So, is there value to be had in owning the entry-level Xiaomi Redmi 4a? The phone was released in Xiaomi's home market at the end of last year but a belated premiere outside China has put it back in the spotlight - particularly in the emerging Indian market where it seems to be in pretty high demand. For one, the Redmi 4a feels pretty sturdy and well built. Naturally, it is plastic all around but the finish gives a convincing impression of metal.
The unibody design is even complete with a pair of grooves that resemble antenna strips. They are purely cosmetic, but reinforce the overall illusion of a metal chassis. The rear is pretty clean and simple. There is a single speaker grille near the bottom and the 13MP sensor is placed behind a pretty compact f/2.2 lens. There is no fingerprint reader - a notable omission compared to the standard Redmi 4. It's one of the sacrifices Xiaomi had to make in the name of ultimate savings.
The mono speaker on the Redmi 4a seems to be identical to that on the regular Redmi 4 and the 4 Prime. That is to say, it is not particularly loud and only scored an Average score in our tests.
|Speakerphone test||Voice, dB||Ringing ||Overall score|
The front of the device follows the minimal, low-cost styling. The screen is a 720p unit, which seems the straightforward choice in this price bracket. The front is quite scratch-prone, even though Xiaomi claims it used some sort of reinforced glass other than the popular Gorilla Glass varieties. Our review unit managed to pick up a few marks from just lying around and the mostly indoor use during testing. A screen protector should be one of the first things on a new user's list.
The three capacitive keys below the display work perfectly fine, but the lack of backlighting is a bit of a disadvantage. Not a big deal but you'll have to rely on habit in the absence of visual aids. Xiaomi might have found those three particular LEDs a bit too pricey to include but, ironically, they left the IR blaster from the rest of the Redmi 4 line intact, at the top side of the device.
Perhaps it would have cost more to redesign the frame and remove the cutout than to just leave the emitter in. In any case, you can pick a Redmi 4a up as an overdesigned universal remote to use around the house. But seriously, the IR is nice to have. Speaking of LEDs, there is also a notification LED underneath the Home button. An unusual position for sure, but still a welcome touch on such a cheap device.
There is a 3.5mm audio jack and that's one thing the flagship Mi 6 can't match. It's at the top of the device, next to a secondary noise-canceling microphone. The bottom features the main microphone and a microUSB port. You'll be happy to learn it is OTG-enabled.
As for the sides, there is a very standard arrangement including a volume rocker and a power button on the right and only a card compartment opposite. It has a total of 2 slots: a micro and a nano SIM. The latter is a hybrid, so you can opt for a microSD storage card in it instead. Both SIM slots are 4G-enabled, but only one can be active at a time.
Besides LTE, the Redmi 4a also comes with VoLTE support out of the box. In case you are wondering, this includes Reliance Jio as well. It even supports Band 5, which is widely used in India.
And while we are at it, the Redmi 4a has the connectivity basics covered. There is Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n on board (single-band, nothing fancy), Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP and LE and A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, for navigation.
NFC is a notable omission. Then again, we hardly see that on Redmi devices to begin with. On the other hand, Xiaomi has thrown in an FM radio receiver, for some old-school offline audio entertainment.
For wired connectivity, the Redmi 4a has a traditional microUSB connector, with a USB 2.0 controller behind it. Since the storage in the handset isn't all that fast either, anything beyond that in terms of bandwidth would have been overkill anyway. One thing we really do wish made the cut is fast charging, though.
The Redmi 4a comes with a 1A basic charger in what's a pretty basic retail package, as you would expect. Besides the charger, there is also a USB cable, a SIM ejector and some leaflets.
The Xiaomi Redmi 4a is powered by a 3,120mAh battery. It is a sealed-in pack, and it's pretty slow to charge up.
We can't help but feel that Xiaomi crippled its capacity in order to save on costs, rather than just for space, as is usually the case with today's smartphones. The regular Redmi 4, as well as the Redmi 4X both have 4,100mAh battery packs. With a size of 139.2 x 70 x 8.7mm and 139.9 x 70.4 x 8.5mm for the 4X and 4A, respectively, we definitely think cutting the capacity was a market decision more than anything else. And, as expected, the Redmi 4a definitely suffers for it.
It managed to score a 67 hour endurance rating in our battery test - a far cry from the whopping 119 hours of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 or the 91 hours of the Redmi 4 Prime. Both handsets have 4,100mAh battery packs at their disposal, as well as the 14nm Snapdragon 625, which has proven its power efficiency time and time over. Even the MediaTek Helio X20 version of the Redmi Note 4 managed to squeeze an 83 hour rating out of its 4,100mAh battery.
A less efficient Snapdragon 425, working its four cores overtime to keep up with the load, plus a smaller 3,120mAh battery pack really turned out to be a recipe for an average battery life. It's another significant deduction from the already dwindling value score of the Redmi 4a.
Much to our surprise, the 5-inch 720p panel on the Redmi 4a turned out to be pretty decent. It seems the LCD unit was mostly spared from the cost-cutting, but sadly the same can't be said about its protective layer. Xiaomi claims it is some sort of hardened glass but, as we said earlier, it really gives off a "plasticky" vibe - it doesn't provide smooth swipes and it's prone to scratches.
As for the actual screen however, we've definitely seen worse and on much more expensive devices. It is not the brightest unit available, peaking at 475 nits and the higher light bleed in the blacks makes for a rather low contrast of 925. Still, to put the results into perspective, the Meizu M5s - one of the few competing offers in the ultra-budget segment- gives a pretty much identical performance. But then again, the Redmi 4 Prime and Redmi Note 4 both do notably better in the display department.
|Display test||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2|
The part we really found surprising was color accuracy on the Redmi 4a. Even the Standard color mode provides an average DeltaE of 4.5 out of the box and a maximum of 7.8. Whites are a little strong, which makes it slightly cold, but still, it's an overall quite accurate color-wise.
Tweaking some of the ample display settings yielded even more impressive results. Using the Warm color mode results in an average deltaE of just 2.8 and a max of 6, again mostly due to a variance in white and grays. Bringing the brightness down from the 475nit maximum to 200nits corrected the white pretty well and left us with a very impressive average deltaE of 2.4 and a maximum of 4.8.
Sunlight legibility is on par with similar devices, like the regular Redmi 4 and Redmi 4 Prime. That is to say, it is not spectacular in any way, but still decent enough for outdoor use. The automatic contrast adjustment, baked into MIUI helps in this respect as well. Still, you should probably avoid direct sunlight.