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Xiaomi Redmi Note 2: Is it still cheap and good?

By Liu Hongzuo - 23 Nov 2015
Launch SRP: S$229

Xiaomi Redmi Note 2: is it still cheap and good?

Overview

A year after a fierce barrage of marketing efforts and product launches, Xiaomi finds themselves comfortable, having already proven that it is the go-to choice for competitively priced smartphones that punch above their weight. With that confidence, Xiaomi goes on to declare that its new Redmi Note 2 is another low-cost smartphone but with a “flagship-like” experience. Sticking to their formula of cheap-yet-good, the Redmi Note 2 is the 2015 refresh of the popular Redmi Note. The new budget 'flagship' boasts of a few upgrades like the Full HD resolution screen (formerly a HD-only resolution), an octa-core Mediatek processor (a bump above the quad-core Qualcomm) and a 13-megapixel camera with Phase Detection AutoFocus.

  Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 Redmi Note 4G
  Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 Redmi Note 4G
Launch SRP
  • From S$229
  • From S$229
Operating system
  • Android 5.0 with MIUI 7
  • Android 4.4 with MIUI v5
Processor
  • MediaTek Helio X10 octa-core CPU 2.0GHz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core 1.6GHz (MSM8928)
Built-in Memory
  • 2GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
Display
  • 5.5-inch / 1080 x 1920 pixels / IPS
  • 5.5-inch / 1,280 x 720 pixels / IPS
Camera
  • Rear: 13-megapixel with aperture of F2.2, 28mm wide angle lens and LED flash, Phase Detection Autofocus, 1080p video recording
  • Front: 5-megapixel, 720p video recording
  • Rear: 13-megapixel with aperture of F2.2, 28mm wide angle lens and LED flash, 1080p video recording
  • Front: 5-megapixel, 720p video recording
Connectivity
  • WLAN: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands
  • GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, AGPS
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • WLAN: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands
  • GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, AGPS
  • Bluetooth 4.0
Storage Type
  • 16GB internal storage
  • MicroSD (supports up to 32GB)
  • 8GB internal storage
  • MicroSD (supports up to 64GB)
Battery
  • 3,060mAh lithium-ion polymer
  • 3100mAh lithium-ion polymer
Dimensions
  • 152 x 76 x 8.3 mm
  • 154mm x 78.7mm x 9.45mm
Weight
  • 160g
  • 185g


Design

A flagship-like experience starts from its look and design. From our earlier piece, it is evident that Xiaomi is paying attention to their smartphone’s physical attributes. Xiaomi adopts a seamless, clamshell appearance that complements the Redmi Note 2’s display. The removable cover takes on a matte finish that feels smooth in hand, much like an egg. Not only is the battery swappable, but you can also opt to purchase swappable rear covers for other color variants. Flagship smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and the iPhone 6s come with alternate color choices for their body, so having swappable colored covers for more customization is a nice addition at this end of the spectrum. In our opinion, the colors are a little gaudy, but your personal preference may differ. 

In terms of handling, you'll feel that the edges of the cover are rounded till they meet the screen's bezel where it cuts off flat. If you hold the phone in your right hand, the lock button rests perfectly on your thumb, with some room for you to reach the volume rocker.

As the rear cover is removable, we had a chance to see how well the phone is made. There are no noticeable production flaws, and all the slots for the different SIM cards, microSD card, and even the removable battery pod have clean cuts and neat connection points. Combined with its lighter weight (160g, against the Redmi Note 4G’s 185g) and slimmer profile (8.3mm vs 9.45mm), the Redmi Note 2 has stepped up the quality and expectations of S$200+ category of phones.

The Redmi Note 2 comes with one micro-USB 2.0 port for charging on the bottom left, and the top left houses the 3.5mm audio jack. The ports are accessible and are placed practically around the smartphone, but Xiaomi decided to make the micro-USB port cut-out rectangular in shape. This makes it less intuitive since there's only one way you can insert the micro-USB plug to the port, but over time you will get over this as you get more accustomed with the phone.

 

Display & Audio

As mentioned earlier, the Redmi Note 2 comes with an upgraded display. The 5.5-inch screen has a Full HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, giving us a pixel density of 401 ppi. Not only is this a significant upgrade from the previous Redmi Note’s 267 ppi, we can actually say for certain that the screen is truly clear and sharp. That’s because the human eye supposedly cannot discern details finer than 300 ppi, and the Redmi Note 2 now has sufficient clarity for that flagship-like experience that often come with high-res displays.

