Highlight - Top tier hardware build and design, tons of software features and great battery life are a few of the highlights of the Redmi Pro
It's been a little tough keeping up with Xiaomi's release schedule lately. While some phones have a more straight forward name, like the Mi 5 for instance, the Redmi Pro is an oddly named device that doesn't seem to fit into any of Xiaomi's product lines. This may not be a bad thing though, as the Redmi Pro begins some important changes for Xiaomi including an OLED display, dual cameras on the back and MediaTek Helio processors. At around $250-300 how does this one compare to others on the market, and specifically other similarly priced offerings from Xiaomi themselves? Let's take a look!
As with many Xiaomi phones, the Redmi Pro comes in two configurations; a base model and an upgraded one. The base model features a MediaTek Helio X20 2.0GHz deca-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. The upgraded model features a MediaTek Helio X25 2.5GHz deca-core processor, 4GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. At the time of writing the price difference between the two units is minimal at best, with the base model selling for $270 while the upgraded model sells for $277. MSRP of each model is 1,499 Yuan ($224) for the base model, 1,699 Yuan ($254) for the upgraded 64GB model, and 1,999 Yuan ($299) for the upgraded 128GB model.
Both models share the rest of the components, along with the design and materials used on the phone as well. On the front sits a 5.5-inch 1080p AMOLED display with 60,000:1 contrast ratio and 100% NTSC color gamut reproduction, and a Mali-T880 MP4 GPU drives the visual experience. The metal body of the Redmi Pro comes in three different colors, a light silver, darker grey and a light gold. Inside this body is a non-removable 4,050mAh battery, which is charged via the USB Type-C port on the bottom of the phone. Dual-SIM card support is featured as well as microSD card support. On the front sits a 5-megapixel Samsung camera, while the back of the phone features a dual camera setup with a 13-megapixel Sony IMX258 main camera, as well as a 5-megapixel Samsung sensor for extra effects. The Redmi Pro weighs 174 grams and measures in at 151.5mm high by 76.2mm wide and 8.2mm thin.
In The Box
The value of Xiaomi's phones have almost exclusively been inside the phone itself rather than the box, and as such you shouldn't expect much in the way of extras to be included with the phone. Inside the simple white box is of course the phone itself, and you'll also find a small packet of manuals and warranty guides, as well as a SIM tray ejector tool. Underneath this paperwork sits a USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable, as well as a 5v/2a 10W wall charger for QuickCharge 2.0 speed charging.
Marking a first for a Xiaomi device, the Redmi Pro ships with a 100% NTSC gamut 1080p Full HD AMOLED display. Traditionally we've only seen IPS LCD displays on Xiaomi phones, most likely due to trying to keep the cost down for these devices, but now it seems that many OEMs are finally switching over to AMOLED technology instead of LCD. As a general rule of thumb AMOLED displays provide true black levels, as they can turn individual pixels completely off when a black color is trying to be displayed, as well as higher contrast ratios and more attractive colors. Xiaomi clearly waited for one other thing to be present on this panel before moving to AMOLED displays as well: color accuracy.
While colors are saturated and deep, the panel is able to display 100% of the covered NTSC spectrum, making this one of the finest displays around, much less in the lower priced segment of phones. At the default automatic contrast setting the panel ups the contrast and saturation in most lighting conditions so that the panel is super high contrast and overly saturated. This makes the colors pop and will certainly make people say wow when looking at it, but ultimately the colors are unrealistic and the overall white balance trends toward cool. Moving into display settings and turning the contrast to the standard setting actually perfectly balances out the display and makes whites almost truly white, and colors essentially completely accurate.
Black levels of course are perfect since this is an AMOLED display, and brightness levels are phenomenal to say the least, with ranges from ultra dim and easy on the eyes in a dark room, to torch bright for seeing in the sunlight. There's also no obvious purpling or warming effect of the panel as brightness drops to its lowest point either, a problem AMOLED panels can sometimes have. Viewing angles are better than many recent AMOLED panels too, and only exhibits a rainbow effect at extreme angles. Even the digitizer is absolutely top notch and rounds out one of the absolute best displays you'll find on any phone in this price level, and exceeds even plenty displays in higher price brackets too.
