A Budget Phone on Boosters: Detailed Review of Lenovo K3 Note
A few years ago, you would have done well to find yourself an Android phone that you could use as your everyday device by spending Rs 10,000 or below. Motorola kind of changed the game for the budget Android users with the release of Motorola Moto G and since then an avalanche has hit the category where several manufacturers have gone head to head in order to provide their customers with maximum features at the most cost effective prices. Lenovo has been at the spearhead of this war, competing against the likes of Motorola, Asus, Xiaomi and Samsung for supremacy in the sub Rs 10,000 market.
One device that has done exceptionally well for Lenovo at least when it comes to hitting great numbers in terms of devices sold is the Lenovo K3 Note. Fair to say, it is one of the most popular phones in the sub-Rs 10,000 category. And since the device is an online exclusive, there must be something about it surely that has driven so many people to pick the phone up without even playing with it and blindly trusting the brand as well as the initial set of reviews. Only to find out what the hype was all about, we picked up the Lenovo K3 Note and went about seeing in depth what the device was all about.
Availability, Pricing and Box Contents
The Lenovo K3 Note is available as an online exclusive product at Flipkart. Initially, the phone was sold on flash sale, where some of the sales even saw 50,000 units of the device getting sold well within 5 seconds of going live, but since then it has gone on to be available in the open sale. The device comes in a cardboard box with an Airtel SIM card as an offer. In the box, contents include the device itself, battery unit, a pair of earphones with inline microphone, screen protector, wall charger and a USB to Micro USB cable. We did look up the device at a couple of offline stores but did not find it. Even after the device went on general sale, the price has pretty much remained constant at Rs 9,999 on Flipkart for the device.
In terms of the choices of color, you get an option of picking between a yellow, white or a black panel on the phone, with the front black bezels remaining constant. According to our sources at Pricebaba, Flipkart sold over 80,000 Lenovo K3 Note devices during their Big Billion Day sale clearly stating that availability is no issue.
Design and Hardware
The Lenovo K3 Note is a device clad in plastic. It is a phone that smells of uninspiring design, but that is pretty much to be expected from a phone in this price range. On the front, the phone is a block of the touchscreen with a pretty standard glossy finish back panel, without any sort of texture there. The corners are slightly rounded, even though the edges of the phone are at flat 90 degree, which makes the phone a little uncomfortable to hold in small hands. We would definitely have liked some curvature there. Since the back panel of the device is removable, there is always a scope of some creeks and noises, even though the phone feels pretty solid. The bezels on the phone are fairly prominent, especially on the top and the bottom. The top bezel has the cutout for the earphone and front facing camera while the bottom lip features the three capacitive buttons, which for some off reason have no backlight and are etched in white color and odd design, making them pretty confusing for a first time user.
When you hold the device face up, the front is dominated by a 5.5 inch Full HD display which has an IPS panel. The Lenovo K3 Note alongside the Coolpad Note 3 is one of the only phones to feature a full 1080P display in this price range, so that is a win for the phone. Just above the display is a grille for the earpiece and a 5 MP front-facing camera. Below the display are three capacitive buttons- back, home and menu. On the top of the phone, you have a 3.5 mm headset jack as well as the Micro USB port. The bottom chin features just the hole for microphone and nothing else. The back of the device has the 13 MP camera on the top left with a Dual LED flashlight below it. You have the Lenovo branding, a secondary microphone for noise cancelation as well as the speakers, all on the top half of the back of the phone. Move to the right flank, and you have metallic power button as well as the volume rocker. There is nothing on the left flank of the phone.
The back panel of the phone is removable, and on taking it off, you can access and remove the battery, insert the two Micro SIM cards as well as a Micro SD slot in order to expand the memory of the phone.
In terms of the power, the phone is engined by a MediaTek 6752 SoC with all eight of the CPU cores clocked at 1.7 GHz. There is 2 GB RAM and 16 GB internal storage on board though you can expand the memory by another 32 GB thanks to the support for Micro SD card.
As aforementioned, the K3 Note comes with a 5.5 inch 1080 P LCD panel. Unlike an AMOLED panel, the colors here do not pop as much and there is a general feeling of a minor washout throughout the experience. It is because of this, that the viewing angles will not blow anyone off the roof, but they are not all that bad either; think of the display to be average even at full brightness. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the colors seem natural and there is a feeling of a little warmth all across. We are perhaps being a little critical because of using the AMOLED panel of Nexus 6P which has infected our eyes. Brightness under the sunlight was adequate and we had no problems with outdoor visibility on the phone for most times, as occasionally the high reflectivity of the screen made reading a bit of a mare.
Unlike most of the phones, which ship with Corning’s Gorilla Glass Protection, the K3 Note features Dragontrail protection layer and that meant that there were minor scratches on the surface after intensive usage.
Lenovo K3 Note comes with Android 5.0 out of the box, which is enhanced by VibeUI on top of it. We are very specific in using the word enhance here as the custom skin does add a lot of interesting functionalities on the device unlike some of the other skins that we have seen in the past. The icons may not have the most visually appealing effect, but they are nothing like the violation of bro code of colors that we have seen Samsung do. Let’s just say that there is a focus on functionality here over visual appeal alone.
