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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

High on value, low on “Pro” frills

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The laptop market has changed drastically over the last year. Increased WFH-induced demand, rising component prices, and the global chip shortage now make you spend more for a general-purpose laptop. Not the ideal time then for laptop buyers on a stringent budget. Xiaomi’s RedmiBook laptops debut in this tense environment relying on Redmi’s classic recipe of an enticing spec sheet and reasonable prices. Also Read – Samsung Galaxy A12 alternatives under Rs 15,000: Redmi Note 10T, Poco M3 Pro, and more

The RedmiBook 15 e-Learning edition is basically Redmi doing what it does best, i.e., attain the lowest price possible with better specs. The RedmiBook 15 Pro is a different story though; one that wants to take on the Dell Inspiron 3000 and 5000 series laptops, the HP Pavilion models, Lenovo’s IdeaPad notebooks and the entire lot of affordable Core i5-equipped 15.6-inch laptops. It relies on Intel’s 11th Gen Tiger Lake CPUs and the Redmi brand to gain the limelight. Also Read – New Mi Notebook with backlit keyboard teased to launch in India

With a couple of other useful titbits, the RedmiBook 15 Pro seems interesting for a laptop costing Rs 50,000. But is it worth buying? After using the laptop for almost 10 days, here are my thoughts. Also Read – Top gaming smartphones under Rs 25,000: Poco X3 Pro, OnePlus Nord CE, etc

Design

The Redmi name goes on some of the prettiest smartphones in the market and with their first laptop, you would expect a snazzy notebook carrying some jazz, right? Sadly, Redmi’s laptop design team thought otherwise and came up with a dull grey clamshell design, where the only interesting bit is the mildly reflective “Redmi” logo, followed by the “Power Your Creativity” tag. Ironic, isn’t it?

The dullness continues inside but if you look closely, you will see black keys and display bezels. I wonder what happened to the prettier silver and bluish colours that Xiaomi used on its Mi Notebook models. The layout is neat though and it is very spacious inside; spacious in the sense that you can rest your palms around the keyboard. This is a great change from the smaller 14-inch notebooks that have become the norm in this price category. Redmi missed out on a dedicated Numpad in pursuit of this clean design but makes up for it with a large trackpad.

While the design is dull, the quality of materials is good. The plastic body is durable to regular WFH abuses and I haven’t observed any creaks or irregularities from any surface. The hinge is firm and the anti-glare display helps. The sharp Mi Notebook-inspired edges may not make everyone’s hands happy; the same stands for the 1.8 Kg overall weight. I should also point out that a dusty Noida left its impressions on the laptop frequently (keep a duster handy).

RedmiBook 15 Pro

The overall picture sounds dull for the RedmiBook 15 Pro but this is the case with most laptops at this price. You are still going to find plastic shells bathed in cheesy colours and gradients. That said, the RedmiBook design team should look at the new Lenovo IdeaPad Slim and Dell Inspiron 3000 notebooks for spicing up a generic laptop.

A Redmi product does not compromise on the specs and the RedmiBook 15 Pro proves that once again. You will find a USB 2.0 port, two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, an HDMI 1.4 port, an Ethernet port, a 3.5mm headphone/mic port, an SD card reader, and a Kensington lock. What’s missing is a USB-C Thunderbolt port, which is increasingly becoming popular in the affordable notebook category. Redmi is using a proprietary port for charging.

Display

Redmi’s entire notebook lineup has gone for the large 15.6-inch display over the usual 14-inch ones you find on popular models these days. This is an IPS LCD display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. There’s no fancy high refresh rate or special colour certification; just a simple good old display. It is not a very good one though. As long as your usage involves writing documents, surfing the web, mild photo editing chores, and watching YouTube videos, the display serves well. It’s adequately bright and colourful.

RedmiBook 15 Pro

For us creators though, the display lacks any life. The contrast is poor and colour accuracy is off the charts. Viewing angles are limited, which is surprising to see after the rather impressive display on the Mi Notebook 14. If you are frequent on Photoshop or other photo editors, you either need an external display or another laptop with a better display. The compromise Xiaomi made for the 11th Gen Intel chips is evident here.

Performance

Since we stumbled upon the 11th Gen Intel chips, it is time to talk about the specs. For a general-purpose laptop, the RedmiBook 15 Pro has got ample power. Beating inside is an 11th Gen Intel Core i5-11300H processor with a boost of up to 4.4GHz. This is paired with an Intel Iris Xe graphics, 8GB of DDR4 RAM (non-expandable), and 512GB M.2 SSD storage. Redmi is preloading these laptops with Windows 10 and licensed copies of MS Office 2019.

