The Mi 5 offers great hardware, but software drawbacks and availability issues continue to hold the device back.
Xiaomi was quick to roll out the Mi 5 in the Indian market, with the vendor trying to make a statement in the country after seeing sluggish sales over the course of the last 12 months. However, the Mi 5 available is the 32GB edition with 3GB of RAM and an underclocked 1.8GHz Snapdragon 820, and not the Pro model with 4GB of RAM and 128GB storage. Combine that with a confounded flash sales model and software that's reminiscent of the KitKat era, and you get a phone that feels overpriced at ₹25,000.
- Great display
- Premium design
- Fast hardware
- Software niggles
- Camera not great in low-light
- No microSD slot
Xiaomi Mi 5 Full review
India is a huge market for Xiaomi. With 2015 turning out to be a dismal year, Xiaomi is betting big on the country this year. The vendor launched its budget behemoth, the Redmi Note 3, earlier this year, and is now following up with its 2016 flagship, the Mi 5. The phone is available in India barely a month after its debut at MWC, which in itself signifies Xiaomi's commitment to India.
Xiaomi's claim to fame thus far in the country has been with budget devices sold under ₹20,000 that offered great value for money. The vendor has been largely successful at doing just that over the course of the last two years. However, with the Mi 5, it is trying to break away from its shackles as a budget vendor. The base variant of the Mi 5 is priced at ₹25,000, putting it firmly alongside the OnePlus 2, Samsung Galaxy A7, Moto X Style, and others.
The price is certainly on the higher side considering Xiaomi's pricing strategy thus far, but you're getting a lot for that price, most notably the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC. But the question remains: is the Mi 5 worthy of its ₹25,000 price tag? Let's find out.
Xiaomi Mi 5 Specs
|Display||5.15-inch Full HD IPS display | Pixel density of 428 ppi|
|SoC||1.8GHz Snapdragon 820
510MHz Adreno 530 GPU
|RAM||3GB of LPDDR4 RAM|
|Storage||32GB UFS 2.0 flash storage|
|Camera||16MP camera with 4-axis OIS, dual-LED flash, PDAF
4MP front camera
|Connectivity||USB Type-C, LTE (bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 38, 39, 40, and 41)
Wi-Fi ac MU-MIMO, NFC, IR blaster
|Software||MIUI 7 with Android 6.0|
|Battery||3000mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0|
|Dimensions||144.6 x 69.2 x 7.3 mm|
Full Metal Jacket
Xiaomi Mi 5 Design
The first thing you'll notice about the Mi 5 is its lightness. Weighing in at just 129g, the phone is unbelievably light. For comparison, the Galaxy S7 comes in at 152g. When it comes to the design, Xiaomi borrowed heavily from last year's Mi Note, and that's not necessarily a bad thing as that device saw limited availability.
There's 3D glass at the back of the Mi 5, which curves along the sides where it meets the metal frame, leading to excellent in-hand feel (or "hand feel," as Xiaomi calls it). The build quality is top-notch, as you'd expect from a vendor aiming to challenge the likes of Samsung, and the glass back and chamfered metal frame give the phone a premium look that wouldn't look out of place on a device that costs twice as much.
Xiaomi scores a design win over the Galaxy S7 and the iPhone 6s with the rear design, which sees the camera sensor sitting flush with the body. An impressive feat when you consider the fact that the camera comes with a four-axis optical stabilization module. You can place the phone on a flat surface and not have it wobble when you interact with it. Although it is a metal-and-glass design, the Mi 5 has proved to be fairly resilient to tumbles (well, more than the Galaxy A7 anyway).
Xiaomi designed the front of the Mi 5 to appear virtually bezel-less, and while the effect looks great, the edge of the display does tend to stick out sharply against the metal frame. A 2.5D curved finish would not be amiss here. The entire frame of the phone is metal, barring the plastic antenna lines at the top and bottom. Although there are two grilles at the bottom, the phone doesn't offer stereo sound. The right grille houses the speaker, with the left grille incorporating the microphone.
