Xiaomi's colorful Android ROM manages to save face big time when it comes to the Redmi 4a. In fact, if you really find yourself with only $100 to spend on a smartphone, MIUI 8 and its polished UX and abundance of features should be enough of a reason to shy away from the Doogees or Oukitels and towards the Redmi 4a.
Just to be clear, we are in no way saying that the budget handset has what it takes to deliver a satisfying user experience. There is simply no escaping the feeble nature of its low-end quad-core chip, especially with today's resolution-rich multimedia and heavy Android applications. But we still have to give credit where credit is due, and commend Xiaomi's development team. They managed to get MIUI 8 running with very few stutters and slow-downs on such entry-level hardware.
Surprisingly enough, the Android 6.0.1-based MIUI 8 ROM on the Redmi 4a is full-featured, or at least pretty close. There are a lot of baked-in Xiaomi goodies to enjoy. First off, is MIUI's signature flat style. It really looks gorgeous, even on this budget LCD, rendered at 720p.
To sweeten the deal even further, the Redmi 4a can make use of Xiaomi's powerful Theme engine. This allows you to tweak pretty much every UI detail to your liking, and grants access to the rich online Theme repository.
Granted, the LCD on the Redmi 4a is hardly the perfect canvas to enjoy a pretty UI on, but despite its limitations, Xiaomi has actually provided users with quite a bit of control to improve the overall visual experience. The contrast can be adjusted manually, or even dynamically, based on content and conditions. Speaking of which, the Redmi 4a also has automatic brightness. We are really happy to see the light sensor made the cut. Double-tap-to-wake is also among the baked-in options.
You can play around with the color profile out-of-the-box, as well as the font size. Xiaomi has even thrown in a trendy and full-featured Reading mode.
We find a similarly surprising feature-depth in almost every corner of the OS. The status bar, quick toggles, and notification shade can all be customized quite a bit. Battery percentage and data transfer indicators are some of the opt-in status bar elements and there is even a pair of visualization options for app notifications to choose between. As for the toggles and notifications, they can be separated out into panels, if that seems more convenient to you, or left in the same shade, as by default.
And wouldn't you know it, the notification LED we mentioned in the hardware overview even has its own section in the settings menu. A small victory in the overall Redmi 4a picture, for sure, but we still can't help but appreciate that a sub $100 phone has a customizable RGB diode - a feature even flagships sometimes forget.
Speaking of notifications, MIUI 8 offers in-depth control over each type of notification it supports on a per-app basis. This feature ties in really well as part of the automated Xiaomi security center. It is a no-frills, one-stop spot for cleaning your phone, protecting your data and preventing battery drain. Naturally, that includes a detailed permission manager too.
Thanks to MIUI 8, the Redmi 4a is also surprisingly well-equipped to handle sensitive data, protect business assets and even facilitate multiple communication channels. You can password-protect apps, or hide them altogether from kids with Child mode.
Besides locking things up, you can branch out and quickly organize even more data and communications. The Redmi 4a supports both the Second space feature, for handling multiple independent workspaces, as well as Dual apps - particularly useful for logging on to two social accounts at the same time.
Frankly, as you can see, it's very easy to get carried away exploring the delightfully rich settings menu of the Redmi 4a, which kind of clashes with the intentions we had with the brief review format. Just to add a few finishing touches to the already impressive UX picture, we can't fail to mention Lite mode, with its big and clean UI.
The default app pack might be a bit extensive, but we think it complements the included Google suite pretty well. The Mi Remote app is a particular favorite of ours, mainly for the streamlined way it handles setting up and sending IR commands from the Redmi 4a.