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Xiaomi may have diversified its product range to offer flagship phones, but the sub-$200 segment is still where all the action happens. The fact that it has maintained its lead in the budget segment, despite the increased pressure from Realme and Samsung, speaks volumes about how well Xiaomi knows what it’s doing. That shows in the 2021 Redmi Note series. With the Redmi Note 10, Xiaomi has once again managed to find the balance between performance and price, which matters more than anything else in a market like India. But that doesn’t mean the Note 10 has no weak spots — it’s got its fair share of them, and they could easily be a dealbreaker for some.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The first time I picked up the Redmi Note 10, I was amazed by how light it felt — even though it isn’t particularly lightweight at 179 grams. It’s not unusual for flagship phones to clock in at more than 200g these days. In all probability, the tapered plastic back contributes to the nice in-hand feel. And yes, I’m fine with the plastic back. It’s matte, doesn’t pick up smudges as easily, and feels sturdy enough. The Note 10 is by no means a single-hand phone, but there are a few gestures that help you get by.
The camera housing resembles the pricier Note models — Xiaomi calls this new design language EVOL (love spelled backward). However silly that name may be, the phone does indeed look more premium than the price would lead you to believe. However, it’s worth pointing out the camera island has already started picking up micro scratches along the edges without any kind of rough use. You’ll probably want a case.
In the display department, Xiaomi has made the leap to an OLED panel — one that actually looks impressive. It can’t go over 60Hz like the Pro models, but it can produce some nice colors, and Xiaomi gives you ample customization options. I settled for a more saturated look because the default profile looked a bit muted to me. While the display itself is nice, the shiny silver ring around the front camera can get distracting at times.
Inside the box, you will find a chunky 33W charger (the same one from the Pro models), a good-quality USB-C cable, some documents, a clear case (that has a snug fit, by the way), along with the phone itself.
Software, performance, battery life
MIUI can be intimidating with all the features and options it throws at you from the get-go, especially if you’re coming from a simpler OS skin. But MIUI grows on you the longer you use it, and it’s jam-packed with cool stuff that makes your life easier. Things like reachability gestures, button shortcuts for various common tasks, and floating windows are pretty useful and work without a hiccup.
It was refreshing to see Android 11 out of the box on a budget phone. While the latest Android version comes with quite a few new features, the Google Home controls integrated into MIUI’s iOS-ified control center often came in handy.
Left: The control center, Center: Floating window, Right: Reachability options.
Having said that, there’s no shortage of bloatware in MIUI, and certain pre-installed apps constantly ask for your attention by sending out notifications. Then we have individual Xiaomi apps wanting you to agree to terms and policies after you’ve agreed to MIUI’s terms while setting up the phone — even the calculator app pesters you for that. Asking for a user’s permission for data usage is acceptable, but this is overdoing it surely. Xiaomi says that the upcoming MIUI 12.5 update will add the ability to uninstall most of this crap, which is a welcome and much-needed step.
MIUI also gets overly aggressive killing background apps. While notifications from messaging apps like WhatsApp came through without issue, my to-do app and password manager consistently failed to work as normal. The only solution is to either pin the apps or turn off battery optimization.
Left: Some bloatware, Center: That’s after removing the preinstalled Facebook app, Right: Per-app terms and policy.
Despite that heavy interface, my experience with the device was pretty pleasant. The Redmi Note 10 uses a mid-range Snapdragon 678, and it was enough for my light to medium usage without any issues. I did notice some occasional stutters, which were more common while multitasking or installing apps, but they didn’t bother me much day-to-day considering the price — you can’t expect Mi 11-class performance for under ₹15,000.
To my surprise, gaming performance was fine, aside from somewhat lengthy load times. Of course, you cannot max out all the graphic settings on high-end titles, but the experience didn’t feel lacking. The standard Note 10 is by no means a gaming-centric phone, there are far better options with more graphics performance, but I don’t think you’d be disappointed either — unless you pixel peep and keep track of every frame drop. The Note 10 does get slightly warm around the camera module during extended use.
Your gaming sessions will be even more enjoyable thanks to the on-board stereo speakers. They are positioned diagonally to one another on either side of the phone, allowing audio to come through from at least one side at all times. But I wouldn’t recommend using them in a noisy environment — the max volume is on the anemic side.
Despite those extended gaming sessions, I routinely ended my day with 35% or more battery life remaining. On my regular usage with no gaming, I could easily get by without plugging in for one and a half days. Without a doubt, the battery performance is one of the strongest points of the standard Note 10. The included 33W charger quickly juices up that 5,000mAh cell in around 70 minutes, though it’s no match for those speedy 65W adapters. Since this adapter uses Xiaomi’s proprietary tech to pump out all that power, using a third-party USB PD adapter may significantly lower the charging speed. However, you can buy one separately from Xiaomi if you ever want to replace it or need an extra.
