As new technology finds its way into flagship phones, previously cutting-edge features trickle down to mid-range and eventually low-end devices. As an economic policy the efficacy of this approach is debatable; however, it works well enough when applied to technology. With each passing year, the quality and performance of lower-cost phones improves. Not that long ago, buying a low-end phone meant a compromised user experience, the result of corner cutting to reduce cost. But today it’s possible to get a very capable phone for less than ¥1300 (about $200 USD) that does not list frustration as its primary feature. The last phone we tested at this price point was the Huawei Honor 5X, and while not perfect, it left an overall positive impression.

In this article, we’ll be examining two of its competitors: the Meizu M3 note and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3. The similarities between these two phones extend beyond their “note” branding; they also share very similar hardware specifications and pricing, which is why we’re going to review them together. It will be interesting to see if these similarities translate to a similar user experience.

Both phones come in two basic versions: one with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage and a slightly more expensive configuration that bumps RAM to 3GB and storage to 32GB. The base configuration is pretty typical for this category, and while 2GB of RAM should be enough to provide a decent multitasking experience, having only 16GB of storage is a bit restrictive. Thankfully, both phones support microSD cards for adding storage space.

Other hardware similarities exist too, including a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS display, a 5MP front-facing camera, and a rear camera with phase detect autofocus (PDAF) and dual-tone LED flash. Both phones also support 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which is nice to see considering the Huawei Honor 5X only supports up to 802.11n and only with 2.4GHz channels, although neither includes NFC support. The Redmi Note 3 does have an FM radio and an infrared transmitter for TV remote duties, features the M3 note lacks.

The adoption rate for fingerprint sensors has been incredibly quick. It has only been a couple of years since fingerprint sensors first appeared on flagship phones, but now it’s a near ubiquitous feature from flagships down to the upper low-end. The M3 note uses a capacitive touch-based fingerprint sensor based on Meizu’s mTouch 2.1 technology that is also found in the more expensive PRO 5 and PRO 6. The Redmi Note 3 also comes with a capacitive touch-based sensor on the back of the phone. Both phones unlock quickly, but I found the M3 note’s sensor to be far more reliable, especially at handling moisture and changes in temperature. At one point I could not even get the Redmi Note 3 to register a fingerprint during the enrollment process.

One feature that helps set both of these phones apart from their peers is a large battery. While not swappable, the greater than 4000mAh battery in each phone should provide ample battery life, something we’ll quantify later in the review.

Technical Specifications
  Meizu M3 note Xiaomi Redmi Note 3
SoC MediaTek Helio P10
(MT6755)

4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.8GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.0GHz
Mali-T860MP2 @ 546MHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 650
(MSM8956)

2x Cortex-A72 @ 1.8GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.4GHz
Adreno 510 @ 600MHz
RAM 2GB / 3GB LPDDR3 2GB / 3GB LPDDR3
NAND 16GB / 32GB (eMMC 5.1)
+ microSD
16GB / 32GB (eMMC 5.0)
+ microSD
Display 5.5-inch 1920x1080 IPS LCD 5.5-inch 1920x1080 IPS LCD
Dimensions 153.6 x 75.5 x 8.2 mm
163 grams
150.0 x 76.0 x 8.65 mm
164 grams
Modem MediaTek (Integrated)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 6)

FDD-LTE / TD-LTE / TD-SCDMA / WCDMA / GSM
Qualcomm X8 (Integrated)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 7)

FDD-LTE / TD-LTE / TD-SCDMA / WCDMA / GSM
SIM Size 2x NanoSIM (dual standby) NanoSIM + MicroSIM (dual standby)
Front Camera 5MP, f/2.0 5MP, f/2.0
Rear Camera 13MP, f/2.2, PDAF, HDR, dual-tone LED flash 16MP, f/2.0, PDAF, HDR, dual-tone LED flash
Battery 4100 mAh (15.79 Wh)
non-replaceable
4050 mAh (15.59 Wh)
non-replaceable
Connectivity 802.11b/g/n/ac, BT 4.0 LE, GPS/GNSS, microUSB 2.0 802.11b/g/n/ac, BT 4.1 LE, IrLED, FM radio, GPS/GNSS, microUSB 2.0
Launch OS Android 5.1 with Meizu FlymeOS 5.1 Android 5.1.1 with MIUI 7.3
Launch Price
(No Contract)
¥799 / ¥999
$125 / $155 USD
¥899 / ¥1099
$140 / $170 USD

The biggest difference between these two notes is the SoC each packs inside. The MediaTek Helio P10 in the M3 note uses an octa-core CPU with a performance and power-saving cluster of four Cortex-A53 cores each for a total of eight cores. The Snapdragon 650 in the Redmi Note 3 pairs its power-saving cluster of four A53 cores with two Cortex-A72 cores, which should give it a performance advantage in most applications. There’s also two different GPUs—an ARM Mali-T860MP2 for the M3 note and a Qualcomm Adreno 510 for the Redmi Note 3—which have their own relative strengths.

