Elsewhere there’s a dedicated Google Assistant button and standard round fingerprint scanner, but apart from the slider the most notable aspect of the design is that, while the front is covered in Gorilla Glass 5 and the curved frame is aluminium, the rear is actually ceramic. With curved sides and a mirror-like finish, the material gives the grey-black body a beautiful liquid-like vibe, accented by a gold badge and the aforementioned camera stack. The ceramic material should, in theory, also offer superior protection from scratches and cracks than a glass back.
I generally don’t conduct resilience tests on loaned smartphones I review, but it appears that whoever had this particular Mi Mix 3 unit before me isn’t so kind. The display was absolutely hammered with scratches, some of which looked to have been sustained at quite a high speed, but the ceramic back (once cleaned of fingerprints) was practically flawless. Whether that’s by chance or resilience I can’t say for sure, but it’s a good sign considering your options for protective cases will be limited on a sliding body smartphone.
Under the hood there’s a 2018 flagship-class Snapdragon 845 processor and 6GB of RAM, so performance is very good, and 128GB of storage. The 3200mAh battery easily lasted me all day, and supports up to Quick Charge 4.0+ so you can top it up entirely in less than an hour. Wirelessly you can get from dead to around 30 per cent in half an hour. Most impressively, the phone actually comes with an 18W wired charger and 10W wireless charging pad in the box, so you get the full charging capabilities without having to buy extra accessories.
Those who must have the latest and greatest and don’t mind a price bump should note that a 5G variant of the Mi Mix 3, featuring the Snapgragon 855, has launched elsewhere in the world. There’s no announcement yet of an Australian release.
The Mi Mix 3’s cameras make for good all-round photography, but they aren’t as stellar as the rest of the package. There’s a pair of 12MP primary snappers, one wide and one telephoto. Only the standard wide camera has image stabilisation though, so if you’re going for zoom you need to have steady hands. Results are detailed and colourful, and there’s a quick-but-noisy night mode for low-light shooting.
On the slider there’s a 24MP selfie cam that makes for solid shots, and a 2MP depth sensor so that, like with the primary cameras, you can get those fancy faux-bokeh portrait shots.
On the software front, the phone runs Android 9 with Xiaomi’s MIUI on top. Like most Chinese Android variants, this one makes Google’s software feel quite a bit more like Apple’s, doing away with the app drawer and making system functions stark and rounded. Swiping right from the home screen you’ll get App Vault, which works a lot more like iPhone’s Today View than Google’s Feed. You have a choice of gestures to navigate the phone, or the older-style three-button Android setup.
Yet compared to Samsung and Huawei, Xiaomi takes a much lighter tough to Android. Most of the core Google functions are still there, you can get by without creating a Mi account and some additions — like the slick multi-tasking and recents screen — a really great. Of course there’ll be no pleasing Apple die-hards or Android purists with this approach, and the interface could use some extra polish, but it only takes a few days to adjust to.
With its all-screen front and ceramic back the Mi Mix 3 is a gorgeous phone, but it’s also powerful and packs a fun and useful camera-sliding gimmick. I have a few minor complaints, including the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack, no official waterproof rating and a fairly mediocre bottom-firing loudspeaker. But all up, considering the much lower price, this is an attractive alternative to the more mainstream flagship smartphones.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.