Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 (Late) Review: A Surprising Package

We all know that smartphones have become a necessity. Maybe back in 2010, smartphones are luxurious gadgets only lucky people can afford. However, as time flies and smartphone markets become more and more mature, the cost of smartphone decreases. Now, almost all people can afford a smartphone (there's even a ridiculously cheap smartphone in India. Google it.).

Redmi Note 2 Official Shots
Anyway, the proof of smartphone market maturity is evident from how powerful current mid-rangers are. Low-end smartphones also have become more powerful, with minimum of 1GB RAM and dual-core processor. I'm not going to talk about that. I'm going to talk about one prime example of how mid-rangers should be. Slick, powerful, gorgeous, and of course... affordable, but not cheap. That example is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2.

Features in a nutshell
Alright, I'm getting more and more subjective here. But really, guys, all subjective things I've said aside, I'm really impressed at what Xiaomi is offering here. In just Rp1.700.000,00, you can have a 13MP camera, 5.5" FHD screen, octa-core processor, and 2GB RAM. Specs wise, it's really unbelievable. However, does it really meet your expectation?

Let's find out.

As usual, this review is going to be split into several sections, each of which highlighting a feature relevant to the section. I hope you can keep up with me :p

Overview

I'll tell you something. Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 doesn't come to Indonesia. Originally, it was planned to be after clearing the Postel hurdle (similar to FCC in the US or TENAA in China), but the approval somehow disappeared, maybe because it's too late, as Redmi Note 3 was coming. So, what I'm reviewing here is not an official device. I got it from an online shop. Some tweaks may be needed, I'm going to tell you about that in the Software section.

Anyway, here are the specs:
  • 5.5-inch Full HD IPS screen
  • 3,020mAh removable battery
  • 16GB Storage / 2GB RAM with Micro-SD support
  • 13MP rear camera with single LED flash and PDAF / 5MP front camera
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU
  • Bluetooth 4.0, WLAN 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz and 5GHz supported)
  • 4G Dual SIM support
  • OTG Support
In case you're wondering which model I got, I got the TDD-LTE model. It's really confusing that they say some operators won't work on LTE. However, I did a simple trick and I could get LTE signal from GSM operators here. Not sure about Smartfren, though...

People say it works after flashing the latest global MIUI ROM, but I'm not sure. Unfortunately, I can't tell you anything since I'm confused myself. Anyway, here's the rest of the review.

Packaging and Design

Please bear in mind that this is Xiaomi's 'last-gen' device, which is boxed in a neat brown box made of recycled paper. All Xiaomi's devices in the same generation use the same box design: Mi4, Mi4i, and Redmi2. Nope, it's not bad. In fact, it's quite nice and easily distinguishable from the iconic Mi logo on the top right-corner of the box.

The distinct brown box
Open the box, and you'll be greeted with the device. It's light, yes, don't worry, that's because the battery is underneath the layer holding up the phone. You'll find a battery unit, a USB cable, and a charging adapter. Oh, and there's also your usual guide and warranty card. No earphones, though... but that's how Xiaomi's been selling their devices, so you'll need to find your own earphones.

Inside the box
As for the device itself, it looks slim and slick. Too slim, though, as I'm usually holding the ASUS Zenfone2, which is way bulkier and has curved back. But if you're used to holding slim phones, you might like it. The plastic back is made of matte plastic, so it likely won't get smudges and fingerprints. As a bonus, it doesn't feel slippery at all. Anyway, it's much better than glossy plastic.

Compared with ZenFone2
A Closer Look
Another perspective. Don't mind about Zenfone2's brightness, since I lowered
it and activated the bluelight filter
On the front, you'll get the screen, three capacitive buttons (recent apps, home, and back), the front camera, light and proximity sensors, earpiece, and the notification LED (yes, it has one!). Oh, and in case you're wondering, the capacitive buttons are lit up red, so don't worry about using it in the dark.

The three capacitive lit buttons
The front-top side
As for the left side, there's nothing to be found. Right side? You have the usual volume rocker and the power/sleep button. The button feels firm and solid. You'll hear a noticeable click sound when you press it, which is good in my opinion.

Right Side

Left Side
On the bottom, there's the mic and the Micro USB port. On the top side, you'll have the IR blaster for the MiRemote app, or other uses you can think of, the 3.5mm audio jack, as well as a secondary mic.
Top Side
Bottom Side
As for the back, you'll have the speaker grille, the camera, and the single LED flash.

