This year is shaping up to be the pretty good year for smartphone consumers in India as up until now we have seen a lot of handsets launched that are value for money. Though, most of them we saw were targeted to a budget of Rs 10-15K. But there is one particular handset that is an embodiment of the trends, and it is the Xiaomi’s latest flagship, the Mi 5. This is a handset that fans had to wait for about 18 months to get their hands-on. We can safely say that it is a handsome mix of the latest hardware and software, and mostly checks off the requisite boxes for a premium smartphone: beautiful design, stunning display, quick fingerprint sensor, marvelous camera modules and a large capacity battery. Note that all these specs present on Xiaomi’s premier smartphone don’t cost anything around Rs 50K. But instead, it’s priced at Rs 25K, which in fact half the pricing of handsets like Samsung Galaxy S7 and most probably the LG G5; it’ll probably cost around 50K in India.
The country where “thoda aur sasta kardo” (“Can you price it much lower”) is on everyone’s mind asked why did company price its premium flagship higher than what it was priced in China, i.e. 1999 Yuan, which is Rs 20,562.40 approximately. Well, the brief answer that you’ll hear from company and experts is that there are always some import duties that they have to pay, and since this handset isn’t a “Make in India” campaign product, it is likely to be taxed. Or maybe the company just wanted a little more profit out of it; the one instance is that they are not selling this smartphone via any e-com websites, which earlier they have tied up with. The brand has their e-store if you weren’t already aware of.
Sometimes how easily we judge a smartphone just by its first look that we failed to understand how much hard work that company might have put in creating that product. There is an important lesson a consumer, as well as a budding reviewer, needs to understand, don’t expect a smartphone to have everything perfect. Not even a Rs 50K smartphone could get everything right. What’s important is that whether the device is value for money (VFM) or not. And that is a thing about Xiaomi’s flagships they all are valuable for the range they are priced for. We have been hearing the stories of this “Apple of China” disrupting the smartphone industry in Asian countries. We thought otherwise until a flagship like MI 5 came in. Because there might be companies working to provide an affordable flagship device like OnePlus and Honor brands, but the one thing they forget to focus is that there should be a balance between design and performance. Xiaomi has come closest to offering such handsome mixture.
The first thing that I would like to address about the design is the fact that it is reminiscent of premium Galaxy series handsets launched in the past two years. Mostly I think it is quite similar to Note 5, a long narrow design, but not exactly of a phablet size. It is something between a fusion of the latest Galaxy S7 & Note 5. A glass body on sandwiched between a metal frame and Samsung styled home button and fingerprint reader on the front, accompanied by capacitive buttons on either side. Whereas the Glass back curves along the edges just like Galaxy S7, but if you don’t recall, this was not the first company has launched such designed handset. The Mi Note sported such design language, and it predates the Galaxy S7 and Note 5 for a fact.
The build quality on this handset is as good as any premium priced flagship; one can feel the sturdy built quality it provides. Though, we have heard some complaints about how light it is, for some reason by that people judge that it uses low grade materials. The buttons on right edge works great; they are particularly robust and clicky. And they come out quite well so that you don’t have to struggle to find the right pressure points, once you hold your thumb on the buttons, you feel its strength. Also thanks to those curve edges on back, this makes those buttons stick out of the phone. And by concealing the display with the smart paint job, the whole front part looks like a one-piece. The top and bottom of the phone is black, while it is bonded to a dark grey frame surrounds it, which houses the buttons and ports.
The front has a fingerprint sensor integrated into the oval shaped physical home button. It is one of the fastest fingerprint sensors I have ever used, and honestly, it even beats the Samsung Galaxy S7. As Galaxy handset scored around 8 points out of 10 when it comes to fingerprint detection, while I’m pretty sure Mi 5 has detected my fingerprint every time since I started using it as my daily driver. Moreover, the button offers capacitive touch features as well, with just a tap on button without even pressing it would take you back to home screen. Some would dig this feature while some would complaint it. I somehow like it.