Hardware and Build
The past year or so has seen a radical transformation in Xiaomi's hardware build quality, and the all metal unibody frame of the Redmi Pro is a perfect example of that transformation. With a 4,050mAh battery inside and a metal chassis, the Redmi Pro weighs slightly more than the average smartphone, coming in at 174 grams, or about 20 grams heavier than the average phone. This is significantly heavier than the 129 gram Mi 5 that was released just a few months ago, and a little bit heavier than the 164 gram Redmi Note 3 as well. With that extra weight though comes the feeling of a truly premium, quality and well built device that holds up to close scrutiny.
The only oddity in the design is the plastic face, which feels like is simply placed inside the metal shell but didn't quite fit, as there's a small section of it protruding from the top of the metal base and creates a lip that looks out of place. It's likely the larger battery is the cause for the protrusion here, but it still looks oddly out of place and would have looked considerably better if the metal came all the way up to the edges of the device. Around the chamfered metal frame sits a metal power button and volume rocker on the right side, 3.5mm headset jack and IR blaster up top, SIM tray on the left and a centered USB Type-C port on the bottom, flanked by two speaker grilles. There's only a single speaker housed in the right side though, and this symmetry is purely for looks rather than what its function appears.
On the front you'll find some average sized bezels for a modern smartphone, possibly hinging towards slightly slimmer than average on top and bottom. Below the screen sits a physical home button that's ever so slightly recessed into the frame, and features both a physical click as well as a capacitive touch in addition to housing the fingerprint reader inside. This home button is flanked by two nondescript white dots, which by default represent a back button and an Overview multi-tasking button, but who's functions can be customized. The back of the device is all metal as described before, and features a very shiny brushed metal finish. There's little in the way of texture here though, and just holding the device without looking at it might make you think this is just shiny, slippery plastic at first. You'll find the dual cameras on back here in addition to the dual-LED flash in-between both lenses.
Performance and Memory
Raising of the lowest common denominator has been a consistent part of the smartphone experience in recent years. MediaTek has been a big player in providing high quality, fast chipsets to OEMs for considerably less money than its competitors, and as a result has brought about some significant strides in the sub-$300 market. Their latest Helio line of SoCs really pack a major punch, delivering 2015 flagship level performance for a fraction of the cost. The Redmi Pro feels almost no different from any modern flagship in daily use. This includes launching apps, running intensive 3D games, and performing tasks with ease that used to choke phones. If the entire experience were like this, things would be super rosy, however after only a menial period of use you will find some serious issues on the back end of the system, and ones that ultimately bring about a poor user experience.
First off Xiaomi's memory and power management features are far too over-aggressive out of the box. Essentially every app is limited from auto starting, running in the background, delivering notifications in most places on the system, etc. Apps are significantly hindered in the ways they are designed and as a result this breaks lots of functionality throughout the system, as well as with many apps. During the review period nearly every app I commonly use and rely on to deliver notifications or messages simply wasn't able to. This includes apps like GroupMe, Hangouts, Inbox by Gmail, Allo, What'sApp and Android Wear to name a few. These integral parts of my daily smartphone life weren't allowed to run in the background or deliver notifications without some significant digging into the system and effort that most people simply wouldn't go through.
If this were just related to Google services not being installed on the phone since this is a China-based device, it would be one thing, but this extends to so many other apps that it's clearly pervasive throughout the system. This wouldn't be so bad if it were all apps, but Xiaomi's own services and apps are questionably exempt from these restrictions out of the box, an obvious play at getting people to stick with Xiaomi's services over others since they require less inherent effort to use on their phones. These issues have been present on MIUI-based phones for a long time now, but only get more irritating with time as they never seem to be truly fixed. Enabling auto launching, background data, changing the notification preferences and shutting off MIUI power savings seem to be the only way to fix these issues, and there are simply too many steps out of the box just to get apps working like they should be.
As a more mid-range device you should expect mixed results when it comes to VR performance on the Redmi Pro. Even though it largely matches the performance of 2015 flagship devices, VR demands a lot more out of devices than what 2015's flagships could adequately provide, and it's not until this Fall's release of the Snapdragon 821 that it appears mobile VR can finally provide a good overall experience. That being said the screen on the Redmi Pro is certainly VR ready in every way, and given that it's an AMOLED panel with a low persistence rate of the pixels, movement in the VR world is clean and clear, and those black levels help immerse you deeper into the experience.
Performance is where the waters become a little muddy though, and it's here where you'll find the mixed experience. Some VR games are visually simple enough for the Redmi Pro, and mobile devices in general, to keep up with. However many developers of VR games on the Play Store seem to forget that the paramount most important part of the experience is frame rate. Without a solid frame rate of at least 60 frames per second, the VR experience is janky at best, and will make you sick at the worst. What Xiaomi has provided hardware wise in the Redmi Note offers a fantastic VR experience though, so just be choosy about overly detailed VR content and you'll be enjoying some great titles with this phone.
