A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away (if you were not in the Milky Way), on one of the most populous water bearing planets, there came a time when three brands clashed with each other, offering devices of communication that bore seemingly similar appearances and price tags. With whom would the Phone-y Force be? We compare the LeEco Le 1s, the Huawei Honor 5X and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 in the battle of the budget superstars.

Right, so call us cheesy for that George Lucas-infused intro, but we cannot but dip into our repository of Star Wars when we look at the Rs 10,000-13,000 (USD 140-200) price segment in the Indian phone market. For, that is very much where the action has been over the past few weeks, with LeEco, Huawei and Xiaomi all releasing devices in this price range. And unlike in the past, where these devices played second fiddle to more high-end offerings, this time around, each of these three has been launched as a potential market conqueror, accompanied by high-profile campaigns online as well as offline.

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Yes, it is a veritable Star Wars being waged in the Indian phone market but instead of the light and dark sides of the Force facing off, the battle is now being waged between the LeEco Le 1s, the Honor 5X and the Redmi Note 3. All three pack in very good hardware and claim to deliver performances that would put exponentially more expensive devices from “better known” brands to shame. And by all accounts, all of them are doing rather well too. So if you are in the market for a very good smartphone and have about Rs 13,000 (around USD 200) in your pocket, you are in luck. And in for a headache as well. For joy at having three marvelous options at your disposal will be tinged by the tyranny of choice – which of the three works best for you.

Note: There are those who will think that the Lenovo K4 Note should be part of this comparison, as it falls in this price segment. We think so too. Unfortunately, Lenovo does not seem to think so. Because we have not received the device from them for review. Which is why it will remain like a ghost at the banquet – lurking in the shadows. It deserves better, we know. But alas, our hands are tied – we have not reached that exalted state where we can review a device by just looking at it and its spec sheet.

That seems to be a question troubling many of our readers, and it is one that we now endeavour to answer. To the best of our ability. Our testing units were the LeEco Le 1s (rose gold), the Honor 5X (sunset gold), and the 3 GB RAM/ 32 GB storage edition of the Redmi Note 3 (gold). To find out which of these was strong in the Force and to what extent, just read on:

Design and appearance

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Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, the wise say, and in the case of this trio, the beholder will have to content with three devices that look broadly similar from front and rather different from the back and the sides. All three sport 5.5-inch displays, but while the Le 1s and Redmi Note 3 have capacitive navigation keys beneath their displays, the Honor 5X’s buttons are onscreen, giving it the appearance of having a slightly larger ‘chin’ than the other two. It is on the sides, however, that the difference between the three devices becomes stark – the Le 1s has a chamfered, shiny finish on its edges and is boxy in shape with straight sides, while the Honor 5X is plainer even though it too has a boxed look to it. The Note 3 on the other hand, has a shiny metal band around front, and is the most curvaceous of the lot with sides that curve out to the back. All three phones have metal backs but with very different finishes – the Le 1s has a matte finish, the 5X a brushed metal one and the Note 3 a slightly frosty one. Of these, the 5X is most likely to pick up scratches. Interestingly, both the Le 1s and the Honor 5X have machine-drilled speaker grilles (shades of the iPhone) on the base, while the Note 3 has a speaker on the back. The former do look better.

All three devices have cameras and fingerprint scanners on the back, but the Le 1s is perhaps the most noticeable of the three, because of the mirror finish of its scanner. In terms of size, the Note 3 is surprisingly compact – 150 mm long as against 151.3 mm of the 5X and 151.1 of the Le 1s. However, it is also the thickest at 8.7 mm, with the Le 1S being the thinnest at a surprising 7.6 mm and the Honor 5X being 8.2 mm. The Le 1s is also the least wide of the three – 74.2 mm against the 76 mm of the Note 3 and 76.3 mm of the 5X. Park them on the weighing scales and the Honor 5X comes out lightest – 158 grammes, against the 164 grammes of the Note 3 and 169 grammes of the Le 1s. We really think that the chamfers and the shiny back button of the Le 1s win it this round, although we did find the Redmi Note 3 the most comfortable to hold because of its curved sides. The rose gold version of the Le 1s also got it the most attention in public and its jet black bezels on the side made its display appear edge to edge, pretty much sealing its victory in this department. Those preferring sheer normalcy will however adore the solid yet sleek Honor 5X.

