Reviews

Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 review: Xiaomi got everything right, almost

Has one deal breaker

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When Xiaomi first introduced the original Mi MIX in 2016, it wasn’t like any other smartphone we had seen. All display, all screen. It was supposed to represent the future and, quite literally, pushed the boundaries of phones as we knew them. Not long after, others followed suit, each with a different approach to an edge-to-edge smartphone: big notch, small notch, curved edges, and pop-up cameras.

In its first three attempts, Xiaomi’s approach to the borderless concept involved moving the selfie camera to the lower-right corner of the screen. This meant that the phone’s upper half looked like the future, while its bottom half, not so much. The front camera was both awkward and impractical; it meant not being able to use Instagram Stories or video calls normally.

Four iterations later, Xiaomi fully embraces full borderless and takes bold new steps into the future with the new Mi MIX 3 by hiding the front camera completely. This setup gives the phone a 93.4 percent screen-to-body ratio and brings users closer to Xiaomi’s original vision for the phone — computing on an embellished piece of glass.

Durable design

No matter which way you look at it, there’s no denying that a notch-less, all-display phone is gorgeous. While this solution solves one issue, does it create another? By tucking away the front camera system, you’ll need to slide the display down to use it. It’s similar to what we saw from OPPO earlier this year with the Find X sans the motorized mechanism.

The OPPO Find X and Xiaomi Mi MIX 3

While OPPO’s offering presented durability problems not just with its overall build quality, but also by relying on a single motorized mechanism to support all of its sensors, Xiaomi says its approach is more durable. The Mi MIX 3 employs magnets for that bit of resistance, and snap. It’s pretty satisfying actually and Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun says it can double as a fidget toy replacement — and fidget with it, we did.

Xiaomi says the phone is rated for 300,000 snap cycles. That means if you plan on using the phone for three years, that leaves you with around 274 cycles a day. As of now we can’t really say if this claim is accurate, but the Mi MIX 3’s design does feel solid and durable — no wiggle room for bigger particles to get stuck in between the display and camera.

Not available during our time with the phone were sound effects and app toolbars that bring an expanded feature to the slider mechanism. Xiaomi says these will roll out another time through a software update.

For that peace of mind, Xiaomi bundles a black hard plastic case in the box that works seamlessly with the phone. There’s a cutout at the bottom that allows the display to slide down without obstruction.

Cameras that can compete

Apart from looking good, Xiaomi says they chose the sliding form factor with photography in mind. So it makes sense that the phone comes with pretty good cameras.

In all, there are four: two on each side — a first on a Xiaomi flagship. Its dual 12-megapixel rear cameras are arranged vertically on the phone’s back and not built into the slider. To our delight, Xiaomi kept the 2x telephoto lens as a secondary camera that many brands opt to omit in favor of a rather inadequate depth sensor.

These cameras are highly rated on DxOMark, a subjective but still pretty good measure of smartphone camera performance. The phone is now the third-highest-ranked smartphone camera — tied with the US$ 1,000-Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and one step above the regular Huawei P20.

Compared to last year’s model, photo quality has improved, albeit the difference is only noticeable in the most challenging scenarios like when shooting against the light.

We thought we’d also throw in some comparisons versus the Pixel 3 XL, iPhone XS Max, and Huawei Mate 20 Pro to show how it fares against some of the best smartphone cameras available in the market.

There are new features like 960fps super slow-mo video, video bokeh, as well as night mode, which works similarly to handheld low-light exposure shots on the Huawei P20 and Mate 20 series.

Here’s how it looks against similar shots taken with the Mate 20 Pro’s night mode.

There’s still AI scene detection built in, which you can turn off with a tap. This mode usually boosts color and saturation, although we usually prefer to leave it off since there’s no option to do so after taking the shot the way you can on Honor phones and Huawei’s Nova series.

Here are more photos we took around Beijing.

Underneath the display is the front camera system: a whopping 24MP selfie camera and a secondary 2MP lens to assist with portrait blur, plus a flash for low-light selfies.

