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Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 hands-on

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review
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.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review
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, 1920x1080 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 802.11ac, 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

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Design

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 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review 
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 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 - what's on the back - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 - what's on the back - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 - what's on the back - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review 
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 SIM cards (mini + nano) 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 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review the loudspeaker - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review 
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.

Display

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.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review
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.
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Software

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 Xiaomi 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).
MIUI 7 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review MIUI 7 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review MIUI 7 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review MIUI 7 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review 
MIUI 7
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.
MIUI 7 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review MIUI 7 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review MIUI 7 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review MIUI 7 - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review 
MIUI 7
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.

Performance

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.

GeekBench 3 (multi-core)

Higher is better
  • Meizu MX55110
  • Meizu m1 metal4825
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 24589
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Helio X10)4537
  • Lenovo K3 Note4067
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (S650)3570
  • Sony Xperia M5 Dual3554
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c3321
  • Xiaomi Redmi 32842
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note2435
Fortunately, the single-core performance is doubled, which really matters for a smooth OS and hassle-free task switching. Indeed, a Cortex-A72 core is twice as capable as the mainstream Cortex-A53 solution.

GeekBench 3 (single-core)

Higher is better
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (S650)1573
  • Meizu m1 metal883
In terms of general usage, the phone performed admirably. Opening and closing apps was quick, scrolling was smooth, animations were fluid, and everything just seemed to work as it should. The CPU on the 650 seemed well up to the task of everyday usage and the OS seemed to be well-optimized for it.
We decided to try our usual range of games on the phone. Again, the Adreno 510 GPU performed remarkably well with the phone's 1080p resolution, and all of the games we tried ran quite well.
The Adreno 510 turned out, in fact, twice better than the PowerVR G6200 within the Mediatek model. Here are the benchmark results to prove it.

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c15
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (S650)14
  • Meizu MX510
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Helio X10)8.5
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 28.5
  • Meizu m1 metal8.4
  • Sony Xperia M5 Dual8.4
  • Lenovo K3 Note6.1
  • Xiaomi Redmi 35.8

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c15
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (S650)14
  • Xiaomi Redmi 312
  • Meizu MX59.5
  • Sony Xperia M5 Dual8.7
  • Meizu m1 metal8
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Helio X10)7.9
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 27.9
  • Lenovo K3 Note6.1

GFX 3.1 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c10
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (S650)9.1
  • Meizu MX54.8
  • Sony Xperia M5 Dual4.5
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Helio X10)4
  • Meizu m1 metal4
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 24
  • Lenovo K3 Note2.9

GFX 3.1 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c9.7
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (S650)9.1
  • Sony Xperia M5 Dual4.9
  • Meizu MX54.7
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Helio X10)3.9
  • Meizu m1 metal3.9
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 23.9
  • Lenovo K3 Note2.9

Basemark X

Higher is better
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (S650)14732
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c12096
  • Meizu MX510403
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Helio X10)8540
  • Meizu m1 metal8526
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 28518
  • Sony Xperia M5 Dual7780
  • Lenovo K3 Note5656
  • Xiaomi Redmi 35108
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note2974
Luckily, while the Adreno 510 might be faster, you shouldn't worry - there is nothing either of the Redmi Note 3 models can't handle properly in real life.
The compound tests AnTuTu and BaseMark OS II 2.0 also put the Redmi Note 3 powered by Snapdragon 650 ahead of its Mediatek sibling, but also ahead of all competitors.

