Xiaomi Redmi 3 budget smartphone review

The Redmi 3 is a 5in budget smartphone from Chinese phone maker Xiaomi, and not officially sold in the UK. We see whether it's worth tracking down in our Xiaomi Redmi 3 review. Also see: Best budget smartphones 2016.

Xiaomi Redmi 3 review: UK price & availability 

If you do want to get your hands on a Xiaomi Redmi 3 in the UK you'll need to pick one up from a third-party grey-market site such as GearBest, which supplied our sample for review. GearBest charges £114.95 with free shipping to the UK for the 16GB Redmi 3, but you should note that all phones shipped from China to the UK are liable for import duty. Not all parcels will be pulled by customs, but if yours is then you must pay the charge. Check out our advice on buying grey-market tech.

Xiaomi Redmi 3 vs Xiaomi Redmi Note 3: What's the difference?

Xiaomi products aren't officially sold in the UK, and as such us Brits aren't very well accustomed to how its naming schemes work. Redmi is its budget line-up, while Mi is its flagship range. So this Redmi 3 sits below the plastic Xiaomi Mi 4c (the upgraded Mi 4i), but it isn't simply a compact version of the Redmi Note 3 phablet.

There's not a huge deal of difference in the pricing of these two Xiaomi phones, with the Redmi 3 costing £114.95 and the Note 3 £128.53, both from GearBest. But almost everything else is different.

The most obvious differences are in the build. While the Xiaomi Note 3 is a gorgeous and smooth fully metal phablet with a large 5.5in full-HD panel and a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. The Redmi 3 is by comparison a part-metal, part-plastic phone with a diamond-patterned rear, a 5in HD screen, no fingerprint scanner and a single LED flash in place of the Note 3's two. See all budget phone reviews.

Inside the differences continue. Xiaomi's Note 3 is powered by an octa-core Helio X10 chip with PowerVR G6200 graphics and 2GB of RAM, while the 2GB Redmi 3 is fitted with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 and Adreno 405 graphics. Both feature 16GB of storage, but only the Redmi 3 has a microSD slot for up to 128GB of additional storage.

One thing the two Xiaomis have in common is large-capacity batteries. With 4000mAh inside the Note 3 and a surprisingly huge 4100mAh inside the Redmi 3, battery life is a key selling point for the cheaper phone.

You usually get what you pay for and, as we'll discover in this review, that's very much the case with the Xiaomi Redmi 3 and Redmi Note 3. We'd recommend the Note 3 over the Redmi 3, but fans of smaller-screen phones or those on a tighter budget or with a need for microSD support might prefer to check out this cheaper Redmi 3. Let's see what else it has to offer...

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Xiaomi Redmi 3 review: Build & design

The first thing you'll notice about the Redmi 3 when taking it out the box is that this is a plasticky feeling phone, which is these days very much the warning call of a cheap phone. The top and bottom rear panels are plastic, while it's actually quite difficult to tell whether the middle panel is plastic or metal (it's metal) because it is so thin and plasticky feeling. The other telltale sign is its width, and this 8.5mm smartphone is about average for the price. Also see: Best phones 2016.

The design is pleasant, though, with a diamond-patterned rear case and a chrome-effect metal trim around the screen that at least from the front makes it look similar to its bigger brother. Thanks to its 5in screen it fits comfortably in the hand, and we absolutely can't argue with its build quality - this phone feels and looks well made. There's no creaking, no flexing, no sharp edges, no gaping holes - nothing to cause any concern.

A camera and single-LED flash lie flush with the phone's case at the top left corner on the rear. Down the bottom you find a speaker grille, with a small plastic lip intended to raise it from the desk. The setup is otherwise pretty standard for an Android phone, with volume and power buttons on the right edge, Micro-USB at the bottom and a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top. Also see: Best sounding phones 2016.

Xiaomi Redmi 3

A SIM tray pops out from the left edge of the Xiaomi Redmi 3, and allows you to choose between using two SIMs or a single SIM plus a microSD card. We've seen this setup in several Chinese phones before, and it's useful for those who need to use dual-SIM functionality only when they go on holiday. For those who want to manage two SIMs every day the inability to also add a microSD card will likely prove frustrating.

One thing we can't get our heads around is that this phone weighs only 144g and yet it has a 4100mAh battery inside. That's significantly higher in capacity than most Android phones and, given that this phone has only an HD screen and some mid-range hardware inside it offers remarkable decent battery life - see Hardware and performance for more information.

