Xiaomi Redmi Note 5A Prime: The schoolgirl selfie companion? - Gadget Victims

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Xiaomi Redmi Note 5A Prime: The schoolgirl selfie companion?

Xiaomi has just released the Redmi Note 5A priced below 140€.

We've seen earlier what Bluboo or Doogee could offer in that price range.

Can a major Chinese brand shake that low cost segment?

The Redmi Note 5A Prime is the latest entry level smartphone from Xiaomi.


With Xiaomi's plethora of variants under a same model, it is important to start by identifying the product in order to set the expectations right.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 5A Prime 

Redmi: regroups the low cost phones as opposed to the Mi, which is more middle range to flagship.
Note: indicates a 5.5" size device (although I've seen 5.5" Mi phones without that denomination).
A: indicates the entry level phones.
PrimeThe sample I'm reviewing here is actually the 32GB ROM version of the Prime variant (120€/140$). That suffix is not always mentioned by the shops but has its importance.
The Prime specifications are a notch above the bottom-of-the-low-range with a better chipset (Snapdragon 435 vs 425), more memory (3/32GB vs 2/16GB) and a 16MP selfie camera (vs 5MP). The Prime version also adds a fingerprint sensor. A higher spec. version with 4/64GB is expected soon.
The cheapest non-Prime 16GB version is at 100€/120$.

Key Specification
Display: 5.5-inch, 720 x 1280 pixels (400 ppi pixel density)
Size: 153 x 76.2 x 7.7 mm
Weight: 153 g
Rear camera: 13 MP with AF,  f2.2, with LED flash
Front (Selfie) camera: 16 MP, f2.0, with LED flash
Storage: 3GB of RAM + 32GB ROM
Chipset: 1.4GHz Qualcomm MSM8940 Snapdragon 435
(Octa-core Cortex-A53 + Adreno 505 GPU)
IR blaster (infra red cell)
Battery: 3080mAh non-removable
Network type:
2G: GSM 1800MHz,GSM 1900MHz,GSM 850MHz,GSM 900MHz
CDMA: CDMA 2000/1X BC0
3G: WCDMA B1 2100MHz,WCDMA B2 1900MHz,WCDMA B5 850MHz,WCDMA B8 900MHz
4G LTE: FDD B1 2100MHz,FDD B3 1800MHz,FDD B5 850MHz,FDD B7 2600MHz,FDD B8 900MHz,TDD B38 2600MHz,TDD B39 1900MHz,TDD B40 2300MHz,TDD B41 2500MHz

Unpacking and Design

The compact box is just the size of the phone, with some extra depth for the accessories: a charger, a USB cable, a SIM tray extractor pin and a leaflet.

The 5A has a classic design and yet, looks nice, slim and well finished.

Its light weight (153gr) and thinness (7.7mm) makes you regret that no hard case in the box. At least, there quite a good choice of accessories to choose from already.

A long 3-in-1 tray takes 2 nano-SIM's and one MicroSD together.

The micro USB is still used and there's no quick charger although the technology is supported. Using a spare one from Doogee, it took about 1 hour to full charge.

Cameras: "Only" one per side...and that's great news!

Xiaomi does not make any fuss about the camera sensors inside, and honestly,  I don't mind if they are from Samsung, Sony or even Omnivision!
The result is far better than most manufacturers trumpeting the latest IMX on-board while ruining it with sub-par software.

The front camera is actually the primary camera!
The front camera features a LED flash,  a resolution of 16.0MP, an aperture of f2.0 and a Phase Detection Auto Focus.

If the advertising illustrations of the product were not clear enough, this phone is targeted at the selfie and ussie takers!

All the expected options are present, including advanced "face beauty" settings, some funny filters, and a face detection that tries to evaluate the gender and age (not always accurate with toys...).

The back camera is "only" a 13MP, f2.2, and (shock horror) there is only one!

And still...it makes all those double-camera models look pathetic in comparison!

For those who expected a double camera just to improve their blur background shots, Google Camera can use the embedded gyroscope to achieve a similar effect, as well as the 360 Photo Sphere shots.

The camera is fast in all aspects: launching, focusing,  shooting.
With the appropriate option activated (under Lock screen & password), launching the camera app and taking a shot takes no more than a second!

Click on the picture samples for full size

2x optical zoom means no loss of pixels up to that level, with the digital zoom kicking in afterward, effectively zooming on the existing pixels. The shots below show different level of zoom (0x, 2x and 4x) in low light. (as usual, click on them for full size)

There is a decent set of options, even if they are not always grouped in the most convenient way between options and settings menus.


MIUI 8 and bloatware

The phone came with MIUI 8.5.4 and an OTA update to 8.5.8 was available. It is based on Android Nougat (7.1.2). MIUI 9.0 is due soon after the Golden Week (黄金周) holidays with hopefully, a global ROM.

I used the option to select an alternate home screen to install the excellent Yandex launcher, tried previously with the Bluboo S1.

