Xiaomi has been one of the only Chinese handset makers that has managed to gather a lot of goodwill amongst Indian phone users: first with the Mi 3, followed by the Redmi 1S. We have seen Xiaomi sales lasting mere seconds before devices go out of stock. Now Xiaomi is hoping for an encore with the Redmi Note - a 5.5-inch 3G phablet which is priced under Rs 10,000 and went on sale on 2 December. We have already got an indication of the response with the Redmi Note going out of stock in the first six seconds. Let us see if this will be another feather in Xiaomi’s cap.
Build and Design: 7/10
For those of you who are familiar with the Redmi 1S, just think of Redmi Note as a larger version. You have the familiar white glossy plastic rear cover and a black coloured 5.5-inch screen in the front with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection. The rear cover has a tendency to attract a log of smudges and to an extent it is also true of the front glass. There isn’t any dedicated notch to remove the rear cover, so you will have to do it by pulling around the microUSB port region. The plastic cover is not among the sturdiest we have seen. You will have to remove the bright orange coloured battery to slide in the SIM card.
The use of plastic is understandable considering the price. Thanks to the 5.5-inch display and the 200 grams weight, the phone feels a bit hefty. Despite the glossy finish, gripping the phone is not an issue. The left hand edge is clean whereas you have the plastic volume rocker and power/standby buttons on the right hand side. The placement of the power button is quite ergonomic and is right where the thumb would rest. On the top you have the 3.5mm audio jack and down below is the microUSB port. The display is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and barring the earpiece speaker grill on top, there are no interruptions on the glass.
Xiaomi is known to pack in impressive specifications on its phones, and the Redmi Note is no different. It comes powered by a MediaTek MT6592 system-on-chip which has an octa-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz paired with a Mali 450 GPU. This is complemented by 2GB of RAM. It comes with 8GB of internal storage of which 6.31GB is available to the user, but you can add in a microSD card of up to 32GB using the microSD card slot. The 5.5-inch IPS display has a 1280x720 resolution. The Redmi Note comes with a 3100mAh Li-ion polymer battery.
One of the major drawback for power users will be the fact that the Redmi Note still runs the dated Android 4.2.2 OS along with the MIUI skin atop it. There is no update on when the Note will get an Android 4.4 KitKat update. On the camera front, Xiaomi has packed in a 13MP rear camera with an LED flash unit and a 5MP front camera. On the front face at the base, you will find red coloured soft buttons which light up when the phone is working. This is similar to the Redmi 1S.
It’s a dual-SIM phone and takes in a regular SIM card and the microSD card slot is located between the SIM slots. It can operate in the dual standby mode as well. You can use a 3G SIM card in only the WCDMA slot whereas the other GSM slot is for 2G SIM cards.
As is the case with other Xiaomi phones, the Redmi Note houses the MIUI skin atop the Android 4.2 OS. For someone who has used the Mi3 or Redmi 1S, the MIUI skin is familiar. There is no app drawer on the MIUI and you will have to toggle through multiple home screens as you add on more apps. However, if you are not too pleased with this, you can install the hundreds of other launchers available on the Google Play Store.
There are a few proprietary apps such as MiTalk - which is like a messenger app that also allows video and audio calls; MiCloud which lets you store your data on the Mi cloud servers (up to 10GB) and Report Bug - which allows you to report unusual behaviour. A dedicated Security app helps keep your phone secure with features such as cleaner, blocklist, data usage monitor, virus scanner and so on. The nice touches such as floating notifications, data usage ticker on the notifications drop down menu, task killer and so on have been carried forward on the Redmi Note as well. For someone coming from a stock Android background, the learning curve is minimal with the MIUI.
The Themes app lets you download multiple free themes. In fact Xiaomi has made some India-specific themes of late which add a bit of local touch to the proceedings. Xiaomi has kept the Lite mode on the Redmi Note which is practical if the phone is being used by a rank newcomer to Android or by the elderly populace who aren’t too tech savvy. Using the Lite mode, you can select which apps you want on the home screen and you will get oversized icons for the same.
You can add widgets, select from a variety of transitions and even move apps quickly between screens by simply tapping on them instead of sliding them between homescreens. In the settings menu you have quick settings and general settings - which is divided under sections.
Redmi Note offers a smooth performance thanks to the true octa core processor employed by the MediaTek MT6592 SoC. I did not notice any sluggishness while using the device. It can work well despite multiple webpages and apps being open at the same time. Page swiping is smooth and touch is responsive. Scrolling long webpages which have images however, tends to be on the slower side. We had a similar experience with the Instagram app. Gaming was smooth with games such as Riptide GP2, EA Golf were a bit slow.
