“If you’re looking for a phablet with promise of good performance and imaging capabilities, then the Xiaomi’s offering is a no-brainer”
Update (November 24th): Xiaomi has launched the device in the Indian market and it will go on sale on December 2nd for Rs 8,999. The brand has also introduced its 4G variant, which is priced at Rs 9,999.
Within just three months of its existence in the Indian market, Xiaomi has achieved somewhat of a cult status. That’s notable considering the fact that the company has outed just two products during this period. More importantly, the total number of devices it sold through its online-only flash sales model would most likely be equivalent to a week or two worth of sales for established manufacturers. But thanks to the Chinese brand’s unconventional marketing approach, use of social media to reach out to prospective consumers and a strong community of MIUI lovers, people are in awe of the brand. More importantly, its devices have always been flying off the virtual shelves each time they went on sale.
All this made us curious enough to take a closer look at Xiaomi’s upcoming smartphone due to land in the Indian market, the Redmi Note. With the Redmi Note, the Apple of China is aiming to cater to the mushrooming segment of phablets. But before we start our review, it must be noted that we have the Chinese model with us and some things might change (mostly with respect to software), when the device comes to India.
Specs at a glance
- Measures 154 x 78.7 x 9.4 mm
- Weighs 199g
- 5.5-inch display with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels, 267ppi
- 1.7GHz octa-core processor
- 2GB RAM
- 8GB internal memory, expandable up to 32GB
- 13-megapixel primary camera with LED flash, 5MP secondary camera
- Dual-SIM compatibility (3G support on the primary SIM slot only)
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS
- 3,100mAh battery
- Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with MIUI v5
|Short on time? Here’s a sneak peek at the Xiaomi Redmi Note’s features and capabilities, in the form of a pictorial tour.|
The field setup
As mentioned before, the Redmi Note is the largest smartphone offering in Xiaomi’s stable. With a phablet-grade display of 5.5-inches, there’s a little doubt that the device is quite big. It’s quite tall at 154mm and with a width of 78.7mm, wide too… especially when compared to other devices with a similar sceen size (The LG G3, for instance, measures 146.3 x 74.6mm). Such dimensions have also affected its weight and it tips the scale at 199grams. With a thickness of 9.4mm, the device is not slim by any means, but nonetheless feels solid in the hand.
In terms of handling, the phablet fit our large hands well, and we can even use a few features on the Redmi Note with a single hand (though not for long as it has considerable weight). For proper usage, we have to resort to using it with both hands.
Handling aside, let’s take a look at the design aspect of the smartphone. With display being the centrepiece at the front, above lies an earpiece, a secondary snapper, a proximity sensor and lastly an ambient light sensor. Below the display panel, there’s thr usual array of Android navigation buttons. However, unlike most devices sporting a plain Jane white backlight, these buttons are illuminated in red, imparting a unique look to the Xiaomi Redmi Note. Contrary to its budget sibling, the Redmi 1s, this handset has backlit keys, which helps quite a bit when using the device in dimly-lit environs.
A major reason for the phablet to have such large dimensions is the fact that there’s noticeable amount of bezels around the display. The front of the Redmi Note is in black, while the sides and rear are dipped in white, giving it a nice dual-tone finish.
On the right spine, you’ll see the volume rocker and a power key beneath it, while the left side is devoid of any elements. Both the buttons have a metallic finish and offer tactile feedback. Up top, there’s the headphone socket and a secondary microphone, whereas at the bottom, there’s a micro-USB port and a primary microphone.
At the rear, the smartphone houses the main camera lens that juts out slightly, along with an LED flash. The only sign of branding is at the rear, as there’s a MI logo present, with a speaker grille closer to the bottom.
The rear panel can be popped open to give you access to the user-replaceable battery along with three slots – two for regular-sized SIM cards and one for a microSD card. Sadly, the back cover of the Redmi Note totes a glossy finish, which not only makes it a fingerprint magnet, but also makes the phone difficult to use for long periods since it becomes slippery.
In sum, while the design of the Redmi Note isn’t bad in any ways, we were hoping for something better from the Apple of East, especially after using the classy Mi 3 (review | cheatsheet), the solid Redmi 1s (review | FAQs) and premium Mi 4 (review | FAQs). The glossy rear panel is a problem and the device feels rather clunky due to its size.
