As promised by Xiaomi’s VP of International, Hugo Barra, at the Redmi Note 3 launch, the flagship from the Chinese phone maker – the Mi 5 – was launched in India on 31 March and went on sale on 6 April. This is only a month after its launch in China. The Xiaomi Mi 5, which was first announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, has been two years in the making.
We had been hearing about its rumoured launch since last year. Xiaomi's announcement at MWC 2016 – its first outside of Asia and in front of the global media – is a huge step forward for what was till now considered to be just a Chinese brand. Of course, Xiaomi has been selling its phones in India since 2013. But with the Xiaomi Mi 5, it certainly has ambitions that go beyond China, India and other southeast Asian markets.
Now that the product has finally arrived in our test centre, it's time to do some detailed analysis to see if this is the flagship phone to go for.
Build and Design: 8.5 / 10
The Xiaomi Mi 5 borrows a lot of elements from its Mi Note series of phones and was constantly referred to during the launch address. One look at the Mi 5 and you will see the similarities for yourself. Xiaomi has refined the 3D glass curve design, making it way more rounded than we've seen on the Mi Note. The metal frame merges seamlessly onto the glass back on the edges. The chamfering has a lot more slope. The Mi 5 looks elegant and with just around 7.25mm thickness and weighing around 129g, it's impressive that Xiaomi has managed to have the camera flush with the plane of the body and included a 3000mAh battery at the same time. Apple certainly has some explaining to do. There is a 3D ceramic variant as well, which is not selling anywhere at the moment.
While the in-hand feel of the device is great and the Mi 5 looks the part of a flagship phone, one must be careful when holding it as we found it to be a bit too slippery for our liking. Also, while the bezels on the sides are much thinner than those at the top and bottom, the 5.15-inch display on the Mi 5 means that the phone has a taller frame. On the front, there is the slim ceramic home button (a first on any Xiaomi phone) which also functions as a fingerprint scanner (a second after the Redmi Note 3). The soft buttons beside the home button show two pin points which are backlit. There is no back or multi-tasking design painted on these as the MIUI 7 OS lets you assign your own functions to these keys.
The left hand edge has the nano SIM card slot and the right hand side has the volume rocker and power/standby button. There’s a USB Type-C port at the base surrounded by two speaker grilles. On the top there is the 3.5mm audio jack and an infrared port in the centre to help control home appliances. There are antenna cuts on the top and the base. The rear has a clean design, with just the 16MP camera placed flush on the top left hand corner and a dual-tone LED flash unit is beside it.
Xiaomi has gone all out as far as the spec sheet is concerned. Since Samsung released the Galaxy S7 / S7 edge with its Exynos 8890 chipset, this makes Xiaomi's Mi 5 the first device to ship with Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 820 chipset in India. The Snapdragon 820 brings back Qualcomm’s custom processor cores. There are four Kyro cores (two clocked at 1.8GHz and two clocked at 1.4GHz) and this is paired with the Adreno 530GPU. The Xiaomi Mi 5 selling in India comes with a 3GB RAM and 32GB storage configuration. The top end Xiaomi Mi 5 with a ceramic back has 4GB RAM and 128GB storage along with the Kyro cores clocked at 2.15GHz. As we have seen with the last generation Xiaomi flagships, the Mi 5 too doesn't allow you the option to expand storage.
The phone runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the now familiar MIUI 7 OS skin running atop it. Sadly, in terms of design elements, there is no trace of Android 6.0 on the Mi5. We will explore this more in depth in the Software section. The Mi 5 comes in a dual-SIM configuration, taking in two nano SIM cards. It supports LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, an infrared blaster, NFC, GPS with A-GPS and more.
There is a 5.15-inch full HD LCD display on the front. On the camera front, you get a 16MP rear camera and a 4MP front-facing camera. There is a USB Type-C port for charging and data transfer. The Mi 5 ships with the QuickCharge 2.0 charger although the phone supports the QuickCharge 3.0 standard.
The Xiaomi Mi 5 sports a 5.15-inch full HD display which we thought was really reflective. It uses an IPS LCD panel which gives good viewing angles and the text appears sharp. Just as we had seen on the Mi 4i, the Mi 5 also supports Sunlight Display, which dynamically adjusts the brightness on pixels, so that you do not have to strain your eyes when out in bright sunlight. It works fine and we did not have any issues with legibility in the bright outdoors.
