Mi Band 3: The Best Budget Fitness Tracker for Most People

The finest budget fitness tracker around. Long battery life, waterproof, and phone notifications make this a bargain for those with basic fitness tracking needs. 910

The Mi Band is proof that you can get a sleek fitness tracker with amazing battery life and some advanced smart features for under $50. The Mi Band 3 doesn’t break the formula, offering some significant upgrades on the previous model, and keeping it firmly as our favorite budget fitness tracker.

Read on to find out about the Xiaomi Mi Band 3, and at the end of this review we’ve got one to give away, curtesy of GeekBuying.com.

Design and Specs

  • 0.78″ PMOLED capacitive touchscreen
  • Continuous heart rate sensor
  • IP67 rated, waterproof to 50m
  • Black silicone band (adjustable from 155-216mm), and proprietary USB charging cable included
  • Total weight: 20g, including the standard band
  • $34.99 from GeekBuying.com

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Mi Band 3 vs Mi Band 2

The 0.78 inch PMOLED screen is quite a big upgrade from the 0.42 inch LED one on the Mi Band 2. As well as obviously being larger and able to display more information at once (more on that later), it’s a little more visible outdoors, though you’ll still need to squint or shade the device to view in the brightest of summer’s days.

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The battery has been increased from 70 to 110 mAh, and Xiaomi claim that leads to 20 days battery life. That’s a reasonable estimate, but only if you don’t have constant notifications or very frequent heart rate monitoring. With heart rate measurements being taken every 10 minutes, I was getting through about 5% per day. When I enabled notifications for nearly everything (and that’s a lot of emails), it ate through closer to 10% per day. That’s still a solid week, even with the most energy consuming things enabled. 20 days estimate for most people is definitely possible.

The device itself is ever so slightly bigger to accommodate these changes. Place them side by side and you probably wouldn’t notice. However, it’s different enough that you’ll need to buy a new band, as it won’t fit in the old ones.

The physical button of the Mi Band 2 has been replaced by the fully capacitive screen. This leads to one very welcome new feature: IP67 waterproof rating, up to 50m. You can shower, swim, or hangout poolside without worry.

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UPDATED: Shortly after this review was scheduled, the English language firmware update was made available. The device is now fully in English, but if you buy the Original Version linked in this review, it will arrive in Chinese packaging, and will need a firmware update before transforming into English.

That said, it didn’t really matter being in Chinese. The Mi fit app is completely in English, and the Mi Band device itself is easy to understand with simple iconography.

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If it wasn’t obvious, this means “connect to your phone”. Also of note: the icongraphy for “phone” shows a notch in the top and no physical buttons. A sign of things to come, perhaps?The only daunting part of setting a device up in Chinese was the initial welcome message when we turned the device on. It translates as “connect to the app”, which means download the Mi Fit app, logging in or registering an account, then adding a device. However, even after adding our Mi Band to the app, another message asked us to “open the app and update”. Even with the aid of my Chinese speaking wife, we weren’t sure precisely what that meant given that the app was already open. It turns out we needed to force close the app, and open it again. This triggered the required firmware update. From then, all the options are set using the (English) Mi Fit app.

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In the middle of a firmware updateNote: there’s also a NFC version available, which costs twice as much. Don’t buy that. It’ll only work within China using Mi Pay accounts, not Apple or Google Pay. In the US or UK, the NFC likely won’t function at all.

Navigating the Mi Band

Even in Chinese, navigating the Mi Band menu structure is really simple thanks to some obvious icongraphy, with one exception, which we’ll talk about in a moment. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find:

  • Main screen: time and date, as well as steps (if configured to show this). The Chinese characters display day of the week.
  • Status screens: steps, distance travelled, calories burned.
  • Heart rate tracking: manually initiate a reading by holding down the button.
  • Weather: today, tomorrow, and the day after. This shows high/low temperatures, and a summary icon for rain/sun etc.
  • Utilities: stopwatch, find my phone (looks like a phone with a magnifying glass), change watchface (a t-shirt, for some unimaginable reason), and model/version info.
  • Notifications: up to 5 stored which you can scroll left and right to view.

Scroll up and down to cycle through the first level screens. If the screen has more information, you can scroll left and right to access the other pages. Otherwise, selections are performed by holding down on the capacitive indent button at the bottom of the screen.

To be honest, it’s all rather obvious as long as you’re not the sort of person who will panic at the sight of a foreign language, particular one that consists largely of squiggles. The only thing I wondered about was the t-shirt icon. Clicking through to that gives you a choice of three basic “watch faces”, only one of which includes step count summary. Hold down on the button again to make your selection.

