When it comes to budget smartphones, one company has been leading the way and its trajectory does not seem to be stopping.
The Redmi Note 3 is Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi's latest smartphone that checks off on all the prerequisites a smartphone should have, and then some. Yet, it is still able to come in at a jaw-dropping price of $299.
There is the usual Full-HD display, 16MP rear camera and 5MP front one, as well as an internal capacity of 32GB, supported with 3GB of RAM.
It offers the usual dual SIM feature, where the second SIM card slot can double as a microSD card holder, for those who want to bump up storage. Both SIM card slots also support 4G networks, which is not a common feature.
Then there is the all-metal chassis, which marks a first for the Redmi series. The curved sides that sweep into the rear remind me a lot of the original Samsung Galaxy Note, but the Note 3 here excels with its elegance and premium build.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 processor here might not be the latest, but it is a step-up from the earlier Snapdragon 615 processor used by Xiaomi on some of its previous devices.
Performance is simply amazing. I've been running several mobile games on the device, and they all operated at the same level of performance as they would on some flagship devices.
Xiaomi has also placed a rear fingerprint sensor just under the rear camera. I've always been a fan of rear placements of biometrics, and the one here turns the device on without any issues.
Now, everything described so far has been about the hardware features and their value, and they already make the Redmi Note 3 a must-have. But Xiaomi has made sure that a low price does not mean a trade-off on newer features.
One of the highly touted features on Apple's latest iOS update is Night Shift, which reduces the blue light that is emitted from your device's display.
By shifting the display's colours to become warmer-looking, it helps improve your sleep, especially if you love staring at your phone just before bed, and this blue light reduction is also available on the Note 3.
Known as Reading Mode, it removes the glare of the phone's screen. And while there is no scheduling mode to turn it on only at night, users can choose which apps operate in this mode.
The 16MP camera also offers a wide range of modes and features, including filters, as well as a simple manual mode that allows users to adjust the white balance and ISO mode.
Camera performance is way above average for a phone at this price point, with quick auto focus and a great balance of colours. There is also a HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode for taking photos with more balanced lighting, but that adds about two seconds of processing time.
My only complaint, and even that is a stretch, is that the phone is not running the latest Android Marshmallow operating system.
Given Xiaomi's extensive reliance on its MIUI user interface, the absence of the latest OS is not visually noticeable, but some key features, such as the new app permissions, do make a difference to the user.
Verdict: Xiaomi's Redmi Note 3 continues to be a game changer in the smartphone market, offering quality features found in high-end devices on a premium mid-range device at a very low price.
This article was first published on April 13, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.