Infinix Hot S3 review: this phone will pleasantly surprise you, like it did me

Infinix Hot S3 8

Rating: 7/10

Yay

  • Crisp and bright HD+ 18:9 5.65-inch display
  • Android 8.0 Oreo out-of-the-box
  • Dependable battery performance
  • Separate slots for 2 SIM cards and a memory card

Nay

  • Subpar loudspeaker quality
  • Video recording could’ve been better

Here’s a universal truth – a relatively new, “fresh off the boat” brand like Infinix might not inspire confidence in a lot of potential buyers. Especially when the brand hopes to infiltrate a space that is already crowded with options, and good ones at that. 

To put things in perspective, Infinix’s latest phone – the Hot S3 – is a phone priced around Rs 10,000. This price bracket already includes some great phones like the Honor 9 Lite, Redmi Note 5, Moto G5, and more.

Infinix Hot S3 2

But I also have to say this, Infinix’s parent company Transsion Holdings is the largest smartphone company in terms of sales in Africa. Evidently, Transsion Holdings knows a thing or two about phones. 

And, you know what, it actually shows in the final product! I mean, after using the phone for a good two weeks now, I am pleasantly surprised by the Infinix Hot S3. Intrigued? Well, read on.

Infinix Hot S3 design and display: carefully crafted to stick to the basics

The Infinix Hot S3, like most new smartphones, embraces the 18:9 display trend. What this means is that the Hot S3 is a tall phone with truncated bezels. The obvious advantage of adopting this design is it makes the phone easy to operate with a single hand. Also, since the Infinix Hot S3 has a more conservative 5.65-inch display (as far as smartphones with an 18:9 display are concerned), your thumb can reach the edges pretty easily. 

What I like about the Hot S3 is actually its very understated, yet classy design. My Black review unit, made entirely of plastic, cuts a handsome figure next to any other expensive phone. In fact, the nicely rounded corners and curved edges add to the elegance, apart from improving the in-hand feel. In fact, the sombre design language carries forward to the front facia, which is almost entirely covered by 2.5D curved glass. There’s also a layer of NEG glass for scratch resistance, which in my experience provides good protection. 

Infinix Hot S3 3

Another impressive design element is the Hot S3’s rear camera and LED flash unit. These hardware elements are housed in a neatly raised enclosure with ridges. Similarly, even the power button is ridged thereby making it easy to distinguish it from the plastic volume rocker. However, the buttons are slightly mushy to use. 

Thanks to the use of a plastic body, the Hot S3 is also pretty light at 150g. My colleague Sree says and I agree, “I like the fact that Infinix is embracing plastic for the material it is, instead of forcing a faux metallic finish like many other manufacturers try to do.” Yup, no deception here. What you see, what you feel, is what you get. 

Infinix Hot S3 9

On the flipside, I did face a peculiar problem that I’ve rarely faced while using a plastic smartphone. It slips easily from the hand when used without a case, naked. Very odd. Thankfully, Infinix bundles a soft TPU case with the phone. Talking about the bundle, you also get a flat Micro-USB cable, which is a neat addition.

As far as the 5.65-inch IPC in-cell display is concerned, you are bound to be impressed by its quality. While the colour accuracy could’ve been a tad better, you will find the display very crisp and detailed. Despite going for an HD+ resolution (720x1440p) — instead of FHD+ (1080x2160p) — for the display, not once during my review period did I feel the lack of it. Furthermore, the software’s auto-brightness feature works well in tandem with the ambient light sensor. It calibrates the screens brightness accurately according to the surrounding light. Also, the viewing angles and the sunlight legibility are pretty good too.

Infinix Hot S3 1

Summing it up, I have no major complaints with the design or the display of the Infinix Hot S3. I’m sure you won’t either.

Infinix Hot S3 software: surprisingly good

The Hot S3’s software is the masterstroke as far as I am concerned. It is what makes the phone a great option for prospective buyers. The Hot S3 runs Android Oreo 8.0 with Infinix’s very own Hummingbird XOS3.0 layer on top of it. Apart from the obvious benefits of Oreo, Infinix’s OS adds a ton of really cool features on top of it. 

  1. XOS3.0 offers so much control that if you are a fan of a launcher like Nova, you won’t miss it here. For example, you can pick the icon size, change the desktop grid, pin icons to the screen, change the direction of scrolls, alter the text colour, and much, much more. It is rather refreshing to see such deep controls. 
  2. Simple things like the tiny camera animation when you switch between home screens and the icon animation when the brightness is increased or reduced from the notification panel, only add to the usage experience. 

    Infinix Hot S3 screenshot 1 Infinix Hot S3 screenshot 2

  3. One really cool software and hardware symphony is that apart from pressing the Power button and the Volume Down button together to capture a screenshot, you can also press the Power button and the Volume Up button to capture a screen recording. How cool is that? And, why didn’t anyone think of this earlier?
  4. There is also an easy-to-use one-hand mode in case you don’t want to stretch to reach the top of the panel. 
  5. Gestures like Double tapping to wake up the display or swiping down with three fingers are neat additions too. 

Obviously, it is not like everything is peachy. There are certain things about the XOS3.0 Android skin that I didn’t find particularly appealing. 

