Xiaomi Redmi Go: The Android Go smartphone we deserve

Small, light and, it just delivers.

That is my overall assessment of Xiaomi’s first (and the only one as at this time) Android Go smartphone, the Redmi Go.

Arriving under the newly-created Redmi sub-brand, the Redmi Go’s packaging is pretty much the usual standard Xiaomi packaging, quite a departure from what we’ve seen with other Android Go devices. However, all that goes back to default settings once one unwraps the packaging.

Inside it is just a SIM slot ejection tool, some paperwork and a USB cable and the wall adaptor. No case, as Tecno and Infinix would add and no pair of headsets. The latter is something that Xiaomi has been consistent about across the board in order to justify the highly subsidized pricing of its devices around the world.

Design

From the get-go, the Redmi Go feels like something you want to touch and use and touch again. Sure, it has an all-plastic construction, as would be expected of a basic smartphone like it is, but all that has been made to wrap around it so nicely you don’t even, for a minute, feel like you’re holding or using a dirt cheap droid.

The lone camera lens at the back, the speaker grill and microUSB port on the bottom and the headphone jack at the top flanked by tiny microphones, all slot into place nicely. As do the easily accessible – by one hand, no less – volume rocker and power button on the left side of the device.

Where almost everyone else has opted to go with removable back covers from where SIM and expandable memory slots can be found, Xiaomi opted for a sealed back with pop out slots on the right side of the device to take care of the dual-SIM and microSD cards. I actually found them much easier to handle than I have on other Xiaomi devices with a near-similar arrangement: the Redmi 5A I used early last year and the Redmi 6A I bought later in the same year.

Interestingly, Xiaomi has gone with physical buttons on the Redmi Go, like the ones that can be found on the Mi A1. Unlike those on the Mi A1, though, these ones don’t light up (i.e. lack a backlight). Given that they are the only means for navigating on the device, using the Redmi Go in the dark can be quite challenging at first until one gets the hang of it.

Another thing it borrows from the Mi A1 and past generation devices from Xiaomi are the god-awful chins. Like I joked about the Mi A1’s, you can pack a Boeing 747 over there and still have enough space for it to take off.

Display

That the device’s display is only 5 inches is actually one of the best things about it as it fits in nicely in the hand and one-handed use is, as a result, quite a breeze. Something that I can’t say of the various 6-inchers that I have been using recently and which, thanks to their makers knowing about the struggle associated with such, built-in features to make single-handed use possible.

Coincidentally, this has also been my experience on two other Android Go devices: Safaricom’s Neon Kicka 4 and itel’s A32F, both o which I reviewed last year after some days playing with them. So, probably, besides the price, maybe the other thing that Android Go has going for it is being able to transition the first time smartphone users to the world of big displays?

Camera

I started using the Redmi Go with little hope for the camera and boy, was I in for a rude shock!

If you bothered to take note, I haven’t had much to say about the cameras on most of the Android Go devices that I have reviewed so far. That’s deliberate: because they are not worth saying anything about. They’re bad, in every sense of that word. Sure, an argument can be made that the people targeted shouldn’t expect anything better at the price they’re paying and whether they even care in the first place but let’s call it what it is. Of course, the only exception, per the devices I have used, is Tecno’s second generation Spark smartphone. That camera remains unbeatable.

However, the Tecno Spark 2 costs a few thousand shillings more than the Redmi Go so, if you were to go further down the food chain, the Redmi Go is where you’d stop, probably temporarily since I haven’t sampled all that there is to sample. The camera does surprisingly well in good lighting and you won’t have to do second takes in order to get snaps that are just good enough to satisfy your thirst for social media validation. Just remember to not bother doing so during the night because the results will be predictably bad, as you can expect.

Performance

It’s one thing knowing what a smartphone of the Redmi Go’s calibre can and can’t handle and restricting yourself to within the invisible boundaries and it’s quite another going all in on it without realizing the dangers involved. I happen to be the type of user who has the privilege of having more than one device at any given time. As such, that means that I can delegate most of the heavy stuff to some other secondary device while I take another, like the Redmi Go, through its paces.

The end result is that I am able to balance the input with the output I get. As such, my experience with the Redmi Go has been generally good. Why? Well, I have only bothered to install just 7 applications to add to the several from Xiaomi and Google that come preloaded on the device. Those 7 – Twitter, mySafaricom, Plus Messenger, LastPass, Keep and AIDA64 – are those that I need with me in order to function. Well, with the exception of AIDA64 whose existence on any device I am using is temporary. Why? Well, again, proper use of resources.

