Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 XDA Review: The King of The Low End
Performance and Memory
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 actually comes in two processor variants. At first, there was the MediaTek Helio X10 based variant, which was a good low/mid end performer by itself. Bearing an octa-core setup with 8x Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 2.16 GHz, the Helio X10 MT6795 is based on MediaTek’s 28nm manufacturing process and claims to be “true octa core” i.e. employing all eight of the cores for the most intensive of tasks. At the $150 price tag of the Redmi Note 3, the Helio X10 makes a very good choice as compared to going for the other mid/low end processors like the MT6753, MT6755 Helio P10 or even going for the infamous for its thermal throttling, the Snapdragon 615.
Now, the Redmi Note 3 on the Helio X10 would not have been a bad choice for a starter smartphone. But, Xiaomi went and tried to one up itself by going for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 in the same chassis! Xiaomi still refers to this model as the same Redmi Note 3, but the fans started calling it the Redmi Note 3 Pro. We will still stick to the official name of the device as on the box, but append it with the SoC wherever needed.
The Snapdragon 650 is a hexa-core SoC. If you go by pure numbers, the Helio X10 has more number of cores (eight), but the Snapdragon 650 has a much better setup within six cores. The Snapdragon 650 (28nm HPm process) runs on a dual cluster setup, with 4x Cortex-A53 clocked at 1.2GHz and 2x Cortex-A72 clocked at 1.8GHz. The A53 cluster is meant for light-weight and regular-working tasks, which is a good choice keeping in mind its efficiency as compared to the A72’s. The A72 cluster comes alive when you need to push the device, outputting more power with lesser heat generation than a cluster of A53 would have by themselves. The result? You get the best of both low power consumption for daily tasks as well as raw performance when you need it.
The Snapdragon 650 was earlier called the Snapdragon 618, but Qualcomm decided that it was too much of a change from its predecessors to really be part of the same SoC group. From the theoretical point of view, the rename is well justified. Afterall, the popular Snapdragon 615 which is seen on a lot of phones from 2015 like the Motorola Moto G3 Turbo, Moto X Play, ASUS ZenFone Selfie, HTC Desire 820 and others, is an octa-core processor but with a dual cluster setup composed of Cortex-A53’s only! The Snapdragon 615’s setup is 4x Cortex A-53 clocked at 1.7 GHz and 4x Cortex-A53 clocked at 1 GHz. The lower clocked cluster was to be relied upon for daily tasks, while the higher clocked cluster was intended for performance scenarios. In reality, the Snapdragon 615 suffered from heavy thermal throttling because of such a setup (particularly since these are low-power cores), as the phone would start degrading in performance as soon as it starts hitting a certain heat threshold, which it tended to do very frequently and quickly.
The Snapdragon 650 improves not only from its predecessor and its competition, but it actually improves upon Qualcomm’s yesteryear flagship SoC’s! The Snapdragon 650 is claimed to be better than the Snapdragon 808 as well as the Snapdragon 810 (overall, and when accounting for throttling), and it is not even a top-tier flagship SoC by itself!
When compared to the Snapdragon 808, the CPU setup is the same core setup, but the GPU on the 808 is worse with the Adreno 418 handling this end of things. In comparison, the Snapdragon 650 sports the newer and better Adreno 510. When compared to the Snapdragon 810’s 4x Cortex-A57 plus 4x Cortex-A53, the SD 650 still has the upper hand with its A72 cluster for performance. Not to mention, the SD 810 was infamous for its heating issues and was often relegated to being a poor upgrade from the SD 808 itself (which was bad because of its bad GPU but was better on the CPU setup). Both of these, the SD 808 and the SD 810, were manufactured on a 20nm process, but still drew plenty of flak for their performance.
So far, we have pointed out only theoretically that the Snapdragon 650 can perform. But can it perform? The answer to this is, yes, it definitely can.
The Snapdragon 650 backs its theoretical performance claims with some impressive benchmark scores as well.
The Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon 650 variant handles low effort scenarios perfectly, and does very well with more extensive tasks as well. The SD 650 breezes through just about anything you throw on it. As someone who has owned mostly low and mid end devices, the performance on the SD 650 is the best I have personally owned so far. To think, this device costs $150, a fraction of any of my other devices, including the ones from Chinese OEMs. Daily tasks never show any hiccups, outside of multitasking (which we will touch upon more in a while). There is no stutter in the UI anywhere, no frame drops, no jerking: it just works and continues working even with 50 apps installed. MIUI is aggressive on multitasking, but I have had 3 IM apps, my email client and several other apps that rely on periodic syncing or GCM push, and the phone still never breaks a sweat anywhere.
And when you do start pushing the phone, such as scenarios like benchmarks, the Snapdragon 650 continues on its impressive form. The benchmark scores are very good for a low end, and competitive in the mid end. You can compete with some of yesteryears flagships on benchmark scores, if that is your thing. Through all of these benchmarks, the Redmi Note 3 remains as cool as it was when it started. There is no heat buildup on the phone chassis, and because of this, there is no thermal throttling. To attest to this, the benchmark scores are very uniform (with minor unavoidable variations) on repeated attempts and do not skew for or against thermal throttling.
When it comes to GPU, the Redmi Note 3 Helio X10 variant bears the PowerVR G6200 while the SD 650 variant bears the new Adreno 510. Our review unit is the SD 650 variant, and the Adreno 510 in it does not disappoint. It is one of the latest GPU to come from Qualcomm’s stable and delivers beastly performance for the target price point of the SoC.
There are no frame drops on games for the most part. Even heavier titles like Need For Speed: No Limits and Modern Combat 5 have no trouble hitting their capped 30 fps during actual gameplay. The Snapdragon 650 flies through all games, and the Redmi Note 3 is a pleasure to game on. This is one of the best smartphones at 5.5″ that you can purchase right now if you are on a limited budget but would still like to game. I can churn out an hour of NFS: No Limits, and the device barely gets warm. Less intensive sessions show no signs of noticeable heat generation, an aspect of the device I was very surprised with. I fully expected the phone to get hot, considering its price tag and the heavy work it would be put through, but it just works and works. I am grasping at straws to have anything to complain about in the gaming aspect of the device, because it is easily the best device I have personally owned that could be such a joy to kill time on. And I am not even considering the price of the device when I say this.
However, the multitasking performance on the Redmi Note 3 is its Achilles Heel. It is that one point on the device that is an absolute let down, no matter which side of the fence you come from. Our review unit is the 2GB RAM variant, and it is outright horrible for multitasking. The problem is so bad that I could not run GameBench (used above for measuring performance in games) along with a game for 15 minutes to get an estimate for battery life: GameBench would close within 2-5 mins of the game running. And this happens with most of the heavy titles. You can have Ingress and Music playing in the background, but if you go to the Music app, Ingress will close. If you choose to reply to an IM, Ingress or any other game will close completely (instead of minimizing, as several games tend to do). Even outside of games, you can at most switch between 3-4 apps before the first one resets! If you start with a clean slate (i.e clear all apps), you can reach around 8 apps before you start seeing webpages getting reloaded and apps losing their positions.
Part of the blame falls on the 2GB of RAM on the device — this is one of the defining “low end” characteristics in this otherwise pseudo-mid end device. The other part of the blame lies on MIUI and its aggressiveness with how it handles memory. Right out of the box, the 2GB RAM variant hovers around 1.3GB of RAM blocked by system processes and preloaded apps, so it’s a very cramped room to begin with. There’s also preloaded “RAM cleaners”, but thankfully, these are not preconfigured as well. Nonetheless, the combination of less hardware memory with how MIUI likes things in the background (it doesn’t), defines the lowest point of the Redmi Note 3. The 3GB RAM should be able to perform better, but I doubt it can compete against any of my other devices that run an OS closer to stock Android.
The theoretical performance of the Redmi Note 3 SD 650 variant is strong, and the practical performance backs it for the most part. This device is a beast, and Xiaomi has managed to tame it well for the average user. Whether you are someone who games for hours on end, or whether you want something to let you call up your children, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 can and will deliver. It’s Single Tasking game is very strong and up to point, but the 2GB variant did skip Multitasking Day.