Xiaomi is no stranger to anyone around these parts. They are a company who has very quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the mobile world. Bringing to market device after device which packs as much as it can in terms of specs and features, while also looking to maintain a price which is as competitive as it can be. One of the latest arrivals to come from Xiaomi is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3. A follow up to last year’s Redmi Note 2 and one which looks to continue the trend of being highly functional yet competitively priced. For reference, this is a $200 smartphone.
In spite of being priced at the lower end of the spectrum, this is a smartphone which crams in specs. For the low-cost you can expect a 5.5-inch IPS display which makes use of a 1920 x 1080 resolution. There are a couple of variants of the Redmi Note 3 available and as a result, you can choose between a 2GB RAM variant which is accompanied by 16GB storage or a 3GB RAM variant which offers 32GB internal storage. The one we are looking at today is the latter option, 3GB RAM with 32GB internal storgage. Either way, both options do offer the ability to expand thanks to the inclusion of a microSD card slot (up to 32GB). Again processors differ depending on variant and location, although this partiuclar variant comes powered by a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 Hexa-core processor. In terms of cameras, the Redmi Note 3 comes loaded with a 16-megapixel rear camera which is coupled with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. Additional features on offer include dual-SIM support, a fingerprint scanner, a 4,000 mAh battery, Quick Charge 2.0 and 4G LTE support. The Redmi Note 3 comes running on Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop) in the form of MIUI 7.2 and in terms of its physical dimensions, this is a smartphone which measures 150 x 76 x 8.7 mm and weighs in at 164 grams
In the box
This is an affordable handset and as is usually the case with such purchases, there's not a lot on offer when it comes to the 'unboxing experience'. The box is a standard phone box and when opened immediately presents the phone rested in a plastic insert tray. Underneath is much the same with the charging plug, small black generic microUSB to USB lead and a few card-based information pamphlets included. And that is about it.
Hardware & Design
When it comes to Xiaomi’s Redmi line of smartphones, their evolution in three short models is testament to the company. The original Redmi Note was designed to be affordable first and foremost and that quickly became evident in the design language and build quality. However, the second generation device came with a much-improved design and build and one which suddenly started to voice its own unique look and feel. Albeit, still encased within a plastic body. With this third rendition, plastic is (largely) a thing of the past and this model comes sporting a nice metal unibody look and feel. Which immediately results in a favorable feeling when the handset is picked up. In spite of being a cheap phone, nothing feels cheap about it. The Redmi Note 3 does bring to the table an affordable smartphone disguised as premium and nicely done. The back of the device is cool to the touch, while also being incredible smooth. Further adding to its more premium disguise is its reliance on curves. This is a nicely curved phone - both in terms of its general corner curves as well as its inward sloping sides that make the Redmi Note 3 a very comfortable smartphone to hold.
That said, one noticeable difference between the Redmi Note 3 and its predecessor is the top and bottom of the rear casing. While this phone adopts a metal disguise, the top and bottom aspects are plastic. Now depending on which way you look at this will determine whether this is seen as a good or bad move. This does keep the price of the handset down and also adds to its lightweight nature. However, they are plastic and are signs of where this phone is positioned. So while it does disguise its build as premium and does it well, there are hints that this is still just a disguise.
Moving to the more generic aspects and the back is where you will find the usual suspects. These include the Mi logo, the rear-facing camera as well as a rear-positioned fingerprint reader (just below the camera). Unfortunately, this is also where you will find the speakers, which although is common to a lot of smartphones, it still remain an aspect which will be viewed somewhat as a negative, due to the nature of rear positioned speakers affecting volume and clarity.
The top of the smartphone remains largely uneventful with the exception of the 3.5 mm jack socket, while the bottom is where you will find the left-positioned micro-USB charge port. Likewise and in a relatively traditional fashion, the left-hand side you will find your SIM card tray (which also houses the microSD card slot) while the right-hand side, is where you will find the volume up, down and power buttons.
Speaking of which, the side buttons are again a prime example of the Redmi Note 3’s clever disguising as premium. These are very tactile buttons and you certainly do not have to worry about trying to find the buttons in the dark or without looking at the smartphone directly. However, they are almost a little too pronounced and literally verge on the edge of being sharp. A prime example of adopting premium traits but not quite having the finish of a premium handset.
Overall, it is hard to argue with the design and build of the Redmi Note 3. When you keep in mind the cost of the handset, this is easily one of the best-built smartphones at this price. Its evolution from the previous model alone is enough to justify the difference. However, comparing it to any similar priced smartphone and the difference is staggering. While plastic aspects are obviously in play and a number of elements are just not quite right, the sum of all the parts is significantly better than you will likely find on any other similar-priced handset. But do keep in mind, that it is all just a disguise. Albeit, a very cleverly executed one.