AnTuTu 6

Higher is better
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (S650)75051
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Helio X10)45474

Basemark OS 2.0

Higher is better
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (S650)1537
  • Meizu MX51252
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c1233
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 21063
  • Meizu m1 metal1039
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Helio X10)1018
  • Lenovo K3 Note984
  • Sony Xperia M5 Dual860
  • Xiaomi Redmi 3804
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note479
Overall, we found the performance of the Snapdragon 650 to be well above that of any of the Snapdragon 600 series chipsets and actually quite close to that of the Snapdragon 808.
As for thermal performance, both Qualcomm and Xiaomi have done a good job to keep the temperatures in check. In regular use there is absolutely no noticeable difference in the phone's temperature. Even while gaming, the back gets slightly warm, but it's never bothersome. It is possible to get the phone warm if you crank up the display brightness all the way up while playing heavy 3D games, but it's a fairly unlikely scenario and in our general usage and gaming experience the phone never got appreciably warm.
Shifting gears, the call quality and network performance was also pretty good, with the phone holding on to LTE network even in places where other phones would usually give up. The shift from 3G to 4G was also quick after a call ended, which is important in markets like India that don't yet have VoLTE. One thing to note, however, is that the earpiece is a bit narrow, and if it's not positioned correctly directly in front of your ear the sound drops drastically.
The multimedia performance was also respectable. The phone supports a variety of formats out of the box, including AC3 audio codec for video. The phone has a decent video player built-in but it has to be accessed either through the Gallery or the file manager.
The headphone output is loud and clear but the loudspeaker is neither and the backward positioning also makes it sound worse.
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Camera

The Redmi Note 3 has a 16 megapixel camera on the back with phase detection autofocus, f2.0 aperture, two-tone dual LED flash and 1080p video. On the front is a 5 megapixel sensor with f2.0 aperture.
Camera UI - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Camera UI - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Camera UI - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review 
Camera UI
The image quality of the rear camera was a bit underwhelming. Images have a fair bit of noise in them, which coupled with the over-sharpening made them unpleasant to look at when zoomed right in.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Snapdragon) camera samples - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Snapdragon) camera samples - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Snapdragon) camera samples - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Snapdragon) camera samples - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Snapdragon) camera samples
Dynamic range was also unimpressive and the camera frequently blew out highlights. The built-in HDR mode only helps boost shadows but does nothing for the highlights, so you just end up with an overall brighter image. There is also noticeable purple fringing around high contrast areas. Colors were good, however, and the overall detail, while not particularly noteworthy, was alright. The focusing is quick but quite often tends to miss the mark, which is usually hard to tell on the display while you're shooting but something you notice later while looking at the image up close.
HDR off - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review HDR on - Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon review 
HDR off • HDR on
Video wasn't great either. The phone seems to be upscaling a lower resolution video, which is clearly visible when shooting still subjects, as you can see the jagged edges of a low resolution file being played back at a higher resolution. Colors also look flat in the video and the dynamic range is even worse than on photos.
As such, the overall camera quality on the Redmi Note 3 isn't great and possibly the weakest aspect of the phone.

Battery Life

The Redmi Note 3 has a 4,050mAh battery. The battery is non-removable, but we don't think that's going to be a major issue with this phone. The Redmi Note 3 consistently returned excellent battery life figures in our testing, with on-screen time of 6-7 hours every single day. The phone has a battery saver mode of sorts that's on by default, which cuts back the location and network access of background apps, but we didn't notice any adverse effects, such as apps not updating in the background, etc. while using the phone, so we decided to leave it on.
Note that our testing was with a single SIM card, as our review unit had an issue that prevented using two SIM cards with it.
The Redmi Note 3 has first generation Quick Charge that supports chargers up to 5V 2A. The phone took about an hour to reach 50% battery from 1% and about two and a half hours to reach 100% from 1%. We wish Xiaomi had included Quick Charge 2.0 or some other form of fast charging as the current charge rate is pretty slow.

Verdict

The Snapdragon variant of the Redmi Note 3 is being launched at a price point at USD $148 (INR 9,999) for the 16GB model and $178 (INR 11,999) for the 32GB model, in India.
At that price, the phone represents phenomenal value for money. Even if you leave the price aside for a second, the Redmi Note 3 has a combination of a great design and build quality, good display, great performance, fingerprint sensor, and excellent battery life. Add to that the incredible pricing, and it makes it easier to ignore some of the shortcomings, such as the less than stellar camera, outdated version of Android, and the lack of proper fast charging, none of which are deal breakers to begin with. At this price, it is easily the best phone in its price range.
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