Phablets have been a trend over the last couple of years or so. When the first, Samsung Galaxy Note was revealed, owning one was enough to be the cause of attracting a lot of unwanted eyes. Fast forward a few years, and it is perfectly acceptable to own a smartphone that sports a 5.5 inch displays. Yet, while we have had budget smartphones, budget phablet is a trend that not many OEMs have tried to cash in on, until now.
Xiaomi, also known as the Apple of China, has an interesting pricing model, where by deducting the marketing budget to absolutely zero, they are able to bring high spec’d smartphones for a very pocket friendly prizes to the consumers. And this is exactly the approach that Xiaomi is bringing to the phablets with its RedMi Note.
We would like to go on record by saying that the device was expected to be released in India over the festive period of Diwali, but that has not materialised and would be available towards the fag end of the year. Since the RedMi Note is not available in India yet, we will refrain from commenting on the pricing and availability, though it is expected to cost somewhere in the region of Rs 10,000 and would be most likely available via Flipkart.
Box and Contents
From the outside, the Xiaomi RedMi Note box is exactly what we have seen with the RedMi 1S or the Mi3. It is the standard hardened cardboard packaging that by the looks of it, seems extremely environment friendly. While, our box is the China unit, we can be pretty certain, this is the same packaging that would continue in India.
Open the box and you are greeted by the phone and subsequently the start guides and documentations as well as the Micro USB to USB chord and the power brick. There are no headphones included here and the power brick is rated at standard 2 Amps. Other than this, there is nothing really in the box, though we do expect Xiaomi to throw in a couple of scratch guards here, just the way they did with the 1s, when the phone is launched in India.
Body and Construction
The RedMi Note unit that we received has been doing rounds in several hands, and as a result, we had a good look at the durability and the aging of the device, which we perhaps would not have been able to, if it was a new device. And from that point of view, we were not impressed. The smartphone had a fairly loose back panel and there were plenty of creeks all over the panel. Just gently tapping the back panel produced two miffed noises instead of a solid thud, giving us a clue that the panel was over the clearance measurements.
While the fitting may have been an issue, the back pane, white in our case, did not develop any serious scruffs or scratches and that kept the phone looking pristine. We did not drop the phone at all, but the heavy usage of plain plastic on the sides meant that grip was not always the most secure and we were scared that the phone will slip away. The protruding camera lens on the back was a minor concern too though the lens did not pick up any scratches. The phone does wobble a bit though when kept screen up.
The front of the unit is dominated by the 5.5 inch 720 P display which gives the device a PPI of 267. Just above the display, is the speaker grille to take calls and you have the 5 MP front facing camera as well as a multi color supported LED light towards the top left. The bezels on the display are black despite it being the white unit so that adds to the whole appeal, even when the phone is turned off. At the bottom of the device are three red, capacitive buttons namely menu, home and back from the left.
On the right flank of the device you have metallic volume rocker which is followed by the lock/ unlock button. The buttons are metallic and provide very decent feedback. The left flank is blank, and you have the 3.5 mm headset jack and a secondary microphone on top.
At the bottom, you have the primary microphone and a micro USB port that doubles as a charging port as well as a port for data transfer. Turn the device back and you see the 13 MP camera and an LED flash. There is an Mi branding at the bottom and speaker grille towards the left bottom of the phone. The back is removable and reveals the two full sized SIM card slots and a micro SD card slot. The battery is a 3200 mAh removable unit .
The moment you pick the RedMi Note, you will notice that the phone is rather heavy at 199 grams, as opposed to say an iPhone 6 plus which weighs only 172 odd grams. Though the weight of the phone is well and uniformly distributed, it does feel a bit clunky and thick. Add in the complete plastic construction and little grip that the phone offers, you can see why the RedMi Note is not the prettiest or the best built tablet. Yet, considering the price point that it would be available, construction of the device is borderline acceptable.
Display And Screen
The RedMi Note has a 5.5 inch display when measured diagonally with a 720 P resolution. This gives the unit a PPI of 267, which by no means is ground breaking. As a result, pixels are pretty profound on the display. The default screen temperature seemed a little warm to us and there is a tinge of yellowness in the display, but you can change that and move to a slightly colder color reproduction in settings menu.
