What looks like an HTC, carries Note branding, and has a set of specifications that you wouldn’t kick out of bed? So to speak, that is? That’d be the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, the sequel to the excellent (and very cheap) Redmi Note 2 that we were so taken with earlier this year.
The Redmi Note 3 has changed compared to its immediate predecessor. Sure it’s a little more expensive but Xiaomi has also made physical alterations that make it worth considering as an upgrade device. Let’s take a look at some of those.
That’s pretty metal
We received the Gold Redmi Note 3 for review and it looks… surprisingly like the HTC One M9. There are significant differences, of course, but at a quick glance the design, the top and bottom bezels and the colouring in particular bring to mind HTC’s handset.
But, like we said, differences. The Redmi Note 3 is larger, to start with, sporting a 5.5-inch HD display bordered by thicker bezels on the top and bottom. The casing is also largely metal, of a softer brushed type than the M9’s weighty back-panel. Xiaomi’s phone also features plastic strips at the rear, at the top and bottom of the phone.
It’s inside these plastic sections that most of the ports live. At the base of the phone is the charge port, as well as that little paper-clip hole for when your phone is totally stuffed. The top edge is home to the headphone jack and an IR blaster. At the rear, centred below the camera sensor, is the speedy fingerprint reader (which may just collect more dirt than you’d like). The upper-left edge is home to the power button and volume rocker, all of which are solid metal buttons that respond well to pressure. The right-hand side is where you insert your SIM/s and/or microSD card. You can opt for either a dual-SIM or a SIM/storage combo in that little recess.
Could be bigger
There are two different storage versions of this phone. We had the smaller of the pair for review so we’re talking about those specs specifically. Specs like the aforementioned 5.5-inch display (1,080 x 1,920, 403ppi), a Snapdragon 650 processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. There’s another option with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage which, sadly, isn’t available in SA.
Back to those specs, though. The Snapdragon 650 is a hexa-core processor, sandwiching a quad 1.4GHz chip onto a dual-core 1.8GHz, that makes short work of most everything that you’ll wind up throwing at this phone. It helps that Xiaomi’s MIUI 7 skin doesn’t do much to slow down the Android 5.1.1 OS – on that note, Android Lollipop is about the worst thing that we encountered with this phone, software-wise. It works just fine but we’ve been spoiled by Marshmallow for quite a while now. If you’re an OS nut, try and remember that the Redmi Note 5 was first launched at the beginning of this year. We’re getting it a little late.
Six cores do what?
Android Lollipop, a hexa-core, and 2GB of RAM walk into a progress bar… is the lamest way we could have possibly introduced the benchmark portion of our show but we’re oddly proud of it. Xiaomi is probably also proud of what their handset did in the performance stakes as it hammered away at our testing apps.
Using Geekbench 3, the Redmi Note 3 scored a respectable 1492 for single-core performance, upping that total to 3528 for multi-core. We’ve noticed that the same handset (the older version using the MediaTek Helio X10 processor) has scored higher with this test but we a) didn’t have the battery-sapping Performance mode turned on and b) weren’t using a phone packing a ten-core processor. Regardless, the Redmi Note 3 beats out the Galaxy S6 for single-core performance. It’s beaten by the likes of the Nexus 9 for MC performance. Still, respectable.
A run through the AnTuTu playground showed that the Adreno 510 GPU GPU plays fairly nice with graphics rendering. It’s not up to flagship standard but it’s no slideshow either. The final score there was 44,928, which is a touch below the iPhone 5S for overall performance.
A look on the bright side
The camera is the only destination we haven’t hit, yet. The Redmi Note 3’s camera setup, on paper, sounds good enough. A 16MP rear shooter with a f/2.0 aperture, dual-LED flash (as can be seen above), and phase detection autofocus sounds like a good deal. And it should.
As with most smartphones, if you’re snapping photos in great light you’re going to find that your images look correspondingly good. Take the Redmi Note 3 into darker environments and you’ll quickly see the app slow down as the camera battles to keep up. This also happens if you enable HDR, turning it from a quick-shooter into a single-shot sensor. Xiaomi’s camera app is nice enough to include a suite of manual controls, though, for those who know what they’re doing.
The front-facer is a 5MP selfie snapper. There’s nothing remarkable about it. It has the same age-guessing feature found in the Xiaomi Mi 5 and all of the embarrassment that brings along with it. You can shave years off just by altering your lighting a little or moving the camera around. Useful, if you’re an Insta-addict.
Long story short, Xiaomi has done it again by offering a solidly-performing handset overall for not a whole lot of cash. R3,800 is what you’re expected to shell out for the Redmi Note 3, which is only a slight increase on the Redmi Note 2’s launch price of R3,000. For that you’re getting improved specs and a much better build. It’s still a mid-ranger and some sacrifices have been made (looking at you, camera) but you’re not going to find many sub-R4,000 phones delivering this level of performance.