Tech for your connected self

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 review

A budget fitness tracker that continues to pack in the features

The Xiaomi Mi Band 3 is the Chinese company’s new budget fitness tracker, and one that seems to be proving that the humble tracker is still very much alive. At least it is in China, where the new Mi Band hit one million sales in just 17 days after going on sale.

So why is the Xiaomi fitness tracker still getting so much love? It might have something to do with the fact it's priced at less than $30, and that's a whole lot cheaper than it costs to buy a Fitbit Alta HR or even Garmin's cheapest tracker.

Like the Mi Band 2 before it, Xiaomi manages to squeeze in a hell of a lot into its third generation wearable. There's now a bigger touchscreen display, improved heart rate monitoring features, automatic activity tracking and smartphone notification support. If you're willing to spend a bit extra, there's even Mi Band 3 NFC model that unlocks contactless payments.

Essential reading: Best smartwatches to buy

While the Mi Band range certainly is good value for money, it also needs to deliver where it matters, and that's serving up a fitness tracking experience that's not only accurate, but one that can also keep you motivated to stay on top of your goals. Does the Mi Band 3 deliver on those fronts? We've been living with the wearable for a few weeks in order to find out.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3: Design and screen

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 review

Before we get into all things design, we should mention that the Mi Band 3 we tested was the Chinese version. An English language update is still on its way, so that's why you might spot the Chinese characters. Thankfully, the key modes are all identifiable thanks to their accompanying icons and the companion smartphone app supports English too.

With that budget price tag, there has to be compromises and in the case of the Mi Band 3, it hurts most in the looks department. You have your choice of three pretty standard silicon straps that house the removable tracking sensor. On the wrist, it accommodates about the same space as the Fitbit Alta HR, but it's nowhere near as svelte or stylish as Fitbit's award-winning tracker.

It's sporty, pretty ordinary and stands out more than the Mi Band 2, but it's not entirely been hit with the ugly stick. There's definitely been some aesthetic improvements on its predecessor, namely the curved OLED touchscreen display, which hides away the button used to wake up the screen and to activate some of the onboard device features. It's also been slapped with a 5ATM water certification water rating, which is good news for swimmers and anyone that finds it a pain to take off in the morning to have a shower. With the Mi Band 3, you can keep it on and go swimming with it.

There's not a great deal here to say about the strap. It's light, comfortable and didn't provide any sort of irritation wearing during sweaty workouts and going to sleep with it. It feels more robust and durable than the Mi Band 2's strap, but only time will tell if it can go the distance and withstand the usual daily rigours over a longer period.

The clasp has shown no signs of coming undone during the day or night, either, and you clearly won’t have to worry that sensor falling out of the strap. It's suitably wedged inside there, which can make it a bit of an effort to take out when it needs to be charged. But we’d definitely take a secure fit over some extra fiddling to get it powered up any day.

The touchscreen display measures in at 0.78-inches, which is up considerably from the 0.42-inch one that is front and centre of the Mi Band 2. It’s an OLED display that’s reminiscent of the ones you can find on a lot of Fitbit and Garmin fitness trackers. And while it’s packing an improved 193ppi pixel density, which ensures it’s reasonably bright and easy to view indoors, it’s not quite the same story when you get into bright light outdoors. It really struggles for visibility, so that's something to definitely be aware of.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3: Fitness tracking

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 review

So let’s get into those tracking basics. Like previous Mi Bands, you’re going to get something that tracks your steps, distance covered over the day and an estimated calorie burn reading, and all of that data can be viewed in real-time on the Mi Band 3’s screen.

Read this: Best GPS running watches to buy

Making that tracking happen is a pretty standard setup of accelerometer motion sensors measuring your movement and Xiaomi’s algorithms interpreting that movement into your step counts for the day. Up against a Garmin fitness tracker, it managed on average to record around 500 steps less, but some days it would be as much as 8,000. That's quite a lot and seems more noticeable once you rack up more than 5,000-6,000 steps. There’s no altimeter here, so you’re not getting any data in the way of elevation or steps climbed, which is a really useful piece of data and would've been nice to have at the expense of some of the other features Xiaomi has decided to include this time around.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 review

Step comparison: Mi Fit (left and centre) and Garmin Connect (right)

What's more disappointing is the lack of features present that will give you push to stay on top of your goals. There is an inactivity reminder that sends a vibrating buzz to the tracker and a little animation suggests you need to get off your butt and walk around for a bit. Aside from that, there's not a lot going on. You don't have those adaptive step goals like you get from Garmin - little reminders to let you know how far off you are from your goal. If this is a fitness tracker first and foremost, these are the kind of features that need to be ticked off first.

Something you do get, though, is automatic activity tracking, in which the sensor/algorithm combo is able to tell whether you’re walking, running (treadmill and outdoors) or cycling. While we do get a a swim-proof design, the Mi Band 3 is not built for automatic swim tracking, and here's hoping there’s scope to add that capability in the future.

