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xiaomi redmi note 3,smartphones,budget smartphones

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 review: the best budget phablet in SA?

Local Xiaomi distributor Mobile In Africa (MIA) is in a rather tight situation with the Redmi Note range.

The firm launched the Redmi Note 2 (review) earlier this year, despite the Note 3 already being launched in China and a few other markets. At R2999, the Redmi Note 2 offers excellent value for money, but is the R3799 Note 3 that big of an improvement? What are you missing out on if you opt for the Note 2? We peel the curtain back on the Redmi Note 3.

A thick, pleasant smartphone

xiaomi redmi note 3 wall

The first thing I noticed about the phone was how thick it was (at least in comparison to the Note 2), while also being slightly heavier than its predecessor. It’s no train smash on either front, but it’s definitely something you’ll notice.

As for the actual design, the Redmi Note 3 is the more appealing smartphone here, featuring a thin, cold metal back with a slightly recessed camera housing and circular fingerprint scanner. Otherwise, the top and bottom of the rear cover is capped by plastic, ostensibly for the antenna.

The front of the device lacks any branding, merely playing host to three capacitive keys (multitasking, home and back). In the I/O department, you’re looking at an off-centre microUSB port like the Mi 4 (review), power and volume keys on the right, earphone jack and IR blaster on the top and hybrid SIM slot on the left.

I don’t really have any major complaints with the Redmi Note 3’s design, being one of the more appealing budget designs around. But if there was one downside, I’d say it’s the position of the microUSB port, which won’t be ideal for some accessories and just looks aesthetically unpleasant.

What about horsepower?

xiaomi redmi note 3 benchmark

The Redmi Note 3 has a decent punch, packing a powerful but not flagship-level Snapdragon 650 hexacore chip (two A72 and four A53 cores) and 2GB of RAM. In other words, the processor offers a slight improvement over the Snapdragon 808 seen in the likes of the LG G4 (review) and Microsoft Lumia 950.

Throw in 16GB of expandable storage (via hybrid SIM slot) and a 5.5-inch full HD screen and you’ve got a pretty decent setup for the price.

Just how powerful a punch does the phone throw? According to Antutu, you’re looking at a score of 73 494, putting it at the bottom of the top 20. In fact, the phone was above the OnePlus 2 and LG V10, but below the Galaxy S6 (review), iPhone 6 and several other handsets.

Key numbers

Dimensions: 76mm x 8.7mm x 150mm
Weight: 164 grams
SIM type: hybrid SIM (nano)
Display: 5.5-inch, 1080×1920, IPS LCD
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 hexacore processor | dual-core ARM Cortex-A72 1.8Ghz & quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 1.4Ghz | Adreno 510 GPU | 2GB RAM (review unit)
Storage: 16GB expandable storage (review unit) or 32GB expandable storage
Imaging: 16MP , f/2.0 aperture, dual-LED flash | (Front) 5MP, f/2.0 aperture
Video: 1080p at 30fps
Battery: 4000mAh fixed
Cool features: rear-mounted fingerprint scanner
OS: Android 5.1.1 with MIUI 7 (upgrade to MIUI 8)

As for GeekBench scores, you’re looking at a single core score of 1510 and a multi-core score of 3513. By comparison, the Galaxy S6 featured a score of 1249 and 4231 respectively – the Note 3’s new A72 cores accounting for the great single-core performance. The Galaxy S7 Edge (review) boasts single and multi-core scores of 2220 and 7465 respectively while the Nexus 5X comes in just below the Redmi Note 3 (1227 and 3502).

So you’ve got a handset that’s very capable and fast in general, but not quite as fast as 2016’s flagship devices. Then again, the faster phones will have a much higher price…

General performance

xiaomi redmi note 3 2

Benchmarks aside, the phone was generally a speedy performer, launching apps relatively quickly, jumping between screens in no time and all that good stuff.

In terms of the all-important gaming experience, the Redmi Note 3 is rather good here. We played the likes of Suicide Squad: Renegade Ops, Rooms of Doom, the newly released Big Bang Racing, Disney Emoji Blitz and more rather easily. In fact, I cranked up the detail on Suicide Squad to maximum, the game holding steady with few dropped frames if any.

I did notice that new release Perchang, while very playable, ran at a less consistent, seemingly lower framerate than other titles. But it’s a new release, so this could perhaps be chalked up to optimisation woes in general. I also noticed that the phone would get very warm (but not hot) after about ten or 15 minutes of gaming, owing to the metal back dissipating heat.

The Redmi Note 3 was generally a speedy performer

The biggest issue is that loading definitely takes a few seconds longer compared to higher end handsets. In fact, I compared the P9 (review) to the Note 3 and found that Huawei’s model would regularly load games a few seconds faster and have fewer black screens between games. Is it due to the lack of RAM? The processor? A combo of both? I’m leaning towards the latter. Those wanting to regularly game on the go can do far worse than this though: actual in-game performance is mostly smooth, there’s headroom for visual fidelity to be cranked up and a big battery ensures plenty of gaming hours.

As for the actual software experience, you’re looking at a phone that’s nigh-on identical to the Redmi Note 2 and Mi 5 (review). In other words, it’s the same iOS-like setup without an app drawer, featuring thousands of downloadable themes. There’s the familiar set of preinstalled tools, the Apple-inspired camera app, that security/phone manager hub, that aesthetically pleasing music player and Xiaomi’s haphazardly designed settings menu.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a differentiated software experience compared to other Xiaomi handsets, you’ll be disappointed. The fact that MIUI seems to use a lot more RAM than Huawei’s EMUI is also interesting — at least judging from the RAM count in the multitasking menu.

