By now, a good number of people already have Xiaomi’s Redmi budget Android smartphone. Xiaomi has held four rounds of sales on their website. It’s also sold by our local telcos, and online marketplaces like Qoo10, all at the same price as directly from Xiaomi’s website, which is just S$169. It’s a really good bargain, considering that dumb phones and feature phones sell for not much less.
A few people have asked me for my impressions, so I thought I’d share some thoughts here.
As far as first impressions go, the Redmi is pretty good. Really good, in fact. One may think that budget phones would have questionable build quality, but the Redmi is not that at all. In terms of looks, the Redmi has a simple design, a mostly featureless black slab of glass on the front and plastic on the back. You could say it is a rather standard nondescript design, but I’d say sometimes that works better than curved, polka dots, or inspired-by-something type of designs. Perhaps with the Redmi being a budget phone, I’m not expecting it to stand out and break ground in the area of visual design.
When I picked up the phone, wow… the Redmi is heavy. You’d definitely feel the weight, which at 158g, is heavier than your average other smartphone. The body has a very solid feel to it, almost sort of like those premium unibody smartphones. At 9.9mm thin, the Redmi isn’t class leading in terms of thinness. It’s not thick, but a good balance to lend itself to giving you a good grip in your hands.
The Redmi’s hardware specs are what you’d expect to find in a midrange phone. It has a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, pretty good 1280×720 resolution 4.7″ IPS display, 8 megapixel main camera with flash, 1.3 megapixel front camera, 1GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage and a microSD slot. The Redmi is a 3G phone, with no 4G or LTE support. It’s other connectivity options include Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS and AGPS. The replaceable battery has 2000 mAh capacity. There is also dual-SIM support, one for 3G and the other for 2G.
If I were to make a comment on the hardware spec, I’d say this phone is pretty decent. The 1280×720 resolution is good enough, not quite Retina-class, but definitely sharp enough. The camera quality is good too. It does fall short on the lack of 4G though, and maybe a little bit hefty and slightly light on battery life.
Xiaomi has its own flavour of Android called MIUI. It’s pronounced Me-You-I, in case you’re wondering. You’ll get MIUI V5 on the Redmi. This is based on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. The software (i.e. MIUI) on the Redmi is really quite good. It’s not just another Android derivative. Well, it technically is, but you know what I mean, MIUI does add quite a bit of really useful features and made a good effort to properly theme their interface.
The MIUI user interface is absolutely smooth and fluid. I can’t even say that for my Samsung Galaxy S4, not before nor after the KitKat update. It’s such a joy to navigate around the Redmi’s various screens and menus. This is really surprising, considering this is really a midrange smartphone, although granted it does have a quad-core processor.
There’s a list of other nice features. Here’s some of them:
- You can review what permissions you’ve given to which apps. You know how it is that when you install a new app, Android will tell you what permissions are needed by the app. Do you really go through the list? Chances are you’ll just click Continue. Now, what if, some time later, you want to know, which apps have permission to send SMS messages? No easy way to find out eh? (I understand there’s a hidden app…)
- You can password (pattern) lock any app. Great if you don’t mind the phone to be left unlocked, but want some specific apps to be secured.
- There’s Guest Mode. Yes, Android 4.4 KitKat has that, but only on tablets. MIUI is based on Android 4.2.2, and it has Guest Mode already on the phone.
- There’s a built-in virus scanner, and also a cleaner tool to clear unneeded stuffs (e.g. caches, app remnants, etc) from storage.
- The themes in MIUI are really intriguing. This seems to be one of the features that attract many people to MIUI. They’ve even designed one theme specially for Singapore. Mind you, these are properly designed quality themes, not just slapping in a new wallpaper and changing a few icons.
- Built-in power management feature that let’s you configure some settings to manage battery life. You can schedule mode changes automatically too, by time of day.
I think the work that MIUI has done to improve its Android experience is commendable. It’s not just another variant with fancy bells and whistles. MIUI adds improvement to the user experience.
Another plus going for MIUI is that it is supported by active development. You can expect updates every two months or so. This is really nice for people who like to see continual evolvement and improvement in their phone features. In fact, those who like to live on the cutting edge, beta releases are typically available every week.
Let’s come back to the price of the Redmi. It’s S$169. It’s actually marketed as the Hongmi elsewhere in the world, and if you check online sellers like Amazon, you’ll find that it retails for easily over US$200. The S$169 is pretty much a steal. Sure, the Redmi falls short in some areas, but its price is potentially market disruptive. Unfortunately, other manufacturers don’t seem fazed yet.
The Mi-3 is supposed to be Xiaomi’s flagship for now, but it also lacks 4G. You could wait for Xiaomi to launch a real killer flagship. Or, if you need a budget, bargain Android smartphone now, the Redmi will work very well.