Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Redmi Note 8 Review: You Couldn't Ask For A Better Phone At This Price, Almost

The Redmi Note series is one of the few series of smartphones in India and has delivered consistently over the years. Known for being what is probably the most ambitious and popular smartphone series under the INR 20,000 threshold, the Redmi Note series has connected with the audience like no other series has in this segment. But rather than applauding the OEM for what it brings to every new iteration, I’m pleasantly surprised by how consistently it has delivered a better phone while not budging from its starting price of INR 9,999.

The Redmi Note 8 pushes everything you might expect from a phone that sits below the INR 10,000 mark and almost changes the way you look at phones in this segment. Read our full review of the phone to know why we think the Redmi Note 8 is one of the juiciest phones out there in terms of value for money.

Redmi Note 8 Review: Design

The Redmi Note 8 doesn’t far too from Redmi’s tree of design language and still rocks on the same design philosophy, with some discernible differences. The phone has rounded sides and edges that make it easy to hold, despite the bigger size. The back and front of the phone are protected by Gorilla Glass 5 that is quite commendable for a phone at this price. Although the glass is a fingerprint magnet, it does add a touch of class in a segment that has barely been exposed to such “luxury”.

Unlike the Redmi Note 8 Pro, the quad-camera setup on the Redmi Note 8 sits towards the left of the phone, drawing an uncanny resemblance to its arch-rival: the realme 5. The placement doesn’t look as pleasing as it does on the Pro and its unnoticeable bump doesn’t let the phone sit put on a flat surface.

The one thing that I particularly wasn’t a fan of is the colour streak that runs across the bezels (sparing the top bezel) of the phone. The streak on the Neptune Blue is in blue and is rather distracting while watching content. Being blue, it doesn’t even try to blend with what’s on display. I’d suggest you get the Space Black or Moonlight White that doesn’t seem to have this irritable streak of colour. The phone also has a P2i coating that saves the phone from accidental spills and light rains which should make it capable of enduring the unexpected showers we’re currently facing in India.

The top of the phone still has an IR blaster which is a blessing to have. I’m still surprised that other OEMs haven’t picked this up and made this a staple in their phones. The bottom of the phone is where the USB Type-C port, the 3.5mm headphone jack and the bottom-firing speaker sit.

Redmi Note 8 Review: Display

The Redmi Note 8 has a 6.3-inch FullHD+ LCD panel with a waterdrop notch to house the front-facing camera. Unlike the U-shaped notch on its predecessor, the Note 8 has a more gradual, V-shaped notch. The display itself is good and gets sufficiently bright under direct sunlight. There’s also a built-in reading mode that reduces blue light when reading for longer durations or when using it in dark environments.

The display isn’t as saturated, but the viewing experience is still pretty good. As mentioned before, the blue streak that runs around the display is the only thing that I don’t like about the display. But if you choose to not go with the Neptune Blue colour, you needn’t worry about it. Another notable factor is that the phone supports Widevine L1 certification which means that it’ll be able to stream content from services like Netflix and Prime Video in HD.

The front of the phone also flanks a white notification LED that sits towards the left-end on the top bezel.

Redmi Note 8 Review: Performance

The phone is powered by the Snapdragon 665 SoC which is a successor to the Snapdragon 660 which was found in phones like the Redmi Note 7, the Xiaomi Mi A2 and OPPO K1. When compared to the Snapdragon 660 processor, the 665 has a slightly higher clock speed, is based on a more advanced 11nm architecture, has support for AIE technology to improve AI & ML tasks, and uses a more sophisticated Image Signal Processor (ISP) that enables the use of the Sony IMX586 48MP sensor and 240fps slow-motion videos.

The 665 is a capable processor that is more than enough to handle the brunt of regular smartphone usage. While it isn’t made for gaming, the 665 does a very respectable job at playing games like COD and Asphalt 9. While I expected some major lags while playing Call of Duty, the processor performed much better than expected. Playing at high graphic settings wasn’t as enjoyable with frequent frame drops. But switching to medium graphic settings made the game much more playable. The phone also didn’t heat up while gaming, but longer sessions did warrant some throttling.

Also, did I mention that the Note series now starts with a 4GB RAM variant? Yes, the base variant of the phone that costs INR 9,999 comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. There’s also a more expensive variant that costs INR 12,999 and comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. RAM management on the 6GB RAM variant we had was rather decent and the ability to multitask with split-screen apps is good too.

The phone has a bottom-firing speaker that does manage to find a voice in a crowded room. I didn’t expect it to perform well and hence I wasn’t surprised by the results.

Redmi Note 8 Review: Software

The Redmi Note 8 comes preloaded with MIUI 10 on top of Android Pie. While the phone is expected to get the MIUI update later in November, it’s unlikely that the phone will get Android 10 before the end of 2019. So, how’s the software experience? If I had to call my experience with the phone as bittersweet, the bitter part would be because of MIUI. Don’t get me wrong. MIUI is still one of the most customizable user interfaces out there.

There’s nothing you can’t tinker with and you can truly customize the phone to your liking. The gestures on MIUI are rather interesting and work surprisingly well. The go-to-home and multi-window gestures work just like they do on iOS and Android 10. But the back button can be accessed from either side of the display by swiping in. What’s interesting is that if you swipe and hold while doing the back-button gesture, you can seamlessly switch between apps. The OS has a dedicated reading mode, a dark mode, built-in voice and screen recording functionality, support for Digital Wellbeing, a Theme app, and the ability to clone applications like WhatsApp & Facebook to log into multiple accounts at once. And even then, there are a lot more settings to play around with. So, what makes the UI “bitter”? Ads.

