Redmi is the more affordable arm of Xiaomi. Yes, we know that Xiaomi is pretty cheap compared to the likes of Samsung and Google, but Redmi is even cheaper. 

With Xiaomi being fairly new to the UK, Redmi devices slot in beneath in terms of specs, which explains the more affordable pricing. Having split itself off into a separate brand, you can expect to hear more from the company as it fights for mid-range market space.

Somewhat confusingly, the Redmi Note 7 that we have in the UK is the same spec as the Redmi Note 7S in India - so there's some variance in naming on these devices. 

A quality design and finish

  • Gorilla Glass 5
  • Rear fingerprint scanner
  • 159.2 x 75.2 x 8.1mm; 186g

The Redmi Note 7 looks like a lot of recent Xiaomi designs. Edge-to-edge glass on the front and back sits in a central waistband, using Gorilla Glass 5 to try and keep scratches to a minimum. In the weeks we've been using the phone, it's escaped any damage. 

At 8.1mm it's slim, too, and the size is pretty well proportioned, squeezing in a display without excessive bezel and using a dewdrop notch for the front camera. The bezel is a little thicker at the bottom of the display, so it's not quite symmetrical, but there's little to complain about.

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The ear speaker sits along the top of the display, and a pair of grilles on the bottom house the mono loudspeaker and flank the USB Type-C connector. The single speaker is easy to cover with a hand if you're a game, so it doesn't really contribute much to proceedings - you're better using headphones, and there's a 3.5mm jack included - but the Xiaomi Mi 9 is basically in the same position of being a bit weedy with speaker performance.

On the rear is a fingerprint sensor, conventionally placed with Redmi retaining this older style rather than a fancier in-display scanner, presumably to keep the price down. 

But most of the attention will be taken by colouration. The Remdi Note 7 joins the ranks of those devices offering a dual-tone finish (well, if you opt for the blue model - other markets get red (i.e. the Note 7S in India) which doesn't seem to be an option in the UK). If you want something a little more conservative your choice is black.

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There's little to complain about from a design point of view. There are plenty of devices more costly than this that don't look any better, so from that perspective buying this cheaper phone doesn't get you a cheaper finish.

Display and dimming woes 

  • 6.3-inch LCD display, 19.5:9 aspect ratio
  • 2340 x 1080 pixels (409ppi)

As we said, there's minimal notch thanks to a central dewdrop - which really takes up very little space on the display. The screen's resolution is great, with the 409ppi density telling us that it's pretty sharp - and in use that's true, so you won't feel like you're missing out on detail. Sure, flagships offer Quad HD+ resolution, but the slightly lower offering from this Redmi works just fine.

The colouration of the display is pretty good, too. It's vibrant enough to not raise too many concerns, but it looks a little lacklustre alongside the gloriously-saturated OLED panels found in higher-spec devices. Things might look a little less punchy, but it's not a huge problem, and given the price you can't complain too much. 

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But the auto-brightness is irritating. Frequently when looking at the phone it will dim to obscurity so you can barely see anything. You might be in the middle of a game and the screen dims. Fortunately there's a shortcut to turn off auto-brightness - most of the time it's better to control it manually.

The Redmi Note 7 also exhibits one of the traits of cheaper display panels: a linear polarising layer. That means that if you have polarising sunglasses, the display will black out completely when in landscape orientation - so when you're using the camera it's irritating - but only a problem for those wearing polarising lenses. Aside from such quirks, however, this Redmi actually offers a fairly good display for the price point. 

Core hardware and battery life

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 platform
  • 3/4GB + 32/64GB RAM + microSD
  • 4000mAh battery capacity

The Redmi Note 7 sits on one of Qualcomm's mid-range platforms. Things are a little confusing in these regards, so let's explain: while the 800 series used in flagship phones has one distinct hot favourite - the Snapdragon 855 - further down the range there are a lot of different component sets in the 600 and 700 series, used across a range of different devices.

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The good news is that, really, there's not a huge marked difference in day-to-day performance of many of these different platforms. Yes, the 660 doesn't have the snap and satisfaction of the leading hardware that you'll get in something like the Xiaomi Mi 9, but it's more than powerful enough to handle most tasks.

This includes things like playing PUBG Mobile in balanced settings - the Redmi won't play so well when you crank up the settings, but we've got plenty of chicken dinners out of it. Generally, however, the performance is great and we've come a long way from mid-range devices feeling compromised as they did a few years ago. We said the same of the Moto One Vision, which uses Samsung's Exynos processor and is also impressively smooth.

Where you do see some reduced potency from the Redmi, however, is in the camera performance. When processing night photos, for example, this handset takes noticeably longer than more powerful devices.

