Saturday, 8 February 2020

Xiaomi Redmi Note 8T

It's confession time. This is the first time I've handled a Redmi phone of any kind. I've handled plenty of Xiaomi models of course and know about MIUI 10/11 but this is the first time looking at Xiaomi's sub-brand. Having scanned the similarities of specifications and price-point, I think I'm likely to put it up here against the Moto G8 Plus, which I reviewed last week.

Xiaomi and Oppo certainly, amongst others, have got really aggressive with pricing as they roll out device after device from China and set up camp in Europe and the rest of the world. Motorola, amongst some others, have responded in turn and consumers are driving prices down so much so that even (some) top flagships are reducing in price and previous mid-tier phones creep toward what was budget territory. And this is where we 'bide for the purposes of these thoughts.

Value for Money
The Moto G8 Plus can be bought just now with £40 off in the UK at CPW, so £199. The Note 8T 64GB/4GB version I have here is £166 at AmazonUK though importing from central Europe might bring that down. This unit has been kindly loaned to us at Phones Show Chat for review by MeWe PSC Group Member Tim Pugh. This is an excellent route for us to be able to review phones, so please do get in touch if you can show the same consideration.

Box Contents
Let's get the in-the-box out of the way first, in time-honoured fashion! There's the phone of course, a pokey-hole tool for the SIM Tray, a very interesting cover/case which feels like TPU but is like a material I've not seen before - feels almost like wine-gums! Very cosy-fitting though, thick and looks protective. There's a UK power plug and a USB-C to USB-A cable. That's it.

Guided Tour
It's a very attractive looking phone, the Moonshadow Grey glass back shimmering when moved against light-sources. The back is laid out very clearly in 'landscape' to no doubt encourage users to hold it the correct way round when using the cameras! There are four camera lenses on an island, top-right with an LED flash beneath. Below that, still in landscape of course, is the circular capacitive fingerprint scanner. This works excellently well in execution, quick and fast, though on setup it only lets you register one - back in through Settings later to add more. Top-left is the word Redmi. On the left and high-up is the SIM Card/microSD Card Tray with pokey-hole for ejection, on the bottom there's the USB-C port, speaker, microphone and 3.5mm audio-out socket. Up the top we have an IR window (do people still use these?) and microphone and down the right-side, volume rocker and power button. The front glass has the word Redmi again in the 'chin' and up-top, centralised Selfie cam.

Glass and Class
The device feels very nearly the same size in all directions as the Moto G8 Plus and this is supported by the spec. list. The Redmi is a tad taller, a tad narrower but about the same thickness. The Redmi feels more premium in the hand, but only really because the back is glass, unlike the Moto which sticks to plastic. With a TPU in place, who cares! But the Redmi is nicely finished even though it, like the Moto, uses plastic around the rim. The Redmi is also a little heavier, 200g as opposed to 188. One of the differences is also that the Redmi have invested in Gorilla Glass (5) and Motorola have not. Time will tell with the Moto the impact of this - and with the Redmi, how many micro-scratches appear over time. There's no screen-protector out of the box, on either. The Moto claims splash-resistance but the Redmi does not.

Similar Panels
The screen on the two devices is very similar. A flat IPS LCD, 6.3", 1080p, 19.5:9 (as the Redmi is slimmer/taller) over 19:9 - and even almost identical c.400ppi. If the Redmi panel wasn't everso slightly cooler, I'd say they were identical. Unlike the Moto, there are deep-controls for the user to adjust the Redmi's colour scheme/temperature (though amusingly someone forgot to change the word 'colour' into UK English between scheme and temperature)! They both have a 'waterdrop' notch, top-centre, which really doesn't get in the way any longer. One up for Redmi over Moto here is that not only can the Notch be globally hidden, it can also be hidden on a per-app basis! The screens get plenty bright for my eyes but the Redmi edges it over the Moto in this respect. For indoor use, the level of brightness I want to use, I can have the % slider lower on the Redmi. They are both usable outdoors in bright daylight.

Combo Cards
The Redmi has a straight-forward Dual SIM + microSD Tray whereas with the Moto, the user has to choose between that second SIM and a microSD. No surprise to discover that neither of these phones support HDMI-Out, but no problems with my 2TB Extreme SSD test on read/write speeds and various microSD Cards up to 512GB.

