Last month we were all wooed by the smartphones at the MWC 2016, we saw gadgets being launched from all over the world, but now it’s time to get back to the reality. Our reality! Today, Xiaomi, the Chinese manufacturer announced its latest handset in India, it’s the Redmi Note 3. Being called as the first metal build Redmi Note smartphone, the newest offering from the popular brand has been seeing a lot of excitement for the past couple of months. The Redmi Note 3 was first launched in China last year late November, and later this year in January; we saw the launch of a new variant with Snapdragon 650 processor and some other improvements as well. And Indian audience is fortunate to receive that variant today. The mid-range smartphone market is a very valuable place in the country; we have seen a lot of smartphone being launched in this segment since last year. And Redmi Note series smartphones was one of them. With generations, the brand has made changes in every iteration of this popular phablet, and it was finally the time to give it a complete makeover. We have had a chance to use the Redmi Note 3 quite early before today’s launch, and this is our detailed review based on over ten days usage as our daily driver.
We have a golden variant of the Redmi Note 3 and for the price it comes we love the design, although, there is a “BUT”, which we want to address later in this section. First let’s talk about the specifics of the design of this handset. This is the first time a Redmi Note smartphone is sporting a metal build body and e are quite happy about it, as it makes it one of the first mid-range to sport a metal construction. Other handsets in this range like Coolpad Note 3, Obi Worldphone SF1 and the might Lenovo Vibe K4 Note, they all sport a plastic body design.
The Redmi Note 3 has a very clean top and a bottom surface, as well as edges, you can hardly see any textured surface on the device, and almost everything is kept smooth. It might be a good thing, but also makes it quite slippery. I encountered those slips, and I don’t mean occasionally, but quite frequently. The only thing that can prevent it was the case, which we didn’t have, so not a good choice there, Xiaomi. It’s a unibody design, so don’t expect it to open and see what’s inside that sleek body. The device is quite light for a large 4050mAh capacity battery, but still feels quite light at 164 grams. The thickness of the device is at 8.65mm, but we don’t think it’s bulky; rather it fits in hand quite easy. For the real estate it comes, it’s amazing how brand managed to do that.
At first look of its front, you’ll notice the almost bezel-less display, which what to thanks for that compact feel despite its thickness and large size. Moreover, all the four edges have been made circular from the back side, and that makes it a lot easier to hold in one hand. There are lots of factors that contribute to its tightly packed design. In terms of the sturdyness, it’s not the most solid mid-range smartphone, but it’s as far as any brand has willing to go for their mid segment priced device. Moving on with the talk of what’s present on the front side of the device. The device has capacitive buttons; menu, home and back format, and they’re backlit, which means you can see what buttons you’re pressing while operating in the dark. The top front houses a microphone, which isn’t quite loud when it comes to call quality. It’s followed by an LED notification light, a couple of sensors and a camera module. The features are smoothly placed, and you can hardly complain for it to be quite simpler in design. Using traditional design aesthetics and mixing it with modern tweaks, the company has managed to achieve quite a feat.
Coming to the rear side of the device, it’s divided into three spaces while there is some empty space assigned for the top and bottom part, which distinguishes between the center parts. Everything is placed in the center space. With a clean, smooth surface you can see the big camera module on top, just below is the dual-tone LED Flash and below that is the fingerprint sensor placed in a circular module. When you come down in that space, you’ll see the Xiaomi logo and just below that is the loudspeaker. You can see a nib given just below the speaker grill, the purpose of that nib is to lift up the rear side just enough making some free space for the loudspeaker. Though, that didn’t matter, as the speaker wasn’t quite loud as expected. And it wasn’t sharp either.
Moving on to the edges of the device, the right edge houses a volume rocker keys and a power button. They are easy to reach on to while operating using one hand and are quite sturdy as well. You can feel the clicks every time you press a button. The left edge houses a hidden dual SIM slot and a microSD card slot, although, you could only use two SIM at a time, or either one SIM and a microSD card slot for memory expansion. You have to choose what’s important for you; I like my odds with two SIM card. The top edge has a primary microphone, audio jack, and an IR Blaster while the bottom edge houses a microUSB port and secondary microphone. The dual microphone should be helpful to the caller on the another end, as it transmits better quality audio during voice calls or video calls.
