error to really understand which applications the software takes a dislike to, and forced that measure upon you. Until then, you could be oblivious to the lack of messages you’re getting in Google Hangouts for example. I can get around that by manually configuring the applications to ignore MIUI but in 2020, or 2019 when this released, this seems an unnecessary step to have to take.
Luckily the UI aspect can be mitigated by downloading your favourite launcher. The memory management, well your mileage may vary.
There is no triple camera setup on this device. Repeat, dual camera alert! What is this, 2018? Where are the massive camera humps and oodles of lenses?! Seriously, I have precisely zero issues with only a dual-camera setup, as long as it delivers.
The camera setup consists of two 12MP cameras. The first is bundled with an f/1.8 wide-angle lens with OIS, whilst the second camera is a 12MP telephoto lens delivering 2x lossless zoom.
The following sentence could be written for just about any mid-range device and a number of higher tier units too; “If you have excellent lighting, the <insert device here> performs admirably, capturing the detail you’d expect with decent dynamic range and good colour reproduction”. Post-processing is only visible the further you crop, and for social media hounds, this will provide endless fun with built-in filters and lots of modes to help you capture that Burger picture. HDR does help deliver a more well-rounded device here so that setting is a must, as is the AI button to ensure scenes (such as your aforementioned food) are recognised.
The read camera gives good point-and-shoot shots in decent to good lighting conditions. Most of the time I didn’t have to focus either, the device would just do its thing. Auto-HDR here is a must (I’d have it always on frankly) and it gives a little pep-talk to the photo before finalising it for a more pleasing finished article. The dynamic range, using HDR or not, is a little behind flagships in 2020, and 2019 to be fair, but can still be fiddled with in Pro-mode to shoot something approaching very good.
There’s a fair bit of noise on the photos when cropping in due to the lower resolution on the rear camera than can be found elsewhere, but again, for social media, or the occasional staged shot, the Mi Mix 3 5G can deliver good results.
Moving on to the key feature here, the selfie camera. It’s the key feature because of how you engage it; slide down on the display and the whole front display moves downwards to reveal the front-facing camera array. Great for wowing people at the dinner table, however a little annoying if you want to use face unlock. It’s also 24MP with a depth sensor for portrait bokeh.
The edge detection on the aforementioned bokeh shots isn’t the best, but it performed decently in this lower-than-ideal lighting test below and there’s still quite a bit of detail.
The 24MP camera seems to do a decent job of capturing dynamic range in a shot, and colour reproduction here is actually probably better than the rear camera.
Video recording on the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G delivers what I’d suggest is ‘good’ 4K video and stability. The 4K video here can be shot at 60fps which is nice as well as various slow-motion modes for more creative types. Colour reproduction favours the warmed tones, and in my testing (some samples below) I found the Mi Mix 3 5G to deliver most of what I’d want when capturing video, with my only gripe relating to the dynamic range, which seems to be a recurring theme.
Well, that put a dampener on things quickly. My Three UK SIM was put into this phone and managed to get 4G+ but no 5G. Luckily, I’m only 1 mile from where 5G does exist so I took a little drive. 4G speeds in my area are acceptable outdoors, but indoors they are almost useless. So I journeyed that short distance to see how the fledgling technology was standing up.
As you can see, a lot better than 4G speeds, but not close to the blistering speeds others have been getting. For reference, the above image shows just where I was in terms of the Three UK 5G coverage map during the test that provided the fastest results. interesting, I got back into my car in this same location and put my phone in the glove compartment to test outside of line-of-sight, and there was a significant drop (108Mbps / 13.9Mbps result) which you’d expect based on what we know of 5G technology.
Overall, I have high hopes for 5G, that is to say I’m looking forward to using it in large cities or big towns. Outside of that I still have little confidence that Three UK will be able to deliver anything more than they are doing at the moment in 4G areas, which is quite mediocre.
There is a lot to love about the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G, not least the fact it has the latest cellular buzzword in tow. It has great battery life, a lovely all-display front aspect to it, as well as the slider for the front-facing camera, which, as an added bonus, you can configure to launch other tasks too such as opening another app.
The inclusion of a case will help as the device is very slippery, and the optics are nothing to be sniffed at for this price. There’s a real argument as to the value proposition on offer here versus almost any flagship device; that is unless you require any premium-tier functions. The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G just doesn’t provide class-leading performance in any area, aside from perhaps battery life. That’s the rub of the green though right? You pay less money, and you get less “shiny shiny” don’t you? The key is understanding whether that net hotness feature is worth dropping stacks of cash on.
Frankly, I can’t see many Android users, particularly, having an issue swapping out any of their currently held devices, for the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G for at least a week. The gap between the actual use of a mid-range powerhouse such as this and a premium-tier product from the big boys seems to be getting smaller. There’s a lot to like and if you can get over the hump of MIUI, and the fact that you might have to wait longer for 5G to actually matter to any real extent, then maybe the Mi Mix 3 5G is for you.