Review: Xiaomi Redmi 1s

Redmi1s-001

Xiaomi’s Mi3 is a wonderful phone. I will admit that much to you guys as readers, as I have formed perhaps a partial bias towards that phone, easily recommending it to people around me as a phone to get, if you’re under any sort of budget constraints. It performed very well for its asking price tag, and perhaps that has already begun to set me down a path of what to expect when it comes to phones from Xiaomi.

If you still found the 249 USD pricetag of the Mi3 hard to swallow however, Xiaomi has other offerings that fill in the price gap below this, namely the Redmi Note and the Redmi 1s. In this review, I’ll be taking a look at the smaller of the two, the Redmi 1s, and weighing in just what exactly is in store for the users at a price tag of 129.99 USD. I won’t lie though, expectations are high.

Unboxing


Redmi1s-002

Unlike the Mi3, the Redmi 1s came in a smaller box that housed the accessories, and an even smaller box inside for the phone. Just like its higher tier brother, the box is fully made of hard cardboard, that makes it minimalistic and environmentally friendly, and I think it’s a good direction to head into. Popping the box open isn’t as hard this time around however, and getting to the goodies was nice and easy. Here’s what I found inside:

  • Xiaomi Redmi 1s smartphone
  • Redmi 1s Quick Start guide
  • Two micro Sim to full-sized Sim adapters
  • Micro USB to USB Cable
  • UK Head Wall Charger @ 5V, 1A

Nothing new this time around as a larger box held the accessories together with a smaller box that in turn housed the phone itself and the quick start guide and the USB cable. First tier of packaging wasn’t the most tightly packed, so stuff does rattle around a little, but nothing overly concerning as it’s not your phone that will be flying around the box, and for most intents and purposes, it’s acceptable.

The wall charger and the usb cable is the same that was packaged with the Mi3, so the same applies here as there’s no need to rewrite what applies for this phone as well. The bundled USB cable is of really build quality, and plugging it in was nice, solid and sturdy, and the same goes when putting it into the USB wall charger. It’s nice that Xiaomi bundled the phone with a 1A charger, though unlike the cable, I can’t really say that the charger shares the same feeling of high build quality. It feels a bit hollow, but it didn’t stop it from performing what it needed to do.

The one thing that I’m used to seeing is kind of missing however that is bundled earphones with the phone. Perhaps not as important as many people do have their own headsets, and Xiaomi does sell their own premium earphones separately. Not a big deal for me, as I hardly touch them.

I like what Xiaomi is doing with more eco-friendly packagings, and while I generally don’t like the contents of boxes flying around, I’ll forgive Xiaomi in this one, as everything was individually packages, and the actual box itself for the phone was solid.

Moving on to the specs.

Specifications


  • OS: Android 4.3 Jellybean
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 Quad Core Cortex A7 Cores @ 1.6 GHz
  • GPU: Adreno 305
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Internal Memory: 8GB expandable via MicroSD
  • Camera: 0MP f/2.2 Rear Camera w/ LED Flash, 1.6MP Front Camera
  • Display:7” IPS LCD Display @ 1280×720 (312 ppi) AGC Dragontrail Glass
  • Connectivity:
    • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n Bluetooth 4.0
    • A-GPS
  • Battery: 2000mAh Removable
  • Dimensions: 137mm x 69mm x 9.9mm
  • Weight: 158g

Walk around the device


Redmi1s-003Staring you down the face up front is the 4.7” IPS LCD that pushes out a 1280×720 resolution, that looks quite decently nice and sharp. Despite being made with IPS technology, I found that colours and viewing angles were not really up to par to what I’m used to when IPS screens are involved. Next to the piano black looking bezels, pure black on the display is a noticeable grey as well. Another thing as well that gets to me; unlike most of the other phones I have tested recently, the gap in between the front glass and the display can be clearly seen, and this bothers me, given that I haven’t seen displays like this since the early days of smartphones where it’s absolutely noticeable. As such, the UI doesn’t quite look like it’s on the top glass itself, but underneath it, which detracts the experience in my opinion. This is probably also the reason why reading the display under sunlight can be quite difficult.

