Quake in your boots MTN, Vodacom, Huawei, THL and anyone else who was hoping to compete seriously in the entry-level phone space in South Africa. Newcomer (to these fine shores, at any rate) Xiaomi has thrown down the gauntlet with a budget handset packing a 720p screen and enough performance to make the competition reach for the upgrade spares list.
The Xiaomi Redmi 2 might not be the best looking phone you’ll ever see (the review model sent to Stuff Towers bears a striking resemblance to a Lumia that has been on a diet) but it’s definitely one of the fastest in its class. So you’re not going to want to brag around someone with a flagship released in the last few years, but if you’re entrenched in the budget side of the market, brag away. You’ll be able to back it up.
Simplicity In A Box
The Xiaomi Redmi 2 comes — like the other Xiaomi handsets — in a box that looks like its made from recycled cardboard. There are next to no markings on the device, aside from the Mi logo in the top right and the sticker on the rear, and this is a prelude to the simple phone contained therein.
As mentioned, the Redmi 2 looks a lot like one of the older Lumia handsets, with the 4.7-inch 720p display dominating the front. Flip the handset over and you’ll see the Windows Phone design resemblance continued — the same sort of hard plastic is used to cover the rear and it has the same solid feel. It’s a little less bulky than the average Lumia though, and there is the slightest bulge at the back where the 8MP camera lives.
There’s almost nothing by way of ports on the Redmi 2. Since the rear cover is removable, most everything is tucked under the hood. You’ll plug in your charging cable at the base, headphones on the top and the power button and volume rocker are on the upper right. Standard fare here.
Nice Specs, Are They New?Xiaomi’s IPS LCD screens are quite detailed and are easier than expected on the eyes. Even the Redmi 2’s 4.7-inch 720p display is pleasant to look at. You’d be hard-pressed to tell, at a glance, that you’re peering at a budget smartphone. But man does not surf Facebook with screen alone.
The Redmi 2 is the proud owner of one of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 410 processors, a little 1.2GHz quad-core that is capable of more than you’d expect. There’s 1GB of RAM humming away in there, too, and 8GB of storage right off the bat — but only about 5.5GB of that is available for use with the rest taken up by system files and the like. If it’s any consolation, you can whack in another 32GB of storage using a microSD card.
There’s nary a hitch in the Xiaomi-skinned Android 4.4 installation (known as MIUI 6.0 — think of it as Android if Apple had designed it) but there is a caveat. Xiaomi’s phone has two different modes, one of which will sacrifice some processor power to extend battery life, called “Balanced mode”. If you’re making use of Balanced mode you’re going to have a few hitches and starts. Plus, you don’t actually need it. The 2,200mAh Li-Po battery will last ages without it. If you stick to Performance mode, which unleashes the full, tiny wrath of the Snapdragon 410, then you’re going to be just fine.
Off The BenchWe ran the phone through AnTuTu a couple of times, coming out with a high-score of 20,182 for the phone. A couple of runs through Geekbench 3 — our benchmarking app of choice — popped out top marks of 478 and 1,437 for single- and multi-core performance respectively. This didn’t alter much over several runs, with the numbers dropping only by a handful of single digits in later tests.
That doesn’t put the Redmi 2 into superphone territory, but it does obliterate the likes of the THL L969 in the performance stakes. As entry-level phones go, this could be the new standard-bearer for speed and, in a country like South Africa, that can mean a lot to a phone company’s fortunes, especially a new company’s.
Bells And WhistlesIt’s solid, it performs, but what else can the Redmi 2 offer? Well, it’s a dual-SIM handset, which is always popular among the entry-level crowd — whether they’re just getting into smartphones or after something cheap to use while on the job-site.
But there’s also something special here: LTE support in a very inexpensive handset. Since most South Africans get online using their mobiles, LTE on the cheap is always going to be a winner. And in case you need any more convincing, there’s the camera.
The Redmi 2 comes with an 8MP rear camera as well as a 2MP front-facing afterthought. The 8MP camera is the attraction, obviously, and that’s mostly because it’s so unusual to see in an entry-level Android that already has good construction, decent specs (for its price), dual-SIM capability and LTE. Usually a sacrifice is made somewhere, but not this time. It helps that Xiaomi’s phone takes pretty great shots, if you like bright colours, that is. It’s most at home outside, but quality doesn’t drop all that much when moving to interiors. Low-light? Well, you can’t have everything.
As entry-level phones go, the Redmi 2 has a lot to prove and does so with room to spare. This Chinese-made handset might come across as a knock-off at first glance, but those are design choices rather than skimping to make a cheap version of a specific device.
At R2,000, it’s still cheap, though. Cheaper than a phone like this should be if the competition is to be believed, but there are quality components being used throughout. That’s where Xiaomi’s strength is going to lie: delivering solid hardware and performance at unexpected prices. If you’re in the market for an entry-level, swing your eyes over this way. Before they’re sold out.