It was a rare care of a brand taking another brand’s tagline. Earlier this year, Xiaomi’s brand Redmi went ahead and grabbed the “Flagship Killer” tag that OnePlus had made its own for a few years, for its Redmi K20 and K20 Pro devices. And promised to deliver on it, as OnePlus itself had seemed to move on (to an extent) to more premium segments of the market. Now, those are pretty big shoes to fill. So how well does the Redmi K20 Pro go about flagship killing?
Looks that…well, kill (flame on!)
Well, it certainly kills them in the looks department. We have seen our share of very striking flagship devices this year, including the Oppo Reno, the Samsung Galaxy S10+, the Huawei P30 Pro, and of course, the OnePlus 7 Pro, but nothing quite like the Redmi K20 Pro. We got the Flame Red edition of the device (there is also the stunning Glacier Blue and the we-wonder-why-it-exists Carbon Black), and well, it is one of the rare breeds that manages to be flashy AND classy at the same time. Part of what Xiaomi calls the Aura design, the glass back (Gorillas Glass 5) has a dark core in the center with the vertical triple camera unit and dual flash, with lighter shades on the sides, parts of which reflect light in different patterns, in an almost flame-like effect. It is quite dazzling without being overwhelming. In a neat touch, even the branding is vertically aligned with the cameras. Yes, it is a little slippery and yes, it will pick up dust and smudges (fortunately, there’s a very good cover in the box) but this is one phone that we can see a lot of people wanting to flaunt.
And then there’s the front. Dominated almost totally by a 6.39-inch Super AMOLED display (Gorilla Glass 5 again), thanks to the total absence of any sort of notch, it is at 600 nits, one of the brighter displays that we have seen in a device. Yes, those who are used to the super poppy colours of Samsung’s AMOLED displays might find this one a little understated in comparison, and yes, it being full HD+ rather than quad HD as seen on the OnePlus 7 Pro, does make icons and logos just that little less sharper, but it is a very good display nevertheless and easily the best in its price point, and perhaps well above it too. The absence of notches means that there is, of course, a pop-up camera right behind the display. And it comes with its own design touch well – its sides flash red as it slides out. Very very cool, we think, although some might ‘might’ find it a tad too flashy. There is also a fingerprint scanner right in the display. Oh, and the phone has a P2i rating which should keep relatively safe from water splashes, although we would not advise dunking it in the water. It evidently can take falls too – we are told it has reinforced corners.
And all of this is packed into a relatively slim, curvy frame that is reasonably compact – it is not a small phone by any standards (hardly any are, these days, but that is another story for another day) but it will slip into most trouser pockets without too much trouble. Given how good it looks, we are reasonably sure you would not want to keep it there too often.
Murderously good specs and performance!
But while looks do make a difference, what flagships are really about is performance. And the Redmi K20 Pro delivers that. In spades. Of course, it has the hardware to do so. That display is a terrific one for viewing games and videos. We would have liked stereo sound as well, but the single loudspeaker is a very good one, and hooray, unlike some other flagships, the K20 Pro retains the 3.5 mm audio jack, and what’s more, delivers some very good sound over headphones.
The star of the show, however, is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 running under that flaming red hood. It comes with 6 GB and 8 GB of RAM, depending on which variant you pick (6 GB/ 128 GB storage, or 8 GB /256 GB storage – no expandable storage, though), and that combination pretty much ensures that you fly through everything you do on this phone. Be it PUBG, Asphalt or heavy image and video editing, this phone does it all, without breaking into a sweat. Literally. It never really heats up – Redmi would have us believe it is because of a cooling system that features eight layers of graphite. Whatever it is, it sure works, which is what really counts at the end of the day. And thanks to that large 4000 mAh battery, you can be sure that the phone will see out a day of even heavy use – it supports fast charge and this time (unlike with the Redmi Note 7 Pro, there is an 18W charger in the box, although the phone can also support a 27W charger)!
