The bottom end of the smartphone market is crammed with models and variants of them, in many cases with only very minor differences between them just in order to cater to people with limited budgets and specific requirements. A case in point is Xiaomi, which has launched well over a dozen options priced below Rs. 15,000 so far this year. No matter whether you prioritise CPU power, RAM and storage, camera features, or battery life, Xiaomi wants to put enough options in front of buyers that they won't even have to look at what the competition has to offer. Still, it's a tough balancing act.
The Redmi Note 8, which the company just surprise-launched alongside the Redmi Note 8 Pro (Review), has been designed to hit the critical Rs. 9,999 price point. Xiaomi has stated very clearly that it could have made this phone less expensive, but it didn't want to compromise on specifications at all. Interestingly, there's also a variant priced quite a bit higher at Rs. 12,999 which means it straddles more than one price segment. We're reviewing the higher priced version, but we're still going to consider how both options are equipped to appeal to their respective target audiences.
If you were hoping that the Redmi Note 8 would be a more affordable version of the slick Redmi Note 8 Pro, you'll be a little disappointed. From the front, this phone is much more like what we've seen on the recently launched Redmi 8 (Review) and Redmi 8A (Review), including a chin that's thick enough for a brand logo. It's a fairly ordinary-looking 2019 budget phone, with a 6.3-inch screen that covers nearly all of the front and a waterdrop notch at the top. There's a tiny white notification LED above the screen.
Xiaomi has added a touch of differentiation here in the form of a highlight colour running around the edges of the front glass. Our review unit is the Neptune Blue version, and so it has a blue streak, almost like a halo, running down the sides and across the bottom. We don't really like this, and think it looks quite cheesy. It's also distracting when trying to enjoy full-screen content. We hope that the Moonlight White and Space Black versions are more subtle.
The rear of this phone is also nothing like the Redmi Note 8 Pro or the Redmi 8 siblings. The camera strip is in one corner rather than in the centre, and it sticks out quite a bit. This phone will rock awkwardly when lying flat on a table. The rim of the camera bump is also relatively rough.
Xiaomi has gone with Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back of this phone, and both sides have rounded edges. The rear of our Neptune Blue unit had a mirrored gradient finish with light greenish blue at the top fading into purple lower down. It would be a challenge to keep this finish free of smudges and fingerprints.
The power button and fingerprint sensor are easy enough to reach but the volume buttons are a bit too high. You get a USB Type-C port, 3.5mm audio socket and single speaker on the bottom. There's an Infrared emitter on the top, and the dual-SIM plus microSD card tray is on the left.
Thankfully the glass back isn't slippery, and we found it relatively easy to live with and use this phone. The screen is big, but reaching all corners with one thumb wasn't too difficult. The camera bump was much less in the way when we used the plastic cover that's included in the box.
Xiaomi says it has used a P2i coating to make this phone splash-proof, which is nice to have. Overall, the Redmi Note 8 feels very well built, but there's nothing new or interesting about it in terms of design.
We start with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor, which also powers the sub-Rs. 10,000 Realme 5 (Review) and the even more affordable Vivo U10 (Review). This is an update to the popular Snapdragon 660, and is claimed to be more power efficient. It features the same arrangement of four performance cores and fore efficiency cores, as well as improved integrated graphics.
Xiaomi undercuts its competition in terms of other specifications though. The base variant has 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage, and costs Rs. 9,999. While the Realme 5 (Review) and Vivo U10 (Review) might have more affordable starting prices, their equivalent variants cost over Rs. 10,000. You can also get the Redmi Note 8 with 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage for Rs. 12,999, and this is the variant we're reviewing. It competes more with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy M30s (Review), Vivo Z1 Pro (Review), and Realme 3 Pro (Review).
The screen measures 6.3 inches and has a full-HD+ 1080x2280 resolution, which is good to see at the sub-Rs. 10,000 price point. This is an IPS panel but its colour reproduction is only rated at 84 percent of the NTSC colour gamut. It's also certified by TUV Rheinland for blue light reduction when using it in reading mode. Other noteworthy specifications include a 4000mAh battery, support for 18W fast charging (the 18W charger is included), Bluetooth 5, and Wi-Fi 802.11ac support.
Our review unit was running MIUI 10.3.1 running on Android 9 with the September 2019 security patch. You can read all about it and the many capabilities it offers in our very recent reviews of the Redmi 8 and Redmi Note 8 Pro, since nothing much is different here. There's still lots of preloaded bloatware, most of which can be uninstalled. You'll have to live with infamous spammy notifications and ads unless you carefully tweak the permissions for certain troublesome apps such as the GetApps store and MIUI browser.
The Redmi Note 8 is a pleasant enough phone to use. The full-HD+ screen is crisp and bright, though not especially vibrant. It's good for entertainment and most people won't find anything to complain about, especially considering the price of this phone. The blue trim around the front of this phone wasn't as distracting as we'd feared, and just like screen notches, we got used to it in time.
Xiaomi has also done a good job with the single speaker, and although there's no real bass to the sound, voices and dialogue in videos came out crisp and distinct. Fingerprint and face recognition were both quick.
