Economy Basic Xiaomi Redmi 4a review

Economy Basic Xiaomi Redmi 4a review

Introduction

It is nothing out of the usual to praise Xiaomi for its great value offers. If you can get around the potential caveats of availability and support outside of the brand’s traditional Asian markets, the China-based OEM typically has great options worth exploring in every category.

With an asking price of about $100, the Redmi 4a is obviously at the very bottom of the company lineup – which pretty much equals the lowest there is in the smartphone food chain. But, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat – a lower price point doesn’t necessarily imply top value. For better, or worse, the Redmi 4a provides the perfect illustration of that. Here’s what we’re dealing with.

Xiaomi Redmi 4a key features

  • Plastic unibody design
  • Hybrid DualSIM/microSD card slot (up to 128GB)
  • 5″ IPS display of 720p resolution; 296ppi
  • Snapdragon 425 chipset; Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A53 CPU; Adreno 308 GPU
  • 13MP f/2.2 main camera; 1080p video capture at 30fps
  • 5MP f/2.2 front-facing camera; 720p at 30fps video recording
  • MIUI 8.1 based on Android 6.0.1 Lollipop
  • 16GB/32GB of built-in, expandable storage, 2GB of RAM
  • 4G LTE Cat.4 (150Mbps down/ 75Mbps up); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 4.2; GPS, GLONASS and Beidou; * FM radio
  • IR port
  • Dual-microphone active noise canceling
  • 3,120mAh non-removable battery

Main shortcomings

  • Sluggish entry-level chipset
  • No Gorilla Glass on the display
  • No NFC
  • Some $20 can get you fast charging, a fingerprint scanner, an octa-core CPU

If reputations are made or undone in the flagship category, the Redmi 4a must be well on the safe side being the polar opposite. We don’t think this disclaimer is even needed but Xiaomi’s entry level should be pretty much under most people’s radar. It would’ve slipped under ours too was it not for a sudden spike in popularity in our charts.

Xiaomi Redmi 4a in official photos - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a in official photos - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a in official photos - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Xiaomi Redmi 4a in official photos

So, we’re dealing with the low-cost alternative of an entry-level phone. Can it get any less exciting than this? Oh well, just to put things into perspective, the Xiaomi Redmi 4a is basically the same package as a Sony Xperia E5 or a Samsung Galaxy J5. You can bet these two sold by the millions, so it’s a fair bid by Xiaomi to try and emulate that in emerging markets. And why not – at nearly half the price.

Just for the record, it’s not the basic specs or low asking price that get the Xiaomi Redmi 4a the short shrift. And no, we are not dropping our usual in-depth reviews, so don’t panic. Our goal is to give you our impressions of the phone in a concise form, without sacrificing the detailed performance review and the full test results. We hope you enjoy it.

Hardware overview

So, is there value to be had in owning the entry-level Xiaomi Redmi 4a? The phone was released in Xiaomi’s home market at the end of last year but a belated premiere outside China has put it back in the spotlight – particularly in the emerging Indian market where it seems to be in pretty high demand. For one, the Redmi 4a feels pretty sturdy and well built. Naturally, it is plastic all around but the finish gives a convincing impression of metal.

The unibody design is even complete with a pair of grooves that resemble antenna strips. They are purely cosmetic, but reinforce the overall illusion of a metal chassis. The rear is pretty clean and simple. There is a single speaker grille near the bottom and the 13MP sensor is placed behind a pretty compact f/2.2 lens. There is no fingerprint reader – a notable omission compared to the standard Redmi 4. One of the sacrifices Xiaomi had to make in the name of ultimate savings.

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Xiaomi Redmi 4a

The mono speaker on the Redmi 4a seems to be identical to that on the regular Redmi 4 and the 4 Prime. That is to say, it is not particularly loud and only scored an Average score in our tests.