The screen might be only HD in resolution, but it's perfectly clear at 1280x720 pixels, adequately bright and has realistic colours (which you can tweak to your desire) and strong viewing angles. More important for many users who are disappointed with the way phones seem to be getting only larger these days is that the screen is just 5in. It's a perfect fit for the palm, and we really like the one-handed mode built into MIUI 7. This lets you shrink the screen area to just 3.5- or 4in with a simple gesture. Clearly it's of more use in the Redmi Note 3, but some users will appreciate it even in this smaller model. See all smartphone reviews.

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Xiaomi Redmi 3 review: Hardware & performance

The Xiaomi Redmi 3 runs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 64-bit octa-core processor, which is an upgrade over the Snapdragon 615 that was seen in budget- to mid-range phones such as the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6. This chip has four cores clocked at 1.5GHz and four at 1.2GHz, and integrates the Adreno 405 GPU. Xiaomi pairs it with 2GB of RAM.

The 615 was the first commercial Qualcomm octa-core processor to combine LTE and 64-bit capabilities, and the 615 builds on this with improved performance and superior connectivity with X5 LTE. Although the two phones are not directly comparable, given that they run different software and the Vodafone has a higher-resolution screen, the Xiaomi Redmi 3 did turn in higher performance in our benchmarks. For example, in Geekbench 3, which records overall processing performance, the Xiaomi turned in 3045 points against the Vodafone's 2469.

We also ran AnTuTu - another overall performance benchmark - on the Redmi 3, and recorded 33,175 points. When compared to Xiaomi phones the Redmi 3 scored close to the Mi 4c in Geekbench (3045 against 3233), but fell way behind in AnTuTu (33,175 against 54,250), but it was way off the Redmi Note 3, which turned in 4597 points in Geekbench 3 and 46,924 in AnTuTu.

Until recently we used SunSpider to measure web browsing JavaScript performance, but now that this benchmark is no longer supported we are no using JetStream in its place. As we collate more results from this test the results will become easier to interpret. The Xiaomi Redmi 3 scored 19.019 points in this test.

GFXBench is used to measure graphics. We tend to find phones with lower screen resolutions will do better in these tests, and you should take that into account when you read that the Xiaomi Redmi 3 turned in 24fps in T-Rex and 11fps in Manhattan. By comparison the Mi 4c recorded 34- and 15fps respectively, the Redmi Note 3 22- and 8fps respectively, and the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 14- and 6fps respectively.

Nevertheless, these are very good scores for a budget phone, and you shouldn't have any problems playing games (although you may have to jump through a few hoops to download them, as we'll come to in the Software section of this review). Also see: Best cheap 4G phones 2016.

In terms of battery life the Xiaomi Redmi 3 is remarkable. Its combination of (relatively) low-resolution screen, low-power hardware and a big battery powered it to the second highest battery score we've ever seen in Geekbench. The Redmi 3 turned in 9 hours 50 minutes, and we've seen only the Huawei Mate 8 score higher.

The Xiaomi Redmi 3 doesn't support Quick charging or wireless charging, but that's not a particular surprise at this price.

You can compare the Xiaomi Redmi 3's performance to all the phones we've recently tested in our article What's the fastest phone 2016?

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Xiaomi Redmi 3 review: Connectivity

For a budget smartphone the Xiaomi Redmi 3 is an excellent phone for connectivity. Not only does it support an IR blaster, but also dual-SIM functionality and microSD. But there is a catch.

The Xiaomi Redmi 3 is unable to support both two SIMs and a microSD at once, since it uses the same slot for its second SIM as it does the microSD card. If you plump for microSD you can add up to 128GB to the Redmi 3's 16GB of built-in storage; if you opt to use it as a dual-SIM phone instead you should note that it operates in a dual-standby fashion and accepts one nano-SIM and one Micro-SIM. Also see: Best dual-SIM phones and dual-SIM phones buying advice.

The Redmi 3 is a 4G phone, but UK O2 users (and those of any mobile operator that piggybacks on O2's mobile network, such as GiffGaff) should note that it does not support the 800MHz band. Since O2 relies entirely on this band for its 4G coverage, customers won't be able to receive anything more than 3G using this smartphone. The Xiaomi does support the 1800MHz and 2600MHz 4G bands, which is good news for customers of other UK mobile operators. (Always be sure to check whether a phone is supported by your network before you buy.)

Other connectivity specs include GPS with GLONASS and Bluetooth 4.1. GearBest's product listing states that the Redmi 3 supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi but other sources claim it supports just single-band 802.11b/g/n.

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Xiaomi Redmi 3 review: Cameras

The Redmi 3, in common with many other Chinese budget Android phones, is fitted with a 13Mp camera and LED flash at the rear, plus a 5Mp selfie camera. There are some nice additions to the Camera app, such as real-time previews of filters, but more importantly the quality of the camera isn't bad. Also see: Best Android phones 2016.