The text appears sharp and colours are vibrant. The phone is quite bright as compared to its predecessor – the Mi 4. You will notice a slight dip in the brightness when viewing it from the side angles, but there is no colour shifting. Watching movies was a pleasant experience thanks to the good contrast offered by the display. So even though it sports a full HD display when other smartphones are going 2K and 4K with their displays, we really have no complaints on that front.
The Mi 5 comes with the Android 6.0 Marshmallow along with Xiaomi’s MIUI 7 OS atop it. Thanks to the MIUI 7 OS, you cannot tell the Mi 5 from the older Android OS sporting devices such as the Redmi Note 3 or even the Mi 4i.
MIUI 7 OS which was announced by Xiaomi in October last year comes loaded on the phone. While, in terms of pure looks, it isn't drastically different from the MIUI 6, we do see some new features in the OS. Xiaomi has added on a lot more Indian themes to the MIUI 7 for starters. It has an animated profile picture feature called ‘Showtime’ which lets other MIUI users see your animated selfies when you call them, instead of a profile picture.
In the messaging app, MIUI 7 divides messages from your contacts and services. An interesting touch is that if you are getting a one-time password (OTP) for some or the other credentials to be filled online, you now get the option of copying the OTP from the notification itself rather than opening messages to search for it. This is a good addition as you do not need to switch between screens. Same goes for calls – you get floating notifications at the top when you receive an incoming call. This ensures that calls don't interfere with whatever you're doing on your device.
Apart from the 13 system apps, you also get additional apps such as Fleksy, WPS Office, Facebook and SwiftKey which, thankfully doesn’t seem like a lot. You also get the Mi Store app pre-installed in case you want to purchase anything from the Mi India store. Another interesting feature is that you can select photos from your gallery and add them to hidden albums.
But the MIUI 7 OS skin also tends to suppress certain features that are offered by Android 6.0 Marshmallow, such as Now on Tap, because the hardware button doesn’t pull up Now on Tap. Xiaomi has said that it's working on a fix. Also, with regards to app permissions, in Android 6.0 you get staggered app permission prompts, which come up only when you are using a particular feature and when you are actually using it. But with MIUI7, you have to mass accept all permissions when you're downloading the app – just like pre-Android M days. Later on however, you can adjust the app permissions manually.
The presence of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC along with 3GB of RAM ensures that the Mi 5 is more than capable of running anything you throw at it. Opening and switching between apps, playing high end games, opening over 20 tabs in Chrome and so on are things that the Mi 5 can handle with ease.
In terms of heat management, we noticed that the phone did get warm on the first update. Also, when charging, the phone does get warm and in bright sunlight, if you are taking a call, expect some warmth around the earpiece region. While gaming, we noticed that the temperature on the rear side reached around 40 degrees, which is manageable. Some users have complained online that the camera heats up, but we did not face any instances where we got the prompt saying that a particular app is shutting down due to overheating.
Call quality is excellent and the earpiece speaker is sufficiently loud. The phone supports 4G VoLTE as well and the phone is able to hold the call signal well even in tricky areas. The speakers on the Mi 5 aren’t that loud, but loud enough to let you enjoy a movie provided you cup the bottom edge to let the sound reflect back.
The fingerprint scanner is relatively fast, but thanks to the low height of the home button, there were times when we had to readjust the placement of the thumb to unlock the device. Just like we've seen on the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S7 edge and many other fingerprint scanner based phones, after restarting the phone, you have to unlock the device either via the secret pin or the pattern unlock as it refuses to unlock via the fingerprint.
Xiaomi has used the 16MP Sony IMX298 sensor for its rear camera. This sensor has a pixel size of 1.12 micrometers and it's paired with an f/2.0 lens. On the front, you get a 4MP camera with a 2 micrometer pixel size and an f/2.0 aperture. In terms of the camera user interface, not much has changed. You still get the same white shutter button in the centre with the video recording button on the right and a preview button on the left. Swiping to the left brings up 9 filters and swiping right brings up the various camera modes such as Panorama, Timer, Audio shot (which triggers the camera shutter with an audio command) and Tilt-shift among others. The Manual mode lets you adjust White balance, Focus, Exposure Time and ISO. The phone comes with 4-axis optical image stabilisation as well. Let's have a look at some of the camera samples.
