“The Redmi 2 should be a worthy option for those looking for 4G on a shoestring”
[Update]: The Xiaomi Redmi 2 has been launched in India for Rs 6,999.
Each time we review a budget Android smartphone these days, we can’t help but be amazed at the capable options available. Not too long ago, buying a budget smartphone meant compromising on various keys aspects, right from the all-important performance to build quality. Not anymore. This revolution (and believe us when we say that ‘revolution’ is the right word to describe this phenomenon) began sometime last year, and we have brands like Motorola, Xiaomi and ASUS to thank for it. Since then, many others have boarded the same bus, but you’d be hard pressed to find a matching option from a tier one brand like Samsung or HTC. The point is, that if you aren’t fixated with a tier one brand, your money can get you a fairly capable daily driver without paying through the nose. If we were to zero in one brand that has helped change the landscape, it’d probably be Xiaomi. From a relatively unknown company in India when it launched, to a name that has managed to win over the hearts and minds of Indian users through its sensibly-priced offerings, Xiaomi has moved from strength to strength. Making its debut in the country with the loaded yet elusive Mi 3, it went on to introduce other VFM devices like the budget Redmi 1s, the affordable phablet Redmi Note (review) and its 4G cousin (review), and more recently, the new flagship, the Mi 4 (review). All of these devices have been quite popular with buyers in India, and it’d be tough for us to pick a hot favourite. But if we were to do so, we’d probably single out the Redmi 1s (review). It may be the cheapest in the lot, but it brought smiles to many a satisfied user with what it offered for a pocket-friendly price of Rs 5,999. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be unjustified to feel excited about device that succeeds the Redmi 1s as Xiaomi’s next budget offering, the Redmi 2.
Apart from other changes, the Redmi 2 (first impressions | FAQs) brings one very notable feature that was missing in the earlier model – 4G support. And with 4G being the next big thing in India, this adds to its sheen quite a bit. The phone hasn’t been introduced in India yet, but Xiaomi has confirmed that it will be coming soon. We procured one from China to check it out closely, and now that we’ve done that, it’s time for the full lowdown.
Let’s face it… the Redmi 2 isn’t going to dazzle you with its looks. Sure, our white unit looks fine, and the brand is selling the device in China in a variety of hues… but it remains to be seen whether those options will be available to buy in India when the phone launches here or not. Like the Redmi 1s, Xiaomi may just launch the staid grey variant here and sell differently-coloured back panels as optional accessories.
And if you’ve seen the Redmi 1s, you already know how its successor looks like. Notably though, the Redmi 2 (pictured on the left) features more rounded corners and is marginally smaller than the older model, though this may not be immediately apparent unless you put the two side-by-side.
The overall design is the same – with the power key and volume rocker on the right, headphone socket on top and micro-USB port at the bottom. The screen dominates the fascia, with the usual earpiece, sensors and front camera on top, and a set of three non-backlit capacitive keys at the bottom. The keys are highlighted in bright red to improve visibility in dark environs.
The rear panel opens to reveal the removable battery, microSD card slot and a pair of micro-SIM slots. The latter is noteworthy, since the Redmi 1s accepts a pair of regular mini-SIMs. The build seems reasonably good, though a tad plasticky.
The Redmi 2 can’t really boast of much improvement in the screen department too, as it offers the same 4.7-inch display with 720p resolution. The Redmi 1s was a game-changer in offering a screen of this resolution at a budget price point, and the refreshed device is no different. We can’t find fault with it, especially considering that the new device would be a budget offering too.
The touch response is smooth, the colours lively, and the graphics sharp. And despite the slew of capable options with 720p screens in the affordable segment that exist now, the Redmi 2 is still a strong contender as far as screen capabilities are concerned.
We won’t mince words and go right out and say it – Xiaomi’s MIUI is one of the most loaded and feature-rich platforms we’ve tried. We’ve covered it in detail in our reviews of Xiaomi smartphones, talking about the customisability (including the extensive theme support) and other special features such as the built in security suite, call and message blocker, and the private area for SMSes, along with tons of other small yet handy features such as the call recorder. The attention to detail is just mind boggling, and experiencing the clock app that makes the phone vibrate subtly in sync with the seconds hand should be enough to know what we mean. While this particular feature is missing from MIUI v6, the latest refresh of the platform that the Redmi 2 runs, that doesn’t make it any less loaded.
The same update is rolling out to other Xiaomi smartphones too, and brings in a totally different look and feel to the interface. If you’ve tried a Xiaomi phone running the older iteration, you’ll find that the new build features a neat, flatter look, with cleaner fonts and peppy visuals.
Most of the features we’ve seen earlier are all there, including theme support, head-up notifications, the private, password-protected area for SMS messages, the security suite that includes a cache cleaner, data monitor, blocklist, battery manager, anti-virus and a permissions manager etc. The handy Lite Mode we saw on its predecessor and the likes of the Redmi Note is around as well.