The power and volume buttons are on the right, and they offer a decent amount of tactile feedback. There's a dual-SIM card tray on the left, and the 3.5mm jack and IR blaster are located at the top. The physical home button at the front is interesting, as it comes with an embedded fingerprint sensor. The home button is narrower than the one you'd find on the Galaxy S7 or S7 edge, but the sensor itself is just as fast at reading fingerprints. The button is made out of ceramic, and unlike the S7 edge, is yet to attract any scratches after two weeks of usage.
The back and recent buttons are unmarked, and Xiaomi allows you to switch out the configuration of the buttons according to your preference. It takes a few days to get accustomed to the unlabeled buttons, but that's a decent trade-off considering the customizability on offer. As for color choices, we received a white review unit, but the black version of the phone looks far better. There's also a gold version that offers a textured back. There's no mention as to whether either model would be made available in India. For now, the white color option is the only one available to customers in the country.
Xiaomi Mi 5 Hardware
With the Galaxy S7 in the country offering Exynos 8890, the Mi 5 is the first phone with the Snapdragon 820. As such, it is a good time to look at all the architectural changes Qualcomm has undertaken with the Snapdragon 820, starting with its new Kryo cores.
With the Snapdragon 810, Qualcomm decided to stick to regular ARM Cortex cores, breaking its tradition of developing custom CPU cores that offered better performance. It also went with octa-core designs partly due to the insistence of Chinese vendors, and to counter MediaTek's rise. The troubles that the move introduced are well-documented at this stage, so this year the vendor went back to a custom-core implementation with Kryo.
Qualcomm has also reverted to a quad-core CPU configuration, shifting to a 14nm FinFET architecture. The quad-core Kryo cluster sees two high-performance cores clocked at 1.8GHz, and two energy-efficient cores at 1.53GHz. Manufacturing is done on Samsung's second-gen 14nm LPP (Low-Power Plus) node, which offers additional energy gains when compared to last year's Exynos 7420.
The Mi 5 is offered in three variants: the entry-level 32GB model is clocked at 1.8GHz, with the 64GB and the Pro 128GB models offering the 2.15GHz edition of the Snapdragon 820. Other limitations of the 1.8GHz variant include throttling the frequency of the Adreno 530 GPU to 510MHz, and the RAM to 1333MHz (compared to 1866MHz on 2.1GHz).
That said, the 1.8GHz Snapdragon is still plenty fast, and comes close to matching the Galaxy S7 on synthetic benchmarks. These benchmarks are not indicative of real-world performance, but they offer an insight into how fast (or slow) a device is at a quick glance.
In India, it looks like the 32GB edition is the only one that will be available, which is a shame considering that the phone does not offer a microSD slot. However, you get a lot for the asking price, including NFC, an IR blaster, and USB-C connectivity. The 32GB storage uses Samsung's UFS 2.0 standard, which is the same internal memory used in the Galaxy S6 and this year's Galaxy S7. The phone also offers VoLTE, which comes in handy as voice services over LTE are set to take off in the country later this year.
Even with class-leading hardware, the Mi 5 was sometimes weirdly laggy.
Even though it has class-leading hardware, the Mi 5 isn't without its drawbacks, as the phone turned out to be weirdly laggy at times. This wasn't an issue when playing visually-intensive games, but we saw the phone stuttering quite badly when handling routine tasks like making a Hangouts video call or scrolling web pages in Chrome. Usually, we'd ignore it if it were the case once or twice, but the situation occurred enough times that it turned out to be an annoyance.
As for connectivity, the Mi 5 offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.2, and LTE. The phone comes with Indian LTE bands (3 and 40), and if you're looking to use the handset overseas, it supports TD-LTE bands 38, 39, 40, 41, and FDD-LTE bands 1, 3, 5, and 7. The limited LTE bands means that you can't use the Indian variant of the Mi 5 on any U.S. carriers.