Call quality is quite good both indoors and outdoors. The volume levels of the earpiece speaker are quite good. Apart from the 2G and 3G support, the Redmi Note supports Wi-fi 802.11 b/g/n along with Bluetooth 4.0LE. It has the regular set of sensors such as gyroscope, a proximity sensor, light sensor, accelerometer and a compass. It also supports GPS with AGPS.
I found the local video player to stutter with the AVI file format despite a standard definition resolution video, but it plays back MP4 format HD as well as full HD content smoothly. With the VLC Android media player, most formats play back smoothly. The speaker section located on the rear side is not very impressive. While watching movies I had to really strain my ears to hear the dialogues clearly despite increasing the volume. It is best to invest in a good pair of earphones. You have an audio customisation menu based on the earphones you have plugged in which is a neat touch.
The Redmi Note has a 5.5-inch IPS LCD screen with an HD display. This means a pixel density of around 267 ppi. While that may not be high, I did not find any pixillation issues with the Redmi Note when the phone was held at a normal distance. The display is bright enough and I found the Auto mode to work well while indoors. But when you’re outdoors, you will have to manually increase/decrease the brightness as the Auto mode tends to behave erratically.
Watching movies on the Redmi Note is a good experience, although the glossy display will tend to reflect a lot in dark scenes. Colours appear natural, and unlike the AMOLED displays, there was no visible warm colouration on the display. The contrast is decent, but black levels aren’t that great. I noticed a good amount of backlight bleeding in completely dark scenes. So while the display is good for regular use, it is certainly not the best.
Thanks to the IPS panel, the viewing angles are quite good. Reading websites or ebooks on the display is great, but after prolonged reading you will experience some fatigue as is the case with all backlit displays.
Considering the price, one would never expect to get a 13MP rear camera. But Redmi Note hasn’t cut any corners on the imaging front. Keeping with the selfie-trend in mind, you also get a 5MP front-facing camera. Obviously features such as backside illuminated sensor and optical image stabilisation have been given a drop.
The camera had a good AF speed, something we found impressive on such a low-priced camera. Image quality is good in daylight and it captures plenty of detail. The camera features an f/2.2 aperture which also lets you take photographs with a shallow depth of field. Macro photos turned out well. The drawbacks are apparent in low-light shooting scenarios. Absence of a backside illuminated sensor shows up in the low light images which fail to capture much detail.
The user interface is similar to the one seen on Mi 3 and Redmi 1S. The interface is minimal, but you can also activate the Advanced mode which will give you a more congested screen and manually let you control ISO, exposure, white balance and so on.
Battery life: 8/10
The 3,100 mAh battery provided with the Redmi Note is quite long lasting. I was able to use the phone from 5am to 1am doing things such as calling, messaging, live tweeting a press event, shooting pictures/videos, surfing the web, watching videos and so on and I still had around 10 per cent battery still before I plugged the Redmi Note for charging. This was quite impressive and thanks to the bundled 2A charger, it takes only a couple of hours to charge.
Verdict and Price in India
Xiaomi looks like it has another winner on its hands with the Redmi Note. For those of you who were waiting for a phablet with good specs at an affordable price point, it does not get more economical than t. Sure, there are some drawbacks on the Redmi Note, but at Rs 8,999 for the 3G variant, they aren't major deal-breakers. (Xiaomi is also planning to come out with a 4G variant for Rs 9,999 which is exactly similar except for the fact that it houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC which has a quad-core processor.)
Performance is quick and it has a good overall battery life. The camera is great for sharing images online, but not meant for those looking at getting good low light photographs. The Redmi Note suffers in that department. The Android 4.2.2 OS is a big chink in the armour. Not that it takes away from the performance or the other good aspects of the device, but I would have liked to see Xiaomi bundling the Redmi Note with a 4.4 update at least.
In terms of competition, there's not much on the horizon apart from the Asus Zenfone 5 which has got a price drop to Rs 9,999 for the 8GB variant - which is still higher than the Redmi Note's cost. Moto G (second Gen) is also a good phone, but priced Rs 4000 higher. On the whole, the value offered by the Xiaomi Redmi Note is unmatched at the moment. So if you want a phablet without breaking the bank, try your luck at Xiaomi's next flash sale on Flipkart for the Redmi Note.