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overall score
Xiaomi Mi 4 62.0 62.1 66.6 Below Average
Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016) 64.1 65.3 68.5 Below Average
Sony Xperia XZ Premium 62.9 65.2 71.6 Below Average
Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime 63.1 67.3 71.3 Average
Xiaomi Redmi 4a 62.8 67.5 72.1 Average
Asus Zenfone Selfie ZD551KL 65.9 66.1 75.7 Average
Samsung Galaxy S8 66.2 70.5 72.5 Good
ZUK Z1 68.7 66.6 75.7 Good
Huawei Honor 5c 66.5 71.1 74.4 Good
Meizu M5s 65.4 69.1 84.2 Good
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625) 67.3 70.3 81.5 Very Good
Xiaomi Mi 6 66.1 69.0 84.1 Very Good
Meizu M5 Note 65.1 70.7 86.8 Very Good

The front of the device follows the minimal, low-cost styling. The screen is a 720p unit, which seems the straightforward choice in this price bracket. The front is quite scratch-prone even though Xiaomi claims it used some sort of reinforced glass other than the popular Gorilla Glass varieties. Our review unit managed to pick up a few marks just lying around and mostly indoor testing. A screen protector should be one of the first things on a new user’s list.

Xiaomi Redmi 4a front - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a front - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a front - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a front - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Xiaomi Redmi 4a front

The three capacitive keys below the display work perfectly fine, but the lack of backlighting is a bit of a disadvantage. Not a big deal but you’ll have to rely on habit in the absence of visual aids. Xiaomi might have found those three particular LEDs a bit too pricey to include but, ironically, they left the IR blaster from the rest of the Redmi 4 line intact, at the top side of the device.

Perhaps it would have cost more to redesign the frame and remove the cutout than to just leave the emitter in. In any case, you can pick a Redmi 4a up as an overdesigned universal remote to use around the house. Now seriously, the IR is good to have. Speaking of LEDs, there is also a notification LED underneath the Home button. An unusual position for sure, but still a nice touch on such a cheap device.

Xiaomi Redmi 4a back - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a back - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a back - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Xiaomi Redmi 4a back

There is a 3.5mm audio jack and that’s one thing the flagship Mi 6 can’t match. It’s at the top of the device, next to a secondary noise-canceling microphone. The bottom features the main microphone and a microUSB port. You’ll be happy to learn it is OTG-enabled.

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Xiaomi Redmi 4a back

As for the sides, there is a very standard arrangement including a volume rocker and a power button on the right and only a card compartment opposite. It has a total of 2 slots: a micro and a nano SIM. The latter is a hybrid, so you can opt for a microSD storage card in it instead. Both SIM slots are 4G-enabled, but only one can be active at a time.

Besides LTE, the Redmi 4a also comes with VoLTE support out of the box. In case you are wondering, this includes Reliance Jio as well. It even supports Band 5, which is widely used in India.

Some details on the Redmi 4a - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Some details on the Redmi 4a - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Some details on the Redmi 4a

And while we are at it, the Redmi 4a has the connectivity basics covered. There is Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n on board (single-band, nothing fancy), Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP and LE and A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, for navigation.

 

NFC is a notable omission. Then again, we hardly see that on Redmi devices to begin with. On the other hand, Xiaomi has thrown in an FM radio receiver, for some old-school offline audio entertainment.

For wired connectivity, the Redmi 4a has a traditional microUSB connector, with a USB 2.0 controller behind it. Since the storage in the handset isn’t all that fast either, anything beyond that in terms of bandwidth would have been overkill anyway. One thing we do really wish made the cut though is fast charging.

Redmi 4a retail package - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Hybrid SIM tray - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Redmi 4a retail package • Hybrid SIM tray

The Redmi 4a comes with a 1A basic charger in what’s a pretty basic retail package, as you would expect. Besides the charger, there is also a USB cable, a SIM ejector and some leaflets.

Battery

The Xiaomi Redmi 4a is powered by a 3,120mAh battery. It is a sealed-in pack and a pretty slow one to fill up.

 

We can’t help but feel that Xiaomi crippled its capacity to save on some costs, rather than space, as is usually the case with today’s smartphones. The regular Redmi 4, as well as the Redmi 4X both have 4,100mAh battery packs. With a size of 139.2 x 70 x 8.7mm and 139.9 x 70.4 x 8.5mm for the 4X and 4A, respectively, we definitely think cutting the capacity was a market decision more than anything else. And, as expected, the Redmi 4a definitely suffers for it.

