Value for money. If there’s anything that Xiaomi is associated with, it would be that. While the rapidly growing startup has always released Android devices that offer plenty of value for money, the Redmi Note 2 brings new meaning to that term. That being said, just how good can a RM649 smartphone be?
As it turned out, very.
DESIGN & FIRST IMPRESSIONS
On the front, the Redmi Note 2 looks almost like its predecessor, the Redmi Note 4G. Once I picked it up and took a good look at it, I was reminded of the well-built Mi 4i instead, another of Xiaomi’s “affordable flagships”, which is a very good thing. Not only does the matte back panel look very sleek, it is also soft to the touch, lending a grippy feel. While the Redmi Note 2 is not constructed with any premium materials, it definitely does not feel cheap.
The volume rocker and power button have quite a good amount of tactile feedback, if at times a little too hard to press. Then again, they might soften over time as you use them.
As I spent more time with the Redmi Note 2, I grew to really like its rounded edges. These definitely improve the overall ergonomics of the device. The rear panel’s matte finish also make the Redmi Note 2 a comfortable device to hold, and the thickness of the device itself is a good balance; it’s neither too thin nor too thick at 8.25mm.
However, not all is good with the Redmi Note 2. For one, the rear panel creaks when I put pressure on the lower right side of the device. Also, the rear camera protrudes ever so slightly. While it’s not as extreme as other devices, there’s still a chance of accidentally scratching the camera lens, which is a little concerning.
Nevertheless, all things considered the Redmi Note 2 is a well-designed smartphone, although like most smartphones in its price range, it does have some minimal design issues. Then again, we are talking about a RM649 device. For that kind of money, the Redmi Note 2 looks and feels like most of the smartphones in its price range – though underneath it is a whole other story.
This is where it gets interesting. Powering the Redmi Note 2 is one of MediaTek’s best processors today, the Helio X10. With all eight cores of the chipset clocked at 2.0GHz, the Redmi Note 2 handles day-to-day tasks like a champ. Switching between apps is fast, and gaming with it is quite pleasurable as well – although it does feel sluggish in more demanding games.
Another standout hardware aspect of the Redmi Note 2 is the 5.5-inch 1080p display, which is not commonly found on devices at this price point. Other than that, the 16GB of internal storage is expandable with a microSD cards up to 32GB, giving the Redmi Note 2 an edge over Xiaomi’s own Mi 4i and its non-expandable memory.
Update: Some readers have voiced their concerns over the GPS capability of the Redmi Note 2. During my time with the device, I had no issue using Google Maps for navigation. It works just as well as other smartphones I’ve used in the past.
Having used the original Redmi Note 3G for quite some time in the past, MIUI 7 on the Redmi Note 2 definitely feels and looks much more polished. As the first time I’m using a device on MIUI 7, I found the animations to be buttery smooth, the user experience impressive, and most of all, the UI remains very customisable with a ton of themes to choose from. While MIUI 7 lacks an app drawer, it’s easy to just keep apps I don’t use often into a folder and forget about it.
I’m impressed with the overall user experience of MIUI 7; it’s definitely fixed some of the issues that was common among MIUI 6 users. Where MIUI 6 was somewhat notorious for being rather resource-hungry, my experience on this device revealed none of the performance issues I faced on the Mediatek 6592-powered Redmi Note 3G. After prolonged usage, there’s usually about 400MB of available RAM and with no visible lag in animations or in apps.
However, MIUI 7 on the Redmi Note 2 does have a few minor bugs here and there. The capacitive buttons, for example, would consistently vibrate twice after each touch – once when I touch it, and another when I release it. While this is no major issue by any stretch, it’s an oddity that’s worth pointing out.
Other than that, the Redmi Note 2 also has difficulty adjusting the display to the correct brightness level. If I were to unlock the device in a very dark environment, the display would be ridiculously bright at first before slowly – and I mean, very slowly – adjusting to the correct level of brightness. The display can also be too dim in bright outdoors sometimes. I found myself disabling the auto brightness feature to not deal with the hassle.
MIUI 7 is a very good version of Android, that is for sure. But given that it is still a relatively new update, it lacks a few finer touches here and there, which affects the overall user experience of this Android ROM. But, seeing how dedicated Xiaomi is to its MIUI software, these minor bugs would be addressed sooner or later.
Equipped with a 3,060mAh battery, the Redmi Note 2 has no issue at all to get me through a day’s worth of usage. While it’s not the longest-lasting smartphone I’ve ever used, it’s definitely one of the better ones. Throughout my time with the device, the Redmi Note 2 managed to last more than 15 hours on moderate to heavy usage. Considering I got about four hours and thirty minutes of screen on time with it, the Redmi Note 2’s battery life is pretty impressive.
The Redmi Note 2’s fast charging feature, however, raises a few concerns. In my testing with the provided charger, the device only managed to reach about 35% of its full capacity within 30 minutes of charging. That being said, our Redmi Note 2 review unit is a Chinese set, so there might be certain differences from the Malaysian set – possibly regarding the differences in charger voltage.
For its asking price, the Redmi Note 2’s display is very impressive. Everything looks crystal clear thanks to the 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution panel. However, the smartphone I used before reviewing this phone was equipped with a Super AMOLED display, so needless to say, I notice that the Redmi Note 2’s display isn’t as punchy or vibrant.