Overall, the device is pretty much the best you’ll see concerning design in a mid-range segment. Though, there are some if/buts that I want to address. The most important one is that the metal construction used on this device feels pretty low-end. But since this is an affordable smartphone, it doesn’t make it a deal breaker. The second is that it’s quite a slippery device, an issue which should have been addressed before the device was finalized. It has been known for a fact that Xiaomi cares about its consumers, and that’s the reason it’s hard to believe that company ignored it completely.
The display is very important to me in a smartphone and if you’re someone who does a lot of YouTube viewing over a day, then you’ll also like to have a good display on your smartphone. And that’s what is promised on the Redmi Note 3. As far as the video experience goes, I’ll give a thumb up to the display on this handset. But let’s talk in detail. The 5.5-inch real estate on this handset has a resolution of 1920 x 1080, which put its pixel density at 401 PPI (Pixel Per Inch). For a phablet, the display resolution and pixel density are in the right amount. Though, I’m little disappointed that it’s not an AMOLED display because I’m in love with those displays. They’re quite effective when it comes to color output and power efficiency. It’s a fully laminated display, apart from thinnest display in the market, no gaps between the display and front glass, it offer reduced reflections and can be stated as the lowest reflective screen technology. For those wondering, there is no Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection for the display here.
Why is this IPS panel so good then? Well, to answer that I have to walk you through the technologies used behind it. The acclaimed sunlight display technology used makes it quite easier for to understand you’re standing with the device in sunlight. What it does while you browse in the broad daylight is that it adjusts the pixel in real time. And thus despite strong sunlight, the content is clearly visible. The display not only takes care of the daylight but also makes sure that you have good experience in the low light conditions as well. There is a dedicated reading mode, which can be accessed from the quick settings. We have tried using this mode, and I completely agree with the claim, it reduces the eye strain, compared to the normal mode.
Addressing the viewing angles on the display, it is advertised to have a 178-degree wide viewing angle, which is considerably true. Meaning, you can share the screen with your friends/colleagues while watching the latest viral video on YouTube/Facebook/Twitter. The display is not exactly a fingerprint prone, but it does leave some smudges while using the display for quite a while. Though they can be wiped easily, thus not interfering the video experience. Overall, we had good experience with the display, as the color reproduction was pretty stunning and brightness levels are good as well.
I’m assuming you’re familiar with the MIUI word, if not, let me explain in the briefest way; it is a custom ROM developed by Xiaomi. Before releasing, their first smartphone, the company was a software startup with MIUI as its flagship product. It’s pronounced as “meeh-uh-i”, as far as I know. Correct me if you know better. The MIUI 7 on this handset has some special enhancement particularly design for the smartphone. It is based on the Android Lollipop 5.1.1 OS version; I know, what you’re thinking, why can’t it have an Android Marshmallow 6.0 out of the box. Well, there are no details out there when it would be receiving the latest Android update, but I’m sure, the company is working on it. Hold your horses, guys; the device is just launched in India.
The MIUI 7 felt quite smooth, offering easy operations and, this time, the themes on the device looks more vivid. You get five default themes pre-installed on the device; Default, High Life, Rose, Pink Blush and Ocean Breeze. They were introduced last year when the company launched the MIUI 7, although, there are more than 10,000 themes available to access online. You can either scan the top charts or go by the category, meanwhile, if you only want to change the wallpapers there is a section for that as well. There are so many themes and wallpapers that you’ll be psyched about. Every day you can have a different smartphone; well, only in terms of appearance.
