Xiaomi Redmi 4 Mini-Review: A Hundred Dollars of Android Gets You Pretty Far

Xiaomi Redmi 4 Mini-Review: A Hundred Dollars of Android Gets You Pretty Far

The Indian smartphone market is comprised of hundreds of players, spread across a large spectrum of budgets. But in a country where the per capita income (income per person in a year) was just ~$1,450 last fiscal year, aiming for the low end of the market with its vast untapped potential becomes crucial for brand recognition.

Xiaomi’s Redmi series of smartphones aims to bring the Xiaomi brand to the masses. The Redmi series of smartphones are entry-level devices aimed at first time buyers or those with limited needs and budgets. With the newly launched Redmi 4, there are no fancy flagship specs, nor the fancy flagship performance that we can obsess over. What we get instead is a small yet practical device that can fulfill all the needs of a basic user, and then some, without pinching his small pocket.

Mini-reviews are different from our in-depth XDA reviews, and they are meant to give you an expanded idea of what a device is like beyond the usual hands-on. We choose to do mini-reviews on smaller releases, devices from smaller manufacturers or ones that have uncertain development future.

Device Name: Xiaomi Redmi 4 Release Date/Price Available Now, ₹6,999 (~$109) onwards
Android Version 6.0.1 (MIUI Global 8.2 ROM) Display 5.0 inch 720p IPS LCD (294p ppi)
Chipset Snapdragon 435, Octa Core Cortex-A53, 8x 1.4GHz, Adreno 505 GPU Battery 4,100mAh non-removable
RAM 2/3/4GB LPDDR3 Sensors Fingerprint, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light, Electronic Compass
Storage 16/32/64GB eMMC Connectivity USB 2.0 Micro USB, Hybrid SIM tray (Micro SIM + Nano SIM or Micro SIM + Micro SD card), 3.5mm audio jack, IR Blaster
Dimensions 139.2 x 70 x 8.7 cm (~70.7% screen-to-body) Rear Camera 13MP, PDAF, f/2.0, 1080p@30FPS video
Weight 150g Front Camera 5MP, f/2.2, 1080p video

Index

Design

The Redmi 4 will be a familiar face for anyone following Xiaomi’s newest devices. The Redmi 4 borrows design cues from the Redmi Note 4 without any risky experiments. For its price, the Redmi 4 looks better than expected out of an entry level device.

The faux-unibody construction is comprised of a metallic main back plate flanked by plastic caps on the top and bottom, just like several other Redmi and Redmi Note smartphones. The plastic caps are separated by an indented trim line which gives some more character to the device. The back curves in on the side edges, complementing the size of the phone and its feel in hand. However, the back plate on the Matte Black gets ‘dirty’ easily (with oily residue from fingers) and for some reason, it did not clean with simple wet wipes. The fingerprint sensor on the back is also placed higher, but considering the size of the device, the new positioning makes sense as that is closer to the areas where your fingers will come to rest.

The front of the device features the 5” HD display with 2.5D curved glass, the three capacitive buttons on the bottom, the earpiece and front camera on the top as well as other sensors. Hidden away when off is the notification LED which is found below the capacitive key. Our review unit is the Matte Black color variant, which looks very sleek in its stealthy black appearance. Note that there are no backlights under the capacitive keys.

The bottom of the device features the micro-USB port in the centre and identically drilled speaker holes on either side, although only the right houses the speaker behind itself. The right side of the device features the power button and the volume rocker. The left side is clean apart from the SIM tray. The top of the device features the 3.5mm headphone jack (yay!), an IR blaster and a secondary microphone.

Overall, the phone looks very good for an entry level device. This is a device with a 5” display, so holding and handling the phone was a piece of cake for me, especially after my experience of handling phones as big as the 6.44” Mi Max. First time smartphone users should also have no problem handling the device as the small size of the Redmi 4 is very comfortable for daily usage, one-handed operations and pocketability. The device competes with the likes of Indian OEMs like Karbonn, Micromax, Lenovo and Moto E series; and feel-in-hand definitely ranks up high. Despite its humble price tag, the phone does not come off as cheap and plasticky, and that is something that mainstream consumers would appreciate.

Software

Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow on MIUI 8.2.4.0 MAMMIEA, Android Security Patch: 01-03-2017

The Redmi 4 comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow as its base, and with Xiaomi’s MIUI 8 UX on top.

MIUI 8

The MIUI experience tends to be consistent across devices on the same MIUI version. As such, there are only a few differences in the software experience on the Redmi 4 as compared to experience on the Redmi Note 4, both of which run MIUI 8 on Android 6.0.1. We would like to make a reference to the Redmi Note 4 Review for a comprehensive run down on Xiaomi’s skin as otherwise this review would be riddled with repetition.

