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 - Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - link

    I have a Redmi Note 3 and I generally get >8h SOT over 2 days. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this phone.

    It's just a pity they can't stick bigger batteries in phones that cost 3x as much
    Reply
  • Le Geek - Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - link

    I know right!!! I too have the same phone and never have I gotten a sot less than 9 hrs. This device is turning out to be the best Tech purchase I've ever made. Cheers!! Reply
  • ddriver - Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - link

    They can, just don't want to. Reply
  • JeffFlanagan - Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - link

    They don't want to because it would be a bad choice. This way people who want a bulkier phone with longer battery-life can get a battery-case, and people who want a thinner phone at the cost of battery-life can skip the case. The alternative is a bulky phone that's only appealing to people who need a larger battery, so have to put up with a larger device. Reply
  • TechnikalKP - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    The iPhone 6+ is 7.3mm thick. The Redmi Note 3 is 8.6mm. That's less than the thickness of a US dime. Reply
  • close - Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - link

    Bulky? Compared to what? Compared to the thinnest flagships maybe. But compare it to anything any normal person would consider acceptable and it's nowhere near bulky. I've never heard anyone saying "oh I wish this phone wasn't so bulky" when talking about normal phone thickness in the past years. Battery complaints though? All the time. What's the ideal thickness? The S6 Edge was 7mm while the S7 is 7.7mm. So adding 10% to the thickness didn't raise any eyebrows.

    Yes, putting a bigger battery would be a bad choice for all kinds of ignorant people thinking that a battery case is the same as adding an extra mm to the thickness of the phone and also for phone manufacturers who know that a battery that barely lasts a day when new will push you to get a new phone when the battery is 2 years old and you spend most of the day tethered to an outlet.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Thursday, July 14, 2016 - link

    Agreed with this. My Nexus 5 was almost useless to me after 18 months; by 2 years I was charging it 2 or 3 times a day. I can't believe for a second that one or two additional millimeters for 10 to 25% additional battery capacity would have been a bad choice for that device, what with it being very thin already and having a stupid camera bump.

    Battery cases are a terrible solution - they are restricted to a single device, add unnecessary bulk and increase the complexity of charging.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, July 14, 2016 - link

    I was on the same boat, recently decided to open it up and swap the battery as I'm keeping it until the next round of Nexus at year'd end. I hope even the next 5" model goes for at least a 3000mAh (and/or wireless charging)... Otherwise I might be looking at larger phones which I've resisted all these years. Reply
  • Bulat Ziganshin - Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - link

    The new battery for Nexus4 costs me $10 at aliexpress Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, July 14, 2016 - link

    A battery case isn't really comparable, or even a viable choice I'd argue. They're only made for a handful of flagship models, and they add a lot more bulk relative to the battery life you gain (and compared with phones that have larger batteries and are just a mm thicker)... You can't honestly be serious. Reply

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