Thankfully, there's no thermal overheating during normal usage.The only times we saw the phone getting uncomfortably hot was during while charging and 4K video recording.
Xiaomi Mi 5 Display
The 5.15-inch Full HD display with a pixel density of 428 ppi won't match up to the 577 ppi on offer with the Galaxy S7, but the IPS LCD screen is one of the best we've seen this year. Xiaomi says that it used 16 LEDs under the display instead of the usual 12, and the result is a screen that has a maximum brightness of 600 nits and a minimum of 0.7 nits. The extra LEDs are also the reason for the 5.15-inch size of the display.
The IPS LCD screen is one of the best we've seen this year.
The display has high saturation as well as sharpness, and comes with a Reading Mode that filters out blue light. There's also a Night Display that turns down the brightness, and a Sunlight Display feature that lets you view the screen under harsh sunlight. Sunlight Display adjusts the contrast of each pixel in real-time, making the screen readable under glare.
You can enable a double-tap to wake the screen, and alter the color temperature of the screen from warm to cool based on your preferences. Contrast settings can also be tweaked, and there's a one-handed mode located in Settings -> Additional settings -> One-handed mode that lets you shrink the size of the screen to either 4.5, 4.0, or 3.5 inches. One-handed mode is accessed by swiping left to right across the navigation buttons.
The only complaint in terms of the screen is that even though it's protected by Gorilla Glass 4, we've seen a litany of micro-scratches all over the surface in the two weeks we've used the device.
Stuck in a KitKat world
Xiaomi Mi 5 Software
There was a time when users on Nexus devices would make the switch to MIUI for all the features it offered. Now, that situation has been reversed. Users are clamoring for stock ROMs to be available on Xiaomi's handsets. And the reason for that is because there isn't a noticeable difference between a phone running MIUI 7 based on KitKat and one that's on Marshmallow. There is something to be said for software consistency, but that goes out the window when a vendor doesn't introduce any visual changes in nearly three years.
This is based on Marshmallow, but a lot has changed.
Even though MIUI 7 on the Mi 5 is based on Marshmallow, there are several key features missing, including runtime app permissions and Google Now on Tap. Apps designed for marshmallow (API 23 and above) are granted access to all permissions during the installation phase, and there's no way for you to selectively allow access. You have to head into security settings and manually enable permission manager, which cedes control over to MIUI. Through permission manager, you can control individual app-based access to things like location, camera, internal storage, and such.
Let's see how this works with Zomato's app. With permission manager disabled (which is its default state), Zomato has access to your device's GPS, camera, accounts, internal storage, and the ability to make phone calls and view messages. All of this is grayed out as you can see in the first screenshot, which means that all permissions are enabled by default. Once the permission manager is enabled, you'll have granular control over which permissions to give access to.
You can enable permission manager by navigating to System -> Security -> Permissions -> Permission manager. Considering the nature of permissions, this is something that you should absolutely enable as soon as you start using the phone.
For its lack of visual flair, MIUI does offer a bevy of settings that let you customize the phone to your liking. You can change the system icons, backgrounds and fonts from the themes store, where there's a selection of free and paid content.
There's a Mi Remote app that lets you use the IR blaster to control your set-top box, TV, air conditioner, and more. Fleksy as well as Google Keyboard are pre-installed, which is great. Mi Mover is a nifty utility, which lets you transfer content from your older device wirelessly with ease. If you're moving from another Xiaomi device, you can access Mi Mover from Settings -> Additional settings and get started. If you're switching from another handset, you can download the app from the Play Store and transfer content. MIUI also offers pinch in and pinch out gestures, which you can use to get previews on the recent apps window and the notification shade.
MIUI itself is constantly updated, with bi-weekly updates rolled out based on suggestions from Xiaomi's user community.
