Back in August 2016, Xiaomi announced an unbelievable smartphone at an unbelievable price tag. This device was the Redmi 3S Prime, a smartphone that offered a lot of value for its Rs 8,999 asking price.
The 3S Prime offered incredible value for money giving customers a decent chipset, a decent 13 MP camera, a fingerprint reader, a 4,100 mAh battery all packaged in a metal body. For its asking price, there was really nothing to complain about no matter what those components delivered.
It’s 2017, and we saw the Redmi Note 4 launch which packed in some great specifications. And like the Redmi Note 3 before it, it's become this year’s budget favourite. Add to this the recently announced Redmi 4A, which is literally the cheapest, value for money smartphone you can buy. Indeed what was still missing was the successor to the Redmi 3.
Today, Xiaomi has announced just this. The Redmi 4 is an entry-level smartphone with a metal body, the true successor to the Redmi 3S Prime. The device features a slightly updated processor with a new, attractive design. But with competition coming from Lenovo and Motorola, how does it perform? Does Xiaomi still dominate the entry-level segment? I think it does. Here's why!
Build and design: 9/10
We received the black 3 GB RAM/ 32 GB internal storage variant of the Xiaomi Redmi 4 for review. It packs in literally the best that the smartphone industry can afford at the moment. With a design that utilises glass, plastics and metal in all the right places, it forms what I think is a budget beauty.
Starting off with the front, we have a 2.5D glass screen with curved corners and a rounded lipping at the edges that not only looks premium but feels premium as well. Adding to that first impression is the weight of the device, which is there thanks to the 4,100 mAh battery.
Comparing it alongside its sibling, the Redmi 4A, it makes the 4A look entry-level and cheap. Many who saw the Redmi 4 told me that it looked and felt better than the Redmi Note 4, which is quite of bit of praise for a smartphone that costs just Rs 8,999.
Once you are done staring at it, lift it out of the box and you will get the cold feeling of a metal back that is a rarity in this price range. There are plastic caps at the top and bottom, similar to the Redmi 3S Prime, but they are perfectly colour-matched to the matte metal finish and don’t look out of place.
It certainly feels a lot heavier than it looks but it is easy to get a grip on thanks to its compact size and rounded body.
The fit and finish is top-class and the metal buttons for the volume control and power/unlock have a good amount of travel, delivering the right, clicky feedback with little pressure.
While the build quality blew me away. I did notice one tiny detail that felt out of place. The plastic cap (fitted on the top and bottom of the back) did not sit flush with the surface of the rounded metal back on the sides. This results in a sharp edge when you slide your finger upwards from the volume button to the top of the phone (applied to all four corners). This finishing problem does not get in your way while using the phone, so many will not notice it at all.
I also could not help but notice how the metal back plate caught fingerprints very easily. Within seconds of pulling it fresh out of the box (during the unboxing), the smartphones back was loaded with fingerprints. Luckily, this was not a problem with the display.
Sporting a 5-inch display, the handset felt compact and was good enough for one-handed use. The display did catch fingerprints, but it was not a smudgy mess and could be wiped off easily.
That 5-inch display is an LCD unit that features an HD resolution with 1280x720 pixels and a good enough 293 PPI. That 2.5D curved edge glass really makes the smartphone look premium, and it feels great when you are swiping inwards from the corners and the smooth edges.
While I found the display sharp enough for regular use. There was some noticeable pixelation in MIUI’s UI elements, all thanks to the fine lines. While the HD display was a good move to deliver better battery life and help the GPU keep up, it did lead to some pixelation, but only when you look closely.
The display appears to be different from the one used in the Redmi 4A which showcased a warmer yellowish tint.
Images and text looked sharp enough and were visible clearly both indoors and outdoors, meaning that the brightness levels were up to the mark even when held in direct sunlight.
The colours reproduced were vibrant and well-saturated compared to the dull and boring displays that one usually gets on smartphones in this entry-level range.
In short, at its price tag, I really could not complain as it was above my expectations.
The Xiaomi Redmi 4 comes packed to the brim with features. You get a 5-inch IPS LCD HD display on the front along with a front-facing 5 MP selfie camera that sits at the top, alongside the receiver.
Inside, there is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 (MSM 8940) octa-core chipset clocked at 1.4 GHz and paired with 3 GB RAM. There’s 32 GB of internal storage and this can be expanded up to 128 GB using the hybrid SIM tray.
Communications options include, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an infrared port at the top and a microUSB port at the bottom end.
At the back sits a 13 MP camera with PDAF accompanied by a single LED flash. Also at the back is a fingerprint reader.
All of the above is powered by a 4,100 mAh battery that supports Quick Charge 3.0 for faster charging.
Xiaomi, as always, is a few steps behind when it comes to software updates. So while the MIUI 8 skinning feels snappy and refreshed, it still runs an older Android 6.0.1 base under it.
While the Snapdragon 430 is a chip associated with the word ‘lag’, I expected the worst possible software experience even with the slightly upgraded 435. Xiaomi’s MIUI however, does some sort of magic and keeps things running as smoothly as possible.
The animations and transitions are smooth, but it is easy to notice how the processor struggles to open and close apps as the UI is often kept waiting even though the transitions are complete. More on this in the Performance section.
As for the rest, the software experience is typical MIUI with well-designed icons, themes, wallpapers and a large theme collection.
While the Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 is a tiny improvement over the 430. The difference is not much and in most cases, does result in lag when it comes to app launches and games.
