India, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4. the Redmi 4 and the Redmi 4A have been best-sellers. In fact, these three phones have helped Xiaomi rise to number 2 position in the market. Counterpoint Research puts Xiaomi’s market share at 22 per cent, just one notch below Samsung that has 23 per cent share. So, what’s next with Xiaomi? With its budget phones powering the growth — the Redmi Note 4, the Redmi 4A and the Redmi 4 — Xiaomi has now shifted gears and has launched the Redmi Y1 and the Redmi Y1 Lite, two phones that it calls mark the beginning of a new series in India.
The Redmi Y1, the phone that India Today tech reviews today, is also a phone with one special feature: its 16 megapixel camera is tuned to click great selfies, says Xiaomi. Until the Redmi Y1 happened, Xiaomi’s Redmi phones were sold as a complete package and not on the basis of individual stand-out traits. The Redmi Y1 is Xiaomi’s first attempt at introducing some variety under Rs 10,000 price segment. It comes with a 16-megapixel camera, an LED flash and smart photo-editing tricks courtesy MIUI 9.
Redmi phones, since the time of their inception here in India, have been all about low costs and noteworthy hardware. The Redmi Y1, however, is about low costs, noteworthy hardware, and an extra ounce of selfie-taking goodness. At least on the paper. So, is the Redmi Y1 everything that Xiaomi claims it to be? Is it a phone that is going to help the company repeat the success of the Redmi 4A, the Redmi 4 and the Redmi Note 4? Let’s find out.
Design and build quality
The Redmi Y1 looks like a stretched out Redmi 4A. It comes with an all-plastic body and curved 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on top of its screen. While I would have liked an all-metal body — considering that the Redmi 4 that retails at the same price as the Redmi Y1 comes with one — a metal body or the lack of it isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. What’s important — and surprising — is that the Redmi Y1 is beautiful and ergonomic. It’s a good looking plastic phone. And it certainly feels nice when you hold and use it.
The phone has a metallic finish on the back that’s smooth to the touch and because the rear seamlessly wraps around its front, it feels all the more comfortable in the hands. The right edge houses the volume rocker and the power button. The left edge, meanwhile, houses a dedicated card slot for two SIMs and one micro-SD. The speaker vent is located at the bottom. The lower end of the display panel houses three capacitive keys for navigation. These keys are not backlit so you may fumble in the dark for a few days when you are using the Redmi Y1 before you get used to them. There’s also an LED notification light on the front.
The Redmi Y1, much like any other Xiaomi phone, looks like an expensive phone, but it isn’t expensive at all. It feels good too. But not for very long. The Redmi Y1 is the first Xiaomi phone in years to disappoint me in terms of all-round build quality. It just doesn’t add up, even more so at its higher than the Redmi 4A pricing. The Redmi 4A, even though it was an all-plastic phone, felt a lot more reassuring, a lot more solid, and a lot well put together.
The Redmi Y1, even though it costs as much as the all-metal Redmi 4, doesn’t feel like it can take a beating. It’s a little ironic because the Redmi 4A and the Redmi 4 came at a time when there was absolutely no competition, while the Redmi Y1 comes at a time when phones like the Nokia 2 and the Nokia 3 are being marketed chiefly on the basis of build and durability aspects. Xiaomi was supposed to do better, and not take a step backward.
The build quality, as far as the Redmi Y1 is concerned, is just about average. The back panel is susceptible to an odd creak or two every time you apply a bit of pressure, while the power and volume rockers offer less than satisfactory tactile feedback.
The Redmi Y1 comes with a 5.5-inch HD IPS display that has 1280×720 pixels resolution. While its closest siblings — the Redmi 4 and the Redmi Note 4 — come with a 5-inch 720p and a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, the Redmi Y1 inherits a mish-mash of sorts. Sadly, it doesn’t get the best bits, and keeps you asking for more. It is not as bright and colourful as the Redmi 4 or the Redmi Note 4.
Colours are muted and lacking in contrast — also a little cold by default — but there’s a manual mode inside that helps achieve slightly better results. There’s also an in-built reading mode that turns colours to the warmer end of the spectrum for night-time reading. Brightness levels leave a lot to be desired, so do the phone’s viewing angles. The Redmi Y1 will give you a hard time in direct sunlight.
The Redmi Y1 runs Xiaomi’s MIUI 9 software. Xiaomi’s custom ROM, aka MIUI, although it offers a seamless experience across the board, is known for some heavy skinning on top of Android, something that hard-core geeks don’t really appreciate. Also, because there’s third-party skinning involved — and because Xiaomi likes to update each and every device in its portfolio more or less on similar lines — the fact that users have to wait longer for updates, doesn’t go down well with many. That besides the fact that the company is known to kill some key Android features just so it can maintain uniformity across its devices is a subject of much debate. The MIUI 9 update is a little different.
Xiaomi is touting three key features — in addition to fast app launch times — that set the MIUI 9 apart from its predecessor, the MIUI 8:
— Universal search: A powerful search engine on a Xiaomi phone that can differentiate your image like you do by typing in keywords.
— Dynamic resource allocation: To allocate priority to in-use apps to let you enjoy a fluent experience, on basis of critical thinking algorithm.
— Smart assistant: The easiest way to find anything and almost everything at your will.
