Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 XDA Review: All Geared Up for Another Year of Success
India is a crucial part of Xiaomi’s international market. Here, their flagships have not had much success. On the other hand, the company continues to see its popularity rise with well-priced and high-value budget and low-end offerings.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 SoC was Xiaomi’s best selling phone in India and the country’s best-selling (online) phone with 3.6 Million units sold in just 10 months. For a budget device in a developing country with a saturated and competitive market, that is a lot of volume. With the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, Xiaomi is aiming even higher with its sales figures, hoping to double the numbers by selling at least 7 Million handsets in the country alone.
But is the Redmi Note 4 enough of an upgrade to achieve that number? How much value does it provide, and how does it stand against the competition?
In this review, we’ll take an in-depth dive into the Redmi Note 4. Rather than listing specs and talking about how the experience felt, this feature attempts to provide a thorough look with contents relevant to our reader base. At XDA, our reviews are not meant to tell a user whether a phone is worth buying or not — instead, we try to lend you the phone through our words and help you come to the decision by yourself. Before getting started, let’s get the specification sheet out of the way:
|Device Name:||Xiaomi Redmi Note 4||Release Date/Price||Available Now, ₹9,999 ($150) onwards|
|Android Version||6.0.1 (MIUI Global 8.1 ROM)||Display||5.5 inch 1080p IPS LCD (401p ppi)|
|Chipset||Snapdragon 625, Octa Core Cortex-A53, 8x 2GHz, Adreno 506 GPU||Battery||4,100mAh non-removable|
|RAM||2/3/4GB LPDDR3||Sensors||Fingerprint, Hall, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light, Electronic Compass|
|Storage||32/32/64GB 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||151 x 76 x 8.5 cm (~72.7% screen-to-body)||Rear Camera||13MP CMOS Sensor, PDAF, f/2.0, [email protected] / [email protected] video|
|Weight||165g||Front Camera||5MP CMOS, Fixed Focus, f/2.0, [email protected] video|
- Battery Life
- Development & Future Proofing
- Miscellaneous Observations
- Final Thoughts & Conclusion
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 features an aluminum body in a design that depict it as smaller variant of the Xiaomi Mi Max rather than a direct successor to the Redmi Note 3. While the Redmi Note 3 had more pronounced curves on the side edges, the Redmi Note 4 gets a boxy-appearance thanks to the flat mid frame. Only subtle curves appear on the side edges of the back.
A first look at the device would make it appear that the build is a unibody construction. However, and just like the Redmi Note 3 and several other Xiaomi phones, the metal does not extend over the entire back. The top and bottom caps of the back are made of plastic, which facilitates signal transmission. There is a shiny trim that separates the plastic and metal areas, and this strip adds a bit of a character to the back of the phone. The MI logo is present towards the bottom, as well as a few declaration markings.
The camera setup on the back appears identical to the Redmi Note 3, but the camera sensor and fingerprint scanner sit well below the back surface, keeping them protected from scratches. The shiny color trim is also present on the edges of the camera lens and the fingerprint sensor. The back no longer houses the speaker and the slightly awkward protrusion to keep the speaker lifted up. Instead, the speaker now finds its place at the bottom side frame of the device. Xiaomi took care this time to get a symmetrical layout with identically drilled holes on either side of the micro-USB port, but only the right side bears the speaker. The left side houses a microphone, but the rest of the holes are merely cosmetic.
The right side of the device bears the volume rocker and the power button. The buttons are well built with no wiggle in either direction, but they have a slightly muted click response — nothing too bad though. The left side of the device has room for the hybrid SIM tray.
The top of the device has the 3.5mm headphone jack, the IR Blaster and the secondary microphone.
The front of the device has a 5.5 inch IPS LCD display with 2.5D curved glass edges occupying most of the front. The sense of symmetry continues with the speaker on the center and two identical holes flanking either side — the left holds the proximity and light sensor and the right bears the front camera.
Our review unit is the Gold back and White front color variant, where the LED notification light is neatly hidden under the colored front and is visible only when lit up. The traditional Xiaomi capacitive buttons — Recents, Home and Back — are present on the bottom.
As far as handling of the device goes, the phone is comfortable to handle for anyone used to handling standard size 5.5” phones. The device’s physical dimensions compared to its predecessor are just 1mm longer but remain static on the width. The Redmi Note 4 is barely thinner with a 0.2mm difference, but it appears thinner than the Redmi Note 3 because of its flat sides. The 2.5D curved glass edges give the front a bit of a taper on the edges, but the transition from glass to the metallic chassis does feel sharp.
A black bezel border does exist visibly on the white color model, but it seems Xiaomi is taking efforts to cut down the color difference. The (total) bezels (72.7%) on the device are virtually the same as on the Redmi Note 3 (72.4%), but due to the shape of the device, I had more of my palm resting on the display while gripping the phone. Xiaomi’s palm rejection on stock MIUI did not feel up to the mark, and I had frequent annoying mistouches on the sides. I had to often adjust my grip while holding the phone as my palm would cause the UI (and especially scrollbars) to go crazy and jump all over the place.
The trim lines on the back add a nice premium touch in a very subtle way.
Xiaomi does play it safe on the budget line in terms of design, not experimenting much beyond the tried and tested. The design language on the Redmi Note 3 quickly spread through the budget lineup in India with various other OEMs also bringing out similar looking products, intentionally or unintentionally. So a bit of a switch up by letting the device take cues from the Mi Max lets it have a year of differentiation in an otherwise saturated price range. The trim lines on the back do add a nice premium touch in a very subtle way.
Overall, I was content with how the Redmi Note 4 rests in the hand. Outside of occasional adjustments to counter the erratic palm rejections, I had no issues with holding and using the device with one hand. The metallic device remains cool to the touch throughout its usage and also does fairly well on not slipping around on level surfaces. The build quality is good, and the device speaks for itself.