In the app, it breaks down activity as it happens through the day to give you a better idea of when you’re being most active. I took it out for a few runs and found that while workout duration was in the right ball park, distance covered most certainly wasn’t. It had a tendency to be around 500-600 metres off the GPS-packing Forerunner 935 I ran with as well. That might not be a big deal for a lot of casual runners, but if you’re expecting supreme accuracy, it’s a little lacking.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 review

Sleep comparison: Mi Fit (left and centre) and Garmin Connect (right)

One of the more surprising elements of the Mi Band 3 lies with sleep tracking. It’s done automatically, like most other fitness trackers, and breaks things down simply inside of the app into deep sleep, light sleep, awake time but there's no insight into REM sleep like you can get on Fitbit and Garmin’s apps.

It makes up for that somewhat with some helpful sleep quality analysis, which often told me I was going to bed too late most nights. You also get a sleep score, and it’ll provide insights into sleep regularity based on the last seven days compiling average sleep data. You can also see how you compare to similar users as well. From an accuracy point of view, it wasn’t too bad either and was usually within 30 minutes off Garmin’s automatic sleep tracking, but it could be as much as an hour off. So it's a mix bag on sleep tracking, too.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3: Heart rate accuracy

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 review

Heart rate monitoring was available on the last Mi Band, but there’s a bit more to delve into this time around. For starters, you can take an on the spot reading from the device itself, which requires pressing and holding down the button on the Band to initiate a reading. But things go further from within the app, where you can view resting heart rate data throughout the day, get details on your daily heart rate zone with a break down of that data into specific heart rate zones, along with maximum, minimum and average heart rate readings.

Essential reading: Best heart rate monitors to buy

It's accuracy, though, that appears to let everything down, with resting heart rate and maximum heart rate averages tending to score around 5-6 bpm higher than the Polar H10 chest strap and Forerunner 935, which I regard as two of the most accurate in the business. Would I trust it for exercise? Maybe not. For general heart rate monitoring, I’d have a lot more faith in it.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3: Smart features

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 review

With a bigger screen, there’s more estate to show more information, and that’s good news for anyone that wants their Mi Band 3 to work a bit like a smartwatch without the added size.

There's a decent amount of features here, including notification support that lets you view up to five notifications and scroll through messages, albeit in a very cramped space. But it surprisingly handles that restricted space well, at least, even if it doesn't let you respond to notifications.

Other features include the ability to see incoming calls, letting you accept and reject rings. You can change watch faces from a small selection of options, use the stopwatch mode, unlock your phone (Android only), use the find your phone mode and a 3-day weather forecast, which we actually found the most useful and is really nicely displayed on the tracker.

We didn’t have access to the NFC model, which brings contactless payments to the Mi Band for the first time, but, again, you have to applaud how much Xiaomi manages to squeeze into that slim tracker body.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3: Mi Fit app

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 review

Companion apps for budget wearables can often be their achilles heel, but in the case of the Mi Fit app, things have certainly evolved since the first Band, and it's now a much better place to review your data and tinker with your settings.

On the face of it, things are still kept to the basics. You’ve got the main Status screen, where you can see a snapshot of your most recent data. If you want to dig deeper into that data and see daily or weekly results, you can do that from this screen. There’s also an Activity tab where you can track exercise from the phone - perfect for those a little concerned about accuracy. From here you can set up high heart rate alerts and pace alerts (outdoor running only), too, which send vibrations to the tracker when you enter those marked zones.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3
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You also get a Profile tab, which is the place to customise your Band experience and there’s a lot going on here. It’s here where you can set up reminders, notifications, app alerts, event reminders, alarms and more. It definitely pays to spend some time here before you get going, especially if you want to improve battery life performance.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3: Battery life

Speaking of battery life, there’s a larger 110 mAh capacity one on board here, no doubt to cater for the ramp up in features including a bigger screen and improved heart rate monitoring. Xiaomi said it should get you 20 days, but if you’re planning to have all-day heart rate monitoring, sports tracking and and the full gamut of notification support on, that’s unlikely.

We put most of the features to use and it managed to comfortably get through 7 days before we received a battery alert when it dropped to 15%. I have no doubts it can make it to 10 days and 20 days, if you scale back the use of those new features. Getting charged up from 0-100%, meanwhile, takes 2-3 hours, so it does take a while to get back up to full, but once it is full, you've got a decent amount of time before you need to reach for that small charging cradle again.


Xiaomi Mi Band 3
By Xiaomi
Like the Mi Band 2, the Mi Band 3 is not a perfect tracker. But for the money, it still offers a whole lot and there's not a lot of trackers that can match it for the price. It's certainly a design upgrade on its predecessor, and the companion app goes beyond simply being a place for storing your data. Ultimately, though, it's disappointing to see that its basic fitness tracking powers haven't evolved greatly, and we do have question marks over tracking accuracy. There's definitely worse offenders out there. Bottom line: if you want a decent budget fitness tracker, this is still a decent option, but it might pay off to spend a little more for a Fitbit or a Garmin, instead.

Hit
  • Still great value for money
  • Useful smartwatch features
  • Sleep tracking insights
  • Improved look
Miss
  • Screen visibility in bright sunlight
  • Heart rate accuracy
  • Tracking accuracy
  • No fitness tracking motivation


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