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xiaomi mi 5 product shot 1

Xiaomi Mi 5 review: flagship performance at a lower price

Xiaomi made quite the splash when its smartphones landed in South Africa last year (courtesy of MIA), delivering the Mi 4 (review) at under R4000 and the Redmi 2 at a hair under R2000. So we were rather excited when the Mi 5 was announced at MWC 2016 earlier this year, and even more excited when MIA confirmed that it was bringing the phone to SA.

Now that it’s here, should you pick it up?

Design

First of all, it’s worth mentioning that this phone is ridiculously light. I’m talking “hm… did I put the battery in?” kind of light.

Once you’ve gotten over its weight (so light), special mention must go to the look and feel of the Xiaomi Mi 5’s hardware. Imagine the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, with the curves on the back of the device instead of the front, and you’ve got a good idea of what to expect.

The glass back curves at the edges, making for quite a unique, comfortable feel. In saying so, it has the same problem as the Samsung Galaxy S6, in that the phone is prone to occasionally moving itself thanks to the curved back. I left the phone on the flat palm rest of my laptop and it spun around at least 90 to 120 degrees. I held my hand out just in case it fell, but fortunately, the device came to a stop. It’s not quite as prone to slipping off flat surfaces as the S6 range was, but it’s worth noting anyway.

xiaomi comparison

Move to the front of the device and you have a phone that looks remarkably similar to the Galaxy range, mainly owing to the traditional home button (complete with fingerprint scanner). The display features almost no bezels on the left and right, the screen meeting a metal rim instead.

The Xiaomi Mi 5 isn’t just a pretty face though

Other than that, you’ve got a USB Type-C connector and speaker at the iPhone 6-like bottom, volume rocker and power key on the right, IR blaster and earphone jack at the top and nano-SIM tray on the left (dual SIMs!). Oh yeah, compared to the Mi 4, the Xiaomi Mi 5’s speaker is rather soft and tinny — the HTC One M8 it is not.

Still, this is a worthwhile follow-up to the Mi 4’s design and definitely stands out as one of the more impressive designs on the market.

Specs and performance?

The Xiaomi Mi 5 isn’t just a pretty face though, as the device uses the same beefy Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip as the HTC 10, LG G5 (review) and several other flagships. Well, the locally available model uses a slightly underclocked version, but you’re still getting the latest flagship silicon in here.

Other notable specifications include 3GB of RAM and a full HD 5.1-inch display, putting it in line with the Mi 4. In saying so, the Mi 5 might just have the brightest screen I’ve ever laid eyes on. At the Xiaomi Mi 5 launch event in Barcelona, Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra stressed the fact that it had more backlights to light up the screen. I thought Barra was just doing a marketing pitch to make up for the fact that it lacks a sharper display, but it might just be the best 1080p screen I’ve used yet.

xiaomi mi 5 bottom

Sure, it’s not a 2560×1440 display, but the Mi 5’s flicker was bright, vibrant and sharp enough for me. I actually had at least one person marvel at the screen and ask about its resolution. So any concerns about it only being a 1080p screen can be dropped — unless you want to use the phone for VR.

Key numbers:

Dimensions: 144.6mm x 69.2mm x 7.3mm
Weight: 129g
SIM Type: Dual nano SIM
Display: 5.15-inch, 1920×1080, 428ppi
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core SoC | dual-core Qualcomm Kryo 1.8GHz & dual-core Qualcomm Kryo 1.36GHz | Adreno 530 GPU | 3GB RAM
Storage: 32GB
Imaging: Rear: 16MP, f/2.0 aperture, OIS, phase-detection autofocus, dual-LED flash | Front: 4MP, f/2.0 aperture
Video: 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30fps
Battery: 3000Ah removable
Cool features: Fingerprint reader, USB Type-C, Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0
OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow with MiUI 7.0

Anyway, the processor and RAM drive the company’s MiUI Android remix very admirably, the fingerprint scanner working in no time flat with menus flying by. There was pretty much little to no lag when scrolling through screens, launching apps, hitting the home button or opening up the multitasking menu.

xiaomi mi 5 rear

Games are among the best workout for a phone though and the Mi 5 didn’t disappoint here either, as Hitman Sniper, Alto’s Adventure, Astra, Horizon Chase and Mekorama all ran at an excellent pace. And while the top of the device did get warm after a while, it was never hot like the Xiaomi Mi 4. That 1080p screen/Snapdragon 820 combo works a treat, then.

It doesn’t hurt that MiUI runs buttery smooth anyway, although it does use up more RAM than the likes of Huawei‘s EMUI. Expecting something different compared to other Xiaomi handsets? Well, you’ll be seriously hard-pressed to notice any visual/app changes. Not necessarily a bad thing at all – and you can always use one of the hundreds of varied downloadable themes too.

