Xiaomi Redmi review: Ultra-budget Android Redmi shines for Asia

Right from the lock screen are a bunch of options when you touch the unlock key. You can swipe the button in four directions to either quickly turn on the camera, access your text messages or the phone dialer. Holding down the home button when the phone is locked will also turn on the flashlight, which is quite a convenient feature.

Once you unlock the phone, you'll find your normal home screen, but unlike stock Android, MIUI resembles iOS here, as there's no app drawer and your apps are located on the home screens. Like the Huawei Honor 3X, there's also a Themes app for you to customize the UI's look and feel.

You can tell that much thought and attention has been given to the customizability of the UI when you move multiple apps across screens. Instead of having to move them one by one, you can group app icons together before moving them together to another screen.

Xiaomi Redmi (Mi Cloud and battery indicator)
The handset's Mi Cloud (left) and battery indicator options. Aloysius Low/CNET

A Lite Mode can be enabled for those who want something easy to use, the UI looks and feels pretty similar to Huawei's Simple Mode, but Xiaomi's version isn't just a skin, there are changes to the UI including larger fonts and disabling the drop down menu.

Unlike the Hongmi version sold in China, the Redmi will come with Google Mobile Services, which includes all the Google apps including Gmail, Play Store and Maps. Swift Key Pro comes pre-installed for users, though I still prefer the default Android keyboard. Xiaomi has its own cloud service, which allows you to send cloud-based SMSes through the phone as well as your PC to other Xiaomi handsets, as well as backup features for your SMS and pictures.

Xiaomi Redmi (apps and dialpad)
Checking out the apps (left) and dial pad on the Redmi's user interface. Aloysius Low/CNET

Camera and video While most budget handsets would settle for a 5-megapixel rear camera or even less, the Redmi comes packing an 8-megapixel shooter that wouldn't be out of place in a mid- or high-end handset. Unlike what you'd expect from low-end devices, there's no shutter lag, and there are plenty of software options such as panorama and HDR.

The performance of the camera is surprisingly good, as good as what you'd expect from a high-end smartphone. Outdoor shots are clean, with plenty of detail. Colors aren't overly saturated, as well.

Xiaomi Redmi (outdoor)
Outdoor test shot (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET
Xiaomi Redmi (macro)
Macro test shot (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET
Xiaomi Redmi (indoor)
Indoor test shot (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance Powered by a quad-core 1.5GHz MediaTek MT6589T processor, the Redmi doesn't feel at all sluggish with normal use. 3D gaming performance, however, was less than perfect. On Asphalt 8, there's a noticeable lag that prevents you from properly controlling the car, but it's still playable as long as you don't expect to ace every race since you won't be able to steer smoothly.

Calls were crisp and clear, and I like the volume and clarity of the rear speaker. I still prefer having front-facing speakers like the HTC One, however, as that makes a lot more sense.

Packing a 2,000mAh battery, the Redmi lasted me a day and a half of moderate to heavy use. The test was done with having two e-mail accounts, Facebook and Twitter on push. I also used WhatsApp as my messaging service.

Xiaomi Redmi (battery)
Powering the handset is a 2,000mAh battery. Aloysius Low/CNET

Conclusion Price at an unbelievably low $133 (S$169), Xiaomi's Redmi is easily delivers twice the value in features. It's quite possibly the best budget handset I've seen, and with its affordable accessories, makes this the best low-cost smartphone you can get today. The Xiaomi will be available online for those in Singapore on Friday, February 21, from Xiaomi's Web site, as well as from partnering telcos.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Xiaomi Redmi

Part Number: REDMI

MSRP: $133.00

See manufacturer website for availability.