Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro review: The new budget smartphone king, but competition is inching closer
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro, is the new unbeatable king of the budget smartphone segment.
It may have appeared to many that Xiaomi was sleeping over the success of its budget smartphone beast, the Redmi Note 4. In the meantime, Huawei with its Honor sub-brand launched a plethora of smartphones towards the end of 2017 and almost convinced many, that they had won over the budget to mid-range smartphone segment, with their Honor 9 Lite, Honor 7X and the Honor 9i.
The reality? No! They weren’t sleeping, but Xiaomi was plotting another successful plan, and I finally was made aware of the same, the minute I got my hands on their newest contender from the budget to mid-range segment.
World! Say hello to the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro and it’s “unbeatable”; with every single offering from every smartphone brand, in its crosshairs.
Here’s why it is hard to argue that it’s anything but that.
Build and Design: 8/10
The Redmi Note 5 Pro is the “Pro” version of the Redmi Note 5, which is the successor to the Note 4. While many would expect Xiaomi to bring together bits and pieces of its predecessor, no, the Pro is anything but that.
The Pro is a proper mid-range device that going by appearance would let many to believe that it belongs to the sub-Rs 30,000 segment instead of the sub-Rs 15,000 mark.
The design was typically Xiaomi (rounded corners, straight lines, curved back), and seems more like the evolution of the Note 4, but a lot better. The device is far from bezel-less, but it does feature an overall slimmer profile (way slimmer than the chunky Note 4).
In short, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro will not win any design awards and does not look half as good as the pebble-like Honor 7X, but it's practical and polished nonetheless. Again, considering how aggressive Xiaomi's pricing is, we cannot expect it to add anything to this beast.
One detail I did note, was that the device features a narrower display in comparison to the flagship Mi Mix 2. This along with the gradual curve of the back makes the smartphone a lot easier to grip and hold than the mostly flat Mi Mix 2.
The fit and finish are top class, despite sporting plastic caps at the top and bottom on the back, with a metal panel taking up the majority of the centre. In short, the device is a delight to hold and did not slip out of my hand thanks to the thin shiny ridges that appear at the top and the bottom.
Despite its abnormal heft at 181 grams (which also lends it a premium feel), what will catch your attention is that very iPhone X-like dual camera setup at the back.
It protrudes far out from the rest of the back and this makes it annoying to type on when the device is placed on a table. However, you can remedy the same by using a case cover, but the camera is something you will want to show off because the Pro is more about the camera experience than anything else.
When it comes to features, the Pro once again seems to be ahead of the competition. Xiaomi debuted the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 SoC in India with the launch of the Redmi Note 5 Pro. This houses an 8x Kryo 260 CPU clocked at 1.8 GHz along with Adreno 509 GPU.
The new chipset is paired with 4 GB and 6 GB RAM modules along with 64 GB internal storage as standard. We received a unit with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage.
The display is a 5.99-inch FHD+ unit featuring a resolution of 2,160 x 1,800 pixels in an 18:9 aspect ratio covered with 2.5D screen.
Moving to the cameras, Xiaomi offers a 12 MP + 5 MP dual setup at the back with a 20 MP Sony IMX376 unit for selfies on the front.
Connectivity options include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G with support for VoLTE and a micro USB port (USB 2.0) at the bottom.
Powering all of the above is a 4,000 mAh with 5V/2A charging. As for the software, it’s the usual MIUI 9 with Android 7.0 Nougat as the base.
With my primary device being the large (and heavy) Apple iPhone 8 Plus, I often kept forgetting how large and tall the display of the Redmi Note 5 Pro really was.
To give you an idea, the 5.99-inch display fits into the footprint of the iPhone 8 Plus (5.5-inch display) with room to spare for the various sensors and earpiece at the top and a small chin at the bottom. Everything is well spaced out even though the display is not edge-to-edge like on the iPhone X or the Mi Mix 2.