There are also some fun portrait mode features available on both the front and rear cameras that you can add after the fact like adjusting background blur, light trails, and studio lighting effects. Our favorite is light trails, which was first teased during the Mi MIX 2S’ launch in spring. You can even save them as videos!

In the Chinese version of the phone, there’s also feature called Magic Mirror which rates your mug on a scale of 1 to 10. There’s clearly something wrong with the software here since since we only got scores below 8. 😂 Rest assured, we didn’t let this affect our self-worth all that much.

It’s also worth mentioning that since the front cameras are no longer placed at the bottom of the phone, they now double as a face unlock system. While unlock times are quick and sliding the phone down make us look really cool, we personally prefer using the back-side fingerprint sensor in this case since it was still the more convenient option between the two.

Beauty and a beast

Just like its predecessors, the Mi MIX 3 is a handsome phone. With the right amount of curves and a ceramic finish, it looks good from any angle. Apart from the usual black, it comes in two extra colors — Sapphire Blue and Jade Green, inspired by, well, jade. Because of its ceramic finish, the phones look somewhat similar when viewed in certain angles.

There’s also a special Palace Museum Edition that comes in a different shade of blue, inspired by Chinese ceramics. This variant boasts of a 10GB+256GB configuration.

Sapphire Blue is our favorite color of the three. Its front camera module has the same blue finish as the back, unlike Jade Green, which has black.

The ceramic finish is still a fingerprint magnet, and can be slippery at times. The phone is also taller, narrower, curvier, and less boxy than the MIX 2S. This makes it easier to wrap your palms around, although it could feel too tall sometimes. Unless you have large hands, sliding the display down might be a bit of a struggle.

On the left side, there’s an extra button dedicated currently to Xiaomi’s personal assistant Xiao Ai (literally translated “little love”). For its global versions, Xiaomi says it’s working on Google Assistant functionality, although it would be nice if they also gave users the option to remap it. A dual-4G nano SIM card slot also slides out of the left side, but there’s still no expandable storage.

There’s an earpiece at the very top of the phone, and when you slide the display down, you’ll find a set of speakers underneath. The sound that comes out of it is very faint compared to the main speaker grille found at the bottom, beside the USB-C port. And nope, there is no headphone jack.

Internally, Xiaomi packed what is expected of a 2018 flagship: Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line Snapdragon 845 chipset, up to 10GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB storage configurations. This means the Mi MIX 3 can handle virtually anything you throw at it without lag. Yes, PUBG works perfectly fine at the highest settings.

One of the MIX line’s strong suits has always been great battery life, partly due to a higher-than-average battery capacity. To say we’re disappointed to see a measly 3200mAh battery in the MIX 3 is an understatement. During our time with the phone, we barely got through the day with minimal use on a single charge. We had to plug in the phone even before we got around to playing PUBG on it.

Of course, battery capacity isn’t everything. With MIUI’s consistent updates, we’re hopeful the phone can be optimized further to handle basic tasks without sucking too much power. This being a Chinese version with side-loaded apps might also be a factor. On a more positive note, the Mi MIX 3 supports Quick Charge 4+ and is bundled with a Quick Charge 3.0 adapter. Fast charging is always welcome, and should be a standard in any flagship device launched this year.

Like the MIX 2S, the MIX 3 also supports wireless charging. In even better news, there’s a 10W wireless charger included in the box — a really nice touch. Other brands should take note: add free accessories, don’t take them away.

Stunning display

More than anything, this phone is all about its display, all 6.39 inches of it. After all, an all-screen experience is what Xiaomi’s most premium line of phones has always been about. For the first time in the MIX line, the Mi MIX 3 gets an AMOLED display and we can say that it does this borderless design justice.

Everything pops at you, or is it the other way around? The display draws you in. Colors are vibrant, text is crisp, and viewing angles are great.

Although, just like any phone with a taller aspect ratio, videos aren’t designed to fill the entire screen, which defeats the purpose of immersive entertainment. When you’re watching YouTube, for example, you can pinch to fill the screen, but expect some content to be cropped out unless the video was made for the taller aspect ratio.

