The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 is one of the cheapest phablets you can get and that will most likely put it on your radar sooner or later. It may be a mere blip if you’re the kind of person who consciously avoids the extremes. But bargain hunters will probably zoom in for a closer look. And they might actually have a point.
The original Redmi Note sold out in a flash back in 2014, followed by its LTE-enabled version, and the upgrade, Redmi Note 2, is wasting no time either finding a place among the record-breakers. And that’s even before it was available in India, which is a traditional Xiaomi stronghold, alongside its home market of China of course.
Xiaomi is certainly eyeing Europe and the US too and, although the company is cautious about an actual timeframe, it’s been running a dedicated online store for accessories quite a while now.
There are two distinct types of Notes in the Xiaomi portfolio and things can get a little confusing. The Mi series is the place to get a premium phablet while the Redmi Notes are the budget-friendly alternative. That said, the Redmi Note 2 is certainly cheap but the level of equipment is trying to match the midrange offerings by the established brands.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 upgrades its predecessor in areas where it matters. The Redmi Note 2 packs a higher-res 5.5″ IPS display of Full-HD resolution (up from 720p) and is powered by a superior MediaTek Helio X10 chipset with an octa-core processor, Power VR graphics and 2GB of RAM. The main camera unit has been treated to phase detection autofocus, there’s a brand new IR port and fast battery charging has been borrowed from the high-end Xiaomi Mi Notes.
So, we’re about to review a phone that reached best-seller status in China in record time. It would be insane to expect as big a splash in developed markets but value for money is a traditional Xiaomi weapon. Let’s proceed to unboxing and see how well prepared the Redmi Note 2 is to make use of that.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 looks like the recently released Mi 4i for the most part. It isn’t shining with any premium materials, but makes one important change over the first edition – the glossy plastic is gone in favor of matte finish.
The entire front is covered by a black piece of glass, no matter the device color, but there is no mention of any special protection coating. The Redmi Note 2 keeps the red accent on its capacitive keys, a signature feature of the Redmi series.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 2
The entire rear cover is removable and made of matte plastic. Its design is very similar to the first Redmi Note and the Mi 4i, and the Xiaomi fans will surely approve. The matte touch has definitely improved both handling and looks, as the Redmi Note 2 isn’t prone to smudges and fingerprints.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 2
The thinner and lighter design, plus the smaller footprint are warmly welcome, and we are happy this didn’t cost us some screen estate.
The 5.5″ Redmi Note 2 surely isn’t the best size to handle with just one hand, but thanks to the refined design the phone is a real pleasure to handle and most of the time it’s very easy to operate with single-handed. The matte cover and rigid sides definitely add up to a pleasurable and secure handling.
Handling the Redmi Note 2
The controls arrangement on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 is pretty much standard. The front is mostly occupied by the 5.5″ IPS display, flanked by the earpiece on top and the red capacitive key around the bottom. The 5MP selfie snapper and a bunch of sensors are nested round the earpiece as well.
The front of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2
There is nothing on the left, while on the right we find the silver volume rocker and the power/lock key.
The left and right sides of the Redmi Note 2
The top of the Redmi Note 2 houses the audio jack, the secondary mic and the IR blaster. The bottom of the smartphone is where the microUSB port and the primary mic are.
The top and bottom of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2
The new 13MP camera with phase-detection AF and a LED flash is on the back, as is the loudspeaker grille. Underneath the cover there are the two SIM beds, the microSD slot and the removable 3,060mAh battery.
A peek at the back of the Redmi Note 2 • what’s beneath the rear cover
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 features a 5.5″ Full HD IPS, which has 401ppi for pleasantly sharp imagery. Unfortunately, the glass covering the display seems to be not of the scratch-resistant kind.
Taking a closer look at it under our digital microscope reveals a standard RGB arrangement of the sub-pixels that make up the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 LCD panel.
The display on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 has a lower maximum brightness level compared to the one on Xiaomi Mi 4i, while retaining the almost the same good contrast and colors. The blacks aren’t as deep as we’d like, but we’ve seen worse.
Xiaomi provides a setting for the color temperature – you can choose between warm, normal and cool. The warmer option offers higher color accuracy than normal at the expense of a slight decrease of the maximum brightness level.
The sunlight legibility is just average and pretty much about the same we measured on the previous Redmi Note. The screen glass is rather reflective and while you will be able to see what’s happening on the screen under bright sunlight, you’ll need the maximum brightness and all the colors will be washed out.
Xiaomi has put a 3,060mAh battery inside the Redmi Note 2, a solid enough unit for a 5.5″ device. We ran our battery test and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 scored a 49h rating, which means you can count on the battery to last 2 days if you do an hour each of calling, browsing the web and video playback a day. Adding a second SIM card cuts 2 hours from the total endurance down to 47 hours.
The Redmi Note 2 did well on the 3G talk time test, but it posted below average results in our web and video tests, while its standby performance is about average.
The original Xiaomi Redmi Note was almost there too with a rating of 55h.
Our proprietary score also includes a standby battery draw test, which is not featured in our battery test scorecard but is calculated in the total endurance rating. Our battery testing procedure is described in detail in case you want to learn more about it.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 supports 7 LTE bands and you can tap to an LTE network on either SIM, but once you do, the second one will be limited to GSM connectivity only. As for that, the Redmi Note 2 also offers tri-band GSM connectivity. There is quad-band 3G connectivity with HSPA support.