There are a few changes to MIUI, mainly to account for the jump from MIUI 8.1 to MIUI 8.2.

For starters, notifications can now be dismissed from the lock screen. It took Xiaomi long enough to reach here, but they have finally implemented this feature. Now you can swipe away notifications right from the lockscreen, without needing to unlock that before. Yes, you couldn’t do that before.

Other annoyances remain: notifications on the notification pane still default to small notifications all the time and can be expanded only with a double finger swipe down. This greatly impacts one handed use of an otherwise one-hand device, and also limits the information available to you at a glance.

RAM and multitasking continue to remain problem areas, but overall performance also sees another choke point in the form of the entry level processor (we will expand on the processor in our performance section). Our review unit comes with 3GB of RAM. With all apps ‘cleared’ off memory, you still have only 1.6GB of RAM available out of 3GB for your apps. MIUI’s aggressiveness starts coming into play once the free RAM reaches closer to 1GB left, as apps in the background routinely close down and lose their last positions.

Multitasking between apps is slow by a second as the animations bog down the experience and the processor starts showing its entry level limits. The Redmi 4 provides a multitasking experience which can be termed entry-level at best, and in contrast to the Redmi Note lineup, the Redmi lineup with its entry level SoC would benefit from a toned down version of MIUI. Stock Android / options closer to AOSP are popular in the 3rd party custom ROM scene for the Redmi Note series, but with the Redmi 4, Xiaomi should look into adopting something lighter by itself to get the most out of the limited processing power.

The stand taken by us on this may seem harsh since first time smartphone buyers are unlikely to notice the small lags and delays (or maybe they do notice it but ignore it anyways, especially in this price bracket) but I could notice the delays because I came down from a flagship daily driver. The competition against the Redmi 4 does perform better when it comes to multitasking, though. Even the two year old Elephone P8000 with its MTK6753 SoC and 3GB RAM does multitasking better and quicker than the Redmi 4 with 3GB RAM. The experience is likely to be compounded and exacerbated if the customer purchases the 2GB RAM variant, as there will be another choking point in the form of limited physical RAM that will affect the future proofing of the device.

My overall experience with MIUI 8 on the Redmi 4 is just about okay. I still like the various additions that MIUI brings, but MIUI on this device also starts pushing closer to the limits of the Snapdragon 435 SoC. For the price of the device and its intended audience, the shortcomings can be forgiven, though we feverishly hope to see MIUI adapt itself better to low end hardware now that even Google has announced its intentions to do so with Android Go.

Performance

The Redmi 4 in India is known as the Redmi 4X in China, but to keep things simple, we will refer to it as the Redmi 4.

The Redmi 4 comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 SoC, and in India, it comes in three RAM and storage variants: 2GB+16GB, 3GB+32GB and 4GB+64GB. Our review unit is the middle variant with 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage.

The Xiaomi Redmi 4 is an entry level device, and fittingly, comes with an entry level SoC. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 is an incremental upgrade over the Snapdragon 430 with the major point of difference being the faster X8 LTE modem on the 435.

The Snapdragon 435 comprises of 8x Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.4GHz, and is manufactured on a 28nm process. The GPU is handled by the Adreno 505 which has support for Vulkan and OpenGL ES 3.1.

As expected, the Redmi 4 is not the smartphone one purchases for showing off benchmark prowess. The benchmarks reflect the low end scope of its SoC, obviously scoring lower than the Snapdragon 625 that we have reviewed multiple times in the past. The chipset was put in this phone for mainstream, consumer and budget oriented decisions, and this fact is reflected by the benchmarks.

The SoC offers passable single core scores, but multi core scores for an octa-core chipset are on the lower side. Even older low/mid-end SoCs from MediaTek like the MT6753 scored better multicore than the Redmi 4. However, the GPU is certainly capable, offering much better value and performance than the much older MT6753.

The primary current competition to this SoC will come from Snapdragon’s own stable in the form of the older Snapdragon 430 which continues to remain a popular choice in the budget segment, and 2017’s imminent line-up of 4XX alternatives. Nokia’s recently launched devices include the Nokia 5 and Nokia 6, and they use the Snapdragon 430. But the difference between the 430 and 435 mainly resides in the X8 LTE Modem and a slight bump up in clock speeds (1.4GHz vs 1.2GHz), so end users are unlikely to experience any drastic differences as far as CPU performance is concerned.