The device certainly looks better than its price tag. Before the Redmi Note 4 became common knowledge, people around me would frequently quote numbers up to twice the price of the device when asked to guess the retail price. The white-gold color variant does look very pretty, and the overall build quality does lead people to believe that this is a premium, mid-range device.
The phone also comes in two other colors: Dark Grey with Black front and Matte Black with Black front. In my limited hands-on with the Matte Black color during the launch event in India, I did find that fingerprints were rather visible on the back of the device, though that is nothing a quick wipe won’t fix.
Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow on MIUI 184.108.40.206 Stable (MCFMIDI)
Marshmallow on the Redmi Note 4 is nothing like Marshmallow on any device that runs Stock Android, completely thanks to Xiaomi’s extensive MIUI “skin” (ROM) which is laid on top of the core of Android. The modifications in MIUI run deep enough to the point that calling this is a “skin” would be an utter injustice to the years of efforts and the myriad of changes that Xiaomi has put in, cosmetically and otherwise, even if it doesn’t amount to a perfect experience.
The changes done by Xiaomi exist all throughout the Android OS: from the lock screen to the notification bar to the launcher and even down to “stock” apps like the calculator and dialer. While MIUI still goes on top of the base Android framework, an update to this framework will be lost on the end user (even if Google does an obvious cosmetic change), while major updates to MIUI itself will be apparent even if the base Android platform remains untouched.
We have extensively detailed the various changes present in earlier versions of MIUI, i.e. MIUI 7 on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3. The Redmi Note 4 comes with MIUI 8 out of the box.
While the Redmi Note 3 ran Android 5.1.1 Lollipop out-of-the-box (Android 6.0 came as an update down the line), the Redmi Note 4 runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with a promise for an update to Android Nougat soon. For the most part as has been our experience, the base Android version remains largely irrelevant as long as MIUI exists.
MUI 8 does build up on MIUI 7 rather than being a complete and revolutionary redesign of it, but MIUI itself is a complete redesign of Android as is seen on AOSP.
Notification Panel and Lockscreen Changes
One of the most striking changes that one can easily notice is how the Notification Shade is implemented on MIUI. This is one of the change areas on MIUI 8 from MIUI 7, and also differs from AOSP. The default pulldown on the notification bar brings out the notification pane as well as an expandable set of quick settings toggles. These are placed below a weather widget which changes background color depending on the time of the day (although there is no option to get rid of the widget though). For the expandable quick toggles, a set of four toggles are revealed in compact form, which then expands to a total of 11 toggles and one settings button for the toggles themselves. You can reorder toggles, but the maximum and minimum number that can be displayed remain fixed as above. One choice available to users is to switch to a double panel layout which decouples the toggles to its own pane, accessed through a side swipe on the notification pane.
My personal opinion on the notification panel is mixed. On one hand, I do like extensive toggles for easy access to settings. On the other hand, I do not like how rigid the whole implementation is. MIUI 8 also does weird changes to expanded notifications. Notifications can still be expanded, but only and strictly with a double finger swipe on the notification, irrespective of how many notifications you have received or the app initiating the notification. This means that all apps will default to small notifications all the time — even your music player of choice! A single finger swipe initiated on the notification will not expand the notification but will expand the quick settings tile. This change is rather jarring and is something I simply could not get used to, affecting my one-handed usage of the device.
On the topic of broken notifications, the Lockscreen also features notifications which cannot be expanded or cleared. At All. There is no quick way to find out the contents of your notification or swiping them away except by getting past the lockscreen. This behaviour exists independent of lockscreen notification settings that control the display of information and content. Thankfully, the fingerprint scanner on the back of the device is quick to respond and works very well, so passing through the lockscreen takes a second if you have the phone in your hand.
Launcher: App Drawer and Homescreen
The Launcher on MIUI 8 is largely the same as it was on MIUI 7. There is no app drawer in place, so all of your apps are directly placed on the homescreen. There are plenty of animations around, so we invite you to our MIUI 7 review to view gifs of a few of those animations. One can easily install and use a different launcher, so there are plenty of alternatives if you do not like the launcher.
The Recents Panel on MIUI 8 is a slight improvement from that of MIUI 7. The icons are expanded into larger cards by default, and you can switch back to smaller icons too. If multiple activities are launched in an app, say like Settings, these cards appear stacked on top of each other and can be expanded upon separately. The panel scrolls sideways and not as smoothly as AOSP’s recent’s implementation does, so it does hamper how quickly you can jump around to different apps.
Another change that is significantly different is how share actions are presented. Here is a quick GIF demonstrating the share activity available on actions like screenshot (as well as a look at the screenshot animation).
Even with all of the complaints so far, there is a lot more which MIUI 8 does and it does them right. For example, the caller app builds in video calling functionality (assuming both ends have supported devices) as well as call recorder and caller ID. Call recorders are very popularly used in India, especially in urban areas, so baking in this functionality resonates well with the target audience.
Notable additions to MIUI 8 also include Dual Apps and Second Space. Dual Apps allows you to create separate copies of individual apps that will co-exist with each other. This is insanely useful in scenarios where the app in question does not support account switching in an easy manner. For example, you can have two WhatsApp accounts, one for each SIM, co-existing simultaneously on the same device. If you want, you can also use Second Space to create a new phone setup entirely — complete with its own settings, apps and app data, and then switch between these two.
Then there is added functionality like Long Screenshots, Notification Control, Lite Mode, Child Mode, Guest Mode, One-Handed Mode, App Lock, Scheduled Power ON/OFF, Scheduled Battery Profiles, Scheduled Notification Profiles, App Firewall, Data Usage Monitor with individual graphs for both SIMs as well as WiFi, Autostart Manager, and still much more. We extensively covered some of these aspects in our previous review, and most of the functionality with its bundled advantages and disadvantages continue on from MIUI 7 to MIUI 8.
