Redmi Note 8 Pro First Impressions: A Bold Step Forward by Xiaomi in the Redmi Note Legacy
The Redmi Note lineup is Xiaomi’s most successful product lineup with over a 100 million devices sold globally. This series has a reputation of being one of the best value-for-money purchases over the years, and it did so by redefining the expectations of consumers. Redmi Note has contributed to the declining market share of several OEMs in the Indian market over the years, and of late, it has forced the survivors to seriously up their game. While competitors always hoped that Xiaomi would slip up and make a mistake, the company has avoided overly risky maneuvers, delivering a safe and solid option in every generation. But with the new Redmi Note 8 Pro, Xiaomi has taken a bold decision to overlook the trusty safe haven of Qualcomm Snapdragon and instead place the fate of its most important device of 2019 in the hands of MediaTek. On the way, the company is also bestowing upon the device a new design, a new camera setup with a new primary sensor, and a few other notable improvements. How does the package that is the Redmi Note 8 Pro work out? Read along as we explore the Redmi Note 8 Pro in our first impressions!
Redmi Note 8 Pro: Specifications
|Specifications||Redmi Note 8 Pro|
|SoC||MediaTek Helio G90T:|
|RAM & Storage|
|USB & Charging|
|Connectivity & Extras|
|Android Version||Android 9 Pie underneath MIUI 10|
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro shakes up the design of the Redmi Note lineup, merging the form once found on the Redmi Note 3 with the build materials found on the Redmi Note 7 Pro. The result is a device that not only looks premium but is also really comfortable to hold in the hand. The Redmi Note 7 Pro had a rather “boxy” and flat design which did not sit snugly in your hands. In contrast, the Redmi Note 8 Pro with its curved sides is much more comfortable to hold for longer despite being taller, wider, thicker, and heavier. The gradient on the back also appears to be a more tame and mellow flavor of the snazzy gradient found on the Redmi K20 series as it discards the 3D patterns underneath the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 panel. The device we received is the Gamma Green color variant, though the color regularly takes on a more teal appearance that almost appears blue under certain improper lighting conditions.
Much like the Redmi Note 7 Pro, the Redmi Note 8 Pro has a glass sandwich design with Corning Gorilla Glass on the front and back. The exposed portions of the device frame are made of polycarbonate, helping the device keep its weight in check despite the chunky 4,500 mAh battery. The finish on the polycarbonate is smooth and glossy, and it plays in harmoniously with the rest of the device’s aesthetics.
On the back of the Redmi Note 8 Pro, you’ll immediately notice the new camera setup. The entire module sticks out of the back and is comparable to the camera bump on the predecessor. Because of the camera placement and protrusion, the phone does wobble when placed on a flat surface and pressed around the top edges. Most of the blame for this goes to the 64MP camera sensor and accompanying lens module, which requires more space within the phone, with some of the blame going to the curved edges. Not all the cameras reside in the camera enclosure—the 2MP dedicated macro camera sits outside the main assembly and is accompanied by the LED flash.
What does find space within the camera enclosure is the fingerprint sensor, cleverly taking on the impression of the fourth camera sensor to untrained eyes. Xiaomi has not opted for an in-display fingerprint sensor on the Redmi Note 8 series, and we are happy with this decision. A conventional fingerprint sensor not only keeps the pricing of the device in check, but it also avoids some previous missteps. For instance, the Xiaomi Mi A3 opts for an in-display fingerprint sensor, which in turn necessitated the use of an AMOLED display; Xiaomi ended up with an HD AMOLED display with a PenTile matrix and a rather slow fingerprint sensor on the Mi A3, giving users the worst of both worlds. Thankfully, even though the fingerprint sensor on the Redmi Note 8 Pro is slightly smaller in area compared to its predecessor, it is equally fast and reliable and has given me no reason to complain so far. The raised lip for the fingerprint sensor takes a few tries to get used to, but you get the positioning committed to muscle memory very quickly.
