If there’s one thing everyone loves, it’s an affordable yet adequately powerful smartphone. Few have managed to offer such a smartphone like Xiaomi does.
At the forefront of Xiaomi’s invasion into the budget smartphone market is its incredibly cheap Redmi series. There is no lack of choice either, what with the original Redmi for daintier hands, to the upsized Redmi Note to keep your peepers satisfied with its large screen.
Hence, it’s not surprising for the Chinese company to charge in with the successor to the one smartphone that created the hype outside of China. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it - hence the same 4.7in screen size and 720p resolution are retained on the Redmi 2. But on paper, the new Xiaomi device adds a few improvements to the mix, including a new Qualcomm processor and a slightly slimmer chassis. And there isn't a change in the price, which stays at S$169.
Question is, do these minor improvements make you want to get one, or even ditch your one-year-old Redmi for it?
Different Redmi, same build
If you’re familiar with the first Redmi, we’ll burst the bubble right here - there’s nothing much to be impressed by. But for the benefit of those who haven’t had a feel of its predecessor, here’s what you can expect on the Redmi 2.
Plastic. Loads of plastic all over the phone. On the bright side, you won’t have to worry about fingerprint smudges. You’ve got to give thanks to Xiaomi’s foresight in using a matte rear cover, and the option to buy more if the default colour isn’t to your liking.
Some slight trimming is done on the phone, mainly in the height and side profile. It’s not very noticeable, but that doesn’t really matter. Because it’s the phone’s manageable size and how it feels just right in the hand that’ll keep it secure in your hands.
Likewise, the 4.7in screen means you won’t be doing stretching exercises for the thumbs when you’re trying to tap an app around the corner of the screen. Nor fumble with two hands, just one will do. Great if you want to whip out the phone to send a quick message. But not cool to text with one hand while you drive.
All eyes on the Redmi
Colour us slightly disappointed, because the Redmi 2 isn’t making any breakthroughs in the display department. Same 4.7in display. Same screen resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. Which translates to the same 312ppi display density.
Fortunately, the disappointment is short-lived. There won’t be a complaint from us about its viewing angle. In fact, we’d go so far as to describe it as adequate for someone to peep at your Facebook timeline from the side. Put the phone under direct sunlight, and it adjusts to the glare within a few seconds (would have said millisecond but we can’t count that fast).
The same rich colours we’ve seen on its predecessor is replicated on the Redmi 2 - as do the lesser impact its darker colours have on our eyes. Hence, why you won't need to worry about squinting your eyes when you watch movies on this average-sized screen.
An eye for (grainy) details
While the age old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” saying rings very true, the contrary shouldn’t be ignored. By now, you must be expecting the same line from us. Or in the Redmi’s case, the same 8MP camera that retains an f/2.2 aperture.
Theoretically, that means you won’t see a massive improvement in its imaging quality. True story. The upside to this is that the camera still takes great photos under normal lighting conditions. Likewise, the autofocus speed is adequate.
Take the Redmi 2 into a dark alley, and you’ll want to get out immediately. That is, other than your own safety in consideration. Don’t expect world-class photos, not with it struggling to get a good lock and focus. That, and its attempt to bump up the ISO settings will give you photos that look like a sandstorm just blew past.
Turn your attention to the front camera and you’ll notice an upgrade to a 2MP sensor. That’s on top of a new Beautify function. It kind of does what it says, smoothening the edges and texture of the skin tone in the selfie. Hey, we’re not judging, even we need all the help we can get to get a decent profile picture for more matches on Tinder. Just beware that such false advertising can backfire when the real face surfaces.
And no, we’re not going to show you our beautified selfie. Common courtesy dictates that we shouldn’t inflict such horrors upon your eyes.
Okay, we lied. But you have to see for yourself how unnaturally smooth the final image looks.
Enter the Snapdragon
Want to see the biggest change to the Redmi 2? Get your screwdrivers ready, take the Redmi 2 apart and peer into its innards. Alternatively, take our word for it. And some benchmark scores to go along with it too.
But first, a little background - this is a Snapdragon 410 processor we’re talking about. A 64-bit processor, mind you. It’s been two years since this topic came to light, and we’ve even explained at length why it matters. The Antutu benchmark gave a score of 20,283. Not a shabby number. And with it, you’ll expect some decent speeds and fluid UI transitions.
But the only thing that matters is - does the 64-bit processor make the phone work really hard and fast for you?
