You know how this goes. Xiaomi knows how to roll out a phone that offers great value for money, but for whatever reason the brand just isn't able to deliver software that's free from clutter. Xiaomi has managed to hold onto its crown as India's largest handset manufacturer for two years in a row, but Realme has made considerable gains in the country over the last 15 months.
The result is a frenetic launch cycle as both brands try to outdo one another. Xiaomi rolled out the Redmi Note 7 Pro, and Realme introduced the Realme 3 Pro. Xiaomi came out with the Redmi K20 series, and Realme launched the Realme X. To say that this year has been particularly busy in India's budget segment would be an understatement.
As we get to the tail end of 2019, Xiaomi and Realme are back at it. This time, both brands are debuting phones with 64MP cameras at the back. Realme got a headstart in the Realme XT, and Xiaomi is now introducing the Redmi Note 8 Pro. This time around, both devices have near-identical features, a near-identical design aesthetic, and 64MP cameras at the back. Let's see if Xiaomi still has the advantage.
You get what you pay for
Bottom line: The Redmi Note 8 Pro gets a lot right: the Helio G90T is a great addition on the hardware front, as is the 64MP camera and 20MP front shooter. You also get great value, but the downside is the software — the phone is still on Pie, there's bloatware everywhere, and the MIUI 11 update won't be here until the end of the year.
- Great value
- Robust hardware
- Excellent battery life
- 64MP camera is a great addition
- MIUI lacks polish
- Endless bloatware
- Still on Pie
Redmi Note 8 Pro Hardware
The first thing you'll notice with the Redmi Note 8 Pro is just how similar it is to the Realme XT. Both phones have glass backs, and nearly identical gradient finishes. The design itself is markedly different from the Redmi Note 7 Pro, and it is easy to see the similarities between the phone and the Reedmi K20 series. The Gamma Green edition of the Redmi Note 8 Pro in particular is stunning.
Like its predecessor, the Redmi Note 8 Pro also features a mid-frame that's made out of plastic, and the front and rear panels of glass are protected by Gorilla Glass 5. The phone has a larger 4500mAh battery, however, and that has made it considerably heavier, coming in at 200g. The new camera housing at the back holds three sensors and the fingerprint reader — the macro lens sits underneath the LED flash module — and it juts considerably from the chassis. It does make the phone wobble when laid flat on a surface, and the positioning of the fingerprint sensor isn't ideal. It now sits higher than where your finger normally rests at the back, so you have to stretch your finger to access the reader.
The in-hand feel is pretty great thanks to the curved sides, but the glass back does make the phone prone to fingerprint smudges. The power and volume buttons are on the right and easily accessible, and you get decent tactile feedback.
There are two slots on the left side of the phone; one holds two SIM cards, and the other a MicroSD card. You also get a 3.5mm jack at the bottom next to the USB-C port, and the IR blaster sits at the top. There's a single speaker at the bottom, and it just doesn't get loud enough for everyday use. Furthermore, it's easy to muffle the sound coming out of the speaker when gaming.
Robust hardware with a new gaming-focused chipset that ticks all the right boxes.
The front of the Redmi Note 8 Pro is similar to what we've seen this year from the brand — there's a tiny waterdrop cutout, thin bezels at the bottom, and a wide grille on top. The screen itself is larger than the one on the Redmi Note 7 Pro, with the phone now featuring a 6.53-inch IPS LCD panel. The resolution is the same at FHD+ (2340 x 1080), and the display quality is also unchanged. Colors are cool out of the box, and you have to manually tweak the color balance to get the panel to a more natural tone.
