Last known price of Xiaomi Redmi 5A was Rs. 5,999. This phone is available in 16 GB, 32 GB storage variants.
Ah, budget segment smartphones. Not all of us may admit it, but we've all owned one or at least used one when waiting for our fancy phones to come back from the service centre. When cellphones made a splash in India in the 2000s, everyone had a Nokia 3310, or something similar. Then we went on to more powerful phones. Along with all the features came the bigger price tags. And then the iPhone was launched and things changed forever. Everyone wanted a killer phone. And everyone wanted a phone that could one-up the competition. Somewhere in this crazy race for better, sleeker, more powerful phones, the budget segment was left largely unattended.
In fact, it was almost embarrassing to buy a budget phone, because of how bad they were. They had unresponsive screens, piss-poor aesthetics and design, terrible battery life, tons of bloatware, extremely bad processors and never enough storage. I remember paying about 10,000 for an HTC Explorer almost 8 years ago and while it was better than the other options in that range, it was still terrible. And it cost a third of my monthly cheque, so overall it was just a disappointing experience.
After that, things got a little better for me, and I switched to flagship phones. I pretty much stayed away from the budget segment, but would still try out a couple now and then, mostly because my maid or the electrician or watchman couldn't figure out how to do something like save a number or delete a message. I would always be surprised at how bad those phones were, but then, I justified it by telling myself that good technology costs a lot.
Oh boy, was I wrong. I just didn't know it yet.
The first time I got my paws on a Xiaomi budget phone, I was blown away. The phone cost about 10,000 and it could do almost EVERYTHING that I could on my Moto Z - and it had a few bells and whistles thrown in as well. And then I get my paws again on the Redmi 5A. It's half the price. It's priced at 5,000 and at this point, I'm nervous. I had really liked the earlier Xiaomi handset and I didn't want to use a substandard product and be disappointed. But then I figured, they had to cut corners somewhere. So I decided to just unbox the phone and check it out for myself.
Design And Build Quality
My first reaction to unboxing the Redmi 5A was: This looks exactly like the iPhone 3GS. But the impression only lasted a few seconds, as I took a closer look. The phone has a metal-finish polycarbonate back and thick bezels, so I wouldn't really say that any designers lost sleep trying to make it look good. After all, I did just compare it to a phone that's almost ten years old. The speaker is at the base on the back and troubled me a few times when I put the phone down on the bed to watch videos - and I assume a lot of people do the same. The Redmi 5A has a micro USB port at the bottom, an infrared port and a headphone 3.5mm jack on the top. The navigation buttons aren't backlit, but a week of usage made that a non-issue. The Redmi 5A does, however, have an LED light under the Home button that lights up during charging and to indicate various notifications like missed calls, SMSs, WhatsApp messages, calendar notifications and the like.
The compactness of the Redmi 5A reminded me how awesome it was to have a phone fit so snugly in your pocket. The phone can be comfortably operated with one hand and I was even able to pull down the notification shade comfortably, a stunt I could never pull off on the Pixel 2, for example. The edges of the screen are great for grip, and so is the metal body which basically means I didn't have those heart-stopping moments where the phone almost slips out of your hand. Or maybe my subconscious didn't care that much because it's a budget phone.
Display and Audio
The Xiaomi Redmi 5A comes with an IPS LCD display that measures 5 inches diagonally. The 69% screen-to-body ratio, as I mentioned earlier, is nothing to write home about. The screen offers a resolution of 720 x 1080 pixels with an aspect ratio of 16:9, like all other phones from the current Xiaomi range. The Redmi 5A has a pixel density of 296ppi.
Specs aside, the screen is definitely vivid. The colours are great, videos looked good and the visibility in sunlight was satisfactory. The light sensor is a bit slow to respond and I caught myself waiting a few seconds for the screen to light up when I stepped into the sun from areas with low light. The lowest brightness setting was immensely satisfying, as I could comfortably read articles at night while lying in bed, and of course, the Read Mode (it blocks blue light which disrupts the body's natural circadian rhythms by suppressing the production of melatonin) helped a lot as well.
The sensitivity of the phone was so satisfying that it didn't feel like a budget product at all. I had flashbacks to my Nokia N72 which needed 12 swipes at least, to heat up the screen enough to respond. The phone supports 4G with VoLTE and call quality was satisfactory when used on three telecom providers - Vodafone 3G, Airtel 4G and Jio 4G. Signal strength was solid which meant clear calls and no hisses or clicks during a conversation. The audio quality when listening to music was satisfactory and the 5A supports audio formats such as PCM, AAC, AAC+, eAAC +, MP3, AMR - NB and WB, APE, and wave. The Redmi 5A also supported a wide range of video file formats. The phone features a radio as well, that only works with earphones or headphones plugged in.
