Xiaomi is no longer the unicorn of the smartphone market that it was once hailed by everyone. The company has been outgunned by other local Chinese OEMs like Huawei, Oppo, and Vivo. Nonetheless, this does not mean the company does not release impressive handsets — far from that. The company’s budget mid-ranger, the Redmi Note 3, is still the most impressive handset that I have used this year.
Not content with packing so much of a ‘smartphone’ in just Rs 13,000, Xiaomi recently unveiled the Redmi 3S in India. The handset looks like a smaller brother of the Redmi Note 3. But is it as good as its bigger brother? Or has the lower price taken its toll on the performance of the Redmi 3S? Find out in our review.
Build, Design, and Display
As I said above, the Redmi 3S looks like a smaller brother of the Redmi Note 3. Both phones share the same design and build quality, but everything on the Redmi 3S is smaller in accordance with its smaller 5-inch 720p display. Besides the size difference, the only way to differentiate between the Redmi 3s and the Note 3 is the camera placement. On the Redmi 3S, the camera and LED flash are located at the top right corner, while on the Redmi Note 3, they are located just above the fingerprint sensor.
While not refreshing, the Redmi 3S design works in its favour especially since it comes with a manageable 5-inch 720p display. Using the phone one-handed is a breeze and you will not struggle in reaching the corners of the display without having to shuffle the phone in your palm. The fingerprint scanner at the rear is located at the perfect position as your index finger will land directly on it whenever you pick the phone up. The scanner itself is fast and works reliably.
Perhaps my only gripe with the design of the Redmi 3S is the lack of any backlit for the capacitive navigation keys. This makes it hard to identify and press the keys in dark environments. Barring this small issue, the Redmi 3S is the most well-built phone you will find this side of the $150 range in the Indian market.
The Redmi 3S comes with a smaller 5-inch display unlike the 5.5-inch display found on its bigger brother, the Redmi Note 3. The display is not only smaller, but it also has a lower 720p resolution. But this is still a top-notch display with excellent viewing angles, brightness levels, and contrast ratio. Yes, the colors and saturation levels are boosted to make everything pop more, but this is still an excellent LCD panel that you will be hard pressed to find faults with.
Software and Performance
The Redmi 3S runs on MIUI 7 out of the box that is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Since the MIUI skin is so heavy, there are very little traces of Android that you will find in the OS. There are both pros and cons to having MIUI. On the positive side, you get plenty of customization options and features to play around with like App Lock, Child Mode, Lite Mode, Quick ball, and more. You also get handy features like being able to quickly copy OTPs from SMSs right from their notifications, built-in call recording, unknown number identification, and more.
However, the downside to all these features is that new users can feel overwhelmed by them. Additionally, MIUI is very aggressive with RAM management and it kills applications from running in the background pretty quickly to increase battery life. There are other quirks with MIUI like delayed notifications from apps every once in a while that can also be a deal breaker for many.
Nonetheless, if you have used MIUI before and like it, you will be glad to know that the experience remains exactly the same on the Redmi 3S.
Despite MIUI being relatively heavy, the Redmi 3S does not suffer from any performance issues. The combination of Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 430 chipset, 3GB RAM and a 720p display ensure that the handset is able to run heavy apps and games without breaking a sweat. With MIUI 8 packing even more low-level optimisations and performance improvements, I’d expect the Redmi 3S to perform even better with it.
Xiaomi also offers the Redmi 3S sans the fingerprint scanner and 2GB RAM for a couple of grand less. While the missing extra gig of RAM does affect multitasking performance, the impact is not severe enough to affect the usability of the phone.
The Redmi 3S features a 13MP f/2.0 shooter at its rear with Phase Detection Autofocus. It is aided by a single LED flash. The phone is capable of recording videos in Full HD resolution at 30fps, but cannot record slow-motion videos.
Despite its low price point, the shooter can surprise you with its results. In daylight, pictures from the Redmi 3S come out with plenty of details, sharpness, and contrast. To make the photos pop, Xiaomi does boost their saturation and contrast in post-processing, but considering how many people prefer it, there is no point complaining about it. In low-light, the sensor’s weakness starts showing up as noise creeps in easily.
Overall, for its price point, the 13MP shooter of the Redmi 3S performs decently and you will be hard pressed to find better shooters than it in this range.
The 5MP f/2.2 shooter in the front will also let you capture decent selfies, though since it does not have a wide-angle lens, you will not be able to easily take groupfies.
If you only use your smartphone for WhatsApp, texts, and calls and want a device that can last for days: buy the Redmi 3S. With a 4100mAh battery, a power efficient Snapdragon 650 chipset, and a 5-inch 720p display, the Redmi 3S is able to deliver outstanding battery life. Its bigger brother, the Redmi Note 3, was already a champion in this department, but the Redmi 3S goes a step ahead.
When used as a secondary device that was only used for calling with one Google account syncing in the background, the Redmi 3S managed to last almost 5 days. And this was when the phone’s battery life was not at 100% to begin with.
When used heavily, the Redmi 3S delivered 2-2.5 days of battery life easily.
When I used the Redmi Note 3 earlier this year, I did not think that I would come across such a game-changing handset any time soon. However, the Redmi 3S, just like its bigger brother, is a game changer in its category. At the price point it sells (Rs 9,000), you are not going to find any other handset that is able to offer the same level of performance, build quality, and battery life.
If you are a heavy gamer, you should consider buying the 2GB RAM variant of the Redmi Note 3, which is priced similarly as the Prime variant of the Redmi 3S. But if you are not, you should just buy the Redmi 3S without any second thoughts. You are not going to find a better phone than it in the same price band.