Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S review: Software, not hardware is what makes this phone ‘special’

But here’s why you shouldn’t buy one though.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S, Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S review, Xiaomi, Redmi, Mi
The Note 10S starts at Rs 14,999. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Back in 2019, Xiaomi had launched a phone called the Redmi Note 7 in India. Contrary to the version that was being sold in China, the Redmi Note 7 India variant came with an inferior camera setup. This was probably done to keep the price low, more precisely, under 10k. All Redmi Note phones then had a sticker price of Rs 9,999 – that was their big USP. Barely three months later, the Redmi Note 7 China variant was launched in India as the Redmi Note 7S.

Fast forward to 2021, Xiaomi is reprising that branding again. Enter, Redmi Note 10S.

The Redmi Note 7S was all about its “supercharged” camera. The Note 10S brings a couple of more hardware updates (than that) but it’s the phone’s software that really makes it special. This is the first Xiaomi phone to ship with MIUI 12.5 out-of-the-box. The reason why that’s big news is because it’s supposed to turn your Xiaomi phone – Redmi/Mi/Poco – from a cesspool of bloatware into this magical place where users can control the kind of apps they wish to use. Or dump them as per their liking. It’s all about the freedom and flexibility.

Also Read | Mi 11 Lite first look (in pictures): Comparison with Redmi Note 10 Pro and OnePlus Nord CE 5G

Considering how sporadic MIUI 12.5 rollout has been so far (the update kicked off globally in February), a phone like the Note 10S instantly becomes “noteworthy” and to an extent, even a technical showcase. There is a small catch though. The phone was launched with an interim version of MIUI 12.5. While it did include all the key core elements related to performance and efficiency, it was missing out on its marquee feature. The ability to uninstall and remove pre-loaded applications was added only recently via OTA making the launch of the phone seem rushed. But as they say, better late than never. Or is it?

Supercharged software

To be clear, the Note 10S looks like any other Redmi phone when you first boot it up. Right off the gate, the phone insists you use GetApps, a Play Store alternative as much as you can. The argument being it does not require any sign in so anybody can use it without a Google account. The marketplace is deeply integrated with MIUI giving you access to features like dual apps, cleaner and sharing within the app itself. Moreover, all system apps are updated through GetApps, not Play Store which aside from bombarding you with persistent reminders, also raises a lot of privacy concerns.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S, Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S review, Xiaomi, Redmi, Mi
To see a phone like the Note 10S with barely 20 apps and no spammy notifications is priceless. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Xiaomi has stopped bundling its call, messaging, and browsing apps (along with a whole host of apps like TikTok that are currently banned in India), but even then, a phone like the Note 10S comes with nearly 60 apps pre-installed. Some might be useful, some not so much. Your mileage may vary. But what the MIUI 12.5 does, is that it lets you uninstall a lot of apps or at least hide them. Something that was not possible before.

The functionality is part of MIUI 12.5.4. The new update adds a couple of more tabs within the “apps” section of the phone’s settings. One of them lets you manage home screen shortcuts: you can remove apps from your home screen/app drawer using the toggles available for each app in this section. Sadly, there is no getting around GetApps, the only potentially duplicate app that remains alongside the Play Store at all times. There’s nothing you can do about it. The other option basically gives you quick access to uninstalled system apps. You can of course do all this tinkering from the home screen/app drawer as well. Once you’re done with all the spring cleaning, you should probably go into permissions and notifications and make changes accordingly. Lastly, you should also turn off personalised recommendations to avoid targeted advertising.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S, Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S review, Xiaomi, Redmi, Mi
The ability to uninstall and remove pre-loaded applications was added only recently via OTA. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

And voila, your Redmi phone is as clean as a whistle. It’s a tedious process no doubt, but one that’s totally worth all the effort. To see a phone like the Note 10S with barely 20 apps and no spammy notifications (my review unit does not show any ads either, but it could be a one-off thing and retail units could be different) is, for the lack of a better word, priceless.

Also Read | Redmi Note 10 Pro Max review: Setting a new benchmark for value for money

Xiaomi often gets a lot of bad rap for its software choices. Some of it is justified, some mere exaggeration. Be that as it may, credit must be given where it’s due. The brand has taken “critical” feedback seriously and tried to address the long-standing issue of bloatware on its phones with MIUI 12.5. Remember, this is not an isolated issue. A lot of other phones – especially budget phones – suffer from the same issue. Only Xiaomi is doing something to fix it. If only it can make the process easier, maybe make it part of the startup process or something, it would hit home run giving rivals something to thing about. It is on the right track.

