Software: Tweaking is Required
If you want to use the Redmi Pro outside of China, prepare yourself for a few hours of tweaking. The main issue with this device out of the box is the complete lack of the Google Play Store and any Google integration, despite running Android 6.0, which is a byproduct of this China-focused variant of Xiaomi’s MIUI 8.0.
In what ended up being a huge inconvenience, Google Play Services can be downloaded and installed through a special tool that’s available in Xiaomi’s Mi App Store. This app store is mostly in Chinese, so I had to guess my way through the download and installation process, but luckily the tool itself was reasonably straightforward to use. After a few taps and a long wait as the appropriate apps were downloaded, my Redmi Pro was loaded with the Play Store and basic Google integration.
After I had Google Play Services installed, I ran into a number of issues getting my contacts and calendar entries synced into the appropriate apps. It wasn’t until I installed third-party contacts and calendar apps that my Google account synced with Xiaomi’s first party apps, in what was an hour or so of frustration. I also ran into random issues download apps from the Play Store, which magically resolved themselves after a few restarts.
The issues didn’t stop there, though. Even though the Gmail app itself seems to work fine, throughout my time with the Redmi Pro I did not receive email notifications unless I entered and refreshed the Gmail app. I also experienced inconsistent notifications from other apps like Twitter and Facebook Messenger, although both of these apps did actually deliver notifications after a small delay.
For me, and I imagine most Android users, not having Google account support out of the box is completely unacceptable. I’m not criticizing Xiaomi too heavily here as the Redmi Pro hasn’t been localized for any countries outside of China; it’s just an annoying aspect of importing a device like this, and something users should be aware of before clicking the buy button.
For enthusiasts, I’d highly recommend exploring options to install a stock ROM on the Redmi Pro, as this would significantly improve the overall experience, provided there is adequate support for the phone’s hardware.
The version of MIUI included on the Redmi Pro is newer than what I used on the Xiaomi Mi Max, bringing with it a number of welcome changes. The notification pane now includes quick setting toggles above the notifications themselves, rather than in a separate pane. The settings screen itself now has easily accessibly menus for battery information and storage, which were previously buried within the additional settings menu.
The general style of MIUI has been tweaked to make it appear more modern, with fewer vibrant colors delivering a more professional, clean aesthetic. Most stock applications have received minor updates that integrate more features of Google’s Material Design, while simultaneously removing iPhone-like elements such as an action bar along the bottom of apps.
I’m not a fan of how heavy MIUI is as a skin, and Xiaomi has certainly changed many aspects of Android for their smartphones. However, the updates included in MIUI 8.0 do improve this skin to a reasonable extent, and I hope Xiaomi continues to put effort into polishing the experience.
The Redmi Pro I received to review was loaded with no less than 18 spam applications, which I proceeded to remove immediately as some produced obnoxious unsolicited notifications. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remove the Music and Mi Video apps, which also produce annoying notifications (that can thankfully be disabled) and include stores to purchase content from Chinese entertainers that I do not care about whatsoever.
I suspect the reason why Xiaomi can sell devices like the Redmi Pro for such a low price is the sheer amount of crap that is included on them. It’s bad for users, but it happens on Windows devices too.
While MIUI is a heavy skin and does include unnecessary apps and features, there are some gems worth mentioning. I like the included Security app not because it includes supposed antivirus functionality, but because it includes a handy storage cleaner and options to restrict data usage and permissions. I also appreciate the inclusion of the Mi Remote for controlling multimedia devices via infrared.
The settings screen includes handy additions like the reading mode, full theming support, the ability to modify the status bar to your liking, and a nifty tool called Second Space that acts as a second user account on the device. Comprehensive battery tools add to the package, as do headphone controls and a one-handed mode. I was also intrigued by a feature called Dual Apps that allows you to use two instances of the one app on a single device (useful for using two Facebook accounts simultaneously, for example), but ultimately I didn’t find myself using the functionality.