It's big, it doesn't cost much and it's actually pretty good
Despite limited global availability, Xiaomi has enjoyed a meteoric rise to success and is now one of the world's biggest smartphone vendors. While in Europe and North America the company's presence is virtually zero, in its native China and now India, it's a very different story. In offering good hardware at extremely competitive prices, Xiaomi is definitely doing something right.
The Redmi Note is one of the newer smartphones made available, and is imminently India bound. Coming in two flavors, one with 4G and one without, the Redmi Note is a large smartphone with a small price. And you know what? It's actually really good.
We've got the 4G LTE version in hand, and while the two versions are very similar, the hardware differs slightly. The Note 4G houses a 1.6GHz Snapdragon 400 CPU compared to the regular versions octa-core Mediatek processor. Beyond that it's the same story with 8GB of onboard storage – expandable via microSD – 2GB of RAM, a 3200mAh removable battery and a 5.5-inch 720p display. The Note 4G supports 4G FDD-LTE (1800/2100MHz) & TDD-LTE (2600MHz) as well as 3G WCDMA (850/900/1900/2100MHz). In the UK that means we'll be trying it out on EE. One point worth noting is the SIM card the Redmi Note takes: A regular big ol' SIM card. MicroSIMs have been pretty standard fare for some time now so whether its down to the market or not, if you're using anything smaller you'll need to find an adapter.
Despite being 'only' 720p at this size there's not much to pick fault with concerning the display. It's bright, the color reproduction seems excellent and viewing angles are good. The biggest issue is the glass over the top which is can be pretty bad for reflections. Seeing your own face all the time probably isn't what you're going for.
Unlike something such as the LG G3, the Redmi Note feels big for its 5.5-inches. With a healthy dose of bezel top and bottom – with capacitive buttons to blame it seems – this is a large phone to hold. But, it's not heavy with it. In keeping with the budget ideals the Redmi Note is glossy plastic all round. The back isn't that flimsy, but it's extremely slick and is an insane fingerprint magnet. Ours is white on the back, which helps a little, but you know they're there. Getting the back off is a little tricky too, involving prying at the microUSB port until enough of it pops up that you can get a good grip on.
Round the back the Redmi Note houses an impressive sounding 13MP camera with a 5MP selfie shooter up front. We've only really had chance to try it out in good light, but so far picture quality isn't disappointing. The camera app is simple to use and its pretty snappy at focusing and shooting. It's also pretty hot when you're shooting in burst mode, easily churning out multiple images without breaking a sweat.
Check out a few early samples below.
The software is where one of the biggest differences comes between the Redmi Note – or any Xiaomi phone, for that matter – and the likes of the OEMs we're more familiar with in the west. Many will have heard the name MIUI before, a completely custom version of Android that pre-dates Xiaomi's entry into the smartphone market. The Redmi Note comes out of the box running MIUI version 5, based on Android 4.4.2 KitKat. Our unit shipped with Google Play Services already installed, but for those that don't, there's a handy installer available through Xiaomi's own app market. No rooting, no tinkering.
It's a custom reworking right through and if you poke around you'll quickly see several familiar feeling settings. There will forever be comparisons drawn to iOS, and yes, many of them have a little standing. But MIUI is bright, generally good looking and smooth as butter. One of the more surprising parts of this phone is how incredibly slick it is to use. It feels smoother than some phones costing three or four times as much. The appearance may not be to everyone's tastes, but this is how you customize Android without ruining the experience.
MIUI is also fabulously customizable. The onboard theme store is packed with both free and paid themes and wallpapers that can completely transform the look and feel at the press of a button. And if you're brave it's very simple to load up a bleeding edge, developer ROM using the Updater app on the phone. Xiaomi is happy for you to tinker and makes it really straight forward to do so.
So, first impressions are very good. This particular phone cost £114 plus shipping to the UK, and at that price it's definitely shaping up well. The hardware is solid, the software is slick and the overall experience is much higher than the asking price might suggest. MIUI is a different way of using Android, but with Google services in play there's no disadvantage in using it and there's plenty of good stuff underneath. We'll have a full review soon so stay tuned for that, but if you're interested already it's currently available on XiaomiShop.com for $179.99 plus shipping.