Xiaomi, the world’s 5th largest smartphone maker as of 2015, has caught everyone’s eye with their spree of making brilliant phones with unbelievably pocket friendly prices. In no time, Xiaomi has become a name to reckon with and serious contender for customers of all price brackets.
Almost every Mi smartphone has done well in the market – the Mi 4i was simply delightful.
The Mi 5 too, is a wonderful phone and probably the best that Xiaomi has offered yet. In terms of performance and specs, this phone might not have a lot of trouble competing in it’s segment.
The first-ever Xiaomi phone to be revealed during the world’s biggest mobile expo – the MWC in Barcelona, the Xiaomi Mi 5 grabbed many eyeballs with its design and stunning looks.
Let us kick off with a statement we’ll validate during the course of this review, so let’s put it out there so we can evaluate it together – the Mi5 is clearly the breakaway device from Xiaomi; it’s what Xiaomi hopes to use to leapfrog from it’s current aura of a challenger, into the league of gentlemen.
The Mi5 looks beautiful and the first thing you notice is that it looks different. And when I say different, I mean good different. Gone is the plastic, replaced by a glass rear panel for the plain model and a ceramic panel for the Pro model.
Given that Xiaomi’s been working on it for over a year, one expects this device to be quite a cracker, and it is – in terms of design and performance anyways.
But how does this phone fare in areas like build quality, camera and software is something we need to establish.
For a device that is the brand’s springboard into stratosphere, you’d expect Xiaomi to go all out and shoehorn everything new-and-hot into it. Not so!
In that context, the display, is a shocker, on paper. Folks were expecting a Quad HD display, perhaps with some exotic materials and treatment. But Xiaomi instead used a new 5.15 inch IPS display with ‘just’ FullHD resolution. But we’d suggest you hold on before you judge it by the numbers.
First, the pixel density of 428 ppi is more than respectable (it’s the same as that on the Google Nexus 5X, Sony Xperia Z5 Dual, Motorola Moto X (Gen 2) – all top-drawer devices with 5.2 inch screens. The iPhone 6s has only 326!).
The contrast on this display is not AMOLED-grade, but with the superb viewing angles and the absence of color shift and no contrast loss while looking at the screen from an angle – this screen is just the next best thing – I know this is a phrase you did not want to hear about a device that is the alpha of a brand like Xiaomi, but hey, it more than makes up for it with its performance.
We believe that the reason Xiaomi took this route is because this display leaves the beast that is the Snapdragon 820 with energy to invest in other areas relating to usage and productivity
And it is not even like Xiaomi has sacrificed a lot here. The new display utilizes 16 LEDs on backlighting, purportedly four more than most modern-day flagships, and Xiaomi claims it will provide more evenly spread backlighting at up to 600 nits of brightness. Tests confirmed the claim for maximum brightness as 628 nits worth of luminance.
The color rendering too, is excellent on this display and all in all, if it was not for a fact that we are looking at this phone with lusty eyes and mind full of expectation – expectations that this device will rewrite spec sheets, this display would have unanimously been considered delightful.
Which it still is, but it just doesn’t match the unquenchable thirst surrounding this device as a whole.
Material wise, Xiaomi seems to have spared no expense with this device.
The way this phone is built, handles and feels is simply amazing – not only is it one the best looking phones till date, we found that the longer one uses the device, the more one ends up loving it.
The Mi 5 employs a front-and-back-glass design with a silver framing accent. Both glass pieces are cut from the latest Gorilla Glass 4 material.
The rear glass is curved around the long sides, especially as it comes around to join the metal rim, Galaxy S7-style. The front glass though, is perfectly flat.
Xiaomi put a chamfered edge on the frame to complement the gentle curves on the back, and this combo worked out brilliantly.
The world has always appreciated metal frames in phones, and the Xiaomi Mi 5 delivers. It also improves the grip, boosts the looks, and makes the handling more pleasant.
To make a ‘Limited Edition” version of sorts, Xiaomi even has a Pro version of the Mi 5, which has a ceramic back. This model actually weighs 10g more than the glass sibling, but you’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference. It may be heavier, but it’s still one of the lightest flagships we’ve handled so far.
So, tick that box of design and build quality in the competition sheet as Xiaomi triumphs over most of the competition there.
This smartphone runs Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 820 processor, which is more more than two times faster than its predecessor, the 810.
While there are two different processor setups – a 1.8 GHz version for the 32 GB internal storage model and a 2.15 GHz for the 64 and 128 GB models, all the three models utilise the most powerful Adreno GPU to date, the Adreno 530.
This phone has benchmarked amazingly. There are a lot of charts that it tops and in the ones that it does not, it’s not far behind – do keep in mind that the devices that it is competing against here are the vaunted iPhone 6s, the Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S6 and other devices of the same rank which are much much more expensive than the Mi 5 and thus are well above the segment of this phone. How is that for punching above your weight?
