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Redmi Note 8 review: brings the heat to the sub-Rs 10k segment

For the past few years, Xiaomi‘s Redmi series of phones have been the top choice for those who wanted the best specifications possible on a budget. While the competition has intensified, Redmi phones continue to live up to their reputation, and the latest phones from its stable are testament to that. The Redmi Note 8 (first impressions) and Redmi Note 8 Pro (first impressions) are the first to offer 48MP and 64MP quad-camera setups in their respective price segments. I have been using the Redmi Note 8 for some time now, and here’s my take on the more affordable device in the Redmi Note 8 duo.

Design and display

I recently reviewed the Redmi 8A (review) and Redmi 8 (review), and I am impressed by the new direction that the Redmi line-up is heading towards in design. Xiaomi is no longer resorting to dull and monotonous plastic/metal builds, and nearly every smartphone that has come out of its stable lately has been a head-turner. The Redmi Note 8 is no exception and yet has a completely different form factor compared to its pricier sibling.

Xiaomi is offering the Redmi Note 8 in Neptune Blue, Moon Light White, Space Black and Cosmic Purple colourways.  The Space Black colour variant that I have with me is very staid, while the other two variants flaunt a subtle gradient finish. To its credit, the Space Black variant doesn’t pick up smudges as easily. This is despite the use of glass on the front and back, with a Gorilla Glass 5 layer on top for protection. Unlike the rounded corners and curved edges of its brethren, the Redmi Note 8 has a slab-like form factor with edges just polished enough to avoid being sharp. I prefer the curvier edges for ergonomics but didn’t mind the slate-like design of Redmi Note 8, thanks to the even weight distribution.

The one design element I had issue with is the quad-camera module in the top left corner on the back that juts out quite a bit, making the phone rattle when placed on a flat surface. The camera cutout on the provided case also protrudes equally, but since it’s a soft material it doesn’t wobble as much. Additionally, the circular fingerprint scanner towards the center is not as recessed as I would have liked it to be, and thus was difficult to locate it by feel alone (putting on the case helps though). The fingerprint scanner and integrated face unlock are both fast and accurate as we have come to expect from Redmi devices.

As for other elements, the IR sensor is placed on top, dual nano-SIM tray with dedicated microSD card on left and volume/power buttons on the right. The bottom edge is home to a USB Type-C port flanked by the 3.5mm audio jack and speaker grill on either side.

The Redmi Note 8’s window to the world is a 6.3-inch 19.5:9 display featuring 2,280 x 1,080 pixels screen resolution. The display doesn’t have HDR support like the Pro variant, but comes with Widevine L1 certification, which means you can stream content from your favourite OTT service in high resolution. I was happy with the colour vibrancy and sharpness of the display, however, the brightness left a bit to be desired. You will need to crank it to the maximum when outside and keep it around 80 percent indoors for a comfortable viewing experience.

Cameras

The Redmi Note 8 is not the first to offer a quad-camera module under Rs 10,000, but it’s definitely the first to offer one with a  48MP primary camera. The primary camera is the same 48MP Samsung ISOCELL Bright GM1 we saw on the Redmi Note 7s (review). This is clubbed with an 8MP ultra-wide camera and dual 2MP macro and depth sensors.

The daylight images I captured using the standard mode (no HDR and no AI scene recognition) displayed neutral colours, where highlights and colours were slightly muted. However, turning on the HDR and AI scene optimisation made a world of difference. The colour pop and saturation is just right, as is the dynamic range across the frame. However, if you click pictures when its too bright, the camera struggles with the exposure and blows highlights, resulting in an overexposed picture as you can see in some daylight shots in the above gallery. The macro mode and portrait mode were particularly impressive with the camera being able to lock focus up close and also detect edges perfectly, thanks to the dedicated sensor. The integrated AI scene recognition was also accurate and able to detect the scene I was trying to click.

