Xiaomi just sold 10,000 Redmi Notes in Taiwan in one second. Why? How? A huge fanbase that's crazy about its phones and limited stocks pushing up demand.
The same approach will be in place when the Redmi Note goes on sale in Malaysia on 22 July. As usual, there will be Mi fans camping overnight to snap up the RM509 phablet and don't be surprised if the units turn up on resale markets.
Its tactics haven't ruffled any feathers yet. Instead, they've fuelled even more interest among its fans. But is the Redmi Note really as incredible as thousands of phone fans believe?
Build: it’s all gloss and plastic
There’s an easy way to summarise the Redmi Note - it’s an upsized version of the earlier Redmi, with a chunkier design, glossy plastic body and heftier weight. If you have dainty hands, tough luck, because it feels a bit like you’re handling a massive block of plastic.
Likewise, feeble arms should watch out - that 199g weight gets pretty heavy, especially when you hold the phone to watch a full-length, weepy Korean drama. Short bursts of Facebook stalking aren't so much of a problem.
The Note's build looks appealing from afar with its glossy and shiny exterior but though it looks nice enough, it feels like cheap plastic to the touch. Sure, this is a wallet-friendly smartphone that doesn’t have the same sophisticated look and feel of devices wearing a full metal jacket. But we've seen better attempts at class on a budget. Pro-tip: bring a cleaning cloth along as you’ll be smudging the phone with copious amount of fingerprints.
READ MORE: Xiaomi Redmi review
Screen: big on size, small on pixels
That massive 5.5in display is a sight to behold. Simply put, icons and text are so comfortable to read, you won’t have to squint. While we’ve been spoiled by 1080p and 2K display lately, it didn’t take long for our peepers to get used to this Average Joe 720p screen.
Movies and images look good though you’ll need to be watching them at the native 720p resolution. It’s not going to make you wow at the slightest details, but at the very least, you won’t even notice any pixels as you stream movies with the phone. Subtitles, however, could jolt you out of that illusion and remind you that you’re viewing a 720p screen. Likewise, against high-end flagship models, you might notice slightly fuzzier text when scrolling through web pages, especially at the edges of letters.
It's an IPS panel with excellent viewing angles, a great addition at this price and handy for spotting notifications when the Redmi Note is flat on a desk. With movies, it’s even more useful - as it can be so tiring to hold, you might pop it on your lap halfway through.
Screen brightness isn't an issue either, with the automatic brightness kicking in almost immediately to counter strong sunlight. Likewise, it re-adjusts to an indoor environment almost instantly stopping the screen from blinding you when your subway dives into the tunnel system.
READ MORE: Xiaomi Mi3 review
Camera: day shooter
The 13MP camera does a fine job during the day. With enough light, the sensor picked up a good amount of detail, especially for macro shots. Autofocus speed isn’t spectacular, taking slightly less than a second to re-focus a shot. This is the same for capturing speed. But again, one shouldn’t expect much more from a budget smartphone.
The front camera houses a decent 5MP sensor for, you know, sharp selfies. And with the voice-activated shutter, uttering a word rather than fumbling with the shutter button to take pics of your face is very simple.
At night, however, the camera is as blind as a bat. Its HDR mode brought some light back, though the sheer amount of fuzzy noise in the photos will drive you mad.
Like MIUI - we'll get to that - the camera interface here is nice and simple. It's easy to use with basic features such as panorama and filter with none of those confounding exposure, ISO, white balance settings to confuse you. But if you’re a sucker for punishment, you can activate the advanced UI to access these additional imaging settings.
READ MORE: 6 pro tips for taking killer Instagram pics
Features: MI, U and I
Though a slightly dated Android 4.2 powers the Redmi Note, Xiaomi’s heavily customised (and iOS-looking) MIUI user interface adds a lot more functionality to the phablet. And Xiaomi has a good track record of updating MIUI too.
Small features such as a quick downward swipe on the music player icon brings up the music player widget. Advanced users can do more with the Security app, which houses a number of features to improve the phone’s performance. For example, tapping the Check button will scan the phone and clear any unused files once you hit the Optimize button. You can even transfer files out of the phone via FTP instead of its microUSB port.
Beginners will find these additional features daunting to use but they don’t have to rely on them for daily use. If you’re new to Xiaomi, the learning curve isn’t steep, but there’s a lot of ground to cover. For iOS users, however, they should pick up the basic UI pretty quickly. There’s no app drawer, just pages and pages of apps.
Other features such as pressing and holding the home button in the lock screen to activate the LED flash or locking often-used apps to prevent them from being cleared are just the tip of the iceberg with MIUI.
Performance: are eight (cores) better than four?
Does an octa-core processor turbocharge the phone? The short answer, is no. For the long answer… just kidding, we’ll keep this short and simple. Using AnTuTu, the Redmi Note gave a solid performance, clocking in at 26,702. Numbers-wise, it’s not near the levels of the flagship devices which all measure above 30,000.
But in reality, there’s no distinct difference in performance between Xiaomi’s phablet and other devices using quad-core processors. Apps take five seconds on average to start up. With 2GB of RAM, it doesn't show any signs of sluggishness with multiple apps running in the background.
Menu transitions were fluid and games like Dead Trigger 2 and Real Racing 3 were handled by the Mediatek octa-core processor with absolute ease. We were still skeptical, until we tried a trailer from Transformers: Age of Extinction. Trust us, if the phone manages to play Michael Bay’s ridiculously messy action sequences, you know the processor is capable enough to handle fast and multiple frames like a pro.
Web browsing is smooth and uneventful, with web pages rendering quickly. But this is highly dependent on your network connection, which is limited to 3G speeds for the Redmi Note. Without saying, it's less likely for a 4G user to adopt this phone. As a secondary phone, however, the dual SIM system will come in useful if you intend to use your local card concurrently with an overseas number when you’re travelling.
Power: almost a Duracell bunny
That massive 3200mAh battery is the key to the Redmi Note’s long mileage.
Our daily usage varies, but it’s typically more intensive than general users.Heavy usage of the Redmi Note sucked up 10% of its juice within an hour. Left on its own while we're asleep, its battery meter dips a mere 5%. Throw in the usual WhatsApp, Facebook and email activities and the phone can soldier on for at least a full day.
The video loop drained half of the battery in nearly five hours while the Wi-Fi connection was active with screen brightness and volume at 50%. Once we switched to a 3G connection, it hit the 10% mark within three hours. Potentially, it could last more than eight hours with intensive usage, which isn’t too shabby for a 5.5in 720p phablet - nevermind a RM509 one.
Xiaomi Redmi Note Verdict
A powerful, well-specced phablet that costs slightly above RM500 sounds impossible, but there’s no fine print to worry about here.
Even the 720p screen, which could have been an issue at this size, is sharp and detailed enough to love day to day.
In fact, the only thing that sets off alarm bells is the Redmi Note's build. Yes, it's a cheap phone - we're not looking for the finesse of slim, svelte flagship smartphones - but it doesn't have to feel like a cheap phone and we wish it was easier to handle.
There are other shortcomings, the camera’s mediocre low-light capabilities for one. Android purists will also balk at the dated Android 4.2 version, though that shortcoming is well compensated by the truckload of features on MIUI.
Despite all that, Xiaomi has made its point. This smartphone is half the price of a Galaxy Note 3, LG G Pro 2 or Sony Xperia Z Ultra. But you don’t need to trim too many corners to make affordable devices. Decent hardware and frequent software updates at a price that will sell out is enough - and that's exactly what the Redmi Note does brilliantly.