Another detail that Pro does really well, is around the corners of the display. They look pristine and polished and are not squared out like those on the Honor 9i, lending it a premium look. The well finished 2.5D glass screen with a rounded lipping, also adds to the premium feel when swiping in from the corners.
What I like about the display was how accurately it rendered colours without going overboard with the saturation and tone. These levels can also be adjusted using MIUI’s display mode customisations to a user’s liking.
The display was a sharp, sharp enough to render all those fine lines and text in Xiaomi’s MIUI 9 accurately without any jagged edges.
Rounded corners and accurate colours (Xiaomi claims its display is 83 percent NTSC) aside, I also liked the fact the display rarely caught fingerprints or dust.
While the brightness levels did drop from the steepest viewing angles, it dropped far less (not as noticeable) as compared to Honor’s displays. In short, Xiaomi engineers have done a fantastic job with the display and I feel sad that even the mighty Mi Mix 2 does can’t hold a candle in front of the Pro.
The software onboard was typically Xiaomi. You get the massive customisation options with an active theme store with tons of themes to choose from. But there’s nothing new here to explore unless you are into split view multitasking.
As mentioned in the build and design, the Pro is taller than most other smartphones Xiaomi has launched in the past. It also features a higher PPI meaning that it can easily display more data than a Mi Max 2 as well. With that said, the display scaling works it favour and makes it ideal for split-screen multitasking. And I like how well Xiaomi has implemented it in the Pro, despite arriving late to(or falling behind) the game.
I also liked, how smooth and fluid the animations and transitions were showing no signs of slowdown or lag.
With Xiaomi’s MIUI around, it was obvious that it fell behind with core Android software updates. Xiaomi’s latest and greatest mid-range buster sadly, still ships with Android Nougat 7.1.1 inside. Honestly speaking, it’s hard to find any other manufacturer that offers Oreo out of the box in this price range apart from the Honor 9 Lite. Xiaomi needs to work hard on this front, just launching new smartphones isn't enough.
Clearly, asking for software updates, on non-Pixel and Android One devices, is going to be a thing of the past, considering that just 1.1 percent of Android devices feature them. The Pro features a security patch level from 05 December 2017.
What I really liked about the Redmi Note 5 Pro was the vibration motor, that when set at the lightest level, gives a sharp and distinct feedback that is closer to the Pixel 2 (even if it's not as accurate). It feels refined and convinced me to leave the vibration on even when using the keypad (the sensation is usually too horrid on most smartphones save for the Pixel 2).
Vibrations aside, the performance is top notch as is easily the best in class, despite its worrying clock speed that is set at 1.8 GHz as compared to the Honor 9i’s 2.3 GHz. It’s clearly what you do with what you have that matters and the Pro offers the best we have seen in this segment.
The shiny new Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 silicon fares well and surprisingly better than the Huawei’s Kirin 659 SoC. Graphic intensive games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Xtreme ran smoothly with setting maxed out (High and HDPI, Better Quality) and the smartphone did not heat up even after extended gaming which is great stuff for a budget device as most out there usually do. More importantly, the battery kept up.
Audio quality through the headphones was great with the DAC giving greater emphasis to the bass notes. The speaker is loud and clear and very unlike the Honor 9i. I was bold enough to place a phone call on loudspeaker in the middle of traffic and crowded marketplaces and hear the caller not just loudly but also very clearly. More importantly, the speaker is placed at the top right corner when held horizontally, which did not see my palm block the speaker like most phones do while gaming or streaming movies. Things are indeed well thought off here.
Voice quality was on par with competition using both VoLTE and standard 4G networks.
Since the benchmarking tools were blocked during the review period, we will update this section with the benchmark comparison charts when available.
“OMG!” Is what everyone in the office had to say when they saw the photos this Rs 13,999 smartphone is capable of capturing.
Daylight, low-light, no-light, the Redmi Note 5 Pro seems to have added some AI to the mix, that lets it shoot in almost every perceivable condition you can throw at it.
Note that this does not only apply to the 12 MP + 5 MP rear facing camera setup, but the software driven front-facing 20 MP camera as well.