Firmware and MIUI
The phone arrived with Android 9 on-board, September 2019 Google Security Patch and MIUI 10. This was immediately updated to December 2019 Security and MIUI 11. Android 10 is coming, apparently. Imminent for both of these phones! The MIUI UX is a Marmite one. I have reviewed this before, so will part-quote and edit myself from a previous review here, as much is the same...

...it took me half an hour, literally, to find the setting to swap the navigation buttons around, which are the wrong way round out of the box. The buttons are simple circle/box/triangle, so that's good. However, you can now switch to Full-Screen Gestures, Android-10 style, and that works even over the top of 3rd Party Launchers. Much, much better! The notification area is pure blue and grey buttons on dark (if you choose dark theme), Pixel style. Plenty of options up there for editing what is in the main tray, clearly laid out and accessible.
Homescreen elements can be moved around and arranged as you like, but I can't find a setting anywhere to change the layout and arrangement to have a standard App drawer - it's all done iPhone style with all the apps cascading off into screens right. I can't find any way to add the Assistant Cards to the left of the homescreen - this seems to be reserved for their own 'app vault' pane of shortcuts, notes and calendar events (as long as you use their calendar and not Google's). You can turn this pane off completely if you choose. There's a range of widgets available along with the usual array from your apps.
The home screen experience is not a bad one. I've seen worse, even if there's no app drawer option. The user can, of course, make folders and name them in the usual way. The UI animates slickly and is cute and cartoon'y in many ways, as we've come to expect from toys from the east. There is a face-unlock option which registered my full-bearded face (after asking me to 'show my lips'?! - I pouted, and done!) and works flawlessly with every attempt.
Again, as we've come to expect from such firms, there's an array of apps included which double-up the Google ones and can be used by choice if people want to. Gallery organises photos taken with the phone, but not much else. Their browser seems functional if users want to go that way and it has a reader mode. Calculator is perfectly good enough. Clock has the usual functions - along with a world map, Psion-style(!) - when you add a City, it plots it with a dot! Nice.
There's an app to share files with other users, scanner - which scans documents or barcodes, a handy screen-recorder for showing granny how to turn off notifications - and a voice recorder which seems to do the job. The only offensive pre-installed app I can find is Facebook (apart from AliExpress as this unit was imported and wouldn't be in one sourced from AmazonUK), and the system let me uninstall that quickly and simply (along with the AliExpress one). There is a system Cleaner app, like Google's Files, which is littered with adverts when used, so couldn't work out if it was actually a system app or not! They seem to be monetising their efforts by adding adverts to even their system apps now! There's a Battery & Performance Optimiser tool as well inside Battery Settings, which cleans things up on-the-fly, though I couldn't get it to 100% without turning off GPS, which I want on! There are loads of other ways to use the tool, however, which are functional and reassuring.
Calendar is really well thought out and attractive, with good options. Plenty of apps, then, for those who wish to use them and do things the Redmi way, but not, like Samsung, intrusive - pushing the user into using them at every opportunity, serving up layers of prompts and reminders. The Mi Video app picked up my RIP'd DVDs on memory card as .mp4 files and played them with no problem at all, has an array of options to fiddle with to get the picture aspect right and the Mi Music efficiently plays locally stored music. There are equaliser settings to be adjusted and a smart Mi Sound Enhancer function available but only when headphones are plugged in. Through the speaker, there are no choices. You get what you get, so an alternative Music App is needed for that.

Sound
There's a strange 'clear speaker' function in settings. You run it for the pre-set 30 seconds when you think that the speaker is "lightly blocked by dust". If it's "blocked heavily" then run it 2-5 times whilst shaking the phone. That's a new one on me! Presumably it vibrates.
While we're here, let's talk about the mono speaker output. It fires out of the bottom of the phone and actually isn't badly tuned out of the box. The volume isn't very loud and when you start playing with equalisers in 3rd party music apps, it drops away even more. A bit like the Moto Z3 Play, then. The speaker component and supplied player provides a very nice quality sound, but it's just not very loud. Start trying to push it and you lose volume. Needless to say, the Moto's stereo speakers blows the Redmi away here.
The sound coming from the 3.5mm audio-out socket will win no awards either, for the audiophile, but it's perfectly adequate - even pretty good - for the masses. An enhanced DAC dongle thingie of course leaps it into life further.
The Redmi 'only' has Bluetooth 4.2 supporting A2DP and LE, whereas the Moto has Bluetooth 5 and enhanced support to include aptX along with all the Redmi has. I'm no Bluetooth expert to fully understand the differences but can report that with any gear I have here, the phone pairs quickly, holds the connection well even over long distances and sounds great! Again, for most punters, I guess that this (presumably) money-saving point won't make much difference.
There's an FM Radio app thrown in, as there is on the Moto. It's capable of recording, saving files and playing back of course. It needs a pair of headphones in to establish the stations but can then be switched to speaker. It's a draw there, then - though I do think the Moto UI is more attractive!

