Xiaomi is quietly making inroads in the Kenyan market using a hybrid of its tried and tested model of cutting overheads by selling its devices online as well as having a couple of brick and mortar stores stocking its devices. This has been going on for about 10 months now after an earlier attempt to hack the Kenyan smartphone market failed spectacularly.
Like it has done elsewhere, what’s bringing attention to the brand is the reasonable pricing of its devices. All that you need is Kshs 20,000 or less and you have a very solid smartphone that can stand up to any of its peers and beat them at their own game.
The most interesting of those Xiaomi smartphones that are good value for money also happens to be one of its cheapest: the Redmi 6A.
Launched just recently to a lot of pomp and colour by Xiaomi’s online retail partners Jumia Kenya, the device would be the cheapest Xiaomi smartphone in Kenya had its predecessor not stopped rearing its ugly head at every mention of the company’s name.
Sure, I have nothing but respect for the Redmi 5A since, before my recent dalliance with Huawei’s equivalent, I hadn’t been wowed by any other device in its price range. The Huawei Y5 Prime 2018 made me realize the kind of a joke that is the Redmi 5A’s battery. While those who bought it a few months ago (even better if you got it at its discounted rate during the Jumia Mobile Week) did get a good deal, that is then and this is now. In the mobile tech world, a week is just as long as a month and it’s been a while since the Redmi 5A had its shine.
Enter the Xiaomi Redmi 6A.
I’ve been using the Redmi 6A for the last few weeks and I am wowed. It is a complete package. It’s the Huawei Y5 Prime 2018 but slightly better.
Display and Design
The display is not the best there is and you’ll struggle to use it outdoors. The design, however, is just as good, if not better, than the Redmi 5A’s. I like that while there is a protruding camera module at the back, it doesn’t wobble when placed on a flat surface like a table. There are so many lessons some Kshs 100,000+ smartphones can learn from a device that is a tenth of their asking price.
Whereas the Y5 Prime 2018 sidesteps a bottom-firing speaker, like the one on the Y7 Prime 2018, in favour of the device’s earpiece doubling up as the speaker, the Redmi 6A brings back something that the novelty of cheap Tecno and Infinix smartphones has made us forget: speakers located on the back of a smartphone. Sigh, two steps forward, one backward. Still, at least the design is now more in line with that of the machined holes we’re used to seeing on unibody devices than the mesh-like mess that adorns the back of its predecessors.
There is also the small matter of the god-awful bezels that make the 18:9 aspect ratio HD display look like it is sandwiched between a 2014 smartphone but at that price, what do you expect? Also, I’d rather this than the race to ugly cutouts (others call them notches) that everyone and their dog appears to be in.
An interesting omission in the Xiaomi Redmi 6A is the infrared blaster. Its predecessor had one and it was one of the reasons why I outrightly recommended it as it meant that one does not need to part with double or triple the money to upgrade to another Xiaomi smartphone that will let them control their home entertainment systems using a smartphone and without needing a local area network linked to the global information superhighway.
The Xiaomi Redmi 6A’s camera is rather basic. Sure, the app does have all the bells and whistles that you can expect on pricier devices – the ability to create epic time lapses, shooting video in full HD (complete with a stabilizer), HDR and a manual mode – but I am not one to over-indulge in those, least of all on a device as basic as the 6A. That’s because, most times, they end up disappointing. It’s a good start for everyone who will be getting the 6A as their first smartphone or their be-all but it’s inconsequential for anyone who knows that they can get a better experience up the ladder.
In the dark, the 6A’s camera holds up just as well as the Huawei Y5 Prime 2018’s snapper did. Like other smartphones from China-based brands, the portrait mode, while impressive at this price point, is far too aggressive and could be miles better.
Here are a few photos I managed to take:
Software and Performance
When it comes to being feature-packed, Xiaomi’s own take on Android, called MIUI, is one of the most heavily customized out there. Up there with Samsung’s TouchWiz, OPPO’s ColorOS and Huawei’s EMUI. While on any other given day that would be a terrible thing to me, in the course of my interaction with the Redmi 6A that has turned out to be a big positive.
I never thought I’d say this but I love MIUI as I have interacted with it on the Xiaomi Redmi 6A. If this entry-level smartphone is anything to go by then Xiaomi knows what it is doing and they are on to something here. Google should be afraid. Very afraid.
Imagine, at the Redmi 6A’s sub-Kshs 12,000 pricing for both variants (16GB internal storage and 32GB), it’s bound to attract quite some attention. Now, if this device manages to sell very well, which I have no doubt it will, those are all converts to Xiaomi’s take on Android and not Google’s or Google’s vision of Android. That has the effect of creating a whole base, generation, even, of smartphone users whose idea of Android is dictated by Xiaomi. Good for Xiaomi but bad for Google and Android overall. This is not entirely a new thing since we’ve seen how deep Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay has become entrenched. Or, these days, Huawei’s EMUI.
