The Coolpad Note 3 Lite, as the name suggests, is a toned down version of the Coolpad Note 3 (Review | Pictures) that launched back in October last year. It was one of the first phones in the sub-Rs. 10,000 price segment to sport a fingerprint sensor, and today, the company is bringing this feature available at an even lower price segment.
(Also see: Coolpad Note 3 Lite vs Coolpad Note 3)
Our initial impressions of the Note 3 Lite were fairly positive but that was after using it for just a short while. Let's see if Coolpad will be able to disrupt the entry-level Android market with its latest offering.
Look and feel
The Coolpad Note 3 Lite has all the hallmarks of a budget phone but a few good design choices help it stand out. The gold trim running along the edges of the body, camera lens, and fingerprint sensor jazzes up the phone a bit. The quality of the plastics and the overall fit and finish of the parts is quite good, and the phone feels sturdy and durable on the whole.
In the front, we have a 5-inch HD IPS display with scratch protection. The screen has a noticeable thick black border running around it, which detracts from the otherwise sleek edge-to-edge appearance of the display. The capacitive buttons for navigation are responsive, but sadly lack backlighting. There's a 5-megapixel front camera on the top along with a notification LED.
The power and volume buttons are placed ergonomically on either side of the phone and are within reach for single-handed use. The rear cover has a grippy chequered design and is removable. Here, we also have the 13-megapixel camera, LED flash, and fingerprint sensor. The speaker is placed towards the bottom, just below the company's logo. If you're not a fan of white plastic, the phone will also be available in black.
The Coolpad Note 3 Lite comes with a charger, data cable, headset (which was missing from our review unit), and a screen guard. The quality of the cables and power adapter is strictly average. Just like its bigger brother, the Note 3 Lite is well put-together. The front is not its most flattering side as it looks better from the back. It's a little thick at 8.9mm and has some heft to it, but we like that as prevents it from feeling cheap.
Specifications and software
With budget pricing comes budget specifications, but even here, Coolpad has tried to raise the bar. The SoC of choice is a run-of-the-mill quad-core MediaTek MT6735, but the Note 3 Lite is one of the most affordable phones to come with 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. You can expand the latter by up to 32GB using a microSD card. There's also Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, USB OTG, FM radio, GPS, and a non-removable 2500mAh battery. The phone has two Micro-SIM slots with 4G support on band 40 through both.
The phone runs on Android 5.1 Lollipop with Coolpad's custom CoolUI 6.0 skin. We wrote about the interface in great detail in the Coolpad Note 3 review so we'll just skim over the essentials here. You get a single-layered UI by default but you can switch to two-layer setup with a dedicated app drawer if needed. Even though the option is labeled "traditional style", it's not the stock Lollipop launcher and just complicates things.
You get some in-house apps such as Cool Service, which still doesn't show any relevant information about service centres; Cool Store, which offers a bunch of downloadable games; Xploree, a customisable keyboard with themes and a note-taking feature; FP Lock, which lets you lock apps to your fingerprint so only you can open them; Rock Wallpaper, a widget which randomly changes the wallpaper; and Cool Show, to tinker with the phone's themes, fonts, and notification sounds.
The interface works fluidly but the skin itself lacks polish. For example, there isn't much choice when it comes to themes, and apart from the default one, the others seem crude and unfinished, especially the icon sets. The custom icons in each theme can get really confusing at times when you're looking for a specific app. Coolpad also preinstalls some third-party apps such as Amazon, Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, and WPS Office; these can be uninstalled if needed.
The HD display has good viewing angles and decent sunlight legibility, though we wished the brightness level could have gone higher for outdoor use. The touchscreen is fairly responsive but does attract quite a lot of fingerprint smudges. Call quality is good and we didn't have any issues with 4G either.
The fingerprint sensor is very accurate and works on the first attempt most times. You can unlock the phone by placing your finger on it at any angle. You can store up to five fingerprints and assign each to open an app, dial a number, or take a photo rather than just unlocking the phone.
The Note 3 Lite fares decently well in benchmarks considering its budget components. We got 31,770 in AnTuTu and 14fps in GFXbench. These numbers translate to good real-world performance, and sure enough, the Note 3 Lite can handle casual games like Ski Safari 2 and even some demanding ones like Dead Trigger 2, with relative ease. We didn't face any trouble with UI performance either as multitasking is generally smooth. There's about 1.8GB of free RAM available at any given point.
The default music player is well designed and quite functional too. You can sort your music by folder and there are options for equaliser presets along with environmental effects to simulate sound from a large hall, etc. The video player is also quite feature-rich, and lets you edit videos, take screengrabs, cast content via DLNA, or have it playing in a floating window while you use other apps. The rear speaker is loud enough for alerts but isn't great for multimedia use.(Tap for full-sized images)
It's pleasantly surprising that Coolpad hasn't dropped the megapixel count of front and rear cameras in the Lite model. The 13-megapixel rear shooter manages decently detailed landscapes and macros with good colour reproduction under good natural light. However, we noticed a bit of sharpness lacking in close-up shots. Indoor and low-light shots get quite noisy, with a noticeable dip in autofocus speed. There's also a heavy loss of detail and the resulting images aren't very pretty. Panoramas are stitched together quickly and look good. You can take bursts of shots simply by holding down the shutter button, and this works quite well.(Tap for full-sized image)
Video recording quality maxes out at 1080p and is decent. The camera software isn't great with metering light automatically and there's no option to change this either. However, the interface is simple enough to use. There's also a Pro mode but the tweakable parameters are limited to focus, ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation. You can also use Pro mode with the front camera, which we don't see too often. The 5-megapixel front shooter does a decent job with selfies, but again, only in the daytime.
The 2500mAh battery lasted for 9 hours and 11 minutes of continuous video playback, which is pretty decent. Under regular use with 4G, we managed to get nearly a full day's worth of usage. The bundled charger is only rated at 5W, and takes a painfully long time to charge the phone fully when it's totally dead.
The Coolpad Note 3 Lite delivers a very good package on paper for its asking price of Rs. 6,999, and doesn't compromise too much compared to its bigger sibling. It's currently the only phone at this price point to offer a fingerprint sensor, 3GB of RAM, and 16GB of onboard storage, which raises the bar for an entry-level phone. It was only a matter of time before someone did it and it seems Coolpad has beaten everyone. This phone also has a good display, speedy fingerprint sensor that works well, sturdy build, and good battery life.
However, this doesn't make it the undisputed winner in its segment. Not all its features translate well in the real world. A couple of things that could have been better are the camera, the slightly generic design, and the CoolUI skin. Some of its competitors - notably budget offerings by Oppo and Gionee - are more polished, so you have to decide which features and specifications you care about the most.