Software Experience and Performance
Now here comes the fun part. The phone's operating system is where the phone excels over its competition. The phone comes with a custom Android fork - MIUI, which is currently at version 9.0. I give all credit to MIUI (an acronym for Mi User Interface) for changing my mind about budget phones. The fact that I could do so many things with so much ease and flexibility, reminded me why I choose Android every time.
Let's start with a quick history lesson on MIUI. The custom OS was born when a group of Android enthusiasts came together to customise the Android operating system and create a spanking-new version that would look better and offer more functionalities than the AOSP ROM (2.2.x Froyo). The project released its first version in 2010. Xiaomi was officially here with the launch of this firmware. The company went on to become what it is today.
And today, MIUI has evolved into something beautiful, intuitive, and power efficient. I'd throw in good-looking, but the icons are a bit distracting. It's strange that the phone is so smart and lets you do so much - but you can't change the ugly icons. But that's literally the only complaint I have against MIUI - its icons. If the biggest complaint about an operating system is its icon pack, you know you have great software in your hands.
Turn the screen on and you see a fairly standard Android desktop. But pull down the notification shade and the magic begins. Even the notification shade can be customized, letting you choose to see your notifications and quick settings on one page, or separately. I find a separate page for quick settings rather aggravating because I like to work fast. That Xiaomi threw in such a minor tweak for its users speaks volumes about how well the developers understand the entire philosophy of Android.
And the flexibility and customizations are spread all over the phone. Take the calendar app, for example. Besides the usual features like events and reminders, it also lets you choose from channels like news, cricket updates, health and fitness, On This Day, and horoscope. Xiaomi also went the extra mile for its Indian users, adding an Indian panchang calendar, which highlights holidays and festivals.
Xiaomi further extended its India-specific customisation in the Messaging app. The app identifies messages from IRCTC, which shows your booking details as a card and lets you check your PNR status with a single tap. I'm beginning to understand why the phone was marketed as the â€˜Desh ka Smartphone'. The app segregates messages by Today, Yesterday and Earlier, and even puts all your system generated text messages into a Notifications folder. I had no idea how amazing this feature was until I saw all my 15 million messages from banks, government agencies, apps, and so on disappear into one folder. It also reminded me that no one really sends me text messages anymore, so that was depressing for like half a second.
Another app that really impressed me was the Mi Remote app. The phone comes with an IR blaster and is operated by the Mi Remote, and I decided to test it during a team meeting when we were sitting in a stuffy room. Since no one was inclined to go hunting for the AC remote, I stepped up like a superhero, hesitant in my heart as I left all my self-esteem in the hands of the developers who worked on the app. I hit â€˜Add Remote', which gave me options like Mi TV/Mi Box, TV, Set-top box, AC, Fan, Box, A/V Receiver, DVD Player, Projector, and Camera. I selected AC and was blown away by the number of manufacturers that the Mi Remote supported thrown in (yet another feature is that you can request a specific product by selecting the manufacturer and sending Xiaomi the model number). The app gave me 22 remotes to test with the power button for a certain manufacturer, and I got lucky with the second one. This was great - we didn't need a remote anymore. We could continue to be lazy and we would even go so far as to turn off the AC when we leave the room. Times had changed, all thanks to one app.
The phone also includes standard apps like Calculator, Mail, Sound Recorder, a QR/Barcode Scanner, and even a Screen Recorder app. The Redmi 5A also includes a Microsoft Office and GApps bundle. It also features Xiaomi apps like Mi Store (an app to keep you posted on various Xiaomi products), Mi Apps (Xiaomi's own app store), and Mi Community (so you can connect with other XIaomi enthusiasts - lolwut). MIUI also offers a Quick Ball - a small non-obtrusive circle which hangs around the right edge of your display and lets you take care of quick actions like locking your screen, taking a screenshot, go to your home screen and switching to tab view. The screenshot feature is integrated into the notification bar so you can quickly access it. The screenshot feature of the Redmi 5A lets you take scrolling screenshots as well.
On to actual performance. See, there's no way you'll find this phone to be fast once you've used more powerful phones. But I have to add here that the phone is STILL way faster than you expect it to be. The phone is powered by the fairly impressive Snapdragon 425 processor which has four A53 cores running at 1.4GHz. The graphics processing is handled by the Adreno 308, which does a decent job with heavier tasks such as gaming and split-screen multitasking. While I did notice some framing and lag when playing graphics intensive games, my daily usage did not see any sputtering or stammering from this phone.
