Xiaomi is not a brand on the lips of every American, but its presence in the States is growing. World-wide, it’s grown from 1% of global sales in 2012 to 5.6% in Q4 2015. That’s astronomical growth.

Part of the reason for the growth of the private Chinese company is its ability to offer high quality phones at low prices. While Samsung and Apple do have success in other parts of the world, companies that focus on these value phones are having a ton of success. Today, we’re going to take a look at one of these devices, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, to see how much value it brings to the table

Specs

  • Display: 5.5″ IPS LCD; 1920 x 1080 (403 PPI)
  • Processor: Mediatek MT6795 Octa-core Helio X10, 2.0 GHz
  • Storage: 16 GB; not expandable
  • RAM: 2 GB
  • Battery: 4,000 mAh
  • Operating System: Android 5.0.2 Lollipop with MIUI 7.0.919.0
  • Rear Camera: 13 MP
  • Front Camera: 5 MP
  • Dimensions: 5.91 x 2.99 x 0.34 in
  • Price: $180

As we can see, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 has quite respectable specs. The octa-core MediaTek MT6795 processor is clocked at 2.0 GHz to power through intensive tasks and the 4,000 mAh battery is simply huge. On first glance, one of the first things that stood out was the paltry 2 GB of RAM. We’re used to seeing 3 GB standard nowadays, so my interest was piqued.

Physical overview & Build Quality

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 buttons computer

The tactile feeling of your phone matters. When you pick it up, you don’t want it to feel cheap. You want it to feel like something you paid hundreds of dollars for, because you probably have. The Redmi Note 3 delivers surprisingly well here. It feels great in the hand, like a phone that costs three times as much.

The body of the phone is metal. My silver unit’s back is a curved slab of beautiful metal, dotted with a fingerprint scanner, flash, and camera at the top. Near the bottom you’ll find a logo and a speaker grill that makes the speaker seem much more impressive than it is. Below the speaker grill and above the camera are silver plastic bands that allow the antennas to work more efficiently.

The metal just feels right in the hand. It never gets cold, but it does feel cool, in the best possible way. The rounded edges remind of the Apple iPhone 6 and 6S, but something is different. Those phones always felt slippery to me. Even though the Redmi Note 3 is similar in size, it doesn’t feel slippery at all.

There are little things in this phone that even the biggest manufactures are leaving out these days.

The weight of the phone (5.78 oz) is something I really love. There’s a constant battle of making phones thin and light, but if you go too far, they feel like toys. The Redmi Note 3 strikes a perfect balance of build quality and weight. It feels heavier than my daily driver, the Nexus 6P(6.28 oz), but it isn’t.

Both the volume rocker and power button reside on the right side. The volume buttons reside higher, which may throw some that are used to a different placement. Volume and power provide excellent tactile feedback. You can feel, and hear, exactly when you’ve triggered the buttons.

There are little things in this phone that even the biggest manufactures are leaving out these days. I would love to see the return of IR blasters to flagship phones. The Redmi Note 3 has one and I love it. The included app is missing some television manufactures, but this is remedied by downloading any third party remote app in the Play Store.

The fingerprint scanner on the rear of the phone is also excellent. It reminds me almost exactly of the Nexus Imprint fingerprint readers on the back of the LG Nexus 5X and Huawei Nexus 6P. They’re similar in both size and location, while being blazingly fast. Nothing seems to beat the Apple iPhone 6S in fingerprint scanning speed, but the Redmi Note 3 is excellent in both speed and accuracy.

Screen

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 hold 2Today’s flagships are in a constant battle for more pixels. I don’t blame them. Samsung’s QHD screens look great. Not only that, but it gives OEM’s a marketing tool. Hey, look at this phone. It has more pixels packed in 5.5″ than your television does!

Honestly, I’m glad Xiaomi skipped the QHD screen and stuck with a 1080p screen. There a couple advantages to using a lower resolution screen that I think people tend to overlook, like better battery life, but a lower resolution screen doesn’t have to mean worse.

