Xiaomi Redmi Y1 review: Giving users what they want
The Redmi Y1 offers excellent value for money, and the new selfie camera is the icing on the cake.
Xiaomi is no longer the plucky underdog of the Indian handset segment. The manufacturer is jointly tied with Samsung for the first place in the smartphone segment, a remarkable feat considering the brand opened its operations in India just three years ago.
Xiaomi introduced a lot of firsts in the country: it catalyzed the e-commerce segment and pioneered flash sales, and its focus on MIUI allowed the company to roll out a steady stream of new features. And in spite of its swift climb up the ranks, the brand largely stayed away from aggressive marketing tactics (looking at you, OPPO and Vivo), instead relying on word-of-mouth advertising to drum up interest in its phones.
That's all changing with the Redmi Y1. The phone is a rebranded variant of the Redmi Note 5A Prime, but Xiaomi is rolling it out an all-new category in the country, one aimed at a younger audience. One way to get people in India talking about a new device is to get a celebrity endorsement, and Xiaomi is taking that route with the Y1.
That said, one thing that hasn't changed is the company's focus on value: the Redmi Y1 costs the same as the Redmi 4, which made its debut earlier this year. While both devices are selling at the same price point, there are a few areas where they differ. Read on to find out if the Redmi Y1 is the device for you.
Xiaomi Redmi Y1 What you'll like
The Redmi Y1 carries a similar design aesthetic to the rest of the products in Xiaomi's budget series. The phone features a polycarbonate chassis with chrome accents running across the back, intersecting the camera module. The plastic chassis means the device isn't too heavy at 153g.
You get a 5.5-inch 720p display, which is fine considering the Snapdragon 435 doesn't fare well with 1080p panels. The screen itself is perfectly serviceable, offering vibrant colors and a maximum brightness of 450 nits (I didn't have any issues reading text under harsh sunlight). The screen has 2.5D curved glass, making it easier to use, and there's Gorilla Glass for added resilience to tumbles.
Like all Xiaomi phones, you get the ability to tweak the color temperature to your liking. There's also a blue light filter that you can set to kick in automatically from sunset to sunrise. Again, you'll be able to adjust the intensity of the filter, and set custom activation times.
The fingerprint sensor is located at the top third of the phone, making it easy to access with your index finger. The sensor itself is quick to authenticate and didn't pose any problems. The power and volume buttons are located on the right, and while they're made out of plastic, they have a decent amount of feedback.
There's a 3.5mm jack up top next to the IR blaster, and the speaker grille and Micro-USB charging port are located at the bottom. Oh, and the SIM card tray now accommodates a microSD card in addition to two SIM cards🙏.
The Redmi Y1 offers a familiar design with great build quality and a new selfie camera.
The Redmi Y1's raison d'être is its front camera. There's clearly a market for phones with high-res front cameras, and Xiaomi is now catering to that audience with the Y1. The phone features a 16MP front camera with an f/2.0 lens, 76.4-degree field of view, and a LED flash module.
The front camera does a great job when it comes to taking selfies, but you do see a lot of noise in low-light conditions. The flash automatically kicks in when there's less ambient lighting, and you can manually toggle it in daylight to create a halo lighting effect.
The camera interface is unchanged from previous Xiaomi devices, and you get options to toggle between the front and rear cameras, enable flash and HDR, and switch shooting modes. The phone has a manual mode that lets you select the ISO and white balance, and you also get beautify, panorama, and tilt-shift modes, along with HHT for low-light scenarios.
The front camera on the Redmi Y1 is one of the better options available in this segment, so if you're one to take a lot of selfies, then the phone should be right up your alley. As for the rear camera, you're looking at a 13MP imaging sensor with f/2.2 lens. For all intents, this is the same sensor as the one used in the Redmi 4, and the resulting images highlight that.
Xiaomi stated during the launch of the Redmi Y1 that MIUI has over 280 million users globally, and that number is only set to grow over the coming years as the manufacturer makes inroads into new markets. My Redmi Y1 unit came with a beta build of MIUI 9, but retail devices will run MIUI 8 out of the box. Xiaomi is making the MIUI 9 update available to more and more devices, and the OTA should roll out to the Redmi Y1 imminently.
There's a lot to like in MIUI 9. The notification panel has been reworked, there's a new image editor, and overall the interface feels much less bloated. The latest version of the custom skin doesn't offer a visual overhaul, so if you're coming from older versions of MIUI, there's no learning curve involved. You still get a ton of customization options, and Xiaomi has introduced a new Limitless theme as well as sticker packs that are exclusive to the Indian market.
The Redmi Y1 is powered by a Snapdragon 435, and like the Redmi 4, you're not going to notice any lag in day-to-day usage. Running visually-intensive games will slow the device down (and drain the battery), but overall there's not a lot wrong when talking about the performance side of things. The variant I'm using features 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, but you can also get a model with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for ₹10,999.
Xiaomi Redmi Y1 What you won't like
The Redmi Y1 has a 3080mAh battery, and while the phone manages to last a day without any issues, battery life isn't as great as other Xiaomi devices in this segment. The Redmi 4, for instance, has a huge 4100mAh battery that easily delivers two days of battery life, and the Redmi Note 4 is similarly a battery champion.
Xiaomi's emphasis on battery life has made it a fan favorite this year, and in that context, the Redmi Y1 isn't the manufacturer's best showing. You'll still get around five hours of screen-on-time consistently, but the lack of fast charging means the device takes over two hours to fully charge up.
You're not going to get two days' worth of battery life out of the Redmi Y1.
One area where the device does lag behind is in terms of software updates. The retail units are slated to pick up the update to MIUI 9 shortly, but that is still based on Android 7.1.2 Nougat. As of now, there's no mention of an Oreo update schedule.
Then we come to the subject of bezels. The Redmi Y1 has sizeable bezels at the front, which when combined with the 5.5-inch screen size makes the device particularly ill-suited for one-handed usage. That said, MIUI lets you artificially shrink the size of the screen down to 4.5, 4.0, or 3.5 inches.
Xiaomi Redmi Y1 Bottom line
Overall, there's a lot to like in the Redmi Y1: you get a reliable phone with sturdy build quality, decent internals, and a great front camera. Xiaomi's biggest competitor in this segment is itself, as the Redmi 4 and Redmi Note 4 are both available in the same price bracket as the Redmi Y1.
The base variant of the Redmi Y1 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage will set you back ₹8,999, and the version with 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage will cost you ₹10,999. That's dangerously close to Redmi Note 4 territory, as similarly-configured versions of that particular device are now available for just ₹1,000 more than the Redmi Y1.
For ₹11,999, the Redmi Note 4 offers a Snapdragon 625, 1080p display, a much better rear camera, and a 4100mAh battery that is guaranteed to deliver two days' worth of battery life. Then there's the Redmi 4, which costs the same as the Redmi Y1 and offers a compact 5.0-inch display and 4100mAh battery.
Xiaomi is targeting the offline market with the Redmi Y1, and in that setting, it should be able to convince buyers to spring for the device (the celebrity endorsement doesn't hurt either). After all, this is the same tactic that OPPO and Vivo relied on to catapult up the ranks over the last two years.
At its core, the Redmi Y1 is a Redmi 4 with a better selfie camera, larger screen, and smaller battery. It caters to a specific section of the market, albeit one that is poised to grow. Phones with high-resolution front cameras now account for just over 25% of all handset sales in the country, so it shouldn't be too hard to find customers for the device. And for those that don't care about the front camera, the brand has two great devices in the Redmi 4 and the Redmi Note 4.