MIUI ran smoothly and we didn't feel any hiccups even when multitasking. It should be noted again that we're using the higher-end version of this phone, which is 30 percent more expensive than the base variant. We think that even with 4GB of RAM, the experience should be good enough for most people.
Performance as measured by our benchmark tests was pretty much in line with what we expected. The scores of 1,69,832 in AnTuTu as well as 314 and 1,327 in Geekbench 5's single-core and multi-core tests show that there's enough power for mainstream apps and tasks. GFXBench's T-rex and Car Chase tests ran at 33fps and 6.3fps respectively, which was disappointing, rwe've seen much better from the Vivo U10 (Review) which has the same processor but a lower-resolution screen.
PUBG Mobile ran at its low preset and the graphics quality wasn't great, but the game ran perfectly smoothly. Gameplay didn't suffer when we raised the quality manually, but the rear of this phone did get pretty warm even after just one match. Asphalt 9: Legends was a little laggy in the menus and there was stuttering in races.
The battery is enough to get you through a full workday, and we didn't have to worry about running out of power even after playing games, streaming videos, and taking lots of photos over the course of a day. We were left with about 25 percent by the time we were ready to plug this phone in at night. Our HD video loop test ran for 13 hours and 10 minutes which is also pretty good. The 18W charger took the Redmi Note 8 from zero to 37 percent in half an hour, and 81 percent in one hour.
One of the biggest selling points of the Redmi Note 8 is its rear quad-camera setup. The main one is a 48-megapixel f/1.79 camera which takes 16-megapixel shots by default and can record video at up to 4K 30fps or 1080p 60fps. Next, there's an 8-megapixel f/2.2 wide-angle camera, a 2-megapixel macro camera, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. If you think that sounds familiar, a lot of these specifications are shared with the Realme 5 (Review) .
MIUI's camera app is fairly simple but does have some quirks. The way you switch between cameras isn't especially intuitive — there are three dots above the shutter button which correspond to 0.6X, 1X, and 2X. As you might have guessed, the first two switch between the wide-angle and primary cameras, but 2X just does a digital zoom. If you want to use the macro camera, there's a separate toggle above the viewfinder where the flash and HDR controls are.
We struggled a little bit with locking focus in low light and when using the macro camera on the Redmi Note 8. We often had to tap the screen to get the Redmi Note 8 to lock on what we wanted. Another odd issue was the over-aggressive Pocket Mode, which resulted in the screen locking up very often when we held the phone in landscape to take a photo, because the proximity sensor was covered.
When it comes to photo quality though, we were impressed overall. The primary 48-megapixel camera on the Redmi Note 8 gave us crisp, bright shots with very good detail. Subjects at a distance tended to be grainier than we would have liked, but closeups came out looking great. Colours were good and there was some nice natural depth of field.
Details were sometimes lost when shooting brightly coloured objects, or in scenes with contrasting backgrounds. Shots taken with the wide-angle camera on the Redmi Note 8 tended to suffer in terms of clarity and exposures were not balanced as well, but there was little to no warping at the edges of our frames.
Other than the issue with autofocus detection, we found that our low-light shots were sometimes blotchy and noisy, and there could be some motion blur if we weren't very still. Quality was decent but nothing to get excited about. Again, the wide-angle camera produced far less detail.
The macro camera on the Redmi Note 8 can be fun to use and lends itself to creative framing. We managed to get some interesting perspectives. The depth of field it produces can make subjects stand out, but they aren't captured in very high quality. We had to experiment a while before figuring out how far we needed to stand from our subjects, and we found it hard to capture anything that was moving.
As for video, we found that the Redmi Note 8 managed decent quality at 1080p, but colours were pretty overblown at 4K. There was also little to no evidence of stabilisation, which limits usability. At night, video quality was expectedly not as good.
The Redmi Note 8 has a 13-megapixel f/2 front camera. We felt that our skin texture had been smoothened and softened too much while the background was crisper and stole attention. Beautification has to be turned off manually, which is a multi-tap process. At night, selfies came out grainy and blurry.
We're more positive about how the Redmi Note 8's base variant fares against its competition at the Rs. 9,999 price point than we are when considering the Rs. 12,999 price tag of the unit we've actually reviewed. The company has chosen its specifications wisely and while you could pick up the Realme 5 (Review) or Vivo U10 (Review) for less, you don't get the same combination of RAM, storage, or screen resolution.
With the Redmi Note 8, you get enough power for everyday tasks, a strong battery, and crisp screen. Heavy games didn't run so well because of the high-resolution screen. The cameras can be impressive in favourable conditions, but there are limits to what you should expect. Finally, the phone's styling might be a bit divisive, even as the overall package looks hard to beat in terms of value.
However, when stepping up to the higher-priced variant, there are other options including the Vivo Z1 Pro (Review) and even the Xiaomi Mi A3 (Review) to consider. These options don't have as much RAM or storage at that price, but you could get better performance, style, software, or cameras depending on which one you choose. The choice isn't as clear-cut in favour of the Redmi Note 8.