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.. $65 In the evolution of technology there are often two extremes of advancements that can often happen simultaneously. One one side the bleeding age tries to introduce innovations that create new uses for new technology, marketing these exciting experiments to enthusiasts and early adopters with hopes that innovation and iteration will drop the price in the future and make them reliable enough to become mainstream.
Since Enthusiast are the main target audience for a lot of tech-oriented media, that side will often be the one getting the most headlines. But on the other side of the spectrum, there often is a continued effort in driving the cost of the existing technology as low as possible for new markets or new applications.
Smartphones are going through both ends of this process, and both are not new phenomena. When I was still in University back in the ancient year of… 2013. Mozilla, the non-profit that creates the Firefox browser, announced to the world their project of creating a mobile operating system based on HTML5.
The real news for me was that this OS was meant to run better than Android on ultra cheap phones and therefore was meant to power the smartphone revolution on the literally billions of people that were yet not online.
This was an extremely attractive idea, as back then only high-end phones would run Android well and cheaper Phones would be pretty much unusable after an update. I have always been fascinated by the idea of getting the best out of limited technology, the more things change the more they stay the same, so I looked for ways to volunteer with Mozilla to help spread this vision.
I still have some of the FirefoxOS devices that I used back then. Almost exactly one year after Mozilla started publicizing their mission of lighter, and more efficient OS, Google announced Android One a: lighter more efficient version of Android for emerging markets.
.. oh… ok. Remember when Firefox was created as an alternative for Internet Explores after Microsoft used its monopoly to kill Netscape and that ignited competition to the point that we have a bunch of browser choices today? Interesting how Google seems to learn from history huh.
Anyway, Android One eventually just morphed into a near stock version of Android with guaranteed updated which is now part of a lot of enthusiast phones. That original intent of making a light version of Android for emerging markets lived on and turned into a light version of Android Oreo called Android Go which eventually saw the light of day.
.. last year. The Smartphone market changed tremendously in the meantime. Ultra value brands like Xiaomi started introducing usable Smartphones at prices that were attractive even for developing markets.
The result was an explosion in Internet Adoption in regions like Asia and South America. The consequence of literally millions of new users from a different culture getting online has been felt, even in English speaking internet culture and yet Android Go comes along with the promise or possibility of throwing yet more fuel into this growth trend by drawing the cost of entry even lower, which made me tremendously curious.
I have been circling around the topic of Android Go, and specifically, if it can run games, for a long time now but the release of a certain Phone finally pushed me to take a look. This is the Redmi Go, the first phone running the lite Android Go by Chinese maker Xiaomi sold at a measly $65 or around 65 Euros in Spain, just a little bit over the price of a big game on release.
I have never spent so little on a Phone and it was a pretty confusing experience. Before heading into gaming allow me to explain why this phone is the one that finally got me into making this video. Phones at this price point running Android Go have been available in Europe for a bit, but most of the ones I kept running into were using a Quad Core mediatek SoC.
My experience with Mediatek chips has not been tremendously positive and I worried not only about the Phone being barely usable but also possibly incompatible with a large variety of games… but then Xiaomi decided to enter the race.
As I have expressed before I am “Fan” of the Xiaomi brand. I use a pretty modest Xiaomi Phone as my full-time main device, I use a Xiaomi Pro as my main full-time laptop and I made a video with Tech Altar basically discussing how the heck the Pocophone was so cheap.
Let’s look at the specs of this device. It is powered by a Snapdragon 425, an entry-level quadcore CPU from 2016 with Adreno 308 graphics. A far cry from the other media tech chips. It has 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of memory and a 5-inch screen at 720.
All of this with a rather proportionally large 3000 mAh with gives it surprisingly good battery life. Android Go comes with a set of custom light apps for Google services to make the best from the limited RAM and the results are definitely there.
There are some features missing but these are in general the same experience on a smaller package. I have been carrying around this phone while working on this video and I am continuously surprised at how usable it is for basics tasks such a web browsing, messaging or email, especially given the LTE support.
I can’t remember the last time I used a phone with physical capacitive buttons! I would have expected a 720p screen to bother me but on this size, I honestly did not notice the resolution until I read it on the spec sheet.
The only thing that actively became a pain was the 8 GB of Storage since so much of it was already occupied on a fresh Instal. It does support external micro SD but I could not quite get it to work as “internal memory” so I had to make some really crazy stuff to get some games in here.
Which again, sort of makes sense. If the point of a device like this is to be someone’s first phone or sometimes their first internet connected device ever it would make that it would be geared towards a different type of entertainment, content consumption.
The included light app for YouTube works as well as you would expect for your video needs and regular non-light apps such as the client Curiosity Stream, the streaming service for high-quality documentaries, works without a hitch at delivering the content.
But let’s talk about what we care the most about. Neither the OS nor the device were thought for anything related to games but considering that this might be someone’s first internet connected device it might also be their first Gaming machine ever.
Is that even possible? Well, the Snapdragon 425 hides a bit more potential than I initially expected. Testing performance in games in Android is harder than it looks, as simply drawing an FPS counter on screen without root is apparently a coding nightmare.
I personally use a tool called gamebench. It requires connecting a PC client once per booth but you do get excellent performance graph and data and they have a free trial plan. The mobile port of Minecraft is a great place to start, given its optimization and graphical options.
Unsurprisingly it keeps up with the game without much trouble. The real star here is going to be PUBG Mobile. I am continuously surprised by how media, gamers and even publishers in Europe and the US underestimate the impact this game is having.