The image quality in daylight situations was good and the output is packed with detail. There wasn’t any noticeable colour tinge. Focussing was quick as well and we were surprised to get good images even from a moving vehicle, where you generally see blurring effects. But there were some situations when using the HDR mode did not really show much difference in the overall image quality, something that we had loved in the Xiaomi Mi 4i. Indoor shots also tend to show noise. We also noticed that when it comes to selfies, there was a distinct lack of detail, especially if, like me, you boast of a luscious beard, which looked decidedly blurred in the images.
In low light situations, there is noticeable noise in images but these are still decent images as compared to other phones in that price range. Sure, you will notice a waxy texture in low light images, specially in the shadow region due to loss of sharpness, but that's to be expected. When compared to the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, the low light image quality on the Mi 5 is nowhere close to the amount of light the S7 edge gets in, thanks to its f/1.7 aperture. But you also need to take into account that Mi 5 is selling at half the price of the S7 edge.
The Mi 5 is capable of shooting 4K videos and video quality is good enough for casual sharing. It supports Timelapse video as well. We liked the Audio Focus feature, which lets you focus on the front mic or rear mic for normal recording. Indoor videos are noisy though and if you're panning you will notice prominent exposure changes if there is a backlight, but rolling shutter is controlled quite well.
The 4-axis optical image stabilisation is good and certainly helps if you are shooting stills while in a moving vehicle or want to get that steady shot. Video stabilisation was even better than that seen on the S7 edge. But it is nowhere close to what we have seen with the iPhone 6 Plus/6s Plus and Sony Xperia Z3+/Z5. Those phones still set the standard when it comes to video stabilisation.
Xiaomi has gone with a 3000mAh non-removable Li-polymer battery. It supports Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 technology, although the Indian unit is bundled with a QuickCharge 2.0 power adapter. In a regular usage scenario which involved having two emails on sync, 10-15 photographs in a day, an hour worth of music and surfing the web and messaging gave us around 12-14 hours of use before requiring to charge it again. On heavy days (such as when we had to live tweet from an event), the phone tends to run out of juice before your workday is over. Thankfully, the phone charging is quick, although not as fast as the VOOC charging that we have seen on Oppo handsets. PCMark for Android gave rated the Mi 5's battery life at around 10 hours 54 mins.
Verdict and Price in India
Xiaomi Mi 5 has been priced at Rs 24,999 for the 3GB RAM + 32GB storage variant. The 64GB or 128GB variants haven’t been announced for the Indian market yet. At Rs 24,999, the Mi 5, apart from being the first Snapdragon 820 powered phone, is also the most economical at that price point. With the 820, Qualcomm has certainly improved upon the heating issues that were plaguing the Snapdragon 810 chipset. Also, the return of its custom cores is a welcome change – giving superior scores in benchmark tests. If you want a fast phone, which also looks elegant and has a good camera – go for the Mi 5.
We would have still liked better battery life for power users on the Mi 5. Also, the user interface really needs some change in the design language. It is responsive, no doubt. But what’s the point of having Android 6.0 Marshmallow if some of its key features are not available for users - such as Now on Tap or the Doze mode? Hopefully Xiaomi will fix these issues in future updates.
In terms of competition, the Mi 5 has the OnePlus 2 (which recently received a price drop) but that device is a year old now and OnePlus 3 launch rumours have already started floating online. The Lenovo Vibe X3 and Moto X Play are alternatives if you have a slightly lower budget, but in terms of camera quality, the Mi 5 is much better than both. As of now this is the only Snapdragon 820 chipset toting phone. LeEco's Le Max Pro is the other Chinese phone with a Snapdragon 820, but that is yet to launch here. Its pricing will determine if it will compete with the Mi 5.
Should Mi 4 users upgrade to the Mi 5? That depends on 3 factors – 4G connectivity, slim form factor, a faster phone. On the software front, there isn’t much that will be different. If you have a higher budget, you can certainly go for the Samsung Galaxy S6. The only real issue with any Xiaomi phones is the flash sale model, where a lot of potential buyers just do not manage to get through on the day of the sale and are frustrated at not being able to buy the phone. So, if you're willing to be patient with the Mi 5 flash sales, this phone certainly offers a good value proposition.