Familiarity continues over to the front, where we see a larger 6.53″ FHD+ LCD with HDR support. FHD+ LCD is the safest choice for smartphone displays in this price range—we didn’t complain when the Redmi Note 7 Pro adopted the same, and we certainly aren’t complaining with the Redmi Note 8 Pro also taking this up. This resolution and display technology combo has been tried and tested over the years, and there is no reason to interfere with what simply works for most consumers this phone is targeting. While I hope that the lineup eventually moves onto AMOLEDs, I do not mind sticking with these very good LCDs if it allows Xiaomi to keep the price in check and avoid committing mistakes like the Xiaomi Mi A3.
Xiaomi has really worked on the bezels of the phone, as it features even thinner bezels than the Redmi Note 7 Pro. This is most noticeable on the chin, which is now only slightly thicker than the other edges. Xiaomi claims a screen-to-body ratio of 91.4%, and while I am unable to verify that theoretical number, I am pleased with the practical result in my hand. In fact, the bottom bezel is thin enough to leave no space for the Redmi branding, which is seen on the chin of the Redmi Note 8 regular variant, and I see this as an absolute win for the Pro. However, I particularly dislike the aggressive curve radius on the top (which is not the same as the bottom, too) as it eats into the status bar and shifts notification icons—but since the display border follows along the shape of the device, there isn’t much that can be done to remedy this situation without breaking something else along the way.
The front of the device also features the waterdrop notch which houses the 20MP front camera. The Redmi Note 8 Pro also features a white-colored notification LED tucked in beside the camera. Several phones with waterdrop notches have simply done away with the notification light, so I am glad that Xiaomi has stuck with this hardware component.
Speaking of other hardware components that Xiaomi hasn’t abandoned, you’ll spot the 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the device and the IR Blaster on the top of the device. There is certain utility in keeping both of these around, even though Xiaomi sells its own lineup of Bluetooth audio accessories which could have benefitted from a shift away from the headphone jack. Other OEMs could certainly take note here.
The bottom of the device is also home to the USB Type-C port, the primary microphone, and the speaker. The top also accommodates the secondary microphone. The right side of the device accommodates the volume rocker and the power button, both of which are satisfying to click despite being made of plastic. The left side of the device features two slots: The top slot is for the second nano-SIM while the bottom slot is for the primary nano-SIM and the microSD card. The Indian variant gets a dedicated microSD card slot which should come in handy if users are only planning to pick up the 64GB variant of the device.
For the Redmi Note 8 Pro and the Redmi Note 8 as well, Xiaomi is including its 18W Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 fast charger in the box. You also get a silicone clear case, which should help in providing basic protection to the device. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro is also IP52-rated for dust and water protection, so it’s resistant to splashes only.
Overall, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro features a solid smartphone build that is complemented by smart and practical choices. The ergonomics of the phone are better than its predecessor and greatly reminiscent of the real OG, the Redmi Note 3. The phone catches attention in all the right ways without overdoing its appearance with any striking theatrics, achieving the perfect middle-ground. I am a fan of what Xiaomi has achieved with the Redmi Note 8 Pro, and other than flattening the camera bump, there is nothing I would change in design for the next Note.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro comes with a MediaTek Helio G90T, a chipset that MediaTek claims to bring gaming down to the budget segment. Over the past years, MediaTek’s reputation in the smartphone market was built up by powering cheap and budget devices that did not intend to offer blazing-fast performance as their key selling point. Instead, these devices were very cheap and just got the job done. With the Helio G90T, the biggest challenge that MediaTek faces is shedding the tags of underperformance and poor thermal management that had become synonymous with the MediaTek name and the Helio branding. MediaTek is doing so by focusing the Helio G90T on delivering strong gaming performance, thanks to the included ARM Mali G76 3EEMC4 GPU. They’re confident that their new SoC can deliver a punch strong enough to counter the likes of the Snapdragon 730G, the gaming-focused SoC from Qualcomm. And what better way to show off their faith and trust in this new SoC than by shipping it on a device series that was known for its excellent performance value and thermal management? The collaboration between MediaTek and Xiaomi thus appears to make sense from MediaTek’s perspective, but what is in it for Xiaomi?
