Xiaomi basically invented the idea of the bezel-free phone in the original Mi Mix. Having evolved the screen-to-body ratio to epic proportions in its follow-up Mi Mix 2 the inevitable happened: every other company copied many of its ideas.

So where does a company go from there? Into the past to bring us the future, but of course! For the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 is the slider phone reimagined; embodying modern style and minimal bezel with a retro-like slide-to-open feature to reveal its otherwise hidden front-facing cameras.

Is the Mi Mix 3 setting the bar for the future once more?

What's a 'slider phone'?

  • Front-facing cameras hidden, exposed by sliding entire phone screen downwards
  • Magnetic system holds design in place, it's not motorised like Oppo Find X
  • Sounds can be assigned to sliding motion, including custom ones
  • Apps can be assigned to sliding motion too, not just the camera

The term 'slider phone' describes what it sounds like: a phone that slides open. Years ago that used to be to reveal the physical keyboard. But in 2018 we're not in the era of PDAs and QWERTY pads (sorry BlackBerry), so instead the Mi Mix 2 utilises this technique to reveal its otherwise hidden front-facing cameras.

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This idea of 'all display' design has become a hot topic over the years, with different manufacturers exploring the ways to hide such cameras. We've seen the Vivo Apexwhich evolved into the NEX S – and the Oppo Find X, both of which used mechanised methods to reveal their cameras from within the body.

The Mi Mix 3 is different. It uses magnets to hold the design into place, so a firm slide down action on the screen 'clicks' it into its new position, the cameras popping out to the top, the screen overlapping its original position to the bottom. The whole screen moves, unlike its competition.

And without mechanising there's less chance of a fail rate. Xiaomi says this design can handle 300,000 cycles from its lab testing, which is three times that of its competition.

Which is all well and good. Except the screen can't be locked into place. We've been putting an early test sample in and out of a pocket and – you've probably guessed it already – that sliding mechanism will often click into place when extracting the phone, unless it's in the correct orientation to avoid it. That could be a bit of a nuisance, we suspect. Swiping down on the screen even firmly doesn't move it, though, so pulling down the settings shade or getting into swipe-to-play games won't be a problem.

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What's rather fun about the Mi Mix 3's slider mechanism is how you can associate a sound with the movement. There are presets – or you can add your own custom sound as creatively/juvenilely as you like. Furthermore, the phone can assign apps rather than just opening the camera, should you, say, wish to use it to answer/end a class. We can't find where any of this happens in the settings, mind, so haven't been able to explore this otherwise fun-sounding feature.

Design and display

  • Colours: Onyx Black, Sapphire Blue, Jade Green (in ceramic, as pictured)
  • 6.39-inch AMOLED screen, 2340 x 1080 resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio
  • Rear positioned fingerprint scanner
  • 93.4% screen-to-body ratio

This new sliding screen design feature doesn't take-away from what Mi Mix is best known: maximising the screen-to-body ratio. The Mi Mix 3 is almost entirely screen, delivering a large 6.39-inch panel that represents over 93 per cent of the front design. No cameras in the 'forehead' and no fingerprint scanner in the 'chin' ensure minimal bezel, which is a Mi Mix staple.

If you're an eagle-eyed phone lover then you'll find that screen size familiar. That's because it's the same AMOLED panel as found in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the one also said to be in the Honor Magic 2. Such display technology – which is sourced from Samsung – is what ensures the sliding panel is thin (AMOLED is thinner than LCD and self-illuminates).

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However, there's no in-screen fingerprint scanner in the Mi Mix 3, like you'll find in the Mate 20 Pro. That, we believe, is on account of its slider design. Instead there's a rear-positioned circular fingerprint scanner, which follows the same colour as the phone's finish.

The latest Mi Mix isn't available in its iconic white finish this time around, however, with Xiaomi pushing two new finishes: Sapphire Blue and Jade Green, the latter in ceramic (yep, coloured ceramic). These colours sound bright, but they're actually very subtle in their hue. The green is rather blue-like in a lot of light (and a total nightmare to photograph for white balance too!). They are certainly distinctive, although fingerprint smears are rather problematic. 

Spec and performance

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 platform, 6GB/8GB RAM options
  • 10GB RAM in Forbidden City special edition only
  • MIUI 10 software (over Android Pie 9.0)
  • 5G ready from 2019 for EU market
  • 3200mAh battery capacity
  • 10W wireless charging

There's a lot to say about the Mi Mix 3's innards too. It goes fully flagship, offering the Snapdragon 845 chipset paired with an entry 6GB RAM, or 8GB if you buy the uprated model. There's even a special edition Forbidden City model, in conjunction with the Palace Museum in Beijing, which squeezes a massive 10GB RAM in (but we don't expect that'll ever be found outside of China; it's got a Xiezhi (獬豸) mythical beast in gold on its rear too).

We'd love to see how this powerful setup delivers. But we've hit a snag: the handset we had for preview was the Chinese version, so we'll have to wait until a relevant market model becomes available before digging into Google Play, various games and seeing whether it flies, and how hot that ceramic build might (or might not) become.

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All signs point to speed though. There's even future 5G capability, with Xiaomi targeting the European market for the first quarter of 2019. It'll be among the first devices to launch with that kind of super-speedy connectivity.

On the battery front, the 3200mAh cell at the Mi Mix 3's core isn't as capacious as some of its competition, such as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. It's also a lower capacity than that of the Mi Mix 2S, which is disappointing. However, there is Quick Charge 4 via cable and 10W wireless charging available (and pre-order customers will receive the wireless charging mat in the box – whether that'll translate into wider markets we won't know just yet).

Cameras

  • Rear: Dual 12-megapixel cameras
  • Main sensor: 1.4um pixels and f/1.8 aperture
  • Second sensor: 1.0um pixels and f/2.4 aperture
  • Front cameras: 12MP (1.8um, f/2.2) and 2MP depth sensor

On the cameras front Xiaomi has stuck with the dual lens setup design of the Mi Mix 2S. The sensors and optics are identical. But there's more going on behind the scenes thanks to processing and algorithm tweaks. Whether this will result in class-leading images, we're yet to see.

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A lot of camera success comes from how versatile the modes are. It's here that Xiaomi has taken a leaf out of Huawei's book, offering the likes of Night mode (multiple exposures, taken hand-held, combined into one), and a one-click AI Camera at the top of the main Photo mode in the Camera app (for auto-adjusting scenes based on their content).

It's progress, but whether it's enough to unseat the best available we're yet to see. And with the Google Pixel 3 putting in strong innings, there's a lot of added pressure.

First Impressions

The Mi Mix 3 steps into the past to bring us the future once more. The slider phone design makes way for a display-forward and almost bezel-free design that's unlike its pricier mechanised alternatives from Oppo and Vivo.

Indeed, that's one of the Mix 3's strengths. It's the same price as the Mix 2S that came before, starting at ¥3299. Converted that's £368/€415/$475 – which is absurdly good value for such a powerful and attractively designed device. That rate won't stick when the device launches into wider markets though, but good on Xiaomi for bucking the £1,000 trend.

However, there are some areas where questions remain: is that camera setup truly good enough; is the MIUI 10 software be grating for most users outside of China; and surely such powerful innards will trounce the 3200mAh battery capacity in little time? For now, we'll have to ponder that for longer – until we get a relevant review unit to test out.

All said, there's no doubt that the Mi Mix 3 continues in the run of exciting, adventurous and experimental phones to come out of China. And with Xiaomi confirming it is coming to the UK and other regions from Q1 2019, it won't be too long before you can see that for yourself.


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