Review: Redmi Note 7, budget personified amidst challenges

  • Pros: Well designed, built and value for money
  • Cons: Bloatware, camera acceptable, rivals challenging

 

Review: Redmi Note 7, budget personified amidst challenges

 

CHINESE smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp has been the king of budget devices for some years now. The Beijing-based player has a range of smartphones from the high-ends ones right down to the more budget-friendly ones.

In a bid to separate Xiaomi’s branding between its high-end and budget devices, the company has effectively parked the latter category under a sub-brand called Redmi, much like how Huawei Technologies Co Ltd has done with its sub-brand Honor. The Redmi Note 7 is the first device under this stable.

At a recent launch, Xiaomi Malaysia and Singapore country manager Allen An said the company is launching a device which the company claims is its “biggest upgrade ever,” and which offers a “flagship-level experience” at a cost-affordable price.

The Redmi Note 7 retails at RM679 (3GB RAM, 32GB storage), a price that An said is unmatchable given the specifications of the device. Besides that, the Redmi Note 7 also comes with 4GB/64GB at RM799 while the 4GB/128GB cost sRM949. There will be three colours on offer: Neptune Blue, Space Black and Nebula Red.

So how does this budget unit fare?

Design and build

At first glance, the Redmi Note 7 looks a lot like its rival Huawei’s Honor devices. The review unit was a “Neptune Blue” colour and is reminiscent of the Honor 10 I reviewed last May. Of course I’m not implying that it’s exactly the same, just that the psychedelic blue seems to make the device more “loud” than it needs to be.

Aside from that, the device itself doesn’t stand out very much and its dimensions are pretty standard. The device comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chipset, a 6.3-inch FHD display, and a 48MP rear camera on a 1/2-inch sensor, that offers night mode capabilities.

Note that the 48MP, f/1.8rear camera isn’t truly 48MP; when taking pictures, the sensor uses Samsung’s Tetracell technology that merges four pixels to work as one large 1.6μm pixel. This technology while interesting has at least one reviewer calling out the quality of its pictures. More about this later.

The device is wrapped with Corning Gorilla Glass 5. The 19.5:9 display measures 6.3 inches diagonally and has a FHD+ resolution of 2380 x 1080, which isn’t bad at this price range.

The Corning Glass 5 is a nice touch and during the launch, Xiaomi officials boasted of its hardiness by showing video clips of how people were using a hammer to test its durability. The result, of course, was that the Redmi Note 7 came out unscathed. Not going the distance with such a test myself, I would say that the device was pretty solid all around.

Xiaomi seems to have moved away from the dreaded notch and now sports a teardrop notch, something which it dubbed “dot drop” notch, like many other smartphones have done since Vivo and OnePlus pioneered it.

 

Review: Redmi Note 7, budget personified amidst challenges

 

The back of the Redmi Note 7 has the standard capacitive fingerprint sensor and the two cameras. This is matched with a single firing speaker at the bottom and a fast charging USB-C charging port. The disappointing thing is that while the unit supports Quick Charge 4.0 or 18W fast charging, the standard package does not come with a fast charger, supporting only 10W or 2A charging.

 

Review: Redmi Note 7, budget personified amidst challenges

 

In today’s budget battle, small bits of features such as fast charging are becoming standard so this is a let down. The sole highlight for me therefore, in the design of the Redmi Note 7 is the Corning Glass 5 wrapped body.

Battery, software and performance

Tests indicated that the 4,000mAH battery performed well, and such a big power bank will easily last the entire 24-hour-day. Screen-on-time of six hours was easily achieved and watching a two-hour video on Netflix sapped about 20%-25%, which is acceptable.

Charging up the unit from 1% to 30% took about 30 minutes or about a minute a percentage point. This isn’t what people have come to expect of a quick charging-capable device. So if you want to have faster charging times, you’ll have to invest in your own Quick Charge 4.0-certified charger.

The performance of the Redmi Note 7 was acceptable by most standards. All daily productivity-type functions performed well. I had no lagging issues although I would recommend you get the 4GB version instead of living with the 3GB version if you can afford it.

I found the audio quality a little thin, and this isn’t surprising as most budget units I’ve tested in the last year or so faced the same challenge.

Software-wise, the Android Pie loaded on board was a nice touch but I can’t say the same for MiUI 10. I’ve never really like the way Xiaomi designed the MiUI and version 10 isn’t any different for me. To begin with, there is no app drawer, which is something I’m not used to.

Some software settings were a nice touch, such as the newly-implemented Android Pie gestures, which worked well in my test. 

Of course a pet peeve of mine is the fact that MiUI has bloatware, or what is known as proprietary Xiaomi apps pre-installed. You have apps to do security, battery info, data used, apps locked, file manager, calculator, QR Scanner, Mi Remote, compass, screen recorder, downloads.

Admittedly, not all apps are useless but I often believe users should have an opt-in rather than an opt-out option. Some apps can be disabled and/or uninstalled but not all can be undone.

Camera

 

Review: Redmi Note 7, budget personified amidst challenges

 

Inasmuch as Xiaomi wants to position itself as a device with 48MP capability, it isn’t going to be truly about to do that – not at this price point. As mentioned earlier, the Redmi Note 7 uses Samsung’s Tetracell technology that merges four pixels to work as one large 1.6μm pixel.

Basically, the sensor isn’t a true 48MP spec unlike the Honor View 20. The 48MP is an interpolated image and picture quality may be slightly better than the standard 12MP. I found shots noisy and I didn’t particularly think that shots taken in 48MP were better than the standard 12MP. Do also note that to get the 48MP enabled for shots, you’ll need to be in the Pro mode.

This is something buyers need to beware of. In practical terms though, pictures taken by the Redmi Note 7 in bright situations are pretty good. Portrait shots also came through alright. But the night shots seemed a little more noisy than other 12MPs I’ve tested. When HDR is applied, the picture quality does get a little better and for the most part, it’s an OK night-shot taker.

 

With night mode

Without night mode

Color balance-wise, I found the unit slightly biased towards warmer hues and not as natural as I would have liked it. Exposure wasn’t too bad, except in low-light situations, which is to be expected in smartphone at these price points.

The front selfie camera is OK as it takes some basic video shots. All in all, I wouldn’t say that the camera is a great selling point for this smartphone.

In conclusion

The true value in the Redmi Note 7, IMHO, is the build quality and higher specs for a sub-one thousand ringgit smartphone. The push on the 48MP to me is more a marketing ploy rather than a true differentiator.

Note that all other major phone makers are moving in this same direction. Just as I finished this review, Samsung had already launched its A30 and A50 range, squarely to challenge Xiaomi in this segment of the market.

 
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