As daily performance shows when running intensive apps, the Redmi Pro is no slouch when it comes to performance despite the sub-$300 price tag. Performance is right in line with last year's flagship phones, and that includes the ones that cost 3 times more than the Redmi Pro currently does. Check out all the benchmarks we ran on the phone below:
The Redmi Pro features global 2G and 3G connectivity, as well as 4G LTE connectivity in many countries. There's no support for US 4G LTE bands though, which is going to severely limit the Redmi Pro's network performance in general for US customers. As the phone is mainly only sold Internationally and within China, this likely isn't an issue for many people who are looking into buying the phone, but it's well worth noting as 3G connectivity is incredibly slow compared to what people have gotten used to on LTE networks. Wifi support ranges up to 802.11n speeds only, and 5GHz support is not present. Bluetooth v4.2 is present, however, and it's definitely worth noting that the phone features an IR blaster up top that's high on the feature importance list for some people. See below for all supported wireless spectrum:
3G HSPA: 850/900/1900/2100MHz
4G LTE Bands: 1/3/5/7/8/38/39/40/41
At 4,050mAh the battery inside the Redmi Pro is 30% larger than most phones with a 5.5-inch screen (phablets). Battery life is better than average as you should expect from the size difference, and it was more than common to see the phone at only 50% after being off the charger for 17+ hours. Screen on time during this usage peaked around 5-6 hours on heavy use days, and some users could certainly see in upwards of 8 hours of screen on time if they're really bored and browse something relatively simple and not process-intensive like Reddit all day long. What's not entirely clear is how much of this good battery life is caused by forcing apps to close once they move to the background. By not allowing apps to update in the background and provide the necessary communication they need with their data services, MIUI falsely raises its battery life while simultaneously worsening user experience. There's a line between keeping apps from running to help with battery life and getting too aggressive, thereby negating the advanced notifications features Android users love to have.
Sound output is definitely a high point of the Redmi Pro, something that can't be said of many of Xiaomi's previous generations of phones. There's no advanced hi-res sound output or anything like that here, just good quality 16-bit standard audio coming from the 3.5mm jack. Unlike some previous generation phones, the audio coming from the Redmi Pro is well balanced out of the box and only needs the use of the built-in equalizer with some pairs of headphones. As Xiaomi's audio interface has been designed for tweaking headphone output for years, it's only down to choosing the right type of headphone to cater to your tastes and hardware in order to get the right balance of sound. Folks with nicer quality sound systems, like a vehicle audio system for instance, will likely find the default output is of high quality and offers a great base to tweak if needed.
The single, bottom-facing speaker on the Redmi Pro is about what you would expect from such a configuration on a phone that sells for this price. Quality is decent at best, offering fairly clear sound with a relatively narrow audio range and little to no base present at all. Volume is pretty good compared to some other handsets out there, however at the highest few notches on the audio panel you'll find that this speaker vibrates quite a bit and distorts the audio, even something as simple as a ringtone or notification tone.
The Redmi Pro launched with MIUI 7 but featured an MIUI 8 upgrade almost immediately. Our review unit had the update ready as soon as the phone was connected to the Internet, and it updated within about 20 minutes tops. MIUI 8 is the latest in highly customizable OS's from Xiaomi, built upon Android 6.0 Marshmallow. MIUI 8 represents some of the most significant changes for the OS in quite some time. While MIUI 7 was mostly just a facelift, MIUI 8 continues the visual evolution of the platform and adds some significant new features as well and manages to carry pretty much all the features we loved in MIUI 8 from the Mi Max review into a smaller package.
In fact it's this updating feature that always needs to be mentioned in every Xiaomi phone review, and it's because Xiaomi is one of the best in the industry when it comes to a specific kind of update. While it still takes quite a few months on average to update the base version of Android on every phone, Xiaomi actually provides regular and sometimes weekly updates of MIUI itself. This means that you'll regularly see updates concerned with security, bug fixes and feature enhancements throughout every single month you own the device, something no other OEM on the market does on such a regular occurrence. It's doubly impressive too when you consider the large number of devices Xiaomi has on the market too, and it ultimately adds value to the package as a whole.
