The Xiaomi Mi 5s offers much-needed improvements from the Mi 5, making it a significantly better device.

Quick take:

Although a mid-cycle refresh in Xiaomi's flagship series, the Mi 5s comes with an all-new metal chassis that looks upmarket. The phone has upgraded hardware in the form of a Snapdragon 821 SoC, the camera sensor has been overhauled, and Xiaomi is offering a global MIUI ROM with Play Store access. Then there's the price, with the handset retailing for the equivalent of $300 in China.

The good

  • Great display
  • Excellent build quality
  • Value for money

The bad

  • Availability
  • Camera lacks OIS
  • No microSD slot

Finally finished

Xiaomi Mi 5s Full review

Xiaomi had a great 2016 when it comes to the budget segment, with its Redmi series setting new sales records over the course of the year. The same cannot be said of the company's high-end phones, however. The Mi 5 fared relatively well when it debuted in April, but it was overshadowed by the likes of the OnePlus 3 and then the 3T. A similar situation played out in China, with Xiaomi conceding valuable market share to Vivo and OPPO, both of whom capitalized on the offline market to boost sales.

In a bid to regain its standing in its home market, the company has launched three flagship-tier phones: the Mi 5s, the Mi Note 2, and the bezel-less Mi Mix.

In a bid to regain its standing in its home market, the company has launched three flagship-tier phones: the Mi 5s, the Mi Note 2, and the bezel-less Mi Mix. The Mi Mix isn't being sold in huge numbers, but Xiaomi is counting on the Mi 5s and the Mi Note 2 to drive sales until the Mi 6 makes its debut.

The Mi 5s is a China-only product, where it is available in two variants: the Mi 5s and the Mi 5s Plus. The latter has a larger screen and dual cameras at the back, while the former refines the design of the Mi 5. The phone itself offers very compelling hardware in the form of a Snapdragon 821, and the 5.15-inch display makes the Mi 5s easy to use one-handed.

The best part about the phone — as is the case with most Xiaomi handsets — is its price, with the Mi 5s retailing for under $300. That's for the base model with 3GB of RAM and 64GB storage, but you still get a lot of value for your money. Although the phone isn't offered outside of China, Xiaomi has rolled out a global MIUI ROM for the handset, offering Play Store and other Google services like Gmail, Chrome, YouTube, Maps and more out of the box.

Xiaomi Mi 5s

All you need to know

Xiaomi Mi 5s Specs

Category Features
Operating System MIUI 8 based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Display 5.15-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) IPS LCD panel
428ppi pixel density
SoC Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
Two Kryo cores at 2.15GHz, two Kryo cores at 1.6GHz
14nm
GPU Adreno 530
RAM 3GB RAM
Storage 64GB storage
Rear camera 12MP with f/2.0 lens
dual-tone LED flash
4K video recording
Front shooter 4MP with f/2.0 lens
1080p video recording
Connectivity WiFi ac, Bluetooth 4.2 (A2DP), NFC, GPS, GLONASS
USB-C, 3.5mm audio jack
Battery 3200mAh battery
Quick Charge 3.0
Fingerprint Front fingerprint sensor (Qualcomm Sense ID)
Dimensions 145.6 x 70.3 x 8.3 mm
Weight 145g
Colors Silver, Gray, Gold, Rose Gold

Xiaomi Mi 5s

Metal everywhere

Xiaomi Mi 5s Design and display

The design of the Mi 5s is similar to that of the Mi 5, with one key difference: Xiaomi switched out the glass back for a metal chassis. The glass back made the Mi 5 slippery to hold and use, but the brushed aluminum finish on the Mi 5s makes the phone that much more comfortable to grip, and it also gives the device an upmarket look. At a first glance, the Mi 5s certainly doesn't look like a mid-ranger.

The back curves smoothly inward to meet the sides of the phone, allowing the phone to nestle comfortably in your palm. The design tweak I like the most is the addition of 2.5D curved glass at the front, which allows the panel to merge seamlessly with the metal frame. That wasn't the case with the Mi 5, and it made using the phone uncomfortable as the panel dug into my palm often. Thankfully, that is no longer an issue with the Mi 5s. The metal frame also adds some much-needed weight to the Mi 5s, which now comes in at 145g, 16g more than the Mi 5.

Similar to the Mi 5, the navigation buttons on the Mi 5s are unmarked, allowing you to switch out the configuration of the buttons from the settings. The power and volume buttons are positioned on the right, and they offer a decent amount of feedback. There's a 3.5mm jack up top, and a USB-C port for charging at the bottom, which is flanked by the speaker on the left and the microphone on the right. The relatively compact form factor of the phone makes it easy to use one-handed, but if you're still having any difficulty, there's a one-handed mode that shrinks the screen size down to 3.5 or 4.0 inches.

Subtle design tweaks from the Mi 5 make the Mi 5s a much better phone to use.

The Mi 5s features a 5.15-inch Full HD panel with a pixel density of 428ppi. Xiaomi's penchant for offering great displays is intact, with the panel offering excellent color accuracy, brightness, and contrast levels. Viewing angles are great as well, and like the Mi 5, the Mi 5s sports one of the best LCD displays in this segment. If anything, the screen is brighter than the one on the Mi 5, and as such you won't have any difficulty viewing the text under harsh sunlight. That said, the panel doesn't feature Gorilla Glass or Asahi's Dragontrail protection, so you're going to need to pick up a screen protector if you're interested in buying the Mi 5s.