The screen is bright and sharp with colors generally looking vibrant, albeit with a slightly warm tone. Contrast and color reproduction is also better than decent, seeing how the black parts of the bottom left balloon keeps the dark areas intact despite the many other colors on the balloon body against a green backdrop. 

Speakers on the rear means muffled audio if the Redmi Note 2 is laying flat down or when cupped in your hand.

While the audio is clear, even at maximum volume, we found that the sound becomes muffled when you place the phone down on a table to watch videos – that’s because the built-in speakers are on the rear of the phone, and the Redmi Note 2 seems to lie quite flat. Not only that, since the speaker grille is at rear bottom, your hand would likely get in the way during regular use and further contribute to situations when you've to put up with muffled audio. At this stage, our illusion of the phone having that near-perfect flagship-like experience had a dose of reality. That said, it’s certainly no big deal, since you could always use a handset or earpiece (and you should, when in public) for a pleasant audio experience.

 

Features

With MIUI 7 interface pre-loaded with the Android 5.0 OS (Lollipop) by default, using the Redmi Note 2 isn’t just about the interface experience. While new phone themes may seem like another gimmicky add-on, we find that the performance optimization is a great addition to a device that relies on cost-competitive hardware. It’s no iPhone or Samsung Galaxy Note 5 in terms of app start-up and app-switching speed, but it’s fast enough for a smooth experience, thanks to the 30% faster system response it boasts. Everything else feels familiar for Xiaomi users, and that includes the lack of an app drawer – all new apps are automatically stacked in the multi-page home screen.

XXL Text - not perfect, but handy enough.

It also comes with a properly optimized "XXL Text" feature that’s handy for users who don’t like to squint at their smartphones, and it’s applied across the device - such as their settings menu, and that’s beyond the typical text messages and web browsing. While your average user may not think twice about an accessibility feature like this, it can be really useful for buyers who are getting smartphones for their aged parents, without breaking the piggy bank.

You can find Data Saver in the proprietary Mi browser, within the Settings menu.

Adding to that, the proprietary browser also comes with a Data Saver feature. We've touched on this before, but here's the quick recap on its data-saving mojo: if you switch Data Saver on, the phone will use Opera Max's compression technology, directing all of a webpage's images and videos to Opera’s cloud for compression, before sending the compressed content to the phone. 

Schedule your DND periods with this page, found under Settings > Do Not Disturb.

There's also Auto DND, which lets you schedule your Do Not Disturb setting on your phone. This is handy for people who set their phones to silent mode when going to bed, without having to fiddle with the settings repeatedly over the week.

One unexpected letdown would be the slight downgrade for the microSD card storage size. Our 16GB smartphone could bulk itself up with additional 32GB on a microSD card, but the previous Redmi Note 4G had external storage expandable up to 64GB. If the phone came with generous storage by default, it wouldn’t be a problem, but you will start feeling the pinch for more space on a 16GB Android-based smartphone.

 

