There has been stiff competition in the sub-Rs. 10,000 segment, and majority of smartphones launched lately in this price band have great specifications. This year in particular has been a good one for Indian consumers looking for budget phones, as companies are racing to offer more for less.
Xiaomi, which has had a great run in the Indian smartphone market with the well-received Redmi Note 3 (Review) and Mi Max (Review), is keeping up the pace with a new smartphone priced below Rs. 10,000. The Xiaomi Redmi 3S and Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime are the company's latest attempts to strengthen its position in the segment, and they both also tout the 'Made in India' label. Since its debut in India two years ago, Xiaomi has managed to earn a reputation for offering great smartphone hardware at affordable prices, and these new models are trying to stay true to that formula.
Both the Redmi 3S variants sport all-metal bodies and pack large batteries. We got our hands on the Redmi 3S Prime, which offers more RAM, more storage space, and a fingerprint scanner for a small price increase. Does the new Redmi 3S Prime offer great value, or does it just end up being a smaller version of the Redmi Note 3? We try to find out in our review.
Look and feel
When we first saw the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime, it looked like a mini Redmi Note 3 from nearly every angle. Xiaomi phones have started to look quite similar in design. For the company, this might be a way to establish a linear look throughout its product portfolio but sadly this is what Samsung did few years ago with its Galaxy smartphones, and we weren't fans of that move for long.
In this case, the front of the Redmi 3S Prime is almost identical to that of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, except for the placement of the sensors above the display. We get capacitive Home, Back, and Recents buttons right below the display, and the sensors and front camera sitting on either side of the earpiece just above it. To some extent, this phone also looks inspired by the Mi Max which features a massive 6.44-inch display. However at 8.5mm thick, the Redmi 3S Prime isn't as sleek as the more premium Mi Max (Review) which is just 7.5mm thick.
The rear panel packs the primary camera with its LED flash, both placed in the upper right corner. The back also has the fingerprint scanner placed in the middle. There are thin lines running across the top and bottom of the back of the Redmi 3S Prime, which we have also seen before on the Redmi Note 3 and Mi Max.
The speaker grille is at the bottom of the back. The physical buttons for volume and power are on the right, while the hybrid SIM slot is on the left. The phone accepts one Micro-SIM and another Nano-SIM or microSD card for storage. Unfortunately, this means that users will have to choose between a second SIM and a microSD card.
There is an infrared emitter and a 3.5mm audio jack on the top. The bottom has a standard Micro-USB port and a microphone. The Redmi 3S Prime sports an all-metal body which means that the device itself feels premium regardless of the price tag it carries. At 144 grams, the Redmi 3S is slightly heavy for a budget device, but the curved sides make it easy to grip. The extra weight can safely be put down to the massive battery inside the smartphone.
One of the major differences between the Redmi 3S and the Redmi 3S Prime is the former doesn't include a fingerprint scanner. The round sensor at the back is easy to reach and use. During our review period, we had no trouble unlocking the device at any time using the fingerprint scanner. The 5-inch screen makes this phone easy to use with one hand, which is what we did most of the time. We found that typing was particularly comfortable.
The Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime ships with power adapter, a SIM eject tool, and an instruction leaflet. Just like the Redmi Note 3, the Redmi 3S gives bundled earphones a miss, which might be disappointing for some buyers.
Specifications and software
Under the hood, the Redmi 3S and Redmi 3S Prime both pack the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 (MMB29) processor, with four cores clocked at 1.1GHz and four cores at 1.4GHz, plus an integrated Adreno 505 GPU. Apart from the fingerprint sensor, the only differences between the Xiaomi Redmi 3S and Redmi 3S Prime are the amounts of RAM and storage. The Redmi 3S features 2GB of RAM with 16GB of inbuilt storage, while the Redmi 3S Prime has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.
At the time of their launch, Xiaomi claimed that the Redmi 3S and Redmi 3S Prime are the first smartphones with the all-new new Snapdragon 430 SoC shipping in India. Both models support expandable storage using a microSD card (up to 128GB).
The 5-inch IPS display has a resolution of 720x1280 pixels. Our Redmi 3S Prime review unit's screen was vibrant with sunlight visibility not suffering at all. Xiaomi's Sunlight Display hardware feature, which the Redmi Note 3 sports but is absent in this smartphone, could have further improved legibility under direct sunlight. The brightness levels on the Redmi 3S Prime were good and colours never looked oversaturated. The viewing angles on the Redmi 3S Prime were also decent and the display for the most parts was fairly sharp and reproduced accurate colours.
For connectivity, the Redmi 3S Prime (and Redmi 3S) support 4G with VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth, GPS/A-GPS, Glonass, and Micro-USB. The Redmi 3S Prime is compatible with all LTE bands in India including the FDD LTE Band 3 and Band 5, as well as TDD LTE Band 40. Xiaomi notes that when using two SIM cards on the Redmi 3S Prime simultaneously, the primary SIM will support 4G (calls and data) while the second SIM will support 3G only.
Another notable feature of the Redmi 3S Prime is its large 4100mAh battery. There's a 13-megapixel rear camera with features like PDAF (phase detection autofocus), f/2.0 aperture, HDR mode, 1080p video recording, and an LED flash. You also get a 5-megapixel front-facing camera which supports 1080p video recording.
The device runs MIUI 7.5 which is based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. The skin is a slightly updated version of what came with the Redmi Note 3. Unfortunately, you won't see many Marshmallow features such as Now on Tap. The company is expected to roll these features out in the next MIUI release.