Speaking of bezels, the phone does have quite massive bezels around it, with the side bezels flanking the display looking prominently thick, and while I’m okay with the bezels up top, the bottom bezels do look a little bit thick for my liking.

Redmi1s-004The touch capacitive buttons can be found on the bottom as well, and they’re tinted red, and aren’t backlit, making the usage of the phone at night quite difficult as the red buttons blend into the black just a little bit too well, making the keys hard to see, even at daytime. The touch capacitive keys are ordered menu, home and back from left to right.

Moving above the display, you’ll find the 1.9MP front facing camera, some of the default sensors and the earpiece. Another thing that I found worth noting as well, is how I discovered the charge notification light to actually be at the bottom of the display, just below the home capacitive button. I am not exactly pleased with this one as well, as when charging, it doesn’t really have a discernible charge colour, and not only that, in darker rooms, I could easily make out that the light given out by the charging indicator bled out into the display a little, making a noticeable glow under the display when turned off. Not noticeable when in use or daylight however. I do wonder why Xiaomi decided to place the charging and power indicator at the bottom of the phone rather than at the top though, as I feel that this choice of being different for them doesn’t really work in their favour.

Redmi1s-005Back of the devices is nice and clean with the secondary microphone, the 8MP camera, its LED flash, the speaker grill, and the Mi branding in a chrome finish found here. The back has a matte finish to it that almost looks a bit metallic, and overall looks quite minimalistic and simple, so it looks quite nice, at least to me.

Redmi1s-006The camera does protrude a little from the base of the body, though for the most part, you shouldn’t have problems with scratched lenses.

Redmi1s-007Popping the back off is easy, as you can find the groove to pull off the back on the bottom left, and by sliding your fingers around the edges, comes off without any issue. Once the back is off, you have access to add in the MicroSD card, and also the two Sim cards, though for the Sim cards, you’d have to remove the battery as well. It should be noted as well that Sim slot 1 supports 2G and 3G, while Sim slot 2 only supports 2G. That said, one should be mindful as to where you put your Sim cards in, as you’d probably want your 3G data Sim in Slot 1 instead.

The back cover is made out of plastic, but it does feel quite alright, though I feel that it could probably get damaged quite easily, should the phone be dropped. As such, I would highly recommend a case for this phone. The back cover is also replaceable, giving you the option for more colourful looking phone, rather than the plain all black and grey look.

Redmi1s-008All of the phone’s buttons are found on the right of the device, and they’re actually attached to the back cover as well, so changing out your back cover will change out the buttons. Neat. They’re made out of plastic to no surprise, and have a silver finish to them, which I worry just a little as most of the silver paint jobs that I know off are known to peel off and reveal the dull plastic underneath. Again, you can swap out the back case, and that in turn will swap you to newer looking buttons as well, so it’s not TOO much of an issue.

The buttons themselves protrude quite a bit from the phone, so they’re easily located (read: also easily scratched if you want to be realistic about it, unless you use a case of course) and they’re quite sturdy, with a decently clicky feel to them when pressed. The volume rocker is located above the power button for those wondering of course.

Redmi1s-009Top of the device is clean apart from the 3.5mm headphone jack that is quite solid, as plugging in my headphones, I didn’t notice any visible rattle, and there was quite a tactile snap in for the plug, meaning that it’s probably not going to come off that easily when tugged onto, which is a plus for me.

Redmi1s-010Down bottom, the primary microphone that you’ll be using for phone calls, and the micro USB port. Again, just like the headphone jack, the micro USB port felt solid, and didn’t have any discernible wiggle to it when plugged in. You’ll also find that nice same satisfying snap in when hooking in the USB cable.

