The Xiaomi juggernaut in the budget and mid-range segment in India is unstoppable, and with each offering, the company sets new benchmarks in terms of value for money offering as well as sales figures.

But unlike other Chinese players like Vivo, Oppo, Gionee, Xiaomi (like me) didn’t really give in to the new-age vanity trend – selfies. Until now, that is. Xiaomi today introduced a Redmi Y series with a focus on front-camera setup, debuting with the Redmi Y1 (and Redmi Y1 Lite).

Here are my initial impressions of the Redmi Y1 after just about two days of usage.

The Redmi Y1 sports a plain vanilla, but functional, design. It’s an all plastic build, with a metallic finish. There’s nothing we’ve not seen before, but it is built nicely with a smooth finish at the back that feels great in the hand.

While the display offers great contrast ratio, it’s not the brightest out there. Also, the lack of sharpness because of 1280 x 720 resolution on a 5.5-inch is a tad disappointing. I was all praise for the HD display on Redmi 4 (one of the best I’ve seen) because the resolution was good enough for the 5-inch screen it packed. But it boasts of Corning Gorilla Glass on top for protection which is a neat addition on a budget smartphone.

Powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor paired with 3 GB of RAM (there’s also a higher spec’d variant with 4 GB RAM), the Redmi Y1 chugs along nicely. I’ve not stress-tested it in my limited time with the device, but I don’t believe there would be any problem in everyday performance. The Snapdragon 435 is a pretty snappy chip. There’s 3,080 mAh battery which should be good enough for an entire day of heavy usage because of modest, power-efficient internals.

There’s good enough 32 GB storage on board, which is expandable up to 128 GB with a microSD card. Xiaomi has done away with the hybrid tray for the Redmi Y1 – much to the delight of most users – which would now allow you to use two 4G nano-SIMs as well as a microSD card, all at the same time. Out of the box, the phone had about 23 GB of free memory.

The phone runs MIUI 9 beta out of the box and will receive the upgrade for the stable version later this month. MIUI is one of the better Android skins out there and has a lot of fans.

MIUI 9 brings in faster app launches that makes use of optimized touch feedback, CPU acceleration, and optimized thread scheduling in the background. There’s also better notifications, split screen (like stock Android), icon animations, and smart photo editing. MIUI 9 introduces new features like App Vault and Stickers with improvements to Mi Video, Mi Drop, and Mi Calendar.

The company claims that the latest iteration of MIUI is as fast as stock Android. MIUI, despite its popularity, has often been criticized in the past for being a heavy UI layer that affects overall performance – especially on budget smartphones.

That brings us to the highlight of the Redmi Y1 – the 16-megapixel front camera with soft LED flash, dubbed LED Selfie-light. The few selfies I clicked looked decent, mostly better than what other smartphones in this price segment offer. The color accuracy was a little off sometimes and a bit of grain is evident when zooming in or when observing them on computer. In low light conditions, too much noise creeps in. But overall, it should serve you well for sharing selfies on Facebook or Instagram.

At the back, there’s a 13-megapixel camera with PDAF which does quite well in good light conditions and isn’t unusable in low light as well. I would really need to explore the camera more in diverse settings to make a final judgment.

After building reputation based on value-for-money offerings, Xiaomi has now built a brand that goes beyond the specifications sheet. Redmi Y1 is a testimonial to the fact that the company has its ears on the ground and knows the pulse of the customers – and their requirements.

At ₹8,999 ($140) in India (₹10,999 for the 4 GB + 64 GB variant), the Redmi Y1 looks like a capable phone at first glance. It’s quite basic, apart from the front camera shenanigans, but sometimes that is just good enough in the budget smartphone market. We’ll find out more in our detailed review.

Abhishek Baxi
A technology columnist and a digital consultant, he quit Microsoft in 2011 to go independent and write more, watch a lot of movies, and travel randomly.