RedmiBook 15 Pro

A setup like this is not going to excite gamers but there’s enough firepower for generic computing. I have written hundreds of stories you read here in the last few weeks on this machine, and the RedmiBook 15 Pro fared just fine. Contributing to a website requires us to have at least 4-5 tabs open in Chrome upon the several tabs for research and emails, all of which this laptop handled like a pro. I threw Photoshop at it and for basic editing jobs, the Intel Iris Xe graphics held itself well.

Curiosity led me to install my copy of F1 2020 on the RedmiBook 15 Pro and I got surprising results. I was able to run an entire 25 percent Grand Prix race in 720p resolution at Medium graphics at 30 fps without disturbing frame drops. However, this was just the first instance and the game refused to load later. I tried loading up Ori and The Will of The Wisps and after a short instance of loading in low settings, the game crashed. Probably driver-related issues, Redmi?

While the hardware looks promising, the RedmiBook 15 Pro isn’t designed for gaming and heavy-duty photo/video editing, especially with the Iris Xe graphics at the helm. Getting an old model with a 10th Gen Core i5 and NVIDIA GTX 1050 for slightly more would make sense if you seek more performance for gaming/editing.

RedmiBook 15 Pro

If you seek benchmark figures, I put the laptop through GeekBench and it returned 1241 in single-core and 3149 in multi-core. The figures are average on the scale but in the real world, there’s ample performance for your daily computing needs.

After spending a lot of time on the keyboard, I am happy to recommend the RedmiBook 15 Pro to writers on a budget. The keyboard has ample travel and decent feedback to make long hours of typing comfortable. It’s still a notch below the keyboards of the Lenovo ThinkPads but Redmi has got the basic feedback bit right. Sadly, the lack of a backlit keyboard option left me dashing for the room lights after dark (it is high time Xiaomi should start giving the option to spend extra on a backlit keyboard).

The trackpad experience has improved from the plasticky and inaccurate one on the Mi Notebook 14. The large size helps during busy days and the input is precise, especially with the Windows 10 gestures.

The disappointment returns with the speakers, which is a norm in this segment. The pair of 2W speakers have enough volume to fill up your bedroom but may be inadequate in a class or board room. The audio quality itself is flat but it is comparatively better than the ones you find in similarly priced laptops from Dell and HP. The DTS tuning app is of little help on these speakers.

RedmiBook 15 Pro

Voice reception via the mic has been decent during Teams calls and the webcam quality is fine as long as your face is well lit. There’s no privacy shutter here but you get the standard LED notification light alongside when the camera is active.

Xiaomi preloads the RedmiBook 15 Pro with its MIUI+ file transferring app as well as the Mi Support app (the latter never worked). Apart from the preloaded MS Office 2019, everything else is the same junk you see on every Windows 10 laptop.

Xiaomi says an update to Windows 11 will be released when the stable version comes out. Out of curiosity, I installed the Windows 11 beta on the RedmiBook 15 Pro and the overall experience was pleasant. I did not witness any improvement in performance (at least for games); the same stands for battery life.

Battery

RedmiBook 15 Pro

Similar to the competition, the RedmiBook 15 Pro is strictly a 5-6 hour laptop. That means college students will be fine for the day after a full charge but professionals might need to carry around the charger. Luckily, it is a 65W fast charger and you need half an hour for a 50 per cent battery recharge. A full charge will test your patience for close to 1.5 hours.

Do note that my use case involved the laptop staying connected to Wi-Fi all the time with the display brightness stuck to 50 per cent, and keeping it on standby during lunch hours, or quick breaks. Even on the cautious days, I was unable to get closer to the claimed 10 hours mark.

Verdict

RedmiBook 15 Pro

With all the pros and cons considered, it is evident that the RedmiBook 15 Pro is a solid value for money package. The core computing experience is reliable, with the 11th Gen Core i5 offering ample performance to keep up with professional computing.

Redmi could have surely done more with the design and the display quality, but the rock-solid basics make this an easy recommendation for students, young professionals in WFH, and those buying their first laptop. The port selection is healthy and so is the keyboard as well as the trackpad. It’s built well too, although we miss the sleek metal-bodied construction from the Mi Notebook 14.

We recommend checking out the RedmiBook 15 Pro if you seek a solid no-nonsense Windows laptop with 11th Gen Intel power and sorted basics. That said, if display performance and a pretty design are your considerations, check out options from Lenovo and Dell around the same price, or slightly higher. The Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition at Rs 54,999 is also an overall better decked alternative to this one, despite using 10th Gen Intel chips.





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