This has been an exciting year for foldable phones in the West. In the U.S., Samsung's de facto monopoly finally ended with Google launching its first foldable, Motorola made its return stateside after a two-year absence, and OnePlus is now promising an upcoming foldable. Over in Europe, Honor and Oppo have launched foldables, making for an even healthier scene.
But of course, the most competitive foldable scene is still in China, where there are no less than seven brands actively putting out at least one foldable a year. The latest to hit the market is the Xiaomi Mix Fold 3, which feels like it's taken the best bits of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Google Pixel Fold to create a foldable that's in contention for best foldable hardware right now.
Light like Samsung, thin like Google
The Xiaomi Mix Fold 3 is one of the thinnest and lightest foldable phone around, measuring only 10.9mm when folded and tipping the scales at 255g. This combines the slim profile of the Pixel Fold (12mm when folded) and the lightweight status of the Fold 5 (253g). And it's a great combination to have. While the Fold 5 is light, it's a bit thick, and while the Pixel Fold is slim like a notebook, it feels like a brick.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the Mix Fold 3 is so sleek, of course, because its predecessor, the Mix Fold 2, started the trend. When it released in July 2022, the Mix Fold 2 was significantly thinner and lighter than every other foldable on the market. Google and Samsung were merely playing catchup in 2023. In fact, the competitive Chinese phone scene already saw another foldable surpass Xiaomi in overall thinness; Honor's Magic V2 measures only 9.9mm when folded.
An improved design
One of the more noticeable changes from last generation is the new streamlined hinge, which is 17% smaller than the previous one while gaining the ability to stay in place at various angles (a trick Samsung calls Flex Mode). The hinge has been redesigned from the Mix Fold 2 as well to consist of more moving parts (194 pieces in all). I also like that the Mix Fold 3's hinge has a rounded corner, so it doesn't dig into my palm as much as Samsung's pointy hinge corners.
While the Mix Fold 3's hinge doesn't seem to be protected against water the way Samsung's is, it feels every bit as sturdy and reassuring. Xiaomi even claims a much higher number of guaranteed folds — 500,000 to Samsung's 200,000 — a number that has apparently been independently tested by TUV Rheinland.
It's impressive that Xiaomi managed to cram several new components into the Mix Fold 3. The new hinge and redesigned "vertically stacked" motherboard allow the phone to free up space for its new quad-camera system, which includes a new Sony IMX800 main camera and two zoom lenses covering the 75mm and 120mm focal lengths. The latter is a 5x periscope zoom lens, which is similar to the one on the Google Pixel Fold.
Combine that with the 3.2x 75mm telephoto camera, and you get a more versatile camera system than both the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Google Pixel Fold. The only other phones that can match the Mix Fold 3 in optical length versatility are the Huawei Mate X2 from two years ago and the Vivo X Fold, both of which are significantly heavier and thicker.
The Mix Fold 3's two screens are excellent. Both are Samsung E6 OLED LTPO panels with a variable refresh rate between 1Hz and 120Hz. The smaller outside screen has a maximum brightness of 2,560 nits and is covered by Gorilla Glass Victus 2, while the inner main folding screen is covered by ultra-thin glass and reaches a brightness of 1,200 nits.
The foldable screen crease is about the same as you find on other Chinese foldables, meaning you can see it if you want to look at the screen from off-angle, but it is not as deep or noticeable by touch compared to the creases in Samsung or Google's foldable phones.
The Xiaomi Mix Fold 3's screens are objectively, undisputedly better than the Pixel Fold's screens, and while the comparison with the Fold 5 is closer, I prefer the Mix Fold 3's screens due to the lack of a crease in the main screen and a more normal aspect ratio for the outside screen.
The exact same Snapdragon chip as the Fold 5
Samsung has been keen to play up its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy SoC for its phones, but as it turns out, the chip isn't so exclusive after all. Xiaomi's Mix Fold 3 is powered by the exact same overclocked Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip that's in the Fold 5. It appears Qualcomm merely stuck a deal with Samsung to give it a six-month exclusive window to use the overclocked chip, after which any other brand is free to use the chip.