MIUI works out for an average user who has no particular affinity towards AOSP
There is so much more to MIUI than what we can cover in one article. MIUI continues to be one of the most feature-loaded ROMs to ship as a stock ROM on a range of devices. The best part about MIUI is that phones designed to run on MIUI actually run it very well, and the overall ROM works out for an average user who has no particular affinity towards AOSP.
There are a few more problem areas. One is how MIUI handles RAM and multitasking. The ROM aggressively tackles multitasking on the system level, doing great injustice to the plentiful amount of RAM in the hardware package. I wholeheartedly recommend disabling “Memory Optimizations” and “MIUI Optimizations”, which drastically improves app switching capabilities and lets app linger on in the background in their natural state and activity cycles for longer.
The list of dubious additions continues with the inclusion of the Security app from MIUI 7, also carried over to MIUI 8. Do we really need a “virus scanner” application on Android with virus definitions from Tencent, Avast and AVL? Do we actually need a cleaner application with scan definitions from Clean Master and Tencent? Preloading these applications is common on Chinese ROMs but having these additions on Global ROMs with Play Services running alongside is questionable. Worse, none of these application packages can be entirely disabled without root.
There are also concerns about MIUI pushing advertisements to their users. I would like to clarify that I did not receive a single ad from MIUI/Xiaomi during my usage on the Redmi Note 4 (as well as on previous Xiaomi devices). But preliminary investigations on this end indicate that a means to push ads exists in the ROM. In Settings > Additional Settings > Privacy > Ad Services, there exists a toggle for disabling Personalized Ads. I also frequently found an application named “MSA” with package name “com.miui.systemAdSolution” running in the background. There is no means to completely disable this application. Worst, the application very often updates itself silently in the background. Other users have complained of the phone receiving “invisible ads” (ads that wake up the phone but are immediately self-dismissed to avoid detection), but checking through Notification logs on my device gave no such indication. The chances of receiving an ad increases if you use the stock MIUI browser, but even after such usage, I am yet to encounter one.
Note: The Ad framework is separate from the Analytics framework. Both exist, both cannot be entirely removed. We can kind of see why Analytics exist, but cannot see why Ads do for an OEM that sells hardware and software as a one-time purchase.
If you absolutely need to have a custom skin on top of Android, MIUI shows how one can accomplish it. It’s not perfect by any means, but the various additions sprinkled throughout the UI give it an edge over minimalistic skins. Even small and seemingly insignificant changes can affect how YOU use YOUR phone.
For example – MIUI appending the originating applications package name in screenshot immensely helps me in reviewing the device and sorting through 500+ screenshots. Having currency conversion built into the calculator also helps me when I am writing about phones launched in different parts of the world. My relative who purchased their own Redmi Note 4 enjoys the Call Recorder functionality and how it can start recording for selected contacts only; as well as how he can use two WhatsApp accounts on the same phone.
All of these functionalities are possible by using various apps or modifications, but having these baked in works better for the average user who does not have the patience to hunt or the realization that his workflow is improved by their existence.
To wrap up the software section, I would like to say that I enjoy MIUI as a whole, but do have issues with a few segments that leave me with a mixed opinion. We eagerly wait the coming of stable MIUI on Android 7.0 Nougat to see what improvements the update would bring.
Performance & Battery Life
The following section is a full copy of our previous article on the Redmi Note 4’s battery life and performance, which you can find here for sharing or isolated reading.
Just like its predecessor, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 comes in two SoC variants: one with a MediaTek Helio X20 and the other featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625. Alongside these chipsets, you can find different combinations of RAM + Storage options as listed below:
|Mediatek Helio X20||2GB||16GB|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 625||2GB||32GB|
Our review unit is from the Indian market, and thus it comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC, along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (Snapdragon 650) that we reviewed left us mightily impressed by the sheer performance of the SoC in both processing speed and power efficiency, in both benchmarks and the real world. The addition of 2x Cortex-A72 cores in a separate performance cluster supplemented the 4x Cortex-A53 cores in the efficiency cluster, allowing the device to ace various benchmarks with ease. The Redmi Note 3 put up an absolutely untouchable wall of performance against its competition within the affordable segment, a fact that largely contributed to it being Xiaomi’s most successful product in the Indian market.
However, on the surface, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Snapdragon 625) lands up behind the Redmi Note 3 (Snapdragon 650) based on pure specifications. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 bears 8x Cortex-A53 cores on a 14nm fabrication process. It’s claimed that the cluster setup is supposed to be divided into a performance (4x cores) and efficiency (4x cores) combination (as intended), but in the real world we routinely saw that all 8 cores were capable of reaching the 2.0GHz peak clock speed and staying there, so we are inclined to believe that the clusters are implemented rather homogeneously.
The removal of the Cortex-A72 cores should be best felt in performance-intensive scenarios as opposed to daily usage cases where the Cortex-A53 cores should be sufficient, although some quick burst operations will likely take a hit in performance as well. The lack of A72 cores will also impact benchmark scores. The area that would be an improvement is battery life, as the SD625 SoC also stands to benefit from the 14nm fabrication process as against the SD650’s 28nm process. While that advantage also translate to better performance under similar conditions, it’s largely offset by the difference in core setups.
So how exactly does the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 fare?
CPU & System
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 settles in the low and mid end with regards to benchmark performance. It trails behind in several benchmarks against its predecessor, which is inline with our initial assessment of the spec sheet. While the RN3 was a powerful mid-ranger at its best performance, the RN4 is an efficient mid-range device at best.
