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Redmi Note 7 first impressions: I expected more

Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 7 finds itself in a little bit of a predicament. The once one true king of the sub-RM1,000 smartphone market is facing a lot of tough competition from its competitors at Realme, Asus, and Honor. Now, with the brand new Note 7, the question is: Have they done enough to reign supreme again?

For the longest time, there was only one real king of the sub-RM1,000 mid-range smartphone market. It was Xiaomi’s Redmi Note line of smartphones, and year after year, they absolutely crushed it in the value for money game.

Then they faltered *cough* Redmi Note 6 Pro *cough*.

Was it because they got too comfortable? Was it because they underestimated their competition? It’s hard to say, but in their hubris they’ve allowed brands like Realme, Asus and honor to catch up and even surpass them in some aspects.

But no more! Xiaomi says, as they finally launch their brand new Redmi Note 7 smartphone. On paper, it looks like a pretty big upgrade, but the question is: Is it enough?

Let’s start with the specs

I’d say that the Redmi Note 7 is definitely a big upgrade over its predecessor. Yes, it’s still only mated to 4GB of RAM, but now at its core, it is powered by an upper mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor clocked at 2.2GHz instead.

And performance, in the brief time that I’ve had with it, feels excellent. Then again, I never felt that Redmi Note smartphones were ever particularly laggy in day-to-day tasks, though I suspect you’ll see some big gains in the mobile gaming department.

What’s also good is the fact that Xiaomi now offers up to 128GB of internal storage all while keeping the price below RM1000.

Besides that, Xiaomi’s also kept a lot of what we liked from their previous Redmi Note handsets, including the large 4,000 mAh battery and the solid Full HD+ display. On the Redmi Note 7 the screen is a little bigger, measuring 6.3 inches, and is protected by Gorilla Glass 5, but it also comes with a notch, which I know a lot of you don’t like. It’s tiny though, so it doesn’t really get in the way.

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Then, there’s the camera

Probably the most interesting upgrade here is the new 48MP+5MP dual camera setup at the back. Now this has stirred up quite a lot of controversy lately because people are claiming that it’s not a true 48MP camera, but that’s not entirely true.

You see, it uses Samsung’s ISOCELL Bright GM1 sensor, which is indeed a 48MP sensor with 0.8 micron pixels. However, because it’s designed to be good in low-light, the sensor uses Samsung’s Tetracell technology and a Quad Bayer array instead of a regular Bayer colour array.

If you didn’t understand any of that, don’t worry because I didn’t either until I did a little digging. Basically, the thing about this sensor is that although it is a 48MP sensor, it only works by combining four adjacent pixels into one larger 1.6-micron pixel, which results in a 12MP image output.

But, if you ask me, I don’t really care about any of this. What I do care about is whether this smartphone can take good photos. I don’t really need 48MP shots because I’m not printing my pictures on a billboard, and social media image compression is atrocious, so 12 megapixels is good enough for me.

Now, I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to shoot with this handset, that’s why this is a first impressions not a review, but from what I have seen so far, they do look pretty darn solid for a phone at this price point.

Granted, image quality from a smartphone camera at under RM1,000 isn’t super awesome, so the bar isn’t very high, but the Redmi Note 7 currently looks like it’s right up there with the best of them. Though, I will hold off on giving a final verdict until I have had a chance at a full review.

The selfie camera though, isn’t super impressive, but it’s not bad either. It’s a 13MP shooter that has AI assisted beautification and it works well enough when you have good lighting, so no complaints from me here.

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The build

What I definitely liked is how well built the Redmi Note 7 feels. The glass and glossy frame combo, coupled with the device’s good heft go a long way in making this affordable handset feel premium. Feel, expensive.

And I’ll be honest, when I first picked it up, I was convinced that the frame sandwiched between the glass panels was a metal one. But, after watching another YouTuber tear into it, it’s definitely plastic.

I have to say though, that the phone feels really solid in the hand, like it should be more expensive. Do I think the Redmi Note 7 feels better than its predecessors? Yes, absolutely. But, is it more durable in the long run? I honestly don’t know.

So, what do we have here with the Redmi Note 7? From the looks of things, we’ve got a solid, well-built smartphone with a lot of the kind of specs you’d expect from a device at this price.

But the problem for me is that I was honestly expecting a little more. I was expecting the Redmi Note 7 to be a clear winner like many of its predecessors were. But it’s not.

Here’s how it stacks up

Let’s look at the Redmi Note 7’s prices. There are three variants available. You have the base model with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage that’s priced at RM679. Then, you’ve got the mid-spec device with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage that’s priced at RM799. And finally, there’s the top spec with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, priced at RM949.

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So, it’s got roughly the same specs as many of its competitors and loses out in terms of memory to devices like the Realme 2 Pro which offer up to 8GB of RAM at an even more affordable price point.

What’s more, a lot of these devices have been out for quite a while now so there’s a higher chance that you can pick them up at a discounted rate, further strengthening their value proposition.

In fact, even the newly launched Samsung Galaxy A30, A50 and M20 might give the Redmi Note 7 a run for its money, which is something I never thought I’d say.

But still, it’s not like the Redmi Note 7 doesn’t have its advantages. I think it’s definitely better built than its rivals, and the inclusion of USB-C and support for Quick Charge 4, are definitely points in its favour. Plus, it also supports dual-band 5GHz WiFi, which is something a surprising number of budget handsets choose to omit.

For me now, the biggest question mark is that new camera array and whether it will give you a significantly better photography experience than the other phones at this price point. If it does, it will definitely go a long way in turning this top contender into a clear winner.

Photography by Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.