As I noted, my daily-driver is a Nexus 6P. It has a current generation Samsung QHD panel in it. Its top of the line. The Redmi Note 3’s screen still blows me away. It gets SO bright. I don’t have a tool to measure the maximum brightness of the screen, so I can only bring you anecdotal evidence, but on the brightest of days I have no problem seeing everything on the screen of this phone.

The 1080p IPS LCD display has excellent viewing angles. This is somewhat expected due to the screen technology, and it delivers. Text on the screen is still readable until the phone is completely turned. I would love it if the contrast was a bit better, but that may be the Nexus 6P’s AMOLED screen spoiling me to other technologies.

Minimum brightness is just fine, nothing spectacular. If you read in bed a lot, you may need a third party app to lower the brightness a little bit more, but I got by fine. Adaptive brightness does a great job of keeping the phone within acceptable limits, not to bright, not to dark.

Whats noticably missing from the screen are on-screen buttons. Xiaomi has opted to go with hardware buttons that reside under the screen a-la Samsung, instead of on-screen buttons we see in phones like the Nexus devices, LG G5 and Sony Xperia Z5.

Battery

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 bottom computer

When going down the list of things that are important to you, where does battery life place? It’s probably in the top 3, right? The quality of a phone goes out the window if you’re never able to use it. Xiaomi listened to consumers and put a huge battery in this phone (4,000 mAh), and it translates to excellent battery life.

The 4,000 mAh battery is a champ. I was getting 2 days of regular use (about 6-7 hours of screen on time) with the Redmi Note 3 at about 50% brightness. I had previously mentioned that Xiaomi chose a 1080P screen for the Redmi Note 3, and this is one of the areas where it pays off. The fewer pixels the phone has to power, the better the battery life.

It would be nice if you could swap it out with a spare, but very rarely are you going to run down a 4,000 mAh battery. And if you do, it has quick charging technology. 4,000 mAh is one of the biggest batteries you can buy in a phone today.

Software

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 comes with Android 5.0.2 Lollipop with the MIUI skin atop. This obviously isn’t the latest version of Android, and MIUI is one of the heaviest skins for Android. It’s not quite it’s own software, but you could be forgiven if you thought it was.

MIUI is most notable for its lack of an app drawer. I’m sure Xiaomi has its reasons for removing the app drawer in MIUI, but I can’t understand it. I don’t want all of apps cluttering up my screens, and I don’t want them all in folders trying to hide. My apps are harder to locate and my phone looks like a mess.

MIUI does get a few things right. The notification shade is still here. I don’t like that you can’t act on the notification (like marking mail done), but I do like that quick toggles are a swipe to the right, instead of an extra swipe down like in stock Android.

The Settings app can be confusing. Important settings buried deep within it and difficult to locate. Battery life is important to people, and Android has built in battery stats. Buring this information three levels deep in the settings app is just silly. Splitting up Software and Hardware values on two different screens is equally silly.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 face computer

MIUI does have built in support for themes. The theme store opens up your device to a wealth of new designs that you can purchase as you see fit. I personally never found one I liked more than the theme that came on the phone (it comes with four included), so I didn’t buy any, but there are a ton of choices if you’re willing to dig a little bit.

I don’t know exactly what the reason was, but I could never get my Mi account to work. During the phone’s setup process, you have to verify your account before you move on. At first, I chose the SMS option. It sent the SMS to me, but I couldn’t view it because setup wasn’t complete. You can’t pull down the notification shade during setup.

Eventually I went with email verification with… strange results. I’ve never owned a Xiaomi device, but it said I already had a phone number associated with my account. It’s not my phone number. It’s not a number I recognize, or one from anywhere I’ve lived. These sort of quirks are common with MIUI and imported phones.

Performance

Performance on this phone is great. There are some small snags and stutters here or there, but I never ran into a big slow down during my testing. I could easily scroll through long menus and apps like Twitter with ease.