Starting off with GeekBench, a benchmark that helps narrowly assess the CPU performance, we find that the Redmi Note 4 lags behind the Redmi Note 3 by a good margin. The RN4 scored 841/2927 at its highest, while the RN3 could manage 1492/3482 at its best during our last review. Individual numbers by themselves have little meaning, but as a comparison across the two generation of devices, it is indicative of the decline in sheer computing capacity between the 2016 product and the 2017 product.
Other tests which measure performance through abstract algorithms, like BaseMark OS II and AnTuTu, share similar results. Total score on BaseMark OS II was lower when compared to the scores on the Redmi Note 3 and Mi Max (Snapdragon 650, 3GB RAM), albeit anomalous behavior was noticed with system scoring higher and memory scoring half in comparison. AnTuTu score was lower on the Redmi Note 4 as well. The margins of difference may not be very large, but they consistently exist.
The surprise that we did find was in PCMark tests where the Redmi Note 4 scores higher than both the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 and the Xiaomi Mi Max. In fact, the score on Work 1.0 test on PCMark has the Redmi Note 4 score closer to the OnePlus 3 with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC and 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM scores (6692 vs 6748 respectively). This behavior is surprising as PCMark’s tests are not entirely abstract tests, but take a holistic approach to benchmarking by putting the device through common use case scenarios in a less-discrete testing environment that still uses system resources.
The results of PCMark echo across the general performance of the device. I was personally disappointed upon learning that the Redmi Note 4 was a downgrade on paper over its predecessor. But the practical performance of the phone left me pleasantly surprised.
MIUI 8 is chock full of animations, which can give a feeling of fluidity to the OS experience but ends up feeling less snappy and not quite as instantaneous. Actions feel deliberate and slow, so the first few hours with the phone felt as if the device was consciously and intentionally slowing down actions, giving an air of incompetence to the underlying SoC power. The slow reaction times were very apparent as I had jumped from a very snappy and reactive OnePlus 3 down to the Redmi Note 4.
Going through menus in the post-setup, there were a few settings which I played around with to get an experience that didn’t feel as lethargic. In developer settings, I sped up the animations from the default 1x to 0.5x for Window animations, Transition animations and Animator durations, just to see if the device started stuttering. I also turned off Memory Optimization and MIUI Optimization, both of which are settings which are opaque in their workings and were found to be detrimental to the true hardware potential in my past Xiaomi experiences. I also turned off “System Animations” in the Battery Settings, though I am unsure of which animations these refer to as animations still continued to exist in all the expected places.
Once the animations were sped up and the “optimizations” turned off, the daily usage experience on the Redmi Note 4 became comparable to that of the Redmi Note 3 and other products in the price range. It is not a flagship-like experience, as apps still take a noticeable second to open up (made apparent when you completely turn off all animations in the Developer Settings). But for an average user going about his daily business, there will be no noticeable difference between the Redmi Note 4 and the theoretically-better Redmi Note 3.
The Redmi Note 4 makes its predecessor proud with excellent thermal performance
Great performance carries onto thermal throttling. The predecessor Redmi Note 3 was an absolute thermal pleasure to use, as heat dissipation was excellent and throttling because of heat buildup was not noticeable. The Redmi Note 4 makes its predecessors proud as it accomplishes the same results. In our throttling tests with consecutive benchmark runs, the Redmi Note 4 showed only a slight decline in benchmark scores while temperatures rose. Temperature stagnated and hovered around 36°C, and performance only showed nominal variations. Do note, due to the higher ambient temperature of my city thanks to its tropical climate, this particular throttling test starts at 30°C base temperature — just a point to remember when comparing throttling performance across our other device reviews which start off around 28°C.
Another thing to point out, the minimum frequency on the Snapdragon 625 is 652MHz and not any lower for some reason. The phone still performs well in the battery department, as we will note later on in this article.
GPU & Gaming
The GPU is an area where the Redmi Note 4 shows a greater downgrade from the Redmi Note 3.
The RN4 utilizes the Adreno 506, while the RN3 utilizes the Adreno 510. While the Adreno 506 is based on the 14nm fabrication process and has a higher clock speed, it has less number of ALU’s (96 vs 128) and manages to score lesser GFLOPS (130 vs 180). Most games on the Redmi Note 4 start off on the lowest graphic setting as their recommended setting, but you can ramp them up on popular titles and still retain playability.
Benchmarking scores for the GPU place it well below the Redmi Note 3. The Redmi Note 4 scores about ⅔ the framerate on similar tests.
GPU throttling, on the other hand, is absolutely negligible. Granted, the GPU is not the best performer, but our throttling analysis indicates that it is a rather consistent performer. GFXBench’s Manhattan 3.1 Endurance tests had the device scoring a rather consistent 377 frames across 30 consecutive benchmark runs. The variations in the score are of the order of ±0.1 frame across the tests, so while the scores are not impressive by themselves, the consistency is.
When it comes to games, most titles perform just as well on the Redmi Note 4 as they do on the Redmi Note 3. Games do start at low quality, but you can push them up to max details without any issue as popular titles tend to artificially cap the framerate to 30 on most devices. Asphalt 8 and Warhammer 40k Freeblade had no issues churning out their 30FPS ceiling in gameplay at highest settings. On the other hand, Dead Trigger 2 does perform closer to 45FPS as compared to the 55FPS average achieved on the Redmi Note 3 at highest settings.
The takeaway from the CPU and GPU performance sections is that the Redmi Note 4 is indeed a practical downgrade from the Redmi Note 3. But this statement is rather myopic in its outlook, as performance in practical scenarios is nearly equal and differences unnoticeable. Outside the scope of benchmarks, the Redmi Note 4 does not come across as the inferior device, and normal usersdoing everyday tasks will not be able to differentiate between the Redmi Note 3 and the Redmi Note 4. I’d even go as far as saying that advanced users will also be unable to differentiate between the Snapdragon 650 and the Snapdragon 625 in performance unless they go out of their way to find deltas by testing both side by side.