The display on the Redmi Note 3 is certainly one of the most generic aspects of the smartphone. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing. On offer is a common-sized 5.5-inch display which is IPS LCD based. This is thrown together with an also common 1920 x 1080 (aka FHD) resolution. All of which combine into what is largely, (you guessed it) a common viewing experience. Watching videos and general phone viewing is up to par for this resolution and there are no major issues to note in this respect. However, by the same token there are no major points to praise the device with either. This is not a great display, nor a bad one. But, for the price of the smartphone, it is a solid FHD display.
First off the bat, sound is one of the most disappointing aspects of the Redmi Note 3. In particular, the single rear-positioned speaker. While this is a debatable issue with some not viewing rear-positioned speakers as problematic as others, a rear-positioned speaker is always going to naturally affect the volume and scope of the sound. And that largely seems to be the case with the Redmi Note 3. Sound is not as loud as it could be to begin with. Therefore, the rear-portioned speaker does further add to create an ever lower volume and does further compromise the sound altogether. It is not terrible by any means and certainly does do the job, but only in a basic capacity and in reality, the speaker on this smartphone is not a feature which you should be buying the Redmi Note 3 for. The general sound output and quality is just not there. Scope is minimal, sound is average and the lack of volume completes the poor quality trinity.
However, what is interesting is the headphone usage on offer. While there were no issues with using headphones generally, the interesting bit is the settings that are on offer. The Redmi Note 3 comes equipped with a number of pre-set configurations specifically designed for headphones. Much like you will get on a number of smartphones, but instead of being for the output as a whole, these are designed to best maximize the headphones output only. While also offering a means to customize the functionality of headphone's buttons. Which is a nice tweak, although, it does seem largely catered towards Xiaomi’s own headphone selection.
Software & UI
This is always going to be a hard section to comment on properly as the Redmi Note 3 comes running on Android 5.1.1, by way of Xiaomi’s own MIUI 7. Which in truth is a very far removed version of Android from stock. This makes it difficult to review on two fronts. Firstly, if you have used MIUI before then you will be well-versed with what is on offer and the Redmi Note 3 does not deviate much from what you can expect from other devices running a Lollipop version of MIUI. On the second front, if you are unfamiliar with MIUI in general, then this is so far removed from stock, that whether you like it or not will be largely down to individual taste. So instead we will take a broader overview of the good and the bad from a stock perspective.
In terms of what is good, the fluidity. Anyone who has used MIUI will know how lightning fast it is, and on the Redmi Note 3 it is equally as fast. This coupled with the general performance of the smartphone means the software can at times feel almost too fast, almost instantaneous. Swipes, clicks and everything in between is very responsive. Another huge positive with MIUI 7 is the level of features. It is no stretch to say this is a heavily-skinned version of Android and one which includes an abundance of features. In truth, it is hard to find a feature that Xiaomi has not looked to include. So if you are looking for various battery saving features, you have them. Want one-handed mode, it’s there. Looking for built-in security features, apps, a file cleaner, remote control functionality, you got them. In fact, if you have ever wanted a permanent music control setting in the notification shade which works across all music apps, then you have one of them as well.
Just like if you are looking for a smartphone which offers a good level of theming, that is on offer too. Much like any other MIUI running smartphone, the Redmi Note 3 comes with a highly themed ability and a very large selection of free themes to choose from. Not to mention a ton of highly customized ones too.
It is also worth pointing out that unlike a number of smartphones that have emerged from China, the Redmi Note 3 does come with a number of your western favorite apps as part of the package, including the likes of Facebook, Swiftkey and Fleksy, as well as the entire suite of Google Apps to boot (variant dependent). While these apps are included, they do not feel like filler or bloat at all. Xiaomi has done a nice job of limiting the pre-installed apps to more well-known inclusions, the ones you are actually likely to want.
On to what could be considered the bad points and again, it should be pointed out that these are common to MIUI, as well as a number of other Chinese OS options and not specifically criticisms of the Redmi Note 3 alone. First up is the app drawer, or more accurately, the lack of one. If you are someone who likes making use of folders and having to really get to grips with organizing your apps, then this will be perfect for you. However, if you prefer the ability to house all your secondary apps tucked away in an app drawer, then the Redmi Note 3 will be a little hard to get used to. Likewise, if you are someone who likes the use of Material Design, then unfortunately, you could not be further away from Material Design with the Redmi Note 3. MIUI is extremely different in its approach to its interface and while colorful, bright and engaging, it is a UI which is far less user-friendly. Yes, it packs in a ton of features and things to use and do, but the organization and general level of usage leaves a lot to be desired. Things just do not naturally feel as easy to find or make use of. At least, for those coming from a more stock version of Android.