A large pitch to play
The Redmi Note’s pull factor lies in its display, which measures 5.5-inches. The large screen is ideal for consuming content on the go, be it watching videos on YouTube or reading eBooks or browsing through web pages. While its resolution of 720p can’t match up to the full HD-toting displays these days, with a pixel density of 265ppi, it holds up pretty well. We didn’t notice any issue of pixelation and the display offers good viewing angles and reproduces vivid colours.
Sadly, the smartphone’s display doesn’t get any kind of protective layer to withstand scratches, unlike its siblings. Hence, it’s important to use the display carefully or even better, use a screen protector with it to make sure that it doesn’t get scratched easily.
An all-rounder of a platform
We’ve been fans of MIUI’s interface as well as the features it brings to the table ever since we saw it first on the Mi 3 and covered it extensively. In fact, we went as far as flashing MIUI’s upcoming version 6 on our Mi 4 to experience the new UI as well as to compare the two versions side-by-side.
The Redmi Note comes loaded with the same MIUI 5 platform that runs on its siblings. However, unlike them it’s based on the dated Android version 4.2 (Jelly Bean), even though the interface isn’t any different from Xiaomi’s other offerings. The company also promises that the device will be brought up to speed with the latest iteration of Android soon.
As always, MIUI is able to surprise with so many hidden features that make your work so easy. We’ve already discussed the basic interface which involves a custom lock screen, a unified screen that merges the homescreens and app drawer together, and more, as well as its capabilities including the immensely powerful set of apps in the security suite. There’s more to MIUI than these features, and hence let’s discuss its customisability aspect.
The software gives you the ability to completely customise the device according to your preferences. Right from controlling the functionality of buttons to the colour of the notification light, everything can be changed to suit your needs. For example, the set of navigation keys at the bottom offer you the ability to access options with the first button, jump to the home screen with the centre key and return to the previous screen with the third button. But by default, it opens the recent apps menu by long-pressing the options button and lets you access Google Now with the long-press of the centre key. However, if you’re not comfortable with these, then all you need to do is to visit settings and change it the way you want. In fact, none of the Android smartphones offer an option to customise the long-press of the back key, but you can do so in the Redmi Note (and its siblings).
Not only that, you can also change the duration for which a button press should be considered as a long-press. The options also give you the ability to customise the behaviour of these buttons when you’re in the lock screen. The time for which the keys should be backlit can also be adjusted.
While using the camera app, you can configure the volume rocker to act as a shutter button or for zooming.
If you’re unhappy with seeing the same notification light colour for all kind of notifications, then you can change that too. While we agree that there are apps that lets you do that, getting the same functionality baked right in the OS promises a better experience.
The smartphone also offers a Lite Mode, just like the Redmi 1s. The simplified home screen provided by the app with large tiles is a great option for the elderly. But the mode is also fully customisable allowing you to enable or disable the notification panel and voice prompts for calls and messages. What we really appreciate about the mode is the fact that it doesn’t strip away any functionality and users can make use of all installed apps in this mode.
Since, we are reviewing the Chinese version of the Xiaomi Redmi Note, the preloaded content in the device would be different from the one officially coming to India, and hence we won’t be getting into the details.
The camera acts as the third empire
The Xiaomi Redmi Note boasts some serious camera credentials with a 13-megapixel sensor at the back with f/2.2 aperture. For shooting in low-light conditions, the primary shooter is supplemented by an LED flash. Compared to the competition in its price band, the Redmi Note is right at the top with such specifications. In terms of quality as well, it doesn’t disappoint, as it’s able to capture ample detail and reproduces good colours. However, once you start zooming in, the images starts losing their sharpness and we also noticed a bit of colour spillover in the macro shots.
You can take a look at a few images taken with the Redmi Note and if you want to view them in their original sizes, then just click on them.
|Here’s a more detailed review of the Xiaomi Redmi Note’s camera performance|
Coming to the camera app, thanks to MIUI, the interface offers a plethora of features. As discussed in previous reviews of Xiaomi’s offerings, the app not only offers you a number of modes like panorama, HDR, handheld twilight, etc., but also has numerous manipulation settings to improve images such as ISO, exposure, and more. One good feature is the ability to apply live filters on the image.
In terms of video, the smartphone is able to record them in full HD resolution at 30 fps.
The Redmi Note is great at capturing selfies as well as making video calls, thanks to its 5-megapixel sensor at the front. The secondary camera is capable to capture videos at 1,280 x 720 pixels.
Overall, the Redmi Note’s pair of snappers are decent and are easily amongst the best options in the sub-Rs 10,000 segment.
