Chinese smartphone maverick Xiaomi had a pretty decent 2016, and the Redmi Note 3 was one of its top selling models. It was also among our favourite phones of the year, and was a great example of how you can pack in a lot of value for very little money. This has been at the heart of Xiaomi’s philosophy for selling its smartphones; offer value, and win the market with good products that are competitively priced. But the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 is nearly a year old in India, and it’s time for an update.
Introducing the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4. The successor to one of 2016’s most well-regarded mi-range smartphones, the Note 4 is Xiaomi’s latest attack on the competitive sub-Rs 15,000 segment. Priced from Rs 9,999 for the 2GB RAM/32GB storage variant, going up to Rs 12,999 for the 4GB RAM/64GB storage variant, the Redmi Note 4 makes some noticeable changes in the hardware, particularly in the form of the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC. But is there enough in this to keep the winning formula going strong? Find out in BGR India’s review of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Design
If there was one complaint we had about the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, it was that it looked about as interesting as a rock. This doesn’t mean it looks bad (rocks aren’t always bad to look at either); it’s simply too plain and inconspicuous to stand out in the crowd. The Redmi Note 4 brings back that same design philosophy, and there isn’t much to tell the two phones apart. Xiaomi has gone with the same block concept, changing very little of what it sees as a tried and tested formula.
That’s not to say that there are no changes at all, but the differences are marginal and noticeable only if you pay close attention. The most significant of these is the shifting of the speaker grille from the back to the bottom of the phone, and the slight curve near the edges at the back of the device that makes it a bit easier to grip the phone. Another key change is that the capacitive Android keys below the screen are now backlit, although this is very dim lighting that’s only really visible when it’s completely dark.
The phone remains comfortable to use, and despite its 5.5-inch screen, doesn’t feel too big or bulky. The rest of the phone is fairly standard when it comes to design, with the hybrid SIM tray on the left, the power and volume buttons on the right, the micro-USB port at the bottom, and the 3.5mm jack and infrared emitter at the top. The fingerprint sensor is at the back of the phone, right below the camera and dual-tone LED flash. Xiaomi also sticks to the metal build, with plastic at the top and bottom.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Specifications
Indeed, the most significant changes in the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 can be seen in its specifications. The biggest change comes in the SoC, with the Note 4 powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC. A couple of things strike us here; first, this is a change from the MediaTek Helio X20 SoC that can be found on the Chinese version of the Redmi Note 4, and second, this may seem like a downgrade from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 SoC on the Redmi Note 3. However, it’s important to note that the Snapdragon 625 is a new and completely different SoC, and I’ll go into further detail on it a bit later in this review.
There’s also now up to 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage on the Redmi Note 4, up from the 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage on the Redmi Note 3. Considering that apps are getting bigger and more complex, it’s only obvious that smartphone makers need to bump up the memory capabilities of their devices, and the Redmi Note 4 is suitably future-proofed in this regard. There’s also support for storage expansion through a microSD card, using the phone’s hybrid slot, which allows either two SIMs or a single SIM and a microSD card. The dual-SIM phone supports 4G connectivity on both slots, with added support for VoLTE connectivity.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, like its predecessor, has a 5.5-inch full-HD IPS-LCD screen. With a pixel density of 401ppi, it’s an adequately good screen, and the lack of change isn’t necessarily a problem considering that there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken. It’s fairly bright and vivid with good sunlight legibility and sharpness, although colors aren’t always accurate and properly saturated. The continued use of an LCD screen ensures good viewing angles and brightness, and I don’t really have any serious issues with the screen at all.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Software
As is the case with Xiaomi devices, the Redmi Note 4 runs the single-layered MIUI 8, based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Unlike with some other user interfaces which are either widely praised or mocked, MIUI polarizes opinion to the point where there isn’t a clear difference between the numbers that love it and those that hate it. MIUI 8 in particular has been around for a few months now, although it’s worth noting that our review unit is running a beta release of the software and seems to have some of its features locked, including disallowing the functioning of most benchmarking tools and apps. Although our review unit was running Android Marshmallow, sale units will be able to update to Android 7.0 Nougat immediately.
The appearance is typically MIUI, with Xiaomi’s familiar styling for icons and menus. The settings menu is quite different from what you would find on many Android smartphones, because of MIUI’s different approach to the layout of controls and settings. A lot of the functions that you might find missing in the settings menu can be found in the Security app, which lets you set individual app permissions, lock apps with the fingerprint sensor, create dual-apps or a second profile for the device. All of these functions are unique in that not a lot of manufacturers’ custom interfaces allow for some of these features, and this is where the Redmi Note 4 and MIUI 8 stand out. Additionally, it’s smooth and problem-free to actually use the interface.