Talking about the pre-installed apps on the device, it had pre-loaded apps, but unlike any other Chinese OEM, you don’t need to worry about it being a bloatware. The apps like File Explorer, Music Player, Weather, Notes, Camera, Gallery, and Calendar are some of the default apps. While there are apps like Swiftykey, Flesky, Facebook and WPS that you can find a folder. The first two apps are third-party keyboard apps, it has been found on Indian MIUI ROMs for quite a time now. I recommend the Swiftkey, as I use it as my default keyboard, whereas I can’t vouch for Flesky. You could try, I did try, but I’m still going to keep Swiftkey as my one and only keyboard app. Now if you’re someone who has to work on spreadsheets and presentations, then it is the right app to edit those documents on-the-go. There are some tools like Mi Remote, Compass, Clock, Calculator and couple more apps that are quite resourceful. You’ll also find apps to access Mi Store and Mi Account. Other than you’ll see the Google apps like Chrome Browser, Gmail, Drive, Photos, Voice Search and a couple more. With all these you might be worried about the internal storage, well; you don’t have to, at least on the model with 32GB storage. We have the same model and around 24GB free storage is enough to cater our daily needs of apps. That was after we installed a couple of apps and games. So, you can see why we are not worried. Now if you’re a media buff, it is easier to carry those large movie files on the microSD card it supports.
Moving on with the multitasking feature, the device offers iPhone-like switching, you tap on menu, and you’ll see the recently opened apps. You can zoom-out to see the preview of the app or zoom-in to see only the icons. Tapping on the cross button below those apps will close all the apps, or you could just choose to close individual apps. Switching between the apps is quite easy; even the heavy apps switching were handled very well by the MIUI. Most of the time, you’ll see 1GB of free RAM on the device, so you don’t have to worry about overloading the system during heavy multitasking. Note that we have the 3GB RAM variant with us; it may be an entirely different experience for the 2GB RAM model.
There are some features that I think should have been added on the MIUI. The popular Xiaomi user interface has always lacked gesture inputs like drawing letters on the screen to open a particular app, and the most basics, tap to wake up screen or switch off. Those are the gesture inputs that I have been waiting to introduce on an MIUI for a long time and the wait continues. There is a one-hand mode, but sure, that is as far as the company has gone to offer a gesture based input. Xiaomi, please take that into consideration and release an MIUI update. I’m not sure but the sensors to support that features might already be on the device. Overall, we had good interface experience, even though, I’m not a big fan of Xiaomi’s fancy interface, it felt quite refreshing and smooth.
Hardware & Performance
The Xiaomi mid-ranger comes packed with a Snapdragon 650 while it also had a MediaTek Helio X10 variant, which was launched in the China. The brand has explicitly said that the MediaTek variant won’t be coming to India because it also doesn’t make sense. We have seen the Helios X10 performed quite badly, with few exceptions like Le 1s. While on the other hand, this Hexa-core enabled Qualcomm processor packs quite the horsepower. You’ll be surprised to see the numbers it crunches. I was amazed at first use. The SD 650 is not in the line of controversial SD 615, but rather overpowers it. The chipset has two ARM Cortex A72 and four A53 cores functioning; their combination offers a clock speed of up to 1.8GHz. Supporting the graphics is the Adreno 510 GPU, which was tested when we played huge games on this handset. We will talk about that now.
The gaming on the Redmi Note 3 is just brilliant; you’ll not have a slightest of a clue whether you’re playing on a mid-range handset or a flagship device. It’s as smooth as one can expect from a device. Moreover, there was no lag while playing games like Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2 and Dead Trigger 2. Even the performance on graphic heavy games like GTA V and Modern Kombat was quite impressive. The full HD display and GPU makes up for good graphics support. After playing for more than 30 minutes, we notice an increase in temperature, but it was considerably less than its counterparts in this range. It is more than what one could ask for in this segment. Overall, we had great gameplay without heating it up quite a lot. This is a perfect gaming handset, during your daily commute to the office, or just relaxing at home on weekends.
Coming to the talk of the benchmark tools, we tested out the device to see the potential performance numbers of the device. We used popular tools like Antutu and Vellamo to examine the CPU performance, and what we saw was astonishing. The Antutu score for the device was at 74412, which puts it close to some of the top performing devices like Exynos powered Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Snapdragon 810 powered OnePlus 2. The Antutu score can be divided into four parts; 3D, UX, CPU and RAM, the scores are 17170, 26543, 23772 and 6927, respectively. While in the Vellamo app, there are three factors and they are measured separately, but not clubbed. For multi-core it scored, 2654, for metal the score was at 2608, and for Chrome Browser test it scored whopping 5079. We also did a real life browsing test to see how the experience is, and it was pretty satisfying. The large real estate makes it quite easy to browse desktop websites on this handset.