Benchmark Performance

Sizing up the Redmi Note 2
  Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 Redmi Note 4G ASUS ZenFone Selfie HTC Desire Eye Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
  Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 Redmi Note 4G ASUS ZenFone Selfie HTC Desire Eye Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
Launch SRP
  • From S$229
  • From S$229
  • From S$399
  • From S$728
  • From S$498
Operating system
  • Android 5.0 with MIUI 7
  • Android 4.4 with MIUI v5
  • ASUS ZenUI based on Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat with HTC Sense 6
  • Android OS, v5.0 (Lollipop)
Processor
  • MediaTek Helio X10 octa-core CPU 2.0GHz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core 1.6GHz (MSM8928)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.3GHz
  • Qualcomm MSM8939 Snapdragon 615 (Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & quad-core 1.0 GHz Cortex-A53)
Built-in Memory
  • 2GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
Display
  • 5.5-inch / 1080 x 1920 pixels / IPS
  • 5.5-inch / 1,280 x 720 pixels / IPS
  • 5.5-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels / IPS
  • 5.2-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels / Super LCD 3
  • 5-inch/ 720 x 1280 pixels/ IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen/ 16M colors
Camera
  • Rear: 13-megapixel with aperture of F2.2, 28mm wide angle lens and LED flash, Phase Detection Autofocus, 1080p video recording
  • Front: 5-megapixel, 720p video recording
  • Rear: 13-megapixel with aperture of F2.2, 28mm wide angle lens and LED flash, 1080p video recording
  • Front: 5-megapixel, 720p video recording
  • Rear: 13-megapixel with f/2.0 aperture and dual-LED Real Tone flash
  • Front: 13-megapixel with f/2.2 aperture, wide-angle 88-degree lens with dual-LED Real Tone flash
  • Rear: 13-megapixel with BSI sensor, f/2.0, 28mm wide angle lens and dual-LED flash
  • Front: 13-megapixel with BSI sensor, f/2.2, 22mm wide angle lens and dual-LED flash
  • Rear: 13 MP Sony Exmor RS sensor, 4128 x 3096 pixels, autofocus, LED flash, f/2.0 aperture
  • Front: 5-megapixel
Connectivity
  • WLAN: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands
  • GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, AGPS
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • WLAN: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands
  • GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, AGPS
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 & 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, DLNA, GPS + GLONASS
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, hotspot, Bluetooth
Storage Type
  • 16GB internal storage
  • MicroSD (supports up to 32GB)
  • 8GB internal storage
  • MicroSD (supports up to 64GB)
  • 32GB internal storage space
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD expansion up to 128GB
  • 8GB internal storage
  • microSD, up to 128 GB
Battery
  • 3,060mAh lithium-ion polymer
  • 3100mAh lithium-ion polymer
  • 3,000mAh
  • 2,400mAh
  • Non-removable Li-Ion 2400 mAh battery
Dimensions
  • 152 x 76 x 8.3 mm
  • 154mm x 78.7mm x 9.45mm
  • 156.5 x 77.2 x 10.8~3.9mm
  • 151.7 x 73.8 x 8.5mm
  • 145.5 x 72.6 x 7.3 mm
Weight
  • 160g
  • 185g
  • 170g
  • 154g
  • 136g

The Redmi Note 2 uses a new octa-core Mediatek MT6795 Helio X10 chipset, which falls somewhere between the Snapdragon 801 and 810 in terms of performance (depending on which benchmark you believe in). We expect the Redmi Note 2 to do just fine, but not exceedingly well for benchmarking.

Even with no apps running, the Redmi Note 2 has barely half the amount of its 2GB RAM for other processes. Despite the lack of processing space, it did not impact our smooth usage.

We also noticed that the phone occupies plenty of RAM even when idle. However, our general experience with the phone was positive – the phone outclasses its entry-level price point in general usage and gaming. We infer that MIUI 7 naturally takes up a lot of processing power at rest. Below are the benchmark scores, relative to other affordable contenders. The previous Redmi Note 4G is also here, for comparison between both releases.

Quadrant

Quadrant evaluates a device's CPU, memory, I/O, and 3D graphics performance.

Despite its heavy-RAM usage even at rest, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 turned in a reasonable score, which rivals smartphones that are twice its price. User experience was smooth even with 8 or more data-reliant and monitoring apps were running. We have no complaints, even if the numbers are modest.


3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Originally developed as a PC gaming benchmarking tool, 3DMark now supports multiple platforms including Android. The Ice Storm benchmark is designed for smartphones, mobile devices and ARM architecture computers.

For an in-depth understanding of 3DMark for Android, do head over to our article, "3DMark - Android Device GPU Performance Review." In a nutshell, it is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark test that uses fixed off-screen rendering to run two graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance of your device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance. The benchmark consists of three test portfolios: Standard (720p resolution rendering), Extreme (1080p resolution rendering with higher quality textures and post-processing effects), and Unlimited (disabled v-sync, display scaling and other OS factors that make it ideal for chipset comparison).

Since all the recent flagship smartphones max out the scores for the Standard and Extreme tests, we will only be looking at the scores for Ice Storm Unlimited.

In terms of graphics, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 is a viable option that performs better than the mid-range smartphones it’s pitted against. This means that it could definitely handle popular titles from the Google Play Store, but it’s below flagship-level performance, especially when up against thousand-dollar models like the Huawei Nexus 6P. S$229 for a smartphone that can handle games is a steal for the younger users, but you will find yourself wanting more storage space for its performance to be more meaningful.