The Redmi Go only has 8GB internal storage and 50% of that is already spent on system resources when one gets going so there is only 4GB to work with. Now, 4GB is already almost the entire size of my WhatsApp backup so, definitely, I cannot have such an app on a device like this one. That is a recurring theme that one will find everywhere they go. Sure, there is a 16GB variant but that one is not available locally, as far as I know. The only saving grace may be to take advantage of the microSD slot and insert a memory card. The system allows for up to 128GB in storage expansion. Even better, one can format the memory card and use it as internal storage.

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In the absence of that, though, one will have to be clever so as to avoid filling up the entire storage as this definitely degrades the performance and that infamous lag sets in, something that I didn’t experience because of my prudent use of the space available. There is a “cleaner” app that is pre-installed that may come in handy but not for much.

All factors constant, the system doesn’t appear to be overwhelmed and this is perhaps one of the few and rare instances where a device maker seems to have managed to strike a very thin balance of maintaining its brand presence in the software while not resulting in a heavy load on both an operating system meant to work with very little and corresponding hardware that isn’t meant to do any heavy-lifting. Perfect match.

Software

The Redmi Go is an Android Go smartphone through and through. There’s the 1GB memory it packs and there’s the plethora of Go apps it arrives with: for the Google Assistant, Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps. There are also similar apps, minus the Go branding, from other quarters as well. Like Facebook Lite. Those and a few apps added by Xiaomi either because they are necessary or because they are required for a better experience work in tandem to create a very good experience.

As a result, at no given point does the device feel overburdened or struggling. It’s all snappy.

Xiaomi has also thrown into the mix the Mint launcher it has recently made available on the Play Store as well as a “Mint browser”. While the former is just a different take on the Poco launcher that Xiaomi has on yet another sub-brand, Pocophone, the latter is something that I didn’t have any experience with prior to using the Redmi Go and is, in my opinion, rather misplaced. I mean, Chrome is already preloaded since it comes as part of the Google apps package so what is the point of another browser that consumes valuable resources in a resource-constrained device like the Redmi Go? Waste.

Buried deep under the settings is the ability to turn on the display of the Redmi Go by double-tapping anywhere. I found that to be a nice foundation to build on with all the gesture-based features that await the device should it ever get a bump from Oreo to Android Pie.

Battery

This is highly dependent on one’s usage and, as such, there are high chances you may want to plug it in before the day ends if you use your phone a lot – more so for browsing.

However, in my case, I found it able to withstand my usually somewhat busy day. Granted, I did not migrate some apps I use a lot, like WhatsApp because of space limitations, I was still able to get everything going. Twitter, email (via Gmail Go), YouTube (via the YouTube Go app whose experience is pretty humbling) and some music streaming via Deezer.

In all, this is much better battery life than I had on the itel A32F and the Safaricom Neon Kicka 4, the only other devices it is worth comparing to at its sub-Kshs 6,000 offer/discounted price. Well, there is still those F-series devices from Tecno last year…

The good

  • Easy to handle
  • Surprisingly good camera for the money
  • Good battery life
  • 4G LTE
  • Price is on point

The bad

  • Very little storage
  • It’s all good until you start demanding of the device things it definitely can’t handle

The lowdown

If like yours truly, you pick up the Redmi Go from Jumia for the discounted price of just Kshs 5,500 (during the Jumia Mobile Week), then it is one hell of a deal. One whose experience is not just bearable, it is more consistent than most of its peers in that price range.

Things only change when you have to pay the full launch price of Kshs 8,500. At that price, the dynamics change and you have a few more options to consider. For instance, adding Kshs 1,000 more gets you the Nokia 1 Plus, a far much better device with a guaranteed update roadmap, a rarity at this price range. Options increase when 4G LTE stops being an issue. Other Xiaomi devices like the venerable Redmi 6A are also not so far off.

While it lacks the bells and whistles of some of the cheap Android Go devices we have seen enter the Kenyan market since last year – things like face unlock and fingerprint sensors – it at least has 4G LTE, unlike some of those.

So, if you are in the market for a dirt cheap smartphone that can also take some acceptable photos during the day (never at night) and which is small enough to fit in your palms without sliding out, this is it. Just be sure to have a memory card on the ready since all those photos you plan on taking have to go somewhere, don’t they?

READ:  Xiaomi Redmi Go specifications

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com