Moving on, the performance that you get out of this device is simply amazing. The new Snapdragon 820 chip lives up to expectations and delivers stellar performance without depleting the battery like a fire breathing supercar. In fact, the outgoing 810 did have some heating issues and took a lot of time to cool down. That has been certainly rectified by Qualcomm and it’s not something you should face with the Mi 5.
You can throw any contemporary game at this device and it won’t flinch. It may get warm during use, but never to an unpleasant level. Also, the phone takes under a minute to cool down.
Given that description around gaming, it is thus just a formality for me to say that the phone is as smooth as butter while opening applications, scrolling through web pages and all the other things like that. You almost hear the Mi 5 coughing politely albeit a little pointedly, asking you to up the tempo somewhat. It’s also as if the 820 monster sitting inside has a grin on it’s face that says – that’s all?? Really?
So, yes this phone is packed with performance.
Xiaomi offers you a USB Type C cable and a fast charger plug. In fact these are the only contents of the box. The contents of the box may vary from country to country, but given the price of the phone the emission of a pair of headphones is not something that should be frowned upon.
The Xiaomi MI 5 runs the Android 6.0 Marshmallow and it is the first Mi device to do so straight out of the box.
But that’s a misnomer as the Xiaomi Mi 5 runs the MIUI 7 atop the Android canvas. And its an unfinished one at that.
While Xiaomi’s customizations run very deep and replace almost all Google services, they don’t do it very convincingly.
The lock screen has the clock, two shortcuts and no widgets. One of the shortcuts is a quick camera launcher and the other one opens the Mi remote center. There is no app drawer which does leave you with a feel of incompleteness. For those of you’ve grown accustomed to the Android workflow, you’re going to have to unlearn quite a bit.
Not only are things not where you expect them to be, sometimes you find, they’re not there at all!
Xiaomi provides its own cloud storage for content syncing. Each Mi account is granted 5 GB of storage.
Fortunately, you can install a launcher anytime you like
The Mi 5 comes with a brand new 16 megapixel camera equipped with a dual-LED dual tone flash and enhanced with the 4-axis optical image stabilization. This means that the stability of the images is much better than most other smartphones out there.
It uses a Sony IMX 298 sensor which has phase detection autofocus and deep trench isolation technology. All of this combined with the powerful Snapdragon 820 chip means that it can do 4K video as well.
On the front is a 4 megapixel camera that seems to be similar to that on the Galaxy Note5.
Previously i was blown away by the camera quality of the Mi 4i which clicked snaps so good that you could hardly have told the difference between those snaps and snaps from devices like the Galaxy S6. Xiaomi seems to have continued that trend with the Mi 5. The daylight photos are amazing with such good colour temperature and saturation levels. There is no pixel distortion as well.
The only thing plaguing the cameras, as it is with most devices, is night-time shooting.
I have seen much worse photos than the Mi 5’s however given how cameras are becoming the most-used aspect of smartphones today (barring WhatsApp perhaps), Xiaomi ought to have doubled down on this and hit it out the park.
On the app front, Xiaomi Mi 5’s custom Gallery app is the your default camera roll. It also supports Albums, Cloud and People. The People sorting, once chosen, sorts all of your photos by people’s faces. Everything is automatic.
Have fun as it digs up and surprises you with photos you didn’t even know you had, of friends and loved ones, once you teach it to recognise faces in the People section.
With the device excelling in almost all areas, you wouldn’t want to be disappointed in the area of entertainment. Well, you won’t be. This phone offers a good multimedia package overall.
The MIUI music player is a custom app with a well laid out, easy to navigate interface. It features two tabs – the first one is to the cloud music service (similar to Google Music) provided by Xiaomi, while the second tab has your own local and cloud music.
The player has cool effects, transitions and transparent elements, especially on the expandable Now Playing section.
The video player interface is very basic but there is a surprisingly wide and deep video codec support pack. It managed to play everything we threw at it (including MKV and WMV files, and even AC3 files)!
The device has very good audio output as well. The flagship was not only able to match the best devices for clarity, it also delivered splendidly high volume for arguably the best performance among the 2016 flagships so far.
This is where one feels a little let down.
Given that Xiaomi has a history of some allegations of data leakage, and couple it with the fact that they’re building their own rather exhaustive wrapper on top of Android, one wishes that Xiaomi invested some time to create apps (like HTC did with their HTC 10) to visibly safeguard customer data and promote information security.
Granted, Android has some of the critical stuff covered, however for Xiaomi to become a brand of repute, this is one critical area that they need to focus on and develop into a smart shield of sorts.
Since the device comes with a fingerprint scanner and is in fact super-fast, Xiaomi already has the mechanics needed for promising device and data security. They just need to get around to making this customer-commitment.