For Xiaomi, the shift to the MediaTek G90T brings the ability to deliver an enjoyable gaming experience to the masses. The MediaTek G90T has a better performance-per-dollar ratio than Qualcomm’s offerings, which in turn allows Xiaomi to deliver strong performance and pack in more features without inflating prices. For instance, the Redmi Note 8 Pro also makes the jump to LPDDR4X RAM and UFS 2.1 storage, both of which beautifully work in favor of the gaming experience. If the alternative was to choose a competing Snapdragon processor but with inferior RAM and storage, my answer would not be an immediate yes—and that’s a good sign for both MediaTek and Xiaomi.
Right off the bat, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro delivers the same user experience as the Redmi Note 7 Pro, which featured the Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 SoC and gave no reason for the masses to complain. I have used several MediaTek SoCs in the past, like the very budget MT6753 as found in the Elephone P8000, the MediaTek Helio P10 MT6755 in the Elephone P9000, and the MediaTek Helio X10 MT6795 on the lesser known CREO Mark 1, and the G90T does not display any of the differences in generational performance as those processors did against their respective Qualcomm counterparts. The user experience is snappy and quick in the places I expect it to be, and the only slowdowns I experienced I could safely attribute to MIUI’s speed of operation (noticeable simply because I migrated over from OxygenOS on the OnePlus 7 Pro). The Helio G90T is off to a good start as it doesn’t appear to be the bottleneck that many were expecting, and perhaps even hoping, it to be.
To aid the chipset achieve sustained gaming performance, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro features passive “liquid cooling” which, to the best of my understanding, is a heat pipe that aids in dissipation and managing the temperature of the device by transferring heat from the SoC where it is actively generated to a wider, cooler area where it can be dissipated quicker. The idea is to prevent excessive heat buildup (buildup happens when the rate of dissipation is less than the rate of heat generation) that could result in thermal throttling. The phone can thus maintain its peak performance for a longer period of time.
I tried out Call of Duty Mobile on the Redmi Note 8 Pro for a few matches. The game starts off with default settings of graphics and framerates set to High, but you can max them both out to Very High and enable all the other graphic options. Even with those maxed settings, the game runs smoothly without any noticeable frame drops or stutters. This experience maintained uniformly for all the matches, with no real apparent indicator of thermal throttling in sight. The phone does get warm, obviously near the SoC, but the heat buildup did not reach levels where it became a distraction or a problem. And to be fair, my OnePlus 7 Pro with the Snapdragon 855 also gets warm with these maxed settings, and the Redmi Note 8 Pro is one-third its price while offering a similar gaming experience, bringing down the money needed for a gamer to enjoy a game in its full capacity.
It remains to be seen how charging affects gaming, though. Charging the device heats up the battery, which consequently becomes a less effective surface area to rely on for heat dissipation, speeding up heat buildup and increasing the likelihood of thermal throttling. Thankfully, the phone comes with a beefy 4,500 mAh battery with support for 18W Quick Charge through USB Power Delivery, MediaTek PumpExpress, and Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 (there is a dedicated power management IC in the phone for enabling Qualcomm’s proprietary Quick Charge on a non-Qualcomm device), so you can adjust and compromise if at all things go south.
We reserve our full opinion on the performance for the full review as we plan to put the device through more extensive benchmarking and sustained gaming, but our initial impressions do show a lot of hope for the SoC.
The Redmi Note 8 Pro is the first Xiaomi device in India to come with a 64MP rear camera setup, present alongside three additional sensors. The 64MP Samsung ISOCELL GW1 sensor utilizes pixel binning technology for brighter and sharper images and is also able to produce images at full 64MP if you need to focus on details. Wide-angle duties are handled by an 8MP shooter, complemented by a 2MP dedicated camera for macro shots and a dedicated 2MP depth sensor.
I have had very limited opportunities to try out the camera, so I will refrain from passing judgment in this regard. My initial observations are limited to the dedicated Macro camera, which appears to be underwhelming and something that the phone could have skipped without missing out on anything substantial.
Software and Development
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro comes with MIUI 10 (10.4.2.0 PGGINXM build, to be precise) with Android 9 Pie underneath. At the Indian launch event, Xiaomi also “launched” MIUI 11 for regions outside of China. Curiously, the Redmi Note 8 Pro is in Phase 4 of the rollout for MIUI 11, with an estimated rollout in the second half of December 2019. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 on the other hand, is marked for Phase 3, with an estimated rollout in the second half of November 2019, a month before the Pro variant will get the update.