It managed to score a 67 hour endurance rating in our battery test – a far cry from the whopping 119 hours of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 or the 91 hours of the Redmi 4 Prime. Both handsets have 4,100mAh battery packs at their disposal, as well as the 14nm Snapdragon 625, which has proven its power efficiency time and time over. Even the MediaTek Helio X20 version of the Redmi Note 4 managed to squeeze an 83 hour rating out of its 4,100mAh battery.

A less efficient Snapdragon 425, working its four cores overtime to keep up with the load, plus a smaller 3,120mAh battery pack really turned out to be a recipe for an average battery life. Another significant deduction in the already dwindling value score of the Redmi 4a.

Display

Much to our surprise, the 5-inch 720p panel on the Redmi 4a turned out to be pretty decent. It seems cost-cutting mostly spared the LCD unit, but sadly, the same can’t exactly be said about its protective layer. Xiaomi claims it is some sort of hardened glass but, as we said earlier, it really gives off a “plasticky” vibe – doesn’t help smooth swipes and is prone to scratches.

 

As for the actual screen however, we’ve definitely seen worse and on much more expensive devices. It is not the brightest unit available, peaking at 475 nits and the higher light bleed in the blacks makes for a rather low contrast of 925. Still, to put the results into perspective, the Meizu M5s – one of the few competing offers in the ultra-budget segment, performs pretty identically to the Redmi 4a. Then again, the Redmi 4 Prime and Redmi Note 4 both do notably better in the display department.

Display test 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime 0.475 528 1112
Xiaomi Redmi 4a 0.513 475 925
Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625) 0.322 484 1503
Xiaomi Mi 4 0.73 679 929
Meizu M5 0.453 480 1060
Meizu M5 Note 0.614 463 754
Meizu M5s 0.426 407 955
ZUK Z1 by Lenovo 0.39 396 1021
Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016) 0.00 331
Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016) outdoor mode 0.00 468
Huawei Honor 7 Lite / Honor 5c 0.58 416 717
Asus Zenfone Selfie 0.36 333 928

The part we really found surprising is color accuracy on the Redmi 4a. Even the Standard color mode provides an average DeltaE of 4.5 out of the box and a maximum of 7.8. Whites are a little strong, which makes for a slightly cold, but still, it’s an overall quite accurate color-wise.

Tweaking some of the ample display settings yielded even more impressive results. Using the Warm color mode results in an average deltaE of just 2.8 and a max of 6, again mostly due to a variance in white and grays. Bringing the brightness down from the 475nit maximum to 200nits corrected the white pretty well and left us with a very impressive average deltaE of 2.4 and a maximum of 4.8.

 

Sunlight legibility is on par with similar devices, like the regular Redmi 4 and Redmi 4 Prime. That is to say, it is not spectacular in any way, but still decent enough for outdoor use. The automatic contrast adjustment, baked into MIUI helps in this respect as well. Still, you should probably avoid direct sunlight.

Sunlight contrast ratio

  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • Expand
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)3.523
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016) outdoor mode3.523
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)2.714
  • Meizu M52.71
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime2.679
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4a2.635
  • Meizu M5s2.58
  • Huawei Honor 7 Lite / Honor 5c2.506
  • Xiaomi Mi 42.424
  • ZUK Z1 by Lenovo2.382
  • Meizu M5 Note2.189
  • Asus Zenfone Selfie1.68

MIUI 8

Xiaomi’s colorful Android ROM manages to save face big time when it comes to the Redmi 4a. In fact, if you really find yourself pressed against the wall, with only $100 to spend on a smartphone, MIUI 8 and its polished UX and abundance of features should be enough of a reason to shy away from the Doogees or Oukitels and towards the Redmi 4a.