The rest of the connectivity features include dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac support and Wi-Fi Direct. There is also support for Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and GLONASS, plus an FM radio.
A microUSB 2.0 port handles charging and data connections. Media transfer mode is supported for accessing the phone’s built-in memory over a USB connection. The microUSB port also supports USB On-the-go for connecting USB peripherals such as pen drives, keyboards or real USB hard drives.
Wireless screen mirroring is available via the Miracast protocol.
The IR blaster is located on the top and coupled with the right software, you can use it to operate pretty much any IR remotely controlled home appliance, turning the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 into a universal remote. Xiaomi provides its own MiRemote app, which supports a plethora of devices and you can turn your Note 2 of this dream remote right out of the box.
MiRemote app UI
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 is the first smartphone to officially run on MIUI 7, which relies on Android 5.0.2 Lollipop core. While the Chinese model of Redmi Note 2 indeed comes with MIUI 7, those sold outside China are still running on MIUI 6. If you want to get the new MIUI 7 you’ll either have to wait for the official update, or download the Developer ROM and hope most of the bugs are squashed already.
Instead of refreshing the entire UI again, this time around Xiaomi focused on refining their launcher and improving its performance. According to Xiaomi’s changelog the MIUI 7 is 30% faster and more responsive and 10% more energy efficient. It also adds a few new things as a baby album, child mode, new default themes and auto DND option.
As usual Xiaomi’s customizations run very deep and replace everything including all Google services. In fact, the Mi phones sold in China don’t have access to Google’s services and those need to be sideloaded one way or the other (some resellers may even do that for you). The models sold officially markets outside of China come with the entire Google package pre-installed.
The lockscreen has a clock in the top left corner – gone are the lockscreen widgets. To unlock the phone you swipe upwards and if you want a quick access to the camera – just swipe from the right side.
The MIUI v7 lockscreen
Beyond the lockscreen is the Android homescreen with four customizable shortcuts docked at the bottom by default, but you can dock up to five items. You can have any app there or even folders with multiple items if you will.
The MIUI homescreens • there is no app drawer
There is no app drawer – anything you install pops up on your homescreen, which can have unlimited panes. There’re no shortcuts and the usual routine of removing icons (dragging them up to a recycle bin at the top of the screen) will uninstall the corresponding app. There is a pop-up for confirming the action though, so you can’t accidentally uninstall apps.
Homescreen widgets are available, too – tap and hold on the homescreen, then choose Widgets. There are few options available, but of course, you can get even more from the Play Store.
Editing the homescreens • adding widgets
Homescreen effects are available and you can change themes, too. A theme will change your homescreen wallpaper, lockscreen style, system icons, system font and the sound profile (you can disable changing the sound profile from settings).
MIUI v.7 introduces five defaults themes – MIUI, High Life, Pink Blush, Rose and Ocean Breeze. They’ve been handpicked by the MIUI team and you can choose your interface look right from the start, but you can always download new themes from the Mi Store.
Applying a new theme
The notification area has two semi-transparent tabs – the first one hosts all notifications, while the second one (swipe left to access) offers customizable quick toggles and a Settings shortcut. Unfortunately, you can’t directly bring the toggles page with two-finger swipe from the top as it is with other Android devices.
An enhanced task switcher with Clear All option is available, too.
Notifications • Toggles • Task Switcher
By the way, Xiaomi’s proprietary Search widget does a similar job as iOS’s Spotlight system-wide search. You can fire it up by swiping up anywhere on the homescreen. The tool searches through your apps, music, email, settings, among others.
Xiaomi provides its own cloud service for content syncing between devices. Each Mi Cloud account is granted 5GB of free storage. You can use it to backup contacts, messages, your entire gallery, call log, notes, settings, voice recordings, Browser content (history, tabs, webapp data) and your music library.
Xiaomi’s sync and backup service shares lots of similarities with the Apple iCloud. There is even a free Cloud Messaging option that allows you to exchange messages over the internet connection instead of being billed for SMS, but that only works between Xiaomi devices.
Configuring Mi Cloud
Finally, if you signed in with your Mi Cloud account, you can opt for the Find device function – a handy feature in case you misplace your Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 or someone steals it.
MIUI 7 has a new Child mode, which allows to run only apps of your choosing. This is nice if you have a kid, who likes playing with your phone occasionally and you are afraid it might delete some important data.
The Do Not Disturb mode has been enhanced too – it supports better customization and scheduling options.
We did get our review unit with pre-installed Google Play Store plus Google sync for app data, contacts, and browser data but perhaps they’ve been sideloaded by the reseller providing this review unit. Of course, you can sideload them yourself one way or the other if they don’t come pre-installed on your unit. And once you have those, you can easily download all other Google apps such as Google Now straight from the Play Store.
Display: 5.5 inch 1920 x 1080 (FHD) screen 400 PPi
CPU: Helio X10 Octa Core 2.2GHz
GPU: PowerVR G6200
System: Android 5.0 (MIUI 6)
RAM + ROM: 2GB RAM + 32GB ROM (Advanced Edition)
Camera: 5.0MP front camera + 13MP f/2.2 super aperture back camera
Sensors: Gravity sensor, IR proximity sensor, Gyroscope, Ambient light sensor, Digital compass, Proximity sensor
SIM Card: Dual SIM, Dual standy, Dual Micro
2G: GSM 900/1800/1900MHz
3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
4G: FDD-LTE 1800/2100/2600MHz