The panel itself is decent in its own right, but it isn't quite as good as the OLED display you get on the Realme XT. Furthermore, Xiaomi is still offering a traditional fingerprint module, while the XT has an in-screen solution that works just as reliably.
|Specs||Redmi Note 8 Pro|
|Software||Android 9.0 Pie|
|Display||6.53-inch (2340x1080) IPS LCD|
|Chipset||2.05GHz MediaTek Helio G90T|
|Rear Camera 1||64MP, ƒ/1.9 (primary)|
|Rear Camera 2||8MP, ƒ/2.2 (wide-angle)|
|Rear Camera 3||2MP, ƒ/2.4 (portrait)|
|Rear Camera 4||2MP, ƒ/2.4 (macro)|
|Front Camera||20MP, ƒ/2.0|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, BT5.0|
|Colors||Gamma Green, Halo White, Shadow Black|
|Dimensions||161.4 x 76.4 x 8.8mm|
Interestingly, Xiaomi went with MediaTek instead of Qualcomm for the Redmi Note 8 Pro. The phone is the first to be powered by the 12nm Helio G90T. MediaTek hasn't fared well in the mid-range segment, but it's looking to change that with the G90T, its first chipset optimized for gaming. The chipset features a two-core cluster with two Cortex A76 cores at 2.05GHz and six energy-efficient A55 cores at 2.0GHz, and ARM's Mali G76 GPU.
The Helio G90T is aimed at the mid-range segment, so it's going up against the likes of the Snapdragon 730G, Qualcomm's take on a gaming-centric chipset. The G90T manages to outmatch the regular 730 in synthetic tests, and almost comes close to last year's Snapdragon 845. That's a big deal when you consider the segment the Redmi Note 8 Pro is targeted at, and shows just how much power is on offer here.
The G90T is in a class of its own in terms of gaming, but there is an issue with overheating. The Redmi Note 8 Pro got uncomfortably hot after just 20 minutes of gaming, and Xiaomi's decision to add liquid cooling to bring down the thermals makes sense now.
On the battery side of things, the 4500mAh battery on the Redmi Note 8 Pro is more than adequate for a full day's worth of use. I routinely got two days of usage between charges, and the highlight this time around is 18W fast charge delivered over Quick Charge 4.0+. It is great to see Xiaomi offer fast charging options in this category, and you even get an 18W charger in the box.
Redmi Note 8 Pro Camera
One of the standout features on the Redmi Note 8 Pro is the 64MP camera at the back. The primary sensor is joined by three other modules: an 8MP ultra-wide lens, 2MP portrait lens, and a 2MP macro shooter. If that arrangement sounds familiar, it's because Realme also uses the same exact array on the Realme XT.
It is coincidental that these two rivals somehow ended up with quad camera designs with the exact same hardware, but it is great news for customers as there's more choice if you're looking to pick up a phone with a 64MP shooter.
The 64MP Samsung GW1 sensor takes astounding photos in daylight, as you can see above. You get great colors with wide dynamic range, and the detail is preserved after zooming in as well. The phone also takes usable shots in artificial lighting, but it does struggle in low-light scenarios.
Furthermore, there's a noticeable difference in image quality between the main and ultra-wide lenses. You get decent shots at 2x zoom thanks to the larger 64MP shooter, and while the ultra-wide lens adds more versatility, it's clear that the portrait and macro lenses are there purely for marketing. I was able to get one or two usable shots out of the macro lens, but the effort involved in doing so makes it more of a hassle than an useful addition.
Redmi Note 8 Pro Software
You know that the only reason Xiaomi is able to sell its devices for so less is because of ads. You get ads all over the interface in MIUI, and that's now a "feature" that's unique to Xiaomi. But with the Redmi Note 8 Pro, the bloatware situation is on an entirely different level.
The sheer amount of bloatware on this phone is mind-boggling — I haven't used any phone that has this much bloatware installed.
You get the usual set of Xiaomi services installed out of the box — Mi Credit, Mi Pay, Mi Video, Notes, Music, Mi Store, and Mi Community — and that's fine. But you also get a folder that includes Paytm, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Dailyhunt, Gaana, WPS Office, and Opera Mini. That's not all either; there's a secondary folder with "games" that you may find of interest, including Ludo Master, Dust Settle, Pop Shooter Blast, and Block Puzzle Guardian.
Xiaomi is now teaming up with Amazon, so you get two different apps for Alexa installed out of the box, with Xiaomi touting that the Redmi Note 8 Pro is the first phone in India to "offer" Alexa out of the box. The bloatware journey on the Redmi Note 8 Pro isn't done yet, because you also get two social networking apps: Helo and Likee. The latter has over 100 million installs and has an Editor's Choice award on the Play Store.