My MIUI experience is positive because despite the heavy customization and the Redmi 6A’s meagre resources, the device is just as fast and responsive as I would want it to, a far cry from my experience with the Huawei Y5 Prime 2018. Sure, it will stutter when it has its hands full but not all the time, something that I cannot say of Huawei’s smartphone and even a similarly-priced Android Go smartphone, Tecno’s Spark 2.
For those that are out to get the most of their purchase, MIUI offers that and then some more. Unlike the very first time when I encountered MIUI on a real Xiaomi device 2 years ago (I’d previously just used the MIUI ROM on my other – Samsung – devices) for the first time, this time round it behaved. Heck even the SIM toolkit is just where I want it to be and it actually works as it should, never mind that the Safaricom app has made me have very little direct use for it.
MIUI’s split-screen mode, which allows multi-tasking, is the best implementation of the feature that I have encountered anywhere on a smartphone. Yes, even on a Galaxy Note smartphone.
There’s the dual apps feature that allows users to create two instances of WhatsApp on one device, well suited for users of dual-SIM devices of which the Redmi 6A is one. Second space, another feature that may come in handy in case you need to keep some things from the prying eyes of your significant other, does the same thing as Infinix’s XHide.
I am particularly a fan of how MIUI displays app menus in the settings app as it provides easy access to the actions that I always want to take – clear an app’s data and cache, force stop it or delete/uninstall it altogether.
Most times I lament of feature overload because it ends up tampering with the overall user experience by introducing unnecessary lag thereby ruining what it set to do better. That is not the case on MIUI, at least for most of the time, and I love it. I am just here thinking, if this is the case on a dirt cheap smartphone that is not even running the latest version of MIUI (MIUI 10 is still coming, remember?) then what about the Kshs 40,000 and above Xiaomi smartphones?
Of course, what I don’t like about MIUI is just the fact that it is way too colourful and I am still not a fan of the app drawer-less launcher.
One other thing, unlike Huawei which tries to shove down your throat 100 games you’ll never play, Xiaomi pretty much leaves you to your own device(s?). There’s no bloatware. Sure there are Microsoft apps like Skype, Outlook and the Office trio of Word, Powerpoint and Excel mobile as well as Xiaomi’s own Mi forums app but it was my choice to let those one be. You see, when setting up the Redmi 6A for use for the first time, you are actually prompted to select the add-on apps that you want to keep. Just like it happened with the Xiaomi Mi A1. You can opt to not keep any. Even when you do, you can uninstall them when you want since they are not system apps.
I am in awe.
While I averaged over 3.5 hours of screen on time, I did manage to peak at just over 5 hours occasionally when I wasn’t demanding more from the device and I think that’s pretty much the ceiling unless you take to reading eBooks.
Overall, the battery life is great, I cannot complain. Sure, it won’t last 2 days – you’ll need to charge it by the time 24 hours elapse – but it’ll get you through your work day, or the most it, depending on your usage.
What I did not like, though, is that it takes almost 3 hours to charge the device from under 5% to 100%. Since there’s no fast charging (and you shouldn’t expect this on an entry-level smartphone), your patience will be tested. The charging takes forever. It’s like a trickle.
- Performance is good. MIUI surprisingly holds up so well you don’t end up missing Android Go like you would when using EMUI on the Y5 Prime 2018.
- Battery life is good.
- The camera is good.
- You need the patience you were taught in Sunday school in order to sit through the 3 hours it takes to charge from almost nothing to 100%.
- Whereas the likes of Tecno do the most when it comes to bundling things like headsets (however bad they sound) in the box, Xiaomi has taken the route of Huawei. The box has next to nothing. Where is CA when you need them?
The main motivation for me buying this phone was just simple: to compare it with the Redmi 5A since I bought a couple of units of that device and gave them away at the end of March. Well, I ended up liking the device itself even more than thought I would and more than I liked similarly-priced devices. The Huawei Y5 Prime 2018 or this one? Come on! It’s definitely this one for me.
Like the Y5 Prime 2018, it has a good feel (design), has a battery that lasts long and a camera that is more than you pay for. However, unlike the Y5 Prime 2018, its meagre storage (in case you opt for the 16GB option) is not eaten into by unnecessary apps and games nor is its performance interfered with by meaningless software customizations. Sure, it does not have a face unlock mechanism (despite all the influencers saying it has – maybe it will come via a future software update) but really, what’s the point of face unlock if it’s compromised by a device’s overall sluggishness?
Go buy this one if all that you have to spend on a smartphone is Kshs 12,000. The 16GB variant costs less (under Kshs 10,000) but you’ll want the extra storage that you can get for just Kshs 3,000 more or thereabout that the 32GB model offers you since, trust me, you don’t want to rely on whatever Xiaomi is calling Mi Cloud.