Fire up WhatsApp and you have to stare at a blank, white screen for a second. Open up Apple Music and its two, the same goes for Slack.
While it may not be annoying when you have the patience and all the time in the world on the weekend. A fast-paced weekday does get pretty frustrating. This gets annoying when you tap on the wrong app (by mistake) and you have to wait for the first one to launch despite hitting the home key two times before you can tap on the right one (you have to wait a second there again).
However, once these apps have been opened (loaded in RAM), switching between them is quick and MIUI handles the operation very well without a stutter or break in the animations.
Coming to games, the processor plays well with casual titles, but expect longer loading times in 3D and graphic intensive titles like Asphalt Xtreme, Real Racing 3, Modern Combat and more. Once loaded up, casual titles play smoothly, but graphic intensive games will stutter at times.
Asphalt Xtreme in particular ran smoothly at the lowest settings available and was not playable in the medium (or recommended) settings.
So clearly, this one’s not for power users or gamers. You would be better off with a Redmi Note 4 with a Snapdragon 625 inside.
Call quality was pretty good and the device offered HD calls on supported networks. Both callers at either end could hear each other properly.
The speaker unlike on the Redmi 4A and the 3S Prime, is located at the bottom end under the right grille. Unlike the setup available on the above models, which muffles the speaker output when place on the surface, the Redmi 4 fires from the sides, which does not get in the way and is a great improvement in terms of practical design.
Audio through the headphones was good and passable, with well-balanced highs and lows. The bass was not too heavy either. Playing music through the loudspeaker saw loud and clear output, which was a bit surprising for a device in this range.
With a clock speed that fluctuates between 930 MHz to 1.4 GHz, the processor barely warms up. However, the temperature did rise a bit while playing Modern Combat for an extended period.
The Xiaomi Redmi 4 features a 13 MP camera with an F/2.0 aperture. This delivers crisp-looking images that looked pretty good on the phone’s display and even on my desktop.
They were not over saturated, but looked fairly decent, given the price tag of the device.
Noise levels in daylight were well under control, but went a bit overboard in low light scenarios. Clearly, this is not a smartphone for low-light photography. Things got worse when it came to dimly lit scenarios, where the white balance in auto mode kept shifting drastically resulting in some yellow-tinted images.
The HDR mode again was a bit too aggressive, leading to halos with plenty of ghosting that made the edges of some objects looks blurred. These, however, will only be noticeable upon closer inspection.
While the PDAF system was quick to lock focus, the images did not capture too much detail. This resulted in flat textures even though the outline of the surfaces or objects were well defined.
Another detail that one can clearly point out, is that the images look rather dull despite the f/2.0 aperture. This problem is present across images and shooting scenarios and it seems like a problem with the way Xiaomi’s algorithms deal with various shooting scenarios. From what I could see, they seem to favour decreasing the brightness levels to delivering images with low noise but these also resulted in flat textures.
The 5 MP selfie camera with an f/2.2 aperture was strictly ok and delivered average-looking images. In low-light scenarios, you will be better off pointing the primary camera (blindly) and shooting as the results from the selfie camera are disappointing.
The camcorder could record Full HD video at 30 fps, but it was decent at best, even though it recorded at a steady frame rate.
All-in-all I could go on about the problems, but this is a smartphone that costs Rs 8,999 so there is little one can complain about here, given the overall decent image quality.
The Xiaomi Redmi 4 packs in a 4,100 mAh Li Polymer battery. The combination of an HD display, a battery friendly processor that is clocked at a low 1.4 GHz and a bigger battery has worked well to deliver battery life that easily lasts a whole day with heavy use or 1.5 days with moderate use.
With 3 email accounts on sync, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, an hour of casual gaming, two hours of Netflix streaming, some photography and the usual calls, I was left with about 50 percent at the end of the day, which almost got me through the second work day, where I had to plug it in with about 5 percent of juice remaining.
What is impressive, however, is how the team managed squeeze in a 4,100 mAh battery into such a small smartphone. Add to this Quick Charge 3.0 capability, meaning that the Redmi 4 goes from 0-40 percent in one hour, 0-80 percent in 2 and 0-100 percent in 2.5 hours which is pretty darn good for such a large battery.
Verdict and pricing in India
The Xiaomi Redmi 4 packs in a some really good stuff, considering its price tag, and I think that it will continue to be the king of the entry-level smartphone segment for the same reason.
The improvements from the 3S Prime however, are minor and mostly relate to the design of the device. The problems with an underpowered processor that leads to slow app launches is something users in this segment will have to deal with as the Snapdragon 435 becomes the standard in this segment for the rest of this year.
Keeping everything I have discovered about the Redmi 4 in mind, I think it's is hard to deliver a smartphone with such hardware, combined with what I could call great software at the given price launch price.
And with that said, there is really no competition for this budget beauty. It's quite capable and wants to be an all-rounder. Xiaomi’s own Redmi 4A will surely see no buyers after this. But those looking for a more productive smartphone with better gaming capabilities will have to stand in line for the Note 4.
Else there’s the Motorola Moto E3 Power at Rs 6,999 with less RAM, lower internal storage and a plastic body. Next up is the Lenovo K6 Power at Rs 9,999, that packs in quite a punch, but loses out when it comes price and extremely slow charging times, but adds a Full HD display.
In short, there’s no beating the value and quality (both hardware and software) that Xiaomi has delivered with Redmi 4.
Say hello to the new entry-level king!