Just to be clear, we are in no way saying that the budget handset has what it takes to deliver a satisfying user experience. There is simply no escaping the feeble nature of its low-end quad-core chip, especially with today’s resolution-rich multimedia and heavy Android applications. But we still have to give credit where credit is due and commend Xiaomi’s development team on even managing to get MIUI 8 running, with very few stutters and slow-downs on such entry-level hardware.

Surprisingly enough, the Android 6.0.1-based MIUI 8 ROM the Redmi 4a is running is full-featured or at least comes pretty close. There are a lot of baked-in Xiaomi goodies to enjoy. First off, is MIUI’s signature flat style. It really looks gorgeous, even on this budget LCD, rendered at 720p.

MIUI flat and colorful design - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewMIUI flat and colorful design - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewMIUI flat and colorful design - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
MIUI flat and colorful design

To sweeten the deal even further, the Redmi 4a can make use of Xiaomi’s powerful Theme engine. This includes tweaking pretty much every UI detail to your liking, as well as access to the rich online Theme repository.

Powerful Theme engine - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewPowerful Theme engine - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Powerful Theme engine

Granted, the LCD on the Redmi 4a is hardly the perfect canvas to enjoy a pretty UI on, but despite its limitations, Xiaomi has actually provided users with quite a bit of tweaking control to improve the overall visual experience. The contrast can be adjusted manually or even dynamically, based on content and conditions. Speaking of which, the Redmi 4a also has automatic brightness. We are really happy to see the light sensor made the cut. Double-tap-to-wake is also among the baked-in options.

Display settings - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewReading mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewReading mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewReading mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Display settings • Reading mode

You can play around with the color profile out-of-the-box, as well as the font size. Xiaomi has even thrown in a trendy and full-featured Reading mode.

We find a similarly surprising feature-depth in most every corner on the OS. The status bar, quick toggles, and notification shade can all be customized quite a bit. Battery percentage and data transfer indicators are some of the opt-in status bar elements and there is even a pair of visualization options for app notifications to choose between. As for the toggles and notifications, they can be separated out into panels, if that seems more convenient to you, or left in the same shade, as by default.

Status bar, quick toggles and notification shade tweaks - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewStatus bar, quick toggles and notification shade tweaks - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewStatus bar, quick toggles and notification shade tweaks - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Status bar, quick toggles and notification shade tweaks

And wouldn’t you know it, the notification LED we mentioned in the hardware overview even has its own section in the settings menu. A small victory in the overall Redmi 4a picture, for sure, but we still can’t help but appreciate that a sub $100 phone has a customizable RGB diode – a feature even flagships sometimes forget.

RGB notification LED - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
RGB notification LED

Speaking of notifications, MIUI 8 offers powerful, granular control over each type of notification it supports on a per-app basis. This feature ties in really well as part of the automated Xiaomi security center. It is a no-frills, one-stop spot for cleaning your phone, protecting your data and preventing battery drain. Naturally, that includes a really in-depth permission manager too.

Easy Notification and permission managers - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewEasy Notification and permission managers - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewEasy Notification and permission managers - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewEasy Notification and permission managers - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Easy Notification and permission managers

Thanks to MIUI 8, the Redmi 4a is also surprisingly well-equipped to handle sensitive data, protect business assets and even facilitate multiple communication channels. You can password-protect apps or hide them altogether from kids, using Child mode.

App lock - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewChild mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewSecond Space - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewDual apps - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
App lock • Child mode • Second Space • Dual apps

Besides locking things up, you can branch out and quickly handle and organize even more data and communications. The Redmi 4a supports both the Second space feature, for handling multiple independent workspaces, as well as Dual apps – particularly useful for logging on to two social accounts at the same time.

Frankly, as you can see, it’s very easy to get carried away exploring the delightfully rich settings menu of the Redmi 4a, which kind of clashes with the intentions we had with the brief review format. Just to add a few finishing touches to the already impressive UX picture, we can’t fail to mention Lite mode, with its big and clean UI.

Lite mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewLite mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewLite mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewLite mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewLite mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Lite mode

The default app pack might be a bit extensive, but we think it complements the included Google suite pretty well. The Mi Remote app is a particular favorite of ours, mainly for the streamlined way it handles setting up and sending IR commands from the Redmi 4a.

