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Xiaomi Mi Note 3 hands-on: They should have called it the Mi 6 Plus

Xiaomi Mi Note 3 Hands on

OK, Xiaomi‘s Mi MIX 2 stole the show yesterday. In an event that’s usually all about the Mi Note series, Xiaomi has a new champion in their high-end flagship phablet category. But, the new Mi Note 3 does share at least one common thing with the Mi MIX 2: It also has a change in mantra.

Xiaomi’s Mi Note has been a smartphone to get excited for. It was their flagship phablet that’s designed to compete with the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy Note. In fact, the very first Mi Note pioneered the curved glass back design, and they did it so well that Samsung even picked it up and equipped the Note5 with it.

But this round, Xiaomi’s Mi Note 3 had its identity stripped away. Now, Xiaomi markets it simply as a “big Mi 6” and from my time with it, I really can’t come up with a more accurate description. Might as well have called it the Mi 6 Plus.

Still, I wouldn’t say that that description is strictly a bad one because the Mi 6 is an excellent device and as far as I can tell the Note 3 is pretty good too. Despite the bump down in processor — Snapdragon 835 to Snapdragon 660 — I didn’t really notice an appreciable drop in speediness during my hands on. Memory options are the same as the Mi 6 too, with 6GB of RAM and 64GB/128GB of internal storage, though it is the slower eMMC 5.1 rather than UFS.

You also have the same dual 12MP camera unit as the Mi 6 at the back where one shoots wide and the other does short telephoto. However, it’s around front where things have changed because Xiaomi’s slapped on a 16-megapixel selfie shooter with “Adaptable AI Beautification” because everyone wants a slice of that selfie pie.

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I’m not quite sure why “AI” has become everyone’s favourite buzzword, but it has. Maybe it’s because it’s easy to to bullshit consumers with things they don’t understand. When I gave the selfie features a try in the booth, I honestly didn’t feel that it was that different from what I’ve used on Samsung’s Galaxy A series of smartphones. Maybe its because no amount of beautification can rescue my face, so your mileage may vary.

What I definitely liked about the Mi Note 3 over its smaller Mi 6, however, is the fact that the handset is significantly lighter than the Mi 6. I think the Mi 6’s weight was further amplified by its tiny stature, but the fact that the Note 3 is a little bigger with a 5.5-inch FHD display isn’t the reason it feels so much lighter. That is because the Mi Note 3 ditched the silly stainless steel frame and opted for a more conventional one made out of 7000 series aluminium. So despite being bigger and having a larger 3,500 mAh battery, it’s significantly lighter in the hands.

And that’s about all the difference between the the Note 3 and the Mi 6. There’s still no headphone jack, no IP68 water and dust resistance, and it doesn’t support microSD expansion. However, it also retains the Mi 6’s ergonomic curved back and showy looks (if you like that sort of thing) plus the handset’s earpiece stereo speakers which — even in when poorly implemented — is still more satisfying than a mono speaker.

Am I disappointed that it feels like Xiaomi has chucked the Mi Note series aside in favour of the Mi MIX? Yes, I am. I like it when phones from different lines have distinct features to separate them from the other handsets bearing the same badge. Samsung’s Note series, for example, has the S Pen to tell it apart from the Galaxy S and even last year’s Note 2 had a dual-curved display to separate it from the Mi 5.

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For the Note 3, I don’t really see much of a distinct feature because I don’t think making it a little lighter and slapping on a 16MP selfie shooter is enough to set it apart. It was so similar, in fact, that when I left my Mi 6 on the desk at the Mi Note 3’s experiential zone, someone almost mistook it for a Mi Note 3.

Will it matter to the end consumer? Again, like I said with the Mi MIX 2: Probably not. Because, despite the fact that it has a bigger screen and a more capable selfie camera, the Mi Note 3 retails at the same starting price as the Mi 6 when that first came out at CNY2.499 (around RM1,610). Even with the downgrade in processor, I still think it’s a great deal and I’m sure many would agree, because at the end of the day the Xiaomi Mi Note 3 is still a solid smartphone.

I’m just a little disappointed that the Mi Note 3 seems to have lost its identity.