Quite a few of the most interesting features, new or otherwise, lie in security and privacy of the user. Found prominently on the main home screen under the security app's listing, many of these features help you take better control of your personal privacy and security of your data. Second Space allows you to create a second profile to switch between on the phone, essentially making two separate accounts with completely different installed apps and synced accounts. Dual apps allows you to clone individual apps to use on the phone, so if you manage multiple Instagram accounts or something similar this might be a good way to help keep them as separate as possible. App locking allows you to keep the individual app behind a pattern, PIN or fingerprint lock so that other people using your unlocked phone can't get into your gallery, messages or other sensitive information.
MIUI 8 is clearly an evolution from the vast visual overhaul we saw in last year's MIUI 7, and represent some fine tuning of many aspects of the UI for the better. First up is the notification shade, which is probably the most improved portion of the UI as a whole aside from the multi-tasking interface. By default the shade is in the new combined format which resembles a notification shade design that Samsung and LG have used for a few years now. This features a horizontally scrolling row of quick toggle icons, showing 5 icons per horizontal page, and many toggles like WiFi and Bluetooth can be individually expanded to make quick selections from the shade without having to navigate away from the currently active foreground app. There's also a "classic" mode with a separated quick toggles page that works the same way as previous versions of MIUI, however has received a much needed face lift and looks great.
Not everything about the new shade is rosy though, as there's no way to expand individual notifications, leaving most notifications in an abbreviated state without the ability to see the rest of the information without having to click to go into the app. Text size can be changed on a system wide level to fit more characters here and elsewhere throughout the UI, however there's no display density option like many Android 6.0 Marshmallow phones have, including Xiaomi's own Mi Max. This means that more text will fit in certain elements on the UI, but elements don't scale, so some apps have rather large elements even though the Redmi Pro features a 5.5-inch screen. This is because the phone's display is only 1080p and thus the OS tries to scale things for a smaller physical screen.
The latest redesign of Android's ever evolving volume adjustment panel is present in MIUI and looks nearly identical to many other Marshmallow powered phones, however Xiaomi has changed the behavior a little bit when it comes to any toggles system wide. You actually have to grab the small round indicator and drag across the bar to adjust rather than just being able to click where you want it to go on the bar. This is minor but annoying, and I found myself getting irritated when having to adjust volume to brightness. The home button's design is quite the opposite of this though, as it gives users the option to either touch it like a capacitive button, or to physically click it in if they prefer. Different actions can also be assigned to this touch or click too, and the same goes with the other buttons on the phone as well.
Lastly Xiaomi offers tons of themes for MIUI 8, as they have for pretty much every version of MIUI since its inception. MIUI is one of the original Android skins to feature any kind of theming, and it still holds some of the most robust theming support available, allowing users to individually theme elements on the screen like the launcher icons, notification shade, messaging app and more. The ecosystem for this theme support is incredibly robust to say the least and features thousands upon thousands of free and paid themes, all available via a single theme app that makes it easy to choose what you want.
The camera interface has stayed largely the same in looks, but functionally has been updated a bit. Instead of swiping left or right to change modes or add live filters, a modes button is prominently displayed right above the shutter button, and brings up the same familiar grid of icons to change the camera mode. There's also a dedicated button next to the shutter to switch back and forth between photo and video mode, giving quicker access to these modes over other modes on the camera. Adding a live filter to the photo is done via the triple circle icon the the left of the modes button, and since the Redmi Pro features dual cameras you'll find a dedicated floating shutter icon above the modes button to switch to stereo camera mode. The top of the screen features a dedicated HDR toggle button and a flash toggle button as well.
Once in the new stereo shutter mode you'll find a slider representing the virtual f-stop of the camera, which ranges from F5.6 to F0.95. For reference the f-stop generally provides a more shallow depth of field as the number gets smaller, and a longer depth of field as the number gets larger. A shallow depth of field produces a gorgeous bokeh effect where the background is blurred and the subject is very prominently displayed, putting extra emphasis or artistic value on the foreground subject. This stereo shutter mode is available in both photo and video modes, and the real-time switching effect works on both modes too, allowing you to adjust the f-stop rating in real time to get the shot you want. HDR mode is not available when using stereo mode.
Xiaomi offers a quick exposure modification option by clicking to focus and then dragging up or down to adjust the exposure level. Manual mode on the Redmi Pro doesn't provide anywhere near the number of adjustments we've seen on other Xiaomi devices, and honestly is pretty useless for anyone looking at normal manual controls. The only two options that can be adjusted here are white balance and ISO, and even then the maximum manual ISO is only 1600.