Contributing to the smooth user experience is the software. The phone comes with Android Pie with Xiaomi’s MIUI 10 overlay, but interestingly, Xiaomi has used the Poco Launcher rather than the default MIUI one on top of it. This means there is an app drawer for those who like it. There are also some neat touches (literally) such as the options to tweak the touch sensitivity during gaming (PUBG users will love the microseconds it saves them) and the presence of a dark theme. In essence, MIUI is the antithesis of Oxygen, throwing a lot of options at you rather than receding into the shade of minimalism, but although stock Android fans will hem and haw, we must confess we like what we see. There is some app replication – there is a gallery app and the Google Photos app, and another browser apart from Chrome – but then you also get some very handy tools such as Mi Drop (which is rapidly becoming our go-to app for transferring information, given how ad-laden SHAREIt has become), the very good calculator, and Xiaomi’s video and music services. Of course, you also get Mi Pay, Xiaomi’s payment service, although the phone also comes with Paytm preinstalled. Regrettably, we also end up getting the notification ads that are now part and parcel of MIUI. Of course, they can be removed but they are a pain nevertheless.
We can argue about the pros and cons of interfaces all day long, but suffice to say, if you are looking for smooth, speedy performance, the Redmi K20 Pro delivers just that. This is right up there with the best you can get in Android, although we just wish the in-display fingerprint scanner did a better job (it is a bit hit and miss).
Cameras that slay
2019 seems to be the year Xiaomi reclaims its phone camera crown in India, something it had let slip after the heady days of the Mi 5. The brand surprised everyone with the very good 48-megapixel shooters on the Redmi Note 7 Pro and Redmi Note 7S and now has further upped the ante with the three-camera set up on the back of the Redmi K20 Pro. These are the 48-megapixel Sony IMX 586 half-inch main sensor with an f/1.75 aperture, a 13-megapixel wide-angle one (with a 124.8-degree field of view) and an 8-megapixel telephoto sensor that delivers 2x optical zoom. The pop-up selfie camera is a 20-megapixel one. Rather disappointingly, there is no optical image stabilization on any of the sensors, although the main sensor does have electronic image stabilization.
Those specs seem par for the course in these megapixels, multi-camera phone days. But it is what they deliver that really counts. And well, in good light conditions – those cameras slay. We would go out on a limb and say that they are easily the best at their price point and can hold their own against the best in good light conditions, although we would really prefer more realistic colors (the reds and greens do pop a little too much at times). The cameras consistently delivered very good detail, and colors that were attractive if not always accurate (but that is a flaw that might be seen as a virtue by many). No, this is not the stuff of which you can take pictures of the moon or which light up the darkness – low light performance is acceptable but not exceptional, albeit with very good glare handling – but the cameras on the Redmi K20 hit the mark more often than not. And are surprisingly consistent, something which is rare in Android flagships. And that applies to the selfie camera too, which delivered some rather attractive selfies (notwithstanding our attempts to minimize digital make up) and also handled portrait shots superbly, although the odd bit of the subject or background did get bokeh-ed or focused, respectively, from time to time. Video quality is very good as well – you can shoot 4K at 60fps.
And of course, there are plenty of shooting and editing options, including one that lets you even change the background. Our only word of caution in the camera department – do not try too much in low light, where the absence of OIS can really hurt.
Of course, in best Redmi tradition, the real killer punch is the price. The Redmi K20 Pro starts at Rs 27,999 for the 6GB/128 GB variant. And that makes it easily the most affordable Android flagship out there by some distance. The fact that it enjoys that status without cutting any major design or performance corners makes it all the more formidable. There is competition of course, most notably from the OnePlus 7 duo (yes, yes, we have a comparison coming up shortly), and from the Asus 6z, but right now, the Redmi K20 Pro pretty much stands in a zone of its own, and could well have redefined the term budget flagship. It really is now up to the competition to up its game. Or change it.
The flagship killer line? It fits.
- Eye catching design
- Very good hardware
- Superb performance
- Consistent cameras
- PRICE, PRICE, PRICE
- No expandable memory
- Single speaker
- Slightly iffy in-display fingerprint sensor
- Ads continue to plague the Notificatons
It has been perhaps one of the most awaited budget flagships of the year. And the Redmi K20 Pro comes packed with a lot of promise, even threatening to redefine the budget flagship segment as we know it. But does it live up to the hype?