Where is Google Play?
There is no global ROM yet for the Redmi Note 5A, and since the Chinese ROM does not include Google Play, a bit of DIY is needed to install it and configure the permission and battery saving options.
I first tried a certain Google Installer 2.0 which didn't work for me.
The easiest way has been to restore one of the backups made available on some trusted forums: Techtablets.commiui forum

As always, MIUI is generous in bloatware, although there's a few worthwhile Mi applications in the lot. A good deal of them can be uninstalled but some useless services, considered as system apps, will remain active. 

Fingerprint scanner: lightning fast!
I found most fingerprint scanners to work well and fast enough...until now!
This one reacts just... instantly!
I would have prefered it located at the front, but I'll get use to it. There's simply no way I return to the slower ones!


Snapdragon 435 Octa Core 1.4GHz: This chipset is aimed at the mid/low-range market. It may not the fastest one around but it's certainly not sluggish.
The "only" HD but nevertheless excellent IPS screen is a perfect fit for the Snapdragon 435 and the phone works smoothly through any task. 
The phone feels much faster in general than its Mediatek counterpart with similar benchmark score (MT6750T).

HD "only" screen:

The screen is not full HD but 720x1280px@400ppi, and yet it's bright and sharp, ideal for reading ebooks, which I tried for a few hours.
There's even a schedulable Reading Mode to reduce the background glare at bed time.
This IPS screen is almost as good as an AMOLED with vibrant colors, deep blacks and excellent contrasts.
The Contrast and Colors under Display also allow to adjust the overall color temperature.


Phone calls / Sound quality

Sound quality is of tradition with Xiaomi products, and that's even true with their cheapest IP cameras, so no bad surprise here, the sound is crystal-clear during phone calls and the speakers are perfect for voice and can go quite loud without damage for music.

The in-call interface is functional with all the necessary options available.

Important Update: It appears that the sound recording is negatively affected by the dedicated noise cancellation microphone (ANR).
This problem is widely discussed in MIUI community and there might be custom workaround for rooted phones, but still no real solution from Xiaomi!
Check my video here.

On the mobile data side, 4G is supported but I strongly recommend to  visit frequencycheck.com. In my case I will have 'only' HSPA+ instead of 4G most of the time because the operator in my area uses B20 (not supported by this phone) and there's very little B3 (1800Hz) coverage.

Wi-Fi reception is good but seems limited to 2.4GHz, although the 5GHz band should be supported by the Snapdragon 425 Processor.

Notification LED (I missed you so much!)
It rings loud (and louder if a call is not answered), it vibrates and, if you miss it, there's even a LED!

Kudos to Xiaomi for not ditching this essential option to spare a few cents!

Battery life

The advertised capacity of the 3080mAh battery is rather modest but probably the actual capacity unlike many competitors.
On the other hand, Qualcomm Snapdragon is well known for its power efficiency and the 435 Octa Core is not the most demanding chipset.

I achieved 24 hours of mixed use with some intensive sessions (all the de-MIUIzation, lots of pictures taken, frequent interaction, benchmarks, ...)
There are many clever optimization options under the Battery & performance menu but I didn't even use the battery saver.

IR Blaster: 
The 5A can be used as an IR remote controller. The native Mi Remote application mostly supports the smart home devices from Xiaomi but also some popular brands of TV and set top boxes. However I could not get it work with any device, even my LG TV.

As an alternative, I've installed "Universal TV Remote" from Twinone which works great, even with my old X10 IR relay.

GPS: 20 satellites under 4 seconds...that should do the job.

Conclusion: so, who is that phone for?

On paper, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5A Prime is inferior to its bigger brothers on almost every aspect: smaller battery, lower pixel density, slower processor, slightly heavier, a bit thicker, ...

The review title reflects my initial skepticism about this phone.

Now, I realize that the Redmi Note 5A Prime is a silent killer for the competitors in that price range!

The Redmi Note 5A Prime (in 3/32GB) turns out to be a high quality smartphone and if the components are not all the latest and fastest, there's been no compromise on the quality and the cameras are possibly the best available under 150€.

Unlike the widespread trend among entry-level smartphones, the Redmi Note 5A Prime does not make false promises, but delivers exactly what's announced.

The current version is a potential source of frustration for those relying on Google ecosystem, and I can't wait to see a Global Version, with MIUI 9, hopefully very soon, so we won't have to put our hands in the grease anymore.

The 3/32GB Prime variant, priced 119€/139.99$ with coupon JSMTA (expiry date: 2017-10-7) is by far the most sensible choice in the 5A family.

The other variants are:
Redmi Note 5A (not Prime): 100€/120$
There are too many concessions (no fingerprint sensor, smaller front camera, smaller chipset, only 16GB of storage) for almost the same price. 

Redmi Note 5A (Prime) "4/64" with 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage: 220€/260$. There are not enough advantages to justify the higher price. 
For that budget, look at the Mi 5X/A1 instead!)

Old but not obsolete:
Older Xiaomi models are available at discount price.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4
Coupon: UNOTE4 (expiry date: 2017-9-30)
Price: $146.99

Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X
Coupon:  BDCGJ (expiry date: 2017-9-30)

Xiaomi Redmi 4X 
Coupon:  R32X (expiry date: 2017-9-30)

Special thanks to Kylie @ Gearbest.com
for providing me with this sample!

Also posted on xda-developpers.com

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