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There is a debate doing rounds across the interwebs that prized OEMs are pushing the price of their high-end devices to a limit that would not have made sense two or three years ago. The counter-argument is that customers and tech reviewers have mounted too much pressure on phone manufacturers to up the offerings of their devices, which makes sense because the same market would take a hit if the features of modern handhelds do not take a notable detour from the same old and tested system of vertical slabs with a touchscreen. This development has been handled, albeit unsatisfactorily, with the likes of the OPPO Find X that are more of a fashion statement than a functional cellular device – and the phone’s retail price that’s past the Kes 100,000 point, a handsome amount that some of us would never leave at phone retail store.

For the latter demographic that genuinely adores the basic functionalities of a smartphone, they should be happy because some manufacturers are yet to shift from the mass-appealing market that would take a bargain any day rather than some expensive handheld. This is where the Xiaomi Redmi 6A fits right in because it serves the lion’s share of that group. The phone, which was launched barely a fortnight ago as the Chinese manufacturer announced its official presence in Kenya, has been in my possession and I must admit that its offerings have pleasantly surprised me as discussed in the following paragraphs.

TL;DR

Before we dive in, you should be advised that if your budget falls short of Kes 10,000, then don’t overthink: hop over to Jumia and order this baby. It is one of the few sub-10K phones that has 4G LTE (tested on Safaricom and Telkom Kenya) on both SIM slots and does not hide under the Android Go umbrella just to ship with a single gig of RAM. You will also get a modest 16 GB of storage. If you add 4K more, then you can secure a 32 GB version.

The cameras are good too (13 MP on the back and 5 MP for your selfies). However, the camera app fires up really slow and that is not cute, ever. This is something that can be fixed via software update, but owing to how other functions of the phone glide along just fine, it is a shame that the Redmi 6A camera is this slow up to the point where it is just annoying.

Thirdly, the software experience is actually good. MIUI 9 is packed with tens of features, and you can customize most aspects of the UI with ease. What is more, these are the same features you can get in pricier Xiaomi phones because the skin does not skip some features for its high-end – those are only differentiated by chipsets, screen quality, camera prowess and battery size.

Lastly, the 6A is capable of lasting an entire day on juice. While the battery is capped at 3000mAh, the cell powers a 5.45-inch screen with a resolution of only 720p. We wish the battery could be larger but the sealed one works just fine. It charges normally (no fast replenishment) but this is a Kes 9300 phone.

So, don’t fret. Get this phone if your budget is within that bracket.

For those who need to read more, tag along…

In the box

As we highlighted in the first impressions piece, Xiaomi never really ships its phones with earphones. Therefore, you will need to purchase a pair separately, but that is a good thing because many phones in this price point pack bad headphones, to be honest. As such, secure a pair that sounds better to your ears.

There is a two-pronged charger and a USB cable in the box, as well as a user guide and warranty information.

Unlike other manufacturers that include a soft, clear silicon case, the Redmi 6A does not have any, but it can be used without any protection thanks to its size that I have come to like. It is not a slippery mess too.

Hardware Overview

The Redmi 6A is incredibly light for various reasons. To begin with, its battery is smaller (which does not translate to poor endurance – more of that in a minute), so it keeps a reasonably thin frame. Secondly, in a phone world that is filled with 18:9 screens that stretch at more than 6 inches, the Redmi 6A takes us back to when 5.5” displays were a thing. Thirdly and lastly, the device is mostly constructed from plastic, a lighter and cheaper material. Ultimately, the end product fits in one comfortably, slips into a pocket just fine and can be operated without an extra set of fingers. I like that, and so should you.

The screen is capped at 720p, which is sharp enough for this price point. It does not get as bright on the outside, but indoor usage is more than adequate. I also noticed that the auto-brightness sensor is wonky owing to the erratic nature of brightness adjustments, so we recommend you toggle the option off.

Another surprise is the presence of a notification LED that is a rarity for sub-10K phones. Its colours cannot be adjusted, but that would be asking for too much from the 6A.

The earpiece sounds better than what Transsion fits on its many phones.

You can also fit two SIM cards and a micro-SD card without foregoing any of the included slots.

Save for a terribly-placed speaker (it is at the back of the device – didn’t we leave this placement back in 2012?) is the only unique hardware manifestation of the phone as all buttons, trays and cameras are at their rightful places.