Although our standard test shot of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel looks rather drab and dreary, switch to HDR mode (the second shot below) and it comes alive. Viewed at 100 percent this smartphone was unable to retain all the detail, such as the individual bricks, but we were impressed by how good a job it did. You can just about make out the road name, for example.

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Xiaomi Redmi 3

The Redmi 3 also supports full-HD video and time-lapse recording modes from its primary camera.

Also see: Best phone camera 2016.

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Xiaomi Redmi 3 review: Software

Because Xiaomi phones aren't intended to be sold in the UK, out of the box they aren't the easiest of devices to get set up for UK users - especially those who don't really know what they're doing. In fact, we wouldn't recommend a Xiaomi phone to these type of users.

The main reason for this is that the Google Play store is not preinstalled. Xiaomi has its own software and apps for all the things you'd usually get from Google, but language will be a barrier if you don't speak Chinese. You'll notice this even without trying to download apps, since many of the preinstalled apps are in Chinese, and so are some of the characters on the keyboard.

There are ways around all of this, of course. To add Google Play you download the Google Installer apk file from http://en.miui.com/thread-3998-1-1.html and sideload it either to the Downloads folder or to a microSD card (one isn't supplied by GearBest, so factor this into the cost if you want one). Tap on the file in Tools, File Explorer to install it, then launch the Google Installer.

Inside the app you'll see a link to install Google Play (you may not be able to read the writing but you should recognise the icon for the Play store). Tap on this and you'll be prompted to also install the Google Services Framework and a couple of additional files. Tap on the phone icon at the bottom of the screen to do this. Now when you try to open Google Play you should be prompted to enter your Google account details.

Xiaomi Redmi 3

The alternative to this is to simply sideload the apk files for any app you want to install, as we did with the AnTuTu 3D benchmark, which is convinced it isn't compatible with Xiaomi phones (it worked fine for us). We use a APK downloader Chrome extension (several are available) to download the file directly from Google Play on our PC, then sideload it to the phone.

The next problem you need to tackle is the keyboard, and the easiest solution is to install the Google Keyboard. As for any apps preinstalled on the phone, simply drag them toward the top of the screen and a trash can will appear with the option to uninstall them. 

This is a key part of the MIUI 7 operating system preinstalled on the Xiaomi Redmi 3, which is based on Android 5.1 Lollipop. The familiar Android app tray is gone, and instead everything is laid out on the home screen. This approach is more reminiscent of iOS than Android, but it's easy enough to organise the clutter into folders to prevent the home screens from looking untidy.

Xiaomi Redmi 3

MIUI 7 is a nice operating system with several extras over standard Android. For example, you can change the colour of the LED for different types of notifications, you can change the font and its size, there's the aforementioned one-handed mode, and nice things such as the ability to automatically lock the screen when you place it in a pocket.

The pull-down notification bar has also been tweaked. When you drag down from the top of the screen you'll see quick settings and must swipe left to access notifications. A pinch on the home screen brings up options to move apps, add widgets and alter the wallpaper and effects (the transitions as you move between home screens).

We also like the Child mode, which lets you allow access only to certain apps installed on your phone before handing it over to the kids.

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2016.

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter. 

Android 5.1 with MIUI 7.  Had to install Google Play store as on Note 3. Might want to also install a UK keyboard and uninstall any Chinese apps you aren't going to use.

Xiaomi Redmi 3: Specs

  • 5in HD (1280x720) screen
  • Android 5.1 with MIUI 7
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 octa-core (4x 1.5GHz, 4x 1.2GHz) processor
  • Adreno 405 GPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB or dual-SIM, dual-standby functionality (one Micro-SIM, one Nano-SIM)
  • UK 4G support for 1800- and 2600MHz networks
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • GPS, GLONASS
  • IR blaster
  • 13Mp rear camera with LED flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 4100mAh battery, charges over Micro-USB
  • 139.3x69.6x8.5mm
  • 144g
  • 5in HD (1280x720) screen
  • Android 5.1 with MIUI 7
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 octa-core (4x 1.5GHz, 4x 1.2GHz) processor
  • Adreno 405 GPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB or dual-SIM, dual-standby functionality (one Micro-SIM, one Nano-SIM)
  • UK 4G support for 1800- and 2600MHz networks
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • GPS, GLONASS
  • IR blaster
  • 13Mp rear camera with LED flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 4100mAh battery, charges over Micro-USB
  • 139.3x69.6x8.5mm
  • 144g

OUR VERDICT

The Xiaomi Redmi 3 is a very decent budget Android phone, but it isn't intended for a UK audience and doesn't come with Google Play installed out of the box, so we wouldn't recommend it for those not familiar with Android. It has a plasticky but decent build, with good performance for the money.

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