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Fitness Tracking

Your steps and a basic classification of activity (light walking, standing, light activity) will be automatically recorded, but for any other kind of specified activity, you’ll need to use the app to initiate the session. The default activities are:

  • Outdoor running
  • Treadmill running
  • Cycling
  • Walking

All of those will record your route using the GPS in your phone (except for treadmill running); continuous heart rate monitoring (with a configurable alarm for maximum heart rate); and will give period updates through your phone’s speaker on how fast you were, how long the previous kilometer took, and how far you’ve travelled in total. Curiously for a device that’s waterproof, swimming is not one of the defaults.

A range of other activities can also be tagged, but for some reason these are accessed through your profile tab, in a section called “Behavior Tagging”, rather the standard activity tab. These include things like standing, eating, and having a bath. You can even add a custom activity, like “Wasting time playing Fornite BR”. For most people, this level of granularity is clearly far too much, but those interested in the concept of quantified self

The Quantified Self: How To Track Your Life With Your iPhone
If you track your actions, you will be able to do them better. However, tracking can be tiresome if you don’t have the right tools. Let’s make it as simple as possible.

Heart Rate Monitoring

Using an optical sensor, the Mi Band 3 will automatically track your heart rate during fitness activities and during sleep, but can also be configured for continuous heart rate monitoring at set intervals of 1, 10, or 30 minutes throughout the day. I set mine at 10 minutes to get a complete daily picture of fluctuations, as I assumed optimistically that anything strenuous I did would be for longer than 10 minutes at a time.

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Whether the data is reliable or not is hotly debated. My only point of comparison is a cheap blood pressure monitor, which seemed to line up, but the accuracy of which could also be questioned. I’m not a doctor and I wouldn’t rely on this for serious heart problem monitoring, but the numbers obtained lined up with whatever activity I was doing, and seemed sensible.

On rare occasions, the heart rate sensor can fail. It works better if the band is on tightly, so you’re advised to tightly it up before an activity if that data is important to you. Generally I found it reliable, as you can see from the graphs above, there were only a few times when the sensor just couldn’t get a reading, probably because the band was too loose, or twisted round my arm.

What I drew from the information is that I don’t do nearly enough exercise to get my heartrate really up to aerobic levels or higher. I probably didn’t need a fitness tracker to tell me that though.

Sleep Tracking

Making use of the accelerometer and heart rate sensor, the sleep tracking provides an overview of your total sleep and attempts to classify how much deep sleep you enjoyed. Again, exactly how reliable this data is–particular the sleep classification–is debatable. The sleep and wake times lined up with reality though, and according to Xiaomi, I generally sleep better than 99% of people, which I’d tend to agree with.

Without wearing an EEG at night, the sleep tracking is about as good as you’re going to get from a fitness tracking wrist band.

App Notifications

The larger screen is certainly better at displaying notifications than the Mi Band 2, but it’s still not ideal. You can fit enough Chinese characters on here for a full sentence or two, but English words are less efficient. Slack messages, for example, displayed the fact it’s a Slack message, who it’s from, and the first five to ten words of the message. Email subject lines were cut off half way. You could scroll right to view the rest of it, but if it looks important you’ll probably just take out your phone anyway, which somewhat defeats the point.

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That said, I did find eBay notifications useful. My phone gets so many messages that I tend to just ignore the buzzing, but that means I miss the auction end. Looking at the Mi Band was a quick way to filter through notifications, and quickly ignore those that I didn’t care about. Then again: I should probably just set my phone notifications more carefully instead.

You can also enable a break reminder, which will buzz you if you’ve been sat around doing nothing for an hour. Minor feature, but I found it helpful during those long coding sessions.

Finally, you can schedule alarms or events through the Mi Fit app too, but I can’t see any reason to use this instead of your phone’s built-in apps or Google Calendar.

Apple Health Syncing

Like all good fitness trackers, the Mi Band 3 is able to sync data with Apple Health (and Google Health, though we didn’t test on Android). Your data isn’t locked away inside the app, unable to be shared because the device makers want to keep you tied into their system. Yes, I’m looking at you Fitbit.

Steps, sleep, and weight data will be automatically exported once linked. The latter obviously isn’t a feature your Mi Band supports, but you can manually enter weight into the Mi Fit app, or buy some Xiaomi Smart Scales to automate that.

Curiously, continuous heart rate measurements are not exported to Apple Health, but manually initiated measurement are. There are third party apps that can handle this if you’d like, but you’ll to pay a few dollars extra. I hope this is just a bug that’ll be updated in future, since the app does register itself as a data source to Heart Rate, at least on iOS.

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Should You Buy the Mi Band 3?

For most people, the Xiaomi Mi Band 3 is a fantastic value fitness tracker. It offers some advanced features like app notifications, continuous heart monitoring, sleep tracking, integration with Apple Health, as well as being completely waterproof. And it’ll be at least a week before you need to recharge. That’s an awful lot of bang for your $35. For comparison, the FitBit range starts at $100.

For very active users who think manually initiating an activity is tiresome, you’ll want to look at those more expensive devices

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