Redmi 4A Review: Time for a change

Detailed review of Redmi 4A

In terms of smartphones, India is not only an important market, it is also an interesting one. The phones sold here range from absolutely stunning to fake. Some companies disrupt while others interrupt, and as an industry tracker it is indeed an exciting journey. The Xiaomi Redmi 4A is a great example of why or how the Indian market is interesting.

Targeting the basic buyer can be lucrative, but selling good specs is a tough question. The truth is, many OEMs are compromising important specs in this range and selling phones that aren’t meant to last. And that’s exactly the argument Xiaomi wants to make with the Redmi 4A. It hopes you buy this for your dad and explain to him why it’s better than other phones with two-year-old specs. With the Redmi 4A review, we want to establish whether it is indeed everything Xiaomi promises.

Build and design

Xiaomi isn’t the first to make a good-looking entry-level smartphone, but the Redmi 4A is arguably the best in this case. Appearance is subjective, but ergonomics is not. The 5-inch display makes for a compact body and Xiaomi took the opportunity to recreate the impressive polycarbonate back of the Mi 4i. It’s now an improved version of that design, with a polished surface that shines like metal and shows off the pink (rose gold) color.

At first glance, the phone doesn’t really look like an entry-level device. However, the back and screen often feel sticky, which reinforces the fact that it really is one.

You’ll find the volume rocker and power button on the right, with the hybrid SIM slot on the left. A microphone and micro USB port are on the bottom, while the headphone jack, IR Blaster and another microphone are on the top. There are three capacitive buttons below the screen, which are not backlit.

The phone’s speakers are on the back, with a very slight bulge in the plastic underneath. Xiaomi says this design element keeps the speakers from being muted when placed on a desk, etc. It doesn’t really help if you put the phone face up on a bed, but it sounds fine on a desk or other hard surfaces.

The back is otherwise blank, with the camera and flash at the top left and the Mi logo at the bottom, just above the speakers. It’s a clean and simple design that isn’t particularly innovative, but is meant to impress.

Screen

I suspect that the choice Xiaomi has made here is some kind of compromise. It seems that the company wanted to pick the Snapdragon 425 SoC (the latest in Qualcomm’s budget arsenal) and that SoC offers optimal performance for HD resolution at 60 fps. One can also excuse an HD panel for Rs. 5.999. Your dad probably doesn’t care if he gets 294 ppi (HD at 5 inches) or 434 ppi (FHD at 5 inches) pixel density.

However, the display panel seems decidedly lower than the one on the Redmi Note 4 (review) or Redmi 3S. Icons don’t look as sharp as on those phones, and colors look a bit paler than on the Redmi 3s or Redmi Note 4. The screen is also cooler than other Xiaomi phones.

That said, it still qualifies as a good screen. The touch sensitivity is satisfactory, with low, but not ideal, latency. Colors still look pretty good for an entry-level model and there are no light leaks or other deviations. It’s also bright enough for indoor use, although you’ll need to face the sun outside.

Performance

This is actually our first taste of Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 425 SoC. Intended to replace the Snapdragon 410 and 412 in the entry-level segment, the processor uses a quad-core Cortex A53 cluster, clocked at 1.4 GHz and the Adreno 308 GPU. What’s important here, though, is the addition of an X6 LTE modem and theoretical peak download speeds of 150Mbps. It’s actually quite advanced, allowing for entry-level FHD video capture and camera support up to 16 megapixels (fun fact: it also supports dual ISPs).

However, you can probably guess that the Snapdragon 425 doesn’t match the 625, and it’s miles away from a 650 or 652. However, it’s still the best you can get on the market right now, and on the Redmi 4A, you see. that it works very hard. The average clock speeds remain at almost 1 GHz, while the GPU also stays at average frequencies of about 390 Mhz (probably to display the screen). It looks like Xiaomi is churning out as much of the processor as possible.