MIUI 9 has a ton of features on top of Android, according to Xiaomi. The MIUI 9 update, in addition to Xiaomi’s custom built features, brings back key Android nuggets like split-screen multitasking and Google Assistant, something that was missing in the previous iteration.
Elsewhere, MIUI 9 — much like MIUI 8 — offers all the bells and whistles that you’d want from a fully-functional operating system, including themes. Popular features like dual apps (imagine, running two WhatsApp accounts on one phone), secure folder (imagine, two different home screens one for home another for work) and scrollable screenshots (imagine longer screenshots of complete webpages that can be edited at will) have been kept intact, while adding new ones that add a breath of fresh air to Xiaomi’s colourful user interface. Additionally, the Redmi Y1 also comes with an IR-blaster that can be used (in tandem with the Mi Remote app or even some third-party solutions) to control smart home appliances.
Performance and battery life
The Redmi Y1, much like the Redmi 4, is powered by a 1.4GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor coupled with Adreno 505 GPU and up to 4GB of RAM. It comes with up to 64GB of internal memory which is expandable by up to 128GB via a dedicated micro-SD card slot.
The Redmi Y1 is quick and responsive in every sense of the word, much like the Redmi 4. Also, MIUI 9 has a lot to do with it. The software, even in beta, flies and has been largely optimised with the available hardware. There are no visible lags or stutter while navigating between home screens and/or multitasking in my (3GB RAM/32GB memory) review unit. Basic games are handled well, but GPU-intensive games are prone to some occasional lags when being played at maxed out settings for longer periods.
All isn’t hunky dory though, as the Redmi Y1 has a tendency to get warm, something that was never the case with the Redmi 4 or the Redmi Note 4.
The mono speaker on-board the Redmi Y1 is average at best. It gets loud but there is often some digitization at peak volume. Voice quality – over 4G — during calls made with the Redmi Y1 was excellent.
The Redmi Y1, for some unknown reason, cuts corners in the battery department. It is backed by a rather small — in Xiaomi standards — 3,080mAh battery and the results as expected aren’t as stellar as those achieved with the Redmi Note 4 or the Redmi 4, even the Redmi 4A, for that matter. Most users will be able to squeeze one whole day out of the phone, extreme usage scenarios got us close to 10-11 hours, it’s a little disappointing that the Redmi Y1 isn’t in the same ball park as its closest siblings.
The USP of the Redmi Y1, in addition to its lighting fast MIUI 9 software, is its 16-megapixel front camera that also gets its own LED flash.
Now Xiaomi has toiled with both single cameras and dual cameras in the past, but, all of its efforts in the photography department have been largely focused on the primary camera. It has, for some unknown reason, not given enough thought to the selfie camera. Even the premiere Mi Mix 2 ships with a pretty mediocre 5-megapixel camera that doesn’t necessarily blow away the competition in any regard. But it changes with the redmi Y1. The Redmi Y1, which costs peanuts in comparison to the price of the Mix 2, ships with a 16-megapixel camera that produces way better results than what the Mix 2 at Rs 36,000 can. It’s not perfect by all means, but at least, it’s much less likely to make detail smooth in favour of beautify.
The Redmi Y1, it’s safe to say, doesn’t disappoint as far as selfies are concerned, especially in good (outdoor) lighting. It is capable of taking some really crisp and detailed selfies in ideal lighting conditions, which means when you’re out and about in warm, sunny environment of New Delhi. So much so that those conscious about their black spots, acne or the people who use the beautify shooting mode on-board to soften the details somewhat will find the Y1 front camera a little less flattering.
Indoor shots are, however, kind of hit and miss. The selfies in indoor or low light come out fairly decent on occasions, but there will also be moments when you’ll end up with photos that have muddy shadows and colours.
Having said that, overall the Redmi Y1 gets the selfie game right. No other phone, at its price point, can give you better selfies. The same isn’t true about its rear camera though. The 13-megapixel rear-facing camera — with f/2.0 aperture, PDAF and LED flash — on-board the Redmi Y1 is disappointing to say the least. It’s in fact its weakest link.
Although photos clicked in good outdoor lighting are passable, the Redmi Y1 simply fails at clicking (even) decent shots when the intensity of light isn’t ideal. Photos clicked in such situations come out dull (and lifeless) and washed out, with evident noise and subsequent loss in detail. Again, the Redmi Y1 isn’t even in the same ball park as its closest siblings in this regard.
Should you buy it?
Xiaomi’s first attempt at introducing some variety in the under Rs 10,000 price segment involves a Redmi phone — the Redmi Y1 — with a whopping 16-megapixel camera, an LED flash and smart photo-editing tricks courtesy MIUI 9. If you’re in the market specifically looking for a selfie-centric phone and you’re on a tight budget, the Redmi Y1 is the one and only option you have right now. That it offers good and fast performance is just the icing on the cake.
Xiaomi’s new kid on the block, however, fails to make a mark in almost all the other departments. It has questionable build quality, a lackluster display, a disappointing rear camera, and just about borderline good battery life. While its closest siblings — the Redmi 4 and the Redmi Note 4 — were all about all-round indulgence for cheap, the Redmi Y1 ends up looking like a pile of compromises at similar prices. The Redmi Note 4, ladies and gentlemen, still remains to be the gold standard to beat as far as value for money is concerned.