Tech

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 is the best budget phone we’ve ever tested

Xiaomi’s launch event for the Redmi Note 10 series must have been an awkward watch for anyone at Samsung. It kitted out the headline features of Xiaomi’s latest Redmi: a 108MP Samsung camera sensor and a 120Hz Samsung screen, but the Xiaomi announcement was pretty much a Galaxy A71 bash-a-thon.

Indeed, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 outclasses Samsung’s mid-ranger in virtually every respect, all the while costing less, with a global price of $279 (around £200). But we seldom see such laser-focused take-downs of just one smartphone at launch events.

A quick look at some numbers, though, and Xiaomi’s clearly done its homework. The Galaxy A51 was the best-selling Android phone in Q1 2020 worldwide while the Galaxy A21s was the best-selling Android phone in Germany that year — Germany is a key untapped market for Xiaomi.

The real opportunity, therefore, isn’t to create a £1,000+ S21 Ultra beater; but to create strategic budget wins that look like familiar flagships, and are more likely to steal Samsung Galaxy A-series sales.

This backdrop tidily explains the Redmi Note 10 Pro, a phone that starts from $279 but delivers highlights missing from some $1,000+ flagships — a 120Hz AMOLED display, a huge 5,020mAh battery, fast charging and stereo speakers. Most surprising is the fact it isn’t a beast to look at — far from it.

We know Xiaomi handicaps its smartphones with overbearing software, and the Redmi Note 10 Pro misses out on 5G, but do either of those drawbacks really matter when you’re watching Wandavision in all its HDR10 glory and snapping silly-resolution 108MP photos?

Who’s it for

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 is the best budget phone we’ve ever tested

If you don’t mind using a brand of smartphone most people haven’t heard of, then, whatever you’re doing on it, the Xiaomi-made Redmi Note 10 Pro will probably impress you, unless you’re an iPhone user who’s set in their ways.

In particular, the 10 Pro is a great buy for photography fans on a budget; teens and adults alike who fancy something capable but not too costly. Its macro camera opens up creative snapping, while its main 108MP sensor can grab exquisite detail when fed good light and/or a steady hand.

With such a standout screen and stereo speakers, The Redmi Note 10 Pro is a streamer’s dream. Its 20:9 aspect ratio makes it a perfect fit for new cinematic widescreen movies and shows like Mandalorian, and the quality is beyond reproach for the price.

Anyone who needs an Android phone to tide them over between pricey flagships, the Redmi Note 10 Pro is also perfect for you.

Design

At its price, you’re kidding yourself if you’re expecting the Redmi Note 10 Pro to be a fancy glass and metal mix. Instead, it’s one of the best plastic phones we’ve tested.

The fingerprint scanner, for example, is curved to match the rounded frame, and it feels considered; the stepped camera bump is also a clear sibling of that of the flagship Xiaomi Mi 11; the frame’s dual-texture has a buffed flat top, and high-gloss sides.

The Note 10 Pro also has some weight to it at 193g, unsurprising given the huge battery fitted inside. But this actually helps it feel more premium and less plasticky, making for a confident in-hand fit and feel.

With a pre-fitted screen protector atop a Gorilla Glass 5 display, a case in the box and IP53 dust and splash protection, the Redmi Note 10 Pro is also relatively hardy. Its 6.67-inch screen will be too big for some, but if you can learn to love its size, that display is also one of its best features.

Living with it

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 is the best budget phone we’ve ever tested

You wake up in the morning, it’s a duvet day. Still in bed, you grab the Note 10 Pro and its screen’s crusty-morning-eye-friendly low minimum brightness starts the day wince-free.

You know you shouldn’t first thing after waking up, but you still open Twitter for a morning fix — swipe, scroll, swipe, scowl, swear after being duped by a promoted tweet. And as your feed glides across the screen at 120Hz, you forget you’re on a budget phone.

Out of bed, think about meditating or exercising, but then decide to keep your brain wired with a podcast. Bluetooth speaker? Naah, let’s get full-on lazy and listen on the Redmi Note 10 Pro’s teeny tiny speakers. Against all odds, its stereo sound isn’t ear-splitting. It’s actually good for the size and price.