What is more, there is no fingerprint scanner here, which I assume was a cost-cutting decision. Also missing is a face unl0cking feature as we say on the Tecno Spark 2, so screen security is limited to passwords, PIN or pattern.

Camera placement and design give the 6A the vibe of a dual sensor system, but that is not the case. The wide strip houses both the sensor and a single LED flash only.

Our review unit is sky blue with white bezels at the front. Branding is minimalist as shown by a MI logo at the back.

Software

My experience with Xiaomi’s MIUI skin can be traced back to late 2016. I have played with the software overlay for an extended period, and over that time, I have come to accommodate its offerings. It is a heavy skin that changes virtually all aspects of the user interface, and while that is not everyone’s cup of tea, the features it brings to the table surpass its limitations.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about MIUI is its selfless nature in giving users things to play with. I could go through them all, but the list is long and I wouldn’t want to bore you with software tools that you can find out by yourself.

Nonetheless, here is a short list of things that I appreciate about MIUI 9.6:

  • You can adjust colour profiles of your screen such as contrast.
  • You can double tap a dimmed screen to wake. There is no option for double-tapping to sleep, and I guess that was skipped to save on power.
  • If the screen is dim, you can raise to wake the device. It is an option that is unchecked, so you may need to enable it if this feature is important to you.
  • The home and lock screen can be customized with tens of offline and online themes and wallpapers. Most of them are actually good.
  • If an app does not support native 18:9 screens, there is a feature that forces such a utility to work in full-screen mode. Neat.
  • There is a quick-ball option that replicates the navigation menu on a floating, easy-to-reach button. Some may not need it because the 6A is pretty compact to navigate around the screen.
  • The inbuilt music app has headphone and audio effects settings that can be tweaked to your preferences.
  • You can capture screenshots from the notification drop-down menu, enable internet speed metre and organize a clone of the Google Now feed page on the left home screen.

I understand MIUI will not appeal to everyone, but I believe its features are actually useful compared to a boring stock Android experience.

General Performance

The 6A has a MediaTek A22 chip, which is at the bottom of the food chain as far as performance is concerned. Fortunately, it manages to make a name for itself with admirable performance, which is augmented by the fact that MIUI is optimized to run admirably even on low-end specs.

The phone is not perfect though: it will get sluggish on multiple occasions. Apps will take longer to open, which can be unnoticeable if you are coming from a similarly-priced handheld.

Perhaps the deal breaker, at least for me, is how slow the camera app performs. It is incredibly slow to launch and takes a couple of seconds to process captured images.

Speaking of the camera…

Camera

Here are some of the images that I capture with the device. There is nothing extraordinary about them. All in all, they are serviceable for social media shares and nothing more.

Battery

The sealed 3000mAh juicer can pull a day on mixed usage. In other words, endurance is good enough, although we wish it were larger as big batteries are Xiaomi’s selling point. Competitor devices from Tecno and Infinix have bigger cells that last longer, but we fret not.

Recharging the battery from 0 to a full tank takes about two hours with the included USB A charge and brick.

Pros

  • This is perhaps the only sub-10K phone that has LTE.
  • We love its size so much. Smaller phones should surely make a comeback.
  • Battery life is admirable.
  • The screen is good, although it is a little dim.
  • MIUI additions are genuinely useful.
  • Dat notification LED is a huge plus.

Cons

  • The camera app needs a shot of adrenalin on its arm.
  • Charging could be faster.
  • The screen could also be brighter.
  • Please include earphones for devices sold in Kenya next time, Xiaomi.
  • A case would have been a huge plus too.

Conclusion

Xiaomi has a long way to go if it wants to be a household name in the country. Transsion has managed to pull this off as its trade is far-reaching owing to its array of budget devices, a system I think Xiaomi should emulate. It is a common name in Asia, but that is a completely different market with unique variables. Launching the 6A is a smart move, and sincerely speaking, it trumps over what the competition sells for the same price bracket. If the same approach is used for more pricier phones such as the incoming POCO Phone, then some of us will be spoilt for choice.

We are yet to have a one-on-one with the Xiaomi Kenyan team to understand how it will handle warranty cases, but that information should be at our doorstep in a couple of days. Also, Xiaomi’s offline sales programs is another aspect we are yet to grasp (the 6A is available on Jumia for Kes 9,300) and would be prudent for most Kenyans who would rather walk into a shop than place an order online.

Anyway, if you have between Kes 9,300 to 10000, just buy this phone. It is the alpha dog in the Kes 10,000 group.

Buy from Jumia

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