Qualcomm Sense ID

The Mi 5s comes with Qualcomm's Snapdragon Sense ID, which uses ultrasound technology to take a 3D map of your fingerprints. Regular fingerprint scanners take 2D images and retain them for authentication, but Qualcomm's implementation involves bouncing ultrasonic waves off a finger, resulting in a much more detailed representation of all the ridges, pores, and other unique characteristics of a fingerprint.

In addition to being more detailed, Sense ID also works when your fingers are moist or wet. As the sensor itself works off of ultrasound, it can be embedded underneath other surfaces, which in the case on the Mi 5s sees it located under the display's glass panel. The only drawback is its reliability, as there were several times when the sensor refused to authenticate.

Xiaomi Mi 5s

Excellent

Xiaomi Mi 5s Hardware

The Mi 5s comes with the latest Snapdragon 821 SoC, offering CPU cores that can go up to 2.15GHz and an Adreno 530 GPU. The base model — which I'm reviewing — comes with 3GB of RAM and 64GB storage. As you'd expect from a phone featuring the latest hardware, the Mi 5s blazes through everyday tasks without ever lagging or slowing down. Xiaomi went with the slower 2.15GHz CPU cores to eke out the most out of the 3200mAh battery, opting to use the 2.35GHz variant in the Mi 5s Plus.

One of the differentiating features on Xiaomi phones is the IR blaster. The manufacturer includes them in all of its handsets, from the entry-level Redmi 3S Prime to the $650 Mi Note 2, and for good reason. Xiaomi invested a lot of time in adding appliances from a whole host of vendors to the Mi Remote app, making it compatible with a wide variety of air conditioners, TVs, home audio products, and the like. That's why it was surprising to see that the Mi 5s does not have an IR port — the sensor itself doesn't cost a lot of money, and Xiaomi already put in the legwork of adding vendor support on the software side of things.

The Mi 5s runs without any hitches, as you'd imagine for a device powered by the Snapdragon 821.

Qualcomm is actively pushing its Aqstic audio codec, which makes its way onto the Mi 5s. The codec has a DAC that enables 192kHz/24-bit lossless audio playback. In a world where more and more manufacturers are eschewing the 3.5mm jack, it's great to see Xiaomi offering a high-quality DAC on the Mi 5s. That said, it remains to be seen if this year's Mi 6 will also offer similar audio capabilities via the 3.5mm port.

The Mi 5s also offers Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS, and USB OTG. Rounding out the hardware features, the phone comes with eight LTE bands in total: 1/3/5/7 in the FDD-LTE category, and 38/39/40/41 in TD-LTE. If you're looking to import the Mi 5s, make sure your carrier uses one of the aforementioned LTE bands.

Xiaomi Mi 5s

Not broken anymore

Xiaomi Mi 5s Software

The Mi 5s runs MIUI 8 based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, and interestingly, the higher-storage models of the phone come with a 3D Touch-esque feature. Sadly, it isn't available on the base model. MIUI 8 itself has matured well, and the features that made it stand out at launch are all present on the Mi 5s: Dual Apps, Second Space, scrolling screenshot, built-in video editor, Quick Ball, retooled notification shade, and an improved dialer. Xiaomi rolled out a global MIUI ROM for the Mi 5s last month, making it easier to access the Play Store and Google services.

As there isn't a whole lot that's different from the software side of things from the Mi 5, I'm not going to focus a lot of attention on MIUI 8. The OS feels much more stable now, and there aren't as many glitches. That's mostly due to Xiaomi's constant bug fixes, with the manufacturer rolling out an update once every two weeks.

Xiaomi Mi 5s

Where's OIS?

Xiaomi Mi 5s Camera

The camera on the Mi 5s is missing a key feature that got a lot of attention on the Mi 5: 4-axis OIS. Xiaomi switched out the camera from a 16MP unit to a 12MP sensor (Sony IMX378) in the Mi 5s, and the resulting change has led to a sensor with larger pixel size.

Incidentally, the Mi 5s has the same camera sensor as the Pixel, but it doesn't come with the post-processing optimizations. The increased pixels allows the camera to take excellent images in daylight conditions, but the lack of OIS hurts when shooting in low-light scenarios.

Photos taken in daylight highlight accurate colors and a lot of detail, and processing HDR doesn't take as long as it used to. The camera app is loaded with features, offering several shooting modes and filters with live previews. The 4MP UltraPixel front camera takes great selfies. Same goes for video recording, with the phone now able to shoot 4K video.

Xiaomi Mi 5s

YMMV

Xiaomi Mi 5s Battery life

The modest increase in battery capacity (200mAh) from the Mi 5 has led to a slight uptick in overall battery life on the Mi 5s. The phone lasts an entire day most of the time, but there were instance — particularly when using cellular data throughout the day — where the battery life wasn't adequate.

Thankfully, the Mi 5s supports Quick Charge 3.0, allowing you to quickly top up in the midlde of the day.

Xiaomi Mi 5s

Good enough

Xiaomi Mi 5s Bottom line

The Mi 5s has a lot of things in its favor: the design is far better than the metal and glass exterior of the Mi 5, and the added weight from the metal chassis gives the device much-needed heft. The screen is of a higher quality, and the camera has been significantly improved.

That said, there are a few glaring omissions — no Gorilla Glass protection on the screen, and lack of OIS on the camera. Considering the price of the Mi 5s, it's easy to forgive the omissions, and when viewed overall, the phone offers incredible value for money.

Of course

Should you buy it? Yes

As the Mi 5s has been in the market for a few months now, it has picked up a price cut that brings the cost of the phone down to under $300. As you can't buy it directly from Xiaomi, you'll have to rely on resellers. GearBest is selling it for $289 after entering code Mi5GSB. If you're in a market where LTE connectivity is available, the Mi 5s is a no-brainer for the cost.

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