Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Review: Metal on Budget

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Official Shots
Do you speak Indonesian? You can read the translated article here.

Xiaomi has always been known as a one strange phone company. It always wows its customers with decently-specced Android phones with affordable price tags which is usually half the asking price from a renowned company. The company just unveiled their flagship Mi5 and a more budget-friendly Redmi Note 3 Pro. The "Pro" moniker is given to distinguish it from its older sibling, which is powered by Mediatek's Helio X10. We'll go over the difference in a bit.

At first I was lost, between purchasing this or the Mi5. However, due to reasons concerning my financial condition, I decided to to choose the cheaper one. Don't get me wrong, I love them both but I chose the cheaper because of the price, screen size, and battery. I initially wanted to buy Redmi Note 3, so basically I got what I had wanted.

Okay, after using the device for roughly a month, I'm finally ready to share my experience and as usual, I'm going to divide the review into several sections to make it easier to read. So, what are you waiting for? Head on past the break to view the review. 

PREHEAT: REDMI NOTE 3 PRO VS REDMI NOTE 3

If you're a Xiaomi fan, I'm sure you know that there are 2 versions of Redmi Note 3 (except the usual 16GB/2GB and 32GB/3GB combo). One powered by Mediatek and one powered by the new Snapdragon 650. The latter version is geared for international release and is already launched in India with other Xiaomi's markets coming soon. Thus, it has a global ROM, while the former is exclusive to China. The Snapdragon variant also has the "Pro" moniker to indicate that it's superior compared to its older sibling. So, what's their difference? Here's a table to summarize the differences for you.


Redmi Note 3
Redmi Note 3 Pro
CPU
Mediatek Helio X10
Octa-core 2GHz Cortex-A53 CPU

PowerVR G6200 GPU
Qualcomm Snapdragon 650
Quad Core 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 + Dual Core 1.8GHz Cortex-A72
Adreno 510 GPU
Camera
16MP f/2.0 PDAF 1080p@30fps (Rear)
5MP f/2.0 1080p (Front)
16MP f/2.0 PDAF 1080p@30fps
(Rear)
5MP f/2.0 1080p (Front)
Expandable Storage
No
Yes, MicroSD up to 32GB (Hybrid Slot)
SIM Connectivity
Dual SIM: Micro SIM
Dual SIM: Micro SIM + Nano SIM (Hybrid Slot)

As you can see from the table above, the Redmi Note 3 is more of a minor upgrade to the Redmi Note 2 while the Redmi Note 3 Pro is the real successor to the colorful polycarbonate smartphone. The price difference here is about USD 20-30, so you know which purchase makes more sense.

PACKAGING AND DESIGN : MINIMUM YET PREMIUM

Since Redmi Note 3, Xiaomi has taken a different turn in its packaging. Gone is the environmentally friendly brown recycled box, and welcome to minimalist white. Similar to Apple's boxes, the product is featured on the front. The number is depending on how many colors are available for the product. In this case, 3 (gray, silver, and gold).

The packaging from the front. Surely different from
your usual Xiaomi box.
The insides don't change, though. Xiaomi only gives you the essentials: paperwork (which includes manual book and warranty card), SIM ejector tool, USB Adapter, USB Cable, and the device itself. Nope, no battery since the RMN3 Pro's battery is non-removable. As for headset, it's not surprising for Xiaomi to omit this. They never gave one anyway.

What's in the box
Picking up the device, you'll immediately notice that it's thin and light. The design cue is similar to iPhone6, with rounded corners and edges. Make no mistake, though, one can easily distinguish between them. Anyway, the back mostly screams "Metal!" except for the top and bottom. They're made of plastic, but blends very well with the back, so chances are people won't notice unless they tap it. So, let's begin our usual physical device inspection.

On the front, you'll have your usual stuffs: the 5.5" Full-HD screen, three backlit capacitive keys, earpiece, 5MP front camera, and possibly the proximity and light sensor. They're kind of hard to spot if you're opting for gray color, but it's there. One funny thing, though, the keys are no longer red as per Redmi's tradition. They're now white.

The white capacitive touch LEDs
Moving on to the back. Besides the premium-looking metal back, you'll see the 16MP camera, round fingerprint sensor, and the dual-tone flash sitting in between. On the bottom part just before the plastic cover, sits the speaker. On top of it, the iconic "Mi" logo.

Fingerprint sensor, camera, speaker, and flash
on the back.
On the bottom, you'll have the micro-USB port for charging and syncing with PC, as well as plugging in OTG drives, and the primary mic next to it.