In my experience, the night mode on budget phones doesn’t do a good job, but the Redmi Note 8 managed to surprise me here. The dedicated night mode manages to bring out details in shadows well, and also reduce the glare around light sources substantially. As a result, you get a crisp low light picture that you wouldn’t mind posting on social media. The only caveat here is that you will see noise creeping in if you have the night sky in the background.

As for selfies, Redmi Note 8 surpassed my expectations and captured some stunning self-portraits. The 13MP camera on the front saturates the images to some extent, but the end result is quite pleasing to the eyes. The portrait mode is also quite impressive, however, it does struggle with stray strands of hair.

Performance, software and battery

In the performance department, the Redmi Note 8 comes with the Snapdragon 665 chipset ticking at its core. Xiaomi is offering the phone in two configurations – 4GB + 64GB and 6GB + 128GB.I have the latter with me and it offers around 110GB right out of the box. If that’s not enough, the Redmi Note 8 also comes with a dedicated microSD card slot, which is a first for the Redmi Note series.

While the processor is same as the Realme 5 (review), the Redmi Note 8 gets two extra gigs of RAM for the top-end variant. During my usage, the phone easily handled excessive social media usage and multi-tasking. At no point during my time with the phone did I run into a lag or slow app opening time. However, do bear in mind that this is the top-end variant that we are talking about, and you might face slower app loading time on the 4GB model, as I did on the Realme 5.

As for gaming, PUBG started in the low graphics setting by default and played very well. The phone also handled the medium graphics setting with ease apart from a rare stutter or two. However, the quality of gameplay drops substantially when you switch to the highest settings with the phone heating up quickly. Call of Duty: Mobile, on the other hand, played smoothly on the Redmi Note 8 since it consumes fewer resources. If you’re a casual gamer, you’ll have no problems with titles like Subway Surfers, Fruit Ninja, Stick Cricket, etc.

The Redmi Note 8 runs MIUI 10 based on Android 9 Pie. I had a few issues with the software, particularly with the amount of bloatware on the phone. While you can uninstall third-party apps, MIUI has now added an extra step, requiring you to click on ‘app info’ to uninstall it. The ads of course are a known issue with MIUI, but they are excessive, popping up when you install an app from the Play Store, finish watching a video with the stock video player, or even open the Guide page from the right of homescreen, to name a few.

Powering the whole package is a powerful 4,000mAh battery that comes with support for 18W fast charging. Not just that, but the brand has also included an 18W fast charger in the package, which is a plus. In our tests, the Redmi Note 8 charged from zero to 100 percent in less than two hours with the provided charger. In terms of battery life, the phone saw me through a whole day of extensive usage on a single charge, which is commendable.

The competition

The Redmi Note 8 goes up against the likes of the Realme 5 and Infinix S5. The Realme 5 goes toe to toe with the Note 8 in all departments except for a lower HD+ resolution screen and 12MP primary camera on the back. The Infinix S5 (first impressions) is another phone priced at Rs 8,999 that offers quad cameras, a 32MP selfie camera and a massive 5,000mAh battery, but falters on the performance front because of its MediaTek Helio P22 SoC. Plus, neither of these devices come with a Type-C port or fast charging.

Verdict

Just when Realme began posing a serious threat to Xiaomi in the sub-Rs 10,000 segment, the latter came in all guns blazing with the Redmi Note 8. The latest launch from the company puts the pressure on its competitor, and holds its own with aplomb. By offering everything that the Realme 5 does and improving the areas where the competition lacks, the Redmi Note 8 is, in my opinion, the best value for money in this segment as of now.

Pricebaba’s rating: 8.5 / 10

What works:

  • USB Type-C port with fast charging support
  • 18W charger in the box
  • Good performance
  • Exceptional cameras

What doesn’t:

  • Ads in the software
  • Protruding camera module
  • Fingerprint scanner is difficult to locate

Photos by Raj Rout

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