Xiaomi has a habit of whipping out new phones with category-defying features and specifications, much to the continuing delight of Indian smartphone buyers. This has catapulted the company to the number one position in terms of market share in just a few years' time. Xiaomi has made a name for itself with its hardware as well as the custom MIUI Android ROM, which has loads of features and a number of loyal fans. Why is why, the company's decision to release an entry-level smartphone with very basic specifications and the cut-down Android Go operating system came as a bit of a surprise.
The new Redmi Go might seem weak on paper, especially in the shadow of the recently released Redmi Note 7 (Review) and Redmi Note 7 Pro (Review), but it's important to remember what exactly mobile phones priced below Rs. 5,000 have been like before now. Phones at this level that we've reviewed in the past have had awful low-resolution screens with barely-capable processors and useless cameras, and we've also seen some really shoddy build quality.
Can Xiaomi bring its magic to the ultra-low-end smartphone segment? Is the new Redmi Go, priced at just Rs. 4,499. the ideal device for those upgrading from a feature phone for the first time? We're reviewing it to find out.
The Redmi Go is a very plain-looking phone, but it feels like it's much more expensive than it is. You wouldn't be able to tell that it's so affordable just by looking at it. The body is entirely plastic but there are no ugly seams or other signs of cost-cutting. The rear is nicely curved, and there's no flex or any other sign of weakness.
On the front of the Redmi Go, we have a 16:9 rectangular screen with capacitive Android buttons below it, and thick borders all around. This feels like a bit of a throwback, since most budget phones today have moved to 18:9 or taller screens; many even with notches. There's nothing wrong with any of this, of course. We only have one minor complaint, which is that the capacitive buttons aren't backlit, making them a little hard to find in the dark.
The screen measures 5 inches diagonally, making it smaller than most low-cost phones today. Even with a lot of black plastic above and below the screen, the Redmi Go is fairly compact and very easy to use with one hand. The 137g weight is also well below today's average. All of this is good news for people who don't like how big and unwieldy many of today's phones have become.
There are two trays on the left, one for a Nano-SIM and a microSD card, and the second for another Nano-SIM. This is interesting, seeing as how even some of Xiaomi's higher-priced models have hybrid dual-SIM slots. The power and volume buttons are on the right. There's a Micro-USB port on the bottom, along with a speaker grille, and you'll find a 3.5mm headphones socket on the top. The single rear camera is perfectly flush with the back of this phone, which means the lens might be susceptible to scratches. One thing that's missing is a notification LED.
The Redmi Go is available in plain black and a more vibrant blue finish. We were happy to note that fingerprint smudges were not too visible on our black review unit. We think that Xiaomi has designed this phone well, balancing cost-effectiveness with functionality. First-time smartphone users shouldn't feel too daunted, and those replacing an older budget phone won't be pulled out of their comfort zones.
Considering its price, the Redmi Go has two main things going for it – its processor and its screen. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 SoC is now quite dated, but it keeps popping up in new phones. It has been common in phones priced at around Rs. 7,000 – 10,000 of late, including the Infinix Hot 6 Pro (Review), 10.or D2 (Review), and Nokia 2.1. Samsung even launched its Galaxy J6+ (Review) with this processor at Rs. 15,990 late last year. The Snapdragon 425 has four low-power Cortex-A53 cores running at up to 1.4GHz and the weak Adreno 308 integrated GPU.
The screen of the Redmi Go surprised us because of its 720x1280 resolution. It wasn't too long ago that the best we could hope for at this level was 480x854 or 540x960-pixel panels. At 5 inches, this screen is quite sharp. While colours are a bit muted, viewing angles are very good.
On the other hand, it's disappointing to have only 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. That little RAM might be okay for the optimised Android Go UI, but a lot of apps will demand more. As for storage, the dedicated microSD card slot will let you add up to 128GB of storage, but that 8GB of internal storage will fill up very quickly. During our review process, we couldn't even have all our standard benchmarking apps and test files on the phone at the same time.
You get a 3000mAh battery, which should be fine since there's no hardware to stress this phone. Quick charging is not supported. You can have insert two 4G SIM cards, but only one of them will be able to work on a 4G network at any point. There's single-band Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.1, FM radio, and even GPS.
The single rear camera has an 8-megapixel sensor with an f/2.0 aperture and it does support autofocus. The 5-megapixel front camera has an f/2.2 aperture. The video recording resolution goes up to 1080p for both.
Thankfully, Xiaomi hasn't skimped too much so there is an ambient light sensor and the basic accelerometer and proximity sensors, but no gyroscope or compass. If you want to stream video on the go, keep in mind that this phone supports only Widevine L3 DRM, not L1, which means you'll be limited to non-HD-quality video in apps like Netflix. There's also no fingerprint sensor or face recognition.
Xiaomi has chosen to adopt Android Go, but we still have the Android 8.1 version, rather than Android 9 Pie (Go Edition). This means that it runs better with less RAM, and requires less of the phone's storage space for itself. Google has optimised several of its own apps, so you'll see YouTube Go, Maps Go, Gmail Go, and Assistant Go in addition to a Google Go app. You still get the regular versions of Chrome and Google Photos though.
The Google Go app is somewhat like a home screen in itself. You get quick shortcuts to Google's text, photo, voice, and GIF search tools as well as a search bar at the bottom of the screen where your thumbs should be. Search results open within this app, making it something of a Web browser too.
