Review: Xiaomi Mi Router 3C redefines performance, but skips some features
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Most of us, in this connected age, have a Wi-Fi router at home to bring the goodness of the internet to all our wireless devices such as laptops, smartphones, smart TVs, streaming media players and more. But, the reality is, hardly any of us ever pay attention to this router. And that is perhaps why we pull out our hair in frustration when the signal bars drop to zero in one part of the home or you don’t get the promised speeds. The sluggish home broadband internet experience you may be struggling with, isn’t always the fault of your internet company. The router you use, the chipset it runs, the power of the antennas to disperse the wireless signals and how many bands it has, makes a lot of difference in the internet speeds and range you get.
Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, better known for powerful smartphones at affordable price points, is adding to its line-up of smart home products too. The Mi Router 3C is all about smartness, and a bit more. But, does it do enough to justify swapping your existing Wi-Fi router for this?
Yes, the specifications packed inside a router make a huge amount of difference to the internet experience you get. It runs a MediaTek MT7628N chipset, with 64MB of RAM and 16MB of NorFlash ROM (this is dual partitioned for secure and fail-safe firmware updates). Most equivalent routers so far, have around 8MB of RAM, because they offer only basic features and have no smart quotient. There isn’t much to say about what it does—plug in your internet cable into the router, switch it on, and it is up and ready for action in a few seconds.
But what makes a big difference are the four high-performance antennas that the Mi Router 3C gets. The popular D-Link DIR-615 (Rs1,149 on Amazon.in) has two antennas combining to a total wireless signal strength of 10dBi while the TP-Link TL-WR845N (Rs1,199 on Amazon.in) has three antennas with a total of 15dBi.
The four antennas (which seem to be of significantly higher quality too) on the Mi Router 3C, each with at least 5dBi strength each, means a total of 20dBi. In the real-world performance, the Mi Router 3C is significantly superior to not only these rivals, but routers that are considerably more expensive. For instance, at the same location indoors, with two concrete walls between you and the router, the Mi Router 3C only drops 10% of your total internet bandwidth (you’ll get around 18Mbps on a 20Mbps connection) on a 2.4GHz band network.
At the same location, the D-Link DIR-615 can get you only 6Mbps speeds, on the same smartphones and laptops we tested this with. The significantly more powerful Apple AirPort Extreme pushed itself hard enough to allow us to use between 11-13Mbps speeds at the same location. This is the sort of range that immediately gives the Xiaomi Mi Router 3C an immediate advantage over the rivals, because you will get significantly better reach of the internet across your home and better speeds.
Then there’s the smart aspect too. The entire setup is done via your smartphone. The Mi Wi-Fi app (free on Android and iOS) lets you set up the router, and manage its features as well as updates. The app is easy to get around, but we did notice that it kept signing us out occasionally—it becomes a bit cumbersome to punch in the ID and password every time.
The Mi Router 3C comes across as a good looking, yet unassuming smart gadget for your home. It’ll not be out of place on a table in the living room too. The pure white colour on the Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic chassis looks sophisticated. Despite a powerful chipset, it has a fan-less design with generous amount of cooling vents on the underside—we would still recommend propping it up slightly from the rear, to allow better air flow in case you are using this in a warm room. There is no power on/off button, and all the ports are at the back.
But we have that nagging feeling that something is missing. What has been the secret ingredient that has made Xiaomi products so popular in India? The smartphones, starting with the Mi 3, became popular because of the powerful specifications and the subsequent smooth performance at amazingly low price points which no phone maker could match at the time. That trend has continued since with the newer Mi and Redmi phones. And it isn’t just phones.
Even the Mi Air Purifier 2 (Rs9,999) offers the indoor air cleaning capabilities of purifiers worth twice as much. However, that’s not the case with the Mi Router 3C. Apart from the excellent range and speeds, it does miss out on features that could have done what the smartphones did to the Android ecosystem. For instance, there is no 5GHz band, which is a big miss for anyone who does heavy video streaming or for online gaming—the 5GHz band is lesser prone to interferences than the 2.4GHz band, if you live in an apartment complex, for instance, with multiple routers in the immediate vicinity. Secondly, it misses out on wireless “ac” capabilities, and is limited to maximum 300Mbps wireless “n” speeds. A lot of the newer gadgets, such as your iPhone and your MacBook, could have taken advantage for wireless ac for better connectivity.
That is not all. During testing, the Mi Router 3C performed with aplomb for the most part. However, the moment we activated the Quality of Service (QoS) feature in the router settings, internet connectivity significantly slowed down inexplicably. Switching QoS off again, solved the issue. We aren’t entirely sure if it is the router which is struggling with some settings mismatch, or that our broadband connection configuration at the node does not support the QoS that the Mi Router 3C is running.
There is not much that is wrong with the Xiaomi Mi Router 3C, particularly not at a price point of Rs1,199. It is ideal for basic home use, where you are fine with a 2.4GHz band only, and the primary concern is to improve the wireless range to cover the whole home. This router is a significant upgrade over any other router that you may want to buy, till the price point of Rs1,800 (beyond this price, is when the 5GHz feature becomes available in many routers). It is easy to set up, and the wireless performance matches and surpasses even more expensive routers.