On a similar note, while the Redmi Note 3 is able to handle multi-tasking well, the general software is not one which is multi-task friendly. If you are a fan of the way in which recent apps are displayed on stock Android, you will become quickly frustrated with the way 'recents' is utilized on the Redmi Note 3. Consistent with how it is on MIUI in general, the dedicated recents button makes use of a horizontal app icon design. So you are never really seeing any of the opened app contents and instead are only presented with the icons. Not to mention, it is designed to only display the last four opened apps in view. So if you open more than four at a time, you have to know that you can find more by swiping right to left.
Likewise, the notification shade is not the most interactive and simply lists notations in a downward column. There is no ability to interact with the notifications other than to click-to-open or to swipe-to-delete. If you are someone who enjoys expanding your notifications, this is simply not an option with the Redmi Note 3. Another prime example of how the general software is just not optimized to be as user-friendly as it could be.
Overall, the software experience is one which will come down to your personal taste and expectations. If you don't mind sacrificing aspects like the app drawer or familiar settings, then you are likely to view this as a nice interface, one which packs in more features than you need and above all else, offers software value for money. On the other hand, those who like stock Android will at times feel a little lost with MIUI and it will require a significant learning curve to get up to speed. Too many things are just not where or how they are supposed to be.
While this is a feature and could be easily included in the software section, the more smartphones that come with this feature, the clearer the differences between the fingerprint sensors and their functionality is becoming. Not to mention, that on a smartphone which is priced at or under $200, fingerprint functionality does need to be commented on, be it for good or bad. Luckily, when it comes to the Redmi Note 3, it is certainly a feature which resides on the good side. In fact, it was shocking as to how good the fingerprint sensor is on this smartphone and at this price. Setting up the fingerprint scanner is a breeze and much quicker than on a number of high-profile smartphones. Likewise, the response and accuracy of the sensor is excellent. Unlike a number of smartphones, the error rate encountered was absolutely minimal and likely to be as close to zero as you can probably get at the moment. It just does not fail in its recognition. In a similar fashion, the speed of unlocking was again excellent and will easily measure up in response time with the likes of the Galaxy S7 and similar. It really is a super fast and accurate fingerprint sensor and Xiaomi has done extremely well in this particular aspect.
Battery Life & Performance
In terms of battery life, there is very little to complain about at all with the Redmi Note 3. This is clearly a device which looks to ensure that battery issues never arise….and they don't. The level of battery usage on the Redmi Note 3 is in very short terms, excellent. At the very extreme scale - when streaming video all day and at full brightness - the Redmi Note 3 was still able to rack up close to seven hours of screen on time without issue. As you will expect, reducing the intensity of usage to just message replying, social media integration and general phone use or even just reducing the brightness down from its maximum setting, will likely see that level rise significantly higher. In fact, it is very difficult to drain the Redmi Note 3 battery intentionally. In spite of its market positioning, this is a smartphone which will easily get you through an average day’s harder use and consistently. For those who make use of their device in a minimal capacity, here you will really reap the benefits of the battery as on average, the Redmi Note 3 would only lose about 10-15% every ten hours. So overnight usage never dropped much more than 10% and this remained the case at more critical battery levels. This is of particular importance as some smartphones do have a habit of not being totally accurate when they begin to scrape the bottom of the battery barrel. This is not the case with the Redmi Note 3 and whatever the battery says it is, can be considered a very solid measurement.
In terms of charging, the Redmi Note 3 takes a little over two hours to charge from empty to full again. So while that is a little on the longer side compared to other smartphones, it is worth pointing out that the Redmi Note 3 does support quick charge technology. So you can charge the device quicker if you have a compatible charger. Unfortunately, the charger included in the box is not a quick charge charger and the charge times noted here are directly relevant to the out of the box experience. So unless you buy an additional charger, then you should expect about two hours for the Redmi Note 3 to charge from empty to full.
Moving on to the general performance and again, there is very little to complain about. Inside, this is a smartphone which is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 (formerly the Snapdragon 618) and for this smartphone, this processor proved to be plenty. Coupled with the 3GB RAM on offer and the general experience and level/speed of navigation is extremely fluid. In fact, there was very little issues ever noted and the responsiveness of the Redmi Note 3 was on the whole, flawless. Of course, it should be pointed out that this is the higher-range version of the Redmi Note 3 and as a result, it is difficult to comment on the likely performance of the 2GB version (or those running an alternate processor in other regions), but based off the 3GB/Qualcomm model, performance is certainly not an issue. This is a very fast and responsive handset.
If you are expecting a $200 smartphone to be poor in performance, then you would likely be right in a number of cases. It is not that they perform poorly as such, but more they are just not the best performing devices. As already discussed in the last section, this is not a poor-performing smartphone by any standards. Although, this is a measurement and statement that is dependent on a personal view of the smartphone. If you prefer a more quantifiable opinion then the benchmark results for the Redmi Note 3 back up its performance prowess perfectly.