Back Side
Having a 5.5-inch screen, the Redmi Note 2 might be uncomfortable for some to hold, but the slim profile might help them hold the phone. As for me, since I have large hands, I don't have any problem with that. Anyway, the overall design is pleasing to see, even though it's pretty standard.

Software, Hardware, and Benchmark

The Redmi Note 2, like all Xiaomi phones, run on top of MIUI. MIUI is actually a custom ROM, a heavily-customized OS based on Android. The phone runs on MIUI7 based on Lollipop 5.0. There's no word of Marshmallow, though there's really no physical difference here. For example, the Redmi 2 is still running Kit Kat, yet receive the same MIUI 7 with similar, if not the same, feature. Xiaomi really has quite an odd sense of update...

The simple lockscreen yet pleasing
to look at.
Anyway, if you've been using regular Android, you might feel odd. There's no app drawer – all your apps and widgets are put on the homescreen – you're free to customize the arrangement however you want, though. Secondly, there are a handful of trivial-but-might-be-important items in the settings, such as showing connection speed on the notification bar, displaying notification icons, etc.

The Homescreen (Already Modified)
There's no way I'd hide the app drawer, is there?
System aside, MIUI also has a handful of built-in apps which are quite... useful. For example, your phone comes with compass, clock, and QR scanner apps. There's also a neat File Explorer which enables you to hide files and folders. Also, don't forget about the Security app, which automatically scans your phone for malware and clean junk from your phone, as well as choosing permission and battery profile. Though I never believed in such apps, if they're made into system apps, they must mean something... Anyway, that's a bit about MIUI. The keyword is "keep exploring". MIUI is quite fun to use once you get used to it. Oh, and you can also get new themes from the theme store.

MIUI's stock file manager is packed with
neat features such as hiding files and FTP connection
Okay, can we get serious for a little bit? If you bought a Redmi Note 2 from Indonesia, chances are your device came from a "distributor" (like WII, Bless, something like that). Usually, Xiaomi devices from them have "modified" or "fake" ROMs which is nothing but trouble. Why, because Indonesia actually has a rule to only sell phones with Indonesian language installed, and since the devices are imported directly from China, they have only Chinese ROMs installed, which certainly don't have Indonesian language. Due to that rule, distributors are forced to modify the software and, while they're at it, install some bloatware and god-knows-what. The results of this modification varies. Some works correctly, while some don't. Some of these failures include slow loading, lots of annoying ads, and a bunch of bloatware apps.

The four digits with zero as the last indicate
that the ROM is genuine.
So, how do you identify fake ROMs? Simple. Go to Settings, then About Phone. Look at the MIUI version. Official MIUI ROMs have four number digits: X.X.X.X. The latest MIUI version is formatted as 7.X.X.0. Any version other than that can be deemed as fake. From the Internet, people also say that they can't log into their Mi Account, and keep having ads as well as bloat apps. Well, the best way to make sure is to flash fresh ROM as soon as you know how to do it. Unfortunately, I won't write how to do that since the process is also kind of shady for me, but I can help you do it. Oh, and don't forget to flash GLOBAL ROM, since that version has Google services that Chinese ROM doesn't. If you're the safety type, opt for stable instead of developer. Developer ROM might have more features, but also more bugs.

Watch Your ROM version

Oh, and while we're at it, I also would like to talk about 4G support in this handset. As I mentioned before, there are two versions of this handset, FDD and TDD. I haven't tested the handset with either Bolt or Smartfren, which uses FDD (though some says Smartfren also uses TDD frequency), but I can get 4G LTE signal from GSM operators here, and you should too, assuming that you've flashed the official global ROM. If you don't have 4G, check with other 4G handsets, do they get 4G signal? If yes, try to change your locale. I've changed mine to Malaysia from Indonesia and the LTE signal is there. It's a bit strange, yes, but it works. Xiaomi says they're going to fix that bug soon, but I'll just leave my locale as it is now.

Alright, back to the review. Let's talk about the hardware. The phone is supported by 2.0GHz octa-core Helio X10 processor, 16GB storage, and 2GB RAM. The navigation is smooth, and I haven't experienced any lags. Multitasking is also handled quite well, though those are just for your everyday apps. I haven't tested it with games, but since the Helio X10 is advertised as 'flagship-grade' affordable processor, it must be strong enough to handle them. Meanwhile, the Antutu test gives the phone 45867 points. This score should prove to be enough to run most games.