Regarding  thermals, the phone performs like a breeze during normal, day to day tasks. It is only under gaming and benchmarking scenarios where the phone does heat up a fair bit around the fingerprint sensor. But thankfully, the heat remains under control. Although noticeable, it does not build up to an extent to cause any discomfort and dissipates well once you switch out of the taxing activities.

There is only a slight hint of thermal throttling. Scores for GeekBench decreased marginally after a few successive runs, with the dips coinciding well with high temperature. The changes to the score were small and since this is a device which is unlikely to be purchased for its processing prowess, the small amounts of thermal throttling are excusable but were worth mentioning to maintain the objectivity of the review.

As far as GPU is concerned, the Adreno 505 does not throttle thermally, so that is good news (but it is not all that powerful to begin with).

Most higher intensity titles work well on low graphics, with higher options causing frame drops and stuttery gameplay. There is noticeable heat generation as well, but it dissipates well and does not cause any noticeable effects in gaming performance outside of the existing frame drops. Casual titles are handled much better on the device, so there is atleast some hope for the budget user.

For storage speeds, the Redmi 4 performs better than one would expect from a budget device. The results from AndroBench place the 32GB eMMC storage formatted to EXT4 close to the Redmi Note 4 with similar sequential read and write speeds. There is improvement against Random Read speeds, which is surprising to say the least.

Overall, the Redmi 4 works much better on the practical side of the smartphone experience than on benchmarks. Its target audience will find the insides of the phone sufficient enough for their limited use cases during daily usage. It is important to keep in mind that this is not a flagship and not even a mid-tier smartphone. It is a starter, budget device, so it becomes imperative to pull our expectations back in line and measure it with an appropriate yardstick. The processor is not what adds value to the Redmi 4, its pricing is. And for its price, the processor that Xiaomi chose makes for a very good choice with no clear “better” alternatives (without bumping up the price) available for the OEM to use instead.

Battery Life and Charging

As is made tradition by all the Xiaomi smartphones that I have tested by now, the Xiaomi Redmi 4 features insane battery life. This is made possible by the inclusion of a healthy 4,100 mAh battery, which works beautifully in conjunction with the 5” HD display and the octa-core Cortex-A53 based Snapdragon 435. This setup means that it is difficult to kill the Redmi 4 even with a day of “heavy” usage (though how “heavy” you can push is still bound by the limitations of the budget SoC).

Since the display is small and the SoC fairly limited, a normal consumer is unlikely to spend a large amount of time consuming videos or playing intensive games. In a scenario where this phone is limited to more basic tasks like casual web surfing, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and such other non-CPU intensive tasks, it will be no surprise to see the phone last 2 days of use on a single charge.

Coming to battery benchmarks, the Redmi 4 performs admirably, scoring 15h 42m of battery life at minimum brightness. This is about 1h lower than the insane 16h 41m achieved by the Redmi Note 4 in our tests under similar conditions despite the bigger and better display, but a good chunk of the Redmi Note 4’s battery efficiency is brought about by the 14nm manufacturing process which the 28nm Snapdragon 435 is unable to compete against.

On maximum brightness, the Redmi 4 scores 8h 28m, edging past the 8h 15m recorded by the Redmi Note 4. Practical screen on time with the phone hovered around 5.5-6 hours with about 20% battery left, and I do not doubt the phone’s capability to touch the 7 hour mark.

Charging unfortunately continues to be sore points for the device. The Redmi 4 takes more than 3 hours to charge from 0% all the way to 100%. It is a good thing the device does not need to be fully charged for comfortably going through one’s regular day, because charging the phone takes way too long. Xiaomi is making changes on this regards in the new Xiaomi Mi Max 2 which features faster charging, but with the Redmi 4, you are stuck with technology reminiscent of 2015.

Camera

The Redmi 4 comes with a 13MP rear sensor with Phase Detection Autofocus and an aperture of f/2.0. This is a rather standard camera setup which can be found in other Xiaomi devices as well. And as is usually the case, the camera can perform well as long as the lighting is in your favor.

The camera performance on the Redmi 4 is similar to that on Redmi Note 4, which is surprising considering the price difference. Shots on the normal camera mode are good representation of the actual colors of the subject, while HDR tends to saturate colors to make the images look subjectively pretty but not a close representative of the subject. The other drawback to HDR is its slow processing time, as all HDR images take about 2-3 seconds of processing and you need to maintain a steady hand during processing.

As soon as the lighting is not optimal, images take a bad hit. Details, color reproduction and dynamic range all suffer. This is typical of the budget segment and one is unlikely to find a device in this budget segment that fares better in camera performance.