To be honest, there’s nothing special about the Note 10’s camera array — it doesn’t have the 108MP sensor found on the Note 10 Pro Max (or Pro’s 64MP, for that matter). The quad-cam setup looks identical to its predecessor on paper — you get the main 48MP cam accompanied by an 8MP ultra-wide and a pair of 2MP bokeh and macro sensors. And of those four cameras, only the primary sensor snaps decent-looking shots.
The 12MP binned daylight shots catch some eye-pleasing colors and even maintain a good enough dynamic range. The same goes for portrait shots. Just make sure to tap the right area on the screen to get the exposure right. Otherwise, you can end up with wildly different-looking images of the same subject.
Digital zoom from the main sensor can go up to 10x and still retains some detail at the maximum setting. And, yes, you can take high-res 48MP images if you want to burn through your phone’s storage. Night mode is a hit or miss for the most part; it will brighten up your subject, but the results are still too grainy and dark for my liking.
The rest of the cameras on the phone are there probably just to bump the number of camera sensors. The 8MP ultra-wide cam is still usable and gets a wider view of your subject but at the cost of image quality. The 13MP selfie camera’s situation isn’t much different. It gets a lot of details but produces washed-out colors in indoor lighting. The image processing is much more forgiving in bright daylight.
Compared to the Note 10 Pro and Pro Max, this camera is missing some neat features, like the clone mode in video and the usable super macro sensor, that could’ve made the experience much more enjoyable. If you really want a better camera experience, then those higher-end models are your best bet in Xiaomi’s stable.
Should you buy it?
If your usage doesn’t involve a lot of photography, this phone is going to serve you well. But in case you’re on the other side of the fence, you’d be better off upgrading to its pricier siblings: Redmi Note 10 Pro or Pro Max. Those two phones will also get you slightly better performance, in addition to far better camera systems.
Other than the lacking camera performance, I can’t think of any issue that should keep you from getting the Note 10. Even software shouldn’t be a limitation down the line when MIUI 12.5 rolls out with the option to remove the excess apps and services.
Buy it if:
- You’re on a tight sub-$200 budget and can’t afford the Pro models.
- An okay camera is good enough for you.
Don’t buy it if:
- Having a versatile camera tops your priority list.
- MIUI is not your cup of tea.
- You can afford Redmi’s Pro models.
One month later
At a time when phones flaunting prominent branding on their twinkling backs have become the trend, the plain white colorway has a certain pizzazz. With its tasteful matte finish, the Note 10 has drawn many curious people over the month I had with the phone. It’s not just looks — even its in-hand feel is praiseworthy, making every other phone of its size feel heavy by comparison.
During this period, my original opinion of this budget Redmi phone has only solidified, and I’ve started to appreciate it even more for what it has to offer at this price. The highlight has to be that impressive OLED screen, which is great for binging Netflix shows. The stereo speakers further elevate the experience, though they’re good enough only for relatively quiet environments.
Even MIUI 12 has been a delight to use, outside a few minor hiccups. The interface is by no means lightweight, but you won’t take long to learn your way around the OS and even start to appreciate the tons of little features that MIUI has to offer. However, Xiaomi still needs to do a lot to rid the interface of all the bloatware that occasionally makes the phone feel slower than it has to be. While the company aims to address some of those software issues with the upcoming MIUI 12.5 update, there are certain aspects about the build quality that can’t be as easily fixed.
The plastic back has held up just fine, but I can’t say the same for the camera module. Even with the provided clear case, the camera island remains exposed enough for the cover glass to start chipping — that’s without any drops. This isn’t something I’d expect to see with just a month of use. You can address that in a number of ways, like using a better third-party case or a vinyl skin, but this shouldn’t be a concern at all.
However, there’s no quick fix for Xiaomi’s agonizing flash sales. It makes it almost impossible to grab a Redmi Note 10 in the massive online rush. Even so, the Redmi Note 10 offers a well-balanced and unbeatable package for the asking price of ₹11,999. You should definitely pick one if you are able to elbow your way into an upcoming flash sale. Hopefully, Xiaomi will be able to pile up enough stock to start open sales of the phone soon, though we can’t say how long that wait is going to be.
If you don’t want to wait or you’re worried about durability, you could consider the slightly older Poco X3, which offers a bigger battery and the Snapdragon 732G from the Note 10 Pro Max for almost the same price as the Note 10’s 128GB variant.