CPU-Z Stat
CPU-Z Device Detail
Antutu Benchmark
Only temperature and pressure sensors
are missing
As for sensors, the only sensors the Redmi Note 2 don't have are temperature and pressure sensor. Well, for such an affordable phone, the sensors can be considered as: complete.

Battery Life

Battery Status in Security App
Equipped with 3,060mAh battery, the Redmi Note 3 should be able to easily last for a day. With light to normal usage (just messaging, a little bit of browsing and checking social media apps), it does meet the expectation. Well, at least it'll leave you approximately 20% at night, which will require you to charge or you're left with no juice the next day. For heavy usage, unfortunately, the phone fails to do so, especially when you're a fan of gaming. If you like to play heavy games (like Asphalt or other high-end 3D RPGs), though the smartphone should be powerful enough, keep in mind to always keep a power bank or a charger handy. Fast charging is also available, though I've only tested it with the stock power adapter.

To help your phone last longer, you can also configure your power mode in Settings or activate battery saver in Security App. There are to power modes available: balanced and performance. The former will balance power consumption with performance while the latter favors performance–perfect for gaming and benchmarking.

Battery Saver Profile Settings
As for the battery saver feature, you're able to either select or configure battery profiles such as Default, Marathon, or Sleep. Or, you can create your own profile. There are many things you can configure, such as CPU Usage, when to clean memory, sleep, sync, etc. You can also schedule profile switch or schedule when to power off the phone... if you're into that kind of thing.

Camera

The Redmi Note 2 is equipped with 13MP rear camera and 5MP front camera. The rear camera is equipped with Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF), which means it can lock focus much faster than traditional camera. I have tested it with my Zenfone 2 and indeed the focus is much faster. Sounds good? Yes, however, faster focusing doesn't always mean better quality photos.

The camera interface is dead straight. You'll have yourself a shutter button, the last picture you took, and the button to switch to video. Above the bottom bar, you'll have the shortcut for flash, HDR mode toggle, and switch to front camera. Swipe left on the viewfinder and you'll be able to select camera modes. Swiping right from the viewfinder will show you the available filters. Oh, and there's a manual mode, though you'll only be able to configure white balance and ISO levels. There's no option for shutter speed and manual focus, unfortunately. As for the video camera, you'll be able to record up to 1080p videos. There's also time-lapse and slow motion modes, if you're into that kind of thing.

The front camera uses 5MP sensor. Like most (if not all) front cameras, it lacks autofocus. However, for those who love selfies, Xiaomi has the beautify feature which supposedly will make your shots... better. You can also choose different filters for variety's sake. An interesting gimmick, though, is that the camera will try to recognize your gender and age, though I'm always offended at how old it thinks I am...

A word that can be used to describe the Redmi Note 2 camera is 'decent'. In my opinion, the camera takes good pictures in places abundant with light. However, in places with low light, the camera tends to produce quite a number of noise and the picture quality is reduced significantly. Fortunately, you can improve low-light picture quality by using HHT Mode or the single LED flash positioned under the camera. Anyway, here are a few samples for you to judge and look at.
In a wedding party. The room is illuminated with pink-ish lights.

Outdoor. Taken without HDR


The restaurant condition is pretty dark, illuminated with yellow lights.
Taken with HDR.

Picture with HDR
In a dark room with lots of lit candles
The sunlight is right above me. This picture is enhanced with HDR.
Otherwise, it will be all black.
Front camera sample
While the above samples are random, here are a few controlled shots:

Normal
HDR Mode
Flash

Conclusion


Okay, I guess we've already covered everything. Anyway, based on my usage in the last few days, here are the things I can conclude about this handset:

Pros:

  • High specs, gorgeous screen, large battery
  • Affordable price

Cons:

  • Camera could've been better
  • Confusing 4G support
Unofficial warranty could be a con, but not for me since it's a risk I'm willing to take. Please bear in mind though, that unofficial warranty may take much longer to process. You might not even get anything in return, so if you're not willing to take the risk, I suggest getting another handset. Finally, if you're in the market to look for a high-spec, affordable handset, you can add this to your list. Just don't hope much for the warranty, okay?

Well, that's that. The review, finally done. Just like the previous review, I don't really have time to write everything according to the list. I'm just reflecting the review based on my day-to-day usage, so you might be feeling missing one thing or two. Not to worry, though, you can always contact me at my email, Twitter, or from the comment section here, should you need to ask anything about the device. I'll do my best to respond and help you.

Anyway, as always, thanks for reading and I look forward to your next visit. Have a nice day, Guys! :D

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