It’s early days in 2017, and Xiaomi’s already had a runaway hit in the Redmi Note 4, selling over a million units in a mind-boggling 45 days of its launch in India. Stepping up its game, Xiaomi has now launched the Redmi 4A which, at Rs 5,999, is aimed at customers looking for a competent entry-level Android device without spending that extra grand that would snag them a Vibe K5 or a Redmi 3S.
Does the 4A follow Xiaomi’s ‘best bang for the buck’ playbook, or are there any compromises lurking under its sleek exteriors?
- Compact and light form-factor
- Decent screen, battery life
- VoLTE support
- Feature rich MIUI
- Middling low-light performance
- Hybrid dual-SIM slot
It looks like metal – likely a direct outcome of us being spoilt by Xiaomi themselves to expect metal at all price points – but the Redmi 4A’s body is actually a good-looking polycarbonate, and follows the design language of the previous Redmi phones, most notably the Redmi 3S.
The matte finish around the rear, and the slim dimensions – the latter courtesy the 5-inch screen and slim bezels – feel good in the hand, and it’s surprisingly lightweight (~132 gms) given there’s a respectable 3120 mAh battery inside.
The 5-inch display which helps keep the 4A down to manageable dimensions for single-handed use is expectedly an HD (720x1280-pixel) panel, which is characteristically Xiaomi-vivid and bright enough to be used outdoors in fairly strong sunlight. There is no fingerprint sensor, but that’s not surprising at this price point. There is an IR-blaster though, which can be used along with the Mi Remote app to control TVs and smart home devices.
Performance is as you’d expect from a phone equipped with quad-core Snapdragon 425, in that it works well for the average user and performs most everyday tasks swimmingly well.
That said, since MIUI 8 isn't the lightest kid on the block (memory consumption-wise), you’re really working with about a gig of the 2GB of RAM on the Redmi 4A.
Even so, there are no lags during multitasking or switching between apps – but ever so often things slowed down for that brief bit, say when we were loading a heavy game like Asphalt 8, as MIUI busied itself switching stuff out of memory. So yes, I reckon outfitting the 4A with more memory would have been better.
One of the 4A’s highlights is that it supports Voice over LTE, which makes it compatible with Reliance Jio’s network for calls and data, and call quality was decent over the Jio network in my week’s worth of use. Just bear in mind that if you do use two SIM cards simultaneously, the primary SIM can support 4G calls and data but the secondary SIM falls back to 2G only.
Honestly, as far as the 13-megapixel rear camera is concerned, I didn't go in expecting a lot from it, but the 4A surprised me with pretty good shots, with good colours and detail, as long as there was enough light around.
Macros suffered though (lots of grain), and shots taken in low-light offered detail but were often rendered unusable thanks to the excessive noise levels. Videos captured at 1080p were pretty decent, as were selfies.
As you’d expect, MIUI 8 (running atop Android Marshmallow) gives the 4A a feature-rich platform, with Indic language support, scrolling screenshots and a redesigned messaging app which makes short work of those cryptic IRCTC rail booking confirmation messages and present them to you in a visually appealing ticket format. I don't say this enough, but Xiaomi’s doing a lot to Indian-ise MIUI and it shows.
The Redmi 4A comes with a hybrid card slot, so you can pick between using two SIM cards or one SIM card and one microSD card (up to 128GB). Given there’s really only about 9GB of usable storage on the sole 16GB storage variant Xiaomi’s selling in India, most of us are going to have to treat this as a single-SIM device.
The Moto G5 Plus overcame this by its own implementation of a dual SIM + microSD card slot, and I’d love to see that on more phones, particularly those with low built-in storage. And while we’re on the matter of storage, I do wish Xiaomi would cut back on the amount of bloatware on the Redmi 4A, given the paucity of built-in storage.
There’s the issue of how the 4A compares with the still-on-shelves Redmi 3S. For instance, the battery life on the 4A’s 3120 mAh battery was completely acceptable and lasted a full day of moderate use (browsing, WhatsApp, some music, emails – all on 4G).
However. I recall the Redmi 3S faring better with its massive 4100 mAh battery. Spend an extra grand and Xiaomi gives you the full-metal treatment, a higher rated Snapdragon 430 and a bigger battery.
Why Buy It?
On its own, the 4A is a perfectly competent budget Android device for first time buyers. It delivers well on ergonomics, performance and software features and would earn an even stronger recommendation if Xiaomi didn't have a slightly better option for a little extra.
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached on Twitter: @2shar.)