Coolpad entered India less than six months ago with two models, the Coolpad Dazen 1 (Review) and the Coolpad Dazen X7 (Review | Pictures). Both grabbed quite a bit of attention for their low prices, especially the Dazen 1 which seemed like it would put a lot of pressure on Indian as well as fellow Chinese companies in the critical sub-Rs. 10,000 market. Following those two launches, however, the company went pretty silent.
Now, following a corporate restructuring, the company is leaving the Dazen name and identity behind. Here in India, Coolpad is making up for lost time with a dramatic new launch. Even though we should be used to companies throwing more and more features into low-priced phones, the Coolpad Note 3 really made us sit up and pay attention. For just a shade under Rs. 9,000, Coolpad is promising a huge screen, large battery, good looks, fast processor, 4G LTE, lots of memory - and as the icing on top, a high-quality fingerprint sensor. There's a lot of hype to live up to, so let's get started.
Look and feel
This is quite a large phone by any standards, though there's no denying the popularity of big screens. The 5.5-inch display takes up most of the front face, and Coolpad has done what it could to reduce size around it. The capacitive navigation buttons are placed on the narrow plastic chin, which makes them a bit hard to reach while maintaining a solid grip on the phone. On-screen buttons might have made more sense for this phone.
There's a metallic rim running around the front which has an unusual purplish tint, but this is only visible in bright light. While all plastic on the outside, Coolpad tells us that the Note 3 has an aluminium inner frame for stability, which is remarkable for a phone at this price level. The rear has a soft matte texture which is good for grip, but picks up scuffs and smudges way too easily.
The volume buttons are on the left while the power button is on the right. The 3.5mm audio socket on top and the Micro-USB port on the bottom are somewhat masked by the way the Note 3's edges taper. On the rear, you'll see slightly protruding camera right up top and in the centre, with its LED flash to one side and the phone's signature fingerprint reader right beneath it. There's a small Coolpad logo and a speaker grille towards the bottom.
The rear cover peels off with a little effort, but the battery beneath it is not removable. You only get access to the two Micro-SIM slots and the microSD card slot. Coolpad bundles only a charger, USB cable and headset in the box - no cover or adhesive screen protector like we've seen from some other companies.
At 9.3mm thick and 155g in weight, this is not an easy phone to handle. The tapered rear edges and matte finish do help somewhat, but you'll wind up shuffling it up and down in your hand, and you'll have to be careful of your grip at all times.
Coolpad has managed to cram some fairly impressive hardware into its low-cost offering. The Coolpad Note 3 is based on a MediaTek MT6753 SoC, which is a 64-bit, octa-core model running at 1.3GHz. 3GB of RAM is pretty pathbreaking at this price, though as we've seen before, that on its own doesn't mean much. There's also a healthy 16GB of built-in storage space as well as support for microSD cards of up to 64GB, and USB-OTG support.
The 5.5-inch screen has a resolution of 720x1280, for an effective density of 320ppi. LTE is supported on Band 40 on both Micro-SIMs. Wi-Fi, including 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0 and FM radio are standard. The battery has a pretty solid capacity rating of 3000mAh. There's a 13-megapixel camera with an LED flash on the rear, and a 5-megapixel one in front. Then of course there's the fingerprint sensor, which the company says will be able to correctly identify an enrolled user no matter the angle at which he or she touches it.
The Coolpad Note 3 comes with Android 5.1 and the company's own Cool UI skin. We weren't too impressed with the cosmetic changes Coolpad has made to stock Android - a lot of it felt unnecessary (though your mileage may vary), especially the customisations made to the Settings app, in which it isn't possible to search for specific things. You get a typical single-layer UI by default, with all app icons and widgets arranged haphazardly on the home screens, but there is a "traditional mode" option buried in the preferences dialog.
Our Coolpad Note 3 review unit had an enormous "Cool Store" widget on one home screen which showed a banner ad and a few examples of popular apps you can get from the company's own app store. Probably because of this, the installation of apps downloaded from third-party sources was not blocked by default, which is a potential security problem for users unfamiliar with Android. We would recommend removing this widget immediately to get rid of the ads and prevent background data usage.
The default keyboard is also replaced with something called Xploree, which uses some screen space to display prominent Yahoo search branding, and tracks everything you type in order to display targeted ads - which the company describes as "enabling search and discovery". We would have liked at least an opt-in prompt or a popup message on first use telling users what the keyboard does. We found this invasive and intrusive, and disabled it immediately - again, we recommend you do the same should you buy the Coolpad Note 3.
