It’s all about the cameras and the display in the Mi Mix 3, which refines the already great Mi Mix 2S on two primary fronts. This new generation also includes a dedicated button for calling up the integrated Mi AI client (though it’s currently Chinese-language only), and in early 2019 a fifth variant will be introduced making Mi Mix 3 one of the first 5G phones in the world.
This is the standard model, and it’s the entry-level version with ‘just’ 6GB of RAM and 128GB of non-expandable internal storage (buy here). An 8GB RAM model is also sold with either 128GB or 256GB storage (buy here), and there’s a limited edition Palace Museum Mi Mix 3 with a massive 10GB of RAM. All four are flagship-level smartphones, offering a mix of top-class performance and features.
Interestingly, no model in the Mi Mix 3 line has an in-display fingerprint sensor (instead found at the rear), which is one of the hottest new trends of this year, and something of a surprise for a phone that began life as Xiaomi’s ‘concept’ phone, stealing column inches for its revolutionary design.
Whether its absence is evidence of a cost-cutting decision or the fact that implementing two new kinds of screen tech at once is tricky we’re not entirely sure, but Mi Mix does remain the only Xiaomi phone family with wireless charging, and the 3 is the first in the entire line-up with a magnetic sliding screen.
The design remains something special, once again a creation of Phillipe Starck, but the slider concept is not entirely new, having already been seen in the Honor Magic 2 and Lenovo Z5 Pro – but in those phones it really doesn’t achieve much, aside from moving the selfie cameras out the way to allow an uninterrupted full-screen view.
With Mi Mix 3 you slide to start: it can automatically launch the selfie camera, or provide a bunch of quick-access functions such as a timer, recorder, calculator, notes app, camera and the weather. There are mobile payment options here too, though for the moment these are Chinese only.
That’s because we are testing the Chinese ROM version of the Mi Mix 3, and the phone will not officially launch in the UK until early 2019. We’d recommend holding out for the UK model or awaiting availability of the Global ROM Mi Mix 3, but in reality the only major difference is you’ll need to install Google services on the Chinese model (here’s how).
We’re also interested to see what Xiaomi does with the Mi Mix 3’s Mi AI button, and whether it integrates this with Google Assistant for UK users or rolls out a new language option. We’ll be able to tell you more in the new year.
(Also see: Best Xiaomi phones.)
Where to buy Mi Mix 3
Xiaomi officially entered the UK market in November 2018, and though it had previously been available only in China, India, France, Spain and Italy, the eight-year-old company is already the fourth biggest phone maker in the world.
Somewhat confusingly, Xiaomi staggers its phone launches across its various global markets. So while the Mi Mix 3 was actually announced in October in its primary market in China, there is still no sign of the phone in the UK.
The Mi Mix 3 will be coming to the UK in the new year, but if you can’t wait that long then it’s quite possible to import one from China as we have done for the sake of this review. We use GearBest for this service, and have done so for many years with no major issues. Of course, should something go wrong, getting tech support and potentially a refund for your purchase is going to be more tricky from China than it is in Europe.
At a glance pricing typically looks more appealing in China than in the UK, but you must remember that when importing goods to the UK from China you are liable for import duty. You might never be asked to pay it, but if you are you’ll need to hand over 20% of whatever value is written on the shipping paperwork, plus an admin fee (usually around a tenner).
Right now we do not know how much Mi Mix 3 will cost when it launches in the UK, though the Mi Mix 2S is currently sold from £449 (actually there’s a Christmas deal on at the UK Mi Store bringing it down to just £399) so we suspect we’ll be looking at similar pricing. But we do know the current going rate at GearBest, and can confirm that regardless of how much it ends up costing in the UK this is a fantastic phone at this price and you won’t be disappointed.
The entry-level 6GB RAM, 128GB storage model we have reviewed here is currently on a flash sale, costing £452.48/US$559.99 down from £552.74/$684.08. You can also buy the 8GB RAM, 256GB storage model from GearBest at £565.60/$699.99, down from £680.13/$841.74. But do keep your eyes peeled for availability of this Global version, too.