After my usage of the device, I am more at peace with Xiaomi’s decision to go for a an SoC that does not have a performance cluster setup as they have ended up with an impressive package nonetheless. App and OS performance is quick, popular freemium titles usually max out at fps, and the device performs admirably under prolonged usage scenarios with minimal throttling and a comfortable maximum temperature ceiling.
RAM Management and Storage
One of the weakest links in the Redmi Note 3 package was its limited RAM and liveable storage. The base variant came with a RAM and storage combination of 2GB + 16GB, while the higher variant bumped these up to 3GB + 32GB. We reviewed the 2GB variant of the Redmi Note 3 and noted the disappointing multitasking capabilities of the device. MIUI’s heavy handedness in handling background applications as well as its own bloat ended up giving us a very poor performer. Our Mi Max review, which was done on the 3GB RAM variant with the Snapdragon 650 SoC, noted the improvement an additional GB of RAM brought to the experience.
With the Redmi Note 4, Xiaomi attempts to fix this one broken aspect. To cater to a wider budget scenario, the device comes in three RAM + Storage combinations in India: 2GB+32GB, 3GB+32GB and 4GB+64GB. Our review unit is the top variant, and our experience affirms that more RAM is actually good on devices that run MIUI and is well worth the additional cost.
More RAM is actually good on devices that run MIUI and is well worth the additional cost
To actually make use of all that RAM though, one does need to turn off Xiaomi’s MIUI “optimizations”. These settings try and close down background applications and processes mercilessly, aiming for more “battery life”. So even though you may have more than 2GB of free RAM, you would find your last accessed background application would be closed away and reset upon a screen off, or your last game which you were playing before an unexpected call came through is no longer in memory and needs to reload from scratch.
The 4GB LPDDR3 RAM variant of the device, without MIUI’s optimization interference, can hold more than 12 apps in memory. This is enough for the needs of most people. There is no weird or anomalous behaviour when you have plenty of apps open. You can even switch from games like Warhammer 40K Freeblade and Asphalt 8 and back with no issues. As far as holding apps in memory goes, the experience is comparable to modern day flagships.
The 64GB of eMMC storage (user accessible: 56GB) formatted to EXT4 filesystem allows the Redmi Note 4 to compare with the Redmi Note 3 and the Mi Max on Read and Write speeds for the most part. The only improvements seen are in Sequential Write speeds, where the device comes closer to flagship like performance. High sequential write speeds would come in beneficial when writing large files like videos into the internal storage, so there is limited scope in seeing these improvements unless you plan to be a heavy data creator on your budget device.
In addition to the internal storage, the Redmi Note 4 also provides storage expandability through a microsd card slot (via the Hybrid Dual SIM tray). Seeing as there is no 16GB storage option even on the base variant, most users would be satisfied with the 32GB and 64GB options by themselves. But having the option is always nice, and we appreciate the choice.
App Opening speeds on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 are okay. Seeing that this is a budget device after all, we do not have high expectations. For the most part, the device delivers opening speeds (cold start) comparable to other low end and budget devices, and as naturally expected, tastes dust when compared to flagships. Even compared to the Mi Max, the RN4 opens up apps (cold start) slower by a margin of ~1 second across an averaged run of Play Store, Gmail, Hangouts and Chrome. The difference may seem minuscule, but it adds up through the day if you keep the default MIUI “optimizations” enabled. If you don’t, then the hot start timing of apps comes down significantly.
Overall, on the performance end, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 is another solid performer from Xiaomi’s stables. It is a theoretical downgrade in certain areas, but does not let any of that affect its real world performance. It is important to keep in mind that Xiaomi’s target demographic with this phone is the budget audience, people who go for devices like the Lenovo Moto G4. The previous Redmi Note 3 was an absolute monster in the price range and set the bar a little too high for even Xiaomi to one up. So even though the Redmi Note 4 shoots for the stars and misses, it still ends up pretty high.
Battery Life and Charging
The upgrades to the Redmi Note 4 over the Redmi Note 3 come in the battery life department, and that is an accomplishment by itself. The Redmi Note 3 was one of the best phones I have experienced for battery life, dwarfed only by the likes of the Mi Max while coming out on top of the OnePlus 3. So to go beyond that is no small feat.
For forward and backward comparisons, we tested out the Redmi Note 4 on both of PCMark’s Battery Life test versions. On Work 2.0, the device gives out a monstrous 16h 41m of battery life at lowest brightness, while continuing on with an impressive 8h 15m of life at maximum brightness. On Work 1.0, which is what we used in our reviews of the OnePlus 3, Mi Max and the Redmi Note 3, the Redmi Note 4 comes out the highest with a life of 19h 15m and 9h 31m at minimum and maximum brightness respectively.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 has the best battery life of any device that I have used so far
Much of the credit here, especially during battery benchmarking, goes to the large 4000/4100 mAh (min/typ) non-removable battery and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC and its Cortex-A53 cores on the 14nm FinFET fabrication process. Qualcomm claimed a reduction of up to 35% in power consumption compared to the previous generation (which would be the Snapdragon 61x series in this case). Xiaomi claims an increase of 25% in battery life over the Redmi Note 3. We do not agree with the numbers, but it certainly is a marked improvement over something that was best-in-class by itself.
It is so difficult to kill this device that for sake of charging time testing, we ended up spending 1h 42min just trying to get the phone down from 20% to 0%!