Besides the different core configurations, each SoC also uses a different manufacturing process. Both are based on TSMC’s 28nm node, but the Snapdragon 650 uses 28nm HPm while the MediaTek Helio P10 uses the newer 28nm HPC+, which promises a significant reduction in leakage current relative to the HPm and HPC iterations that precede it. Implementation details, along with software optimizations and configuration settings, also play a significant role when it comes to SoC power and performance, so we’ll have to see what impact this has on battery life later in the review.

Both SoCs include an integrated baseband processor. MediaTek’s Category 6 LTE modem offers up to 300 Mb/s down and 50 Mb/s up with 2x20 MHz carrier aggregation and 64-QAM on the downlink. Qualcomm’s X8 LTE modem in the Redmi Note 3’s Snapdragon 650 SoC offers the same downlink capability but boosts uplink speed to 100 Mb/s max by adding 2x20 MHz carrier aggregation (still 16-QAM).

Frequency Band Support
  Meizu M3 note Xiaomi Redmi Note 3
Model Mainland China International “Full Netcom”
FDD-LTE B1 / B3 / B7 B1 / B3 / B7 B1 / B3 / B5 / B7 / B8
TDD-LTE B38 / B39 / B40 / B41 B40 B38 / B39 / B40 / B41
GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
WCDMA B1 / B2 / B5 / B8 B1 / B5 / B8 B1 / B2 / B5 / B8
CDMA BC0 - -
TD-CDMA B34 / B39 - B34 / B39

Both phones support Dual SIM Dual Standby (DSDS) operation, which means both SIMs are active for receiving calls or messages, but only one SIM can make a connection at a time because they share a single radio. Each phone’s card tray has two slots: The M3 note can have two NanoSIM cards or one NanoSIM and one microSD card, while the Redmi Note 3 can use one MicroSIM and one NanoSIM or one MicroSIM and one microSD card.

Frequency band support is tailored for the Asian and European markets, although neither phone supports B20 for the latter. There’s no support for North American LTE frequencies, limiting the phones to HSPA+ operation.

Design
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  • Pissedoffyouth - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    Yes, on my RN3 I see June patch level Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, July 14, 2016 - link

    Very interesting. Reply
  • Pissedoffyouth - Monday, July 25, 2016 - link

    July now and I have August patch level. Very fast. Reply
  • serendip - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    Xiaomi are pretty good at updating the Android patch level for their developer ROMs. Their Chinese-market developer ROMs are updated weekly, whereas global developer ROMs with built-in Google Play get updated once every few months. Stable ROMs come out about once a quarter.

    You can get the best of both worlds by using custom ROMs from Xiaomi.eu that combine the features and updates of the Chinese-market developer ROM and built-in Google Play, with a lot of Chinese bloatware stripped out. I've been using these for my ancient Redmi Note (the first of the line!) for years without major issues.

    One thing Xiaomi really suck at is updating the kernel. A lot of older devices are still stuck on KitKat and without kernel sources, we can't compile a bug-free Marshmallow release. Maybe it's a MediaTek thing not to release sources but whoever it is, they're not doing themselves a favor.
    Reply
  • SyukriLajin - Thursday, August 11, 2016 - link

    ironically, the very heavily customized MIUI have a waaay better monthly security patches update policy than a lot of those "almost stock android" from other manufacturer. Reply
  • tuxRoller - Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - link

    The gpu is the consistent achilles of these chinese soc. If they would just up the gpu core count you'd end up with a far more balanced device.
    OTOH, the snapdragon looks to be pretty strong. Its gpu is better than I expected.
    Reply
  • asfletch - Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - link

    Thanks for this review Matt - reviews of Chinese phones usually gloss over the screen quality ("looks fine" etc), so nice to see AT putting them through the wringer.

    Re Redmi Note 3, the performance is really impressive. Do you know whether the black version still has a ridge around the edge of its glass? It looks like only the gold and white versions are afflicted with that - could just be less visible on the black ones though. Black one also conceals black border around the IPS panel better. I'd have bought one over the Galaxy Note 4 I ended up with if they'd just kept the removable battery of the RN2.
    Reply
  • abcdravi - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    Matt, just signed in to say this. This is a really good review! Reply
  • R0H1T - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    @Death666Angel guess that depends on where you live then, in India there is no RN3/Pro with Helio likewise Le2 is also laced with SD652, therefore no Mediatek models here. Having owned the RN3 for just over 4 months, the SD650 one, I can safely say that it's by far the best VFM smartphone out there. Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    Nicely done review...

    Also, -in before the HTC10/GTX1080 review whines-... :p
    Reply

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