A large Play button in the centre of the toolbar makes the app read the content of a Web page out loud, in Google Assistant's voice. This seems to be something that non-tech-savvy users can take advantage of. The Google Go app also lets you choose various optimised third-party app shortcuts to display (including one for Gadgets 360), though these sometimes led to the respective services' Web pages.
There's an Android Go version of the Google search bar on the Redmi Go's home screen. This bar lets you launch the Google Go app with a single touch, and also displays trending search terms in a non-stop animation that can get distracting after a while. Thankfully you can replace it with the standard Chrome search widget.
Although Android Go is optimised for smartphones with entry-level hardware, Xiaomi still decided that this phone needs the custom Mint launcher rather than the stock Android UI. The launcher is relatively clean and gives you several customisation options for the homescreens and app drawer. You can change icon size and spacing, group apps by type in the app drawer, change scroll effects, hide app icons, and lock the layout. Interestingly, this is the same launcher that we saw on the Poco F1 (Review).
Xiaomi has preloaded Amazon Shopping and Facebook Lite on this phone, in addition to the unnecessary Mint Browser, and its own Music, Mi Drop, Mi Community, and Cleaner apps. These aren't intrusive, so we wouldn't have minded if storage space hadn't been so limited.
The Redmi Go's hardware is just about enough for very basic smartphone usage. The processor is decent, but having just 1GB of RAM is a bottleneck. We saw occasional pauses when doing simple things like opening a menu in an app, or scrolling through a heavy app like the Google Play Store. It also took a while for apps to load even if they were running just a short while before. Sometimes, the UI animations when opening and closing apps also stuttered a little. However, on the whole, usage was much more pleasant than we had expected from a sub-Rs. 5,000 phone.
The Go apps have some interesting functionality. YouTube Go shows exactly how much data each video will consume before you play it, and you can force a lower or higher quality if you like. You can also quickly save some videos so you can play them again and again without consuming more data. Maps Go has quick shortcuts for directions including routes optimised for two-wheelers. Go apps are supposed to launch in less than five seconds, and this generally was the case.
Fresh out of its box, our Redmi Go review unit had just 58 percent of its 8GB of storage space free for us to use. You probably won't have large games installed since they just won't run. Still, we think most buyers will need to pick up a microSD card for all their media storage requirements.
We tried PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends in our gaming performance review of the Redmi Go, but neither one was compatible. Asphalt 8: Airborne did run, but with effects disabled, and was surprisingly playable. For more details, do check out Redmi Go gaming performance review. We also tried a few casual games — running in Temple Run 2 was perfectly smooth, although there was momentary stutter when loading maps. Unfortunately Giant Boulder of Death did not recognise us tilting the phone, most likely due to the lack of a gyroscope. It also did not detect this and failed to default to using on-screen controls.
The Redmi Go scored just 29,782 points in AnTuTu, placing it well behind even the Redmi 6A, which managed 61,053 points, and the Asus ZenFone Lite L1 (Review) with its score of 55,690. Geekbench's single-core and multi-core test results were 634 and 1,589 points respectively. Many of GFXBench's test scenes wouldn't run, but the basic T-Rex test did give us a disappointing 13fps. We also got only 6,933 points in 3DMark's Ice Storm test.
Low-cost phones generally don't have great cameras, and the Redmi Go isn't an exception. The app is completely bare-bones, with no extras or options apart from HDR and some basic colour filters. A manual mode lets you set the white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and focus. There isn't even a panorama mode, much less a portrait mode.
The photos we took in bright daylight came out looking decent enough on the phone's screen, though not as vibrant as we had expected. When checked at full size on a computer screen, the good news is that colours popped a lot more, but the quality was clearly lacking. Textures seemed artificial, the edges of objects weren't always well defined, and there was just not a lot of discernible detail. The camera did a reasonable job when shooting against the light, but HDR isn't automatic and causes slight shutter lag. Even low-end phone cameras these days usually do well with close-ups, but we didn't find that to be the case with the Redmi Go.
As for shots taken in the dark, many of our samples came out looking noisy and grainy. Objects were poorly defined and there was of course quite a bit of motion blur with moving objects. On the positive side, our shots were usually bright enough for objects to be made out, even if they didn't look great. You might be able to get away with sharing photos taken by the Redmi Go on social media and through messaging apps, but that's it.
Video is jerky and there's quite a bit of focus hunting. The quality is just about okay at 1080p. Again, you wouldn't want to rely on the Redmi Go to capture precious memories, but it isn't completely unusable. You get basic beautification with the front camera, but quality is just bare-basic.
The 3000mAh battery was enough to comfortably get us through a day, though we kept usage light. We took lots of photos and a few videos, flipped through some social media, played basic games, and watched some YouTube videos, and we didn't have to charge the phone till the next morning. Our HD video loop test ran for a decent 9 hours, 50 minutes.
The Redmi Go isn't as attention-grabbing as Xiaomi's slightly higher priced offerings. However, tt still offers relatively good hardware for the price, which is a big win for people with very tight budgets or very simple needs. We just wish that there was at least an option with more RAM and storage space.
There aren't a lot of competitors that can match these specifications at this price, but Asus does offer a compelling alternative with its ZenFone Lite L1 (Review). Officially launched at Rs. 6,999, this phone regularly and repeatedly goes on sale for as little as Rs. 4,999 on Flipkart. For just Rs. 500 more than the Redmi Go, you get the more powerful Snapdragon 430 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a few other conveniences.
Can Redmi Go Be the affordable smartphone that kills feature phones? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.