Shake it off
Xiaomi Mi 5 Camera
The camera on the Mi 5 uses a 16MP Sony IMX298 imaging sensor with an f/2.0 lens and dual-tone LED flash, phase detection autofocus, and 4-axis optical image stabilization. You get incredibly detailed shots in bright conditions, but the camera struggles to keep up with the likes of the Galaxy S7 or LG G5 when it comes to low-light photos. That has always been a downfall of mid-range cameras, and the same holds true for the Mi 5 as well.
Xiaomi's camera app is easy to navigate, with the interface offering quick shooting modes for stills and videos, as well as toggles for HDR Auto, flash, and switching between the front and rear cameras. You can access panorama mode, manual controls, timer, tilt-shift, beautify filters, fish-eye mode, and more by pulling up the settings menu through a swipe left gesture, while a swipe to the right gives you access to 12 different filters that offer real-time previews.
Juice me up
Xiaomi Mi 5 Battery life
Battery life from the 3000mAh cell was decidedly average over the first week of using the phone, but it balanced itself out after that. You will be able to get a day's worth of battery life with conservative usage. If you're one to use location-based services and consume a lot of cellular data, you'll be plugging in before the end of the day.
The phone offers Quick Charge 3.0, but the charger that's included in the box is Quick Charge 2.0 — in real-world usage, this doesn't make a huge difference in charge times.
How is this still a thing?
Xiaomi Mi 5 Availability
Update: Starting early June, Xiaomi has started offering the Mi 5 via open sale, ending months of flash sales. If you're interested in the Mi 5, you can head to Xiaomi's website and buy one right now for ₹24,999.
Even if you're interested in shelling out ₹25,000 for the Mi 5, which in itself is a sizable investment, you'll have to put up with Xiaomi's flash sales model to get your hands on one. The whole idea behind the flash sales model is that Xiaomi is able to eke out the maximum cost-savings on a phone by producing in small batches, eventually making profits as the cost of the individual hardware comes down.
This Mi 5 is a sizable investment, and you have to put up with a flash sale to get it.
Thus far, the move made sense as in return for going through flash sales, you were getting a value-for-money device that was sold at near manufacturing cost. That's not the case with the Mi 5, as the edition that's on sale in India is being sold with premium pricing. As such, Xiaomi should have made the device available for purchase in general sale. But that's not the case. You're going to have to struggle to get your hands on the phone.
In the two sales we were registered for, we saw the phone up for grabs for barely a second, and in both instances we failed to procure one. That'll be the case for a majority of customers lining up, as Xiaomi draws huge numbers — numbering in the millions — and sells relatively few units. It's great for the vendor to tout that it was able to sell its stock of units in two or three seconds, but it's the customers — who have registered and lined up to buy the phone — that come away with nothing.
This time around, the vendor is also rolling out something called F-Codes. Essentially, you have to stalk Xiaomi's social media accounts, and partaking in contests will let you stand a chance to win F-Codes, which will allow you to buy a phone or accessory without having to wait in line during a flash sale. As you'd imagine, they're hard to come by.
Not good enough
Xiaomi Mi 5 Bottom line
The Mi 5 is a great phone, offering incredible hardware in the mid-tier segment. Overall refinement is still missing when you compare the Mi 5 to the Galaxy S7, but then again Samsung's offering costs twice as much.
With the Mi 5, you're getting a great display, and the phone's design with its curved glass back is sure to turn heads. However, the software is badly in need of an overhaul, and Xiaomi needs to address availability issues. There's also the camera, which isn't great in low-light conditions, and the battery isn't going to last an entire day.
Should you buy it? Not yet
Ultimately, Xiaomi's reputation will be its biggest hurdle in the Indian market, as the vendor has built up its market share in the entry-level segment, and that's what consumers associate with the brand. The most difficult part for Xiaomi will be to convince customers to fork out ₹25,000 for the Mi 5. Over time, the price of the phone will come down, making it a much more palatable option. For now, it's just not worth the money or the hassle to buy.