Naturally if you wish to buy the Mi Mix 3 on a contract you will need to wait for it to officially launch in the UK. Right now your only options are SIM-free – though this typically works out cheaper in the long run.
(Also see: Best Xiaomi Deals.)
Mi Mix 3 Design & Build
The Mi Mix was the first phone to introduce the ‘full-screen display’, though in truth it never has been entirely bezel-less. The original model was all screen on three edges, but with a chunky chin at the bottom where you found the upside-down selfie camera. And gosh was that annoying.
Over the years the design has been refined, with this chin getting slimmer with each new generation, but only now in the Mi Mix 3 has the chin been removed altogether.
It’s worth pointing out that there is still a tiny but very much present screen bezel running the entire circumference of the phone, but Mi Mix 3 achieves an astonishing screen-to-body ratio of 93.4%. Though a 100% screen-to-body ratio would look phenomenal, we would worry about its fragility.
Xiaomi has achieved this by implementing a sliding screen mechanism that uses neodymium magnets with a life expectancy of 300,000 cycles. Most smartphones are sold on two year contracts, so using this as the benchmark you could slide open the screen 410 times a day without worrying about it breaking. That said, without extensive use it’s difficult to know how much dust and grime will find its way under the display.
There’s also an Always-on Display option, showing the time, date and notifications, which should reduce the number of times you feel the need to wake the screen. And the speaker is actually built into the top bezel (though you’ll need to squint to see it), which means you don’t need to slide down the screen to hear your recipient at the other end as you do with the Honor Magic 2 and Lenovo Z5 Pro (though you can use it to answer a call).
The sliding action feels smooth, with the screen maintaining the same distance from the chassis and offering a satisfying click as it opens and closes. You can also choose from five different sounds that play as you slide open or shut the screen – Hi-tech, Warrior (our favourite), Mechanics, Intellect and Lighter – plus a few more available to download.
On the Lenovo and Honor alternatives the sliding screen is of little use other than hiding away the selfie camera(s) and other blemishes that would usually adorn the front panel of a phone. But on the Xiaomi sliding open the screen can actually launch the front camera, or if you’re not a selfie fiend you can set it to offer other quick-access options such as the weather, a note-taking app and a calculator (mobile payments, too, if you’re in China). Thought it’s not immediately obvious how you might go about accessing the home screen from here, touching any blank area of the screen achieves this.
Whereas it might feel a little like a gimmick on those other phones, here the sliding screen not only adds functionality but allows for a big improvement on existing functionality. If you’ve ever used a Mi Mix phone before then you’ll know that putting the selfie camera below the screen just does not work: the angles at which you need to hold the phone in order to capture a selfie where you look anything other than deranged are difficult to achieve, and the filters in apps such as Snapchat just don’t play well with the format.
Now the selfie camera is not only in the correct position, but it’s better than ever – up from a single-lens 5Mp camera to a dual-lens 24Mp + 2Mp model, with the second lens used to blur the background on portrait shots, plus there’s an LED flash. The quality is significantly better, and the software integrates Xiaomi’s AI, able to intelligently select the scene.
Removing the camera from the chin of the phone also means you no longer need the chin, so Xiaomi has reduced the bezels and increased the size of the screen – from 5.99in to 6.39in. Given that it has a larger screen and a new sliding screen mechanism it’s incredible that the Mi Mix 3 is fractionally shorter and narrower than the Mi Mix 2S, and only 0.4mm thicker. The battery capacity has been reduced by 200mAh, of course. This all helps toward making it feel more comfortable to use in a single hand, too.
The display itself has a taller aspect ratio than previously, now at 19.5:9 (previously 18:9). There’s no notch, like you see on the Mi 8 family, so it’s pretty much pure screen.