A compelling powerplay
So the field is set, the players are ready and now it’s show time, and that’s where Redmi Note’s power-packed internals come to the fore. The Xiaomi’s phablet comes powered by an octa-core MediaTek MT6592 SoC with each core clocked at 1.7GHz. The true octa-core SoC keeps all the eight cores firing simultaneously under the hood to deliver good performance, which is further helped by the Mali-450MP4 graphics engine. Along with all the processing power, the phone offers 2GB of RAM to ensure smooth multitasking. At this point, its important to note that Xiaomi has introduced the Redmi Note in two variants back in its home country – standard and enhanced, and the specs mentioned above are for the latter, since that’s the one that will be arriving in India.
In terms of usability, the combination offers a lag-free and joyful experience while navigating between different screens, using multiple apps. The device also played graphics-heavy games such as Asphalt Overdrive and Riptide GP2 without breaking into sweat. However, as with most octa-core-laden handsets, the Redmi Note heats up rather quickly, within just 10 to 15 minutes of gameplay.
For storage, the smartphone is supplied with 8GB internal memory. The Chinese model of the device we are using leaves around 5.6GB space for the end user, although things might change in the Indian variant on the basis of preloaded content. The expansion slot allows you to extend the storage further up to 32GB with the use of a microSD card. The Xiaomi Redmi Note also comes with USB On-the-Go support, giving users the ability to use their flash drives with the smartphone.
In terms of connectivity, the phablet offers the usual features such as 3G support (on the primary SIM only), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. However, it must be noted that just like its siblings, it accepts regular-sized SIM cards. During calls, we didn’t face any issues and were able to hear the caller from the other side loud and clearly and vice versa.
Plays the long innings
Being a phablet, the Redmi Note is an ideal device for consuming multimedia on the go and hence it’s important to expect good battery life. The device surely lives up to the expectations by lasting us more than the entire working day on a single charge with heavy usage of gaming, using 3G or Wi-Fi for emailing, web browsing, tweeting, along with basic tasks like calls and capturing images. With light usage, it easily gave us a day and a half worth’s backup. Talking about actual numbers, the Xiaomi Redmi Note played back an HD video on loop for close to nine hours and 20 minutes as part of our standard battery test. While the playback time isn’t the best, it’s much better than the average time clocked by most devices.
Just like other Xiaomi smartphones, the Redmi Note offers quite a few features to extend battery life. The simplest one is to reduce the CPU’s clock speed from the battery settings, so that battery drains less faster in case you aren’t using the mobile for some processor-intensive tasks. There are more options in Power available in the security suite allowing you to configure different modes that can automatically come to effect if the battery drops below a certain level.
Marks Xiaomi’s hat trick?
Well, if you’ve been following us in the review so far, then it’s a no-brainer. Xiaomi is making it a habit – offering a complete package at an insanely-attractive pricing. What this results in is that despite having a few qualms about the device, we can quickly dispel them when we get the asking price of the smartphone into the equation.
|Curious about the device, but have a few questions? Take a look at the Xiaomi Redmi Note frequently asked questions|
Although unlike its siblings, the Redmi 1s and Mi 3, which are crystal-clear choices in their respective price bands, the Redmi Note will land in a more competitive landscape. At its expected price point of Rs 9,999, there are quite a few compelling alternatives. If you’re attracted towards the Redmi Note for its sheer power, then the Karbonn Titanium Octane and Micromax Canvas Nitro (review) also come powered octa-core chipsets, and are available in the same price bracket, thanks to a slew of price cuts. There’s also the ASUS Zenfone 5 (review) which boasts 2GB RAM and offers good imaging experience.
But all the aforesaid devices can compete with the Redmi Note only on individual aspects and not as a whole. If you’re looking for a phablet with the promise of a good performance and imaging capabilities, then the Xiaomi’s phablet is a clear choice. A solid battery life and the intuitive MIUI come across as added bonuses. Though the build quality could be little better, it isn’t a deal breaker and you can always opt for one of rear panels Xiaomi should be making available in vibrant colours.
To sum up, the Xiaomi Redmi Note is definitely worth the wait if you’re in a market for a budget phablet that doesn’t compromise on performance. In fact, we can go as far as to say that it seems Xiaomi has another winner in its hands, when the device lands here.
Price: Rs 9,999 (expected)
Editor’s rating: 9 / 10
- Large screen
- Customisable MIUI platform
- Decent camera
- Powerhouse internals
- Good battery life
- Chunky build quality
- No protective layer on top of the display
- Older build of Android
Photos and video by Pratik Vyas