The biggest difference between devices like this and the Nexus 6P is fluidity. On the Redmi Note 3, sometimes you had to wait an extra half a second for something to load or sat on a splash screen for a bit longer than expected, but you still got there. Occasionally I’d see a dropped frame or two, but it was few and far between.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 on computer

Not everything is perfect, of course. We are still talking about a sub-$200 phone. 2 GB of RAM is really the bare minimum I’d want to go with these days. The phone does an excellent job with what it has, though. I never had an issue with it knocking programs out of their suspended state due to needing more memory.

16 GB of storage is less than ideal, but workable. If you don’t save a ton of video or music on your phone, it can definitely get you by. In an increasingly on-demand world, most people can make it work.

Little quirks abound with this phone. I often times had issues with the phone and the bluetooth in my car. Dropped calls were frequent, and for some reason, it just wouldn’t read my contacts. I never got a prompt to allow access to my call logs and contacts, and there is no option the bluetooth menu. I can still receive calls, but making them is a bit of a pain.

One of the biggest irksome things about the Redmi Note 3 is the lack of supported cellular bands. At no time did I ever get LTE with this phone on T-Mobile‘s network in southern and central Ohio. We have great coverage, and all the T-Mobile bands lit up here but the phone just simply doesn’t support them. I bounced between 3G and HSPA+ for the entirety of the review period. While speeds were still very good, I wonder how much better my battery life would have been without it constantly bouncing back and forth.

Camera

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 sports a 13 MP, f/2.2 camera with phase detection auto-focus, and dual LED flash. The software supports geotagging of photos, touch-to-focus, smile detection, HDR and panorama modes. The front facing camera is a rather standard 5 MP f/2.0 camera that can record in 1080p video.

The best way to describe the pictures you’re going to get out of the camera is average. Sometimes you’re going to get great pictures. Sometimes you’re not. The camera seems to do great in decent lighting conditions and produce reliably good pictures. Where it struggles is in dimly lit conditions or decently lit conditions with one strong lighting source as you can see below.

The saturation isn’t the best even in well lit situations which holds back the camera from really being a strong point of this phone. I don’t know if the issue is in the processing of the pictures or not, but the end product can be a bit underexposed and dull. A more true to life picture would push this phone into another category of value.

One thing that I was reliable able to re-create was shutter lag. This is by no means a fast camera. When you’re using HDR, the camera takes anywhere between 2 and 5 seconds to capture what you’re seeing in the view-finder. In auto mode, you’re still going to get a delay, but not as severe.

Are you going to get everything in a sub-$200 phone? No, you’re not. But, I do think the camera is definitely punching above it’s price-point here. You’re not going to reliable beat a flagship phone’s pictures, but you will (most of the time) come close.

Value

The biggest selling point of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 is its value. At the time of publishing, the phone sits at $182 on Gearbest. That’s a great price for an unlocked phone, regardless of specs. Then you start looking deeper at the package you’re getting. Two day battery, great screen, fast processor, all metal build.

It’s one of, if not the best values on the market.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 toys
Dell XPS 13, Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, and Spigen Wireless Headphones

I’m really optimistic about where the mobile industry is headed. On the carrier side, we’re seeing the death of two year contracts. Combine that with the expansion of ultra-fast LTE and you have a recipe for choice. Customers who choose to purchase unlocked phones like the Redmi Note 3 can move carriers pretty much at will.

On the hardware side, inexpensive phones are getting really good. You can always go out and spend $650+ on a flagship phone with great results, but phones like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 prove you can spend a third of that and get a really good phone.

Don’t like what you bought? Buy a new phone next year and you’re still likely to have spent less money than if you had bought a flagship.

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 is simply a great phone at a great price. You’re never going to find a phone that’s perfect, but this phone ticks a lot of the boxes without taking a chunk out of your bank account.

Special thanks to the folks over at Gearbest for making this review possible!

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