Overall aesthetically, while it should be noted that I have more than just a bone to pick with the front of the device and its design choices, the rest of the phone is decently nice. It doesn’t quite stand out from the crowd, but it’s not an eyesore either as it does look quite nice in a minimalistic way. I do however have a bone to pick with the build quality of the phone, as I found the choice of plastics to just be cheap, as the back feels really thin and flimsy, and holding up the phone and pressing on it a little, very audible creaks and noises can be heard, that really don’t help with the notion of being a sturdy phone, which I think it’s not really one.

Coming from the Mi3 as my previous review, I definitely find myself more than a bit disappointed with this phone, in both the build quality and design choices department.

Hands on and Benchmarks



Again a similar deal with the Redmi 1s, where you get nothing fancy for a boot animation, only the Mi logo that pops up, except in this case, it doesn’t even change colours at all. No boot sounds as well, even more minimalist. The phone booted up in 28 seconds.

Note that as the similarities between the OS used in the Mi3 and the Redmi 1s are highly identical, most of the information below is similar to that found in my review for the Mi3.

Redmi1s-Lockscreen
The locksreen on the Redmi 1s while similar in functionality to the Mi3, looks more akin to the older versions of MIUI v5, and by that I mean that it does look slightly more dated in the design department. Most notably the UI elements look thicker and bolder in comparison to the newer versions. Holding on the circular unlock ring, you get the option to swipe into 4 directions to unlock the phone into the respective function.

There’s the option to unlock into the camera up to, the left to dialer, right to messaging, and bottom to unlock the device to whatever you left it at.

Nothing new now, but another hidden feature is double tapping on the center of the ring, that changes the lockscreen controls to music controls instead, allowing you to instantly play music on your device. The background changes to the cover art should the music file have one, or stylised purple lines should it not.

Operation wise, the lockscreen when moving your finger around quick enough does have a minor lag behind it, but nothing major and mostly just me nitpicking at this point. Aside from that, no lags unlocking into either respective functions, though from there firing up things like the camera does involve about a 1 second wait time.

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The Redmi 1s runs on their own home grown MIUI software, so if you’re looking for the app drawer, you’ll find none here. At time of review, the unit that I have runs on MIUI v5, though they’re slated to release MIUI V6 for this phone and many of their lineups in the near future.

Skinning of the icons have a clean look, as they all follow the theme of having round edges, with a gradient transition background, together with simple shapes to represent their corresponding applications that give it a clean, easy to understand UI. Aside from the MIUI standards, like its own Weather, Calendar, Browser, and Music app, it doesn’t come with any other third party applications pre-installed, though since this is an international model, you DO find that it comes with Play Store installed.

Organisation and usage of the home screen is really intuitive and simple as dragging icons onto one another creates a folder, where you can drag and drop more applications into the folder and rename it. Dragging icons around automatically moves and rearranges the rest in a nice fluid animation, and to uninstall an application, just drag it to the top of the screen after a long press, and you’ll be given a prompt as to whether you do want to uninstall the application or not.

Pinching on the screen or long pressing on an empty spot brings you to the same option of being able to edit the home screens by adding more pages, as well as editing themes for widgets like the clock from MIUI’s extensive list of custom clockfaces from their market. In this mode of things, you can organize applications even easier, using the Move Apps option, add more widgets, change the wallpaper or change the transition effect between pages. Pressing on the options key allows you to access even more settings, like Preview Home Screens, that allow you to rearrange the screens in any order that you wish, and to set the main home screen, and Launcher settings allows you to set even more advanced settings.