 

  1. I’m not a fan of the cutesy rounded icons. Considering the software offers so much control, the engineers at Infinix could’ve probably given us the flexibility to change the icon style too. I don’t want to switch to Nova Launcher just to change the icon pack because the skin is actually pretty good.
  2. Also, I really think brands should double check for duplication of apps. I mean, there is really no need for two Gallery apps or Music apps especially if you are going to be bundling all the Google apps bad default. 

But trust me when I say this, these issues are not big deal-breakers or anything. On the whole, the software is a cohesive package that is definitely the USP of the phone.

Infinix Hot S3 camera: for the love of selfies

The Hot S3 has two cameras: a 13MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture lens on the rear, and a 20MP front camera with an f/2.0 aperture. Infinix plays up the selfie in most of its marketing communication more than the rear camera. And, it delivers…to some extent. 

Infinix Hot S3 10

I mean, the 20MP camera is not bad or anything but you get can get decent looking shots that can be instantly shared on your Facebook or Instagram profiles. On closer inspection, however, you will notice Infinix’s camera engineers love to over sharpen the images. It looks like someone used the Sharpen preset in Photoshop and pushed the slider to the maximum. But, I also know that most users won’t care because the selfies actually do look good on the phone. 

As a matter of fact, the camera software’s edge detection algorithm in selfies is surprisingly good. However, what I don’t understand is why the camera app doesn’t show the depth mode as a default option and hides it in the Beauty mode. The camera app also has a Wide Selfie mode that replicates the Panorama mode to stitch two images and capture more people in your selfie. Honestly, it does a below average job of the stitching.

As for the Hot S3’s 13MP camera, you can make some good pictures — thanks, for the most part to its near-accurate colour reproduction. But, don’t expect good details in the highlights and shadows. My sample shots looked good on the phone and on the laptop, that’s until I viewed it at 100 percent. For example in this image of the swing in my apartment complex, you will notice very soft details. Also, the camera is really slow to shoot, something I haven’t faced in a long time. What this means is that you will really need to hold your hand steady to get all the objects in focus. Shooting moving subjects in focus is out of question.

Infinix Hot S3 camera sample 1

The HDR mode on the HOT S3 creates the most dramatic images I’ve seen from any HDR mode on a phone till date. In fact, it literally eliminates shadows, blows up the highlights, and cracks up the sharpening. It looks pretty comical and I am not a fan. If you’ve ever used Snapseed’s Drama filter, you will know what I am talking about. But, I am 100 percent sure that many folks will like this effect.

Infinix Hot S3 camera sample 2 Infinix Hot S3 camera sample 3

(Left=non-HDR, Right=HDR)

In low light, the rear camera does a surprisingly good job for the price bracket it operates in. It captures a decent amount of light and details too. As far as 1080p video recording goes, the less talked about it the better.

Infinix Hot S3 camera sample 5

Infinix Hot S3 performance: once again, a revelation

The Hot S3 has a Snapdragon 430 SoC at its core. It is also available in two RAM/ROM configurations: 3GB/32GB and 4GB/64GB. The tray for SIM cards and a microSD card accepts, has slots for all three and not a hybrid one. I know, this is quite a big deal for many folks. 

While some might think the Snapdragon 430 SoC might be underpowered, trust me it isn’t. Apart from the fact that I got an AnTuTu score of around 60,000, I didn’t face a single performance hiccup in my time with the phone. And mind you, I was using it as my primary device. Let it be known that I am a power user. Even Asphalt 8 ran smoothly. I don’t know if it is the hardware-software optimisation or Snapdragon’s might, but the phone is no slouch. 

Infinix Hot S3 4

Twist in the story: my review unit was the one with 3GB of RAM. This means the Hot S3 variant with 4GB RAM should perform even better. Good job Infinix, good job!

However, there were some shortcomings. For example, I think the single downward-firing loudspeaker could’ve been honestly better. It sounds shrill and muddy. Also, thanks to the small earpiece the calls don’t get too loud. Thankfully, audio performance using my reference 1More Triple driver was not too bad.

As far as the 4,000mAh battery is concerned, it will easily last you a day with at least 10 percent juice left. I constantly got a screen on time of 5 hours and thereabouts, which is pretty good.

Infinix Hot S3 5

Should you buy the Infinix Hot S3?

If you are in the market for a phone under Rs 10,000, you must consider the Infinix Hot S3 for sure. While the recently launched Redmi Note 5 – with a more powerful, dependable Snapdragon 625 SoC – can be had for just Rs 1,000 more, the 20MP front-facing camera and Android Oreo out-of-the-box on the Infinix Hot S3 should sway your decision in its favour. 

Compared to the Honor 9 Lite, it is a tougher fight overall. But, the Hot S3’s 3GB variant is at least cheaper; therefore, the phone has its Rs 8,999 price tag going in its favour. But one thing to remember is that both, the Honor 9 Lite and the Redmi Note 5, offer slightly more raw power. This might not mean much in daily usage but it could improve the overall gaming experience. 

To sum it up, I will urge you to outline your use case scenarios. What do you give more preference? Selfies and latest Android OS? Well, the Hot S3 is the best bet. If you want more raw power and better rear camera performance, the Redmi Note 5 and the Honor 9 Lite could be better bets. 

In the end though, I’m sure that whichever phone you choose, you won’t be disappointed. Honestly, I went in with low expectations for this review and came away with a big, wide grin on my face.

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?