The Chinese company created quite a stir when it first launched the Redmi series.
They were, and still are, phones that cost as little as a fancy five-star lunch for two, and have plenty to offer when you compare them to their rivals. However, the Mi5 is a tad different. It costs ₹ 24,999 - that’s more like an entire night out at a five-star spa resort. But does all the dancing around town mean it can beat the other phones in this price range? There are many, so let’s find out.
More Jackie Chan than Arnold
Well, the build has left us in a dilemma. You expect great build quality when the company shouts out that this new offering dons a metal frame. It does don a metal frame, but it’s wrapped around with glass. This is no ordinary glass - it is the world’s favourite Gorilla Glass 4. The curved edges are designed to perfectly fit into the palm. But there’s a problem. It feels good to touch, alright, but it also makes the Mi5 slipperier than a soap in the midst of a bath. It just slips off from everywhere and anywhere it can. Rest it on the roughest pair of jeans you own, oops, your phone is on the floor. Hell, it’s so bad we think it’ll even slip off a flat surface!
But the good part is that the metal frame is solid. We can say this with the confidence that comes from having the Mi5 slip to the floor a couple of times and not shattering, albeit there’s a few scratches and nicks here and there. Then the Aristotle within us got the idea of slipping a cover on. You might want to do that too.
Chiseled like Bruce Lee?
We’ve already mentioned the curved back that fits oh-so-perfectly into the palm of the hand. But the other thing to notice is the weight. At 129gm, this sleek phone really is light for the amount of tech and specs it packs in. The chamfered edges on the front are noteworthy too. They make the Mi5 feel more premium and easy on the fingers, aiding grip when you use it with one hand.
The volume and power button sit closely onto the righthand-side of the phone, while the SIM card tray sits on the left. You put your USB type-C charger through the bottom, which also happens to house the two puny speakers. The top of the phone plays host to the 3.5mm jack and an IR blaster. There’s options to choose the type of headphone you plug in, but more on that later.
The fingerprint scanner is one of the highlights of the Mi5 and also one of the disappointments. After using the HTC A9, which costs you just ₹5K more, and feels more premium to hold, the Mi5’s fingerprint scanner seems to be a hit and miss. You have to press the damn button for it to wake the screen and then the Mi5 unlocks (sometimes).
Sure, it all happens in seconds, but sometimes it doesn’t and that’s irritating. We can’t help but miss the brilliant response on the HTC A9 or the closely priced OnePlus 2. The fingerprint scanner on the A9 is flawless and you don’t need to press the button to wake the screen up. Sometimes the Mi5 gets very confused as well, more so when fingers are damp (it’s summer in Mumbai, okay?), and just refuses to unlock, forcing us to enter in the pin. We wish a software update could change this, but it’s just a hardware issue.
Very influential contender
The Mi5 is well-endowed with connections. For starters, as we mentioned earlier, it comes loaded with USB type-C - that eliminates the voodoo you require to perform when plugging in a microUSB. It’s flawless and really convenient to use. The best part? It charges faster too. While there’s a rather large 3000mAh battery, the phone also comes loaded with the in-house ‘Quick Charge 3’ technology. Plonk it on for 10 minutes and you get a good 3 hours of talk time, or about a bit shy of an hour of video playback.
If you thought things couldn’t get any better, the Mi5 says, “Wait a minute and take a look at the dual SIM capabilities”. It spells 4G all the way and both SIM slots are capable of it. While having two SIM slots is nice, an option to expand storage would be the icing on the cake. Instead, what you get is 32GB of in-built storage, which Xiaomi claims is 87% faster with UFS 2.0 flash tech. The company also claims that the RAM is 39% faster than the LPDDR4 spec.
It is pretty surprising that the Mi5 has an IR blaster (the OnePlus 2 omits the feature) and that it is backed by the Mi Remote software that works oh-so-well. Fire it up, select the brand of your telly, set-top box, AC, Fan (we aren’t kidding), A/V Receiver, DVD Player, projector and camera. Once done, just point the phone while keeping the on-screen button tapped until your telly responds, and you’re done. Simple. It works well and within a few weeks, you’ll find yourself using it a lot more.
There’s Bluetooth too, obviously, but of the fairer kind. You get the goodness of Bluetooth 4.2 along with NFC. Connecting to compatible speakers is a charm and it works really well. You get way more for your money in terms of connectivity than other similarly priced phones out there.
Error 420: Vampire not found
While other screens might wilt like a dry flower on a hot summer’s day, the Mi5’s display blooms and shines (in a good way) under sunlight. This is the most impressive bit of the display - its performance in sunlight. Text is easily readable and colours remain unphased while clarity is unaffected. It’s like there’s no problem whatsoever.
It’s not QHD, though. Instead, it’s a really good 5.15in Full HD effort with a 600-nit brightness (no wonder the excellent performance under sunlight) and a 428 PPI with a 15000:1 contrast ratio. Mi5 claims the display maintains a vibrant 95% NTSC colour saturation, and they aren’t lying.
Xiaomi has done an outstanding job by fitting a sophisticated 16-LED light layout into a 13.08cm (5.15) display. This, they claim, results in a 30% brighter display than the Mi4. It’s significantly brighter than other 5in displays, which use between 12 and 14 LED lights.
The phone also features technologies like sunlight / night display, reading mode and more. Look at it from different angles and it still manages to impress with its vibrant but well-balanced colour palette. You can also select colour temperature preferences. Hands down, it is the best display we've seen on a phone at this price.