On the left and right of the home buttons are capacitive, which acts as a back and recent apps. The fact that they are unlabelled makes them quite confusing; it can be said as the weakest element of the hardware design. They are invisible when the backlight is off, while even when they are on, many users would be hardly able to point out which button is back and which is the recent app. Though, there was a purpose behind it as the software lets you swap the functionality of back and recent. Though, if you ask any user interface designer whether not labeling is good or not, they’ll tell you it’s bad for usability. If only Xiaomi would have just picked up an order and labeled them. I recall, OnePlus made the same mistake, in fact; their Home Button had a problematic issue of being non-respondent. But thankfully, it’s a whole lot better experience on Mi 5’s home button. There is one other thing that I didn’t like about design was how slippery and fingerprint magnet it is, seeing such beautiful design with all those smudges is not a pretty sight.
If you ever wanted a borderless display on your smartphone, then, your wish has come true in the form of Xiaomi Mi 5. The latest Mi flagship from the brand sports an ultra-thin bezel display. Note that there are no such things as true borderless displays, but a smartphone with thinnest bezels exist, and it’s called Mi 5. The current technology for display technology doesn’t allow borderless displays, well at least on practical handheld portable devices, but maybe we’ll have them in near future. There are four components that add up to the display panel. It’s the display area, LCD BM area, Ink Zone and then comes the bezel. With company squeezing these components in one-piece without compromising the display quality, you get an ultra-thin bezel.
What’s more interesting is that it packs a bigger screen and higher resolution (1080p) than Apple offers on its iPhone 6s, although, is practically identical in size. Despite being larger in size, it’s also lighter, which is something I like on a handset; a lightweight and easy to hold. Talking more about the display, it has a 5.15-inch Full HD display, the fact that it skips the resolution wars by going sensible is just great. Sure, the pixel density of 428 PPI (Pixel Per Inch) will lose the spec sheet fight with Samsung Galaxy S7’s 577 PPI. But considering it’s higher than an iPhone 6s, which has only 326 PPI, the 428 PPI is pretty good.
Comparing it with other 5.2-inch screen sized handset, the brightness levels on a typical screen ranges from 350 to 500 nits while its 600 nits on the Xiaomi handset. Meanwhile, the company also touts that it uses 16 backlit LED lights compared to 12-14 used by many manufacturers. As well as they have 21 patents for the display technology used, which is the apparently the result of 18 months work on development of display panel for Mi 5 handset.
Though, the best part of the display is its Sunlight Display panel that makes the viewing experience much fun in bright outdoors or under direct sunlight. I have hardly come across a display with such sunlight legibility; you can see almost everything on the display in bright outdoors. When compared with even Super AMOLED Quad HD displays, they failed against the acclaimed Sunlight Display panel on Mi 5. Though it wasn’t the first time that we came across this display technology, the company has been shipping it on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 and before that it was first introduced on the Mi 4i. And with features like Night Display and Reading mode, I believe it is the best full HD display out there in the market right.
MIUI ROM not only has fans in China or India, but it has been flashed by millions of Android smartphone users. But there is one thing that company hasn’t changed on its MIUI is the flat design. It was first introduced with Android 4.4 and to think that after two years the interface still looks more or less similar even after using the latest Android 6.0 Marshmallow OS, then there is definitely something wrong with the custom ROM Company has been using on its devices. This seems like a planned strategy by the company to offer a unified interface across all of its handsets. But if that is true, then high-end flagships like Mi 5 would suffer as they are being dragged down to match low-end phones.
With time, even the notoriously popular TouchWiz UI has managed to bring changes to its design based on the Android M design language. Before I started using the Mi 5 as my daily driver, I have been using the Samsung’s Galaxy S7 as my daily driver, and there are some things you clearly see on the new Marshmallow based Samsung UI that makes use of the design language. For every new Android version comes the visual changes, and unlike most OEMs who rebuilds their skin so it can incorporate latest features from Google. But for MIUI, it’s entirely different procedure; the interface is independent of the Android version.