Redmi1s-Drawer
Pulling down on the notification bar shows you a list of your pending notifications and your data usage as well down the bottom. Swiping to the right or tapping on the Toggles tab down the bottom brings you to the toggles page that similar to Android post Jellybean, allows you to quickly enable and disable options on your phone, and long pressing on any given icon brings you to their respective advanced settings. You can also customise the arrangement of these icons in the More button, where you can add and remove toggles, though you’re only allowed a maximum of 11 to display at any given time. You can even change the layout and settings within this page if you tap on the Notifications settings button in this page. Back to the Toggles pulldown menu, you do get the option to set the display brightness here as well and there is a shortcut directly to the options page on the top right. It should also be noted that if you have no pending notifications, you will be brought straight to the Toggles page instead.

Heading into the settings page, options are divided into two columns, where the more frequently accessed options are under the Quick Settings tab, and a full list of options are available in the General Settings tab.

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The Redmi 1s only comes with 8gb of internal storage, but the good news is of course, that it’s expandable. After installing my benchmarking applications however, I was only left with 4.58GB left of usable space, so I think that’s something to bear in mind. It’s best to store music and media in an external SD rather than on the device itself.

Redmi1s-AntutuBench
In Antutu Benchmark, theRedmi 1s got a score of 16,636 which isn’t very high at all, and since I had to reset the benchmark results due to the move to Antutu Benchmark v5.1, this makes the Redmi 1s the lowest out of all the devices I managed to test as of so far.

Redmi1s-3dMark
Looking at the 3dMark results, it’s no surprise to see the Redmi 1s come above its MediaTek Competitors, namely the 6582 and the 6589. Looking at another phone with the same chip however, it’s interesting to see the Redmi 1s have consistently higher scores than the Moto G in 3d Mark.

Redmi1s-Epic
The Redmi 1s got a score of 52fps on High Quality settings, which is pretty good, though bumping it to Ultra High Quality seemed to stress it a lot more as it only got 25.9fps then.

Redmi1s-GFXBench
Results from GFX Bench are in, and while FPS during benchmarking wasn’t really all that high, GFX Bench isn’t really an indication of real world mobile games, rather that’s Epic Citadel’s job. Results put it slightly lower the Intel Z2560 found in the FonePad 7.

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Redmi 1s didn’t seem to have any problems dealing with multi touch inputs, coming in at a maximum of 10, so that’s good to see.

Sound, Speakers and Media Playback



Call Quality is okay on the Redmi1s. I found the earpiece to be loud enough, though a little muffled sounding. Microphone was also loud enough, but just like the earpiece, just a little bit muffled on the other end.

The loudspeaker is loud enough to be heard, so you’re probably not going to miss any calls, and while the speakers itself do not sound tinny, don’t expect any bass as it’s quite flat.

Vibration I honestly found to be a little bit on the weaker side of things. It was soft enough that unless you’re probably wearing tight pants, you won’t feel it vibrating at all in your pockets. Placing it on a table wasn’t much better either, as you’re more likely to just hear the speakerphone, but if you have your phone on silent… then all bets are off.

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To test out the audio output quality, I hooked in my Koss KSC-75s and fired up some of my favourite vocal and EDM tracks. First track I tested out was Kyau & Albert’s Down. Comparing sound quality to my Cowon J3, I found the sound signature to be almost comparable, which needless to say was quite shocking. Sound separation was good, highs, mids, and lows sound lovely, and well perhaps the only SLIGHT difference I can pick out so far is how the bass is just SLIGHTLY less tighter than that on the J3, but only if you listen ever so closely to be honest. Testing out the next track, Ferry Corsten’s Hyper Love, is where I found the difference to be a bit more evident but again, not really extremely noticeable. The electronic highs during the chorus isn’t nearly as clear, mids are ever so slightly drowned, and lows again, not really AS sharp. The final track, Sunlounger’s White Sand (Chillout Mix), is where the line blurs up again, as the Redmi 1s’ audio output is just really stellar. This was definitely one of the more surprising finds of this review.

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The default media player managed to handle the copy of The Thing  2011, that was encoded in H264 with an average bitrate of 2,032 kbps in 1080p and AAC encoded audio in an MKV container. There wasn’t any lag at all in playback, as playback was nice and smooth. The default media player was unable to playback the embedded subtitles.

