The Xiaomi Mi 5 is a flagship class smartphone, at a mid-ranged price. The Snapdragon 820 makes it one of the most powerful smartphones in India at the moment, and even after being downclocked, it can go toe-to-toe with a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. The camera is disappointing, but at Rs. 24,999, there's no denying the value.
It’s been two years in the making and at its MWC launch, me, like many others, somewhat winced at how regular the phone was. Global VP Hugo Barra is a master presenter, but even he couldn’t convince me that Xiaomi had done something innovative, something that no one else could. I still believe that, although my perception of the Mi 5 has changed, and quite drastically.
Before I get on with the Mi 5, here’s a brief on Xiaomi that should be relevant. If you still look at Xiaomi as a disruptive player, you’d be disappointed with most of its recent devices. The Redmi Note 3 is great, but it’s not disruptive, like the Mi 3 was. Why? Because it’s not meant to be any more. The revolution that Xiaomi had once started in India has led us to expect such devices at such prices. Sure, the original Moto G takes the credit for raising the bar, but Xiaomi kind of blew things out of proportion.
The reason why I wasn’t immensely impressed with the Mi 5 at first was simply because Xiaomi had to deal with the same constraints that the entire industry does. My colleague, Adamya Sharma, recently detailed this in a story titled Smartphone Innovation: Fade to Black. She’s very right: there is no innovation anymore owing to the obsolescence of Moore’s Law. We’ll get another wave, but we’ll have to wait. For now, the Xiaomi Mi 5 is what Xiaomi does best – It’s a value for money, flagship-level smartphone that can’t wow Indian users the way the Mi 3 did. It’s a mighty good phone, nonetheless.
Build and Design: First in first out..
It’s a little sad that many tend to call the Mi 5 a Samsung Galaxy S7-lookalike. Xiaomi was, after all, the first to market this design, with the Mi Note smartphones. The Xiaomi Mi 5 is basically a smaller version of the Mi Note, and that is a very good thing. Why? Because if you thought the curves on the back made the large screened Mi Note ergonomic, then it makes the Mi 5 ultra-ergonomic. It’s possibly the best phone to carry around at the moment.
Combined with the fact that the Xiaomi Mi 5 weighs only 129 grams, the phone is almost too ergonomic. It’s like Michael Caine’s Alfred from the Dark Knight series: He’s ruined it for any actor playing the character after him. As long as a five-something inch phone goes, I want all my mid-ranged flagships to be this way. It is the reason why I love the Samsung Galaxy S7 as well.
There are still flaws, though. While the Mi 5 is really ergonomic, its glass back is slippery when kept on flat surfaces. If your table is slightly slanted, I wouldn’t recommend keeping the Mi 5 on it. The phone tends on slide on such smooth surfaces. In fact, we saw demonstrations of this while on a Facebook Live video with you guys.
Another slight aberration, which only nitpickers like me will feel, is that the volume rocker and power on/off button on the side tend to dig into your hands. It makes you very aware of the fact that they’re there, especially if you’re prone to carrying the phone around in your hand.
Overall, the Xiaomi Mi 5 is great for a 5.15-inch smartphone. It’s a near-perfect design and even though it’s not a new design, you’ll have little to complain about it as a standalone smartphone. Xiaomi took cues from its own design, and in a frankly boring smartphone universe, it did well.
Display: One for the blues..
Like the Redmi Note 3, the Mi 5 has a slight blue bias on the display. You can correct it by turning on the Reading Mode and reducing the strength. For the most part, I don’t see users doing it. In fact, I only noticed it because I have to conduct the tests as part of my review. I could very easily have missed it had I not been reviewing the phone.
Yes, you may be complaining about the lack of a QHD display, but given the fact that the display is the second-most expensive component of a phone, the FHD panel is fine. Also, it allows for more frames while gaming, which has been depicted in the performance section below. Overall, the display is not groundbreaking, but good.
UI: The seventh coming..
When I reviewed the Xiaomi Mi 3, the phone came with MiUI 5, and I loved it. It wasn’t buggy, had meaningful features, looked good, and just worked. My unit of the Xiaomi Mi 5 is currently on a beta version of MiUI 7, so I’m not paying much heed to the bugs. However, there are some troubling elements.
For one, Android Marshmallow’s permission control is very good and useful, but MiUI overrides it. Of course, Xiaomi’s security app allows you such control, but I think being asked for a permission when you’re using a feature is just more intuitive. You can, of course, use the security app to put all permissions to ‘Ask’ mode, but it’s an added step. It’s perhaps the first time that I’ve seen MiUI come in the way of a good Android feature.
Furthermore, the fingerprint sensor doesn’t work when the screen is turned off. In the Redmi Note 3, you could have the screen turned off and bypass the on/off button completely by placing your finger on it. The same doesn’t happen on the front fingerprint sensor of the Mi 5. It could be a problem with front sensors, since the same issue is present on Samsung’s devices, and the iPhone as well. You have to first press the fingerprint sensor to light up the screen and then scan the print.
Perhaps the best part of MiUI 7 on the Xiaomi Mi 5 is that you can use the front home button as a capacitive key. Turn on the feature from settings and you can simply tap the home button instead of pressing it. It feels the same as using an on-screen button, and is a jolly good idea from Xiaomi. You hear, Samsung?
Performance: The belly of the beast..
The Mi 5 is powered by a Snapdragon 820 SoC and it’s the first phone in India to come with Qualcomm’s latest chipset. There’s good and bad here, but mostly good.
For one, the Mi 5 has 3GB of RAM and while that is a lot of random access memory, it’s not 4GB. Running a resource-intensive game on the Mi 5 will shut off most of the other apps in the background, but except that, 3GB RAM is enough for regular users who don’t game much on their smartphones.