The fingerprint sensor on the rear side is not the ideal placement, as I like them on the front, just like Samsung Galaxy premium handsets, although, Xiaomi now also has a smartphone with a biometric sensor on the front. Nonetheless, the overall performance of the fingerprint sensor was pretty good, although, I did experience some lags at times when the sensor was unable to detect the fingerprint. But it didn’t happen more than twice or thrice, during my initial days of usage. So, I wouldn’t hate it for doing that. The most interesting factor is that the display doesn’t need to be in switch ON to unlock the device, rather you just have to put your finger on the sensor and device will be unlocked. The device also supports unlocking of kids mode using this sensor. It’s quick, I didn’t measure the 0.3-second claim, but as far as a fingerprint sensor on a mid-range device goes, it’s one of the best out there in the market. Overall, the hardware specification and performance is top of the line on the Redmi Note 3. It’s unbeatable, what it is.
The camera package is one of the most important factors for me when it comes to any segment smartphone. I’m a photography enthusiast, and if you’re too, even the beginner, you should not compromise on the camera features on your device. If you’re searching for a mid-range handset with good camera modules, well, today your hunting stops. After spending around two weeks with this camera, I have fallen in love with it. But you should know that the love is not for every aspect of the camera, there are some improvements I think can be done to make it better. The camera scores more hits than miss, thus offering overall great experience.
Going into specifics, it has a 16-megapixel image sensor on the rear side, the maker of the module is unknown, but it can be a Sony or OmniVison sensor. It doesn’t matter as far as the company has managed to put together good camera results, which is the case here. There are some features that support rear module in doing its job properly includes PDAF (Phase Detection Auto Focus) Technology and the dual-tone LED Flash. It has a f/2.0 aperture number, which is not bad. The PDAF technology aids in quickly focusing on the object as soon as you position the module towards it. Whereas the two-tone flash assist the module in low light conditions. But I would tell you what is important than a flashlight, it’s the HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature.
On most of the handsets, the HDR doesn’t seem to be doing quite the job it should, but the Redmi Note 3 handles this operation quite well. More than HHT (Night mode), the HDR was able to bring the best of low-light situations. While the night mode makes photos quite noisy and less detailed oriented, so a BIG no to night mode feature on this camera app. Talking about the camera app, it has a pretty familiar interface, some might address it as iOS camera app look-alike. But Xiaomi phones have come too far to be called as iPhone copycats. The camera UI is kept clean; there is a shutter button, gallery app access, and a video mode button. I like that HDR ON/OFF options are given where they should be, instead hiding them inside the settings. You can easily access the modes like Panorama, Timer, Beautify, HHT, Gradient, Scene mode, Tilt Shift and Fish Eye, with a swipe from the left. While swiping from the right would showcase the filters option, other than usual filters there is one extra addition, Mosaic, which allows you to blur certain parts of the photo. It’s a nice example of how to incorporate certain useful features in a camera app. My favorite mode is Gradient; it allow the capture to be perfectly symmetrical despite you capturing it different angles. Capture from any angle, the output will come out as straight.
We took the device for a spin in all lighting conditions; artificial, natural and low light. In all situations, the camera module managed to emerge as a great performer. We had a great fun capturing photos from the Redmi Note 3; the outputs have enough details despite capturing from a far distance, which says it has got nice zooming skills. Not unlike Asus Zenfone Zoom, since it doesn’t have an optical lens. The color reproduction, white balance and saturation levels were pretty good while taking captures in HDR mode. I usually capture photos in HDR mode, as it was snapping equally fast in normal mode. While that’s not the case on many mid-range smartphones. Again, nicely done Xiaomi. During low light captures, you’ll see in the camera samples that HDR mode yielded better results, even, better than what we saw in the night mode.