Really. No. The numbers might tell one tale, but in reality, it’s not a simple case of higher is better. Understandably, this isn’t a top-of-the-line smartphone, so expectations of its speed should be managed. But when a WhatsApp message takes nearly five seconds to load, you’ve got to wonder what’s going on. Factor in the slow transition between apps (think within the range of five seconds) and you’ll wonder if someone dropped the Redmi 2 before it reached your hands.
Maybe, 1GB of RAM just isn’t enough anymore. Or there’s still work to be done on the latest version of its customised MIUI. Either way, the Redmi 2 is no Speedy Gonzales.
All about that 4G
Now, if you need one absolute reason to give up your Redmi or Redmi 1S, listen closely - the Redmi 2 supports 4G connectivity. A function that was sorely lacking on its predecessor, and significantly important if you have a full-fledged 4G infrastructure waiting to be tapped into.
4G speeds do make a difference. While apps might not load just as fast, you'll get to view Instagram photos or have Facebook posts appearing instantaneously once the Redmi 2 is latched onto a 4G network. With whatever limited data bundle you have, you'll get to load emails and download apps or files in mere seconds.
But it does more than 4G - the Redmi 2 has not one, but two SIM card slots. Trust us, the usefulness becomes apparent when you’re traveling, and desperately need data yet have to stay contactable on your home country’s number. The convenience of just popping a second SIM card in and not being tethered to a mobile Wi-Fi dongle makes the Redmi 2 worth every single cent.
Me, You and I
MIUI - the thing that started it all for Xiaomi. Into its sixth iteration, MIUI 6 is a showcase of the level of customisation implemented on Android devices. So much to the point that you can scarcely see the vanilla Android interface anymore. While the upgrade seems minimal, the few additional touches on the interface give MIUI a much cleaner look than before.
Rather than dwell on the similarities between MIUI and iOS, the more important question is - does it work? Yes. It doesn’t matter if it’s similar to iOS, what’s important is that it’s easy and intuitive.
Then, there’s the Mi Band, an inexpensive fitness tracker. While the S$20 price tag makes it an amazing piece of accessory to complement the Redmi 2, there’s one more thing that’ll make it more compelling for you to buy one. Link the Mi Band to the Redmi 2, and you can use it to unlock the phone.
Wear the Mi Band, pick up the phone and voila! Phone unlocked. Sounds fanciful, but it’s nothing that requires a stroke of genius. Just a close proximity between the Mi Band and the Redmi 2 will unlock the latter. A simple, yet elegant solution to an otherwise complex problem of constantly tapping passwords or swiping patterns on the screen.
For this aspect, our expectations for the Redmi 2 is pretty highm seeing how its predecessor impressed us. So was the disappointment when we realised that despite all the similarities, the Redmi 2 doesn’t share the same battery DNA as its predecessor.
Even if we’ve gone a bit overboard with the use of WhatsApp messaging and Facebook surfing, the Redmi 2 proved to be a shocker when it only lasted slightly more than 24 hours. This is a stark contrast to the two-day mileage we got from the first Redmi.
Still, it’s not all bad, seeing how most smartphones of its class have the same uptime as the Redmi 2. Looping a 720p video at 50% brightness and switching between Wi-Fi and 4G mobile data at the halfway point gave a lower than expected mileage of eight hours.
Considering that there’s more juice in the 2200mAh battery (compared to the 2000mAh capacity in its predecessor), the Redmi 2 isn’t as power-saving as we wished it could be. Chalk it up to 4G connectivity, a different processor that pushed the battery’s limit or whatever the case. Fact is, this could be the dealbreaker for anyone wanting the Redmi 2, or thinking of upgrading from a Redmi to this upgraded device.
Xiaomi Redmi 2 verdict
Despite some concerns over its battery life and slightly sluggish user experience, the Redmi 2 is still one heck of a value-for-money Android smartphone. Show us one that has as much functionality, be it hardware or software, under S$200 and performs just as well. Honestly, you can’t. If you want to compare this with the S$348 Motorola Moto G with 4G LTE, it’s not even a close match.
All said and done, Xiaomi’s Redmi 2 still gives you the best that it can, at a fraction of the price to what other similar smartphones are offering. However, like (most) trilogies, it suffers the curse of the sequel, impressing less for the second outing.
So cross your fingers and hope that there will be new updates to MIUI to right the wrongs on this otherwise great value smartphone. Or perhaps, hold on tight for the third Redmi in 2016.