The Mi 5 ships with MIUI 7, which is the latest version of the MIUI ROM currently available in the market. And of course, their flagship handset was the first to have it. But MIUI still feels like the device is running on the Android 4.4, which is not quite appealing to users who want to taste the latest visual changes. With this unified approach, the company may very well lose potential buyers. But again you would have had to keep in mind that this is a value for money handset according to the hardware it packs. So, there would be some adjustment you’d have to do.
Note that Xiaomi swiping away the visual appeals from the stock Android and forging to align with its MIUI resulted in removal of certain features such as Multi-user support, document-centric overview screen, settings search, Google Now on tap support and of course, there is no App permission system that is introduced on the Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Wouldn’t you say it’s pretty insane to throw away free features like mentioned above? Well, I’ll have to agree on that. Despite having a visual appeal, the MIUI fails to learn and grow with the standard set by Google.
For those who don’t know, the MIUI had a permissions system even before the stock Android, although, it’s not compatible with the Android Marshmallow’s permission system. That is, the Play Store and all the Android 6.0 aware apps. Up until this latest Android OS iteration, it was Play Store who was responsible for informing the users about what permissions the app would like to have, earlier you could take it or leave it by hitting accept or simply not install the app. Now in 6.0 version, it is completely changed, for the 6.0 aware apps (using API 23 and higher) Play Store won’t show such permissions. But instead, it’s the system’s job to ask individually the permissions they want. And that is why when I first switched to the Mi 5, I was not able to access my WhatsApp contacts list. There is a permission manager option included in the settings, but one can’t do there anything. Though, what I saw there was pretty intimidating as the app already had access to every permission it asks for without the user approving the list of permissions.
The MIUI permission system works only for SMS and contacts access, whereas everything else like location, camera, microphone and certain other things. Although, you’ll be delighted to know that these permissions can be individually disabled or enable after the installation. In most cases the all the permissions would be granted, so I recommend you head back to the settings area and browse through each app if you’re concerned with what all is open for access or not.
Hardware & Performance
So, about the hardware on the Mi 5, this flagship handset from Xiaomi is one of the early handsets to feature the Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon 820 processor, which is a said to be a big step towards the performance and power efficiency. We all know what happened to the company’s last year’s chipset, the Snapdragon 810, which was the complete disaster. It still managed to be on many flagships, except the one that mattered, the 2015 Samsung Galaxy Line-up. But hey, they are back with an in-house 64-bit chipset design, which is ready to roll.
In a big.LITTLE setup, the SD 820 ships with four Kyro cores; two are clocked higher to handle the heavy lifting while remaining two cores manages light tasks and power saving duties. There are three models of the Mi 5 that were launched in China; Standard, Prime and Pro variants. Apart from some build material differences, you’ll also see Standard version clock at 1.8GHz, while the Prime and Pro clocks at 2.15GHz. Moreover, the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is slower on the Standard version, 510MHz against the 624MHz in Prime.
The fact that Mi 5 has a lower resolution 1080p display when compared with Quad HD displays on the Samsung and LG’s latest flagships, you’ll see it outperform the Galaxy S7 in the on-screen tests. Also, know that it is the only device having Snapdragon 820 and only sport a full HD display. So, it can be said that it is currently the highest performing Android device out there in the market with respect to the pricing. The South Korean manufacturer is usually dominating the storage speed tests in the Android platform, but with USF 2.0 high-speed Flash, the write/read is increased up to 450MB/s. It is one of the highest speeds you’ll see on a high-end smartphone. Thus, giving you a better experience.
