Does old equal gold? We’re taking Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 2 through a full review to see if this is a budget flagship still worth excitement!
Xiaomi is a recent arrival in South Africa, and one at that which has shaken up our understanding of how smartphones priced in the budget and mid-range realm should perform. Thanks to the recent arrival of the Redmi Note 3, the Redmi Note 2 is now one of Xiaomi’s most affordable – yet powerful – smartphones.
The question is, then, can the Redmi Note 2 continue to service and add value to the South African smartphone market while newer contenders pass it by?
It’s without saying that the Redmi Note 2 has some touch competition on its hands; not only does this need to compete against Xiaomi’s other offerings, it further needs to carve out territory distinct from LG’s Stylus 2 and Huawei’s more premium G8.
With all that out of the way, what are we waiting for? Let’s get to it!
The Redmi Note 2 performed at Xiaomi’s budget flagship (doesn’t that sound like a paradox?) spec in 2015; hence, consumers are greeted with a 5.5″ 1080 display, a MediaTek MT6795 Helio X10 chipset, 2GB of RAM, 16 GB of expandable internal storage, dual-SIM support, a 13-megapixel and 5-megapixel primary and secondary camera respectively, and runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with MIUI 7 atop. A 3,060mAh battery completes the setup.
The Redmi Note 2’s design is a wonderful throwback; a blast from the past.
Arriving in a flat, soft plastic shell, this is a smartphone straight out of 2014’s school of thought; there are little airs here, and more than a little bit of modesty.
Whereas Xiaomi’s smartphones have traditionally been humble affairs – even its latest flagship, the Mi 5, took a toned-down take on the likes of the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S7 – this is a lesson in complete simplicity.
It’s not minimalist, mind you – this is a 5.5″ slab of sexy plastic, and – as I said on Bandwidth Blog On Air – there’s a distinct flavour to this that would have greatly appealed to the 14 year old me in that one could imagine a modern Bond villain slipping this in and out of their pocket.
There are deliciously lit buttons and notification light on the front panel, which light up in a menacing red hue – a dichotomy that’s interesting to note when compared with the device’s relatively mundane silver power button and volume rocker.
The Note 2’s large rear camera came as a bit of a frustration – and that’s despite the irony that I use an iPhone 6s in my day-to-day. The camera bump itself causes the device to lay upwards at an angle – an odd design decision considering its relative size .
I find the Redmi Note 2 vaguely reminiscent of the Galaxy Note 4; there’s a plastic back and large center camera to consider which make this feel like a trip down memory lane. If the Note 2 has a fault, it’s that its design is menacing yet not compelling; picture a rice cake with devil horns and a pitchfork. That image might fill someone’s needs, but it has no flavour.
As with most headsets geared for Asian markets, the Redmi Note 2 employs MIUI – Xiaomi’s custom skin. What’s remarkable about MIUI this time around is that out-of-the-box, the Redmi Note 2 comes equipped with MIUI 7 and can be upgraded to MIUI 8.
That update in itself reveals a great deal as to how Xiaomi has been tailoring itself for international audiences. Whereas MIUI 7 retains some Chinese flavour – such as Mandarin visible in widget previews – MIUI is a toned offering that offers some level of refinement for Western markets.
The fact that Xiaomi proceeds to carefully update its software skin is a welcome revelation to me; rather than bundling the latest version of their skin with the latest version of Android, Xiaomi can explicitly tweak their user interface and update older devices. It’s one way around fragmentation, and the fact that the Redmi Note 2 can be updated at all is a huge benefit for consumers.
Thanks to its specs, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 has little reason to stutter, and the good news is that it doesn’t. This is – finally – a low-end mid-range device that South Africans can get to grips with easily.
The Redmi Note 2 performs well across a broad variety of tasks – app-switching is quick and effective, apps load speedily themselves, and there’s seldom a stammer throughout MIUI 7 or 8. That’s a pleasant revelation considering how far MIUI is removed from the core Android experience.
My biggest relief was finding that the Note 2 is utterly devoid of many of the overheating problems I’ve encountered with its flagship brethren, the Mi 4 and Mi 5. This might be down to the simple fact that the Note 2 eschews glass and metal for plastic.
Battery performance, too, is really quite good. Whereas the Mi 4 and Mi 5 felt like power hungry Sith Lords in hand, the Redmi Note 2 is closer to a wise Jedi Knight.
Xiaomi claims that the Redmi Note 2 will last up to 11 hours 30 minutes on 3G, and I often found myself exceeding that figure by at least another four hours. Further, standby time is markedly great – the Note 2 knows when and where to consumer power, especially when left to its own devices.
The Redmi Note 2’s camera benefits from its Xiaomi genes, and fails where it tries to stand its own ground.
For starters, the Note 2 inherits Xiaomi’s traditional camera styling in the sense that detail comes first. In great lighting, you’ll be rewarded with crisp images that truly exemplify smartphone focus. Colour is Xiaomi’s strength, and the Redmi Note 2 is capable of capturing some difficult tones well – particularly bright warm colours. When they’re not present in abundant amounts, shadows and highlights are controlled well.
Take things out into the wild, however, and the wheels come off. Images taken in bright daylight overexpose heartily, leaving pasty white sheens across your images. Shadows benefit in this regard, but often come out looking far more noisy than is desirable.
The Note 2’s front-facing camera performs well, but is prone to the same overexposure its primary counterpart is. This’ll take the selfie you need, just not the selfie you want.
Compared with the likes of other mid-range contenders, Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 2 has a number of things going for it.
Firstly, there’s the price. One can expect to pay around R2800 for the device at retail, which blows many alternatives out of the water if price is a major factor. Secondly, there’s the fact that this comes equipped with close of a flagship-grade spec.
The Redmi Note 2 falls down in style; you’re probably going to feel a lot more like the hippest guy or girl on the block when you brandish an LG Stylus 2 or Huawei G8. Unfortunately, you’ll end up paying for that privilege.
The thankful ending to this equation is that South Africans now have a truly affordable and decent offering to which they can turn to should they need a solid, dependable phone. That’s a high compliment, considering how many devices over the past few years have turned out to be duds.
Let’s wrap up. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 is a man out of time and is a blast from the past. What was originally a good offering in 2015 has matured into a great one in 2016.
Solid performance, an unoffensive design, and an equitable camera complete a setup that – when coupled with the attractive price of R2800 ZAR – make this an eye-catching deal for consumers looking for a device that’s easy to like.
However, this isn’t a device which is necessarily easy to love. The lack of an attractive design language and the presence of plastic might put off many consumers hoping for a tastier offering, and you likely won’t turn any heads with this in your hand. If you’re prepared to settle down into the smartphone equivalent of married life, this is a great, stable spouse which is very dependable once its quirks have been learned.
What are your thoughts on our Redmi Note 2 review? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!