There is no optical image stabilization support, so we didn’t expect much out of the video recording. Moreover, there was no 4K recording option, just 1080p resolution at maximum. Though it was nice to see timelapse and slow motion features’ being built right into the camera app, but it was rather unfortunate to know that only 720p videos can be recorded in slow motion. You can shoot slow motion at 120fps while timelapse at 30fps maximum. We expected more out of that 16MP rear module. Enough about rear camera, now let’s talk about the front facing camera. It is of 5-megapixel resolution with an aperture number of f/2.0, which is same as the rear module. There is no flash present on the front to offer aid in low light conditions. But we still had good selfie experience in those conditions. The company doesn’t claim that it has a wide-angle lens, but we were still able to get quite many people in one selfie. It has a beauty mode which ranges from low, medium and high. As well as you can use one of 12 real-time filters to express your creativity. Overall, the camera package on this handset easily outdoes any other handset in the same range. I highly recommend it.
The battery capacity on this handset is at 4050mAh, which is quite the capacity for a phablet. The one thing that frustrates Android user is the battery life, despite large capacity many smartphones doesn’t able to manage a good battery life. It is important for the interface to be optimized and the company claims that they have optimized to last 25% longer than what can be expected from such specced handset. Our initial two days experience was not quite good, had to charge it twice during the day, it wasn’t fun. But then we were running in the standard mode, where no background activities are optimized by the system.
Whereas in the Advanced mode, the MIUI restrict the background activity when possible. It doesn’t completely stops the app from functioning when the screen is switched off, but rather keeps it functioning at lowest possible power. That’s why company warns that some apps might behave abnormally and crash. We did experience a crash of some apps like AirBnB, one time even the launcher stopped responding. But overall, thanks to this mode only, we were able to get a solid 5 hours of screen-on-time (SoT). The battery life was quite consistent around 5 Hours SoT, so we were quite happy with it. The device can easily last for the day on a heavy usage while it can last for around two days on average usage. Even, the standby time was pretty good when we switch the mode from Standard to Advanced, with hardly a 2-3% drop in 7 hours of ideal time during the night.
Interesting fact about the battery life is that it’s quite smaller than older Redmi Note’s 3000mAh battery, which you can see in the picture. The company claims that they have achieved 29% higher capacity than its previous iteration handset, meanwhile, reducing the size and thickness as well. It was all possible because they used the high-density battery, offering 690 Wh/L. The quick charging is supported on this battery, but it took around 2 hours 30 minutes to get it charged from around 10-15% to 100%. Well, at least, you don’t have to keep it plugged overnight, unlike the powerbanks, since; this device has a battery capacity of a powerbank.
The connectivity state in India is still on its verge of growth, as India adopts 4G networks support. There is only handful of players in the market that offers 4G LTE connectivity. But coming the second quarter the country hope to see a nation-wide 4G connection, which would also support VoLTE, i.e., Voice Over LTE network. The current providers offer mobile data over 4G bands while the calls are being placed on 3G or either 2G frequency. With VoLTE being expected in Indian soon, the Redmi Note 3 would be one of the first to support it. Yes, the metal mid-ranger from Xiaomi supports the voice over LTE networks; it would allow users to have clearer voice calls. And the brand is clearly going to cash in on that trend early. We tested the mobile data over 4G; it was blazing fast, with no signal drop. Note that it has a support of Band 5 LTE, which offers improved indoor coverage, thus, we didn’t experience signal drops where we usual did while using the 4G on a different handset. Fantastic, right!
The device supports hybrid SIM; dual SIM at a time or one SIM and a microSD card slot. It has a support of IR Blaster, which will allow you to control the Air Conditioner, Smart TV, Music System or any other Infrared operated devices using the Mi Remote app. It’s quite easy to configure and use. Other connectivity options include 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and microUSB port.
The conclusion we came to is that it can surely beat any other mid-range device currently in the Indian smartphone market scene. With an excellent set of the specification not only on paper but practical for real life usage, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 is the winner in our minds. The metal body construction, 1080p sunlight display, Hexa-core Snapdragon chipset that blows other midrange handsets out of the race and a battery life that promises and deliver, well, it looks like Indian audience has finally received their precious jewel in the mid-range segment. The competition it faces is in the form of Lenovo Vibe K4 Note, Coolpad Note 3 and LeEco 1S.