Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 quick review

Usually at DPReview Connect we focus on high-end devices from established smartphone manufacturers. However, sometimes we come across devices from lesser-known manufacturers that, because of their specification and price point, have the potential to make excellent alternatives for budget-minded mobile photographers. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 is such a device.

The Redmi Note 2 was first announced back in August. Currently selling at around $170 for its unlocked base model with 16GB of storage, it comes with a MediaTek Helio x10 system chip which is also used in HTC's top-end model, the One M9+, an $800 device. Other specs include a large 5.5-inch 1080p Full HD display and a 13MP main camera with on-chip phase detection. Storage is expandable via a MicroSD slot.  

Courtesy of retailer Gearbest.com that ships Xiaomi devices worldwide we've had the chance to try the Redmi Note 2, shoot a wide range of samples and see how it generally performs as a device for mobile photography.

Key Specifications:

  • 13MP sensor
  • Dual-LED flash
  • 1080p video
  • 5MP front camera
  • 5.5-inch 1080p LCD display 
  • Mediatek MT6795 Octa-Core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16/32GB storage
  • MicroSd support
  • 3020mAh (removable)

Camera App

The camera app is fairly simple and easy to use. Exposure compensation is accessible via a slider on the focus target, but otherwise manual control is limited. Manual mode allows for manual setting of ISO and white balance but not shutter speed. HDR mode can be activated via a button on the main screen and special modes, including Manual and Panorama, are accessed by swiping up on the main screen. Swiping down reveals a set of image filters.

Camera app standard screen
Manual mode

Image Quality

The two images below were taken in bright light. In such conditions the Redmi Note does not appear to stick to a specific base ISO but fluctuates between ISO 112 and 117, which won't make much difference in practice but looks unusual in the EXIF data. As you can see in the samples exposure is very good, with generally natural colors and vibrant reds. Our sample unit showed some variation in sharpness across the frame but when zooming in to 100% it becomes obvious that in terms of image detail the Redmi cannot quite keep up with the best in class, even at the center of the frame. In bright light edges are well defined, but fine low-contrast detail is noticeably smeared by noise reduction and luminance noise is visible in areas of plain color.

ISO 116, 1/2392 sec
ISO 116, 1/2732 sec
100% crop
100% crop

The two images below again show good exposure and pleasant colors but close-up we can see that finer textures, such as the brickwork in the left image, is being smeared. Luminance noise is pretty intrusive in the blue sky and in some mid-tone areas we can see first hints of chroma noise.

ISO 117, 1/675 sec
ISO 119, 1/3148 sec
100% crop
100% crop

The next two images were taken indoors which made the camera increase ISO to 246 and 449 respectively. At a shutter speed of 1/30 sec camera shake is not much of an issue, and color and exposure are still good under artificial light. However, as we can see in the 100% crops, noise becomes more intrusive and edges are softer. 

ISO 246, 1/30 sec
ISO 449, 1/30 sec
100% crop
100% crop

For the darker artificially lit scenes below the camera pushed ISO to 647 and 847 respectively. At these light levels shutter speed is often reduced to 1/15 sec which can result in image blur through camera shake. It's a good idea to take a series rather than just one picture if you want to make sure to have at least one sharp image. 

That said, exposure and color are still decent but, as we can see on the white shirts in the image on the right, the camera is a little more prone to highlight clipping at higher ISOs. At a 100% view things don't look too pretty now, with a lot of smeared noise, soft edges and a lack of any fine detail. Images taken in such dim conditions are still good for sharing on social media but not really suitable for larger prints or viewing at full size.

ISO 647, 1/30 sec
ISO 847, 1/15 sec
100% crop
100% crop

The two samples below were captured in light conditions that would be a challenge for any camera. It is commendable that the Redmi Note 2 manages to maintain good exposure but in the 100% view we can see a lot of noise, softness and no detail at all. It's good to know that in an emergency situation the Redmi is capable of capturing a meaningful exposure in these conditions but don't expect to use the images for any quality-critical purposes.

ISO 1430, 1/15 sec
ISO 2287, 1/10 sec
100% crop
100% crop

HDR and panorama modes

We also had a look at some of the HDR and panorama modes in the camera app. As you can see below the HDR mode is capable of recovering some of the clipped highlights in the sky and lifting the shadow areas, giving the scene a more balanced tonal distribution without making it look unnatural. As we've seen on many other devices before, there is a slight drop-off in sharpness but you would only notice at a 100% view.

HDR off
HDR on
100% crop
100% crop

There is no other way to say it, the Redmi Note 2's panorama mode is one of the worst we have seen in a while. Image output is tiny, you'll find stitching errors even in pretty simple scenes and fine detail is non-existent. It's fair to say that you should find yourself a decent panorama app in the Google Play Store if you want to capture this type of image with the Xiaomi device.

Vertical panorama, 1976 x 768 pixels
100% crop

Conclusion

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 offers a bright 5.5-inch screen in a solid-looking plastic body with an attractive minimalist design. Thanks to a powerful chipset in general use it feels responsive at all times and the camera app is easy to use. It doesn't offer a lot of control but the most popular special modes, HDR and panorama, are on board. The results of the latter are pretty disappointing though and budding panorama shooters should find themselves a third-party app when using the Redmi Note 2.

In terms of camera performance the Xiaomi is a bit of a double-edged sword. Exposure and color are consistently good up to the highest ISO values, but in terms of image detail and pixel-level image quality it can't quite keep up with the best in its class. Smearing of fine low-contrast detail is noticeable from early on and luminance noise is quite intrusive even at base ISO. This means the Redmi Note 2's images are great for social sharing and general use at smaller size, but those who are planning to generate the occasional large-scale print or view images at full size should probably look for alternatives. The latest generation Motorola Moto G for example comes with a smaller screen but offers arguably better image detail and a weather-resistant body at a very similar price point.