Xiaomi Redmi 1s first impressions: heralding a new era of capable budget smartphones

“We go hands on with the most affordable smartphone in Xiaomi’s lineup, the Redmi 1s”

The literal meaning of Xiaomi is rice in its home country China. But Xiaomi President Lin Bin suggests that the name represents much more than that, and that the MI branding stands for ‘mobile internet’. If today’s launches by the brand are any indication, the company definitely aims to smartify the masses by providing smart devices at low price points. While the Mi 3 (first impressions) holds the flagship tag, it’s the Redmi range in the budget segment that may hold the key to the brand’s success in India.

Xiaomi Redmi 1s (1)

At Xiaomi’s launch event in New Delhi, we were able to get our palms on the company’s most affordable device, the Redmi 1s. Here are our first impressions about the smartphone.

The Redmi 1s is the upgraded version of the popular Redmi smartphone, and bears the same screen size, but better specs. The device is centred around a 4.7-inch display with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels. The screen size is ideal for those who scorn at the idea of large screen devices… since it can be comfortably used with a single hand. It’s also quite pocketable and we loved the handling. Unlike the unibody construction of the Mi 3, the Redmi 1s is fashioned out of polycarbonate, and is quite lightweight.

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The front has the usual sensors and a secondary shooter above the display, and a row of capacitive keys at the bottom. The first key used for accessing the options menu also doubles up as the recent apps key when long-pressed. The right spine is home to the volume keys and a power button, whereas the left side is barren. The audio jack lies on the top and the micro-USB port for charging and data transfers can be found on the bottom. Prying the rear cover open gives you access to a pair of dual SIM slots along with a microSD card slot. The battery is rated at 2,000mAh and is user-replaceable.

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Coming to the internals of the device, you get Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 SoC offering four cores clocked at 1.6GHz. Complementing the processor is a gigabyte of RAM that should help in churning out smooth performance. There’s 8GB of flash storage onboard that can be increased further up to 32GB. The hardware combo suggests that the Xiaomi Redmi 1s is a fairly-loaded smartphone, especially considering that there are hardly any devices powered by Qualcomm processors in its price band, let alone the SoC from the Snapdragon 400 generation. The inclusion of 8GB storage, out of which around 4.48GB is available to the user, is also praise-worthy as almost all the smartphones in its price bracket have paltry 4GB of storage. However, we’ll have more to say about the performance of the Redmi 1s in day-to-day usage in our review.

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To lure the shutterbugs, the smartphone comes with an 8-megapixel camera at the back. The primary camera is assisted by an LED flash for shooting in low-light conditions. In our brief usage with the device, the images came out to be pretty good, but we’d like to test it out thoroughly before commenting about its quality. For Skyping or clicking selfies, you get a 1.6MP camera at the front.

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As always, hardware is half the story with the software mattering a lot when it comes to the user experience. That’s true with Xiaomi’s devices as well, as the brand not only packs brilliant specs in its devices, but also puts a lot of thought in its software interface called MIUI. It’s a custom firmware built on top of Android’s AOSP build and in case of the Redmi 1s, you’ll get MIUI v5 based on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. Instead of just skin-deep customisations done by most other manufacturers, Xiaomi has done a lot of small and not-so-small changes in terms of the apps and features to enhance the user experience.

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Much like the Gionee’s Amigo UI, all the apps are available on the home screen itself. However what MIUI does better is that it supports widgets as well along with the apps and folders. There are some subtle yet useful options of dragging and dropping apps from one home screen to other. Xiaomi is also highlighting the customisable themes aspect of MIUI, allowing user to change the whole look of the interface by choosing a different theme. These themes are available via the Theme Store, in which the company claims to have more than 4,000 different themes. To coincide with its Indian launch, users can also enjoy an India theme. Users get a custom but uniform interface across the whole theme, ranging from basic apps like dialler and messages to gallery and music player.

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We can’t discuss the whole MIUI in detail, especially considering that we used it for only for a few minutes, but it’s important to mention that were quite impressed with its features. It doesn’t seems to drain the performance of the device, contrary to other custom layers. Some of the useful features we liked are the ability to record your calls, take notes while in a call, having a password-protected private messages folder, and many more. One useful feature while opening the multitasking menu is that you can instantly close all the apps with the click of a button. Not only that, the option also allows you to lock certain apps like WhatsApp by a simple swipe downwards, so that the cleaner closes all the other apps except the locked ones. Taking the customisability factor to the next level, the interface allows you to change the functionality of the touch-sensitive navigation buttons. So if you are in the habit of accessing recent apps by double-pressing the home key, then you can do that with the help of this option. You can also change the colour of the notification LED without the need of any app or rooting.

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The device also comes preloaded with a number of apps and Xiaomi’s security suite is worth highlighting. For keyboard, you get an option to select from Google keyboard or our favourite SwiftKey. The smartphone has preinstalled apps to clean memory by deleting cache and junk files, check data usage, battery usage, and permission monitor among others. The support for app-level permissions for using cellular data is definitely a very nifty option. The Permission monitor tries to overcome one of the biggest problem of Android devices, since even a simple flashlight app may have access to your call logs and messages, but thanks to this app, you can check what an app can access. It lets you completely deny access or ask you whenever the app requires a particular access, so you can get an idea what that permission will be required for. You can also use this functionality to whitelist the apps that automatically start when the device is powered on.

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Xiaomi hasn’t given an exact date for the launch of the Redmi 1s, though it indicated that it’ll launch in India in the month of August. However the brand has revealed the pricing of the device, which is Rs 6,999. There’s no doubt that the smartphone is priced attractively, though it seems that this price point has suddenly got a lot of attention from smartphone vendors. It’ll be up against the likes of the Moto E (review | FAQ’s), Micromax Unite 2 (review | FAQ’s) and 4.5-inch variant of ASUS Zenfone 4. In terms of specs alone, the Xiaomi Redmi 1s is in a different territory altogether, but how good is it as a daily driver will be discussed in our in-depth review of the device.

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