The bottom
On the top, there's your usual 3.5mm audio jack, secondary mic, and the IR blaster which you can use to control your home appliances like TV or AC.

From the left: IR Blaster, 3.5mm Audio Jack, Secondary Mic
Moving on to the right is your standard hardware keys: volume rocker and the wake/sleep/power button below it. They seem to be made of metal, too, so they blend very nicely with the casing.

The volume rocker and the power/lock button
To the left, there's only the SIM tray. Just like iPhones and most unibody, non-removable battery phones, you use the included ejector PIN to press that small button on the side to get the tray. Redmi Note 3 is a dual SIM hybrid phone. What does that mean? Well, it means that you have to choose either extra phone line or expandable storage; you can't have both. The primary SIM is Micro SIM, while the secondary SIM is Nano SIM. This is the first time I actually see a hybrid slot, and I must say it's ingenious for the engineers to use the small size of Nano SIMs and Micro SD cards to their advantage to make a single slot capable of holding either.

The SIM tray
The SIM tray can hold 1 micro SIM card
and 1 nano SIM card OR SD Card
(up to 32GB)
The phone itself can be categorized as thin (thinner than my good 'ol ASUS Zenfone 2) and light but quite slippery, especially the metal surface. Careful not to hold it when your hand is dirty or greasy, though. With screen size of 5.5", it's hard to say that it's a compact phone. Nevertheless, it seems to be more compact than any other phone, thanks to its thin profile. Oh, and in case you're wondering whether there's a protruding camera, I'm happy to announce that there isn't. It's perfectly flat, but I do recommend you having a case, though.

Nope, there's no protruding camera here
To summarize, while the packaging is on the "minimum side", the phone itself looks premium and elegant and comfortable to hold, although extra care should be applied when holding that piece of stainless steel.

HARDWARE AND BATTERY LIFE: SNAPDRAGON 650 + 4,000mAh Battery

Initially, CPU Z only recognized this as Cortex
but after the update, the SD650 is recognized
The Redmi Note 3 Pro is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 650 (formerly Snapdragon 618) chipset. The chipset's setting is Hexa Core, with 4 cores of 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 to power less-intensive tasks and 2 more powerful 1.8GHz Cortex-A72 cores to power power-intensive tasks. The CPU benchmark result sometimes surpass even the higher-end model with similar hexa-core configuration, the Snapdragon 808 which powers some flagships such as the LG G4, BlackBerry Priv and Xiaomi's own Mi4S and Mi4C. Its GPU is also no slouch, as it passes Antutu's 3D test quite smoothly. Sensors are complete, and the GPS locks quickly, too, except it's missing temperature and pressure sensors.

Antutu score after MIUI 7.2 Update
Antutu Benchmark score from LG G4
running Marshmallow
No temperature and pressure sensor?
No problem.
Moving on, the Redmi Note 3 Pro is equipped with 16GB or 32GB flash storage. Depending on your storage choice, you'll also end up with different amount of RAM. 16GB variant will get you 2GB of RAM while 32GB will get you 3GB. The unit I'm reviewing is the 32GB one, so multitasking is a breeze. Not sure about games, though, but I doubt that you'll multitask while running graphics-intensive games such as Asphalt 8… or do you?

Anyway, the 5.5" FHD screen on the Redmi Note 3 Pro looks gorgeous. It utilizes a technology Xiaomi calls Sunlight Display. This technology not only cranks up brightness in outdoor, but also boosts the screen gamma, making the screen more white, boosting readability in sunlight. Automatic brightness works pretty great and accurate after the 7.2 update. It used to flicker bright and dark all the time.

Illustration on how Sunlight Display works
The 4,000mAh battery powering the unit is durable enough to power the device for a day and a half depending on your usage pattern. My pattern is active syncing with at least 5 accounts (2 of them are emails, the rest are either chat or social media), occasional chatting and web browsing, and often checking social media (approximately twice an hour). It used to last shorter, but after the 7.2 update, battery usage seems to have been "tamed". Oh, and one more thing. This device doesn't get hot that easily, except when charging or when it's trying really hard to get signal. I don't know about games, but it shouldn't be that easy to get hot, too. The Redmi Note 3 Pro is capable of fast charging, and the adapter seems to support it too. I managed to score 33% in 30 minutes, which is quite remarkably fast for a device with 4,000mAh battery.