As far as Screen On times are concerned, most days end with around 6 and half hours of screen on time with around 25% battery still to go. My usage classifies under heavy usage in these scenarios, thanks to constant LTE connection (courtesy of Reliance Jio) and Dual-SIM usage. These 6 hours would be a mixed bag of Chrome browsing, Whatsapp, Telegram, Slack, Reddit Sync, YouTube and a combined of around 1 and half hours of Ingress and Vainglory gaming. The Redmi Note 4 is pure beast mode when it comes to battery, and with an acceptable level of performance, there simply is no tradeoff in achieving these insane numbers.
On medium to light usage with much more device standby and wifi switchover, the phone can easily eke out two days of usage. Average users will be absolutely content with the battery life on this device, irrespective of their usage intensity.
The best part of this insane battery performance is that the phone manages to do all of that while still retaining a standard size form factor, without needing a bulky battery and body. As we will expand upon in our full review, the Redmi Note 4 offers pleasant ergonomics and allows for comfortable handling too.
As insane as the battery life is, the charging rate of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 is the exact opposite. The phone comes with a 5V/2A charger in the box. Xiaomi makes no mention of any fast charging capabilities on the device even though the Snapdragon 625 supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0.
Charging with the provided box charger consistently takes approximately 3 hours to charge a dead Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 to 100%. Charging rate significantly tapers off towards the higher percentages.
An hour’s worth of charge is good enough for the battery to go from 0 to 50%. External temperatures while charging remain a cool 36-38 °C while the phone is idling/asleep, although the charger brick itself manages to go higher than 50°C while charging (not an issue since no one needs to constantly handle the charger, but just something worth mentioning). We had hoped Xiaomi would incorporate improvements in this area seeing that the Mi Max and the Redmi Note 3 had similar charging performance, but alas, that is not the case.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 comes with a 13MP primary camera with f/2.0 aperture and PDAF. Just like the Redmi Note 3, the Redmi Note 4 performs okay in the camera department. The improvements come about in color reproduction, where the camera is able to capture a wider range of colors and with better accuracy.
As long as the light is in your favor, shots on the Redmi Note 4 come out better than the Redmi Note 3. We have not had a chance to check out camera performance on other mid-rangers in the Indian market who actually boasts of camera performance as their strong point, like the older Moto G4 Plus and newer Moto G5 Plus as well as other phones from camera oriented lineups like Oppo’s F-series and several of Vivo’s phones. So it is difficult to make an absolute statement on how the camera performs in its price range.
With comparison to the Redmi Note 3, the camera is an improvement. Firstly, there is the improved color reproduction and slightly improved dynamic range overall. Colors captured are closer representatives of the subject and if the lighting is good, you can get a decent level of detail as well as accuracy. HDR on the Redmi Note 3 was often atrocious with how it would over-brighten lit areas, but HDR on Redmi Note 4 does a better and more consistent and predictable job. But as a down side, I do feel it is slower than the RN3 though, as HDR pics often had me waiting for around 2-3 seconds for the image to complete processing (and a premature movement would blur out and destroy the image).
Low light performance is again a sore point. Improvements are barely noticeable, if at all. The budget as well as focus on other areas of smartphone performance does not give us room for higher expectations in the camera department, so we would consider the camera performance in line with our grounded expectations.
The selfie camera on the front is a 5MP shooter. Again, you can get a good click if lighting is natural and plentiful, while low light selfies are better off not boasted about. You can play with a few beauty mode settings, with a Smart mode with “levels” of modification, as well as a Pro mode which give you a slider to fine tune the software modifications to the subject’s face. Placing a finger on the fingerprint scanner does click a picture (works for both rear and front camera), so positioning the phone and clicking a selfie one-handed is more comfortable than compared to a thumb-initiated click on the screen.
The general trend continues on with video as well. As is typical for the budget, the phone can capture 1080p at 30 fps, but there is no provision for OIS or EIS. Color and dynamic range is better on the RN4. But the Continued Autofocus leaves a lot to be desired if you have movements on the camera or your subject. You can switch to Tap to focus too, but focusing in video takes a few moments.
The camera UX remains vastly similar to the one found on MIUI 7 on the Redmi Note 3. You can access a bunch of image filters and shooting modes, and can choose from a few beauty mode settings when on the front camera. The Redmi Note 4 does feature Manual Mode, but the very limited set of controls (namely White Balance and ISO level) does not give you the fine tuning control that the name would have you believe.
Overall, while there are improvements to the camera in this generation of Redmi Note, it still isn’t something you can boast about. For the budget segment that the phone aims for, and the over-compensation it does in other areas like battery life leaves us little room to complain extensively on the aspect of camera.
5.5” 1080p IPS LCD (401ppi)
The Redmi Note 4 comes with a standard 5.5” IPS LCD display with FHD 1080×1920 resolution. There is nothing to complain about in terms of size or resolution, as both are adequate and conform to the standards over the recent years for phones generally.
The display on the Redmi Note 4 is good for its price point. It gets very bright on maximum settings, enough to mitigate any readability issues under direct sunlight. It also gets very dim in its minimum settings, to the point that the dimmest setting was too low for me even in pitch black surroundings. In these, the Redmi Note 4 performed as well as the Redmi Note 3 if not better. We do not have the review unit of the Redmi Note 3 with us, so it is difficult to make comparisons on this end without the existence of numerical and objective data.
Color accuracy on the Redmi Note 4 is a bit off as the display tends to prioritize saturation and makes reds pop. This works out well for many users, but can be a concern for you if you want truer representation of colors. There are a few settings for the display that can be used to adjust the temperature and contrast, which came in handy as I found the default setting a tad bit warm for my taste.
The Redmi Note 4 is a noticeable upgrade from its predecessor as far as audio is concerned. All of the improvements come from the repositioning of the speakers from the back of the device to now fire from the bottom of the mid frame. The loudspeaker is present on only one side of the symmetrically-drilled holes. You can keep the phone in any orientation of its screen and still retain high volume and clarity, making tasks like watching videos much more enjoyable. You can still muffle the device if you cover up the holes, but it is now more difficult to do so unintentionally.