Video playback and recording was smooth too, although the phone isn’t on the level of say, a Samsung Galaxy S6 or S7 when it comes to speed of HDR shots. It takes the shot quickly enough, but there’s a brief processing animation in the picture bubble, preventing you from taking another shot for a second or two.

Speaking of the camera…

Xiaomi made a big deal of the Mi 5’s photography credentials too, highlighting its “deep trench isolation” for accurate colour reproduction and more importantly, the four-axis optical image stabilisation.

Xiaomi Mi 5 samples
left right

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A shot of a fountain.

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Some well-defined lines and reliable autofocusing here.

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Noise isn't completely omitted during the day, but the Mi 5 manages to perform well anyway.

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HDR mode cranked the colours to garish levels. Not a reflection of reality but not necessarily bad either.

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The sky has some noise to it, but the overall level of detail means you have an image you can crop for Instagram.

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An HDR shot of food delivers more vibrant colours here.

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Well-defined lines and relatively punchy colours tend to be the Mi 5's way of doing things.

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The Mi 5 is a capable mixed-light/low-light performer. There's some noise in the background, but you get a relatively well-lit shot.

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A decent picture despite slightly shooting into the sun. Note the ants and the detail in the leaf.

The main camera is a 16MP shooter, paired with the aforementioned image stabilisation, but those expecting a revolution might be disappointed. It’s more of an evolution instead. Not that I’m complaining, as the improvements are very welcome nonetheless. Daytime shots result in more resolvable detail and less blur compared to the Mi 4, as well as well-defined lines and vibrant colours (especially in HDR mode).

Related: Xiaomi Mi 4 review: how is this thing so damn cheap?

Night-time shots are mostly blur-free, delivering a good level of light, a fair amount of detail and a manageable level of noise. But those looking for Galaxy S7 levels of performance in this situation might be disappointed. In other words, it’s a great shooter and it acquits itself well at night too, but a larger aperture or pixels may have helped close the gap to the S7. Still, the low light performance is nothing to be scoffed at.

On the video front, the phone also delivers 4K video recording and 120fps slow-motion video, but no 60fps recording option again. In terms of quality, videos were mostly jitter free, although the quality again wasn’t on par with Samsung’s smooth output. I noticed image rippling now and again (perhaps a side-effect of software stabilisation?) in daytime clips, but the low-light clips were well-lit and had a good level of detail.

xiaomi mi 5 upside

Aside from the lack of 60fps video, the lack of 240fps video is another downside to the Mi 5. After all, we know that the Snapdragon 820 is capable of 240fps recording.

Look at the front of the device and you’ll find a 4MP selfie shooter, capable of capturing detailed, well-lit shots in almost every environment. I did find that the selfie shooter was prone to overblown shots at times though, capturing too much light perhaps. Blurry shots were also captured now and again, but on the whole, selfie fans will be extremely happy with this camera.

Looking for a great camera experience? Then the Xiaomi Mi 5 is definitely worth consideration, but it’s in this department that its budget trappings are perhaps most keenly felt, as it’s merely an evolution of the Mi 4 rather than reaching the heights set by Samsung and Apple.

Battery life

As for juice, you should expect roughly the same battery life as the Xiaomi Mi 4. So that means everyday usage (music playback, WhatsApp, emails) should give you a full day of usage, necessitating a charge when you get to the office in the morning.

Otherwise, those hoping for two days of solid usage will be disappointed. You’ll have to use power-saving modes or use the device sparingly to get two days out of it. Still, it’s about average for a smartphone these days then.

Closing thoughts

At R7999, the Xiaomi Mi 5 represents excellent value for money compared to other flagships. Yes, it doesn’t have a 2560×1440 display or mind-blowing camera credentials, but it definitely fits the bill for a high-end smartphone otherwise.

Is it excellent bang for your buck for a Xiaomi handset though? The short answer is no.

The long answer is that you might be better off buying the phone online via the likes of Gearbest, as the phone’s Chinese price is RMB1999 (R4564 as a straight conversion), while Gearbest sells it for US$329 (R5102). Yes, there are customs fees, taxes, a profit margin and other costs to take into account, but at over R2000 extra, it’s hard not to feel a little short-changed – for a Xiaomi handset.

Verdict: Between the improved camera, powerhouse processor and quality screen, the Xiaomi Mi 5 is a compelling proposition at a price few mobile manufacturers can even get close to.

Score: 8.5/10

Author Bio

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings almost seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More
  • True Faqs

    “Galaxy” like front. “iPhone” like bottom. HTC speakers. Wow this article half reads like a proper review and half reads like an implied “China copycats” propaganda spree.

  • Hadlee Simons

    Yeah, if you check my post history, you’ll notice that I’m probably one of the biggest fans of Chinese devices in the local tech journalism industry. Thanks for your comment, though!