Netflix also doesn’t fill the entire screen even when zoomed in. There’s a black bar on the right when watching in landscape mode so the phone ends up looking like it has a huge chin that fans love to hate.

Is the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 your GadgetMatch?

The MIX line is not for everyone, and the Mi MIX 3, with all its bells and whistles, is no exception.

It’s an interesting piece of tech, still with bits and pieces of the future Xiaomi envisioned this phone to represent. The sliding display is a novel idea but we’re curious to see if it will stick or if other manufacturers can find even better solutions to the all-display, no-notch dilemma.

With the headphone jack and expandable storage indefinitely absent in the MIX line, we would have loved to finally see water resistance for added protection instead. The Mi MIX 3 would have been an easy phone to recommend had it offered a bigger battery to match its larger display. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a phone made for heavy users the way its predecessors were.

Just like its predecessors though, selfies are still not a priority for this phone despite the dual-camera upgrade in front. Unless you genuinely enjoy sliding half the phone down just to reveal the front cameras, taking selfies is still an inconvenience compared to a few quick taps on other phones. If you have small hands and are clumsy, we’d even go as far as saying this is more inconvenient than the previous generations’ awkwardly placed cameras; you will end up dropping this phone at some point sliding the mechanism down trying to take a selfie.

But at a starting price of CNY 3,299 (US$ 475), the Mi MIX 3 is easily a top contender in the best bang-for-your-buck race. It’s not perfect, but it’s closer to perfection than most smartphones in this price point. Aside from impressive cameras, the beautiful notch-less display, and overall performance, we recommend this phone for its novelty and for users who hate Thanos-like chins on smartphones.

Otherwise, the MIX 2S launched in March is a great choice and is still one of the most beautiful and capable smartphones this year. You’ll get the same performance, dual cameras, wireless and fast charging, and a much better battery life. It’s likely to get a discount, too, as soon as the MIX 3 starts rolling out to more markets outside China. Xiaomi says most of the new camera features on the MIX 3 will also come to the Mi MIX 2S.

If you live in Europe, it’s also best to wait as Xiaomi promises that 5G versions of the Mi MIX 3 will launch in the region some time in early 2019.

Lifestyle

Amazon Kindle PaperWhite Signature Edition Review

The best Kindle for every bookworm?

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It’s been a while ever since the Amazon Kindle PaperWhite had a refresh. To be particular about it, its 10th-Generation model was released last 2018 — merely three years ago!

This 2021, the new 11th-Gen Kindle PaperWhite offers better upgrades including a larger and brighter display, as well as USB-C and wireless charging support.

But are those enough to make you upgrade? Or should you wait for the next version of Kindle Oasis instead?

Head over to our unboxing and in-depth review of the Amazon Kindle PaperWhite and watch it in 4K too.

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Accessories

AirPods 3 Unboxing and Review

Watch before you buy!

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If you’ve been holding your money for so long just to buy the new AirPods 3 (also called the AirPods 3rd Generation), this is your chance to finally get one.

But with the absence of removable ear tips and Active Noise Cancellation from the AirPods Pro, would you still consider buying the pair?

Head over to our AirPods 3 Unboxing and Review to help your impulsive self.

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Gaming

Hot Wheels Unleashed review: A childhood dream realized

It’s action-packed and rather nostalgic

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Hot Wheels Unleashed

As a kid, I wanted all kinds of toys whenever we went to toy stores in the city. One of the very first toys I had an obsession over was Hot Wheels. From collecting cars to building tracks in the living room, it became the quintessential set of toys that got me into racing games all this time.

When Hot Wheels Unleashed was released, I instantly knew that this was a game I didn’t want to miss. As someone who plays a ton of racing games, this one felt right at home next to Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. Unlike CTR:NF, the nostalgia I felt for this game was more on the side of “playing my toys on a virtual screen” type of thing.

However, if you’re looking for another game to help you pass the time, is this a game worth considering?

A racing game at its core

As with most games involving toy cars, Hot Wheels Unleashed feels right at home as a racing game. It even comes with some of the most standard game modes you can think of for any racing game, so you won’t necessarily miss out if you’re a racing game fan. Where this game sets itself apart is in its easy-to-grasp game mechanics.