More on MIUI
The person who's prepared to invest long-term in what Redmi is offering here has a large learning curve, but once learnt, there's plenty of options, apps, and quirky unique additions to the experience - and a lot of it, useful additions. As for me, yes, the experience is utterly transformed and familiarised by the installation of Nova Prime and the Nova Companion App. But let's stick with what's on offer here and here's a few highlights. Quick Ball - a sphere which can be added to the UI pretty much where you like, with 5 assignable executables in a circle around the axle, Samsung style, each one apps or settings. Quick-launch from where it is, options to auto-hide etc. One Handed Mode with a difference - decide how big you want your 'shrunk to corner' screen to be - 3.5", 4" or 4.5". Dual Apps aplenty so run multiple instances of apps in isolation. Or perhaps a step further with Second Space - two phones in one with smart switching options - a bit like Symbian did back in the E71 days with a 'profile' for Business and Personal - so phone-sharing options abound. Hide Apps we've seen elsewhere and also on display here is Lock Apps so each app can be assigned a password to be able to use them. Very useful for parental control, for sure. There's also a Samsung-style Theme/Wallpaper Store of their own for those who wish to tinker, Game Booster to allocate resources and so on. There's tons of stuff to be discovered, some nicked from Samsung (and others) some unique to Xiaomi/Redmi. Certainly a new user would have a month of exploration ahead of them!

Approaching AoD
Sadly, there's no Always on Display, so a win for the Moto here with Peek/Approach but as we know, Always on AMOLED can be added and yes, does work on LCD screens - just keep an eye on battery and don't be annoyed by the always-grey glow in the dark covering the whole screen! On a positive note, Double Tap To Wake is present, Raise To Wake works (very well in conjunction with Face Unlock), Wake the Screen on Notification Arrival can be toggled on, so all is not lost. There is also a switch to (per app) select Quick Reply on Lock Screen. I think OEMs do tend to shy away from a full implementation of AoD when it comes to LCD screens because of battery fears - but it would be nice for user to choose.

Grunt
Under the bonnet, both phones are powered by the SnapDragon 665 and, as usual with the 600-series SD, I see no problem with speed or execution of tasks across the UI. My usual caveat remains though, that I'm no gamer - but everything else I throw at it is just fine. Similarly multi-tasking and app-switching with the 4GB RAM (on this unit). All very speedy. Incidentally, there are three variants available for the Note 8T purchaser - Storage 32GB/3GB RAM, 64GB/4GB or 128GB/4GB - whereas, there's no choice with the Moto - you get 64/4! Moving up to the 128GB version of the Redmi will add a cost, ending up at about £190 or so, but certainly a bit harder to get hold of at time of writing.

Fine Shooting
There's quite a bit of difference when it comes to cameras. The Redmi has a 48MP (quad-bayer 12MP) f/1.8 (normal), 8MP f/2.2 (wide), 2MP f/2.4 (macro), 2MP f/2.4 (depth sensor) and 13MP f/2 Selfie up front. There's no OIS anywhere of course. The fun part of this for me is the Macro and sure enough, you can focus the lens from about 1cm away, shooting half a 20p piece, for example, in focus, filling the frame! The only downside is that the resulting images are 2MP, about 1MB in size and 1600x1200 pixels. Still, fine for artistic leanings, fun applications, social media and family quizzes! The array of options on offer from Redmi are more like approaching the Moto Zoom than the G8 Plus, and so it's a clear win for the Redmi here. Having said that, I've taken quite a few test shots of all sorts of situations and both are more than capable for the vast majority of people. The Redmi can be forced to shoot full-resolution images at 48MP and they look good enough to me, though I'm sure the pixel-peeper would pick fault with noise/sharpening. Auntie Mary on Facebook won't be doing that. The Portrait mode is excellent and allows control of DoF by proper aperture scale readout, which works on the Selfie too with great bokeh. The Night mode does a great job of pulling out any light it can find to render a half-decent shot, though this is no Pixel! The user will be pleased to play with 101 modes and settings, from Pro independence to AI-everything and much between. The Redmi gets the points for sure here, over the G8 Plus.

