Well, I have some (kinda) good news for you. Today I’m reviewing the Xiaomi Mi Pad 3, a 7.9in Chinese tablet that has no shame in borrowing a healthy dose of design cues from a certain fruit logo-bearing competitor. For better or worse, the Mi Pad 3 looks an awful lot like an iPad Mini in Android clothing. Is it as good, or better than the tablet it is imitating? Let’s find out.
It’s impossible to look at the Mi Pad 3 and not be reminded of an iPad mini. The looks are strikingly similar, intentionally so. The size, weight, thickness, bezels, and camera placement are all almost identical. The back is a flat slab of aluminum with rounded sides, similar to – you guessed it – the iPad mini.
Really, the only things that set it apart from the iPad are the placement of the speakers and buttons, and the lack of a home button on the front. Yeah, it’s pretty much a blatant copy, but at least the source material is well designed. Hate on Apple all you want, the iPad mini is a nice looking device that’s easy to hold, and so is the Mi Pad 3 by extension.
Let’s take a little tour of the tablet. At the top left corner of the device is a headphone jack, and centered at the bottom of the tablet is a USB-C port. The left side is bare and the right side features a power bottom and volume rocker about an inch below the top. The buttons are the only parts that feel a bit cheap on this tablet. While they are made of aluminum and have nice feedback, they are a bit too loose in their sockets, which makes them wiggle when touched and rattle when shaken. A small thing, but hard to ignore once you notice it.
The front of the device is dominated by the display, surrounded by black bezels of moderate size top and bottom. The navigation buttons are back-lit capacitive keys at the bottom of the display arranged in the Samsung fashion, which feels backwards to many users, including myself. That’s two things I really don’t care for in one aspect of the tablet. Now, the buttons can be remapped in the settings to change the back button to the left and menu to the right. However, the icons can’t be changed as they are back-lit cutouts, so instead of fixing the layout, it makes it even worse as the icons no longer match their actions.
On the plus side, the duration that the buttons stay lit can be adjusted, or the back-light can be disabled completely system wide, or while using specific apps. You might have noticed that the home button is not a fingerprint scanner as it is on the iPad mini. There isn’t one anywhere else on the device either, nor is there NFC, or a microSD card slot. Now, 64GB of internal space helps offset the need for expandable storage, and you’re not likely to use a tablet to pay for your groceries with Android Pay, but the missing fingerprint scanner is frustrating. That’s become a pretty standard feature on devices in 2017, and I miss it here. Going back to using a pin number to unlock my device feels archaic. Funny how quickly times change.
Flipping the device over, there’s not a lot going on. A 13MP camera occupies the upper left corner, and twin speakers sit at the bottom of the rear panel spaced an inch and a half apart. The speakers are stereo, which is laughable as an inch and a half of separation is barely sufficient for your ears to distinguish the difference between the channels. They are also completely useless as stereo speakers when holding the tablet in landscape mode, the way I assume 99 percent of people orient their tablet when watching a movie. They still play audio in stereo when the tablet is oriented in landscape, meaning you have a top and bottom channel instead of a right and left channel. That’s just bizarre.
In terms of volume, the speakers are about as loud as you’d expect with a tablet this size. In a quiet room they are perfectly fine for watching a show or playing a game. They don’t have any low end, but they are clear and distortion free. Audio from the headphone jack is great, with enough power to drive a set of 50mm headphones well above a comfortable listening level.
Taken as a whole, the tablet is very well constructed and feels light yet solid in hand. There are no gaps, the glass panel on the front is completely uniform, and weight is evenly distributed across the device. If you want to get a good approximation for how it feels to hold one, get your hands on an iPad mini. A tech novice might not even be able to tell them apart with a blindfold on.
The highlight of the Mi Pad 3 is definitely the IPS LCD display. Its resolution of 2048×1536 is identical to that of the screen found in the iPad mini. It’s rumored that the display is, in fact, sourced from the same supplier as the one that adorns Apple’s smallest tablet. That wouldn’t surprise me at all, as it is quite brilliant. Colors are deep and rich, black levels are respectable, and the white balance is well calibrated. It has all the nits you need for outdoor viewing, and even more importantly, in my opinion, it can drop to delightfully low brightness levels for late night use. The LCD panel can dim even further than the AMOLED screen on my Nexus 6P, something I find impressive.
A number of tweaks can be made to the screen through the settings panel. The tint can be adjusted and a black and white mode can also be enabled to supposedly increase battery life. I don’t believe color has the same impact on power consumption on an LCD panel as it does on an AMOLED display, but the setting is there nonetheless and will make Gothic and noir fans happy. There’s also a reading mode that amps up the red levels for nighttime viewing, a feature I always love to see implemented on the system level.
Frankly, I sometimes wonder why we even bother with this section in tablet reviews. There seems to be an unwritten law that tablet cameras must be lousy, and man, Xiaomi is a law-abiding company in that regard. I’ve take a few shots for you to look at, because, hey, I already spent some time typing a header for this section, so why not.
At first blush the pictures look acceptable, but once you take a closer look it’s apparent that the images are bland, soft, and lacking vibrancy. All these were taken with the 13MP rear camera, the photos from the front facing camera were even worse. The selfies I took made me look absolutely awful, so I vainly excluded them from the review.