The device is so good, that I ended up clicking one too many photos for this review with pleasing results.
You can check them out in the Flickr gallery below.
Dissecting the images that I have clicked, the dual camera setup at back, does a brilliant job given the smartphone’s price tag.
In broad daylight, focusing is quick and same applies to the speed of clicking photos, which seems to offer zero shutter lag. The quality of the images are top notch for its class, delivering detailed images that were not overtly sharp (although sharpness levels can be modified in Camera Settings). Colours were spot on and better looking than the photos we clicked using a OnePlus 5T. They were very close to the actual scene. The dynamic range was really good and it's the reason why I rarely ended up turning on the HDR mode (but more about this later).
Moving to low light or dimly lit scenarios, the Redmi Note 5 Pro took them in stride. While you cannot compare these images to an iPhone X or a Pixel 2, they are the best we could achieve in its segment, beating the Honor 9i’s low light performance by a mile. Focus was quick in low light as well, although the colours were a bit saturated for my taste.
With a single 20 MP sensor for the front camera I expected Xiaomi to play the usual numbers game, like every other Chinese smartphone manufacturer does these days.
To my surprise the performance, not just in daylight but even low light, was breathtaking.
With a software (more AI driven) Depth Effect mode on (small concentric circles icon in selfie camera mode), I managed to take some stunning low light selfies, something that every selfie smartphone, is incapable of (they perform better in daylight).
The Portrait mode on the rear facing camera too seems to have some AI smarts because it detects edges like no other camera smartphone in its class.
All-in-all, the camera performance is top notch and sets new standards for its segment, more so given its price.
What I missed in comparison to the Honor 7X is the depth data which is not stored, meaning that the images cannot be fiddled with after you have clicked them. Another area where I would love to see an update is the HDR mode.
While I rarely ended up using it, it needs to be turned on manually every time when using the rear camera. The selfie camera has an option to keep it to ‘Auto’, which is great, but as expected I wasn’t able to use HDR with the Depth Effect switched on. Still, these are just my suggested improvements for what is an impressive set of cameras and camera software.
Video locked under 30 fps was a bit disappointing. The camera struggled to maintain a steady framerate while panning and given what Snapdragon 636 is capable of 4K 30 fps video recording, (120 fps Full HD) it's shocking that Xiaomi hasn't taken advantage of it.
Battery Life: 8/10
With a 14 nm SoC and a lower clock speed, I expected the Xiaomi Redmi Pro to out do its successor and its competitors and it did so without breaking sweat.
Using it as my daily driver for almost a week I saw the Redmi Note 5 Pro deliver about 2 days of battery life. My usage included, the usual Telegram, WhatsApp, Slack, two email accounts on sync, streaming an hour or two of video, some calls and about two hours of gaming each day.
For a power user (which should be over my above-mentioned usage), this should last a bit over a day.
All of this is impressive because it features a 5.9-inch FHD+ display. So kudos to Xiaomi’s software team for all the optimisations. Since Xiaomi only provided us with a review unit and no charger, I cannot confirm the charging speed of the device. Using a standard Oppo charger, I managed to get it from 0-100 percent in a little over two and half hours.
Price and verdict in India:
When I first got hold of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro (that’s a long name), I assumed it was just another Chinese device with a tall display. After switching it on and then trying that camera, that impression quickly wore off as it was clear that Xiaomi is not just back in the game, but wants to be at the very top.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro is the eventual evolution of the Redmi Note series. It may be priced a bit higher in the budget to mid-range segment, but its performance easily makes up for its price hike. Add to this is brand new chipset and it takes down the Honor 7x, Honor 9i, the Moto X4, Vivo V7 Plus, Coolpad Cool Play 6 and even the Oppo A83.
While smartphone brands had a tough time dealing with the Note 4’s success through 2017, there’s now a new headache for everyone else to deal with in the Rs 15k price segment.
If you love your Redmi Note 4, the Note 5 Pro is totally worth it. If you are looking for a budget to mid-range device, then look no further, a new king has been crowned!
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