THERE is no question that Xiaomi has an image problem among the tech media, particularly the Western tech cognoscenti. Far too many hacks are happy to smirk when the Xiaomi brand name is mentioned.
Part of the problem arises from the company’s insistence on comparing its products directly to Apple’s.
It starts with Xiaomi chief executive officer Lei Jun’s blatant ripoff of Steve Jobs’ black T-shirt and blue jeans attire during product launches. Even the presentation culminates with the slide titled ‘One more thing’ – another homage to Apple’s founder.
Whether there is an image problem or not, at least in smartphone unit shipments, Xiaomi is currently riding the crest of a wave. In 2015, it shipped over 70 million devices, most of them in China.
The company recently launched its Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 in Malaysia and neighbouring countries. Like all devices from Xiaomi, all variants of the Redmi Note 3 are keenly priced with official prices starting from RM749 (US$193 at current rates).
Over the past few years, Xiaomi has earned the title of being ‘China’s Apple.’ In terms of design, the Redmi Note 3 is closer to some of its Android counterparts rather than Apple. In particular, it reminded me of last year’s Nexus P6 from Huawei.
The gold colour versions of both devices have the same look and smooth metallic feel. Belying its ‘budget’ price, the Redmi Note 3 has a truly premium feel about it.
Unlike some smartphones like the Sony Xperia Z5 with a shiny backside, the smooth matte finish of the Redmi Note 3 is not an instant magnet for dust and fingerprints.
All the edges are smooth and curved with no sharp angular bends. In addition to the camera, there is a fingerprint reader, an LED flash and a set of speakers at the rear.
The front side sports a 5.5-inch Full HD IPS display. Two very thin bezels adorn the twin sides of the display, while the capacitive icons at the bottom are backlit.
Gone are the days when smartphones priced in the budget range immediately meant dull, high latency displays. The Redmi Note 3 display is bright and clear with no noticeable image issues such as streaking while playing back Full HD videos.
Although the Xiaomi phone does not quite have the colour gamut of the AMOLED screens which grace some of the Samsung devices, it is still no slouch. In fact, the maximum brightness setting is probably too bright and you might want to take it down a few notches for regular use.
In the premium smartphone range, the year has started off with a lot of hype around the Snapdragon 820 SoC (system-on-a-chip) from Qualcomm. The Redmi Note 3 uses the Snapdragon 650 SoC from the same manufacturer.
The Snapdragon 650 is an interesting choice. Although the numbering scheme might make it appear as if it is two generations older than Qualcomm's cutting-edge SoC, it is in fact a very recent market entry.
The hexacore SoC sports two ARM Cortex A72 cores and four Cortex A53 cores. The Snapdragon 650 also includes an Adreno 510 GPU from the same GPU generation as the one included in the flagship Snapdragon 820.
So at least on paper, the Snapdragon 650 should be able to keep within sight of its more expensive, premium siblings.
The basic version of the Redmi Note 3 comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Our test version came with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of built-in storage.
You can use the second SIM slot to add an extra 128GB of storage using a microSD card.
In this era of almost homogenous internal hardware, the camera is one of the few areas where the manufacturers can truly differentiate themselves.
While Samsung and Sony tout the low-light capabilities of their flagship devices, Xiaomi’s Chinese rival, Oppo, waxes eloquent about the selfie capabilities of its phones.
Unfortunately, the Redmi Note 3 camera specifications are not much to write home about. The 16-megapixel rear camera is partnered with a five-megapixel front camera. Both are capable of recording Full HD videos at 30 frames per second.
In terms of image quality, daytime photos can be best described as adequate.
Night photos are also a mixed bag. The noise level increases dramatically if artificial illumination goes down below a certain point.
Compared to a smartphone with a full-size sensor like the Sony Xperia Z5, the night images captured by the Redmi Note 3 lack detail in both the lit and unlit areas.
There is also a bit too much compression in the JPEG images, adding to the noise level. There are no options available to reduce the compression ratio or save the photos in other lossless formats such as TGA or EXR.
The same applies to the recorded video. While video recorded during daylight hours is passable, night videos are not the most pleasant to watch, particularly on a larger TV screen.
For comparison, see this image below taken with the Redmi Note 3.
And this photo of the same location taken with the Sony Xperia Z5.
The camera app in the Redmi Note 3 also does not offer a lot of photography options compared to the competition. You can turn on HDR and a few funky filters like Vivid, Mirror, Yesteryear, Japanese and Mono are available. There are no panorama or macro functions.
To be fair, the camera in the Redmi Note 3 is in the same quality range as those in other budget and mid-range phones. I suspect most consumers would be content with the images it produces.
Battery and performance
The Redmi Note 3 comes with a sumptuous 4050mAh battery. For comparison, even the premium Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge only has a 3600mAh power pack.
This is reflected in its impressive Antutu battery life score of 10589 (see benchmarks below). Most people would have no trouble getting a full day’s operation out of this phone without recharging.
Unfortunately, the Redmi Note 3 only has first generation Quick Charge. This means it takes about an hour to reach the battery’s 50% capacity after being fully drained. So don’t expect Oppo-style fast charging on this phone.
As mentioned before, the Snapdragon 650 is no laggard in application performance. This is reflected in its 3DMark score of 865 which is about 20% slower than the first generation Snapdragon 810 used in the much more expensive Sony Xperia Z5 Premium Duo.
Interestingly, in Antutu Benchmark, the Redmi Note 3 actually beats the Sony Xperia Z5 by the same margin. This is very impressive performance for such a low-cost phone.
Xiaomi might be China’s Apple in terms of hardware design and units sold, but it does not even come close in terms of bundled software.
There are very few unique apps included with the Redmi Note 3, and none that are capable of making the device stand apart from the competition.
Despite its flaws, there is no question that the Redmi Note 3 represents incredible value for money. True to Xiaomi’s reputation, the Redmi Note 3 provides the biggest bang for buck of any smartphone in its price range.
This really is a no-brainer for the price-conscious buyer.
RATING: 4 out of 5
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