The image quality is mediocre, even for a tablet, but the camera app is downright awful. The only setting to be found is a toggle to switch between the front and rear camera and photo and video mode. That’s it, folks. There’s nothing else there, well, besides a handful of filters thrown in as an afterthought. The camera app doesn’t even allow you to preview the images you capture, you’ve got to switch to the album app to view your mediocre photos. Poor effort, but let’s be honest, most people are (hopefully) never going to use the cameras anyways.
Performance and battery
These are two areas where the Mi Pad 3 performs surprisingly well. Here are a couple of benchmarks for the tablet for those of you who insist on such things. On the left is Antutu and on the right GeekBench 4.
Now, those numbers may not look very impressive to those who can discern their meaning, but I personally think benchmark numbers are limited in their usefulness. With that in mind, let me tell you how the tablet performs on daily tasks. Apps and games open quickly, and switching between applications doesn’t tax the Mi Pad at all. 4GB of RAM is plenty to keep it chugging along. The half dozen games I downloaded on the Mi Pad 3 all played just fine, with only an occasional skipped frame on the most taxing titles. In short, it’s actually very pleasant to use.
Even when playing a more intense game, like Asphalt 8, the tablet gets just warm enough to be perceptible, and even then it’s only the top third of the device where warmth can be felt at all. Not bad, Mediatek.
Longevity is quite solid as well. With an ample 6,600mAh battery, I saw between 8-10 hours of screen on time per charge, with a bit less than that when playing a lot of games. That’s shorter than the advertised 12 hours of battery life, but it’s ample time to keep you entertained during a long flight, or last for a full day of playing Candy Crush while pretending to take notes during business meetings.
The only concern I had with battery life is that standby battery drain is higher than I would like to see, with the battery falling 5-8 percent overnight. That’s not as good as it could be, but hopefully it’s something that can be tightened up in future updates (if there are future updates).
Speaking of updates, the Mi Pad 3 comes in need of an update right out of the box. It’s running Android 7.0, not 7.1, which is a little annoying since 7.1 has been available for several months now. What goes a step beyond annoying to straight up aggravating is that some of the most important features of Nougat are missing in MIUI 8.2. There’s no split screen support on the Mi Pad 3, which severely hampers its usefulness as a productivity device. You also can’t pin apps, or set up multiple user profiles, and expanded notifications are nowhere to be found.
Xiaomi has also done the best it could to mimic Apple by ‘iOS’ing the look of app icons, adding a quick ball shortcut tool, and by removing the app drawer. Seriously, manufacturers: leave the app drawer alone! Unlike the build on MIUI found on the Mi Note 2, there doesn’t seem to be any way to enable an app drawer, either. I won’t harp on this too much, though, as installing a custom launcher is an easy fix to the homescreen set up if it bothers you.
Besides the coat of iPaint, the software is fairly bland and unobtrusive. The quantity of pre-installed apps is worthy of praise. There is not a single app on the tablet that I would classify as bloat. There are a couple custom tool apps, like the calculator and notes app, but besides that there’s not much else taking up space on the device. This leaves a large portion of the 64GB of on-board storage available for personal use, which is good since there is no expandable memory on the tablet. (The available storage in the image is not indicative of the total storage capacity as additional apps and games were installed on the tablet when I took the screenshot.)
There are a few of software touches added by Xioami that I do enjoy. You can wake the tablet with a double tap of the screen, a blue light filter setting is included in the quick settings shade, and the system animations all look fluid and elegant. The settings menus are also laid out in a manner that I found intuitive and user friendly. Besides that, there’s not a lot else to be said. It’s a bland version of Nougat that looks like iOS and is missing a couple of useful features.
It’s common knowledge that global tablet sales are down. It seems we, as consumers, have figured out that very few people actually need a tablet. Our phones screens are getting larger, and our laptops are getting thinner and more tablet-like with touchscreens, fold over displays, and lift away bodies. There’s just less need for a third device to fit between these two, and most people who need one already have one, and don’t have many compelling reasons to upgrade.
Most tablets aren’t great for productivity, and the Mi Pad 3 is worse than average in that regard. Its predecessor, the Mi Pad 2, rocked Android, but was also available with Windows, making it at least a little business friendly. This new model can’t even run split screen apps. Where it does shine is as a media consumption device. With its beautiful screen, competent battery life, and adequate performance, this is a great tablet for killing time during a commute or flight.
There is a problem with the Mi Pad 3, though, at least for US based readers: it’s way too expensive for what you get. GeekBuying, who supplied our review unit sells them for $250 (thanks guys). For just $50 more you can buy a 128GB iPad Mini 4, or a full-size 32GB iPad. Granted, those are limited time sale prices, but still, you’d have to be kinda nuts to go with the Mi Pad over an iPad. Even as an Android fanatic myself, I readily admit that Apple just does tablets better. I’m sure I’ll take heat for that in the comments, but I doubt any other writer at AP would disagree.
If you want a cheap media consumption device, you can pick up an 8 inch Amazon fire tablet for $80-125. The screen won’t be as pretty, and the build quality won’t be as nice, but for less than half the price you still get a serviceable tablet. At $150-175, the Mi Pad 3 would be easy to recommend to Android purists who want a tablet with nice build quality and a great screen. At $250, with mediocre software and a lengthy list of small irritations, I just don’t really know who is going to want to buy this.
Perhaps you disagree, so feel free to tell me why in the comments. Also, if there are any questions you still have that weren’t answered by the review, drop them below and I’ll do my best to answer them. If you want to read more about the tablet, then head on over to GeekBuying and check it out for yourself.
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