Running AnTuTu on the Redmi Note 3 immediately highlights what you are getting with the Redmi Note 3. This is a smartphone which routinely scored around the 75K level. Which although is not massive by today’s standards, when you consider that this score placed the Redmi Note 3 right in between the likes of the Galaxy S6 (just above the Redmi Note 3) and the Google Nexus 6 (just below the Redmi Note 3), this should provide some insight into the performance of this entry-level priced handset. Moving on to Geekbench and the Redmi Note 3 scored 1509 on single-core performance, which positioned the Redmi Note 3 above the Galaxy S6 but below the Tegra K1 sporting Nexus 9. While the Redmi Note 3 achieved a score of 3602 on multi-core testing, which positioned the phone above the Nexus 9, but below the likes of the OnePlus 2 and Galaxy S6. Which again, overall, is not too bad at all. Closing out the benchmarking was 3DMark which scored the Redmi Note 3 at 864, while not the most impressive result, still a solid result on the whole for a smartphones such as this.
Before we go further into this particular aspect, it does need to be made clear that in spite of this being a ‘global’ version of the phone and coming equipped with Google Apps, this is a smartphone which is not designed to cater towards the U.S. or Europe. So far instance, you cannot select a region or country which is based within the United States or Europe during setup (or through the settings after initial setup) which was largely disappointing. In fact, it was rather unclear as to why this was the case, but if you are based in the U.S. or in Europe then this is not a phone which is designed with your location in mind. From what we are aware, compatible bands include 2G: GSM 900/1800/1900 MHz, 3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100 MHz; CDMA 2000: BC0 and 4G: FDD-LTE 1800/2100/2600 MHz.
That said, during testing we were able to get the Redmi Note 3 to work on T-Mobile in the U.S. However, 4G was never attainable and even maintaining a reliable HSPA+ signal was near impossible. While the phone would connect to T-Mobile, it seemed to consistently drop in and out of the network. When a call was made, there was nothing overtly wrong with the quality which was fine. But during our testing of this particular handset, the cellular connection was not a reliable one within the U.S. At least not on T-Mobile. The images below were all taken within a couple of minutes and highlight just how spotty the signal was.
Camera Experience & Software
Taking a quick look at the camera abilities and the Redmi Note 3 is largely made up of a combination of a 16-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. In principle, neither of these MP count cameras are anything new and you will find similar counts on most smartphones nowadays. Although, you are unlikely to find them on smartphones which come with a $200 price tag attached. On that note you are getting a lot of value for money and comparing to any similar-priced or market-positioned handset, the Redmi Note 3 cameras are great. They perform well, are responsive and adopt very quick shutter speeds which inevitably does help to reduce image blurriness.
On a more wider note though and while unfair to compare to higher-end smartphones, their issues should be picked up and commented on so that you do now what you are expecting. In this sense, the cameras are not fantastic. While images taken with the cameras are nice and clear, they are a little devoid of color and just feel a little too pale and/or a little less detailed than you might like or expect.
You can check out a selection of the unedited full resolution images taken with the Redmi Note 3's rear camera in the gallery below.
Moving on the general camera software and overall, this part feels very similar to what was noted for the cameras in general. The software is extremely good for the price and it is difficult to criticize what is on offer - for the money. There is a good selection of features on offer and you can expect many of the staple features like HDR to be included. Xiaomi also is making a big push for filters and effects and as a result, there are a ton of these to choose from as well. However, in criticism, it is just not the most user-friendly software. Everything you need is there and is accessible, but the overall experience just felt limited in its implementation and more complex than it needs to be. Although, again, at this price-point, the level of value that is on offer is an easy trade-off to make for the quality and features on offer.
If you have not gleaned from the review so far, this is an excellent smartphone for the price. It really is. Taking aside any preferences for such a heavily-skinned version of Android, the Redmi Note 3 is an extremely feature-rich smartphone. The user interface is fluid and the overall performance was excellent. Cameras, although not the best you can get, can easily get the job done and the battery life on offer is second to none. In short, this is an all-around performer and that is without even taking into considering its comparative rock bottom pricing. Yes, there are some issues like the build quality not being exactly as premium as it pretends to be, but overall the good far outweighs the bad. Although, there is the one massive issue which will likely affect a large number of potential buyers and that is the band compatibility and general location use of the global version. It is just not as global as it should be and this will be a factor which will determine whether or not this is a suitable phone for you to use on a daily basis. Based on our experience with the handset, if you are based in the U.S. or Europe then this is not the phone for you. At least, not in its current global variant.
Should you buy the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3?
If you are in a relevant location for this smartphone, then there is literally very few reasons to give as to why you should not buy this smartphone. When you factor in the cost, the features, the build and everything else, this is a great purchase. You will have to be OK with using MIUI, but that aside, it is hard to currently suggest a better value smartphone than the Redmi Note 3.