Thankfully it’s a nice screen, and this is an AMOLED panel which is our favourite kind of screen tech, bursting with vibrant, punchy colours and offering brilliant whites and deep blacks. It supports Xiaomi’s Sunlight Display and Reading Mode, and indeed is easily bright enough for use in direct sunlight – we measured 407cd/m2 in our tests, which falls a little short of Xiaomi’s claimed 600cd/m2 but is still very good.
The resolution is Full-HD+, which might sound less impressive than on other flagships. It’s true that there is a visible difference with Quad-HD and Ultra-HD, but these things cost money and eat the battery – Samsung is now offering Quad-HD as an option but defaulting to Full-HD in its flagships, for example. Xiaomi has never added anything higher than Full-HD to any of its phones, and we’re not sure it ever will – this resolution is perfectly adequate for clear text and images, and for enjoying games and media (graphics run faster at lower resolutions in any case).
Elsewhere the design of the Mi Mix 3 is as appealing as ever, with its glossy black, tough ceramic coat and carefully crafted workmanship seen throughout. It is now lacking the 18K gold camera and fingerprint sensor surround, but while it was a nice thing to show off it never really added anything other than a bit of bling.
The dual-camera and fingerprint scanner remain in the same positions at the rear, though we did notice more than previously how the camera’s positioning causes the Mi Mix 3 to rock slightly when used on a desk or flat surface. And, as before, you’ll find a volume rocker and power button on the right side, pin-operated SIM tray on the left, and a USB-C port at the bottom. There’s no physical home button, but you can opt for full-screen gestures or onscreen home, back and multitasking options.
It’s still a downward-firing mono speaker – albeit a very good quality one, with minimal distortion at full volume – and there’s still no headphone jack, and you won’t find a USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor in the box. Instead you get a 10W wireless charger, which is incredible – we know of no other Qi-compatible smartphone that is actually bundled with the necessary charger.
New is an additional button on the phone’s left side which calls up the Mi AI voice assistant. Right now this is useful only to Chinese-language users, and we’ll have to wait and see when Xiaomi officially launches the Mi Mix 3 in the UK as to whether it rolls out an English-language option, integrates the Google Assistant, or lets you customise the function of this button.
There are some options for this button in the Settings menu, but as all the entries are Chinese we’re not sure what is being offered here – though it’s worth pointing out that this is the only part of the operating system that does not feel suitable for UK users.
Aside from an English-language AI client, in the next revision to the Mi Mix line we’d hope to see waterproofing and an in-display fingerprint sensor – though not if it means that attractive price will rocket. Don’t hold out your hopes for a higher-resolution display.
(Also see: Best Chinese phones.)
Mi Mix 3 Core Hardware & Performance
Inside the Mi Mix 3 is exactly the same hardware as you find in the Mi Mix 2S – unless you opt for the Palace Edition, which has 10GB of RAM.
This means you get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 running at 2.8GHz. It’s an octa-core processor built on the second-generation 10nm manufacturing process, and integrates Adreno 630 graphics.
This chip is paired with 6GB or 8GB of RAM, and you get a choice of 128GB or 256GB of internal storage. Neither option is expandable through microSD, but both are sufficiently generous that this shouldn’t be a problem.
As before we are blown away by its performance, despite the fact it actually performed a little slower in our benchmarks than did the Mi Mix 2S. It’s normal for synthetic benchmarks to fluctuate, though, and it’s the real-world experience that matters more. It can handle anything and everything, all at once.
We’ve charted its performance results below along with the Honor Magic 2, Lenovo Z5 Pro and Mi Mix 2S. The Honor is fastest with its 7nm Kirin 980 chip, and the Lenovo Z5 Pro slowest with its mid-range Snapdragon 710 – though we have heard a Snapdragon 855 ‘Z5 Pro GT’ version with 12GB of RAM is imminent, likely launching at CES in January.