Camera, Photo Quality & Video Recordings


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Tapping on the options button gives you the option to throw on filters, do photos with voice recordings, take panoramas, hand-held twilight shots and enable HDR. I tried to find the same extensive settings from disabling Simple Mode that I found on the Mi3, but sadly I didn’t find any.

Redmi1s-CamAdv

Disabling Simple Mode gave me only a handful of other extra’s like focus mode (Auto or Macro), settings the ISO, adjusting the exposure compensation and adjusting the white balance. No sign of the Manual mode that allows me to fully set the exposure length of the sensor here, and to me, that came as quite a bit disappointment, seeing as how I really loved it on the Mi3. There’s no sign of being able to manually set the white balance in kelvins as well, so that’s a bit of a bummer.

Other settings within Settings (inception) is the ability to change your picture size, set picture quality (read compression and file size), store location info, set what the volume buttons do, or if you hold down the shutter button, add in reference lines, enable or disable camera sounds, or scan QR codes. Aside from that, you get to control auto exposure settings, Anti-Banding, Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness as well as Face Detection.

Switching into video recording, brings its own set of settings, like filters, white balance, video recording quality (1080p Full HD, 720p HD or 480p SD) along with an option to do time lapse videos. Heading into Settings, you can enable photo taking while in video mode, Camera sounds, image stabiliser, set what the volume buttons do, as well as focusing mode, and time lapse interval.

So far from described, it sounds like it’s a trimmed down version of the camera from the Mi3. Now let’s see if the photo quality can hold its own as well.

Photo’s just like the Mi3, aren’t really the sharpest out there, though they’re pretty good in their own right. It seems to have difficulty getting the white balancing and the exposure right however, as photos can sometimes look just a little bit colder or over exposed than they should be. Occasionally I get photos that seem to be a bit underexposed as well. Noise is visible, though kept under control very well, even in darker photos. Dynamic range looks good for the most part, though I do notice that in most photos, darker details tend to get lost very quickly. Turning on HDR fixes this, though again, just like the Mi3, the results can either look just nice or overly saturated.

Night mode is where things kind of get a bit weird, as I got better results using HDR during night shots, versus the built in Hand-held Twilight mode, that surprisingly gave me photos that were just about as dark as Auto, with less noise, and a lot more lost detail, which I suspect may come from the denoise filtering. As the aperture for the lens is quite small, bokeh isn’t really all that present, and where it is, doesn’t look all that great either, as it looks just a bit messy. Feel free to check out the gallery down below and click on the images for their full size.

Switching the slider from Photo to Video moves you into video recording mode. You’re able to take photos during video recording as well, provided you turn on the setting in the Settings menu. Tapping on the screen shifts the focus of the camera while taking a video

Video wasn’t as sharp as I’d like it for 1080p recording, and colours weren’t quite as vibrant as I would have liked it. Audio in the recording seemed just a little bit tinny as well, with the internal microphone being able to only pick up the higher frequencies. Quite a bit of noise was picked up as well, especially given the conditions at which the test shot was conducted.

Connectivity


Redmi1s-Connectivity
WiFi connections came out amongst the higher scoring devices, with the phone having no problems grabbing a signal whether it’d be close by or further out.

GSM signal strength is where it scored the highest, getting -16db.

Redmi1s-GPS
GPS wise, under clear conditions it took the phone 12 seconds to get a lock onto a satellite. Not the fastest, but certainly no slouch either. After leaving it for a while, the signal steadied out into an accuracy of 3 meters.