However, you’ll find the overall look of the interface quite different, changing usability to some extent too. For example, the options capacitive key under the screen now brings up recent apps and task killer by default instead of contextual app menus, though this can be changed in settings. The main device settings are also slightly different, and this time, the settings for stuff like the display, battery, storage, notification light, buttons, backup & reset etc are bunched together under a head called ‘Additional settings’. You’ll also find a performance profile under battery settings that wasn’t there on the Redmi 1s but we’ve seen it before on other Xiaomi devices like the Mi 3. Contextual settings for all system apps are also found in the device settings. Therefore, you can head here to enable the call recorder, change contacts settings etc.
The lockscreen displays a count of unread notifications, and tapping on the said number expands the view to list the actual notifications themselves, allowing you to jump to the corresponding app. The two-paned notification shade and quick settings panel features a translucent look, and the options have moved around a bit. As usual, Xiaomi has paid attention to the little things – take the Compass app for example. It displays a neat-looking compass as usual when the device is held flat horizontally, but hold it up vertically and the rear camera swings into action… so you can see the compass as well as the view in front through the screen. There’s lots more packed in, so it’s fun to keep discovering more features as one uses the device.
Camera-wise, the Redmi 2 offers an 8-megapixel rear shooter (the same as the Redmi 1s), and a 2MP sensor at the front which betters the older handset just marginally in terms of resolution. The user interface revamp carries forward to the camera app too.
The camera app carries the same flat look-and-feel as the rest of the UI, and swiping left or right over the viewfinder gives you access to more options.
Swiping left displays a screen with live previews of the available colour filters, while swiping towards the right gives you access to the various shooting modes on offer, covering the likes of HDR, panorama, manual and handheld twilight.
As far as image quality is concerned, you’ll be fine as long as you don’t expect photographic masterpieces. Do bear in mind that this is a budget device, but all said and done, manages to offer reasonably good image quality. It can churn out reasonable results, especially in daylight and for close-ups… though they tend to look a tad dull sometimes. The HDR mode looks like one of its strong points, with shots looking lively and offering good colours and detail. Night shots are the Achilles' heel of most smartphone cameras, and the Redmi 2 doesn’t fare much better here. Images sot in low light display a fair amount of graininess and softness, but despite that, are usable. Feel free to jump to the Redmi 2 camera review for more details, but in case you don’t feel inclined to do that right away, here’s another look at a few camera samples.
With a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410 chip ticking under the hood along with 1GB of RAM, the Redmi 2 doesn’t feel like a massive upgrade over it predecessor as far as pure performance is concerned. There’s a hint of lag on occasion, but day-to-day tasks run smoothly for the most part.
We tried graphics-intensive games too, and found them quite playable, with the device getting warm after a few minutes. As we mentioned earlier, there’s a performance profile available that does tend to give the perception of slightly better performance. Do note that the chipset supports 64-bit architecture, and in theory at least, should offer a bump in performance. However, 64-bit support was introduced with Android Lollipop, and the Redmi 2 should definitely benefit as and when Xiaomi outs a MIUI update that uses the latest version of Android as the base. That apart, the included 4G support on the Redmi 2 also makes it a notable option. [Update: It supports both FDD-LTE and TDD-LTE bands. 4G is accepted on both SIM slots].
Apart from 4G, the other connectivity options are bog standard, and cover the likes of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Hotspot and A-GPS. USB OTG support is there too, adding to the storage expansion capabilities courtesy the microSD slot. Out of the provided 8GB, a little over 5GB of internal storage is available to use.
The 2,200mAh battery provides enough juice for the device to last a day on a single charge easily – so no complaints there. Our battery drain test lasted for over 10 hours with the performance profile enabled, and that’s a fairly healthy result.
Let us just go right ahead and say it – the Xiaomi Redmi 2 doesn’t feel like a huge game-changer like its predecessor was. At the time the Redmi 1s landed in India, there were only a few capable options in the budget segment. But the landscape has changed quite a bit by now, and when the Redmi 2 lands, it will have to deal with budget 4G-enabled options like the Lenovo A6000 (unboxing | first impressions). As of now, we don’t have an official price for the Redmi 2 in India yet, but we’re hoping Xiaomi can pull another rabbit out of its hat and make it a very attractive option for those looking for 4G on a budget. As it stands right now, the Redmi 2 doesn’t feel like a rocket in the pocket, but does stand out as a compelling proposition thanks to its 4G support, reasonably smooth performance, capable snappers, good battery life and the feature-laden MIUI platform. We also fervently hope that the brand brings in the enhanced variant of the Redmi 2 that boasts 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage to India too, and prices it such that it changes things in a big way – we expect nothing less from Xiaomi.
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