This is disappointing news for those of us who care about software, as it sets the tone of expectations from the Note 8 Pro and its MediaTek SoC when it comes to updates. When inquired about the delay, Xiaomi spokesperson mentioned that the update needs to be thoroughly tested on the new platform, which inevitably elongates the development cycle for the update. In essence, even Xiaomi needs to adapt and wean off their overdependence of Qualcomm SoCs, which has essentially dominated the market in the budget range off late. We hope the company allocates greater resources towards this end, seeing how crucial the device is to Xiaomi’s portfolio and the potential it holds in disrupting the Qualcomm dominance and introducing some much-needed competition.
The software experience is largely similar to MIUI 9 on other Xiaomi devices, minus features like Always-On Display that are hardware dependent. We will be going into more detail in our full review.
What is different in the Indian experience is the addition of the Amazon Alexa assistant as an additional app. The Redmi Note 8 Pro is the first Xiaomi device to come with Alexa out-of-the-box, which is not that big of a deal since one could always sideload the app on other phones. What is a big deal is the fact that the Redmi Note 8 Pro supports dual wake words courtesy of the MediaTek G90T, meaning that you can use both Google Assistant and Alexa on the device in tandem, choosing to wake up the phone with either “Okay Google” or “Hey Alexa“. Alexa integration runs deeper below the surface, allowing users to even change channels and play content on their Mi TV using voice commands on their phone, which is a nice touch of seamless cooperation within the Mi ecosystem of products.
As far as device development is concerned, it is true that historically, MediaTek devices have not had development efforts as good as those on their Snapdragon counterparts. Mishaal has a good writeup on why that has been the case, with the main point of difference being the existence of Qualcomm’s CodeAurora Forums (CAF). MediaTek releases kernel source code, but only to its customers (Original Device Manufacturers). It is up to the ODM to then further pass the kernel source code to OEMs (device modifiers), who can then pass on it on to the customers. The point of friction most often lies between the ODM and OEM. Smaller OEMs who have relied on MediaTek SoCs in the past have had nowhere enough clout or inclination to push the ODM for a timely release. Xiaomi is not a small OEM though, and its existence in the supply chain merges the ODM and OEM into one entity. This has allowed the company to release the kernel sources for the Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro already. I did inform senior officials at Xiaomi that the sources might be incomplete and suggested that they build from the publicly released sources strictly to figure out what still remains broken. They have promised to do the same and complete the sources for the device. The company has a lot riding on the product, and I am confident they will leave no stone unturned to ensure its success.
An unofficial build of TWRP has been spotted on our forums, though this appears to be a mirrored build originating from elsewhere, giving us low confidence in linking to the build in this article. We expect the pace of development for custom ROMs and recovery to pick up once the device sees wider availability in the Indian market. However, there is more grim news as far as Google Camera ports are concerned: GCam ports tend to be Snapdragon-oriented and see very limited success on other platforms, whether it be MediaTek, Exynos, or Kirin. As such, expecting a Google Camera port to run flawlessly on this device and outperform the stock camera app will remain a pipe dream for now. We are attempting to remedy this situation, but it is too early to comment on at this stage, so I will have to leave you on a cliffhanger, unfortunately.
Redmi Note 8 Pro: A courageous move by Xiaomi
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro is an attempt from Xiaomi to do something courageous—to take a leap of faith with a brand that they once criticized themselves; to place confidence on a new chip line that few consumers had heard of; to trust it enough to make it the brain of operations in their champion product line. Going away from Qualcomm on such an important product must have been a difficult decision, and yet here we are, holding Xiaomi’s most important smartphone that favors a MediaTek chipset over a Snapdragon. Only the heir to the Redmi Note dynasty could ever think of challenging Qualcomm’s empire, and the Redmi Note 8 Pro marches along this path with the wind at its back and Helio in its heart.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro will be available in India from October 21, 2019, for a price of ₹14,999 (~$210 ) for the 6GB/64GB variant, ₹15,999 (~$225 ) for 6GB/128GB variant, and ₹17,999 (~$250 ) for 8GB/128GB. The device will be available for purchase via Mi.com, Amazon India, and Mi Home stores.
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