Connectivity
The connectivity options I could test, including Bluetooth (see above) all seem to be sound and reliable. Phone calls seemed to hold up well, in and out, speaking and receiving. The WiFi connection has been tested here with dometic Routers and MiFi units and again, seems strong. In fact, in a fringe are where the Moto gives up, this Redmi hold on. Just! Mapping via GPS seems to find a lock fast and holds onto it, refreshes in Google Maps are quick to respond and track movement. I'm sorry but I can't test Google Pay with NFC as I can't incur the further wrath of my bank, but I'm assured elsewhere that there's no problem with this - and this was an addition over the previous model brought about for the European release - so it bleedin' well should work!

Power
These two phones have the exact same 4000mAh battery and before today, the Moto G8 Plus was my current champion on my 10% reading test, returning 2 hours and 34 minutes and 72 hours between charges with about 10 hours of SoT! So a lot to live up to. As expected, it didn't get close as that Moto battery really is something special. It scored 1 hour 30 mins on the 10% test and I'm going to have to estimate, to some degree on the 'average use for me' score, as I don't have the phone long enough for long-term tests. Based on my experience, I project that the phone will easily get through to bedtime and towards brunch (or even lunch) on Day 2. But that, if true, is really not at all bad - it's just that we now know that there's better out there! There's an 18W fast charger in the box over the Moto's 15W but frankly, if you can avoid it, it's best to - as fast charging is no good for phone batteries in the long run. However, to get a quick fix sometimes there's no choice. Neither phone has Qi Charging, though my Qi Receiver works well and can be had for a few quid.

Ballpark
The phone is available in Starscape Blue, Moonlight White and Moonshadow Grey at the usual outlets. It's an excellent phone at a stunning price for what's on offer here. I think I was justified putting it up against the G8 Plus as it feels like it's in the same ballpark. There's loads of fun to be had with the cameras, a well good-enough screen, good battery, perfectly fast enough performance, Dual SIM and microSD, a 3.5mm audio-out socket, very nicely built with attractive design and loads of bells and whistles for a user not bothered about investing time getting to know the way that Xiaomi/Redmi organise things and add their own apps and services.

What's Not to Like!
People like me who value the vanilla experience too highly would really need to get stuck in and consider using the device long-term to make sense of it all. MIUI is nice enough - it's not as thick as Oppo's 'Color' which is a good thing, and armed with Nova Prime, much of it can be shuffled off to bed anyway. It's also beaten here by the Moto's stereo speakers and vastly superior sound all-round. Given the choice, it's obvious which way I would jump, but that takes nothing away from this excellent phone, hugely capable, very pretty and available at an amazing price.

4 comments:

  1. I bought this phone this week. It came via Amazon and has the AliExpress app which I found in the widgets section. I know what you mean - I was surprised to see adverts in the apps - in the Cleaner app an ad for booking.com popped up! The photos appear a little cool to my untrained eye, but very good value.

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  2. Oh dear Cath - it seems that Amazon are just importing them, then, as-is from the East. Mmmm. Thanks for adding that.

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  3. FYI there is only one Global ROM for each device and yes, there are some built in applications as you would find from other OEMs. These, however, are usually uninstallable so should not cause any great hardship to remove them during phone setup.

    The adverts which appear are region specific, so can vary in number and location depending on which region you chose during setup. If, for example, you chose India you tend to get a lot more ads than if you are in Europe.

    I personally do not see that many ads as I never use any type of cleaning tool on any device - you can turn recommendations off in the Security app if you don't want to see them. Similarly you can turn off Security Scans in the app to prevent additional popups and potential adverts when installing apps from the Play Store.

    All in all there are some minor inconveniences in terms of bloat and ads for Xiaomi devices, but they are all quickly disabled or removed. More than worth it for the money saved IMO!

    ReplyDelete

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