One Plus may have stolen this week’s smartphone spotlight with the One Plus 3, but it wasn’t the only company with new products to show. Chinese phone manufacturer Xiaomi took the wraps off a new variant of the Redmi 3 — the Redmi 3S — on Tuesday, and while the handset lacks the raw processing capacity of its top-end counterparts, its attractive price point and all-metal construction put it neck-and-neck with the budget phone competition.
The Redmi 3S may not represent the pinnacle of handset design, but there’s something about its shapely metal exterior that’s on some level alluring. The screen, unfortunately, is a different story — the 3S sports a lowly 5-inch, 720p display — but the Redmi 3S is unexpectedly well-endowed in other areas. It packs an octa-core Snapdragon 430 processor, 2GB/3GB of RAM, 4G LTE-compatible dual SIM slots, and a generous 4,100mAh battery. And it’s got respectable cameras in the form of a 13MP, f/2.0 rear-facing camera with an LED flash and phase detection auto focus and a 5MP, f/2.2 front-facing shooter, and internal storage of up to 32GB (expandable via MicroSD slot).
The Redmi 3S’s software isn’t anything out of the ordinary, though: It’s running Xiaomi’s divisive MIUI 7, a heavily customized skin atop Android 5.1 Lollipop. Xiaomi wasn’t clear on when the Redmi 3S might see an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, unfortunately, or if it ever will. Time will tell.
The Redmi 3S goes on sale exclusively in China starting in June. It’ll be available in dark gray, silver, and gold, and with two storage configurations: 16GB and 2GB for $106, or 32GB and 3GB of RAM for $136. Given the specs, that’s a bargain — the BLU Studio Energy, for instance, starts at $149 for 1GB of RAM, while the comparably equipped Huawei Honor 5X retails for $159.
Xiaomi is hoping for a bit of a turnaround with the Redmi 3S; the low-end market hasn’t been good to the company lately. An estimate by analytics firm IHS Technology pegged sales of the company’s handsets at 14.8 million globally in the first quarter of 2016, a decline from the 17.5 million it sold in the same period a year before. To be fair, lack of stock was a contributing factor — Xioami sold out of the both Redmi 3 and Redmi Note 3 models — but so was increased competition. Electronics giants like Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, ZTE, and LeEco are driving the Chinese smartphone market toward the point of saturation, according to IHS.
Xiaomi’s diversified in an effort to stem the bleeding — it launched a new Android TV set-top box earlier this year, for instance, plus a smart rice cooker — but it’s betting that budget phones sold on even narrower margins will help lift sagging sales. The wisdom of that approach remains to be seen.