July 15, 2014 was the day when the Indian mobile market got one of its most dramatic shakeups. That was the day Xiaomi unveiled the Mi 3 in India, and to put it mildly, things would never be the same again. Until that day, the idea of a great value for money phone had been something like the first Moto G or the Asus Zenfone 5 (oh yes, we had one of those all the way back in 2014 too) – basically a relatively well-specced mid-segment phone at a price that was relatively low. Both these devices had specs, design and performance that you would have generally got from phones that were significantly more expensive.
Then on July 15, along came Xiaomi and turned everything totally on its head.
That was the day the company launched the Mi 3. Yes, it was slightly long in the truth, having been launched in China in 2013, but make no mistake about it, the specs were still flagship level – the Mi 3 came with a 5.0-inch full HD display and was powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor with 2 GB RAM, 16 GB storage (non-expandable), a 13.0-megapixel rear camera, 3G, NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a largeish 3050 mAh battery. All this with an elaborate MIUI overlay above Android KitKat. And in a stylishly yet solidly designed aluminum frame that looked classy.
The price? The 16 GB variant of a much lower specced Moto G cost Rs 13,999.
And that was the price of the Mi 3 – Rs 13,999.
It was epic. It was jaw-dropping. It was one of the few times I have seen media persons applauding a price tag. No matter how much people cursed the flash price model through which it was available (“sold out in a few seconds”). And it pretty much laid the foundation for Xiaomi in India – a brilliant product at a surprisingly low price (although Xiaomi itself would fail to repeat that price tag for any of its successive flagships). And in doing so laid the foundation of the budget flagship market in the country. Ironically, it was a segment where it would get bested by OnePlus in the coming years, but as a OnePlus executive conceded on condition of anonymity, “If it had not been for Hugo Barra and the Mi 3, no one would in India would have believed that a high-end device could be available at an affordable price. So yes, they did make it easier for us when we came into the market.”
The Mi 3 was an amazing device for that price tag – easily the best value for money phone ever release in the country. To this day.
Which is why we still have our unit. And yes, it is still working. And if one is ready to fiddle a little with a computer, one can even update it to MIUI 9.
Four years down the line, the Mi 3 still cuts a surprisingly smart figure. Yes, some people will complain about the size of the bezels around the 5.0-inch display, but the black borders around it make it appear smaller. The metallic back of our unit has got a few scratches now but remained pristine for quite a while. And at 8.1 mm, the Mi 3 was exceptionally slim for its time, and frankly, it still looks very distinct. Mind you, were it not for the camera on the back, some might mistake it for one of the Chinese company’s rather slim and stylish power banks. It looks very solid. And of course, you will need a SIM card adaptor to get your micro and nano SIMs working with this one, because it supported only a full-sized old fashioned SIM card.
And even four years down the line, the Mi 3 works surprisingly well. Yes, we can see the odd lag now when switching between applications, but by and large, the display still is bright and even Asphalt did not exactly break it down, although PUBG was a bit of a struggle. Graphics are not as good as they seemed in 2014, thanks to more than the odd frame drop, but when it comes to social networks and the like, the phone works generally very smooth. The 13.0-megapixel shooter is now clearly a step slower than all the others in the market, especially when you dip into (Barra’s beloved) HDR mode, but if you are not trying to cover something that is moving very fast, you will still get clear, if a trifle oversaturated photographs. The one part of the phone that seems really dated however is the 2.0-megapixel selfie camera, which takes decent enough snaps but nothing on par with what one gets on devices now.
The sound, though, remains a bit of an issue as it was when it started out (the speakers on the base of the phone are surprisingly tinny). But a big surprise is the battery life – you will be able to see off a decent portion of the day thanks to the 3050 mAh battery. Yes, the OS is still KitKat but truth be told, if you are looking for a phone that looks very solid and turns in a consistent performance, the Mi 3 does a surprisingly decent job even today.
Four years ago, it launched Xiaomi in India. Today, it wobbles a little but still gets by. Four years ago, it was available for Rs 13,999. Today, we have a few people offering us Rs 20,000 for it. It is a slice of Mi history.
Nah, we are not giving it. It still works.
And we like having a bit of Mi history with us too.