Battery Life


Redmi1s-Battery
I ran some applications, collected their battery usage, and based on that, extrapolated the results to bring you these estimates on battery life:

– 4 hours 36 minutes of video playback
– 8 days 8 hours pure standby (GSM, Wifi)
– 1 day 14 hours 48 minutes of normal usage

Runtime for the Redmi 1s was good when on idle, inching ahead of the Moto G with a similar chip. What bothered me however, was runtime, as I found that battery drain was a lot higher during my Non-Stop video playback test. This could be because of the higher clocked CPU as well (1.6Ghz on the Redmi 1s, 1.2Ghz on the Moto G). I should mention as well that the device heated up quite a bit even on video playback, which was quite discomforting. To sum this section up, if you’re someone who occasionally uses his/her phone, then you’ll find the battery life to be quite good, though if you are one of those glued onto your device, you may just come out of this disappointed.

Conclusion


To say that the Redmi 1s had big shoes to fill would be an understatement; I loved the Mi3 for what it was and what it offered at that price point, and I came to have the same amount of high expectations for the Redmi 1s. Sadly, I don’t really feel that it even came close to meeting my expectations. First off, I found the display to be a letdown, and I say this because the iOcean X7 which I’ve reviewed before is still with me, and in comparison, the phone has a WAY nicer display and I think the Redmi 1s just pales in comparison. Then there’s the issue with the capacitive keys. I don’t really like their design choice of making the keys red, as it made it that much harder to see, throw in the fact that they’re not backlit, and you’ll find that the buttons can be hard to find at night, with a lot of accidental touches. The choice of placement of the power indicator down the bottom of the phone is one that baffles me as well, as I think it’s a terrible place to place a light, and that it leaks into the display really does get to me. I’ll add as well that I think that the bezels are just a bit thick and unsightly for a 2014 device.

Moving then to the back, while it’s nice to have a phone that is capable of swapping back covers for more colour options, I found the build quality of the covers themselves to be too cheap feeling for comfort, as if they could crack easily, making a case a definite must in my books.

Performance wise is good enough to get you by, though the phone does heat up quite a bit from normal usage, and under one circumstance, I’ve actually had the phone freeze and lock up on me before, due to the high temperatures it reached, but then again, the conditions in which that happened were of really poor ventilation. It’s still worrying however. Battery life on usage isn’t the best as well, though idle time is good. What good is a phone that only does idle well though.

On the brighter side of things, I believe that the camera is pretty capable for something at this price point, the sound quality for music playback absolutely shocked and pleased me, and the price point at which this phone comes in is hard to beat. The only other real contenders at this price point would be the Asus ZenFone 4 and 5, though both those phones are quite good in their own right.

My verdict? While it certainly does have an appealing price point, and everything sort of looks good on paper, I feel that one could possibly do better with their money than on the Redmi 1s. It’s not a bad phone in its own right, as it handles almost everything I throw at it well, but when you stop and nit-pick on its flaws, you find yourself picking for a while.

Pros

  • Camera is capable of taking some pretty good photos
  • Sound quality for music listening and playback is superb
  • Smooth operation
  • Great connectivity strength
  • Frequent updates
  • Price point at 129 USD (419 MYR)

Cons

  • Disappointing IPS LCD Display
  • Thick bezels on the LCD
  • Non-Backlit Red capacitive keys are hard to read
  • Charging light leaks onto display, that’s noticeable in darker environments.
  • Back cover feels cheap
  • Average video recording quality
  • Phone heats up quite quickly and has the potential to freeze and shut down
  • Idle battery life is good, but runtime battery life is sad.
  • Only one sim slot is 3G capable.
  • Boring design

Redmi1s-ScoreDue to the competitive pricing, I give the Xiaomi Redmi 1s a 7.5/10.

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  • Ayesha Sheikh

    thanks for the comprehensive review!!

  • Ayesha Sheikh

    just bought it , mindboggling number of options and things to learn, its my first smartphone !!! battery life seems poor but maybe I need to read some tips and tricks to optimize its use

    • Feel free to check out my Custom ROM article that I wrote, in which I specifically talked about how my move to a Custom ROM significantly increased the battery life of the Redmi 1s 🙂