The Xiaomi Redmi 5A comes with a 13MP f/2.2 camera on the rear, which to be perfectly honest, could do with some improvements. It's still decent when you have good lighting, as you can see from our sample images, but considering how far ahead camera technology has gone in recent times, I did feel like it wasn't doing a good enough job. The front camera too is nothing to really write home about (5MP f/2.0) but I did have some fun with the â€˜Age and Gender' feature which identified me as a 54 year old male, about twice as old as I really am (I really want to blame the software but I was the only one who laughed at the inaccuracy of the app when I showed it to my â€˜friends').
The camera interface lets you choose between various modes - Panorama, Timer, Manual, Straighten (which ensures your frame is perfectly levelled), Beautify (which didn't work on me because I have excellent skin), HHT mode (handheld twilight mode, supposed to help with low light situations), Scene mode, and Tilt-Shift mode. The video mode lets you take 1080p videos at 30 frames per second, and also has a time-lapse mode. Unfortunately, you can't take any slow-motion videos but that usually comes with better hardware.
Overall, I thought the Redmi 5A's camera was its weakest link. Keeping in mind that it's a budget phone, I still felt that the camera could have been better. This is because photographs from our smartphone have become such an integral part of our lives, that having an inferior camera can make you quite miffed with the Redmi 5A, overall.
The Xiaomi Redmi 5A was seriously impressive when it came to battery life. I used it casually for a couple of days without having to charge it. I put it through a lot more for the next few days and noticed that even an intense day of usage didn't drain the battery in a day. Of course, I could go crazy and game for 5 hours straight and drain the battery, but my attempt was to get a better idea of how the phone would perform on a difficult day, in case you didn't have access to a charging point.
I want to add that this is another notch in the belt for the Redmi 5A, because as a budget phone, or even a secondary phone, this phone does a beautiful job of doing everything your flagship phone does, without extracting a whole lot of battery life. I had a flashback to a recent motorcycle road trip where I used my phone to navigate, and it died within four hours of using Google Maps. Connecting it to the power source would heat up the phone (in combination with the sun beating down on my phone) and I had to stop repeatedly to cool the phone down and charge it. The Redmi 5A would have been a lifesaver on that day.
The phone doesn't support fast charging and that can be a bit of a pain. I found it most convenient to leave it on charging before I slept because it took at least 2.5 to 3 hours to hit 100% from around 2-3%.
The Redmi 5A is easily among the best phones currently available at its current price range. I'm sure 2018 will see many excellent phones release in this bracket, but the Xiaomi Redmi 5A has definitely set some excellent standards for its future rivals. I definitely recommend getting this phone if you're looking for a secondary phone or if you want to get a basic first phone for someone.
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 MSM8917|
|Display||5.0 inches (12.7 cms)|
|Front Camera||Single (5 MP, f/2.0 Camera)|
|Rear Camera||Single (13 MP, f/2.2 Camera)|
|Launch Date||December 7, 2017|
|Dimensions||5.53 x 2.76 x 0.33 inch (140.4 x 70.1 x 8.3 mm)|
|Colors||Gold, Rose Gold, Dark Grey, Lake Blue|
|Chipset||Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 MSM8917|
|No of Cores||4 (Quad Core)|
|CPU||Quad core, 1.4GHz, Cortex A53|
|Operating System||Android v7.1.2 (Nougat)|
|Internal Memory||16 GB|
|Expandable Memory||Yes, microSD, Up to 128 GB (Dedicated)|
|Resolution||720 x 1280 pixels|
|Size||5.0 inches (12.7 cms)|
|Display Type||IPS LCD|
|TouchScreen||Yes, Capacitive, Multi-touch|
|Color Reproduction||16M Colors|
|Screen to body percentage||69.86 %|
|Pixel Density||294 pixels per inch (ppi)|
|Flash||Rear (LED Flash)|
|Rear||Single (13 MP, f/2.2 Camera)|
|Front||Single (5 MP, f/2.0 Camera)|
|Camera Features||Auto Flash, Auto Focus, Face detection, Touch to focus|
|Shooting Modes||Continuos Shooting, High Dynamic Range mode (HDR)|
|Video||Rear: 1920x1080 @ 30 fps|
|Standby Time||Up to 192 Hours(2G)|
|USB OTG Support||Yes|
|Wi-Fi||Yes with b/g/n|
|SIM Configuration||Dual SIM (SIM1: Nano) (SIM2: Nano)|
|Network||4G: Available (supports Indian bands), 3G: Available, 2G: Available|
|Voice over LTE(VoLTE)||Yes|
|Wi-fi features||Wi-Fi Direct, Mobile Hotspot|
|GPS||Yes with A-GPS, Glonass|
|USB||microUSB 2.0, Mass storage device, USB charging, USB On-The-Go|
|Other Sensor||Light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer, Compass, Gyroscope|
|Audio Jack||Yes, 3.5mm|