In terms of gaming, we played a lot of games on this handset ranging from less graphic intensive to high-end. Such as Riptide GP2, Dead Trigger 2, GTA V and Modern Kombat, these were the few names that we thought would help us in testing the gaming performance. While I’m a big fan of racing games like Asphalt 8, so naturally we also played that. As for the gaming experience go, we had a blast; there was not even a single moment of the lag present. Though, multitasking between games was not as swift, maybe because of the 3GB RAM and Low RAM availability. Talking about the heating,
Moving on to the benchmark scores, for many consumers out there it is important that a device scores good numbers in the benchmarking tools. It’s not that it matters so much, but it gives users a general idea of how far the device may go in terms of performance. That’s why we do these benchmark tests on handsets. Note that this is a Standard variant we have with us, which is underclocked as mentioned above, so expect little lower number than what company advertized on stage at MWC, i.e. 142084, as it was for the Pro variant. For Antutu, the device scored 109958, which is fairly good considering the 1GB less RAM and lower clock speed. It can be broken into four parts; 3D, UX, CPU, and RAM, which have the respective scores of 4116, 33652, 27469 and 7721. While talking about the Vellamo score, it has three different aspects to cover and scores them individually. For metal the device scores 2923, for Multi-core it scored 3252 and 4873 was the Chrome Browser score. We also did a real life browsing test to check out how the browsing on this handset is, well, the real estate might not be big, but it’s quite comfortable to browse websites on this handset, the pinch to Zoom-in and Zoom-out works great.
This is the first Xiaomi handset to sport a fingerprint sensor on the front, and I’d say they have probably done better job than what Samsung did on the Galaxy S7. If you have read my review for the Samsung flagship device, then you’ll know its fingerprint sensor is not as perfect as it should be considered the bucks you’re paying for. While here at half the price you’re getting a handset with a fingerprint sensor that detected fingers almost every time. The probability I would say was a solid nine out of ten times we tried unlocking it. Moreover, you don’t have to wake up the screen first and then unlock it like on Samsung handset. As soon as you press the button on the Mi 5, it takes you directly to the home screen. I’m quite happy with the performance of the fingerprint sensor on this handset. A big thumbs up!
When it comes to the talk of the camera performance, considerably affordable flagships in the market are pretty good performers and so is the 16-megapixel image sensor on the Mi 5. When we took it for a spin in daylight, it stands up against the likes of 50K Samsung Galaxy S7 and 40K Nexus 6P. But when it comes to low-light performance it is more on par with handsets priced in a similar range. It’s because all high-end camera phones clearly put out more light when there is low light the surroundings. Otherwise, the camera module on the Mi 5 is as interesting as on any high-end devices.
The Sony Exmor IMX 298 sensor embraces its presence on the camera setup for the main camera, which has an aperture number of f/2.0, it is not the best aperture out there in a camera module, but it does the job pretty fine. There are some set of features that company has added to the camera setup, which is usually not available on such affordable handset’s camera. You see DTI, Deep Trench Technology, which is said to give better pixel-to-pixel isolation.
The focusing by the camera module is pretty quick, as soon as you put an object in front of it, the focusing is done. Thanks to the right implementation of the PDAF (Phase Detection Auto Focus) Technology. These days many brands are using this technology, but aligning the performance of that technology with the sensor used is not done by many of them. That’s what interesting on this handset; you see detail oriented work done. Though I would have to say that taking a macro shot on this camera wasn’t easy, the blurriness takes the time to go away, especially if the object is tiny. The 4-Axis OIS, which promises latitudinal + longitudinal stabilization, corrects any shake in close shots; the functionality is as advertised. Whereas when it comes to taking shots in the far distance, it corrects shakes thanks to transversal image stabilization.
Other interesting facts about the camera module are that it offers Sapphire glass protection that makes it the camera module scratch resistant, it is said to be even harder than the Corning Gorilla Glass. Why it’s used instead of Corning or Dragon Trail glass is that because it offers high optical transparency as well. Talking about the camera output in daylight, they felt pretty good, just good enough to give competition to handsets like Galaxy S7. Currently, it is considered that there is no player in low-light photography than the Samsung handset, and it’s quite true, but once you consider a handset priced half of that device and offering good enough low-light performance, you don’t ignore it, you grab it. The Mi 5 camera is no genius in low light when compared to premium priced flagships, but it certainly gives a pretty tough competition.
