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No one gets left behind – that's possibly what folks at Xiaomi were thinking while designing the Redmi Go. While that’s the general thumb rule for any Redmi phone, the Redmi Go is quite literally the living embodiment of that ideology – and Xiaomi is being very vocal about it. The Redmi Go is an entry-level smartphone designed specifically for first-time smartphone users – for users who’ve long held on to their feature phones because well, smartphones are expensive, and they can be difficult/confusing to use.
And that user base is quite huge. And data costs are spiraling down – for now.
Xiaomi brought Android One back from the dead with the Mi A1 in 2017 and now it is looking to do the same for Android Go with the Redmi Go – and with it, Xiaomi wants to make entry-level smartphones exciting again. Not that it needed to - Xiaomi already has phones like the Redmi 6A (and Redmi 5A that came before it) to its credit that serve that purpose. But then with the Redmi Go, Xiaomi is looking to go even deeper into India’s mass market. With the Redmi Go, Xiaomi is looking to offer a true smartphone experience for one and all.
But before diving into its spec-sheet and comparing it with X, Y or Z budget smartphone (including Xiaomi’s own Redmi 6A), it is important to understand Android Go – what is it, who is it for and how different is it from, you know, actual Android?
The whole concept behind Android Go is that Android can be hard on system resources – same reason why high-end Android phones boast of borderless insane 10GB+ RAM these days, same reason why they’re powered by 6 and 8-core processors for all the power that you can get. You can’t expect an entry-level phone to have that – even though Xiaomi itself is guilty of pampering consumers with hard-to-imagine hardware at rock-bottom prices. It’ll just be wrong.
Realizing the loopholes in Android, Google set out to connect the next billion users through a special configuration of Android designed specifically for bare-bone devices in 2017 – enter Android Go. I know what you’re thinking – wasn’t Android One made for that? It was, but it didn’t fly – its commercial failure was admitted by Google. But it did not stop trying – and Xiaomi was there to help. As it is with Android Go as well.
You can call it a step-down version of Android One (even as Android One now caters to a slightly more premium price bracket) that allows smartphone manufacturers to have a little more flexibility in skinning Android – so they can probably add more useful customization options in Android Go phones as opposed to an Android One or stock Android phone. Presumably, without compromising on all-round user experience, that could arise when putting a third-party skin. While an Android One phone like the Mi A1/A2 run stock Android launcher out-of-the-box with small tweaks in areas like the camera app, Android Go phones like the Redmi Go can get away with a custom Xiaomi launcher called the Mint launcher and a couple of extra apps – beyond the usual Google stuff.
But it is totally up to the manufacturer – HMD has chosen to go with a complete stock experience in the Nokia 1 for instance.
Xiaomi’s Mint launcher is a scaled-down version of the Poco launcher which looks exactly like it (the biggest draw being that it has an app drawer) but packs new icons (you can also download and install new icon packs) and an adequately configurable and lightweight Mint browser – there are also Xiaomi essentials like file manager, Mi drop and Mi community pre-installed on the Redmi Go.
In my brief usage I have found the Redmi Go to be quite a smooth operator (by entry-level standards), but I am not too sure how it holds up with time – you know, any third-party skin howsoever useful it may be, slows down over time.
A way to ensure it doesn’t slow down as quickly as say a Xiaomi phone with MIUI is to not load it with many applications – and just to ensure users have all that they’ll ever need from their first smartphone, Google has designed specific apps for Android Go. Google has re-worked on almost its entire suit of G-apps, including Google Assistant, Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail and more. All these apps serve three purposes – they require less space to install, they require less RAM to function and they work well with slow internet, all of which are technically luxuries for India’s mass market.
While it is possible to download and install any app on a phone like the Redmi Go – you're not advised to. And you’re definitely not advised to stress test it with PUBG or Asphalt 9 – these high-end games can’t run on the Redmi Go.
What you can do though is all your usual basic smartphone stuff – the stuff that you can’t do on every feature phone. You can make video calls, you can WhatsApp, you can watch YouTube, you can browse the Internet, you can access social media and you can play some low-end games like Candy Crush on it – again, all of which are technically luxuries for India’s mass market.
The Redmi Go will serve you well as long as you’re aware of its limitations which are of course its bare minimum specs – the Redmi Go has a conventional 5-inch 16:9 display with 720p resolution (it’s not very sharp or very bright, but it gets the job done), it is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 processor with 1GB RAM and 8GB of internal storage which is expandable using a dedicated micro-SD card slot. The dual-SIM phone supports 4G LTE connectivity and pack a 3,000mAh battery. On the camera front, the Redmi Go comes with an 8MP rear camera and a 5MP front-facing camera.
It is a little disappointing that the Redmi Go runs Android 8.1 Oreo Go edition out-of-the-box and not Android Pie - hopefully it will be updated to Pie soon enough.
The Redmi Go has every ingredient in the book to make Android Go a mainstream go-ahead in India but here’s why I am a little skeptical about it. Xiaomi makes good entry-level phones – the Redmi 5A has been a blockbuster in India and even though the Redmi 6A does not reinvent the wheel, it’s still the best budget phone that money can buy at its low price. The Redmi 5A was marketed as the “Desh ka Smartphone” in India and it was truly a phone designed from scratch for India’s mass market – it was launched in India at an introductory price of Rs 4,999 (2GB RAM/16GB storage). The Redmi Go which has almost the same spec-sheet (but lesser RAM and storage, and Android Go software) has been launched in India at 4,499. And that I feel is a missed opportunity. Xiaomi could have priced it better – that, or it could have launched it with a lower introductory price. Remember, this is the same company that has launched the Redmi Note 7 Pro budget flagship at a ridiculously low starting price of 13,999. The Redmi Go deserved the same treatment – Android Go needed such a treatment. Watch this space for our full review of the Xiaomi Redmi Go in the days to come.