Review: P5,599 Xiaomi Redmi 1S

Alora Uy Guerrero
·Editor. You may tweet her at @aloraguerrero.

Specs of the Xiaomi Redmi 1S (Price in the Philippines: P5,599):
* 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset
* Adreno 305 GPU
* 1GB RAM
* 8GB internal storage
* microSD card slot (up to 32GB)
* 4.7-inch IPS display with scratch-resistant glass (720 x 1,280 resolution)
* 8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash
* 1.6-megapixel front camera
* 2,000mAh battery
* Android Jelly Bean 4.3 (MIUI v5)

Following the sale of the Mi 3, Xiaomi will again offer a supposed value-for-money phone in the Redmi 1S through online retailer Lazada Philippines today, September 12. (In case you're not familiar with Xiaomi's affairs, the initial batch of Redmis sold out on the online shop last week.)

In a Philippine briefing two weeks ago, Xiaomi global VP Hugo Barra said the Redmi 1S was the best handset they could come up with given a particular price point. As it turns out, the Redmi 1S is aimed at the under-P6,000 category with a price tag of P5,599. Unlike the more expensive Xiaomi Mi 3, though, it doesn't tick multiple boxes that make up the ideal smartphone; it has far less going for it.

Sure, it offers a solid construction and plenty of firepower at a reasonable price, but considering that the likes of Cherry Mobile and SKK Mobile already sell devices that rival, or even beat, the Xiaomi Redmi 1S both in specs and pricing, should you even consider Xiaomi's latest offering? That's what we're here to find out.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S
Xiaomi Redmi 1S

Hardware

The hardware itself is a mixed bag: not-as-decently designed, but rock-solid nonetheless. It has a fair amount of heft without being overbearing, though it is noticeably heavier and thicker than today's generation of 5-inch smartphones.

On the front, the bezels surrounding the 4.7-inch screen are some of the widest we've seen in a while. Fortunately for Xiaomi, the Redmi 1S remains compact and easy to hold in one hand. Another sore subject: The HTC-inspired red navigation keys below the display, while a welcome element, are comparatively small and don't light up on contact, making them a bit more difficult to locate in the dark. That said, they may take some time getting used to.

The back is made of plastic and comes in a matte-gray finish. It can be removed easily enough if you want to swap in a blue, green, or red cover, each of which sell for P350 on Lazada Philippines. We highly suggest you check out our gallery below to get a better look at the interchangeable rear panels. Our vote goes to the red cover, as it matches the color of the phone's capacitive keys.

Display

At 4.7 inches, the Xiaomi Redmi 1S' IPS screen hits the sweet spot in display size; we found it neither too big to be practical nor too small for our needs. More impressively, a layer of reinforced glass shields it from dings and scratches.

The display has a 720 x 1,280 resolution, with a respectable pixel density of 312 dots per inch. It looks every bit as crisp as the screen on phones well above the Redmi 1S's price point, provided you're viewing it at a straight angle. Colors are warmer, too, though we much prefer seeing a higher temperature for a more accurate color representation. While the handset's software allows for some color correction, the options are minimal, and as such, hardly affect the quality of an image.

Brightness—particularly at lower levels—and viewing angles could be better, too. To some extent, we believe the distance between the cover glass and the panel itself is the culprit, as budget phones with smaller air gaps, such as the Cherry Mobile Pulse and the MyPhone Infinity Lite, don't have the same weaknesses. Alas, compared to the said handsets, we found the Xiaomi Redmi 1S more frustrating to use outdoors—and even more so under direct sunlight.

It's a shame, because after walking away impressed with the Mi 3, we had high hopes for this Xiaomi, even if it is a lot cheaper. Locally branded phones are capable of making an impression with their display quality, after all.

Camera

The Redmi 1S's rear and front cameras are rated at 8 and 1.6 megapixels, respectively, and their output is good enough for casual photography, social-media sharing, and video chat. However, neither one is capable of shooting higher-quality photos and videos than existing cameras on rival handsets.

On a more positive note, the cameras focus with speed and snap photos with virtually no shutter lag. The default camera app also comes with plenty of software controls for adjusting basic and advanced settings and can scan QR codes, which may come in handy for frequent travelers.

Performance

If you're looking for high praises for the Xiaomi Redmi 1S, this is where you'll find them. The 1.6GHz quad-core processor coupled with 1GB of RAM plus 8GB of onboard storage packs quite a punch, delivering an Android Jelly Bean experience that's among the smoothest we've seen in the bargain category. This phone is designed to leave the competition in the dust, meaning you'll rarely find yourself staring at a blank screen for a second.

On-screen animations are fluid; switching between apps is snappy; and more demanding games like Asphalt 8 and Order & Chaos Online run at maximum settings at an acceptable frame rate. Real-world testing mirrors the benchmark results, and on the latest version of AnTuTu Benchmark, our go-to app for measuring the performance of Android devices, the Redmi 1S managed an impressive score of 19,823.

Battery life is a strong point, with the 2,000mAh cell handily outperforming our expectations on average, lasting a day and a half on a full charge. With more conservative use, we were able to stretch the usage time even further without having to reach for the charger. As for the more formal battery-rundown test, which involves playing a locally stored video on loop with WiFi on and the screen at half brightness, the phone lasted 7 hours and 51 minutes.

Now, blazing-fast performance is nice and all, but here's the thing: By most metrics, octa-core alternatives that fall within this Xiaomi's price range are considerably faster. That's a huge blow to the Redmi 1S, and it waters down the appeal of an otherwise top-performing product.

One more wrinkle: The Redmi 1S isn't nearly as stable as the Mi 3, despite both devices sharing the same MIUI (pronounced "mee-you-eye") interface, albeit based on different versions of Android. Crashes and random reboots happen frequently, prompting us to perform a factory reset twice, something we haven't done in a long time. Alas, our frustrations continue to mount.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S screenshot
Xiaomi Redmi 1S screenshot

It seems more like a software issue than anything else, as the Redmi 1S uses an older iteration of MIUI based on Android Jelly Bean, whereas the Mi 3 reflects the changes and improvements in Android KitKat.

Verdict

All things considered, is the Redmi 1S a decent smartphone for cheap? Sure, but we wouldn't happily recommend it. Because unlike Xiaomi's top-flight offering, it doesn't bring anything exciting to the table. Even worse, it suffers from software-related problems that have left us stumped and concerned.

Which raises the question: Is it worth considering over the octa-core alternatives? The short answer: No. Given the choice between the Xiaomi Redmi 1S and, say, the P6,499 Cherry Mobile Pulse (which we have in our possession, by the way), we'd pick the latter in a heartbeat, even if we do have to pay more for additional cores, not to mention a bigger, better display and stable Android KitKat.

There was a time a couple of months ago when we would've been all over the Xiaomi Redmi 1S. Obviously, that time has come and gone. (With inputs from Ramon Lopez)

What’s hot
- Solid construction with several back cover options
- Fast performance
- Above-average battery life
- MIUI (when it works flawlessly)

What’s not
- Heavier and thicker than the competition
- Bezels could use some trimming
- Underwhelming screen
- Still running Android Jelly Bean
- Random freezes and reboots

Got questions? Violent reactions? Tweet us at @aloraguerrero. In the meantime, you may want to see this: Up close: Xiaomi Mi 4, successor to the Xiaomi Mi 3.

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