In July 2014, Xiaomi entered the Indian smartphone market with the Mi 3. At that time, the Xiaomi Mi 3 had almost top-of-the-line specifications, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 5-inch Full HD display, 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, 13-megapixel camera, 3,000mAh battery, and Android 4.4 KitKat. Crafted in a steel body and priced at just Rs. 14,000, it seemed like a deal too good to be true. I, like many others, took the plunge and bought it.
It has been 18 months since that launch. Every week, I see new phones being launched with high-end hardware and surprisingly low price tags. The OnePlus One or OnePlus Two, Xiaomi’s own Mi 4, Lenovo’s Vibe X2, Moto X Play, and several other phones seem great and I keep looking for reasons to upgrade. But honestly, even after a year and a half, the Mi 3 is going strong and I don’t actually need a new phone or an upgrade.
If you had told me in 2014 when I was buying the Mi 3 that a power user like me wouldn’t feel the need to upgrade the phone come 2016, I would have laughed in your face.
And yet, here I am, ready to meet the new year without being able to convince myself to buy a new phone.
Cheap in Price, Not in Quality
Through these 18 months, given the nature of my job, I got to use other smartphones, from flagship models like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge to mid-range marvels like the Motorola Moto G. There’s always something to like about each new phone, but everytime when I’m done with a review and come back to the Mi 3, I never feel like I’m missing out on a premium experience. More importantly, it feels like I got my money’s worth—nay, it feels like I got a sweet deal!
Much like decently future-proof PCs became affordable sometime in the late 90s and early 2000s, and decently future-proof laptops became affordable around 2007-2010, smartphones seem to be hitting that sweet spot now. Most of these mid-range phones launched in 2014 are still going strong in 2015 for those who bought them.
Smartphone hardware has largely hit a plateau. There is no ground-breaking innovation happening, and every new model is about small improvements. That’s not a bad thing either. It gives you, the user, better value for your money. With smartphones plateauing, you don’t need to upgrade your phone every year.
At the same time, companies like Xiaomi, Lenovo, Gionee, and others are able to work their numbers in a way where top-notch hardware can be made available at a much cheaper price than giants like Samsung or Sony. The end result is that the mid-range phone you buy now is probably matching up to what Samsung or HTC released a few months ago, and it’s also not going to be obsolete in hardware terms for another two years. All at a fraction of the price!
Compromises Are Everywhere
The common refrain against these mid-range phones is that you’re going to compromise somewhere. And that’s true. There is a compromise on some aspect or the other. Here’s the thing though: *every* Android phone asks you to compromise somewhere. If you buy the top-of-the-line flagship, don’t think that you’re getting a flawless phone, there are disadvantages in everything.
In the end, it often comes down to the price you pay and how much value you derive out of it over the long term. With the Mi 3, buyers who got it at Rs. 14,000 last year would, like me, be astounded by how good a phone it still is. It’s got a great camera, the battery life is among the better ones, the FullHD screen holds up, and it’s reportedly even getting upgraded to Android Marshmallow!
I persuaded several friends to purchase the Mi 3 last year, and every one of them is happy with their phones. Sure, there are a few complaints. Mi 3 owners are sometimes bottlenecked by the 16GB of storage; some gamers bemoan the 2GB RAM killing their game midway when they need to switch tasks for a few seconds. Legitimate concerns, but none of them feel like they should have paid twice or thrice the cost of the Mi 3 to get that little boost in performance.
There’s another issue that keeps them (and me) from upgrading: the design. The Mi 3’s metal body and curved edges make it feel like a premium smartphone—even more so than its successor, the Mi 4, or most other mid-range phones like it.
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Go Cheap, It’s Worth It
In India, after-sales is a matter of luck. Two people can, and often do, have completely different experiences when they take their phone in for repairs. The argument of “buy a known brand, you’ll have good service” doesn’t hold much weight with me.
When someone is buying a flagship phone now, I turn them to the Xiaomi-Lenovo-Gionee-OnePlus class of mid-range phones. Unless they have specific requirements, I find it difficult to recommend anything that is far north of the Rs. 20,000 mark. In fact, I usually end up somewhere around Rs. 10,000-15,000, depending on the buyer.
Phones are fragile, they’re easily stolen, and a million things can alter their functioning. If a 15,000-rupee phone is giving you almost the same experience as a 50,000-rupee phone, there’s simply no justifying the rich purchase. Buy the expensive phone if you can and want to, but know that you probably aren’t getting that much more more value out of it.