The selfie camera on the front is a 5MP shooter with f/2.2. If you have adequate lighting, you can get a good selfie out of it. There are a few Beauty modes available as well, to touch up the subject’s face to remove blemishes and lighten the skin tone. The camera app accepts touches on the fingerprint sensor to click a photo, making it easier to click selfies without repositioning your fingers.

The Redmi 4 can capture video at 1080p 30fps, but since this is a budget device, it would be outlandish to expect OIS or EIS on it. You need a steady hand to shoot videos, a pre-condition along with good lighting.

Our expectations with camera performance were very grounded as even the current mid rangers often leave a lot to be desired in the camera department. This is an entry-level device with a heavy value focus on its price, so we did not expect miracles out of its camera. And we did not get any miracles either.

Display

The Redmi 4 comes with a 5” IPS LCD display with HD 720×1280 resolution. The smaller display may seem off against the 5.5” displays that are now presumed as “standard”, but there is a market for smaller and more pocket-friendly devices. With the smaller display, the Redmi 4 aims to be pocket-friendly both literally and figuratively.

In what is now a recurring theme, the display on the Redmi 4 is bright and sharp, just like the devices in the Redmi Note series. Despite its price, the display does not compromise in any manner when taking its price into account. The device gets bright enough for outdoor usage, though Mumbai’s punishing summer Sun caused issues a few times (the OnePlus 3’s display also was not legible at that point, so this is not either device’s fault but an observation that had to be made). The display also gets very, very dim and I appreciate the option to go to such extremes.

Viewing angles on the Redmi 4 are OK, as one can notice the blacks deteriorate past an angle, compromising the contrast ratio on the device (you can see some of that below).

Color accuracy is a bit off as the display likes to saturate content and make reds more vibrant, but it is not too bad and most users would not notice the saturation. You can also adjust the display temperature and contrast in case you want corrections to the default setting.

For its price range, the display on the Redmi 4 does not disappoint. The smaller size may affect decisions, but all other aspects of the display are up to the mark to what is considered rather standard in this price range.

Audio

The Redmi 4 bears identical drilled holes on the bottom of the mid frame to serve as the loudspeaker, but the speaker resides behind the holes on the right side of the microUSB port. Audio quality is decent when you are not muffling the device with your hands, which is a rare case considering how easy to handle this device is.

The experience from the 3.5mm headphone jack and the earpiece have been at par with various other smartphones that I have used. Clarity and volume levels posed no issues for audio for their intended uses. You can use this phone for extended calls very comfortably through both earphones as well as the earpiece.

Development and Future Proofing

The Redmi 4 (Indian version) is a fairly new device which is difficult to obtain thanks to flash sales. Because of this, there is not a whole lot of development already existing for the device for us to consider on its own merits.

[Because Xiaomi released multiple devices with similar names, we’d just like to differentiate further. The Redmi 4 China variant with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage is codenamed prada. The Redmi 4 Prime with 3GB RAM and 32GB storage is markw, while the Redmi 4 India/ Redmi 4X China is codenamed santoni. The Redmi 4A with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage is rolex. The following sections relate to ‘santoni’.]

Unlocking the device is possible using the official unlock tool. I have been unable to confirm whether there have been any improvements to Xiaomi’s unlocking procedure as my account displayed that I had unlock permissions as soon as I logged into Mi Unlock on my desktop, without even attaching my Redmi 4 (likely a consequence of my past unlocking adventures). We do not know if one still needs to apply for unlocking and subsequently wait weeks for unlock permissions — Xiaomi’s website mentions permissions, but we already had it without any special efforts.

The closest predecessor to the Redmi 4 is the Redmi 3S (land), so we can estimate Redmi 4’s development scenario on its basis instead. The Redmi 3S did receive its kernel source code, albeit disappointingly late. The Redmi 3S does have an active development community, as one can find several third party customization options and essentials ranging from TWRP builds to LineageOS 14.1 to KaliNethunter. It is too early to say if the Redmi 4 will hold up against the development on the Redmi 3S, but we are hopeful on this regard.

As far as future proofing goes, the Redmi 4 is not the ideal candidate for someone looking for a device that ages very well and can be used beyond 2 years comfortably. Most of the argument stems from its budget nature, as devices in this price range are not built with the highest available specs in any form, thereby sorely limiting how far ahead you can use the phone. The Redmi 4 follows the norm in this case.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 SoC, while good for daily tasks, certainly poses a chokepoint as user needs expand. Memory and Storage options exist ranging from 2GB+16GB to 4GB+64GB, so the base variants will have issues surviving in the future (and one could even argue in the present). The phone comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box, and Xiaomi has promised an Android Nougat update “very soon”, but it would be a stretch to ask this phone to be updated to Android O keeping in mind its asking price, and the fact that it’s releasing with Marshmallow this late in the game.