  1. LeEco Le 1s
  2. Redmi Note 3
  3. Honor 5X

Hardware

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All three devices come with hardware that is significantly ahead of anything the likes of Samsung, LG, Sony or HTC have to offer at this price point. All three come with 5.5 inch full HD displays with a pixel density of 401 ppi. All have very good processors under the hood – the octa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 for the Honor 5X, the hexa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 for the Note 3, and the octa core MediaTek Helio X10 Turbo for the Le 1s. All three are dual SIM devices with support for 4G, and all three have 5.0-megapixel front facing cameras. Differences however, do pop up in other areas. The Note 3 and Le 1s both come with 32 GB of storage and 3 GB of RAM, while the Honor 5X has 2 GB RAM and 16 GB onboard storage. That said, both the Honor 5X and the Note 3 have expandable memory, while then Le 1S does not have that option. And while all three devices have similar front facing cameras, the Note 3 has a 16.0-megapixel one on the rear, as compared to the 13.0-megapixel ones on the Le 1s and the Honor 5X. The Honor 5X and the Note 3 also have dual LED flashes to accompany their rear cameras, while the one on the Le 1S has a single LED flash. The Le 1s is also the only device of the three to sport a USB Type-C port, although we can see that being a downer for some users as it means carrying an additional cable or adaptor, even if it does (perhaps) make the device future proof. In terms of battery, both the Honor 5X and the Le 1s have 3000 mAh batteries, while the Note 3 has a substantially larger 4050 mAh battery. The Honor 5X meanwhile is the only one of the trio not to come with an infra red blaster.

It is a close battle but we are scoring the round to the Redmi Note 3 – it has the newest processor (one whose performance was compared with the Snapdragon 801), the more powerful camera on paper and the largest battery. The Le 1s comes second, while the lower storage and RAM of the Honor 5X get it third spot.

  1. Redmi Note 3
  2. LeEco Le 1s
  3. Honor 5X

Software

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This is as much a matter of personal perception as the appearance and looks of the phones is. Yes, all three devices run Android, but they look remarkably different in terms of UI. And this is not because two of them (Note 3 and Honor 5X) run Android 5.1, while the Le 1s runs Android 5.0. No, what marks the devices as markedly different in the software department are the layers the manufacturers have placed over Android. While the Le 1s comes with the rather bare-looking EUI, the Honor 5X comes with the more colorful EMUI, and finally, there is the Redmi Note 3 with Xiaomi’s MIUI interface. We can see a lot of people being attracted to the colorful EMUI which is indeed very easy on the eye, but in terms of ease of use, features and smooth functioning, we must confess that MIUI has a distinct edge. It is also updated far more regularly (with feature additions and bug fixes) than its competitors. And don’t cock a snook at the rather plain-looking interface of the Le 1s – stock Android users will love its relatively uncluttered appearance, although we suspect that will change as LeEco gets into more content tie-ups. We are going to be handing this one, all said and done, to the Note 3 for the moment, with the Honor 5X coming second not too far behind.

  1. Redmi Note 3
  2. Honor 5X
  3. LeEco Le 1s

Camera

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It is an out and out slugfest between the Note 3 and the Honor 5X here, with the Le 1s losing ground thanks to relatively lower detail and a penchant for oversaturation. Between the Note 3 and the 5X, it is the latter that steals a march for sheer consistency. When coaxed and pushed, the Note 3 takes better shots and is a clear winner in the HDR stakes, but when it comes to simple pick up and shoot, the 5X delivers better detail and more realistic colors consistently. The Note 3 however has the best of the three 5.0-megapixel selfies cameras on the devices. On the video front, the Le 1s officially supports 4K video, while the Note 3 can handle it through an app, and the 5X remains rather modest at full HD. We think those with patience would prefer the Note 3, but for simple shutterbugging, which we think is the core competence of the cellphone camera, we think the Honor 5X wins this one.

  1. Honor 5X
  2. Redmi Note 3
  3. LeEco Le 1s

Sound

The difference in terms of volume might not be too great between the three devices but when it comes to quality of sound, then it is between the Le 1s and the Redmi Note 3, with the Honor 5X dropping away. Between those two, it is a very close call, but we are going to cast our vote in favor of the Le 1s, simply because with its speakers positioned at the base of the phone rather than the back, it is easier to get clear sound than on the Redmi Note 3, which notwithstanding a much-talked about 1 mm ridge on the back to keep the speaker above ground, loses a bit in volume terms when placed on a table.

  1. LeEco Le 1s
  2. Redmi Note 3
  3. Honor 5X

Fingerprint Scanner

Something which was touted as a premium feature in 2015 has become mainstream at the start of 2016. All the three devices carry very good fingerprint scanners. The one on the Honor 5X unlocks the device fastest as compared to the other two and is also very feature rich with ability to add gestures to the FPS. The one on the Redmi Note 3 can also do a couple of more things like unlocking apps or using it as a shutter button, while the one on the Le 1s is mostly a one trick pony. In terms of sheer consistency, all of them are equally good, but Redmi Note 3 sporadically failed to work when just taken out of pocket, for reasons unknown to us. Clearly, Honor 5X wins this segment being the fastest, most consistent and feature rich of the three.

