Xiaomi’s Redmi 4A promises power and pocketability, but can it win out in a sea of Android hopefuls? We dive in with our full review!
Believe it or not, there was a time when the term ‘Budget Android smartphone’ elicited eye rolls and smirks. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then – great phones are getting cheaper, and cheaper phones are getting better. Among a sea of hopefuls, we’re desperate to know – does Xiaomi’s Redmi 4A stand out?
With the selling point of affordability, Xiaomi’s Redmi 4A doesn’t do a great job of setting itself apart from the Chinese company’s expanding range of accessible Android handsets. While affordability and pocketability are two headlines that catch consumer attention in South Africa, is this an effort which separates itself from the pack?
Let’s dive in!
Budget is the name of the game with the Redmi 4A; the device comes equipped with a modest Snapdragon 425, 5″ form factor and 720p display, which is rounded out by an ordinary loadout of 2GB of RAM and 16GB of expandable internal storage.
Insofar as cameras go, the Redmi 4A bears a 13-megapixel primary camera, and a 5-megapixel front facing camera for selfie duty. A sizeable 3,120mAh battery concludes the offering.
Here’s the thing with the Xiaomi Redmi 4A; it’s quite small. If you’ve ever swooned over the iPhone 5/s or iPhone SE for its size, and then stepped back because of its price, the Redmi 4A does have a certain je ne sais quoi.
There are some interesting parallels to the older Xiaomi Mi 4 here, and we’ll come back to that in a few minutes. Suffice to say, a fairly bricky design gives way to a plastic back panel which, if you like the flavour, arrives in quite a stunning rose gold finish.
No, this doesn’t scream premium in any way or form, and you won’t fool anyone out in the street; but this is a tidy handset with a simplistic design that’s, well, plainly pleasing. There’s little ostentation here, and if you felt put off by the Xiaomi Mi 5‘s bold, thin design, you could do worse than the Redmi 4A.
Caveats? There are a few. For one, you’re stuck with MicroUSB support, a rear-facing speaker which will likely fire into your palm, and a screen that’s prone to scratches. Buttons are clicky enough, though you won’t (unsurprisingly) get that same, rewarding tactile feeling that you might have with the likes of Samsung’s upper mid-range handsets.
Those design flaws might be irritating to some, but there’s little here that’s openly offensive. One can quickly forgive the Redmi 4A’s design by booting straight into Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, where the interface is both crisp and smooth. Sure, there’s a 720p display afoot, but you’ll be challenged to notice unless you’re an eagle-eyed pixel hunter.
You’ll either love or hate Xiaomi’s MIUI, and text – as we’ve complained before – can still be mercilessly small aboard the Redmi 4A. Still, if you like clean interfaces replete with some very well-rounded icons, you might pick up the Redmi 4A simply to slap Google’s Now/Pixel launcher onboard at a later stage.
Interface control is typically slick, and while the Redmi 4A won’t be the phone you pick up to slug out the latest mobile games, this is a handy device to get the job that everyone needs to do, done; communication.
If the Redmi 4A’s speaker doesn’t blast directly into your palm while you hold it, it’ll likely distort at high volumes; meaning that you’ll either want to willingly annoy those around you by blasting out your favourite tracks in tinny glory, or you’ll want to plug in some headphones.
Here’s where we have some positives; the Redmi 4A sports a relatively large 3,120mAh for its size, and thanks to the small power economy its Snapdragon 425 processor relies on, you’ll be able to eke your usage of the Redmi 4A out over at least two days of standard use. If you plan on letting the device sit around as an auxiliary phone, you’ll be rewarded with at least a week’s standby time; both results punch far higher than what Xiaomi has elected to claim.
Normally we aren’t too enthused about being locked into Xiaomi’s MIUI during review periods for the nick-nack nature of the skin, though measurable improvements have been made in Android 6.0 Marshmallow; a more Google-y notification center debuts, and some text sizes show at a more reasonable size than information panes usually allow for Mandarin logograms.
Xiaomi’s expanding theme store will let most users skin their devices in close proximity to stock Android, which is a refreshing change of pace. The Redmi 4A – while it isn’t perfect – represents one of our more favourable changes in perspective towards MIUI. Put simply? You can live with it this time.
If you’re looking for a convincing budget phone with a camera that won’t lower your expectations or raise your frustration, you might want to look elsewhere.
While the Redmi 4A is capable of capturing vibrant colours and can indeed furnish detailed imagery, you might have a hard task ahead of you in ensuring that the device actually stays in focus.
Focus can vary from picture to picture, and can often drift crosswise from the subject you want to keep pin-sharp.
Fortunately, while the selfie camera is a more relaxed affair – shooting similar colours and retaining suitable focus – you might want to skip the device’s age-recognition feature for sake of your pride.
Here’s the thing. Standing on its own, the Redmi 4A is far from perfect, but it is a suitable pocket device for the many of us that can’t afford to splurge on a high-end handset and merely want something to get the job done. In South Africa, that’s an important niche to fill – and for the R1999 ZAR the Redmi 4A retails for, you could do a lot worse.
There is a wolf amongst sheep here, however, and it’s one from the same pack the Redmi 4A stems from; one can actually pick up the elder Xiaomi Mi 4 for a similar price tag to the Redmi 4A, and for that many of the issues that plague Xiaomi’s budget entrant can be escaped from.
In fact, there’s an interesting debate between value and future-proofing here; if you can stomach the idea of being devoid of either the latest Android or MIUI updates, the Xiaomi Mi 4 is almost certainly a better bet. For the same sum, users can expect a sexy metal body, 5″ form factor, 1GB more RAM, a 1080p display, and an 8-megapixel selfie shooter.
For those bonuses, you’re looking to scrap expandable storage and the likelihood of ever receiving an Android update beyond Marshmallow.
The Xiaomi Redmi 4A is a difficult phone to recommend; in positives, it is – on paper – an excellent, well-conceptualized budget phone that should bring power to the people in South Africa and beyond.
However, the device is also limiting when one considers that elder Android flagships (such as the Mi 4) are rapidly depreciating to the arena the Redmi 4A is supposed to dominate.
The Redmi 4A isn’t perfect, but it likely won’t disappoint you. Consider it if you consider future-proofing and reliability a more worthwhile spend than seeking absolute value-for-money.
Have your say!
What are your thoughts? Do you plan on buying Xiaomi’s Redmi 4A? Be sure to let us know your opinion in the comments below!