Just a few months ago I was surprised to notice how in the Unreal Engine boot as GDC in San Franciso Pubg Mobile was relegated to a small stand. In reality in Markets like Asia or the Middle East were megahits like Fortnite never quite got the same momentum, PUBG Mobile is a beast.
Popular enough not only for its own fancy tournaments but also to get continuously banned by authorities under the excuse of being too addictive or bad for children. That is how you know a game is being widespread.
Now interestingly enough I believe regular PUBG mobile has Android Go blocked, as trying to install and play is presented with an error message. I unsuccessfully experimented with ways of trying to overcome this error, which I suspect has to do with the quantity of RAM and thankfully this was an opportunity to try another option.
Tencent complimented what is already a bizarrely well-optimized game with Pubg Mobile lite an even smaller version of the game that maintains the same core while forcing the graphics to the lowest and dropping the size of the map and number of players.
Last time I spoke about this version of the game it was on a limited beta on the phillipines but since then it has release in a country with plenty of LowSpec fans, Brazil! That gives me a closer point to VPN to try it! If you want to to try it yourself and you are not in those two places you will need an alternative app store such as APK pure and a VPN with servers on either of those two places.
The game is locked to 26 FPS and all the settings that you could artificially apply to regular PUBG are already there. Look at those glorious textures. While most PUBG tweaking tools, which have proliferated in the Play store because copying the same app over and over is the thing that makes you successful in app stores for some reason there is an option for the Lite version.
In my experience, none of these were able to alter the graphics or unlock the framerate. I imagine this limit was set as the lowest you can use in a game before it feels choppy while making it easier to keep up for cheaper phones with less than ideal cooling.
.. and it works! Not only did I thought this was 30 fps before I turned on the counter but this was mostly maintained during a match with only occasionally and short drops. The work that lightspeed studios did on putting what was originally a giant PC game into this size and working this well under these specs is worth celebrating and I seriously hope this game releases in Europe soon to make it easy to test on even more dramatically weaker stuff.
So let’s throw a curve ball there. There is an official Need for Speed game on the play store that I have been meaning to give a try sometime. This is clearly meant for more powerful devices but it gives me an opportunity to try one last trick.
Tweaking the graphics of a mobile game can be exceptionally hard. Unlike PC games, these are designed to be very tight packages. There are however methods that occasionally work if you are lucky. My favourite is GLTOOLS, an app that allows you to modify opengl parameters of games to introduce certain graphical tweaks.
This requires rooting the phone which was… a process. Searching for rooting instructions for recently released phones is an exercise in frustration because all of the google results are straight up wrong and point to tools that Xiaomi themselves mark as not working for Android Go but eventually I managed to figure it out thanks to the help of LowSpec community member fewqie.
I left a summary of this method in the description in case you need to do this for this phone for some reason. With root access, I was then able to alter the render resolution of the game and cut it in half.
The result is surprisingly playable and closer to the stable 30 fps the game expects. It can still have some occasional slowdowns but it is a world away from the results we were seeing before. Rooting comes at a security risk but the result is a bigger game that operates just fine on something this tremendously modest.
So even when including some games the phone surprises with its usability for the price point, which continues to be fascinating to me. For most tech enthusiasts it can be a bit difficult to understand what is the point or value of something like this, especially considering the low price of a lot of other Xiaomi devices.
There are two arguments that I usually her when Go devices are discussed: -You can get an older superior Xiaomi phone used for a similar price. -Or you can get a new much better Xiaomi phone for only 25 or 30 euros more.
And I do not think neither of those makes justice to the target audience for this device For the first argument buying a used phone or component always relies on how healthy the used parts market of a specific region is.
While in mayor American o European country it is tremendously easy to find cheap phones online… price in the used market can vary tremendously between countries. Some of the regions where this phone is available might be stuck on a situation were a used phone is several times the price you would be used to seeing on your local eBay.
The second argument relies heavily on a sense of proportion. It’s an Athlon 200GE vs Ryzen 3 2200G all over again, where one product is superior for what initially seems for a manageable increase but when you put it in proportion it can look quite different.
In my local Amazon where I purchased the Redmi Go the next available phone in terms of price is the Redmi 6A. It is a superior phone in every way with a price point of approximately 85 Euros, so a difference of about 20 Euros.
For someone who can spend nearly half a thousand dollars on a new phone, the difference might seem trivial but considering that is 30% of the asking price for the Redmi Go, coupled with the fact that those 20 Euros can mean more money proportionally in countries of lower average income and you start to understand.
If someone is in a situation were they require technology to reach this price to access the internet and games for the first time that 30% price difference might be enough to draw them off entirely. There is value on these sorts of the project that extend the reach of the internet and the reach of gaming.
With that said, just like with the Pocophone I am continuously surprised by the value Xiaomi manages to pack in a device for its price. And just like the Pocophone I can not help but wonder what other ways Xiaomi monetized my phone usage.
While I understand they intend to roll out more services in the future I can’t help being concerned about how my information is being used. Add to that the risks that I incur by rooting and unlocking my phone without understanding the full scope of what I was doing.
The internet can be tremendously unsecure anyway and I have been a bit paranoid since I saw this fantastic documentary on the world of hacking. This is just one of the 2,400 documentaries and nonfiction titles from some of the world’s best filmmakers that you can watch in your phone, PC or smart TV on Curiosity Stream, this video’s sponsor.
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And of course thank you Dave Wiskus from “Here is the bad version” for being the voice at that intro