Does Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 4 stand tall amongst a sea of budget smartphones? We dive in with our in-depth review!
Where once South Africans had to contend with a boring slew of budget smartphones made mediocre by lacklustre hardware and bare installations of stock Android, the affordable smartphone space now offers a vibrant selection of interesting choices – one brand making a sizeable difference has been Xiaomi with its Mi and Redmi selection of smartphones, and now we’ve got the company’s newest entrant – the Redmi Note 4 – in our hands.
We’ve reviewed many of Xiaomi’s recent market entries such as the Redmi 4A and the Mi Max, and the one consistency the Chinese brand has offered throughout its lineup is excellent price sensitivity.
With other brands beginning to catch up, however, how does the Redmi Note 4 manage to carve out its own unique identity and selling point?
Let’s dive in!
The Redmi Note 4 arrives running Android 6.0 Marshmallow with upgrade eligibility to Android 7.0 Nougat – underneath the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage, or 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. That’s all in addition to a large 4,100mAh battery, while on the camera front there’s a 13-megapixel primary camera and a 5-megapixel secondary unit.
The Redmi Note 4 carries a design that’s quite reminiscent of the Redmi Note 3, save for some small iterations; the device is slimmer and lighter than its predecessor (weighing in one solid gram under the scale) and carries a center-aligned micro-USB port instead of the left-aligned unit the Note 3 carried.
The Note 4 is a pleasant but stark design, incorporating a camera array and fingerprint scanner in perfect symmetry; our black review model carries gold accent lines that let this device shine through in night or day. The device – despite its reduced weight – carries a refreshing heft that reminds its user of its presence in either a pocket or handbag.
The device carries a power and volume key combo on its right-hand side, and carries a headphone jack and an IR blaster on its topmost panel. Dual speaker grills sit on the bottom panel, while only the leftmost unit functions – a purely aesthetic (and not functional) choice.
Soft-touch buttons sit on the Note 4’s front panel, in the classic Xiaomi array wherein the multitasking key is on the left, and the revert key on the right.
The device’s 5.5″ display dominates its front panel, and the good news is that there’s little in the way of side bezels here, despite the fact that this certainly isn’t an effort in the same calibre of the Galaxy Note 8 or the newly announced LG V30.
MIUI returns on the Redmi Note 4; marking yet another outing for Xiaomi’s software skin in the South African market.
MIUI takes some inspiration from Huawei’s EMUI and Apple’s iOS in the sense that it scraps an app launcher in favour of a continous Home screen. Unique features are present, however, in the form of additions such as support for Dual Apps, which lets users create a copy of an app with which to use an entirely seperate account.
Xiaomi’s array of core apps remain present on this offering, given that many of Google’s services are banned in China; this will either leave consumers with the joy of using something new in the local market, or having to live with duplicate services should they rather wish to leverage Google’s apps instead.
Though the skin remains a somewhat restrictive endeavour for Android purists who prefer to have their device as close to Google’s vision as possible, MIUI continues to bring a novel look and slick operation into South Africa’s budget market.
However, 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 – and given that the Note 4 debuts with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, things are closer to stock Android than ever thanks to the presence of a Google-like notification shade and enlarged text space that mercificully don’t cram English where Mandarin logograms would usually sit.
Perhaps the most ironic sentiment we can express when it comes to the Redmi Note 4 is that the Redmi Note 3 was perhaps the more equitable rocketship thanks to its use of the Snapdragon 650 chipset.
Still, however, the Note 4 carries a win thanks to its use of Qualcomm’s most energy efficient processor and a large 4,100mAh battery – meaning that like the BlackBerry KEYone this is a handset that can go for days on end.
The device is generally a breezy affair, as apps and menus load quickly and without any sluggishness well into the second week of our review honeymoon. High-end apps and games might suffer from grating performance, though this mostly occurs when the device’s GPU becomes taxed. Put simply, this is a fine device for crunching through the monotony of email and WhatsApp, yet this is not the device one will want to power through day-long gaming and VR sessions.
Battery life is possibly the Redmi Note 4’s greatest strength; during the course of our review the device regularly punched through a full second day before succumbing to its woes, and regularly lasted over a week when left to its own devices on standby.
While the Redmi Note 3 was certainly no maverick in the camera department, things mercifully improve for the better with the Redmi Note 4.
The Note 4 is capable of delivering well-rounded shots that incorporate great colour reproduction and fine detail, and manages to make up for the Note 3’s tendency to blur both of those aspects in low light.
There’s some evidence that Xiaomi’s expertise with the Mi 5 and Mi 6 have paid off here – the Note 3 performs well whether it is leveraged for either macro or micro shots, and executes savvy control of highlights and shadows.
The device can at times become taxed when shooting in HDR mode, rendering in a small delay in shooting that can at times leave an important moment to pass into the ether, never to be recaptured.
Where the Note 4’s camera does excel is where it is easiest to do so; golden hour snaps will yield fantastic results wherein the device can show off both its control of a fast shutter speed and wide aperture.
The device’s selfie camera is similar to some of Xiaomi’s other efforts – the snapper captures warm and prudent images, though detail can sometimes give way to blurry luminosity even without the vanity of the onboard beauty filter at play.
Retailing at approximately R3299,00 ZAR, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 is a device that can no longer afford to play it safe in an increasingly crowded local market where the likes of Nokia have returned with budget devices that sit with the tantalising offer of near-stock Android.
The device’s most perplexing caveat is that it lacks the prowess of its predecessor; this is a smartphone that exchanges brute force for battery life; and while for some that may be an equitable trade, for others it’ll be a step backward.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Redmi Note 4 is that – despite its proximity to other Xiaomi handsets of similar size and make – this is a smartphone that desperately attempts to be its own endeavour; it’s both slim and light, while carrying an equitable primary and secondary camera pairing and excellent battery life.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 is an interesting set of contradictions that see it widely differentiated from Xiaomi’s past offerings – perhaps no more so than from its predecessor, the Redmi Note 3.
Though consumers seeking an upgrade from the Note 3 might be disappointed, those looking to get onboard with Xiaomi for the first time will be rewarded with a smartphone that offers bang-for-buck battery life and camera performance, and thankfully doesn’t break the bank.
The next major challenge for Xiaomi – at least on a local level here in South Africa – will be the test of whether it can battle with returning legends such as Nokia in the low-end, Samsung at the mid-range, and the likes of Huawei at the top level of the market.
Have your say!
What are your thoughts? Do you plan to purchase a Redmi Note 4 in the near future? Be sure to let us know your opinion in the comments below!