Default Redmi 4a app package - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewDefault Redmi 4a app package - Xiaomi Redmi 4a reviewDefault Redmi 4a app package - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Default Redmi 4a app package

Performance

We’ll be frank here – it’s more or less impossible for us to say anything positive about the Snapdragon 425 and Adreno 308 setup inside the Redmi 4a. The MIUI 8 ROM might be working overtime to smooth things over, but four 1.4 GHz Cortex-A53 cores are simply not enough to drive a fluent and satisfactory Android experience in 2017.

The lack of performance is probably the biggest beef we have with the Redmi 4a. Long-time readers might remember our customary review comments on UI fluidity and smoothness from a few years ago. We really thought we had left these in the past for good, but we simply can’t gloss over the fact that the Redmi 4a stutters and slows down from time to time.

GeekBench 4 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)4456
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime3016
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)3011
  • Meizu M5 Note2690
  • Meizu M5s2480
  • Meizu M52428
  • Lenovo K6 Power1698
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4a1670

GeekBench 4 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)1546
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)832
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime819
  • Meizu M5 Note683
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4a658
  • Meizu M5s610
  • Lenovo K6 Power610
  • Meizu M5592

On a slightly more positive note, 2GB of RAM appear to be more than adequate for MIUI to stretch its legs. If you are patient enough with loading times, multitasking, as in keeping a few apps open in memory, isn’t really an issue. Looking at some compound benchmarks, like AnTuTu and Basemark OS II, we can get a better look at the overall experience the Redmi 4a provides, or in this case, doesn’t.

AnTuTu 6

Higher is better

  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)85162
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime62316
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)61616
  • ZUK Z154884
  • Huawei Honor 5c51220
  • Meizu M5 Note47806
  • Lenovo K6 Power44115
  • Meizu M540831
  • Meizu M5s39166
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4a36110
  • Samsung Galaxy On7 Pro28025
  • Samsung Galaxy On5 Pro26462
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)24884

Basemark OS II

Higher is better

  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c1464
  • Xiaomi Mi 41324
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime1296
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)1290
  • ZUK Z11285
  • Meizu M5 Note944
  • Meizu M5846
  • Meizu M5s842
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4a801
  • Asus Zenfone Selfie ZD551KL774
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)399

As for the Adreno 308 GPU, it is arguably even less impressive than the four Cortex-A53 CPU cores. Despite being a pretty new chip, announced around the beginning of 2016, it lacks most modern mobile GPU features, like Open CL 2.0 or any newer OpenGL ES, beyond 3.0. The latter almost certainly rules out a future update to Android 7 Nougat or beyond.

Basemark X

Higher is better

  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)13666
  • ZUK Z113596
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c12096
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)10446
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime10424
  • Huawei Honor 5c7735
  • Lenovo K6 Power7475
  • Meizu M5 Note5276
  • Asus Zenfone Selfie ZD551KL4915
  • Meizu M54767
  • Meizu M5s4646
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4a3335
  • Samsung Galaxy On7 Pro2162
  • Samsung Galaxy On5 Pro2059
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)1424

Basemark X (medium)

Higher is better

  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • ZUK Z125398
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)23300
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)21078
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime20921
  • Huawei Honor 5c16171
  • Lenovo K6 Power15286
  • Meizu M5 Note11983
  • Meizu M511303
  • Meizu M5s8915
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4a6251
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)4605
  • Samsung Galaxy On7 Pro4014
  • Samsung Galaxy On5 Pro3973

The Redmi 4a struggles quite badly with most modern games. It’s GPU is clearly not meant for any advanced graphics work beyond running a UI. Even the 720p resolution of the phone’s panel doesn’t really help with on-screen frame rates all that much. 5.7 frames is hardly an achievement, nor “playable”, as the term goes, by any stretch of the imagination.