Camera Performance and Results
Xiaomi's camera software has long been one of the fastest performing on the market, but previous generations of phones have shown there's a cost of quality to that speed. This year has signaled a turnaround for quality on Xiaomi's part, yet there's been no sacrifice for performance and speed of the software. From screen off to taking a picture takes literally one full second, something most phones could only dream of. The only downside here is that there doesn't seem to be any way to quick launch the camera via button gesture, like pressing the power button twice or home button twice. This means you need to turn the screen on first, followed by swiping left on the lock screen to launch the camera, which doesn't take long but it adds false additional time to the camera launching experience.
Response time from clicking the shutter button to taking the picture is absolutely instant, but that sometimes comes at a cost. Focusing is done quickly, usually in about 1/3 of a second, but the shutter won't wait to focus when it takes a picture. This could result in some out of focus shots, so waiting just a fraction of a second before pressing the button is definitely advised. The software generally prioritizes a lower ISO over a faster shutter speed, translating to blurry moving objects in darker environments. This isn't always the case, but it happened often enough to where it's worth noting.
Zoom detail is mostly great and is about what we expect from a modern 13-megapixel sensor, including image processing that's not overly heavy. This processing helps remove unwanted fine grain noise while still keeping plenty of detail in the scene. HDR does a good job of matching processing quality with speed, taking HDR shots instantly and helping bring out a wider dynamic range in photos. Auto HDR isn't terribly aggressive, but it kicks in when it's needed the most and I have nothing but positive thoughts on its speed and quality. Even white balance was super accurate in every light and never got the scene wrong.
A unique feature of the Redmi Note is the stereo photo mode, which utilizes the secondary rear 5-megapixel sensor for depth information but still uses the 13-megapixel sensor for the actual photo. This means you get full 13-megapixel resolution and quality shots, all with an interesting new depth of field filter that attempts to be more accurate than the software-based ones we've seen on some phones like the Galaxy S7. This method is almost exclusively intended for taking an up-close shot of an object and blurring the background, such as a portrait of a person. In practice many shots turned out quite nice looking and exhibited a quality depth of field effect, but often times it was obvious that this wasn't a hardware lens effect as a digital SLR camera would have, rather a software augmented effect.
This stereo effect can also be used in video mode, where the results are going to be a mixed bag at best. Stereo mode certainly works best for photos since it's such a temperamental algorithm, and I didn't find any real usable solutions where I could use this video mode and get a good desired effect. Regular video mode is quality, even though it's limited to 1080p quality, and exhibited great details for a full HD video, as well as good dynamic range and white balance. The Redmi Pro features optic image stabilization that does a good job of keeping things steady when moving around a lot or walking, but isn't enabled by default, so users will have to remember to check this box in the settings to use it.
Low light performance of the camera overall, including both photo and video modes, is definitely on the list of better performers in the sub-$300 price category. The front-facing 5-megapixel camera is a good selfie camera and did a great job overall in any light. Shots get a little fuzzy in lower light but nothing too offensive, and details in good light are fantastic, although certainly not the best selfie cam on the market. Dynamic range could use a little help, but the software was smart enough to know that the person in the foreground was the intended point of reference for lighting, so in harsh lighting you'll find that bright backgrounds are whited out while the person in the foreground is more optimally lit. This was a good tradeoff and overall is a good shooter. Check out the Flickr gallery below for all the images and video we took with the Redmi Pro during our review period.
2015 flagship levels of performance
Fast camera software
Lots of software features
Regular MIUI updates
No LTE in the US (and probably some other countries)
Almost no one does value better than Xiaomi in the smartphone market, and the Redmi Pro is proof of that. Top tier hardware build and design, tons of software features and great battery life are a few of the highlights of the Redmi Pro. Better than average sound output and camera performance in this price category are also worth noting, and an excellent display coupled with great every day and gaming performance round out the device as a whole. There are still some serious issues with MIUI out of the box though, and it takes way more effort and hunting around in the settings than it should just to get apps to work like they should. Out of the box you'll find missing notifications, apps getting constantly closed once they go into the background, and services that simply don't work because of Xiaomi's "power savings" in their OS. These can be turned off and fix the issues, but they simply should not be enabled out of the box, as it's going to create an overly frustrating experience for more users than they help. If you're interested in picking up a Redmi Pro of your own, check out the GearBest links below.