Pressing the power and volume down buttons simultaneously takes a screenshot as usual, but instead of just saving it in the background, it's shown full-screen. You have to manually dismiss it though you can scribble an annotation or share it to social media first. This could be useful in some cases but it usually just gets in the way. More interestingly, pressing the power and volume up buttons will start recording a video grab of whatever you do on screen.
There are also a few other apps: CoolShow offers a few themes, though several sections such as Lock Screen Style and Font style have only one option with no visible way of downloading more. Cool Service is probably meant to help users get to an authorised service location, but we couldn't find a single one in India - perhaps this information will get added at a later stage. WeChat, Whatsapp, Facebook, WPS Office, and Amazon are also preloaded. Not all are removable.
Fingerprint reader setup was quick and easy. An app called Fingerprint Management takes you through the setup process, where you can define up to five prints and assign shortcuts to them such as directly unlocking the phone and launching any app from sleep. You can also set one up as a photo trigger - you can launch the camera app and take a photo in just one motion even when the phone is asleep. A second app, FP Lock, lets you prevent unauthorised access to any apps on the device - but it works with all enrolled fingerprints, not a specific one of your choosing.
The Coolpad Note 3 was generally a pleasure to use, and we didn't see the slightest sign of any lags or stuttering in the UI. Apps opened quickly and multitasking was smooth. The rear of the device did get a little warm when stressed out, but no so much that it was uncomfortable to hold. We had a bit of trouble using the phone outdoors in bright sunshine, but faced no other issues with the display.
The fingerprint reader is of course what we were most intrigued with, and in our time with the phone, it worked just fine. True to the company's claims, fingerprints are recognised quickly and in any orientation. However, with the sensor on the back, it isn't useful when the phone is lying on a table and you just want to check something quickly. It also only really feels comfortable when used with index fingers, maybe because of the size of this particular phone. You can enrol more fingers and assign shortcuts to them, but it's too awkward to become a habit.
We got a score of 35,674 in AnTuTu while Quadrant delivered 19,549 points overall. Graphics scores were also good, with 19fps in GFXbench and 4,461 points in 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme. Performance is a little lower than that of the Lenovo K3 Note (Review | Pictures) and roughly on par with that of the Yu Yureka Plus (Review), taking into account the fact that both alternatives have 1080p screens.
The phone stuttered a little when playing a heavily encoded 1080p video. Sound was surprisingly rich and clear, but the placement of the speaker on the rear means you can't leave the phone face up on a table when playing music or watching videos.
The camera app is well designed, and we liked the independent focus and exposure reticules. Pro mode copies the old Nokia concept of rings that act as sliders for different controls. You also get a few modes such as one for dim lighting and one for panoramas. Images looked really good on the phone itself, with impressive detailing in closeups and some nice depth of field effects as well.
They still looked great on a big screen, as long as we didn't zoom in to actual size. At that point, detail and textures clearly suffered. Compression was evident, though colours were still vibrant. Some of the shots we took in daylight were absolutely stunning for a phone in this price range. At night, things were heavily dependent on light sources. The camera did okay when there was at least some direct illumination.
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The battery ran for 11 hours, 26 minutes in our video loop test which is pretty great. You can expect to get a full day of active usage from each charge, including games and a lot of Web browsing. 4G worked well for us and we had no problem with voice call quality either.
Coolpad has major plans for India, including local manufacturing. The company will be leveraging all its strengths to drive costs down, putting pressure on every other player in the market. It is also prepared to refresh its product lineup every three months in order to deal with any new competition that might arise. On the other hand, the insistence on using flash sales through a single online retail partner will severely limit Coolpad's reach.
It might be really hard to get your hands on a Coolpad Note 3 for some time, but it should be well worth it. The combination of features, performance and material quality that you get at this price is surprisingly strong. The Lenovo K3 Note (Review | Pictures) and Yu Yureka Plus (Review), priced at Rs. 9,999 and Rs. 8,999 respectively are the most obvious competitors and are both now available without flash sales. Both offer full-HD screens but no fingerprint sensor and less RAM.
What it boils down to is the fingerprint sensor. If this is the feature you really want - and it's understandable that it would be - then you should get in line to buy a Coolpad Note 3. If not, you could also consider trading a few specs and picking up either of these two strong competitors.