Just like most brands coming out of China such as Gionee, Xiaomi etc, there is no app drawer on the K3 Note, though you can replace the default launcher with one of your choice in case you miss the typical application drawer. The K3 Note out of the box, even on the default launcher supports Widgets, which is a good thing. You get a lot of applications bundled with the phone out of the box though most of these apps can be uninstalled if you do not want to use them. The Notification shade can be customized according to your need and if that alone is not enough, you can apply themes on the device to completely change the look including the default wallpapers, lockscreens, icons etc. By default, the Notification shade has pretty much every possible shortcut that you can think of in terms of toggles and that can be a little overwhelming. The theme collection is obviously not as robust as that on Xiaomi phones, but there are enough themes to let you keep the phone looking fresh.
The phone supports Dual SIM functionality, and you have a very clear interface both in the dialer and messaging apps which let you distinguish which SIM card received which call and message. Just like in most phones with Dual SIM Active Standby support, the K3 Note also lets you set your default SIM for Data usage or placing calls. There are a bunch of really cool software tweaks here too, for example, you can launch applications right from the lockscreen alone, without waking the phone or a Secure Zone which lets you hide away certain apps or files on your phone. Double tap to unlock the phone works like a charm and we had no issues on that front. Another really sweet feature was a swipe up on homescreen at any blank space, which brought up a keypad that allows you to search for apps by typing, in case you do not want to explore all the homescreens. The multitasking window is very similar to what we had seen with iOS 8, with app icons following the previews.
The Lenovo K3 Note is powered by a MediaTek 6752 SoC, a chipset that has become fairly common among mid-range devices such as the Gionee Elife S7 and Meizu M1 Note. The chipset is a direct competitor to the Snapdragon 615 chipset and in our experiences of testing devices running the two chipsets, the 6752 performed just that tiny bit better on most benchmarks.
The chipset remains true to its promise and delivers adequate power to the K3 Note.
Maybe we’re being a little over demanding, but another gig of RAM in addition to the 2GB on board would have been great, as the phone did show minor signs of stutter when we came out of a memory intensive task (such as playing games or watching a long 1080P video). General browsing and navigation on the phone was alright, with no checkerboard pattern or frame drops. The phone played 1080 P videos too without a problem and surprisingly, the phone did not get too hot either. We did face an issue, where when the first time we booted the phone, it just would not connect to the WiFi, but a swift factory reset solved this issue. The typing experience on the phone is brilliant, thanks to a really good keyboard with adequately sized keys. Phone calls were loud and clear and we did not experience any drop calls in the calls we made. Gaming performance was not really the best and we did experience a fair number of jitters especially in games like Asphalt 8 and FIFA 15, which require a lot of juice from the GPU.
The speaker was a bit of an issue, being on the back, though, despite being adequately loud when we had the phone picked up. Place the phone on a fluffy surface and you get muffed up sounds, but that is something you would expect with the placement. We did run a few benchmark tests on the device, whose scores helped us vindicate the fact that the K3 Note indeed is a power packed performer.
The Lenovo K3 Note comes with a 13 MP rear camera with f/2.0 aperture. There is a Dual LED flash on the back though it doesn’t really give the true skin tone effect that we have come to expect from Apple devices with a similar flashlight setup. There is no OIS here too, so you need to have steady hands when taking shots.
The UI of the camera app is fairly basic, and you can trigger the HDR mode or the Flashlight right from the list of quick toggles that have been laid out on the main screen. You can go into the settings to change the ISO settings, White Balance as well as include grid lines to make your shooting experience simpler. There is also an inbuilt QR scanner in the camera app which means that you do not have to download a QR app separately. You can turn off the shutter sound and use the volume keys to capture the image, all of which makes for a really nice experience. We did notice though that taking shots with the volume key resulted in a very very minute lag in taking the picture as compared to the shutter button on the screen. There is Panorama as well as filters in there, enhancing what is an overall really good experience of taking pictures.
The pictures themselves on the device are decent, and sometimes really good especially in natural light outside. The camera really struggles in low light or in motion, but that is pretty much expected. Details are generally not as crisp as you would expect from a 13 MP sensor and that was a bit of let down. Macro shots came out much better as compared to long landscape shots. Let’s just say, these are the pictures that would suffice for you to share on Twitter and Facebook, but anything more and you will very clearly see the limitations of the camera. The story pretty much replicates for the front facing camera, which while being solid is nothing spectacular. Skin tones were accurate and details were fine in brightly lit rooms or outdoors while they pretty much went for a toss in anything that was remotely challenging. Some samples of the camera shots are attached above.
The 2900 mAh removable battery on the Lenovo K3 Note makes sure that your device can last a complete day. You would perhaps expect a little more from a rather large sized battery like this one, but with a couple of Gmail accounts on sync always, switching between 3G and WiFi, about 2 hours of calls and regular instant messaging, the phone returned with 11% battery left over at night. We could get a Screen on Time of about 4 hours in most cases though this did drop a bit if we decided to game our way around. On standby, the phone dropped about 2% battery on WiFi for every hour that it was on. We can only imagine this would improve with Doze if Marshmallow ever lands in this airstrip.
If you asked us a month or so ago, the K3 Note would have without a doubt been the phone to pick up in the sub Rs 10,000 category. However, with the Coolpad Note 3 fishing in the exact same sea, we are not so sure about that recommendation anymore. Make no mistake, the K3 Note remains a very solid driver but disappoints in the gaming performance and camera at places. The device definitely delivers more than any phone does in its class except the Coolpad. And given that the Coolpad is Rs 1,000 cheaper than the K3 Note, we cannot help but feel that the K3 Note has been marginally been edged out. Having said that, it remains a fine choice in the sub Rs 10,000 category and one you definitely would not repent paying for, if you decide to pick it.