We review Xiaomi’s latest flagship
Chinese company Xiaomi has gone almost two years without a successor to their Mi 4. Sure, there was the Mi 4i, but that was more of a stop-gap measure for international markets than a true successor.
The new flagship has finally come, in the form of the Mi 5. Announced in Mobile World Congress a few weeks ago, the Mi 5 couldn’t have come at a better time for Xiaomi, who has lost its lead in China to its domestic competitors.
Xiaomi Mi 5 specs
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor
- 4GB of RAM
- 5.15-inch full HD IPS display, Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection
- 32GB, 64GB, 128GB of storage
- 16-megapixel rear camera, F/2.0 lens, OIS, Phase Detection AF, 4 axis OIS
- 4-megapixel front camera with 2 micro-meter sized sensor
- Dual SIM
- 3G, LTE
- WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, fingerprint scanner, QuickCharge 3.0
- 3000mAh battery
- Android Marshmallow, MIUI 7
A design that’s has an uncanny similarity to the Galaxy S7
We can’t talk about the design of the Mi 5 without addressing the elephant in the room – it looks a lot like the Galaxy S7. That means a metal frame, curves on the back of the phone ala the Note 5 and a glass back, as well as a physical home key on the front for the fingerprint scanner. Put the two phones side by side and you’ll be hard-pressed to see the difference.
Despite that unfortunate coincidence, the Mi 5 feels like a proper flagship. It feels weighty and there’s nothing to fault in the build quality at all. That’s not surprising considering that Xiaomi’s known for pushing top-shelf devices at low prices, but it’s nice to see that particular attention to detail in their flagship nonetheless.
If the regular glass back isn’t to your liking (since it feels so slippery to hold), Xiaomi will be offering another, more premium version of their flagship that uses a special ceramic-coated back.
Quickly going through the phone, you’ll see the volume rocker and power button on the right, with the SIM tray on the left. The USB Type-C port is on the bottom while the 3.5mm jack is on top. The phone uses bottom-mounted speakers which work better than rear-mounted designs. Before you ask, sorry, the Mi 5 doesn’t have expandable storage, though the review unit we tested that we bought worked with both Smart and Globe’s LTE network.
Flip the phone over and you’ll see the curving back of the phone, as well as the 16-megapixel, Sony IMX 298 packing, 4-axis OIS camera. It’s the most powerful camera that’s been put in a Xiaomi phone to date, and we’ll be taking a deeper dive into it once we get to the camera section.
The Mi 5 uses a 5.15-inch (leave it to Xiaomi to go with a weird size) full HD IPS display with 2.5D glass and Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection that’s an obvious dig at higher resolution, QHD panels that their competitors usually go with. While there’s probably several reasons why Xiaomi has gone with a (relatively) lower resolution display, the most pertinent is cost and battery life. The Mi 5 is priced way lower than its main flagship competitors, and to achieve that Xiaomi had to cut out “nice to have” features in favor of essential ones. As for battery life – well, a full HD display uses less battery than a QHD one.
Despite the absence of a QHD display, the Mi 5’s display looks great – with the Mi 5 side by side with the Mi Note Pro, there’s not a lot of difference in the quality of the rendered video – though the smaller 5.15-inch screen size of the Mi 5 probably has something to do with it. Granted that the Mi Note Pro’s display is a little more vivid than Mi5, but the Mi 5 beats it under max brightness, due to it incorporating more backlit LEDs (a total of 16 LEDs in fact).
The Snapdragon 820 is a monster
One reason why Xiaomi has made a big impact on countries that they operate in is the fact that they offer top-tier hardware for very little money. The Mi 5 is no exception while it’s one of the many flagship phones that was unveiled in Mobile World Congress with a Snapdragon 820 processor, it’s one of the cheapest phones to have that particular SoC. Unfortunately, there’s a catch – the cheapest version of the Mi 5 that only has 32GB of storage has its processor underclocked to just 1.8GHz instead of the normal 2.15GHz compared to the 64GB and 128GB versions.
Despite that the 820 SoC still manages to impress, scoring high in both synthetic and real-life performance. Using the Mi 5 is an absolute blast, since the phone has zero slowdown or lag while we were using it. You can literally play all of the games that Android has on offer with the Mi 5 and it would be able to handle it, thanks to the Adreno 530 GPU.
Does the new processor get hot under the collar? Yes, but not as bad as Qualcomm’s first generation Snapdragon 810 SoCs. We recorded a max temperature of 39.5 Celcius on full load while playing, which isn’t bad, all things considering.
How about the other stuff? Like we said earlier the Mi 5 is capable of running on both Smart and Globe’ss LTE network. GPS connects quickly and LTE signals are stable, though the quality of the carrier plays a part in that as well. The sound of the Mi 5’s speakers are loud and crisp. The fingerprint scanner works as advertised, and works quickly.
Probably the biggest deal breaker with the Mi 5 is MIUI. While Xiaomi’s UI overlay worked okay back in Android Lollipop, it takes out many of the new features that’s present in Android Marshmallow. While some are a little annoying (you don’t get Google Now On Tap) one notable removal is the ala carte permissions system. For Android 6.0 Marshmallow an app asks you for permission each time it has to use a specific part of the phone. With MIUI 7 on Marshmallow, that’s now gone, and the worst part is that ALL of the permissions are now granted at the time of install, since MIUI doesn’t have a granular permission system in place. That means you’ll have to exercise extreme caution when installing new apps in your phone.
4-axis OIS camera make for great photos
One of the better features of the Mi 5 is the camera. It’s quite impressive – 16-megapixel Sony IMX 298 sensor with a 4-axis OIS system. It’s supposedly able to compensate for vibrations when you’re taking a photo. This becomes more important when shooting in low-light, as your phone has to lower the shutter speed to get more light in, thus making it more susceptible to your the involuntary vibrations that your hand makes.
That makes for some great photos even in challenging lighting conditions. Focus is fast, and the image quality looks great, with clear and crisp photos as a result.
Excellent battery life!
High-end SoCs typically don’t have great battery lives, but it seems that the decisions made by Xiaomi to not include a QHD display in the Mi 5 – battery benchmarks for both the 32GB and 64GB versions of the device give it a score of more than 9 hours and 35 minutes. That’s more than a day’s worth of battery life, more if you manage it properly.
Verdict: less than 20K for a Snapdragon 820-equipped phone? We’ll take it
At the end of the day Xiaomi’s Mi 5 is an amazing value. You’ll probably won’t find another Snapdragon 820-equipped smartphone that’s priced as low as the Mi 5. Starting at just around 14.5K without taxes or shipping for the 32GB version, and 19.5K for the high end, 128GB version, the Mi 5 offers an astounding value-for-money proposition that can’t be beat.
By now you know the drill – you’ll have to get the Mi 5 through grey market sources if you ever want to get your hands on it. There’s talk of it being offered to Xiaomi’s “core” markets which theoretically includes our country, but as they say – talk is cheap.