Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 hands-on
The Redmi series has always been Xiaomi’s bread and butter. Combining good design, features, and reasonable performance at a very attractive price, the Redmi series has redefined for many what a good budget smartphone should be like.
The latest in the series is the Redmi Note 3. The phone is the successor to last year’s Redmi Note 2 and improves upon several key aspects, such as a metal body, fingerprint sensor, brand new chipset, and a larger battery. It’s especially improved over the original Redmi Note Prime, which would be a big deal for people in India who never got the Redmi Note 2.
Today, the company is launching the Redmi Note 3 in India. And even though we already have the smartphone reviewed, it was based on a Mediatek chipset. The new release comes with Snapdragon 650 and since we’ve had the chance to play with it for the past few days, we’d gladly share our impressions.
Redmi Note 3 at a glance
- Aluminum body
- 5.5-inch, 1920×1080 IPS LCD
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 650; 2x 1.8GHz Cortex-A72 + 4x 1.2GHz Cortex-A53; Adreno 510
- 2GB RAM with 16GB storage/3GB RAM with 32GB storage; microSD support
- Dual SIM, LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.1, IR, microUSB
- 16 megapixel rear camera with PDAF, f2.0 aperture, dual LED flash
- 5 megapixel front camera, f2.0 aperture
- Fingerprint sensor
- 4050mAh battery
- Android 5.1.1 with MIUI 7
Compared to Redmi Note 3 (Helio X10)
- microSD (occupies SIM 2 slot)
- Higher resolution camera (16MP vs. 13MP)
- Better Snapdragon 650 chipset with faster processor and more powerful graphics
The Redmi Note 3 is the first Redmi phone with a metal body. Most of the body is made out of aluminum, with plastic caps at the top and bottom and glass on the front. This gives the phone a decidedly premium feel, which is quite extraordinary as this is still a Redmi device.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3
The Redmi Note 3 follows Xiaomi’s minimalist design language. The front is dominated by the display with relatively narrow bezels that don’t occupy too much of your visual space.
Above the display are the earpiece, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, front facing camera, and a notification LED that’s only visible when it’s illuminated. Below the display are the backlit navigation controls. Considering how many phones these days drop the backlighting these days, it’s good to see Xiaomi not stoop to inane cost-cutting.
The front is framed by a thin chrome-finished edge that is painted in the same shade as the rest of the phone. From there, the sides curve inwards, giving the sense of the phone being thinner than it is.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 – what’s on the back
On the right are the power button and the volume rocker with polished chamfered edges, all very well located and work well, too.
On the other side is a tray that holds either two nanoSIM cards or one SIM card and one microSD card. The tray sits perfectly flush with the body and for once the color matches the rest of the phone, something some companies really struggle with. On the top is the headphone jack, secondary microphone, and the IR sensor. On the bottom is the microUSB port and the primary microphone.
The new 16MP camera • the loudspeaker
On the back, we see the 16 megapixel camera lens up top with the two-tone dual LED flash below. Below that is the fingerprint sensor. The cutout for the camera and the fingerprint sensor are exactly the same size and have a polished, beveled edge. Below is the loudspeaker with a tiny lip that raises the bottom so the speaker doesn’t get blocked completely. Although it is better than the back being completely flat, the speaker does lose some of its edge when the phone is kept on its back. Not to mention the fact that the back is perhaps the worst place to put the loudspeaker.
Physically, the phone is large, considering it has a 5.5-inch display. Having said that, it isn’t enormous, and the clever designing makes it feel smaller than it is. The build quality, fit and finish is top-notch, however, and it is very easy to forget this isn’t a high-end smartphone. We appreciate the way the metal and the plastic parts fit, and the subtle detailing all-around. You can tell some effort went into designing the phone, despite its low price point.
The Redmi Note 3 has a 5.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution LCD. The display has a handful of modes you can set it to. There is the Standard mode, then Increased contrast, which boosts colors and adjusts display contrast based on the displayed content, and Automatic contrast, which adjusts the dynamic range of the display based on the ambient light, making the darker areas of the image brighter under bright light to make them more visible without increasing the backlight. You can also adjust the color temperature by setting it to standard, warm, or cool.
When set to the Standard white balance and contrast mode, the display on the Redmi Note 3 does well. The colors are slightly muted and the white balance is slightly cool but apart from that it’s a nice display to look at, with good sharpness, brightness, contrast, viewing angles, and sunlight visibility. The display can also get ridiculously dim, to the point where you have to keep the brightness slightly above the minimum even in a completely dark room. Overall, the Redmi Note 3 has a pretty good display, and easily one of the best you can get in its price range.
The Redmi Note 3 is the first phone to launch with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 650 SoC. It also packs in 2GB or 3GB of RAM, depending on whether you go for the 16GB or 32GB model. We received the 3GB/32GB model.
There is a microSD slot, as mentioned before, should you need more storage, but then you’d forego one of the SIM slots.
The phone has LTE support on both SIM slots (band 3, 5, 40, 41 + VoLTE), along with Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.1, and even an IR blaster to control home appliances. There is no NFC, however, and the phone still uses a microUSB connector (not that we object).
The Redmi Note 3 is also the first phone with a fingerprint sensor. The company claims it can unlock the phone in 0.3 seconds, which checks out but only if the display is already on. If you’re waking up the phone, then it takes twice the time, which is still pretty decent but not as blazing fast as some of the other phones on the market (the one on the Lenovo Vibe P1, for example, is crazy fast).
On the software front, the phone runs on MIUI 7 on top of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. The software would be familiar to anyone who has used MIUI before. For those who haven’t, it’s a bit of a mishmash between Android and iOS designs. The end result is an attractive UI, which, for most parts, is user friendly, has more than enough features, and works well.
Some of the good features include theme support, permission manager, ability to disable autostart for select apps, built-in blacklist for calls and messages, smart messaging app that automatically groups notification SMS together and highlights OTP codes, ability to use the fingerprint sensor to lock apps, child mode, hidden folders, one-handed mode, ability to move and uninstall apps in batches, and more.
Things that aren’t so great about MIUI include a less than ideal notification system, ugly square borders around non-square app icons, use of the outdated menu button in some of the default apps, inability to quickly adjust media or alarm volume without digging into the settings, and a search option for the Settings app. The UI also shows a complete disregard for Google’s Material Design, and prefers to do things its own way.
Honestly, none of the criticisms are particularly bad and mostly pale in front of all the things it does get right. We just wished Xiaomi was quicker to update the base Android version, as that’s one area where the company has traditionally lagged behind.
Note: Our review unit was running the 6.2.18 Beta build of MIUI 7. All observations made henceforth are based upon this build and some things could change with the stable build on the retail units.
Being the first Snapdragon 650 device on the market, we were curious to see what the performance on the Redmi Note 3 would be like. Fortunately, it was quite impressive.
The Snapdragon 650 chip offers a hexa-core processor with 2x Cortex-A72 at 1.8GHz and 4x Cortex-A53 at 1.4GHz. The Mediatek’s Helio X10 has 8x Cortex-A53 at 2.0GHz. Naturally, the multi-core performance of six CPU cores, even though two of those (Cortex-A72) are quite capable, is behind the raw power of an eight-core processor.