The dropdown shade is divided into app notifications and quick settings toggles, and thankfully it isn't cluttered. The option to reply directly from a message notification is slightly confusing. In most Android Marshmallow phones, pulling down the notification expands it, but with MIUI, users need to use two fingers, similar to how you zoom in on an image. In our case, most of our attempts to expand the notification using this gesture failed, and we had to use both our hands to use it reliably. This was annoying to some extent.
On long-pressing the home button, the phone launches the Google Now cards by default. Long pressing the Recents button at the home-screen offers options to add widgets, move icons, change the wallpaper, and choose between animation effects. The Child Mode previously seen on the Mi 5, Mi Max and Redmi Note 3 (Review) is also available.
As usual with Xiaomi phones, there is no app drawer and all icons are placed on the homescreens. Some of the pre-loaded apps include SwiftKey, Amazon, Amazon Kindle, WPS Office, Flipkart, and Facebook. There's also Theme Centre which makes it easy for users to flip through new themes, wallpaper, and ringtones; Security, which clears RAM and lets you manage installed apps; Mi Remote which takes advantage of the IR emitter to control appliances; and Mi Store, from which you can buy more Xiaomi products.
Users get 5GB of free storage when they register for a Mi account. We were particularly surprised to see some of the software enhancements from the premium Mi Max - including the one-handed mode and Quick Ball shortcut menu - included in the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime as well. Both these features were introduced on the Mi Max to simplify usage as it came with a 6.44-inch display.
You can go through our Mi Max review to understand how these functions work. We felt that the Redmi 3S Prime was usable with just one hand, and there was no need for these touches, but they might still be useful for some people. The company also plans to upgrade the Redmi 3S Prime to MIUI 8, something Xiaomi's MIUI Product Lead, Jai Mani, stated at the device's launch.
The Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime sets a standard for other smartphones in the same price band. We didn't face any lags while multitasking on this device, and there were no noticeable frame rate drops while playing games like Dead Trigger 2.
Apps loaded quickly and the screen responded to touches without any complaints. The only issue that we faced was occasional restarts while running benchmarks, which is a repetition of what happened during the review of the Redmi Note 3. There was no heating while charging the phone or talking on calls. The phone did heat up a bit while using the camera app, but it never became too uncomfortable to use. We encountered no issues while talking for long hours on the phone.
We did try using the fingerprint scanner on the Redmi 3S Prime with wet fingers and it worked without refusing to recognise prints even once. We were impressed with the speed of fingerprint recognition.
The quality of sound through the speaker at the back of the handset was impressive, except that it went flat at maximum volume with no stereo effect. We did check the quality of music through our own wired earphones and we were not disappointed. There are plenty of tweaking options for music lovers.
Recent Xiaomi phones have an excellent feature called Mi Drop, which is basically is a Wi-Fi Direct peer-to-peer file transfer system and lets users share big files between Mi devices. The feature is limited to just Xiaomi devices but it eliminates the need for a third-party app such as ShareIt.
The 3GB of RAM was enough for carrying out most functions. Regardless of how many apps were open at any given time, the Redmi 3S Prime had up to 800MB of RAM free which is not bad at all. In terms of performance in benchmarks, the Redmi 3S Prime came out with decent scores. It managed 40,250 on AnTuTu, 21,253 overall in Quadrant, 5,714 in 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme, and 24fps in GFXBench's T-Rex test.
The camera on the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime took sharp images with a good amount of detail. Indoor shots in well-lit conditions were particularly impressive and didn't have noise or lack detail in textures when zoomed in. Low-light shots were slightly washed out, though turning HDR mode on fixed this to some extent. We also didn't face issues in locking focus at any time.
The rear camera can record videos at 1080p quality and there's also a time-lapse video feature. The camera modes on the Redmi 3S Prime include Manual, which allows tweaking white balance and ISO, and Panorama for wide angle shots. There are also 12 filters which is a nice addition.
The 5-megapixel front camera clicked some decent selfies and came with 36 smart "beautification" profiles which can be use to enhance images. There's also face recognition, which worked soon after a face was detected in the frame. Another great feature is ability to record videos at 1080p quality with the front camera.
The non-removable 4100mAh battery on the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime managed to run for 14 hours and 50 minutes in our continuous video loop test, which is excellent. The Redmi 3S Prime trumps the bigger Redmi Note 3, which managed around 12 hours in our loop test, in part because of this phone's lower-resolution display. Even with heavy usage, the Redmi 3S Prime easily managed to last through an entire day, with a minimum of 20 percent juice still left in the battery.
Xiaomi claims that the 5V/2A charger will ensure quick charging with minimal downtime. We noticed that it took slightly over two hours to fully charge the battery from zero to 100 percent.
We did run into one or two software niggles though. For example, we could never get an alert from the NDTV and Gadgets 360 apps despite granting all the necessary permissions, a functionality that works just fine on other phones.
At Rs. 8,999, the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime no doubt brings a lot to the table. The metal body feels premium, while the 4100mAh battery offers the user enough power to last more than a day. The 3GB of RAM makes sure that the user doesn't face any lags.
The overall package looks smart and brings a strong new contender to the sub-Rs. 10,000 price segment. What might attract people more than all that is that this phone doesn't have a large 5.5-inch display, and is therefore easy to use in daily life. Those looking for alternatives to the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime can go for the Asus ZenFone Max (2016) (Review) which sells for the same price. If you want a larger screen and a bit more performance, you could also go for the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 which is available at a slight premium compared to the Redmi 3S Prime.