Fingerprint scanner

xiaomi redmi note 3 back

Where the Redmi Note 3 does differ compared to its predecessor is in the addition of a fingerprint scanner on the back. Setting up the print is a trivial affair too, as you navigate to “settings” and choose “lock screen & fingerprint” to get started. Up to five prints can be added, while the ability to lock apps behind a print is a lovely extra.

I found it to be accurate most of the time, but it definitely had the occasional bout of unresponsiveness, necessitating a power/lock button press – at least before the last update. More concerning though, was the fact that the phone was prone to vibrating in my pocket now and again. It turns out that the fingerprint scanner was perhaps trying to scan my thigh.

It’s a very very weird glitch and I’m not sure if it can be fixed via an update. Have the screen face your thigh, I guess. In saying so, it didn’t happen all the time and seems to be limited to one pair of jeans with thin pockets. But I didn’t have this experience with other handsets.

The app lock features and authentication with Google Play are welcome additions, although I’d like to see more print-related features, such as website logins.

Cameras

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 samples
left right

Redmi Note 3 Sample

A very saturated HDR picture here. Still, a great HDR shot purely for the lack of ghosting in such a fast-moving scene.

Redmi Note 3 Sample

A quick snap before heading into the plane. Noise is kept pleasantly low for the most part.

Redmi Note 3 Sample

There's a native Tiltshift feature on the Redmi Note 3. A pity that there isn't anything in the way customisation.

Redmi Note 3 Sample

The Note 3 is capable of some lovely shots, especially during the daytime or with great lighting, like this. The sun made for a pleasant backlit picture here.

Redmi Note 3 Sample

Colours verge on the unrealistic in this shot, while the edges between shadows and light are rather murky.

Redmi Note 3 Sample

You'll often need multiple takes to get a good selfie, otherwise you'll be settling for a blurry shot.

Redmi Note 3 Sample

Daytime snaps deliver a good level of detail and accurate colours. The greenery could be less "mushy" though.

If ever there were a department where a phone’s budget trappings are felt, it’s in the camera field. And to be honest, the Redmi Note 3 is no different.

That’s not to say that the phone is terrible in this department — far from it. It’s just that those expecting flagship-quality performance might be disappointed.

The phone packs a 16MP f/2.0 main camera, being a great performer during the day. It packs a good level of resolvable clarity, while colours take a turn for the saturated most of the time. It’s not perfect in these situations though, as colours can be weirdly inaccurate (possibly due to white balance issues) and fine details such as trees aren’t quite at the level of the Mi 5.

The phone makes its budget nature known when the light drops (be it indoors or at night), seeing a big drop in detail and a big leap in noise. Xiaomi’s flagship copes much better in these conditions, delivering much less noise and a clearer photo in general.

xiaomi redmi note 3 1

The Redmi Note 3 isn’t going to win any video-recording accolades either, topping out at 1080p/30fps, while also delivering bog-standard 720p/120fps slow-motion recording. The Redmi Note 3 continues the Xiaomi tradition of not offering 60fps recording whatsoever, being a real shame. Video recording itself will get the job done, but the lack of OIS means you’ll need very steady hands to avoid jittery footage. Additionally, I get the impression that either the video is highly compressed or it just has trouble keeping the sky and bright colours artifact-free.

The Redmi Note 3 isn’t going to win any video-recording accolades

As for photo modes, you’re looking at panorama, timer, straighten, beautify, HHT (low light), scene selection, tilt-shift and fish-eye options. There’s also a manual mode, but this only delivers white-balance and ISO options unfortunately.

In the selfie department, you’re looking at a 5MP shooter capable of relatively decent shots during the day — but you’ll often need to take several shots as blur is inevitable. Night-time is a disappointment though, especially owing to the lack of a screen flash.

In other words, the Redmi Note 3’s camera is great for the price range, but you can get a better photography experience (especially in low light) if you’re willing to spend a bit more cash. The Nexus 5X comes to mind, coming in at around R5000 on Orange. Still, for R3799, it’s definitely near the top in its price bracket.

Battery life

If there’s one department that stands out for the Redmi Note 3, it’s the battery. Packing a 4000mAh cell into its body, you’ve got a phone that delivers two days of really solid usage, such as music playback, social media browsing, gaming and some YouTube.

Real-world usage saw me get some great mileage out of the device, using the phone for the Galaxy Note 7 event in Johannesburg. I managed to watch some videos and listen to music on the morning flight there, then used it for audio recording at the event itself. The phone was largely on standby overnight, until the journey back to Cape Town, where I used it for music and light reading before and during the flight. No need to charge it until I got home at about 2pm, and even then, I felt like I could’ve easily stretched the phone out until the evening.

As for video playback, I ran a looping test, leaving WiFi/mobile data on and keeping the brightness at 100%. It was a bit of a disappointment, clocking in at an an average six hours. Weird. But the aforementioned real-world use during a flight seemed to be more representative.

Verdict: At R3799, the Redmi Note 3 represents excellent value for money, owing to a fast processor, solid display and long battery life in general. Unfortunately, compromises will always be made at this point, namely in the form of a good but not great main camera and 2GB of RAM. Still, show me a sub-R4000 smartphone with a large battery, fingerprint scanner and Snapdragon 650 processor…

Score: 8/10

Author Bio

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More
  • David King

    You guys are too late. But arright. Xiaomi rocks!

  • nuvi

    What was the GPS like? Xiaomi’s GPS lock on some of its other phones is horrible.