Last year, the Redmi 1S laid down the benchmark for just how much one could expect for a phone that cost about USD 100 (Rs 5,999). At the time of its launch, the phone had literally no competition – it was more than a few notches above other contenders like the original Moto E and the Asus ZenFone 4. However, it did not take the competition long to try and replicate its “low price high specs” formula and by the time Xiaomi unveiled its successor, the Redmi 2, in India, there were competing devices in the market at the same price point, ranging from the new Moto E to the Lenovo A6000. The Redmi 2 thus has a lot on its plate – consumer expectations and an aggressive competition. And also it had no element of surprise unlike the Redmi 1S – when Barra announced the Redmi 1S’ price, many people had broken into instinctive applause. When he unveiled the Redmi 2, people were expecting a low price anyway.

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The Redmi 2 therefore has its task pretty much cut out. And it is not an easy one – it has to be better than not just its predecessor, but a competition that is reasonably high-profile and is claiming to be better.

Good specs, smart looks

We had talked about the appearance of the Redmi 2 in our first impressions of the device. To repeat, like its predecessor, it is smart rather than a traffic stopper. Unlike its predecessor, it has a more curve-y and rounded feel to it. And Xiaomi, by some design magic, has managed to make it shorter, thinner, less wide and even lighter than the 1S, even while packing in a bigger battery and a similar sized display. The result is a device, which is not the thinnest at 9.4 mm (the Lenovo A6000 is 8.2 mm thin), but is easy on the eye and very easy on the hands – this has got to be one of the most palm-friendly devices we have used.

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What lies under the hood has been tweaked too. Although the display remains the same size and resolution (4.7 inches and 1280 x 720 pixels), the processor has been bumped up from a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 to a Snapdragon 410, and the graphics processor has moved up from the Adreno 305 to the 306. The RAM remains at 1GB, which is a slight disappointment, but then again at this price, one’s complaints are limited, and storage too is 8 GB, expandable to 32 GB with a memeory card. The rear camera retains the megapixel count of the 1S (eight), but Xiaomi claims it is a massive improvement over its predecessor. The front facing camera gets a gentle bump up to 2.0 megapixels from the 1.2 on the 1S, and then there is the little matter of 4G – the one department where the Redmi 2 scores over even the flagship Mi 4 – which is available on both SIMs. Other connectivity options include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. All said and done, very good specs for the price, although unlike the Redmi 1S, they no longer stick out from the crowd. The likes of the Lenovo A6000 can boast similar hardware.

Scoring on camera and interface

When it comes to regular tasks like social networking, mail and browsing, the Redmi 2 performs very well indeed. Yes, like other devices in its segment, it is not exactly a gaming device, so while you will be able to play the likes of FIFA 15 and ICC Pro Cricket, be ready for the odd lag or two. We also noticed some slight slow downs when we had too many apps (more than six) running in the background – the phone would sometimes take just a little longer to get going after being unlocked. Once again, we must confess that these are not major complaints, when you factor in the price of the device. The benchmark scores of the device are very good, considering its price, and more than match those of the competition.

And then there are the two areas where we think the Redmi 2 clearly outpaces its competition – the UI and the camera. The Redmi 2 comes with MIUI 6 running on it, which is the latest version of Xiaomi’s Android flavour. And while it would not be true to say that it runs as smoothly on it as it does on the much more powerful Mi 4, we must confess that it looks and handles much better than the interfaces we have seen on competing devices. Yes, some might say that the new Moto E which its pure Android works more smoothly, but then it does not look this good or have the same number of features. The display on the Redmi 2 might be of the same size and resolution as the Redmi 1S but it definitely looks brighter and sharper, and MIUI 6 is a sight for sore eyes on it. And yes, if you find the interface too overwhelming, you can always settle for the dumbed down Lite mode.

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The camera definitely is a notch above what we saw on the Redmi 1S. Colors are richer and details are much better captured. And the MIUI interface with its “swipe one way for filters and swipe the other for settings” makes it very comfortable indeed to handle. It is no low-light superstar and video could have been better but then that is just us being very picky indeed – all said and done, this is easily the best camera we have seen in terms of speed and performance in the sub-Rs 10,000 price segment. It actually outperforms some devices that are twice as expensive. Sound quality is good both on loudspeaker and headphones, although not in the league of the Lenovo A6000’s dual speakers. And the battery life is very decent too – we got through a day comfortably on the 2200 mAh battery (up from 2000 mAh on the 1S) with mails and social networks buzzing.

Conclusion: A worthy successor to the Redmi 1S

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All said and done, we must say that the Redmi 2 lays down a new benchmark for what one can expect from a budget smartphone in terms of UI and camera performance. There are phones with largely similar specs out there at about the same price, but none really matches it in terms of ease of use, thanks to MIUI 6, which we really think sets it well apart from the competition. Those wanting a bigger screen and better sound might prefer the Lenovo A6000, and we know that the pure Android crowd will refuse to see anything beyond the new Moto E (inferior display and camera notwithstanding) but in terms of sheer ease of use and camera muscle (and those are both important factors), the Redmi 2 pretty much bosses its segment.

No, it is not as big a surprise as the Redmi 1S was and not the massive upgrade that some were expecting (although a Redmi 2 with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage is expected to arrive in the coming days), but it fills its shoes more than adequately. If you are looking for a phone below Rs 7,000, this would be among our top recommendations.

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Associate Editor

Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.