The device can shoot video recording of up to 4K resolution, blend that with 4-Axis OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) we should have a shooter that must replace 4K camcorders. There less shakiness but one can’t help but notice the grainy video output. Despite high resolution, the video output felt pixilated and washed out too. I mean it wasn’t that bad of a deal, but with such acclaimed technologies being integrated into one camera module, I guess one expects more out of it. The front-facing camera on the device is of 4-megapixel resolution, which has a 2µm-pixel size lens that makes it quite worthwhile to take a selfie at a dinner table. Don’t let the low-light condition stop you from taking fantastic selfies, that is what Mi 5’s front camera screams.
The Battery capacity on this handset is 3000mAh, which is probably an ideal number when you know handsets like iPhone 6s sports 1715mAh battery. While comparing to the Galaxy S7, which has a similar battery capacity of 3000mAh offered incredible screen-on-time (SOT). But the Mi 5 didn’t live up to our expectation on heavy usage. Despite efficient display and not sporting a Quad HD resolution, it gave only 2 hours 50 minutes of SOT. While talking about casual usage, we saw up to 5 hours of SOT. The average comes to 4 hours SOT in 7 charging cycles, which is still fine I guess.
The device supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0, which is fast charging technology. Unfortunately, in India due to some rules and regulations, the company was not able to import the QC 3.0 supported adapters and thus Indian retail unit will have QC 2.0 charging adapters, as mentioned by company officials to us. You would like to get the third party QC 3.0 supported adapters once you hear what huge difference it makes. Meanwhile, ours is the Chinese retail unit, so, we had the opportunity to test the fast charging time on QC 3.0 as it came with that adapter. With 3.0 adapter the device gets charged from 10 to 100 percent in approximately 1 hour 40 minutes, whereas with 2.0 adapter it takes about 2 hours and 50 minutes to charge from 5 to 100 percent.
Regarding connectivity options, it has a dual SIM, which supports 4G SIM cards, so you can have two connections at a time running on the 4G network. As well as it has Voice over LTE (VoLTE) feature, it supports HD calls and high-speed call connection. Though there is no VoLTE provider in the country yet, but it is slated to be released in near future and when that happens you would be able to listen to high quality voice unlike what you hear these days on 2G/3G networks. Moreover, it won’t take much time to connect the calls, thus the high-speed call connectivity.
While talking about the mobile data, the company claims that it has the fastest 4G mobile data connectivity at 600Mbps, we certainly had a good time using 4G data on this handset, but it also depends on whether the network provider is offering such high speed or not. So, that’s why we weren’t able to test it out to its full potential. What’s important is that the 4G works great on this handset. But I’ll also have to admit that while using mobile data for more than half an hour, the device started to considerably heat up a lot, which is why we didn’t prefer to use it. Instead, we stick with Wi-Fi. Of course, if you’re outside of your router’s range then you would face the problem or either take the heat of your device.
The device also supports full featured NFC, which can not only read but write as well. See on most of the smartphones; the NFC support means they can only read what’s on the already programmed NFC tag. But there are not many devices that can program those tags as well. Other connectivity options include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, IR Blaster, GPS/A-GPS/GLONASS/Beidou and USB Type C.
Have ever dreamt of a perfect smartphone for yourself, well if you would’ve then it shouldn’t be hard for you to see that Xiaomi has made your dream come true by introducing the Mi 5. A premium flagship handset for Rs 25,000 was just a myth earlier, but with such fierce competition and will create a handset purely just for users, but not for show off is what made this smartphone possible. While other companies launch their flagship around a trendy specifications war, this is a company who have outdone those firms and introduced an incredibly powerful handset all too for a not a hefty pricing.
Xiaomi managed to cram a Snapdragon 820 chipset into a Rs 25K, and for those who didn’t know that, this is the first 820 chipset smartphone launched at this pricing and would probably remain the only one for couple more months. Though, what’s more interesting is that company was able to add few “extra” features like USB Type-C, a fingerprint sensor, NFC and IR Blaster. And the company has cut the cost where they don’t even notice, such as 3GB of RAM and 1080p display. But don’t mistake that for low performance and bad display, instead it’s otherwise, it offers the best performance in its category and has the best 1080p display out there in the market.