We once summoned their coming to Africa and indeed they finally came! As for Vodafone, I am now going to describe it not only as a telecom, but one that has gone against the status quo (that is MTN, Airtel & Africell) to bring us some of the most affordable 4G LTE smartphones on the Ugandan market. First it was the Lenovo K3 Note and they’ve done it again with the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3.

Xiaomi is well known to sell its handsets mostly through flash sales at razor thin margins and only capitalize on services they sell over the purchased device. It’s in this regard that they’ve become a behemoth in their own right and are giving the likes of Apple and Samsung a run for their money especially in emerging market. Their presence on the African continent hasn’t been received with so much fanfare as elsewhere, at least for now.

Them leveraging the power of the internet while bypassing offline channels to sell their devices cheaply might explain this mess here in Africa, where e-commerce is just taking off, curtailed by  poor logistical support, low internet penetration and smartphone adoption numbers.

This to some extent is set to differ here in Uganda courtesy of Vodafone Uganda, that is carrying an unlocked global version (with Google services) of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 on their network and selling it at an enticing price of just UGX 700,000 in all their stores.  We spent an entire week with a gold accentuated version of the Redmi Note 3  of 16GB ROM + 2GB of RAM and today we bring you its review.

In the box

Packaging is nowhere near fancy. It is minimalistic with just the phone, a travel adapter and a USB cable besides the manuals and a pin to help one pluck out the dual sim tray.

RedMi Note 3 topAnd the slab itself ?

Call them specs if you like but the Redmi Note 3 isn’t  shy of challenging many mid-range smartphones on the Ugandan market when it comes to the spec race for the price. But as the saying goes—not all that glitters is gold, the Redmi Note 3 didn’t come without its cons so keep going.

 

  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 Hexa-Core 1.8GHz
  • Display: 5.5-inch 1920×1080 FHD IPS display
  • Camera: 16MP rear camera with PDAF,5MP front
  • Battery: 4000mAh
  • OS: MIUI 7 based on Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • Connectivity: FDD-LTE/TDD-LTE, WCDMA/TD-SCDMA, GSM

 

Design and Hardware

RedMi Note 3 backThe Redmi Note carries with it a premium metallic unibody build with a silver metal trim at the edges that separates the glass front from the rest of the body. Well the design won’t give you awes aesthetically but packs all the power the Note 3 dispenses.

Edges are curved that gives it a fine grip making the Redmi Note 3 comfortable to hold in the hand. The 16MP rear camera takes a back seat with dual LED flash just below it together with the fingerprint scanner. This makes it easier for one to use the index finger to tap the scanner either to unlock the phone or authorize payments where due. It actually worked pretty fast.

The Mi branding is encased in the back at the bottom just above the stereo speakers. The glass front bears the 5MP front facing camera, the 5.5Inch 1080p panel and the control buttons at the bottom. The dual sim tray (Nano & Micro),that doubles as the MicroSD card port is at the left  while the volume rockers and the power button below them are on the  right.

 

As for the peripherals/accessory ports, the 3.5mm headphone jack is at the top with an IR blaster besides it while the USB port is down. For the whole time I carried the Redmi Note 3, it was easily mistaken for an iPhone 6 Plus except for the fact that it appears thicker and heavier at 164g and does away with Apple’s iconic round home button for Xiaomi’s custom Android recents/menu, home and back buttons.

Now you understand where some of the design cues came from and not just the hardware but the software too.

Display

Whoever coined the word phablet should allow me employ it here since the Redmi Note has a startling 5.5Inch Display. It measures 1920×1080 in resolution with a 480dpi, bright enough even for outdoor usage. This makes it vivid to look at with good viewing angles though at one time I questioned its color accuracy owing to the fact that whites sometimes appeared as blues on  my review unit.

It is not the best screen compared to the best out there that I have managed to come across like the Galaxy S7 Edge’s display, but nevertheless does the job fine owing to its higher pixel density.

 

MIUI 7: Xiaomi’s Android software touchRedMi Note 3 phone

The Redmi Note runs a heavy coat of Xiaomi’s custom Android skin called MiUI,the seventh iteration atop Android 5.1 Lollipop. And this  being a global version of the phablet, it came with Google’s set of apps pre-installed that were quietly organized in their own set of folder while Xiaomis replicas took up the rest of the screen since it had no app drawer.

The customizations at my fingertips were one big attraction to the Redmi Note starting from the themes with their own theme store,  the notifications—these I could toggle positions to my preference, mute them if I like and only give permissions to ones that make sense to grace my iOS-esque notification panel. The MIUI comes with different modes of the software like the Lite mode that shrinks the whole UI to a simplified menu and Skin and for parents with kids, the Child Mode comes in handy with its own set of restrictions.

Mi security is an optimizer of sorts that controls background activity (you can decide what apps can use what amount of data, clear unnecessary apps, scan for malware and viruses among other things)Xiaomi included a night mode for those that often read in the dark and surrendered most of the phone’s control to the end user. This means you can tweak MIUI to your own liking.

However most of MiUI’s features work better with a Mi account and the only setback is that it will demand your email address or phone number to authenticate properly. It turned out that after i’d surrendered my mail, it couldn’t function any better without I submitting my phone number.

After you’ve gotten yourself a Mi account,you can then backup your phone in the cloud, recover it if lost,sync data across a range of Xiaomi products as the case with a Google account.

The phone’s storage capacity is marked 16GB but unfortunately it showed 10GB and when I tried to check, only 7 GB was available for me to explore and the rest was chewed by the  software.  The only viable solution is opting to use a MicroSD card which the Redmi Note supports of up to 256GB.

 

The Camera

The Redmi Note packs a 16MP primary camera at the back with two tone flash of a f/2.0 aperture. You’d expect such a module to take the very best of shots but results were mixed in both well lit and dim conditions. Shots at times appeared noisy and crisp on the contrary. The camera was fast enough except when flash  is turned on that you experience shutter lag and of course HDR. Xiaomi threw in a manual mode for perks with an easy to use interface.

Results were no different with the 5MP front facing selfie camera of the same aperture but this camera combo is a lot better than most smartphones of the same price on the Ugandan market, at least one’s I have come across. You can judge from the samples below

RedMi Note 3 camera samples

Connectivity and Performance

One surprising fact is; the Redmi Note 3 supports most if not all LTE bands Ugandan telecoms offer (FDD-LTE and TDD-LTE) besides the ubiquitous GSM, EDGE and WCDMA networks . Then Wifi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual band and Wifi Direct, Bluetooth v4.1, A2DP and LE, Infrared, FM Radio tuner, MicroUSB v2.0 and USB On-The-Go.

Equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 Hexa-Core at 1.8GHZ, the Redmi Note 3 was occasionally fast and fluid and endured my multi-tasking self without noticeable drops in performance. The chipset paired with 2GB RAM played well and animations were quick, apps were responsive, browsing was okay and casual gaming was fine as well. The inbuilt optimizer  played part for this since I did away with most background activity and only allowed essential apps to tap into this raw power and this explains the results.

At one time the Redmi Note 3’s metallic back did warmed up after intensive gaming from our side.

Battery

The 4000mAh battery endurance wowed me since I didn’t occasionally have to look for a wall docket to get charge. The battery juice could go all day without charge that is if you’re not as an ardent user as myself. I charged it less often usually once a day till the next charge even after heavy usage.

It is the wow factor besides the the software that managed to impress me and to which they both win a thumbs up.

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