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June 7, 2018

Xiaomi Redmi Y2 preview: Perfecting a winning formula

by John_A

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After a relatively quiet start to the year, Xiaomi is once again targeting the entry-level segment with the Redmi Y2. Although the device is launching just six months after the debut of the Redmi Y1, the Y2 isn’t a mid-cycle refresh. It offers comprehensive upgrades in key areas, including an 18:9 panel, Snapdragon 625, and dual rear cameras.

What makes the device that much more enticing is the fact that it retails for just ₹9,999. We’ve seen devices in recent months that challenged Xiaomi’s position in this category — notably the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1 — but with the Y2 the brand is reasserting its dominance. The Redmi Y2 doesn’t quite go up against the M1, but it is one of the most affordable devices in the market to feature the Snapdragon 625 and dual cameras.

With the Redmi Y2 now featuring an 18:9 panel, there are smaller bezels at the top and bottom of the display, and the phone has a 6.0-inch screen in roughly a similar chassis as the 5.5-inch Y1.

The display was flush with the body on the Redmi Y1, but the Y2 sees the panel jut out considerably from the mid-frame. The screen itself is about the same as what we’ve seen last year, but taller because of the switch to the 18:9 form factor.

The 5.99-inch 720p panel (1440×720) offers vibrant colors, and you can adjust the color balance from the settings. I used the Redmi Y2 for a few days in Taiwan — where it gets just as bright as India — and I had zero issues reading the contents of the screen under harsh sunlight. Xiaomi has been making decent IPS LCD panels in this category for a few generations now.

Xiaomi is still using a polycarbonate back with a metal mid-frame, and the overall fit and finish is top-notch. The design itself is slightly altered, and the antenna bands no longer intersect the camera module. Instead, they run along the top and bottom edges of the phone, giving it a cleaner look at the back.

The phone also comes with dual SIM card slots and a dedicated MicroSD card slot, so you don’t have to choose between a secondary SIM and an SD card. Oh, and Xiaomi is throwing in a clear case in the box.

The Redmi Y2 comes with the latest version of MIUI 9.5 out of the box, which is based on Android 8.1 Oreo. A new feature addition in MIUI 9.5 is gestures, which let you disable the nav bar and use a gesture-driven interface similar to that of the iPhone X.

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Gestures work the following way: swipe up from the bottom center of the screen to go to the home screen, swipe up and hold halfway to pull up the overview pane, and swipe up from either edge of the display to go back in an app. Xiaomi isn’t the first manufacturer to roll out gestures, but MIUI 9.5 makes them more accessible to a wider range of budget devices.

Other changes in MIUI 9.5 include easier restore options, and the interface feels more polished from previous versions. With the global version of MIUI 10 on the horizon, we should see the update make its way to the Y2 in the coming months.

The dual camera sensor is arrayed vertically, and like the Redmi Note 5 Pro, it looks a lot like the iPhone X. Although the phone has dual 12MP + 5MP sensors — with the secondary camera facilitating portrait mode — the feature is still finicky. The primary camera has received an upgrade, and the larger 1.25um pixel size lets in more light, leading to better photos in daylight conditions.

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The 16MP front camera uses pixel binning to produce more detailed photos, and one feature I’m excited about is face unlock. Xiaomi is upfront about the fact that its face unlock tech isn’t as secure as using a PIN, and there were a few times where the system failed in low-light conditions. That said, it is a convenient feature addition that works great for the most part.

Like most other Chinese manufacturers, Xiaomi has been using the AI moniker liberally in its promotional materials. For the Redmi Y2, the brand is touting an AI-assisted Beautify mode, and semantic segmentation for portrait mode. The AI-backed Beautify 4.0 mode automatically corrects blemishes, and Xiaomi says the mode is tailored for an Indian audience.

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A few features are unchanged from last year: there’s still a 3080mAh battery, MicroUSB charging, and fast charging is limited to 5V/2A. You’ll still get a day’s worth of usage with ease, and more often than not the Redmi Y2 will be able to deliver a two-day battery life.

I’ve lost count of the number of devices Xiaomi has released that were powered by the Snapdragon 625 — it’s clear that the company favors the chipset for its balance of performance and efficiency. Going with the Snapdragon 625 is a win-win for Xiaomi — the chipset has been in the market for several years now, so Xiaomi doesn’t need to pay a huge licensing fee to Qualcomm.

Then there’s the fact that MIUI is optimized for the chipset, so it should make it easier for Xiaomi to roll out a new device with the Snapdragon 625 over a Snapdragon 630.

Xiaomi’s budget lineup is getting increasingly confusing.

Sure, the Snapdragon 625 is showing its age at this point, but it is still a step up over the Snapdragon 435 that was powering the Y1. I haven’t seen any slowdowns on the Redmi Y2, and I’ve been using the version with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.

The budget segment is saturated with phones that offer great value for money, and it’s getting increasingly difficult for manufacturers to differentiate their products in this category. The Redmi Y2 provides incredible value, but there are other devices from Xiaomi that offer quite a bit more for your money.

A litany of launches at the tail end of the year combined with the introduction of the Redmi Note 5 series earlier this year means Xiaomi has over eight models on sale in the budget category.

Like last year — where the Redmi Note 4 was a better purchase over the Redmi Y1 — the Y2 is going up against the Redmi Note 5. The Redmi Y2 has dual cameras going for it, but the Note 5 has a Full HD display and a significantly larger battery.

I’ll have much more to share on the Redmi Y2 in the coming weeks, including how it fares against the likes of the Redmi Note 5 and other budget phones.

But for now, all you need to know is that the Redmi Y2 continues Xiaomi’s strong showing in this category. The hardware is familiar, but the addition of face unlock and a retooled front camera make it a strong contender in this category.

The Redmi Y2 will go up for sale exclusively on Amazon India, with the 3GB/32GB set to cost ₹9,999. The 4GB/64GB option will be available for ₹12,999.

What are your thoughts on the Redmi Y2?

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