 

Sunspider Javascript

SunSpider JavaScript helps measure the browsing performance of a device when processing Javascript. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is at delivering a high-speed web browsing experience.

Redmi Note 2’s processing power shows up strong again in the web-browsing benchmark. By this point, owners of the phablet may feel that they got a good deal – since it handles the crucial aspects of a smartphone’s utility well.

 

Camera Performance

Xiaomi made minimal changes between the previous and current devices. It still touts a 13-megapixel rear camera at 4,128 x 3,096 pixels imaging resolution with autofocus and LED flash, coupled with a 5-element lens and f/2.2 aperture. However, the Redmi Note 2 now comes with phase detection autofocus with a focus speed of 0.1 seconds - this means faster autofocus speeds when compared to conventional autofocus technology available on most smartphones (such as the one found on the Redmi Note 4G).

Quality-wise, the camera on the Redmi Note 2 looks good when taking pictures of scenery because of the nice colors it's able to render, but it suffers from detail loss when viewed up-close. Lines of threads don’t show up that nicely, and the fine print on labels simply does not hold up. While the camera may be fast at focusing on photos, it’s not nearly as quick after you hit the shutter. This niggling aspect, combined with mediocre levels of capture detail makes the phone feel closer to its price point than what its marketing touts. The Redmi Note 2 is also up against camera-centric phones like the ASUS ZenFone Selfie in terms of quality, so it’s fairer to say that the Redmi Note 2 performs pretty much appropriate to its price point..

Auto, no flash.

Auto, forced flash.


Battery Life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones includes the following parameters:

  • Looping a 800 x 480-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

The Redmi Note 2 comes with a 3,060mAh battery capacity, which puts it a touch lower than the predecessor's 3,100mAh battery. In exchange, it gains a fast-charging system that allows the Redmi Note 2 to attain 60% charge in the span of 30 minutes. According to Xiaomi, the fast-charging system implemented is their very own. In our trials, it really does take 30 minutes to get a 60% charge or slightly more, and just under a full hour for 100% battery charge.

As mentioned above, it’s a touch less in terms of capacity relative to its previous version, but even then the battery performance on the Redmi Note 2 feels a little disappointing. Granted that it has enhanced hardware like the better processor and screen, as well as a memory hungry interface to up with, the six-and-a-half battery up-time outcome doesn't seem out of place. However, Xiaomi hasn't addressed the high power consumption issue on its predecessor and the new MIUI 7's extra 10% battery efficiency is likely negated by the prior mentioned updates made to the Redmi Note 2. As such, when put up against its competitors, the Redmi Note 2's battery life is mediocre.

 

Conclusion

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 is definitely good value for money, given its low price and decent benchmark performance. However, the novelty of cheap-and-good has now been diluted since Xiaomi is now synonymous with that phrase, while certain performance  areas were found lacking such as the middling imaging performance, mediocre battery life and limited usable storage space, is a reminder that you get what you pay for.

Many other brands have also introduced their own affordable smartphones, such as the 2GB RAM version of the ASUS ZenFone 2, the HTC Desire 620G Dual SIM (3G Support) with MediaTek MT6592 octa-core processor, and Xiaomi's very own, vastly popular Xiaomi Mi 4i. If you're able to spend a little more than S$300, there's the ASUS ZenFone Selfie, with nearly equal hardware performance, better battery life, and offers much better camera performance.

If we were to compare to the many sub-S$350 smartphones out in the market, it would be on par with the Xiaomi Mi 4i - with hardware performance that holds its own against other sub-S$350 phones - second only to the ASUS ZenFone 2 (2GB). Still, there are better camera phone options like the ASUS ZenFone Selfie, and phones like ZTE Blade S6 offer better camera performance and battery life.

All said and done, even if Xiaomi's Redmi Note 2 isn't a true flagship performer, it is still worth its S$229 asking price. While cheap-and-good isn't as novel anymore, Xiaomi proves that they haven't completely lost their touch in the market they've practically invented back when this trend began. However this time round, there are many more options for just a little more money, so Xiaomi's Redmi Note 2 doesn't exactly stand out as it once did with the original Redmi Note.

8.0
  • Design 7.5
  • Features 8
  • User-Friendliness 8
  • Performance 8
  • Value 8.5
The Good
Decent performance for price
Affordable
Good display quality
The Bad
Limited battery life
Expandable by only 32GB
Poorly-aligned speaker grill
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