The MiUI software is based on Android’s Marshmallow, but Xiaomi uses its own UI that doesn’t have a dedicated menu for apps. Very frustrating for us at least, but have a little fling with it and it’s not so bad. The interface does get cumbersome at times, with an overload of app icons and no dedicated menu. And so, we decided we would install the Google Now launcher.
We prefer the OxygenOS found on the OnePlus 2 that comes very close to running a vanilla version of Android’s 5.1 Lollipop. However, the software allows you to switch your keys around, add a few shortcuts, dedicated physical buttons for tasks such as launching the camera and more. There are a few odd themes as well.
You can also customise homescreen shortcuts and add passwords or fingerprint locks to apps and folders, which is a really nice touch if you have a toddler who loves to play with your phone but one you don't want messing with your files and important apps. The software overall runs pretty slick and smooth and the addition of a launcher makes it better.
It isn’t very intuitive, to be honest, and you will find it a tad frustrating to find a particular setting. For example, the ‘Location’ on other UIs has a separate tab for itself, but on the MiUI, it rests under ‘Additional Settings’ > ‘Privacy’ - and then, if you scroll down, you’d find it. Niggles like this get frustrating. Even when looking to change the launcher, we searched the Settings menu for about half an hour before figuring out it would be under ‘Installed Apps’ > ‘Defaults’. Look past these minor niggles and it does pretty well for itself.
Dungeons and Dragons
The dragon we love the most - Snapdragon - comes in the mighty 820 form here. While others at this price point manage to pack in Snapdragon 810, the Xiaomi, we don’t know how, offers the mighty Snapdragon 820. And how good the processor is, shows in the performance.
Coupled with a solid 3GBs of LPDDR4 RAM, the processor is a powerhorse. It eats tasks for breakfast - quite a mouthful at the same time - all while retaining a healthy battery life. While the Snapdragon 810 received flak for the heat it generated while multitasking, the Snapdragon 820 is a bit of a chiller. Yes, it does heat up, but this is considerably less than the 810.
This happens more so when you run a few games, which run beautifully thanks to the Adreno 530 graphics processor that Xiaomi was kind enough to throw in. The processor supports the latest OpenGL ES3.1, Vulkan and OpenCL 2.0 Full technologies, which basically means your games are processed more efficiently and in turn appear smoother and more fun to play.
At this price, it is pretty astonishing how Xiaomi has managed to fit in all of the tech. And there’s more. They say they’ve also managed to include a faster image processor. Sigh.
When it comes to camera sensors, it’s either Sony or Toshiba, unless of course you’re OnePlus, then you go for Omnivision. But the Mi5 is not, and hence sticks to Sony’s IMX298 16MP sensor.
With that sensor and something Xiaomi calls 4-axis optical image stabilization (OIS), the Mi5 manages to churn out some really great pictures. Of course, it’s not at par with the likes of the Samsung S6 or others, but it packs in quite some detail.
It is also pretty fast and comes eerily close to the Samsung S6 and HTC M9 counterparts. But that changes a bit when HDR is switched on. You can feel the difference - although not snail-slow, it does affect the speed. But compare this with other phones with HDR switched on and the Mi5 appears to snap faster.
Just use the Auto mode and snap away. That’s what we would say if you asked about the picture quality. With HDR switched off, the quality of pictures the Mi5 snaps is pretty amazing. There’s a really nice dynamic range and images are sharper than a comedian’s words.
However, switch that HDR mode on and the image turns out sharper and with more detail. As long as there is minimal movement of your hand (there is going to be some, no matter how steady you think you are), the snaps come out really nice and not shaky like you get with others. For this, we have the 4-axis technology to thank.
Night shots are pretty decent too, but the Mi5 doesn’t manage to capture the same amount of detail as the shots that are taken with a bit more light. Sharpness and dynamic range also takes a hit but not so much that it would put you off. Overall, it’s a pretty good camera for this price.
Squeezing the juice out
We’ve already talked about the Quick Charge 3.0 technology that Xiaomi has bestowed upon the Mi5. It works really well and the 3000mAh battery charges up really fast. This capacity is almost standard at this price, but we honestly think Xiaomi could have done better, considering the one on the OnePlus 2 is a 3300mAh unit. But while the OnePlus skimps on features, the Mi5 doesn’t and hence is forgiven.
Even though it has a smaller capacity than the OnePlus 2, the Mi5 easily lasts a day and some more. With light usage, you might not even need to charge it at night and it’ll still have 15% left in the morning.
The battery is further treasured by the Xiaomi software that puts apps and tasks you’ve not used in a while to deep sleep. This saves a lot of the battery, but can get annoying. For example, apps that are designed to run in the background, like Truecaller, if not used, won’t remain responsive till you’ve opened the app. And what does that mean? Unwanted calls from pesky salespersons asking us to shift to Vodafone when we already use Vodafone. Great.
Xiaomi Mi5 Verdict
While the Xiaomi Mi5 isn’t faultless, it makes for a very strong proposition. Yes, the build quality could be better and the fingerprint scanner is a hit and miss, but that doesn’t take away too much from the fact that it’s a great phone.
In fact, it offers much more than other rivals at this price and comes wrapped in a decent package. It would be a grave understatement to call this a value-for-money phone as it provides much more than what that much money can buy. If you don’t mind the plain looks and the slippery body with that fiddly fingerprint scanner, this is the phone to get for absolute bang for your buck.