The overall responsiveness of the touchscreen was not as good as it was on the Mi3, and there were times when we had to tap on the display twice or even thrice for the touch to be registered. The colors generally were accurate, once you move to the colder color settings. The contrast levels were fine and viewing angles too held up well. Direct sunlight reading was not an issue despite not being the best, with brightness amped at even 100%. Automatic brightness too was moderate and not the most aggressive, meaning we occasionally had to turn it off and slide it all the way down when reading with lights turned off.
If you are coming from a very high res display for example an HTC One M8 or even a Samsung Galaxy S5, god forbid an LG G3, you will need some time to get used to slightly muted colors and lower resolution. Videos looked decent without blowing your mind away. Blacks on the device are deep though the whites look closer to cream than blinding whites which was a minor annoyance.
OS and the Software Story
The RedMi Note runs the aged Android 4.2.2 with the custom MiUI on top of it. There is no word on the final estimated date of Android 4.4 or 5.0 arrival on the device. And it is due to the older Android OS version that you miss out on a top of goodness that is available on the Android 4.4 devices.
The MiUI functionalities on the phone, including plenty of themes, font options, icons etc are same as that of the Mi3, but you feel that bit of jitteriness in the device generally. However, we did find that the store on our unit was a bit hit and miss and we ended up picking a lot of themes from the Chinese store, that should change once the device is officially launched in India.
MiUI has no app drawers, so you have all your app icons as well as the widgets you need to use, right on the desktop. Several apps such as the Google Play Launcher that we wanted to use, were not supported due to the aged Android version. You can still install the likes of Nova Launcher and go back to a more stock looking Android version.
Xiaomi has an interesting Updater app that allows you to directly flash new MiUI versions on the device, though we kept faith in the v5.0. RedMi Note running Android 4.4 and MiUI v6 have been spotted in the wild, so we are sure OTAs will be made available.
Several useful apps come with the device out of the box such as MiCloud, a rather controversial backup application, recorder app to record calls and voices on the go, FM Radio, Torch as well as a QR Scanner app. All the Google Apps come out of the box so you do not have to manually flash anything. You have MiTalk app too which allows you to chat with other Mi owners. The weather app is particularly sweet as it reminds in the notifications panel to carry an umbrella in case it is about to rain.
Pulling the notification bar down opens the notifications which you can swipe away to dismiss. You also have the quick toggle page, which can be accessed by tapping on the ‘Toggles’ button located at the bottom of the notification panel. You can change these quick toggles based on what switches you use often. However, some of the switches such as quick switch to turn on the data usage from one SIM card to the other were not available and that was a bummer.
The long press of the capacitive button can be actioned in the settings, though by default, long pressing the menu button, opens the recent apps menu, long pressing the home menu opens Google Now and long pressing the back button kills the app from the memory.
Applications like gallery and music player are full featured, and the best thing about the gallery app is that it has a file explorer in built which allows you to access any file from the location you may need.
The lockscreen obviously doesn’t support widgets, but you do have a few options there such as launching the camera app, messaging app or unlocking the phone. You can change the lockscreen based on your preference too from themes.
The keyboard on the device is excellent and we had no problems typing. Swipe typing worked very well too and we were surprised how aggressive and accurate auto correct was. The device also gives you an option to select how you want the notifications to show up from the apps on board, or even turn them off in case you do not want to receive them.
Overall, while several of the OEMs have been criticised for going the way of a skinned Android version, we like what Xiaomi have done here and more often than not, the add on have been useful and not really performance killer.
The Xiaomi RedMi Note is powered by a MediaTek MT6592 octa-core 1.7GHz SoC and comes with 2 GB of RAM. While these specifications do seem good enough to power the device along, we did feel slight stutters, especially in desktop scrolling.
There was a bit of a lag which was considerably reduced when we cleaned the memory with the inbuilt memory cleaner that can be accessed by going to the multi tasking window. It is due to this, that the option of locking apps in the memory, an option in MiUI did not appeal a lot to us.
Xiaomi has also provided a Security app that can help you clean away junk files as well as scan for viruses and keep tabs on your data usage, all of which help you run your phone well. You can also change permissions that apps have from this application. We did find that on a normal use we had about 400 odd MB of RAM available to us, which by no means was a lot.
Although, not always, there were occasions when we had app freezing as well as static keyboard. There is also a minor delay when you enter the passcode you have set and the device unlocking itself, which can be pretty annoying.