  1. Honor 5X
  2. LeEco Le 1s
  3. Redmi Note 3

Gaming and multi-tasking

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If Benchmarks and hype were any measure, then this should have been a clear battle between the hexa-core Snapdragon 650 on the Note 3 and the octa-core Helio X10 on the Le 1s. However, in actual usage, we found the Snapdragon 616 on the Honor 5X outperforming the Helio X10, although the superior sound of the Le 1s did win back some ground for the device in the gaming department. That said, the winner our here by some margin was the Note 3, whose Snapdragon 650 chip handled gaming much better than its two rivals. The 1s does seem to handle multiple tasks better, though, perhaps aided by its less cluttered UI – we found ourselves being able to switch between apps more easily than on the 5X and the Note 3. However, the difference in gaming levels is discernible enough for us to hand this one to the Note 3 again, although the Le 1s’ multi-tasking muscle gets it second spot. Just how tight matters were in this round can be gauged by the fact that the phone that finishes third, the Honor 5X actually bettered the 1s in gaming and was close to being on par with the Note 3 in multi-tasking. Forget those benchmarks, we say.

  1. Redmi Note 3
  2. LeEco Le 1s
  3. Honor 5X

General performance

As we get into the final stretch of this three-horse race, we turn to how the three devices perform in the normal business of life for most users. And it does turn into a very close battle, with all three phones turning in very good performances for their price tags (more on which in the next point). In terms of sheer consistency, we found the Note 3 a clear notch ahead of the Le 1s and the Honor 5X, both of which had their shares of lags, the latter being the worse of the two. Where, however, we think the Note 3 and the Honor 5X pull away from the Le 1s is in terms of battery life and display. The 1s’ display seems slightly oversaturated as compared to its two competitors, and while it boasts a battery that is as big (3000 mAh) as that of the Honor 5X, we found the latter lasting a few hours longer time and again, while the Note 3 outpaced them comfortably with its massive 4050 mAh battery. Call quality was best on the Honor 5X followed by the Note 3. But in terms of general handling, we found the Note 3 topping the threesome.

  1. Redmi Note 3
  2. LeEco Le 1S
  3. Honor 5X

Value for Money

At the time of writing, the Honor 5X was retailing for Rs 12,999; the Le 1s for Rs 10,999; and the 3 GB RAM/32 GB storage model of the Redmi Note 3 for Rs 11,999. It is a two-horse race here between the Note 3 and the Le 1s here. While the Le 1s is more affordable in pure monetary terms, the Note 3 (unlike the 5X, we think) does bring more to the table for the extra bucks it charges – a much better camera, expandable memory and a bigger battery. We are notching this one as another win for the Note 3… and are so hoping that Huawei brings down the price of the Honor 5X, which is looking embarrassingly expensive in comparison.

  1. Redmi Note 3
  2. LeEco Le 1s
  3. Honor 5X

Conclusion

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No matter which way you go with either of these devices, the fact is that you are unlikely to be disappointed. Simply because all three bring a fair bit to the table – the Le 1s packs in very good design and hardware for its price, the 5X reflects the virtues of consistency rather than sporadic flair, and the Note 3 is an apt carrier of the Xiaomi’s “unbelievable price” philosophy. None of them are perfect. Each has its virtues and sins. Strengths and weaknesses. The Le 1s delivers very good design and sound, the Honor 5X is very consistent in all departments and especially good in the camera one, while the Note 3 has easily the best processor, battery and UI of the three. It is a compelling trio, and very good value for money.

If we had to return to the Star Wars universe one more time to classify them, this is what they would be:

LeEco Le 1s: Anakin Skywalker

No, Not Dath Vader, but the man-lad who would go on to become him. The 1s is very much like the young Anakin. Just as he was strong in the Force but tended to be impulsive and brash and therefore could not really make the most of it, so too does the Le 1s score heavily on sheer potential but loses out on ultimate performance. Make no mistake, this is a very powerful device though, and like Anakin, screams for attention. It needs its Padme Amidala, though, in India (read “marriages with good content providers.”)

Honor 5X: Obi-Wan Kenobi

He was a formidable Jedi Knight, understated but full of guile and ability, compensating with his his experience what he lacked in sheer power. Similar is the Honor 5X. It might not scale the spec charts with its hardware or make eyes pop with its design, but will instead calmly and adroitly handle any challenge placed before it with minimum fuss. Go not by its appearance. It packs in much more than you imagine and is incredibly consistent. Just like Obi-Wan.

Redmi Note 3: Grand Master Yoda

The balance of power, you have to keep,” perhaps the most famous Jedi of them all had said. And we think he would have approved in the way in which the Redmi Note 3 pretty much balances everything, from price to performance to battery life. And just like Yoda, it Packs in a lot of power inside a very compact frame. It might be the smallest of the three in terms of height but you can almost hear it saying to the others: “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? No. And you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is…

Choose the one that suits you the best. Choose wisely.

May the Force be with you.


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Editorial Mentor

Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.