Despite still having no presence in Europe or North America outside of a limited accessory store, Xiaomi is a top five smartphone vendor globally. That's in no small part due to its incredible success in its home market of China, and places like India.
At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Xiaomi took to the stage for the very first time in Europe to announce its newest creation. The 2016 flagship product, the Mi 5.
It's been two years in the making, and about the same time since its direct predecessor came to market, so Xiaomi has certainly taken its sweet time. But as the presentation in Barcelona described, that time was well spent. Refining, shooting for the absolute best experience possible.
And it worked.
Xiaomi has built a reputation for building high quality devices without a steep price of entry. That's one of the headline features of the Mi 5 right out of the gate. The top of the line model, the most expensive, costs less than an equivalent $400. And that's remarkable when you look at what you get for that.
The Mi 5 comes in two versions: The regular model has 32 or 64GB of internal storage, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with Adreno 530 GPU, 3GB of RAM and a 5.15-inch 1080p display. The Pro looks the same, is mostly the same on the hardware front, but packs 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM with a slightly higher clock speed on the Snapdragon 820 inside. eMMC has gone and the Mi 5 uses UFS 2.0 flash storage instead.
Where the Mi 4 was a bit of a slab, the Mi 5 is all curves. The curved glass back was seen on its Mi Note in 2015 but the design has been taken a little further on the Mi 5. The curve has been accentuated a little more, the metal frame on the sides being little more than a sliver. Yes, it's very much what Samsung is doing with the new Galaxy S7, and it's every bit as worthwhile here.
The Mi 5 Pro goes one step further and offers a ceramic option in place of the glass. And still at that sub-$400 price point.
The attention to detail continues with the camera. Xiaomi has stuffed a 4-axis OIS system into the Mi 5 with its 16MP rear shooter. But unlike many phones with such capable cameras, the Mi 5 is completely flat on the back. The camera sits totally flush with the phone so as not to interrupt those flawless curves.
The rear camera is completely flush, despite having notably high-end camera specs.
The sensor beneath is Sony's brand new IMX298 with comes with both phase detecting auto focus and DTI (Deep Trench Isolation), pixel-to-pixel isolation and Qualcomm's Spectra image processor. The sample's shown at the press event were impressive, but we'll reserve any judgment until we get to see real world samples.
All the power and design means nothing, though, if you're going to be hunting for a charger by lunch time. Fortunately the Mi 5 squeezes a 3000mAh battery into its svelte frame, which should be good for even the more demanding of days. And with Quick Charge 3.0 support there's never too long to wait for a top up. Oh, and it all goes on through a USB-C port, which ticks another 2016 hardware box.
Software is still Xiaomi's own take on Android, MIUI 7. As ever it's incredibly bright and colorful and there are no visual cues to the regular Android anywhere. MIUI 7 itself isn't new and has been pushed to existing phones a little while ago. What is new is Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The Mi 5 is Xiaomi's first phone to ship with Google's latest operating system, and frankly we're pleased. Seeing a Lollipop-based build on a phone this good would have been the ultimate downer.
And the demo units are up to date with the February security patch, with the setting to view this available to check. What we don't know is where Xiaomi stands on keeping these up to date, but MIUI is frequently updated so the Xiaomi engineers are always busy.
The Mi 5 is Xiaomi's first new Marshmallow phone. Still buried inside MIUI 7.
With Android 6.0 Marshmallow arriving for the first time on a new Xiaomi phone comes the company's first front facing fingerprint sensor which doubles as a home button. Xiaomi has used capacitive keys forever, but never a physical home button. But if you're putting the fingerprint sensor on the front, it kind of makes sense. The Redmi Note 3 has its fingerprint sensor on the back, for reference.
There's a long tale about how the exact design of the button came to be, but ultimately, it's there, and it's a home button. The two capacitive keys are now just dots that light up, which is odd, but visually attractive if nothing else.
So, are we impressed with the Mi 5? Very. There was never any reason to doubt that Xiaomi would be shooting for the top with the hardware, it's built a loyal fanbase by offering high-end specs at mid-range prices. And with last year's Mi Note the design language began to change a little, embracing the curved glass back.
But the Mi 5 is sublime. It's insanely light, packed to the gills with hardware, has the potential to have a great camera and the display around the front is one of the nicest 1080p panels you'll see on a phone right now. The software won't be to everyone's tastes, but Xiaomi has never been shy about embracing people who want to "tinker."
But the design is a little surprising. Xiaomi phones have had a habit of being a little generic, uninspiring, but there's some real effort gone in to the Mi 5. The most disappointing thing is that we won't (officially) see it in Europe or North America any time soon. If you import one it should work just fine (though check how it'll fare with your carrier first), but it's a phone that people would want to buy.
And they'd be very happy with it. It's early days, but Xiaomi gets an "A" for effort on this one.
Check out a quick video tour below.
The Mi 5 goes on sale on March 1 in China with other markets, such as India, to follow. No further release information is available at the time of writing.