Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 review: Speedy performance for cheap

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The Good Xiaomi's Redmi Note 2 may be cheap, but it packs in good performance with a reliable camera and expandable storage.

The Bad The phone is pretty much limited to countries in Asia for now, and there's no indication it will head westward anytime soon. Camera color accuracy is a problem indoors and battery life is good, but not great.

The Bottom Line The Redmi Note 2 is yet another Xiaomi smartphone that delivers good performance at a low price -- but those outside Asia however will have a hard time getting one.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Camera 7
  • Battery 6

Xiaomi's latest smartphone, the Redmi Note 2, is the kind of phone you're looking for when you need a big screen and features at a low cost, even if its specs aren't all that exciting. As the last new phone the Chinese smartphone maker is selling outside of China for the rest of the year, this is the budget large screen phone to try especially if you've never heard of Xiaomi before.

Personally, I don't really like displays larger than 5 inches, as they make it a tad uncomfortable to use with one hand, but the 5.5-inch Redmi Note 2 didn't seem too hard to get used to. Perhaps it's because I've been testing out the Apple Watch with the 5.5-inch iPhone 6S Plus, which may have made the transition easier.

Like all Xiaomi phones, the Redmi Note 2 runs a custom version of Android called MIUI, and like most Chinese smartphones it takes a page out of Apple's design handbook and puts all the apps on the home screen by default. Also, Xiaomi likes to keep things lean, so you'll find a lack of irritating bloatware, which is always a plus. The 13-megapixel camera isn't the best, but it will take pretty decent pictures with enough natural light.

The phone retails for a mere $150, which converts to around £100 or AU$210, though if you're getting one from third-party online retailers, expect to pay a slight premium. It's a pretty decent phone, especially if you're looking for a cheap device you can take overseas, and it works well for this thanks to its dual-SIM capabilities.

Where can I get this phone?

Xiaomi sells the phone in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. There's no word on whether it will ever be sold in the US, UK or Australia, but based on Xiaomi's pattern, likely not. The company is making inroads in India and Brazil, so if we were to see it land anywhere else, I'd put my money on one of those countries.

Can I still by the phone if I don't live in Asia?

Third-party online retailers usually stock Xiaomi products, so there's a good chance you can get one for a slight premium. There are a few caveats to note, firstly, warranty may be limited, and you'll have to make sure you're getting the non-China version if you want the Google Play store preinstalled. Otherwise you'll have to do some work yourself to get the apps working on the phone.

Which 4G networks is the phone compatible with?

There's good and bad news. Right now, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 supports a range of 4G networks, which includes UK carriers like Three and EE, and should support the LTE networks of Optus, Telstra and Vodafone in Australia. The bad news is that 4G won't work in the US, although 3G will.

What are the Redmi Note 2's main features?

Apart from having a 5.5-inch full-HD display, the Note 2 sports a MediaTek Helio X10 octa-core 64-bit processor. It also has 2GB of RAM, which isn't a lot, as well as a mere 16GB of onboard storage, but it does have a microSD card slot if you need more storage. The Redmi Note 2 comes with dual-SIM 4G, which is pretty good if you are traveling overseas and want to use a local SIM card to save on roaming fees, without removing your everyday SIM.

I like taking photos -- is the Redmi Note 2's camera any good?

The 13-megapixel rear camera is fine, but not terrific. If you're in the bright outdoors, you'll find that pictures generally turn out sharp with colors that are generally true to life. It struggles a bit indoors under fluorescent lighting, and does have some issues with color accuracy then.

The Note 2's camera locks onto objects pretty quickly thanks to its 0.1s phase detection autofocus, which is another plus and there are a bunch of software enhancements, such as panorama mode for taking wide landscape shots. The front camera isn't too shabby; you'll be able to take good-looking 5-megapixel selfies thanks to the phone's built-in Beautify mode.

How does the size compare to other big phones?

While it has the same screen size as the iPhone 6S Plus (5.5 inches), the Redmi Note 2 is actually smaller in size overall, though it's still slightly thicker than the 6S Plus. Compared against, say, the more expensive Huawei Mate S, which has a similar-sized display, the Mate S is just a hair smaller, though you'll find both to be around the same size.

I'm not familiar with Xiaomi's MIUI; what's good about it?

MIUI is Xiaomi's take on Android, and if you're switching from iOS, you'll feel right at home. Like iOS, MIUI drops the Android app drawer (where the apps are usually found) in favor of putting all the apps on the home screens. You can easily sort apps into folders, and there's a smart feature that lets you use one digit to drag an app icon while using another one to flip the "page" to get to a new screen. This is way easier than bringing the app to the edge of the display the way you do in Apple's iOS.

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