Though usage may vary, one thing is for sure:
Battery life is monstrous.
Next, the fingerprint. Firstly, you can store more than two fingerprints, which is quite nice since some alternatives only allow two. Secondly, the fingerprint sensor is the always-on kind, which means the device will immediately wake and unlock if it detects the correct fingerprint. If it doesn't recognize the fingerprint, it'll just vibrate and refuse to wake. While using this phone, it used to refuse my fingerprints a few times in a day, but after MIUI 7.2 update, the issue seems to become much, much rarer. Fortunately, that seems to be a software bug.
Registering your fingerprint.
SOFTWARE: GETTING USED TO MIUI
MIUI is Android deeply customized
Like all Xiaomi handsets, the Redmi Note 3 Pro runs on Android-based MIUI.  In case you're wondering, the Android version is 5.1.1 as in MIUI 7.2.3.0. MIUI includes useful built-in apps (though some of you may refer them as bloatware) such as the Mi Remote, Security (which includes Cleaner, Battery, Permission Manager, and Antivirus), FM Radio, and Compass. Mi Drop and Mi Message is also present, which is equivalent to iPhone's Air Drop and iMessage. The obvious catch is, they only work on Xiaomi devices.

Mi Drop is Xiaomi's answer to Apple's Air Drop
There's also Mi Cloud, which is the equivalent of iCloud on iOS. There's a catch, though, unless you live in China, you only get 5GB of storage. Those who lives in China can purchase additional storage. What I like about Mi Cloud is that you can sync things other services can't, like SMS messages, call history, Wi-Fi settings, and voice records. It can also back up your apps, so it'll automatically download your apps when you change device. It's true. When migrating from Redmi Note 2 to Mi4 then to Redmi Note 3 Pro, MIUI downloaded my settings and apps as soon as I chose to restore from my previous device.

A glimpse of what you can sync
in MiCloud
If you love to customize the looks of your phone, MIUI got you covered. The built-in Themes app will allow you to download thousands of themes available. You can also create your own theme. The tutorial is there in MIUI's official forum.

Themes App
As usual, since this isn't an official device, you got to deal with unofficial ROM as well. The problem is, starting with the original Redmi Note 3, Xiaomi has decided to lock the bootloader of their devices, including some older devices such as the Mi4C and Mi Note (Pro). Normally, you shouldn't be able to get to fastboot with your bootloader locked, but there's a workaround. It involves ADB and shouldn't be that complex. However, I urge you to search for the guide at MIUI's official forum. I don't think I'm going to write it here since it's quite risky in my opinion. As always, I recommend you to flash official ROM right away to receive OTA updates and clear the unnecessary bugs and apps.

CAMERA: 16MP + 5MP SNAPPER COMBO
Compared to its older sibling, the Redmi Note 3 Pro is equipped with 16MP f/2.0 with PDAF sensor at the back, while the front cam is the same 5MP sensor.  On the paper, it should be superior… or is it not?

Filters in MIUI
If you've used MIUI before, you know that they provide 12 filters to feed your creativity. Apart from the colorful filters, there are also 9 shooting modes which include beautify, panorama, fish-eye, and timer. There's also manual control, although it's very unfortunate that you can only set white balance and ISO. Nope, you can't opt for manual focus and shutter speed. Dang…
Nope, there's no manual focus here
Anyway, the camera itself shoots pretty decent pictures. I won't talk much, though. I'll let the samples speak for themselves.








Though lowlight performance is underwhelming, at least the image doesn't produce that much noise. The flash, just like all dual-tone flash, adds more natural lighting, though it's kind of weak.

Low light without flash
Low light with flash
Without flash
With flash
And here are the HDR samples:

Indoor, without HDR
Same photo, with HDR, cropped.
CONCLUSION: SHOULD YOU BUY IT?


In short, if you have enough money to spend and in the market for a 5.5" device with monstrous battery and decent camera, then yes. Here are the pros and cons which you can take into consideration:

PROS:
  1. Highest specs in class (3GB RAM, SD650, 32GB storage, 16MP Cam)
  2. Affordable price
  3. Monstrous battery

CONS:
  1. Camera could be better
  2. No warranty
  3. Unofficial MIUI at launch

Well, I guess that's all Folks. I hope you can find this review useful. Honestly, I'm using this phone as my daily driver, and I'm happy with it, and I hope you'll have the same pleasant experience with it as I do.

Finally, thanks for reading and I'm looking forward to your next visit. Until then, have a nice day! :D

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