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • ZUK Z128
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)15
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c15
  • Xiaomi Mi 411.6
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)9.9
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime9.8
  • Huawei Honor 5c7.8
  • Lenovo K6 Power7.1
  • Meizu M5 Note5.5
  • Asus Zenfone Selfie ZD551KL5.3
  • Meizu M55.2
  • Meizu M5s4.5
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4a2.8
  • Samsung Galaxy On7 Pro1.8
  • Samsung Galaxy On5 Pro1.7

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • ZUK Z128
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Helio X20)15
  • Xiaomi Mi 4c15
  • Xiaomi Mi 411.3
  • Meizu M510
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (S625)9.7
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4 Prime9.6
  • Meizu M5s9.2
  • Huawei Honor 5c8.3
  • Lenovo K6 Power7.1
  • Xiaomi Redmi 4a5.7
  • Meizu M5 Note5.5
  • Asus Zenfone Selfie ZD551KL5.3
  • Samsung Galaxy On5 Pro4
  • Samsung Galaxy On7 Pro3.8

Circling back to our original point, cost argument aside, we really can’t think of anything good to say about the Redmi 4a performance-wise. So, we’ll just leave it at that.

Audio output is surprisingly good

The Xiaomi Redmi 4a demonstrated perfectly clean output when hooked up to an active external amplifier. Its loudness was above average too, adding up to a performance better than the price tag suggests.

We were even more impressed to find out that headphones do next to no damage to the clarity or the loudness of the output. In fact, the humble Redmi 4a has better output with headphones than most of the handsets we’ve tested recently and none of them are even close to matching its cost.

Test Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD IMD + Noise Stereo crosstalk
Xiaomi Redmi 4a +0.07, -0.02 -94.8 91.4 0.0020 0.0084 -91.0
Xiaomi Redmi 4a (headphones) +0.08, -0.04 -94.2 91.2 0.036 0.063 -79.1
Xiaomi Redmi 4 +0.02, -0.06 -91.6 92.4 0.0016 0.0081 -93.3
Xiaomi Redmi 4 (headphones) +0.04, -0.04 -91.4 92.2 0.0058 0.036 -64.0
Xiaomi Redmi 3s +0.02, -0.07 -94.3 90.6 0.0024 0.0087 -91.8
Xiaomi Redmi 3s (headphones) +0.02, -0.10 -93.7 90.3 0.028 0.061 -72.2
Oppo F1s +0.37, -0.00 -71.2 75.3 0.936 1.190 -41.2
Oppo F1s (headphones) +0.80, -0.05 -67.8 74.6 0.336 0.579 -42.3
Huawei Honor 7 Lite (5c) +0.03, -0.44 -90.4 90.9 0.0019 0.011 -87.9
Huawei Honor 7 Lite (5c) (headphones) +0.04, -0.47 -90.3 90.7 0.0067 0.072 -73.1
Motorola Moto G4 +0.02, -0.07 -92.4 92.5 0.0028 0.0084 -92.1
Motorola Moto G4 (headphones) +0.04, -0.08 -92.0 92.0 0.0073 0.070 -63.8

Xiaomi Redmi 4a frequency response
Xiaomi Redmi 4a frequency response

You can learn more about the tested parameters and the whole testing process

Camera

Just like its other siblings from the Redmi 4 line, the Redmi 4a has a 13MP snapper. It is positioned behind the same f/2.2 lens – still a downgrade over the previous Redmi 3 generation. However, unfortunately, the similarities end there. In its quest for cost reduction, Xiaomi axed a couple of extras in the camera departments as well.

For one, the Redmi 4a lacks the phase detection autofocus of its sibling. Focusing speed is not as fast, and we often experienced focus hunting. The algorithm isn’t terribly accurate either, often resulting in some blurry photos and videos. Still, with some extra attentiveness, you can spot and correct such issues one the go while shooting.

The manual mode is particularly handy for such tasks. The Redmi 4a has quite a few interesting modes and filters at its disposal, considering its entry-level nature.