That being said, this device costs considerably less than the aforementioned phone. While the Redmi Note 2’s LCD panel doesn’t quite match an AMOLED display, it’s very impressive for its asking price; especially its great viewing angles.
I’m not a fan of the Redmi Note 2’s rear-firing speaker. While there’s a tiny bit of plastic underneath the speaker to make sure that audio doesn’t get muffled when the device is placed on a flat surface, it would still be muffled if I place the smartphone on anything other than a fully flat surface. That being said, gaming with the Redmi Note 2 is more enjoyable as the speaker is not placed at the bottom; I won’t have to consciously avoid covering the speaker grille this way.
As for the audio quality itself, it’s perfectly adequate for most users. I didn’t notice any crackling or buzzing from the speaker at maximum volume, and it gets pretty loud too. But other than that, nothing particularly stood out, which isn’t exactly a bad thing.
In this department, the Redmi Note 2’s 13MP rear camera is a mixed bag. As I mentioned in my hands on of the device, the camera performs admirably in well-lit conditions. The autofocus is fast – as fast as some of the more expensive devices – thanks to the phase detection autofocus feature, and the final images are sharp with good colour reproduction as well, albeit tending to be a little saturated.
The Redmi Note 2’s camera is plenty responsive as well when shooting under good lighting. There’s barely any noticeable lag in between shots, and rarely do I get blurry images. However, the same cannot be said in less than ideal shooting conditions.
Photographing with the Redmi Note 2’s camera in low-light conditions can be quite a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, the final images can still look really great, but in order to get those shots, there’s quite a bit of effort required to not shake or move the phone even a little bit. Under bad lighting, the camera isn’t very responsive as the sensor works overtime to lock focus, although there’s no noticeable delay in between shots.
If you’re patient enough to compose your images (and have a steady set of hands), you’ll be very happy with the Redmi Note 2’s camera. I’m very impressed with how good the camera is despite the smartphone’s small price tag.
The Redmi Note 2’s competition are very interesting, to say the least. If we were to compare this device purely on its hardware alone, we have the HTC One E9+, M9+, and Sony Xperia M5. In terms of similarity, all four devices are powered by the same MediaTek Helio X10 octa-core processor clocked at 2.0GHz. Well, except for the M9+, which is clocked at 2.2GHz. Other than that…these devices couldn’t be more different.
Yes, the Redmi Note 2 has the same processor found on higher-end devices while costing considerably less, but they are also better equipped overall. The One E9+ has a sharper 2K display, the M9+ has a more premium construction (and a 2K display), while the Xperia M5 is a water resistant device, among other factors that warrant the price difference.
It’s clear that the Redmi Note 2’s processor rivals that of a much more expensive device, but how does it compare against a similarly priced device? Let’s look at one of the best affordable smartphones on the market now, the honor 4X. While the 4X is an excellent device, the Redmi Note 2 absolutely outclasses it in terms of specification. The honor 4X has a lower resolution 5.5-inch 720p display, a slower 1.2GHz HiSilicon Kirin 620 octa-core processor, only 8GB of internal storage, and a slightly smaller 3,000mAh battery.
In comparison, the Redmi Note 2 is a wholly better package for the same asking price of RM649. It has a sharper 1080p display, twice the storage at 16GB, and most of all, performance that rivals devices twice – or even thrice – its retail price. Needless to say, the honor 4X does not hold a candle to the Redmi Note 2 hardware-wise.
Other than the honor 4X, the Meizu M2 Note is worth a mention as well. The M2 Note has a 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 full HD Sharp IGZO display, but it also has several advantages over the Redmi Note 2. These include support for a higher capacity microSD card up to 128GB and a slightly bigger 3,100mAh battery.
However, the Redmi Note 2 is still arguably the better buy for two reasons: it has a faster processor (which is a huge deal), and it is more affordable. Despite the fact that the M2 Note retails at a higher retail price of RM799, it is powered by a slower MediaTek MT6753 1.3GHz octa-core processor. This factor alone is enough to make the Redmi Note 2 a better proposition.
For the time being, the Redmi Note 2 boasts specifications that other budget devices in Malaysia simply cannot compete with. There are worthy competitors to it, it’s just that…these devices are either a lot more expensive, or have not reached our shores yet. These include the honor 4X’s successor, the honor 5X, and the Meizu Metal. Once these devices are launched in Malaysia (if at all, that is), they will definitely give the Redmi Note 2 a run for its money.
Xiaomi definitely has a winner with the Redmi Note 2. Just like the Mi 3 from eighteen months ago, the Redmi Note 2 makes other similarly equipped devices expensive in comparison, and it set a new benchmark on how good an affordable smartphone can be. If you’re looking for a capable Android smartphone that does not break the bank, the Redmi Note 2 is an excellent choice.
However, you do have to live with the Redmi Note 2’s camera performance in low light conditions, and a (currently) slightly buggy software. But, these compromises are by no means deal-breakers. After all, it’s an affordable device.
At its price point, the Redmi Note 2 is truly a disruptor in the mobile space – not just in the affordable segment, but in the high-end market as well. Until other devices with a similar package are introduced in Malaysia, the Redmi Note 2 is the epitome of value for money.