Opening apps form the multitasking window was fine as long as you are not going too deep into the list as there were occasions when system had totally killed the app and we had to actually turn the application on from the springboard.
We played a few game son the device but experienced constant frame drops, which made for a less than ideal smooth gameplay. In fact, even in Beach Buggy, we had to clear the memory to have what we can call acceptable gaming experience. Arcade games played like a breeze on the phone, it was only the likes of Riptide GP or even FIFA 2014 where we saw a few stutters.
We also put the phone through a few benchmark tests and as you can see from the scores, the results were very average. Having looked up the internet for other users with the RedMi Note, we are lead to believe that the Snapdragon 400 variant of the device performs slightly better than the MediaTek unit that we used and would hope that is the one that Xiaomi brings to India.
Camera Quality and Samples
The Xiaomi RedMi Note comes with a 13 MP rear camera with LED flash as well as a 5 MP front facing camera. Despite the numbers, the camera performances were not over the charts.
We took the device with us to an ISL match and while there were some shots that came out brilliantly, the phone terribly messed a few shots too. Fair to say, the camera is very hit and miss.
You do have a plethora of options in the settings menu of the camera, such as enabling a reference line or even changing the default saturation, contrast or the sharpness settings. There are also inbuilt filters as well as the ability to take HDR images and Panorama shots, all of which worked as they should.
The camera shutter is not the fastest and it does take a split second for the image to be processed that can be annoying if you are really looking to capture a lot of shots in succession. Holding the shutter buttons lets you take burst shots. Video quality is very average too as there is only software OIS here that can be enabled in settings. You can change the time lapse interval between seconds in the seconds to change the video to your liking in terms of FPS captured. Therefore from the software standpoint, Xiaomi has done a pretty great job given the limited optics here.
At least 50% of the images we took came out fuzzy and had a weird red tint to them, though a carefully composed shot in really good light came out just fine. The front facing camera is adequate for a selfie or two or some quick Skype calls, no more, no less. Overall, the camera can produce decent shots if you give it a chance, but it would not give you shots that wold win you any photography competitions.
Call Quality and Speaker
The call quality on the RedMi Note was very decent. There were no echoes of any kind and the person on the other end could hear us well despite tricky situations like being in the middle of the road. The reception we felt on the SIM 1 slot was generally terrific while it fell a notch in slot 2. For example, we did swap our two SIM cards and the one in Slot 1 always performed strangely better.
The device has an active dual SIM and Xiaomi handles that very well. You can select which SIM card’s data connection you wish to use and there is a clear distinction in the SMS as well as the dialler app, so you know which calls and texts are for which connection.
The slot 1 is a WCDMA/GSM supported while the slot 2 only supports GSM cards, but that was not an issue at all.
The speaker quality on the unit was actually pretty good. Yes, things are miffed up when you put the phone with back down as the speakers are rear facing, but put them on a table or even in a room and you will not miss a notification. The output with our ATH M50s was very even and sound was spacious enough. Call quality through the loudspeakers was excellent too, and while it may not be the sound boom messiah that an HTC One M8 is, the phone does a very good job when it comes to producing quality sound output.
The standby time on the RedMi Note was really good and we got consistently an entire day out of the phone but not more than that, which you would expect from a device with a 3200 mAh+ battery.
The drain was pretty consistent with some reasonable heating up too, especially when watching long HD videos and playing too many games. You do have the option of turning the Power Saving mode on to help you conserve some more battery, but that results in slightly inferior performance.
Although we would have liked to see a better battery performance, especially as we thought that the Mi3 was consistently giving us 4 hour plus SoT and about 40 hours of standby, we could only get at most about 3 and a half hour of SoT and 30 hours of standby.
Overall, the RedMi Note, despite its issues with slightly choppy performance and camera quality is the best device you can pick if you want to consider the screen size and the price point. A lot of this conclusion is subjective to the price point that Xiaomi decides to bring the Note at. For anything around the Rs 10K-12K point, the RedMi Note will eat away a decent market chunk and righty so. Also, it is worth noting that the device we used has the China optimised MiUI and things would be definitely ironed a little more when it comes to India. If you are looking for a phablet that you can own without burning a hole in the pocket and you don’t mind the extra heft, the RedMi Note will be a very interesting option to pick.