I've never heard of Likee before, but after launching the app for the first time it started playing a video that was wildly inappropriate. The fact that I couldn't find a list of four thumbnails that didn't have some kind of sexual content tells you everything you need to know about Likee. Xiaomi's audience skews younger, and for the brand chose to pre-install something like this on its latest phone is a misguided move.
I wanted to make sure I didn't opt in somewhere during the configuration, so I reset the Redmi Note 8 Pro and set up the phone as new. As you can see from the screenshots below, Likee and Hike are provided by Redmi, and there's no way to opt out of installing these apps. Even if you set up your phone as new, both apps will be installed as soon as you connect to a Wi-Fi network. Yes, you can uninstall both Helo and Likee, but the fact that they're pre-installed in the first place makes it infuriating.
Glance is back, showing ads when you're in the lock screen. And if you're not careful during initial configuration, you could end up installing even more "services," including the likes of TikTok, Khata Book, Videobook, Vigo Lite, and UC Mini. Regardless of what you do in MIUI, you'll see ads somewhere. Then there's the spam notifications. Xiaomi services like Mi Video and Music send a decent number of notifications over the course of the day, and it gets real annoying very fast.
Xiaomi's latest phone won't get the brand's latest software for two more months.
Xiaomi launched MIUI 11 alongside the Redmi Note 8 Pro, so you'd assume that the brand will offer the latest iteration of its skin on its latest phone out of the box. That isn't the case, and what makes the situation even more infuriating is that the Redmi Note 8 Pro will be the last phone to pick up the MIUI 11 build, a full two months from now. If that isn't a failure on th product side, I don't know what else is. Xiaomi is rolling out the update to 27 other phones before the Redmi Note 8 Pro, and it just isn't evident why customers picking up the phone will have to wait so long to use the latest software skin.
Furthermore, the Redmi Note 8 Pro comes with Pie out of the box, and there's no mention of Android 10. It is feasible we'll see the update alongside MIUI 11, but that hasn't been confirmed by Xiaomi, and given the brand's record in this area, it's safe to assume that you'll have to wait a while before you're on the latest version of Android.
Redmi Note 8 Pro Should you buy it?
I've been reviewing Xiaomi products for over five years now. In that time, I used every single phone the manufacturer has released. I also ended up recommending dozens of Xiaomi products to friends and family, accompanied by a caveat around the software. That hasn't changed with the Redmi Note 8 Pro, but the sheer amount of bloatware on the phone makes me want to reconsider.
For my money, I'd pay a little more and get the Realme XT.
Then there's the fact that the phone won't receive the MIUI 11 update for another two months. Xiaomi's decision to monetize its phones via ads and pre-installed apps comes at the cost of user experience, and for a brand that prides itself on listening to its community, it has failed in this area.
You shouldn't have to put up with this much bloatware just to use a phone with a decent camera and great hardware. That's particularly true in India, where there's plenty of choice. If you need a phone with a 64MP camera, the Realme XT is the better option. Sure, it costs more money, but you're getting better software — I didn't think I'd ever say that of ColorOS — and an OLED panel with an in-screen fingerprint sensor. Right now, the Realme XT is the phone to beat in India's budget segment, and that should give Xiaomi pause.
When seen against the Redmi Note 7 Pro, Xiaomi has managed to deliver in a lot of key areas with the Redmi Note 8 Pro. The Helio G90T is plenty fast in day-to-day use, the new design looks much more premium, and the 64MP camera has a lot to offer. That said, the Realme XT also has the same sensor, and it manages to do a better job taking photos. You won't see ads in the interface, the bloatware situation is much more manageable, and overall it's just a much better product.
You get what you pay for
Same great value, same old software drawbacks.
The Redmi Note 8 Pro gets a lot right: the Helio G90T is a great addition on the hardware front, as is the 64MP camera and 20MP front shooter. You also get great value, but the downside is the software — the phone is still on Pie, there's bloatware everywhere, and the MIUI 11 update won't be here until the end of the year.
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