However, at the same time, the single-layered approach and oddly non-intuitive positioning of many functions takes some getting used to. Viewing notifications is bothersome, and many system apps are far too simplified, lacking control and customizability that you might be used to on many devices. It’s also important to point out that Xiaomi isn’t the quickest to issue Android version updates, although MIUI does receive regular tweaks.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Performance
While the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 sticks to its mid-range pricing, there are some key changes in the hardware that give it a boost in performance. The biggest of these is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC. The successor to last year’s Snapdragon 617, the 625 may at first appear to be a downgrade from the Snapdragon 650 on the Redmi Note 3. However this is fabricated using a 14nm process, and features eight Cortex A53 cores where the Redmi Note 3 had four A53 cores and two A72 cores.
Although we weren’t able to run benchmark tests due to the limitations on our review unit, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 does come across as a capable performer that matches the great mid-range performance of the Redmi Note 3. Everything runs smoothly, and the SoC keeps things ticking without any lag or stutter. All of this is of course helped by the 4GB of RAM under the hood, and we would obviously recommend you go for the top-end 4GB RAM variant of the smartphone if you do plan to pick it up. Additionally, there aren’t any issues with heat, and the phone stays relatively cool even when running graphically intensive games.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Camera
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 has a 13-megapixel primary camera capable of recording video at full-HD resolution, while the front has a 5-megapixel shooter that can record 720p video. There is also a dual-tone LED flash at the back, and autofocus uses phase detection methods.
The camera app follows the same design language and focus on simplicity as the rest of MIUI 8. This makes it easy to quickly take pictures, but it also takes away a lot of control from you. All the important modes and settings are present, and filters can be applied quickly and conveniently, but there aren’t too many tweaks available to customize your pictures. If your camera needs are basic and you don’t want to work too hard at taking pictures, this should be fine.
One of the modes worth mentioning is ‘tilt shift’, which uses the software to produce a faux blur effect, and is also present on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 now. This essentially keeps a circular zone in focus depending on where you choose, and blurs out the rest using software, rather than the deep focus and depth of field sensing effects that dual-camera phones or DSLRs ordinary give you. Images definitely look software-engineered, but look interesting nonetheless.
Click for more camera samples
The camera itself is a bit of an improvement over the disappointing one on the Redmi Note 3. A different sensor has been used, and pictures are a hint better on the Redmi Note 4. Detail is alright for a camera in the sub-Rs 15,000 range, although color is a bit on the dull side. Although a bit of grain is visible on zooming into pictures and in low-light shots, what does strike me the ability to maintain contrast and detail in both bright and dark parts of the same picture. Low light pictures aren’t too bad either. The use of HDR makes pictures in good light slightly better, but doesn’t necessarily make a noticeable difference in low-light or with indoor shots.
The 5-megapixel front camera is surprisingly good for the occasional selfie, even in low-light conditions. Video is clean when you’re shooting at full-HD, although having the ability to shoot at 4K would have helped the Redmi Note 4 stand out here. On the whole, the camera is just about what you’d expect from a sub-Rs 15,000 smartphone, but doesn’t really stand out in any way.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Battery
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 has a 4100mAh battery that isn’t a lot larger than the one on the Redmi Note 3. However, the incredibly power-efficient Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 helps in getting as many hours out of it as possible, sipping battery out of a straw rather than glugging it down its throat. Even with heavy usage, I was able to get close to two full days out of it, and none of this comes at the cost of performance.
This was also the case with the battery-focused Lenovo P2, and it’s worth noting that while the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 doesn’t achieve the same level of battery life, it’s priced considerably lower and still comes close. The only complaint that I have in this regard is with the phone’s use of the micro-USB standard. While many devices, including the similarly priced Coolpad Cool 1 feature the newer and more user-friendly USB Type-C port, the Redmi Note 4 sticks to the currently more widespread, but rapidly aging micro-USB standard. (ALSO READ: Lenovo P2 Review)
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, at first glance, doesn’t seem like much of a change from the Redmi Note 3. Although there are differences in the way the two phones look, these differences are subtle and easily missed, and key aspects such as the screen, build quality and general styling remain largely unchanged. The phone retains the same positioning and pricing, holding its appeal by sticking to the tried and tested formula of offering a well-specced phone at a reasonable price. And in pursuit of this goal, Xiaomi have made most of its changes inside the phone, to keep things running at 2017 levels.
From the excellent Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC to the 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage on the top variant, the phone is straight away a better, more capable mid-range option that helps the Redmi Note range remain current. Small improvements to the camera and software also help the phone retain its image. And for these reasons, the Redmi Note 4 receives our praise. Although it is by no means perfect even for the price, it’s an improvement in all the right places, and retains the character that made the Redmi Note 3 such a huge success. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 represents excellent value for money, and is, for this reason, a phone we’re optimistic about and happy to recommend.