Miscellaneous Observations

The Redmi 4 features the now standard IR Blaster on the top of the device. This is a feature absent from even flagships, so other OEMs should take notice when such a budget device comes with this hardware feature. Usage and performance of the IR Blaster is similar to that of the Redmi Note 4

Difficulty to Purchase – Flash Sales, but Improved Scenario

The Redmi 4, once again in typical Xiaomi fashion, is a hard to purchase device. However, there have been improvements when compared to the Redmi Note 4.

For starters, Xiaomi now accepts pre-orders for the device. This is similar to the Flash Sales that they undertake as the pre-order timings are fixed, but the difference here is that you can book a device that hasn’t been completely produced and distributed yet (as opposed to devices which are ready for dispatch in a flash sale). This increases the window of opportunity for potential buyers and helps Xiaomi convert more such potential customers into actual customers.

Xiaomi has also opened its first offline Mi Home store in India in the city of Bangalore. This Mi Home store provides an outlet to experience and purchase the Redmi 4 (and other Xiaomi devices and electronics) offline. Xiaomi plans to open several more such offline stores in other parts of the country, as well as increase its offline retail presence in the coming months. This increases the availability of the devices to audiences which are not Internet-adept, something which is crucial for success for devices in this price segment.

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

A review of the Xiaomi Redmi 4 would be objectively incomplete without mentioning the biggest selling point of the device — its insane pricing! While overall the device may feel underwhelming and specs feel too entry level for the developed world, the phone is targeting customers who are purchasing a smartphone either for the first time, or have strict budget limitations.

The Xiaomi Redmi 4 is available in India at prices starting with ₹6,999 ($108) for the base 2GB RAM + 16GB Storage variant; ₹8,999 ($140) for 3GB + 32GB and ₹10,999 ($170) for 4GB + 64GB.

The base variant of the Redmi 4 makes the most sense to us, despite having the worst set of specs in the available variant choices. That is because the pricing of that device gives you heck of a deal, something that other OEMs have been unable to match. The jump up to more RAM and Storage feels steep, and the top-most variant just makes no sense to us despite having the ‘least’ compromises of the lot. That is because the highest end variant starts intruding upon the Redmi Note 4 pricing category. While you do get lesser RAM and storage on the Redmi Note 4 for that price, you swap out the budget Snapdragon 435 for the much better, mid-range Snapdragon 625.

The best deal is the base variant as it gets you a strong device for under $110.

In that price range, we see competitors like the newly announced Moto C Plus, which bears similar specs but swaps out the SoC for the MediaTek MT6737 and downgrades further on the camera and gets rid of the fingerprint sensor entirely. On the other hand, you do get an Android experience that is closer to stock, and a removable battery. On paper, the Moto C Plus does seem like a worse deal, so it would depend on the end user and his needs and priorities to determine which phone would be a better fit.

Other notable releases include the new YU Yureka Black, which gets you an FHD display at the same size and 4GB of RAM as upgrades, but a step down to the Snapdragon 430 SoC. The Yureka Black also starts off higher on the pricing, competing with the middle Redmi 4 variant at ₹8,999 ($140).

Surprisingly, I would also consider Nokia’s latest smartphone, the Nokia 3 as a decent competitor to the Redmi 4, despite Nokia’s ridiculously poor pricing decision. The Nokia 3 is expensive at ₹9,499 ($148) and downgrades to the MediaTek MT6737, 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, a smaller 2630 mAh battery and spec-wise step down to the camera as well. But, the Nokia 3 sports the Nokia branding and is made available exclusively through offline stores. For a first time smartphone buyer who walks into a retail shop, both of these factors would sway him towards the Nokia 3 even though the Redmi 4 is clearly the better device.

With all cards laid out on the table, the Redmi 4 is a device with its own share of compromises and one really strong selling point in the form of its price. There is little in this little device to make you truly go “wow”, but that is typical of every smartphone in the entry level. But, then one sees the pricing of the device, and all faults are forgiven. For under $110, this is as good as it gets. My recommendation goes out to the starting 2GB+16GB variant of the Xiaomi Redmi 4 as an excellent choice for a first smartphone despite its compromises, mainly due to its ₹6,999 ($108) pricing. If you can stretch your budget, skip the other two variants and opt instead for the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4.

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