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

This Chinese company's $133 phone is affordable Android with a boost, delivering a far better camera and user experience than you'd expect for the price.

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Aloysius Low
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Aloysius Low

Senior Editor

Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.

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5 min read

Known as the Xiaomi Hongmi ("red rice," in Mandarin) in China, the dual-SIM 3G Redmi is the first handset from the company that is officially available outside of China, Taipei, and Hong Kong, and is set to retail online for both Singapore and Malaysia.

Xiaomi Redmi (angled)
8.3

Xiaomi Redmi

The Good

The ridiculously cheap <b>Xiaomi Redmi</b> has a cool UI with plenty of usable features, a good camera, and a crisp 720p display.

The Bad

The Redmi lacks 4G connectivity and 3D gaming performance was sluggish.

The Bottom Line

Xiaomi's Redmi offers exceptional value for its low price, and blows all other budget handsets out of the water. If you're looking for a cheap Android smartphone without having to compromise performance, look no further.

It's the first time the company is launching a handset in countries where Chinese is not the main language, and to start off with a budget handset seems like a bold move, except for the fact the Redmi is more than what it seems. Despite a low price of just $133 (S$169), the cheap Android smartphone packs plenty of punch.

Design
The Redmi's design feels pretty standard, it's your usual rectangular smartphone with slightly curved corners. With no sharp edges, though, the phone doesn't dig into your palm. The 4.7-inch IPS display sports a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, which means you won't have to worry about fuzzy fonts when browsing the Web.

The handset feels solid despite being made of plastic -- there's a comfortable heft in its 158g weight. The overall build quality feels very much like something Nokia makes, and that's a very good thing, especially for those who have encountered low-quality Chinese OEM handsets before.

Xiaomi Redmi (angled)
The handset has a 4.7-inch IPS display with a 720p resolution. Aloysius Low/CNET

The rear cover is removable, and you can also swap it out for a different color. Xiaomi will also be retailing a bunch of soft gel protective cases for just $7 (S$9), which add a different hue to the handset as well. I found the cases to be pretty well made despite their price, and this means you don't have to spend a bomb to accessorize.

Underneath the cover is where you'll find the removable 2,000mAh battery, and I'm told that you can also get an extra battery for just $8 (S$10), and in a different color, though no one (besides yourself) will ever see it.

The power and volume buttons are found on the right, and are easily in reach when holding the smartphone with one hand. Speakers are located at the back near to the camera, which means you won't block it with your palm when holding it.

Xiaomi Redmi is an Android standout (pictures)

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Features
While it only has 3G connectivity, the handset will work almost anywhere in the world. The phone also comes with dual-SIM capability, allowing you to easily have two lines active on your handset. However, only one SIM will have 3G activated (the second SIM supports GPRS data), and ideally, while you can use data on both SIMs, it's probably a good idea to use it on the 3G line for faster speeds.

The Redmi runs a modified version of Android, called MIUI v5. If you're a person who likes to tinker with your phone, or perhaps, have even rooted it and installed a few ROMs, then you may be familiar with MIUI. If this is your first experience with the OS, there are a few features that will reel you in.

Xiaomi Redmi (homescreen)
It's easy to customize the home screen. Aloysius Low/CNET

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.

Xiaomi Redmi (angled)
8.3

Xiaomi Redmi

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9