Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 - Design & Display Review
It’s easy to gush about Xiaomi’s consistency in value, but the sense is only heightened when taking the whole package into account. Starting at 3299 Yuan (about $480), the Mi MIX 3 makes even budget flagship warriors like the OnePlus 6T look overpriced. It features the same chipset, the same amount of RAM, a bigger battery and wireless charging, as well as smaller bezels, no notch, and an even more feature-rich OS, all without sacrificing speed, reliability or software update schedule. Xiaomi has, over the years, made other companies look a bit silly when comparing both value of the initial product purchase as well as long-term value, thanks to the support of their products for years after release.
The Mi MIX 3’s positive traits don’t revolve just around its less expensive price; it also features cutting-edge design, premium materials that other OEMs don’t use (like ceramic), and even wireless charging as well. The ceramic back of the Mi MIX 3 is as elegant looking as could be imagined, with a gorgeous sheen and curves that match the look. Fingerprints wipe off with ease by putting the phone into a pocket, and even oils and small dust particles don’t typically find their way onto the back surface of the Mi MIX 3. Even the front is covered in the latest generation Corning Gorilla Glass 6, which is twice as resistant to drops and dings than previous generations, all without losing the Mohs rating of 6 for scratch resistance.
The real magic of the design isn’t the ceramic back though, it’s the slider mechanism that gave Xiaomi the ability to make this the first truly bezel-less phone in their lineup. While many phones rely on notches or punch holes to make room for the front-facing camera, Xiaomi’s Mi MIX 3 hides its cameras behind the display, revealed by sliding the display itself down about a half an inch. This serves a twofold purpose, as this sliding action can be used as a shortcut for a handful of tasks, including launching the camera or bringing up a shortcuts panel for various predetermined actions.
The advent of the slider brings about one big positive and one big negative. First off, having a split design that slides creates an entry point for water or other debris, meaning the MIX 3 is not a water or dust resistant phone. It’s also prone to collecting lots of pocket lint and debris inside that slider and will regularly need to be cleaned out. This is, thankfully, easily done by blowing the dust away when the slider is open. On the positive side, the Mi MIX 3 is one of the strongest phones on the market and easily passes the bend test, much of that is likely owing to the fact that it’s a two-layer phone, which would inherently improve bend resistance.
The slider mechanism is powered by magnets, which click into place when opened or closed and keep the mechanism from wobbling or rattling during regular use. Occasionally I found the mechanism would rattle a very subtle amount when pulling it out of my pocket or if the vibration motors inside were running at full strength, but for the most part, this is a solid sliding mechanism that doesn’t feel cheap or frail in the least bit. My biggest complaint with the slider isn’t the mechanism itself, rather the difficulty of pulling it open due to the nearly frictionless materials used on front and back.
Glass is notoriously slippery, a material that makes up the entire front portion of the phone, and the ceramic that envelopes the sides and back fits this description even more. This results in a sandwich that’s difficult to slide when the weather is cold or dry, and nearly impossible to open if using cloth gloves, in particular. There are other ways of sliding it, like grabbing from the top and pushing the screen down, but they’re less elegant and can be dangerous as it makes the phone easier to drop. A case is included in the box, offering drop protection to the ceramic back of the phone, but not to the front glass panel.
Xiaomi has improved the vibration motors in the Mi MIX 3 considerably when compared to previous generations, and while they’re not quite in the same league as the most expensive phones on the market, they’re the best in this price range by a long shot. These vibration motors give off a more subtle feel, one that’s clearly more advanced in its movements and abilities, and can help differentiate from different UI elements and touch actions by the feel instead of just visually or audibly. They tend to vibrate the slider mechanism from time to time, but this doesn't happen often and isn’t usually super noticeable.
Display and Navigation
Part in parcel to the design is the display itself, which has received an upgrade in the form of a fully-complete 19.5:9 aspect ratio display that isn't interrupted by notches or punch hole cameras. It’s a gorgeous OLED panel that gets plenty bright in the sun, super dim when you need it, and looks absolutely stunning no matter what’s being displayed. Xiaomi offers a handful of ways to calibrate the display, but the panel looks excellent out of the box and likely won't need any calibration at all for most users. The resolution isn’t the highest among flagship-tier smartphones, but at this pixel density, you won't notice unless you're specifically holding the phone super close to count pixels.
While the display’s lack of obstructions or notches and its small bezels make the experience immersive enough, it’s the system-wide gesture navigation that truly seals the deal. Following in the footsteps of many other OEMs, Xiaomi has crafted a multitasking experience that works similarly to others while still remaining unique in a positive way. Xiaomi has taken out the pieces of the puzzle that don’t work as efficiently in other designs and swapped them out for better ideas. The only exception to this efficiency and speed change are the gestures themselves, which are a little on the slow side at times.
Funny enough, the slowest two gestures are directly related to multi-tasking. Swiping up from the bottom and holding opens up Overview, and swiping in from either left or right side and holding will swap between the two most recently used apps. The delay isn’t quite as long as it takes on Huawei’s EMUI, but it’s a long enough pause that’s noticeable and would do better with the ability to make this pause shorter. Thankfully the slow nature of these gestures is made up for by a multitasking interface that’s the absolute best in the industry, as it is both able to display full sized thumbnails of each recent app, as well as display at least 4 app tiles at any given point in time. This vertically scrolling row of alternating tiles is simply amazing looking, and it makes multitasking a breeze, with quick, glanceable information within a thumb’s reach.
It’s particularly refreshing to see Xiaomi cover every single base out there, especially while still running Android 9 Pie. Pie hasn’t had the warmest reception when it comes to Android updates, especially folks who are big on multitasking, but Xiaomi has created a way to use full-screen gestures that offer a quick way to swipe between two apps as well as an Overview/Recents screen that fits more information onto the screen in a competent way, unlike most OEMs that have adopted Google’s terrible multitasking design in stock Pie. Software navigation buttons still provide the best way to experience quick multitasking on any phone, but the tradeoffs here are about equal between speed and beauty.