Usually, all you have to do is drive around the course and win 1st Place by outspeeding and outsmarting (in some situations) your opponents. You still do that but with some key differences, particularly towards boosting. Honestly, I like the fact that boosts are activated by button pushes and accumulated by drifting. To me, it’s friendly even to new players getting into racing games.

Hot Wheels Unleashed

The other thing I like is the fact that each Hot Wheels toy car comes with its own cart stats, and not just a general one all throughout. This also gives you an incentive to try and get every available model in the game and try them out for yourself. Furthermore, you can even upgrade these stats using Gears, and customize their Livery to however you like.

Creativity and originality in track design

Every racing game needs some interesting tracks to race around, especially with something like Hot Wheels. In Hot Wheels Unleashed, you have access to 5 main backdrops, each with about 8-9 different tracks that come with their own surprises. From high-arching loops to acid pits, each track will have you doing things a bit differently each time you race.

In fact, the first thing I noticed was that the elements in the tracks are quite similar to the actual models in those track builder sets. The designers did an incredible job with maximizing the entire backdrop to produce tracks with enough twists and turns along the way. Also, I would even argue that these tracks let you play around with the driving mechanics.

Now, I have some good news and bad news for you on these tracks. The bad news is that when you start the game, most of the tracks are locked as in-game transactions. If you wanted to unlock them the easy way, just pay a few bucks to get in-game currency and buy them.

However, the good news is you can unlock them by completing the Hot Wheels City Rumble mode. Although it will be an immense grind on your part, but I honestly think it’s worth it!

Wait, you can make your own tracks?!

Yes, you read that right: Hot Wheels Unleashed also allows you to create your own tracks to race on with your friends online. See, one unique mode to the game is the Track Builder, and I guess the name is self-explanatory. To be honest, this game mode was the best and it actually brings me back to my childhood.

Once you start the game mode, you basically have a blank canvas to work with, depending on the main backdrop you choose. After choosing your desired backdrop, you have a variety of track builder pieces to choose from and customize. Also, it even comes with your set of obstacles and boost pads to add some flavor to your tracks.

I absolutely enjoyed going on Track Builder as someone who collected Hot Wheels track sets before. Basically, you can create some of the most death-defying tracks that your younger self could not afford to before. Seriously, Hot Wheels track builder sets are expensive, and this game basically lets you experience this without spending a hefty amount.

Some low points

Much like most racing games, this one doesn’t come with its own set of shortcomings. To no one’s surprise, this game comes with a Hot Pass that allows you to earn more cars, tracks, and track builder sets. The good thing about it is, well, it’s more content at your disposal. At the time of writing, they’re currently running one with Batman vehicles as the main rewards,

The thing I don’t like about it is that you have to pay for it. I genuinely feel that this is something that would have been better off as a Battle Pass-type of package instead of paid DLC. I mean, it’s additional content that people also want to try out but with a rather hefty price tag. Maybe if they did it this way, people would continue to grind out the game.

Another thing that felt lacking in my eyes was the Basement, particularly the customization aspect.

I get it, it’s another main backdrop for your tracks and you can work with a ton of elements when creating your own. However, I didn’t like that the customization was limited to just the exterior design. Honestly,  I was looking for more customization options like moving the furniture around.

A roaring good time

Hot Wheels Unleashed is a racing game that feels right at home with the best of them. From a vast selection of carts to creative and unique track design, it feels fresh to anybody trying to get into racing games. Also, if you grew up playing your Hot Wheels car collection, this takes you back to simpler times.

Again, it’s not perfect and hopefully with upcoming patches, the game does get better. However, they missed out on some opportunities to make it a worthwhile game to play for any occasion. Sure, if you had money to burn, this wouldn’t be an issue; for others, however, they want a lot more without spending too much.

Overall, this game will give you a roaring good time, especially when you just need some down time from all the stress. What made it even more special for me was that this game pretty much made one of my childhood dreams a reality!

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