Camera UI - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Modes - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Filters - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Camera UI • Modes • Filters

This surprising abundance of options continues in the settings menu. Photos and videos get their own set of options. Highlights include Contrast, Saturation and Sharpness adjustments for stills, as well as face detection and Xiaomi’s fun age and gender recognition algorithm. Video recording only has a Time lapse mode as an extra. Still, it is surprisingly customizable, so we can’t complain too much.

Camera settings - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Camera settings - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Camera settings - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Camera settings - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Camera settings - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Camera settings

The Redmi 4a captures stills with a maximum resolution of 4160 x 3120 pixels. These are surprisingly good quality – about identical to that of the rest of the Redmi 4 line. Detail is pretty high in the center of the frame, although the samples don’t hold up to pixel-peeping. Frankly, at this price point, they aren’t really expected to.

Sharpness is also good near the center, but quickly drops off as you approach the edges. Dynamic range is quite good, but the photos do seem a little underexposed.

Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/924s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/666s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/1721s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples

Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/229s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/1161s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/591s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples

Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/723s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/1783s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/1233s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Xiaomi Redmi 4a samples

HDR produces surprisingly pleasant results. However, just like focus, it is unreliable as far as consistency goes. Still, given the right conditions, it is great to have close at hand.

HDR OFF - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/1664s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review HDR ON - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/1280s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review HDR OFF - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/1233s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
HDR ON - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/1203s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review HDR OFF - f/2.2, ISO 250, 1/33s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review HDR ON - f/2.2, ISO 250, 1/33s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
HDR OFF • HDR ON • HDR OFF • HDR ON • HDR OFF • HDR ON

And just to mention this again – it is annoyingly easy to miss focus with the Redmi 4a. The following pair of stills are the best we could salvage out of a pool of 10+ shots of the same scene.

HDR OFF - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/2322s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review HDR ON - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/2322s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
HDR OFF • HDR ON

If you are interested in some additional pixel-level evaluation, our photo compare tool and extensive database of sample shots has you covered.

Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool
Xiaomi Redmi 4a in our photo compare tool

Panoramas on the Redmi 4a are quite decent. They offer roughly about as much detail as stills and show few noticeable stitching defects.

Xiaomi Redmi 4a panorama sample - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Xiaomi Redmi 4a panorama sample

Here are a few photos taken with the 5MP selfie camera as well. They are about what you would expect from such a small shooter – soft and rather low in detail.

Xiaomi Redmi 4a selfie samples - f/2.2, ISO 125, 1/100s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a selfie samples - f/2.2, ISO 125, 1/100s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a selfie samples - f/2.2, ISO 250, 1/33s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Xiaomi Redmi 4a selfie samples - f/2.2, ISO 250, 1/33s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a selfie samples - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/606s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Xiaomi Redmi 4a selfie samples - f/2.2, ISO 125, 1/120s - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Xiaomi Redmi 4a selfie samples

The Xiaomi Redmi 4a can capture video in up to 1080p resolution at 30 fps – not a bad achievement for the Snapdragon 425 chip. To be fair, however, frame rates are far from stable. Under good lighting conditions, they hover at around 28 to 29. Lowering the lights a little bit often left us with numbers in the low ’20’-s. On the other hand, bitrate holds surprisingly stable at 20 Mbps. The recorded audio is stereo – it uses an AAC codec with 96 Kbps bitrate and 48 KHz sampling.

Camera UI - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review Time lapse mode - Xiaomi Redmi 4a review
Camera UI • Time lapse mode

We can’t praise the Redmi 4a video samples regarding detail or dynamic range. Still, if you approach it with a “you get what you pay for” mentality, then there is no real room for complaining. For $100 or so, you get your money’s worth.

Final thoughts

So, what can a $100 smartphone do for you? The Xiaomi Redmi 4a is as cheap as they get but, you know it’s a thin line between low-cost and plain poor. With an LTE-capable Snapdragon chipset and a pretty decent 5″ 720p screen, the Redmi 4a is on the right side of that line. Performance-wise however, it crosses it more than once.

Perhaps, in a broader sense, a package like the Xiaomi Redmi 4a allows us to reverse engineer the proverbial point of diminishing returns. And in smartphone terms, it seems to be around the $120 mark.