Since this is not the Mi 5 Pro, the SD820 comes clocked at 1.8GHz, instead of its max clock speed of 2.2GHz. This reduces its single core performance, but not really enough to affect regular usage of the phone. You can read more about the performance in our Mi 5’s performance analysis.
In terms of heat management, the Xiaomi Mi 5 is really a wonder. The phone almost never goes above 40 degrees, unless you’re out in the Delhi heat, which is currently peaking at around 41 degrees. There are heat dissipation controls set up by Xiaomi on the hardware front, but MiUI seems to be pitching in as well.
For example, while shooting 4K videos, the Mi 5 stops at 7 minutes, presumably to avoid overheating. The temperature at this point is at 50 degrees, which is quite a lot. It could be a beta bug as well, but given the visibly throttled processor right after recording the UHD video, it’s more likely that MiUI cuts the process by itself.
But, 4K recording is the only way to get this phone to heat up this much. While gaming, the Xiaomi Mi 5 never went over 40-41 degrees, and that’s a big point in its favour.
In terms of processor power, the Snapdragon 820 on the Mi 5 leaves absolutely no doubt about its prowess. Samsung’s Exynos 8890 is great on the S7 Edge, but a down-clocked Snapdragon 820 is more or less able to match up to it. The Adreno 530 GPU is great, and it utilises Mi 5’s FHD resolution to the fullest, churning out amazingly high frame rates, even on the most taxing tests.
Yes, the Mi 5 can’t outperform the Galaxy S7 Edge, but there’s no doubt that this is a flagship class smartphone.
If you’re playing games like Injustice: Gods Among Us, FIFA 2016 and Modern Combat 5, the Mi 5 is the perfect phone to have, on a budget.
Storage and Connectivity
32GB storage on the Mi 5 is actually a bummer, but only for people like me who keep 12GB of music on their smartphone. In the week that I've spent with the phone, I've already busted about 22GB of the 26GB of free space. Having said that, 32GB storage still works for most users.
The Xiaomi Mi 5 does really well in terms of 4G connectivity. Like the Galaxy S7 Edge, this phone, with Qualcomm's X12 LTE modem, has been able to keep up 4G connectivity in areas of Delhi where most other smartphones drop to EDGE. The proximity sensor does seem to malfunction, with the screen often coming on while I was in the middle of calls.
Camera: Good for video, not so much for imaging..
The similarities with the Redmi Note 3 continue here. The Xiaomi Mi 5’s camera is no match for the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which in my opinion is the best smartphone camera of today. That said, it’s at par with phones like the Honor 7 and much better than the HTC One A9, which reside within its price range. The Xiaomi Mi 5 has a Sony IMX298 sensor, with f/2.0 aperture lens and 1.12mi pixel size.
Under bright outdoor conditions or brightly-lit studio conditions, the Mi 5 can take good shots, but lacks sharpness. The colour reproduction and white balance are really good in such conditions. However, the Mi 5’s camera really fails under low light. While the Galaxy S7 Edge is undoubtedly much better, even phones like the Honor 7 can produce better shots. The processing time does increase, but the Mi 5 loses most of the details and can’t deal very well with colours in dimly lit conditions. Shots taken in indoor conditions or in dimly lit areas show quite a bit of noise.
To be clear, the Mi 5’s camera isn’t bad, but bad by Xiaomi standards. Phones like the Mi 4 and Mi 4i have set the bar pretty high, especially around the HDR mode. The camera on the Mi 5 is good for a mid-ranged device, but you can find better options in the market. Xiaomi seems to have made changes to its image processing algorithm, which have had negative impacts on the overall image quality.
The same cannot be said about the video capabilities though, mainly because of the 4-axis OIS. If you’re in the habit of shooting a lot of videos on your phone, then this is easily one of the best phones to go for, on a budget. The stabilisation is great, and perfect for a phone camera.
Battery: Performance takes a toll..
In our live discussion on Facebook about the Mi 5, many complained that its battery doesn’t last as long as the Redmi Note 3. Well, that’s true, and it’s because, as I mentioned before, Xiaomi is handicapped by the industry’s limitations. The top-of-the-line SoCs trade power for battery life. They are battery hungry, and phones like the Xiaomi Mi 5 and Samsung’s flagships have done well to do what they can.
On heavy usage, the Xiaomi Mi 5 will require charging about twice a day, but that’s where Quick Charge 3.0 comes in. The second time, you can charge it to 40-50% and you’ll be through the day easily. For most regular users, who do not game much or shoot a lot of videos, this phone should last a full day. On the Geekbench 3 battery benchmark, the Mi 5 lasts for 8 hours and 45 minutes, which is again at par with phones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
It’s worth noting that the Indian variant of the Mi 5 will not come with a Quick Charge 3.0-capable charger out-of-the-box. The charger that you get will in fact be a Quick Charge 2.0-capable charger, which is still enough.
The difference between Quick Charge 3.0 and 2.0 lies basically in the way electricity is consumed. Smartphone batteries tend to reduce the electricity consumption as they charge, but Quick Charge 3.0 ensures that the battery draws just enough power needed to charge it fast. This allows for less leakage and heat formation.
Bottomline: Competitors have their work cut out now..
The Xiaomi Mi 5 is not an innovative smartphone, it is a safe one. It is the history of Xiaomi, all built into one device, and that makes for a winning formula. Xiaomi went back to the drawing board with all its previous devices, took the good things out of them and added it to one device. Then, it threw in a Snapdragon 820 SoC, and for good measure. The Xiaomi Mi 5 is as powerful a flagship smartphone as one can hope for, and it costs only Rs. 24,999, if that's not a good deal, then there isn't one out there. It's a best-in-class device.