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Perhaps the most exciting part of the spec sheet is the 4000mAh battery capacity. That's pretty generous for a phone of this physical size and market positioning. In our experience it will outlast many flagship phones, getting you through the day without too much of a problem. There's fast wired charging for getting back up to 100 per cent too. It won't challenge the Moto G7 Power when it comes to battery capacity, though, that being a phone which is a considerable rival to the Redmi.

Software woes 

  • MIUI over Android 9 Pie software

Software is the weakest part of Xiaomi's handsets, thus the Redmi picks up this downside too. The entire device is skinned with MIUI - click that link for an explainer of what that's all about - which sits over Google's Android 9 Pie operating system.

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MIUI introduces a high degree of replacement and duplication of applications, which a fully-functioning Google account doesn't need. In China, of course, Redmi runs MIUI without all the Google functions that those of us in the UK (or the rest of the world) are used to using. That explains a lot of the duplication, so while it's irksome, it's acceptable given the affordable pricing - and you can probably do some fiddling to get the device back to a cleaner state.

The great thing about Android is that you can install or replace things - and pick the default apps you want - to spare yourself some of the messing around with alternatives that just aren't as good (or ask you to sign-up for a Mi account when you already have a Google account performing functions like backup and contacts management).

In the case of the Redmi Note 7, however, we've also found the software to be buggy, despite the company saying it's a stable build. We've found the reading mode coming on every evening when it's not scheduled to do so, for example. We've told it not to wake the display when notifications come in and it still does - often randomly. Sometimes the handset refuses to see a Bluetooth device and connect to it - other times it's seamless. 

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That detracts from the experience. Which is a shame, as the experience can, at times, be perfectly fine. But it's not consistent. It's this which would make us lean towards other affordable rivals with a cleaner software experience, such as Motorola.

A reasonable camera 

  • 48MP main camera & 5MP secondary lens
  • 13MP front camera

The latest trend in smartphones is deploying a 48-megapixel sensor, with Sony's IMX and Samsung's alternative sensor options being snapped up by all manner of brands. That number might sound like a reintroduction of the megapixel race, but by default both of these sensors use four pixels to produce one, over-sampling for sharper results at 12-megapixels. You can engage the 48MP option manually in the menu if you want, but the headline figure isn't really a reflection of what you'll get from this phone camera.

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There are a range of shooting options on the Redmi Note 7, including a decent portrait mode and night shooting too. These modes are capable, but not class-leading, as you'd expect at the price point.

Amusingly, the Redmi is a dual camera system, but from what we can tell the second lens does nothing at all. You can't shoot through that lens as there's no wide-angle or zoom offering, while you can cover it up and still take a portrait mode photo, find depth and create that bokeh. Ok, it might be adding some data somewhere, but it seems largely irrelevant. 

The camera really favours shooting in good lighting, which is standard for any camera. When the light drops a little, results get quite dull and can look a little flat. Equally, HDR (that's high dynamic range) scenes can look a little dull. This phone doesn't have the subtlety or balance that others offer in that regard.

Night mode isn't really in the same league as its rivals either - like the Huawei P30 Pro or the Google Pixel 3 - but then this Redmi phone is considerably cheaper. Still, low-light image noise is common and results just get mushy, not offering the same exposure lift and noise reduction as its more pro rivals.

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The front camera - once you've turned off the mirror and beauty options so you actually look like yourself - tends to be a little washed out. It loses grip on colour and in every selfie we've taken, we've had to tweak the colour temperature to remove the deathly-looking caste (which is easy to do on the phone, so it's not a huge problem, not that it's something we want to be doing).

Verdict

The Redmi Note 7 is a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, you get a perfectly usable phone and for the price it's compelling thanks to a great build, a camera that will take a decent photo, enough power to do most things, and a long-lasting battery.

But there's so much getting in the way of the experience. We accept software skins, but it's annoying when the phone is doing things you've toggled off and specifically told it not to do. Those things can be fixed through software updates, but they end up defining the experience. It's not the value for money that shines through - it's the unnecessary software tinkering that then doesn't really work properly. 

There are definitely things about the Redmi Note 7 that make it worthy of consideration, but with competition like the Moto G7 Power, we're drawn to Motorola's simpler option - especially with the added bonus that it will last a lot longer.


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Alternatives to consider

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Moto G7 Power

The G7 Power's big sell is the huge battery life, which will see most people through two days of use. It's a little heavier as a result and the design isn't quite as fancy as the Redmi Note 7, but it's affordable, it has a cleaner and more accessible software offering, and is perfectly capable for day to day tasks.

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Realme 3 Pro

Going toe-to-toe on the spec sheet - and offering a slightly higher-rated Snapdragon platform - newcomer Realme (the budget wing of Oppo) is looking to make its mark. It offers extraordinary value for money, has a big battery capacity, but also brings a re-skinned version of Android - so also isn't one for the purists (but if you're looking at the Redmi that's by the by).

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