Consider this: at $120, the regular Redmi 4 comes with an octa-core Snapdragon 430, a fingerprint scanner and fast battery charging – a pretty serviceable setup that gets you a few premium add-ons and doesn’t rely on just four Cortex-A53s. Another $20 more can get you the Redmi 4 Prime or the all-popular Redmi Note 4.

Xiaomi Redmi 4a review

And if the feeble chipset is not enough to convince you, the Redmi 4a cuts a few other major corners as well. Gone is phase detection autofocus on the main camera and so is 1080p video on the front. The Readmi 4a lost its fingerprint reader, a whopping 1,000mAh in battery capacity along with fast charging support.

That being said, it is worth looking at the bigger picture. At $120 and $140 or so, the Redmi 4 and Redmi Note 4 seem to hit the sweet spot, but that is not to say there is no more room left for cost optimization. On the contrary, Android Go is part of continued effort to make smartphones available and affordable in emerging markets. If an underequipped and underpowered Moto C is a good enough poster child, there can’t be too much wrong with the Redmi 4a.

The fact of the matter is, most of Xiaomi’s competitors aren’t doing wonders either in the entry-level category. Meizu might be on to something with its “M” line. Priced at around $100, the regular Meizu M5 comes with a Mediatek MT6750 – no chart-topper for sure, but still an octa-core chip. Add a 5.2-inch HD panel, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, a 13MP PDAF-enabled main camera and a 3,070mAh battery to the mix and you have yourself some neck to neck competition. The M5s and M5 Note might be worth a look too against the rest of Xiaomi’s Redmi line.

Meizu M5 Meizu M5s Meizu M5 Note
Meizu M5 • Meizu M5s • Meizu M5 Note

Frankly, beyond these two companies, viable options around the $100 point start to thin out. Lenovo has a few interesting devices in the “K” family, worth checking out. The K6 Power comes at a bit of a premium over the Xiaomi Redmi 4a, but a FullHD panel and octa-core chipset are just a couple of the things your money is going towards. Speaking of, the entry-level Moto C is just about starting to hit the shelves. Even in its 4,000mAh Plus variant though, it can’t be recommended against the Redmi 4a – unless you want to stay below $100 and would never cross that under any circumstances.

Lenovo K6 Lenovo K6 Power Motorola Moto C Plus
Lenovo K6 • Lenovo K6 Power • Motorola Moto C Plus

Samsung’s “J” and “On” series sit in pretty much the same boat. Devices, like the Galaxy J3 Pro and J5 (2016) do at least come with the benefit of a Super AMOLED screen. Once again, however, there is more value to be had with the octa-core Galaxy On8 or Galaxy On7 (2016), for a slightly higher price.

Samsung Galaxy J3 Pro Samsung Galaxy J5 (2016) Samsung Galaxy On8 Samsung Galaxy On7 (2016)
Samsung Galaxy J3 Pro • Samsung Galaxy J5 (2016) • Samsung Galaxy On8 • Samsung Galaxy On7 (2016)

The Huawei Honor 5c is a strong budget choice as well. A 5.2-inch, FullHD panel and surprisingly powerful Kirin 650 chipset help it stand out. However, it currently retails at about $150 – a substantial 50% price premium over the Xiaomi Redmi 4a, which we even managed to spot for less than $90 online, while writing this review.

Huawei Honor 5c
Huawei Honor 5c

That said, we’ll stop going in circles and leave you with this: you probably don’t want a sub-$100 Android phone in 2017. Even if you’re getting it free-on-contract – which you most likely will – it’s always wise to at least check what’s on offer in the next price bracket. If you’re short on options or the budget is set in stone, you can do worse than the Xiaomi Redmi 4a. You can do better too – but be warned, the margin of error is pretty slim in the low end.

Editorial note: We’re not cutting back on our regular full-size reviews, but this experimental shorter format will hopefully help us cover a broader range of devices. Our goal is to give you our impressions in a more concise manner without sacrificing much of the performance tests we usually run. Any feedback is welcome.

News Reporter