If it ain’t broke

For all other intends and purposes, the Redmi Note 10S is a Redmi Note 10 with a different system-on-chip and primary camera. It has a MediaTek Helio G95 while the Note 10 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 678. In extension of this, the Note 10S also comes with a “minimum” of 6GB of RAM while the Note 10 starts off with 4GB. The Note 10 comes with a 48MP main camera while the Note 10S swaps this with a technically superior 64MP shooter.

Let’s look at both these upgrades one by one.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S, Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S review, Xiaomi, Redmi, Mi
MIUI 12.5.4 adds a couple of more tabs within the “apps” section. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The Helio G95 is a lot like the Snapdragon 678 but there are differences. It’s a little bit of an oddball to be honest. It may have a more powerful Mali-G76 GPU, but it is based on a relatively less efficient 12nm process. It works on expected lines too. It can do some light gaming and occasionally it can also do some graphically intensive gaming (at low settings and up 30fps tops) but it can’t do this consistently for very long. A few minutes in and it starts to get warm. Performance takes a hit and gaming becomes janky. The Note 10S also tends to get warm during everyday tasks every now and then, something which is accentuated when ambient temperature is high. Long story short, next to the Note 10, the Note 10S is barely an upgrade even though it may seem like it is rocking a more powerful chip.

The same is true about the Note 10S’s higher resolution primary camera. Unlike the Note 10 Pro, where Xiaomi explicitly mentions that it is using a Samsung GW3 sensor, no such information is shared about the 64MP sensor inside the Note 10S. Xiaomi says it is relying on multiple vendors, so your guess is as good as mine. As for output, it’s good enough but with Xiaomi climbing up the price ladder with this phone, it’s only fair to put it under a little more scrutiny. While colours and dynamic range are serviceable, the sensor can’t capture a lot of detail even in good light. Some of these photos might look good on screen but zoom in and you’d notice that they are soft. The quality goes for a toss even further under artificial and low lighting. Night mode implementation is average at best which is surprising since Xiaomi usually nails the algorithm in a lot of its phones South of 20k. Video recording tops out at 4k@30fp and EIS is available only at 1080p@30fps.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S, Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S review, Xiaomi, Redmi, Mi
The Note 10S is a Redmi Note 10 with a different system-on-chip and primary camera. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Rest of the package stays as is as the Note 10. Expectedly then, the biggest standout feature is the phone’s sleek design. It’s slim and light and gorgeous to look at. Xiaomi makes some of the most good-looking budget phones so much so that they don’t even look like budget phones. The back is made of plastic and on the front, it has Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection. The phone is IP53-certified which makes it resistance to dust and splashes. It has dual speakers with Hi-Res support that get nice and loud but surely, we’ve seen better from Xiaomi. The side-mounted fingerprint reader is fast and accurate but there is some room for improvement. There’s also a headphone jack and IR blaster.

Also Read | Redmi Note 10S with Helio G95 and MIUI 12.5, Redmi Watch launched in India: Specs, features, price and everything to know

Another highlight is the phone’s 6.43-inch 1080p Super AMOLED display that can, at least in theory, peak 1100nits. There is no HDR support or high refresh rate like the Note 10 Pro though.

The phone’s other cameras – 8MP ultra-wide-angle, and two 2MP cameras, one for depth and another for macros – are handy but again, only average at best. The 13MP front camera takes mostly good selfies in good lighting with the level of detail going down as the intensity of light takes a dip.

The 5,000mAh battery inside the phone easily lasts a full day even with extensive usage. There is support for 33W fast charging.

Hold that thought

Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S, Xiaomi Redmi Note 10S review, Xiaomi, Redmi, Mi
You shouldn’t buy one though. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

On paper, the Note 10S comes out looking like a nice follow-up to the Note 10 for those who can shell out a little more money. Until you see the phone’s price. The Note 10S starts at Rs 14,999 for the base variant with 6GB RAM and 64GB storage. The 6GB/128GB variant of the phone is available for Rs 15,999. For Rs 1,000 more, you can get a Note 10 Pro with a more premium glass design, brighter HDR10-ready display, faster Snapdragon 732G chipset, more consistent 64MP Samsung GW1 plus 5MP macro combo, and bigger 5020mAh battery. No scratch that, you should totally get the Note 10 Pro instead. Or, if you’re low on cash, it would be better to stick with the Note 10. Until and unless Xiaomi revises its price, the Note 10S is hard to recommend.

PS: MIUI 12.5 update for the Note 10 Pro is live in India.

Pros: Sleek and attractive design, Good display, Good battery life, MIUI 12.5

Cons: Not great value

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First published on: 23-06-2021 at 10:55 IST