If you look at Geekbench 6 benchmarks, the Mix Fold 3 and Fold 5 are pretty much neck and neck. This means the Mix Fold 3's chip is much more capable than the Tensor G2 in the Pixel Fold, which runs warm and struggles with video tasks. Even putting together an Instagram Reel is a noticeably slower process on the Pixel Fold than with Samsung or Xiaomi's foldable.
Well-rounded camera system
A glaring weakness of last year's Mix Fold 2 was a very mediocre zoom lens — an 8MP 2x telephoto camera that I almost never used. The Mix Fold 3 upgrades this area significantly with the aforementioned two zoom lenses, the new 50MP main camera with 1/1.49-inch sensor size. There's also a 13MP ultrawide camera, which appears to be unchanged from the Mix Fold 2. Three of the four lenses have OIS (the ultrawide doesn't need it), and all four cameras are covered by "Leica optics," which apparently means Leica glass.
I am a big fan of Chinese phone brands' recent push for more focal length versatility and improved telephoto lenses over the past year. The 3x-ish zoom, which is roughly 75mm, is a more natural and ideal focal length for portraits and street photography. There's more background compression, resulting in bokeh and images with more depth. The main camera focal length of most smartphones is actually too wide — at around a 23-25mm focal length that real photographers rarely use. Below are zoom lens photos captured by either the Mix Fold 3's telephoto or periscope cameras.
I haven't had enough time to test the cameras very thoroughly, but the zoom lenses are impressive for a foldable phone. In the below telephoto zoom samples against the Galaxy Z Fold 5, we can see that Xiaomi's zoom lens produces images with more natural bokeh (pay attention to the background compared to the subject in the foreground), resulting in a fuller-looking image. The V in Xiaomi's image looks like it has more depth, while the V looks flatter in Samsung's image.
The Mix Fold 3's periscope zoom lens produces slightly sharper images than the Pixel's 5x periscope, but I find Google's color science more to my liking. Samsung's color science, I think we can all agree, fared the worst in this below set of 5X images.
I find the Mix Fold 3's main camera to be hit-and-miss, with the phone overexposing bright light sources from time to time. I can't tell whether this overexposure is by design — Xiaomi's Leica-branded cameras aim to capture more natural-looking photos — or sub-par optimization.
Overall, I find the Mix Fold 3's camera system to be impressive for a foldable phone, but it's too early to tell whether it beats the Huawei Mate X3 or Google Pixel Fold, which are in my current top two.
Software is fine but not optimized for the West
The Mix Fold 3 runs MIUI Fold 14.1 based on Android 13, and the software is very similar to what we saw last year. This means animations look smooth and fluid, and multitasking gestures are intuitive and easy to pull off.
However, there is still a lack of optimization for Google apps. For example, YouTube can still only be split-screen vertically (video apps are much better in landscape form), and Gboard does not have a split keyboard option here. I understand this phone is running Chinese software, which is not optimized for Google, but Xiaomi knows this phone has import appeal for Westerners, and Xiaomi actively seeded review units to Western reviewers. Couldn't it optimize MIUI for Google apps anyway?
Most Chinese foldables surpass Samsung foldables in all the key hardware areas like screen brilliance, camera performance, battery life, and in-hand feel, but Samsung's foldable software is still ahead, especially in the little areas, like the ability to run YouTube in horizontal split-screen mode. The software is fine otherwise. Everything works as intended, and I haven't encountered hiccups when switching between screens. MIUI has enough customization for me to get the software to look the way I like.
Xiaomi Mix Fold 3 is awesome, but it won't matter on a global scale again
As a fan of both foldables and smartphone photography, I am excited that Xiaomi has kickstarted the trend of more focal length versatility on foldable phones. I think the Mix Fold 3 combines the best bits of Samsung and Google's foldables without taking on many of their weaknesses.
However, this phone won't make much of a dent in the foldable scene worldwide because Xiaomi has confirmed this phone won't be sold outside mainland China. That's a shame because we are starting to see other Chinese brands finally start to make their foldables available internationally. Oppo, Honor, and OnePlus are all doing it (heck, Motorola is technically a Chinese brand, too). So Xiaomi still deciding to keep the Mix Fold 3 just for its domestic market is unfortunate.