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 earpiece.
Development and Future Proofing
When I started reviewing the Redmi Note 3 last year, I had my doubts on how the device would fare in this section. A lot of the issues stemmed from MIUI’s then-recent convoluted unlock procedure, the one which induces more headaches than the problems it solves.
Three Xiaomi phones later, the headache still persists but the overall development situation (for the Snapdragon variants at least) is surprisingly good.
The unlocking procedure as provided by the OEM is still a problem area, wherein requests take a long while to get approved. Once approved, you have to battle your way through several errors in the official unlocking tool. If your luck is shining and the stars align, you unlock your phone in your first attempt. If it does not, and it does not for a lot of people if the forums are any proof, then you need to repeat part of the process in a combination of manners, button presses, and steps. Frankly, official unlock is an area that is unnecessarily complicated even for people who follow instructions to the T.
With the Redmi Note 3, there were ways one could unofficially unlock the device. These methods appeared complicated against the simple instructions of the official unlock process, but in reality were far easier to follow through as they ironically had greater chances of success. Eventually, as the device aged and had more community members and devs to contribute and experiment, one could install ROMs and do several modifications without needing to unlock the bootloader of the device at all.
In fact, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 grew on to become among one of the most popular device forums over here at XDA-Developers, coming behind the current king OnePlus 3/3T and ahead of even the Nexus 6P and the Google Pixel. There is a wide plethora of custom work from the community available for the Redmi Note 3, including but not limited to guides, FAQs, ROMs (including official nightlies for LineageOS 14.1), tools, kernels, recoveries and more. There’s some more stuff over at the MIUI forums for the device too, just in case you did not think this was impressive.
The Redmi Note 3 set the bar very high for a Xiaomi phone in terms of development and third party software modifications. Does the Redmi Note 4 live up to that?
The short answer is, it will in due time.
The Redmi Note 4 looks to be on its way to achieve a lot of what made the Redmi Note 3 a popular choice in the forums. Bootloader unlocking is still all hit and miss (and this part may not see any improvement), but once you get past unlocking your device, you can load up an official build of TWRP on the device. Want to get rid of MIUI? There’s Lineage OS to flash. Want to try out Nougat on MIUI? There’s a developer beta ROM released by Xiaomi themselves previewing Android Nougat on MIUI 8 on the Redmi Note 4. Want to get rid of MIUI and try out Nougat? There’s Lineage OS 14.1 for you to try out.
The options may seem limited, but keep in mind that the device is barely two months old. Flash sales have been selling out their stocks within 10 seconds (for all the 5 sales that I tried for), so the device is consistently gaining popularity, and the nature of MIUI is likely to invite many enthusiasts to become part of the community. Xiaomi also recently announced they have sold over 1 Million of this device within 45 days, so its popularity is already significant.
As far as official update goes, Xiaomi has promised that the Android 7 Nougat update on MIUI 8 is in the works for global stable release. As mentioned, there are developer previews to try out if you are impatient. Xiaomi is slow to update their phones, absolutely because of MIUI and the deep modifications it does which require porting every base update. This delay scenario also extends onto updates wherein base versions are not updated. For instance, MIUI 8.2 (on Marshmallow) was to begin rollout “progressively” from 20th Feb onwards, but as of 14th March, the update is nowhere in sight for the Redmi Note 4. So while the update will come, be prepared to wait because it might take a while.
While Android 7.0 Nougat will arrive on the Redmi Note 4, be prepared to wait as it might take a while.
Will the Redmi Note 4 receive Android O whenever it is released? This question is a bit too far in the future, but it helps assess the scope of the device which we can through the example of its predecessor. Xiaomi has remained mum so far on whether the Redmi Note 3 will receive Nougat. As noted in our software review, the base Android version matters little, so users are unlikely to experience any changes that Android O brings unless MIUI itself brings them in. Xiaomi has promised MIUI 8.2 (Marshmallow) for the Redmi Note 3 though, and it continues to provide that to other older but supported devices across its lineup. We would expect the MIUI update support for the Redmi Note 3 to continue on for a while, but Android version update support has a bleaker future. So expect the same for the Redmi Note 4.
As for kernel sources, Xiaomi takes a while to release them, but they do so eventually. The Redmi Note 3 has had its complete kernel source uploaded to Xiaomi’s Github, but these have not been updated recently so they are out-of-date though. The Redmi Note 4 does not have its sources out, but it will likely have them out in the future. It is also likely that Xiaomi chooses to release kernel sources directly after the MIUI 8.2 or Nougat update, so there is waiting involved in the future.
The Redmi Note 4 comes with an IR Blaster. This is a nice touch of added hardware that makes things easier. I enjoy the convenience of controlling a few of my other electronic appliances from my phone. However, this feature and the Mi Remote app themselves remain inconspicuous and subsequently unused by a large number of people who owned the predecessor.
The Redmi Note 4 also comes with an FM Radio app. This is not Internet-based, and seeing the popularity of FM Radio in semi-urban and rural areas, this will also be appreciated by a few people. I certainly do appreciate the existence of the functionality even though I do not use it actively, as I often miss the same on my daily driver (OnePlus 3) when I am out of network and bored of the music on local storage.
Lack of NFC
However, what the Redmi Note 4 does not have is NFC functionality. The use cases in urban India (the Redmi Note 4’s prime market) still do not invite extensive use of NFC, as mobile wallet solutions do not rely on NFC here. Android Pay is non-existent in the country as well. While the ordinary user will not miss NFC on this device, we would have preferred the existence of the feature and a choice in using it, rather than a complete impossibility for the future.
