Xiaomi has taken a different approach for the Indian market this year as it launched three smartphones catering to three different price segments, form factor as well as consumer needs. The most popular of the lot has been the Redmi Note 3 and at the time of writing this, it is arguably the best smartphone to buy under Rs 15,000.
The company launched its fourth handset a few days back called the Redmi 3S. It's targeted at consumers who want the best performance but have a tight budget of under Rs 10,000. The smartphone comes in two variants and we took the high-end model, the Redmi 3S Prime, for a spin. Here's what we thought of it.
Design and build: 8.5/10
If you are familiar with the Redmi Note 3, then you will notice a striking similarity in the design. The Redmi 3S Prime is more or less a compact version of the Redmi Note 3, and that’s a good thing. It has the same metal body with a matte finish and is curved all around. Definitely an excellent update over the Redmi 2 series, but come to think of it Xiaomi has played safe with overall design language.
At the front, a glass panel covers the entire face of the smartphone including the display, capacitive Android navigation buttons, the proximity and light sensors and the front facing camera. There is a clean slit for the earpiece which sits above the display. A raised chrome lining surrounds the front which should help in reducing damage when the smartphone is kept facing down.
Going around the smartphone, the volume and power button are placed on the right, while the hybrid SIM card tray is on the left. At the bottom is the microUSB port (no Type-C yet) and microphone while on the top is the audio jack, an infrared blaster and the secondary microphone.
The only significant difference between this and the Redmi Note 3 is the placement of the primary camera at the back. It is placed on the top left corner along with the LED flash (the camera on the Redmi Note 3 is more centrally placed), while the fingerprint scanner sits in the center, with the loudspeaker below.
It is quite an ergonomic handset as the curved edges offer a nice grip and feel to the smartphone. It doesn't feel very heavy either, even after packing a gigantic 4,100mAH. In all fairness, there are hardly any smartphones in the market today that offer such an impressive build quality.
While the smartphone is compact, it has grown a bit when compared to its predecessors. The display measures at 5-inches and utilises an IPS LCD panel with a 1280x720 HD resolution; this means a pixel density of 294 PPI. The resolution might not sound that impressive, but the PPI is high enough to qualify as a Retina display. Sharpness and colors are appealing, and even viewing angles are quite good.
The display impressed us with its brightness as well. Sunlight readability was a lot better than many a smartphone selling at a similar or slightly higher price. The overall tone of the display is slightly towards the cooler side, but that can be adjusted as you get an option to turn on the ‘Reading Mode’ which basically adds a warm filter over the display. One can also fine tune it by adjusting in the 'Colours & Saturation' options, where the white balance as well as colour saturation can be adjusted.
At its price, the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime is quite a feature packed smartphone. Yes, it looks small and that is exactly why we appreciate Xiaomi’s efforts in stuffing the smartphone to its limits. There is a 5-inch HD IPS LCD display which looks neat and inside, there is a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 octa-core processor which is clocked at 1.4GHz. You also get 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage. The storage can be expanded further using a microSD card of up to 256GB in size. The camera department comprises a 13MP f/2.0 aperture camera with PDAF and an LED flash and at the front there is a 5MP unit with an f/2.0 aperture.
The rest of the features include 4G LTE support, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.1, GPS, infrared blaster port, FM Radio and microUSB port. The handset runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow with MIUI 7 and rounding it off is a mighty 4,100mAh battery which is a tiny bit larger than the Redmi Note 3. The only thing missing is Wi-Fi 802.11 ac support, that shouldn't be a big deal at this price.
The Redmi 3S Prime comes with MIUI 7 layered on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. We expected that it would come with the new, updated version of MIUI, but it will be updated at a later stage. Like all Xiaomi devices, the UI feels smooth. The menus, transitions and animations are appealing and apps load quickly without any issues.
Now we have mentioned a few things in the past about how the UI needs a bit of polishing. For instance, certain apps don’t show notifications until you open them. That can be fixed, but it requires digging in the battery optimisations, auto-start management and notification management options. Other issues that hamper the experience, especially if you are coming from stock Android, include the lack of Google Now on tap features and a different approach for menus, settings and so on.
There are hardly any Google apps pre-installed so if you rely heavily on them, you will have to manually download them from the Play Store. The Security app is an MIUI staple and is very useful. It keeps tabs on most of the activities of the system and includes a system junk and cache cleaner, a battery manager, data manager, a virus scanner, contacts block list and a permissions manager. Apart from this, there are some themes, if you like personalising your device.
The smartphone runs on an octa-core Snapdragon 430 SoC from Qualcomm, making it the first device in the country to run on this chip. It is clocked at 1.4GHz and is coupled with the new Adreno 505 GPU. It is definitely a good update from the previous versions but it isn't a powerhouse, so to speak. Resource hogging games like Asphalt 8 and Dead Trigger 2 push the SoC to its limits and minor frame drops are noticeable.
The processor can however, handle more casual games and everyday tasks with ease. Everyday usage and even multitasking was a no biggie since it packs in 3-gigs of RAM which was enough to open 10-12 apps at the same time.
It doesn’t heat up that much either, considering it has eight cores, the only one or two times we noticed a considerable amount of heating was when we kept the screen on full brightness and played Pokémon GO for about 2-3 hours straight. Another instance was when we recorded a long, Full HD video with the rear camera.
In the photography department Xiaomi offers a 13MP rear camera on the Redmi 3S Prime featuring an f/2.0 aperture lens, phase detection autofocus and an LED flash. At this price point we can't expect superior image quality of course, but the camera gets the basics right. Bright and well lit conditions offer favourable quality but as soon as you move indoors or under low light, there is visible noise and loss of details. Focusing is fairly fast, but it did seem to struggle when we tried taking some pictures indoors. Even the front 5MP camera produced average pictures and didn't offer a very crisp output.
The cameras have the capability to shoot 1080p videos which, again, are just about OK. To be very honest the smartphone is quite affordable and for that the cameras are not bad at all.
There have been attempts in the past by other companies like Asus and Lenovo to make smartphones equipped with high-capacity batteries, but the Redmi 3S Prime is a clear winner. A 4,100mAH battery in such a sleek casing is an achievement in itself. On top of that, the company doesn’t give false information and clearly mentioned that this battery will go on for two days of light usage and up to one full day of heavy usage. The claims are correct and we were impressed by the battery performance of the handset. It supports fast charging as well so in about 2 hours you go from 0-80 percent. Bear in mind that 80 percent in this case is 3,280mAh, which is more than the capacity offered by a lot of phones today. A non-stop session of Pokemon GO lasted for about 7 hours on the smartphone which is excellent!
I'm pleasantly surprised by the device. The design is excellent, the hardware is very well balanced and even the performance feels great for a budget smartphone. The hero feature is definitely the massive battery, something which almost every smartphone user would love and appreciate. The camera and the UI are the only let downs but you are paying less than ten grand, so even that's acceptable. The Redmi 3S Prime is once again an excellent smartphone from Xiaomi and is also the best smartphone to buy under a budget of Rs. 10,000.
Priced at Rs 8,999 it comes very close to the base variant of the Redmi Note 3, but Xiaomi has positioned the Redmi series as a device for users who don't require a lot of power at their disposal. There is also the Redmi 3S which ditches the fingerprint scanner and has 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM priced at Rs 6,999, which is again, great value for money. The Redmi 3S Prime has definitely earned our seal of approval.