In terms of connectivity there’s everything here bar an IR blaster, which are increasingly rare but still found on some Xiaomi phones. There’s support for 4G dual-SIM dual-standby, and the specs suggest that even this Chinese version has full support for all UK 4G LTE network bands.
You also get dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 and GPS and GLONASS, and while the slider screen payment options are all Chinese services there is support for NFC and Google Pay.
As we noted the battery has been reduced by 200mAh, but Mi Mix 3 still supports Quick Charge and wireless charging (now with a 10W Qi charger and 18W wired charger in the box). You’ll easily get a day’s life from the phone, and potentially more depending on your usage.
Mi Mix 3 Cameras & Photography
We’ve already touched on the selfie camera, which has seen big changes in this new model, but the primary camera has some enhancements too.
As previously it’s a 12Mp + 12Mp dual-lens camera, but some software improvements mean the quality is higher than ever. Whereas Mi Mix 2S scored 97 points in the DxO Mark test (and the Mi 8, which uses the same camera, 99 points), this Mi Mix 3 nets 103 points.
The setup comprises one Sony IMX363 wide-angle lens with f/1.8 aperture, 1.4um large pixels and Dual Pixel Autofocus, and one Samsung S5K3M3+ telephoto lens with f/2.4 aperture and 1.0um pixels. The combo boasts optical zoom and four-axis OIS, and is capable of 960fps slow-motion video.
It’s an AI camera, which means it can intelligently select the correct preset scene for your photo, without you having to give it too much thought. It can also use the second lens for Portrait mode in which it achieves bokeh-effect background blurring.
You can see some of our test shots below. The first is a simple point-and-shoot from our seventh-floor office terrace, looking over the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel the other side of Euston Road. With no input from us the image is true to life with realistic colours and great detail, well exposed and sharp right to the edges.
With HDR mode engaged the shadows and highlights are enriched, but some evidence of blurring goes to show how important it is to hold still the camera during such shots, especially on a windy roof terrace. Even so it’s still a very decent photograph that shows Mi Mix 3 is capable of great things.
We were less enthused by its low-light shots, and also surprised since the Mi Mix 2S seemed to handle these much better. The camera struggled to light the scene without resorting to the flash, and much noise is present. Of course we have seen significantly worse.
Mi Mix 3 Software
The Mi Mix 3 runs MIUI 10, which is a customised version of Android 9.0 Pie. The major differences are found in the Settings menu, which is slightly reordered, in the drop-down notification bar and in the fact there is no app tray, so all app shortcuts are on the home screen. You an also change the theme, and you’ll notice the default app icons look a little different to in standard Android.
In China they don’t use Google services, so MIUI has its own apps for pretty much everything you’d ordinarily use Google’s apps. You can use these, or you can install the apps with which you’re familiar – but here is the catch.
Because we’re testing the Chinese version of the phone it does not ship with Google Play. When the Mi Mix 3 is announced in the UK this version will come with Google services, as will the Global ROM variant when it becomes available. No matter, it’s easy enough to install them, as we outline here, if a bit daunting for novice users.
A recent minor amendment to the procedure means you will need to have a SIM card in the phone before allowing it to install files from unknown sources, but we expect if you’re setting up the Mi Mix 3 for personal use you will have installed a SIM in any case.
Having used MIUI for many years we have found it quickly becomes familiar, and actually its extra features may make it preferable to standard Android. The likes of Dual Apps and Second Screen are worthy of high praise, particularly if you’ll be taking advantage of the phone’s dual-SIM functionality.
We’re also keen on the backup options, which make it so much easier to get back to where you were following a factory reset, and you’ll find features such as Split-Screen here too.
A new addition here is Taplus, which we’ve not seen before on a Xiaomi phone, and the description suggests you tap and hold an item to learn more. We tried it but couldn’t get it to work, so it could be only for the apps we’re not using.
The oddly named ‘App Vault’ is swiped in from the left of the home screen, and as you see on many Android phones pulls together quick access to your most commonly used apps, notes and calendar events.
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