At first glance, the gold Redmi Note 3 we received really gave a nice impression. The design is quite a large departure from its predecessors, but definitely in a good way. The Redmi Note 3 has a metallic build for its back. It is amazing that how much difference a piece of metal can make. The gold color suites my taste as it is subtle enough yet appealing. The shiny Mi logo at the back also helps to improve the overall appearance. The top and bottom parts are actually plastic and they have a slightly darker shade of gold applied to them. I wish that Xiaomi would make them match the metal body.
Not only does the gold-finish looks very elegant, it also feels really great in our palm and the rounded corner sits nicely in our hands. Xiaomi provides a matte finish on the back and although this helps a little with the grip, I still feel that the phone is quite slippery and you should use a skin or a case if you have butterfingers. One of Xiaomi’s design principle is to remove the need of camera humps and I really appreciate their effort. This means that the camera lens is less prone to scratches and the phone will lie flatly while you are using on the table.
Flipping to the front you will see the 5.5” display surrounded by the gold front. I like that Xiaomi does not use a white front because I think that this makes the whole appearance more uniform. There is still black border around the display but at least it is not thick enough to irritate me. There are shiny golden edges around the border, which is nice. One change that I like a lot is that Xiaomi no longer makes the capacitive buttons red, like the previous Redmi and Redmi Note because the red color does not really match with the entire body. The front will be quite weird-looking if Xiaomi did not change it. The power button and volume rocker are situated on the right side of the phone. They are quite tactile and they offer enough travel. The micro USB port is at the bottom placed nearer to the left side which is quite an unpopular design choice nowadays compared to right in the middle.
The Redmi Note 3 is clearly in a different league compared to its predecessors in terms of industrial design. The use of metal and the more rounded shape makes the phone much, much better as compared to the older models and the feel in hand is really day-and-night different, at least for me. With this great design, I can already feel that the Redmi Note 3 is quite an upgrade over the Redmi Note 2 and the improvement isn’t just in design only.
With the aesthetics improved, we appreciate that Xiaomi does not forget about bringing the rest of the hardware to the next level. Xiaomi has included a fingerprint scanner on the Redmi Note 3, which is a first for the Chinese company. The touch based scanner is located at the back, below the camera. The setup process is no different than other phones. A couple of touches will get your fingers registered. Once registered, you do not have to turn on the screen to unlock the phone. All you need to do is to place your finger on it and the phone will be unlocked immediately. With the scanner on the back, you need to lift up the phone to use it. It is not extremely convenient, but at least it is still much faster than unlocking the phone using passcodes or patterns.
While the scanner is quite fast and accurate, I do notice that it is not as good as Apple’s Touch ID and it’s not without its flaws. As the scanner will scan for your fingers even though the screen is turned off, sometimes the scanner will be activated by my thigh while I placed the phone inside my pockets. After a few attempts the fingerprint scanner will stop working for security purposes and you’ll need to unlock the phone using traditional methods. The problem here is that the phone will not give you any indication that too many attempts have been made so at first I thought the scanner was not accurate. Hence, Xiaomi needs to make some improvements here: either they can show that too many attempts have been made, or they need to turn off the scanner while the phone is in the pocket by the help of the proximity sensor.
Much to my surprise, Xiaomi has included an infrared (IR) blaster on top of the phone. This means that you can control many types of electrical appliances, such as TV, air conditioner and projector by using your phone. There’s an app called Mi Remote for you to do this. The setup process is quite tedious as you need to search for the type of the appliances and its brand. Then, you need to hold onto the button to go through dozens of combinations to search for the correct configuration. Luckily, this is a one-time process as you can save the remote setting on the app.
Using your phone as a remote looks cool but I always feel that it is kind of gimmicky, until I was too lazy to get out of my bed to adjust the temperature of my air-con. Then I realized it is quite convenient for lazy people like me in certain occasions. It will come in handy if you lost your remote control too and even if it might not be useful for you, at least it does not get in your way so it is not too bad for Xiaomi to include it.
Display & Speaker
Xiaomi seems to understand that display is one of the most important aspects of how people perceive a smartphone so the displays on their devices are usually quite good. The Redmi Note 3 is no exception. The 1080p LCD display looks crisp and pleasing. The full HD resolution provides pixel density of around 400 ppi, which is actually good enough for most people. The color saturation and the color temperature are more towards the neutral side, which is not uncommon among the LCD displays. You can tweak the display temperature and contrast level in the settings, if you feel that the default options are not your cup of tea.
I am impressed by the range of brightness the screen can show. It can go dim enough to be read comfortably in the dark and bright enough to show the content at outdoors. The only small complaint I have is that the auto-brightness can be a little too aggressive. Sometimes when I lower my head and block the light source on top of me, the shadow of my head will cause the display to react and set the brightness too dim. I had to move my head away so that I can look at the screen properly. This is not a deal-breaker, but it is quite irritating sometimes.
Xiaomi also included a reading mode, which can be turned on all the time, or for selected apps. This feature will make the temperature warmer, which is better for our eyes for long periods of reading. I like that I can choose the mode to be turned on in my reading apps only as I want to see the actual colors of the photos while not reading.
The speaker is placed at the back and it is really not great. I can hardly hear anything through the speaker in public, even at highest volume. The audio quality is not impressive at all. So this is just a speaker that works and don’t expect anything more from it.