Eating breakfast and you fire up Disney+. HDR 10 means shows like Wandavision look brilliant, with the Samsung-made screen’s contrast ratio being on-point. Even if you decide to read, the Redmi Note 10 Pro’s monochromatic reading mode can add a subtle paper texture to the inky AMOLED screen, making it feel more eReader than smartphone — wonderful stuff.

Mask up, pop to the post office, and there’s a queue. Bored, you pull out Bluetooth headphones, but they’re out of battery. Rummage through your bag and there’s a tangled old pair of original iPhone SE wired buds — victory. Plug’em into the Redmi Note 10 Pro’s 3.5 mm jack (nostalgia), and Susie Dent’s in your ear in podcast form making you feel instantly smarter.

On your way home, you snap a photo of the postal receipt, and it isn’t a blurry grainy mess.

A few days with the Redmi Note 10 illustrates how Xiaomi’s made something of an all-purpose phone. It doesn’t even sink when gaming, with Genshin Impact playing back smoothly on default low-graphic settings.

Killer feature

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 is the best budget phone we’ve ever tested

The Redmi 10 Pro excels when it comes to imaging. From its screen and that air-hockey-puck-gliding 120Hz refresh rate floatiness to its camera, which climbs up to a staggering 108MP.

Getting into specs for a second, $279 gets you a wide Full HD 1080 x 2400 screen, which is sharper than an iPhone 11, but not quite as sharp as an iPhone 12. It’s AMOLED, which is usually a mark of greatness, and won the Realme 7 Pro a glowing recommendation given its budget price.

Powered by a Snapdragon 732G, the phone doesn’t have a rockstar chipset, but it still keeps the UI snappy and the swipes and taps fluid. The only slowdown we experienced was when the phone saved big-pixel-count photos, which kept us waiting a second before viewing an image we’d just taken.

In addition to its 108MP main camera, the Redmi Note 10 Pro features an 8MP ultra-wide lens for action-cam-a-like shots, and a 5MP macro camera, which, thanks to autofocus, isn’t a massive waste of space. There’s also a depth sensor for good measure.

It’s a shame the main camera lens isn’t optically stabilised, as occasional handshake can scupper potentially stunning shots in middling light. If you’ve got a steady hand, though, you’ll be blown away by the photos you can get for $279. Solid hardware is also backed up by impressive shooting modes: manual photo and video with RAW capture; a comprehensive portrait mode; 108MP mode (photos are taken at 12MP by default), and the list goes on.

Even nice-to-haves, like the selfie camera and 4K video recording, perform very well at the phone’s price, instantly making it our favourite affordable camera phone. The Note 10 Pro also starts with 64GB storage, and has an SD slot, so tonnes of potential space for photos and videos, or you can pay extra for the 128GB version.

Why oh why…

The best camera in the world can’t detract from the Redmi Note 10 Pro’s adverts. Yep. Ads for third-party apps pop up when you install a new app. They’re pretty gross, but you can turn them off. Nevertheless, to get away with such an eye-sore, the Note 10 Pro would have to be the best phone money can buy at its price, which, as you’ve probably gathered by now, it is.

So, should I buy it?

If Xiaomi wanted to break the West, they picked a perfect Trojan Horse. We can see the (on the surface) unremarkable Redmi Note 10 Pro quietly crop up as people search for their next phone, wooing potential buyers with its accessible price, great reviews and fantastically curated features compared to the establishment — the Samsung Galaxy A-series.

Optional extras that, practically speaking, are useless to many right now (we’re looking at you 5G) are missing from Xiaomi’s latest Redmi phone. Instead, it’s got a best-in-class screen and camera, excellent battery life with fast charging, not to mention standout design for the price.

We can’t think of a more compromise-free budget phone than the Note 10 Pro, it really is that simple.

The Xiaomi-made Redmi Note 10 Pro will be available in the UK from April 2021, and can be bought on import at Aliexpress stock-pending.

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