For a company that’s offering incredible hardware at gapingly-low prices, ads within the UI can make up for the otherwise “lost revenue”. But the way these ads are served make them anything but digestible. The OS is loaded with bloatware that gives birth to the cringiest of ad notifications. The situation is so bad that even if you play a video you shot with the phone, a string of suggested videos pops up at the bottom. Now there are certain steps that you can take to reduce being a target of such unwanted ads. But it’s cumbersome to do and a user shouldn’t be subjected to do this in the first place.

Redmi Note 8 Review: Camera

The Redmi Note 8 has a quad-camera setup that consists of a 48MP primary sensor, an 8MP ultrawide sensor, a 2MP depth sensor, and a 2MP macro camera. For a phone that costs INR 9,999, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a camera setup on a phone that is this versatile. And it’s such a good deal when you consider that the Redmi Note 7 Pro, that launched a few months ago, had only a 48MP primary sensor and a 5MP depth sensor. But obviously, more cameras don’t necessarily translate into better pictures.

The primary 48MP sensor produces great shots in good lighting conditions. With Auto HDR baked into the camera application, the phone also comes through at times in tricky lighting conditions where it displays great dynamic range. Night shots are pretty respectable too, but noise increases drastically. This is probably a software issue because the Redmi Note 7 Pro with the 48MP sensor would produce better looking night shots. But if you’re really looking for better night shots, you could install a Google Camera APK and get better shots.

The ultrawide sensor is a good addition and definitely helps in taking some decent shots in daylight. But as expected, the sensor loses out on details. Since it doesn’t support night mode, it becomes almost unusable in low-light environments. The macro sensor is an interesting addition that has the ability to help you pass some time when you’re utterly bored. It’s a nice addition but definitely not something most users will find themselves using on a day-to-day basis. Since there’s a dedicated lens, macro videos are possible too. But I had a hard time getting the focus right when the subject in the image was moving.

The primary sensor can shoot videos at up to 4K30fps but colours in videos shot at this resolution were all over the place. 1080p videos looked pretty decent, but the lack of any stabilisation doesn’t produce enjoyable results. Videos can also be shot with the ultrawide lens. The camera app is pretty comprehensive and gives access to a lot of features and modes that include but are not limited to Night Mode, Panorama, Slow Motion (720p@240fps), Portrait, and Panorama.

Selfies taken with the 13MP selfie camera were rather good. But, by default, the skin smoothening is switched on and it takes multiple clicks to turn it off. Even after turning all beauty features off, the selfies weren’t as sharp. But for the price, it’s definitely passable.

To wrap it all up, I think it’s safe to say that the phone has a great camera setup for its price. Sure, not all cameras in the setup are as good, but the primary sensor itself redeems the phone. It’s just nice to have some additional hardware to click varying shots. Only if the camera bump weren’t as harsh….

Redmi Note 8 Review: Battery & Charging

The Redmi Note 8 has a 4,000mAh battery and supports 18W fast charging. Listening to the complaints that users had regarding the previous iterations, Xiaomi has also bundled an 18W brick with the phone this time. As far as battery performance is concerned, the phone will easily last most users for an entire day. Even after playing COD and streaming music via Bluetooth, apart from regular smartphone usage, the phone never died before the end of the day. If users moderately, the phone could easily last for a day and a half. In terms of screen on time, the phone averaged at 5.5-6 hours with a single SIM inserted and with heavy usage. This could reduce when used with two SIMs.

The 18W charger bundled with the box took about an hour and a half to take the phone from 20% to 100%. The first 40% (60% battery level) of the phone took just 30 minutes to charge while the next 30% (90% batter level) was reached in about 65 minutes. The last 10%, expectedly, took a considerable amount of time.

Redmi Note 8 Review: Final Verdict

The Redmi Note 8 is a solid device and definitely the best phone you could get under INR 10,000. The phone has a FullHD display, a versatile quad-camera setup, good performance, great battery life, and a glass back. To say that the phone checks all boxes that make up for a great phone in this price segment would almost be an understatement. With all that it offers, it could easily be mistaken for a much more expensive phone.

The only stone in the shoe is the ad-riddled MIUI that I just can’t get used to. Ads have become increasingly invasive and are now also shown after you playback a video in the gallery. If that’s something you just can’t live with, the Xiaomi Mi A3 is a pretty respectable alternative that offers similar hardware with Android One goodness.

But I’d really be delighted if Xiaomi offered an ad-free version of its phones that were slightly more expensive. Amazon, too, has used this strategy to offers its Fire Tablets at a cheaper price for the customers. So instead of not giving the end-users an option at all, it’d be better if the user could be given an option to pay a bit more and have a much better experience altogether. I am only laying stress on this factor because it hurts to see such an impressive phone be riddled with a problem that could easily not be one in the first place.

Despite having said that, I still believe that you won’t be able to find a better package than the Redmi Note 8 in its price segment. While the higher-priced 6GB RAM variant isn’t as sweet a deal, it’s still a good option to consider for someone who doesn’t want to use the phone for intensive tasks like gaming.

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