However, the result is quite impressive. We dare not say that there are no delays on the Redmi 4A. We even saw slight hitches from the offset, but in this price range they are much easier to overlook. App loading times are actually slow, compared to phones like the Xolo Era 2X. What we didn’t find on the Redmi 4A are heavy lags and the system never froze, even under pressure.

It’s not a phone meant for gaming, but simple games like Temple Run or Candy Crush should be fine. We’ve seen noticeable frame drops and slowdowns on games like WWE Champions, Asphalt 8, and Marvel: Contest of Champions, but they’re still playable. Average frame rates remain 29 fps, one less than 30 fps, which is the minimum for gaming. However, the frame rate stability is only about 28%, which is below average.

Overall, the Redmi 4A offers decent performance and for a phone of this price, it’s quite impressive. It can connect to 4G networks and we have recorded network speeds of 8-10 Mbps in most well-connected areas. Browsing performance is also satisfactory, with pages loading at decent speeds, and the phone can even watch videos on players in the Chrome windows.

Storage and Operating System

A glaring flaw, at least for us, on the Redmi 4A is the choice of 16 GB of storage. While testing the device, we only downloaded our benchmarking apps, Asphalt 8, WWE Champions, and Marvel: Contest of Champions, and the phone is already flashing low-storage warnings. That, in our view, is a very real problem.

It also keeps the phone from lasting very long, and it’s disappointing that Xiaomi doesn’t offer a 32GB variant on this one. 16GB is indeed an upgrade over the Redmi 1S, and it’s also the industry standard at the moment, but you’d expect Xiaomi to break that down as this phone aims to offer entry-level buyers better than they’re used to.

You get about 10 GB of usable space, which can be used up quite easily.

Another setback is that Xiaomi does not have Android Nougat on this device. Granted, no entry-level phone has the latest operating system, but it’s about time they did. Given that Xiaomi has previously unveiled its MiUI-flavored version of Android Nougat, you should expect newer devices to ship out-of-the-box with the operating system.

Camera

As mentioned above, the Snapdragon 425 allows up to 16MP camera sensors on phones. However, Xiaomi chose to go with a 13MP sensor on the Redmi 4A. Since the Redmi Note 3, we have noticed a drop in the quality of the images that the phones are capable of, which continues here. Photos look good on the phone’s screen, but they’re quite grainy and noisy, while the colors look a little bleak. The camera is definitely weaker than the one on the Redmi 3S, as you’ll see in the comparison image below. The Redmi 3S (review) produced spicier colors, although details largely remain the same.

Camera samples adapted for the web. Click on the gallery below for full size images

Images taken by Redmi 3s (left) vs Redmi 4A (right)

However, the Redmi 4A focuses much faster than other entry-level smartphones. In addition, it is faster to process photos and can take decent photos in daylight. Colors look bad in most conditions, but not real enough to make this camera useless. For an entry-level buyer, this is a decent camera, if not the absolute best. You don’t shoot the best shots in low light, but that’s also allowed at this price.

Xiaomi Redmi 4A

Battery

Xiaomi has excelled in putting the largest possible battery on the smallest phone case. That continues with the Redmi 4A, which has a 3120 mAh battery. It runs for just under 9 hours on the PC Mark Work 2.0 battery test, which is about 4 hours less than what we got with normal use.

We charged it every morning at 10am, we got through a full job quite easily and had to recharge it at just over 10pm. While that’s respectable battery life, it still means you’ll want a power bank or charger for a long day.

bottom line

So, here’s the thing, the Xiaomi Redmi 4A is a great entry-level smartphone. However, if you go for a 16GB device, you get a much better phone with Xiaomi’s own Redmi 3S, for just a thousand dollars more. You get a better camera, better display and slightly faster performance. The Redmi 4A is for those who can’t spend the extra thousand, or want the best of absolutely basic performance. The sub-par camera is a bummer, as is the 16GB storage.

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