Difficulty to Purchase – Online Flash Sales
The biggest drawback to the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 is its sales model that makes the phone very difficult to procure. The online only sales are held on a regular basis on Flipkart.com and mi.com. However, as has been my own experience purchasing one for someone else, both the sites sell out of stock in mere moments. Even if you manage to load both the sites at noon sharp (which is when most sales are), and manage to click the one button that needs to be clicked, you get placed into a queue with a thousand other people. In most instances, the queue goes on for 15+ minutes after which you get a failure message.
This frustration of purchasing and the online-only sales model makes the device unfavorable in scenarios when you want an urgent replacement and do not wish to wait months for the phone to be purchasable. Impatient customers will more likely drift towards other inferior options if it means they can purchase the phone and use it when they want to, and not months later.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 also becomes subject to popularity and demand in unofficial sales channels. From my own experience buying the device for an impatient user and failing to do so in five flash sales, we ended up walking into a nearby mobile store and “placing an order” for the phone at a good margin above its selling price. While the highest variant costs ₹12,999, we ended up booking a phone unofficially for ₹15,000 (plus additional debit card transaction charges). The phone was picked up from the shop the very next day in original and sealed packaging. The shopkeeper also mentioned that they sell about one of this phone every day, which is very surprising because of their high overcharging and them being an unofficial sales channel.
Xiaomi is trying to remedy the situation (all OEMs want greater sales after all). The OEM recently revealed that they have sold more than 1 Million units of the device in 45 days, since their first sale on January 23rd, 2017. Keeping in mind that the Redmi Note 3 sold ~3.6 Million units overall, the Redmi Note 4 is already about a quarter of its predecessor’s popularity. Stocks of the device are coming in, but there is simply too much (initial) demand! If Xiaomi does not address this with more stocks available in a timely fashion, it will lose out customers to other competitors simply out of the frustration involved in purchasing.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 is a commendable device when you view it in an isolated vacuum where its own predecessor does not exist. For a budget and entry-level price tag, you get a very good set of specifications that surprisingly punches higher and better than its face value. Pure numbers on the specification sheet do not completely do justice to the Redmi Note 4 and its holistic smartphone experience.
The biggest talking point on the Redmi Note 4 is the Snapdragon 625, without a doubt. This is the area where the predecessor was actually better. But, this was because the Snapdragon 650 in the Redmi Note 3 was that good, and not because the Snapdragon 625 is bad (it is not). Switching out the beastly Snapdragon 650 for the efficient Snapdragon 625 is a very calculated decision from Xiaomi, as it only marginally hits the device in performance but enhances the battery life. For the average user, this trade-off involves losing out on performance improvements they do not notice, for some more useable time on the smartphone that they will notice.
Additionally, the improvement in capacity for storage and RAM brings more areas where the final consumer will notice the positive difference. Having 32GB as base storage options and 64GB on the highest variant, as well as a choice between 2/3/4GB RAM gives users more choice on how they much they wish to spend on their purchase.
For about the same price set as the Redmi Note 3 before it, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 starts off with more storage, more RAM options, better build quality, superior battery life and relevance in software support. There is not a whole lot other than these that has changed, but with the prices barely fluctuating between the two generations, you still get a very strong value package.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 costs ₹9,999 ($152; 2GB+32GB), ₹10,999 ($167; 3GB+32GB) and ₹12,999 ($198; 4GB+64GB) for its respective options. For comparison, the Redmi Note 3 went on sale for ₹9,999 ($152; 2GB+16GB) and ₹11,999 ($182; 3GB+32GB). The Redmi Note 3 would have been the strongest competition to the Redmi Note 4, but Xiaomi has stopped sales of the device (the RN3 has been out of stock ever since the RN4 came out) which is a very smart move in my opinion as that would have hurt their own new product.
But, because the Redmi Note 4 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, it also has a lot more competition from other OEMs who have pushed out devices on the same chipset and displaying similar prowess.
For example, the Lenovo P2 is pretty much the Redmi Note 4 but with a bigger 5,100 mAh battery and fast charging support for ₹16,999 ($260; 3GB+32GB) and ₹17,999 ($275; 4GB+32GB). The Moto G5 Plus also sports the SD-625 and Android 7.0 now but on a smaller 5.2″ display, smaller 3,000 mAh battery at a price of ₹14,999 ($228; 3GB+16GB) and ₹16,999 ($260; 4GB+32GB). If you want a step up in SoC but can live with a comparatively smaller brand, the Coolpad Cool 1 comes with a Snapdragon 652 and a dual-rear camera setup for ₹13,999 ($212; 4GB+32GB); but you will have to assume the spec sheet speaks for the performance of the device.
The Moto Z Play is another competitor with USB Type-C, MotoMod support, cleaner UI but a smaller 3,510mAh battery but way more expensive at ₹24,999 ($380; 3GB+32GB).
Barring the Coolpad Cool 1, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 will trump over the competition out of sheer price bargain. Xiaomi’s aggressive pricing strategy will attract customers, but that also assumes they have enough stock to satisfy the demands.
We still wish that there were improvements on the Redmi Note 4 in a few areas. Namely, support for quicker charging will help alleviate the charging woes and complement the insane battery life. MIUI itself can do with a few improvements in notification handling and lockscreen as well as be less aggressive with apps in memory. While they are at it, addressing the security and adware concerns would be a definite plus too. But outside of these, there is nothing that really stands out as an absolute negative for a $150-$200 device. Remember, this is not a flagship, so judging it with the same parameters would be foolish.
All in all, we are really satisfied with how the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 performed as a whole for a budget device in India in 2017. My recommendation goes out to the higher RAM variant which I feel is well worth the additional cost and I would strongly suggest skipping over the 2GB variant based on past experiences. If you are a regular user, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 will be all that you would need, and more, in a starter smartphone. If you need alternatives, unfortunately for this year, there are a few around depending on how much you loosen your pockets.
Check out our Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 forums!
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