The Xiaomi Mi 5 was a highly anticipated smartphone for many reasons. For one, it took Xiaomi quite some time to unveil this successor to the popular Xiaomi Mi 4 – let’s not forget about the many variants of the Mi 4 introduced before the Mi 5. On the surface, the Mi 5 is a well-designed, sleek, and beautifully crafted smartphone. However, after spending a few good weeks with the device, my initial impression of the Mi 5 definitely changed.
Design & First Impressions
When I first picked up the Xiaomi Mi 5, I was immediately impressed with its build quality. It doesn’t feel too heavy (nor too light), the glass back gives the device a very premium feel, and the overall construction of the Mi 5 simply felt…polished. This is by far one of the most well-designed smartphones I have ever used.
The other standout element of the Mi 5’s design is the curved glass back. To take things further, this curve extends to the metal frame itself. The result? A very, very comfortable smartphone to use for long periods of time. However, there are a couple of downsides to this: it’s not as comfortable to hold while lying down (due to the lack of any real sides to hold on to), and the sides of the Mi 5 are pretty sharp to the touch.
Other than that, due to the minimal bezels of the Mi 5, my palm almost always accidentally touches the lower right portion of the display; this is especially an issue whenever I try to operate the Mi 5 with only one hand.
Unlike the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 – which has a rear fingerprint sensor – the Mi 5’s fingerprint sensor is integrated into its home button. For the most part, the sensor is actually quite fast, but due to how small the sensor itself is, it doesn’t always recognise my fingerprint accurately. On the other hand, I like how I can go to the home screen by simply tapping on the home button instead of actually pressing on it.
Thanks to the Snapdragon 820 processor powering the Mi 5, the device as a whole definitely feels like a capable smartphone. Gaming on the device is enjoyable, and there is definitely an improvement in terms of startup time – in comparison to last year’s flagship smartphones – in games such as Pokemon Go.
All things considered, the Xiaomi Mi 5 is a handsome, sleek-looking smartphone – it is easily one of the most premium smartphones I have ever used. However, these qualities can only get you so far: other aspects of the Mi 5 aren’t quite as pleasant, as you’ll find out further down this review.
Without a doubt the Mi 5 is a well-equipped flagship smartphone. It is powered by the powerful Snapdragon 820 processor (albeit a lower-clocked variant), as well as a capable 16MP camera with optical image stabilisation. Unfortunately, only the base model of the Mi 5 is available in Malaysia, which only has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. On top of that, the Mi 5 doesn’t have expandable storage; I imagine some consumers will find the 32GB storage inadequate.
This is where the Mi 5 showed its weaknesses. My past experiences with MIUI have been favourable for the most part, but MIUI 7 on the Mi 5 was not what I expected it to be for several reasons.
One of the most alarming issues with the Mi 5 is the aggressive app management, which affects messaging apps the most. On WhatsApp, Telegram, and even Facebook Messenger, messages will not come in after I’ve left these apps in the background for some time. Even after locking these apps – supposedly to prevent them from being killed in the backgroud – this issue was still present. Because these apps are silently killed in the background, I would only start getting messages after opening each app again.
This has led to some awkward situations, and worse when I miss messages related to work.
Despite the fact that MIUI 7 is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, there isn’t a shortcut to access Gooogle’s Now on Tap even though the feature is implemented. Usually, a long press of the home button would summon the feature, but doing so only brings me to the Google Now Cards page. To access Now on Tap, I actually have to highlight a text and click on “Assist.”
To top it all off, MIUI 7 on the Mi 5 simply felt…unresponsive, in comparison to stock Android on the Nexus 6P; the difference was immediately noticeable when I switched back to the latter. Switching between apps and getting back to the home screen, for example, were noticeable faster on the 6P than it is on the Mi 5.
That is not to say MIUI 7 is unusable: it’s a solid Android ROM that somehow doesn’t feel quite as polished as it should be. Despite these shortcomings, it’s no secret that Xiaomi is really, really dedicated to its MIUI operating system. Chances are, the company may resolve these issues with the release of MIUI 8, although this still remains to be seen.
Even though the 3,000mAh battery of the Mi 5 isn’t the biggest we’ve seen from a device this size, it certainly provided enough juice to last me through a typical day of use. On certain occasions, I managed to get up to five hours and 30 minutes of screen on time, which is very impressive for a battery of this capacity.
The fast charging on the Mi 5, however, wasn’t quite up to expectations. Within 30 minutes of charging with the provided charger, the battery was only charged up to about 35%.
The 5.15-inch IPS display of the Mi 5 is absolutely gorgeous. Even though it’s only a 1080p display, it looks especially sharp; colours are also vivid. On top of that, the overall colour temperature of the display is to my liking as well: it’s neither too warm or cool. I was also impressed with the display’s black levels, which is especially good for an LCD display.
Visibility under bright light is also impressive. With 16 LEDs around the display combined with the company’s proprietary Sunlight Display technology, the Mi 5 was really impressive for use outdoors, even under the bright afternoon sun.
In this department, the Mi 5 performed admirably. There is little to no buzzing at maximum volume, and the speaker can get decently loud as well. The audio quality, on the other hand, is noticeably better than an average smartphone. Of course, a front-facing speaker setup would’ve been better, but not many smartphones have such a setup these days.
More often than not (and in many consumers’ minds), a smartphone’s camera determines exactly how good a particular device is. In the case of the Mi 5, its 16MP rear camera is certainly up to snuff. Images are sharp thanks to the new four-axis OIS system, and colours – though saturated – look great as well.
I also like how responsive the Mi 5’s camera is: images are taken the instant I pressed on the shutter button. However, in less than ideal lighting, the camera gets slightly sluggish. While there’s no noticeable shutter delay, I can’t capture another image until the image beforehand has been processed first. It’s worth noting that I switched on Auto HDR when I encountered this.
Judging by these images taken with the Xiaomi Mi 5, it certainly has a very capable camera, although it does occasionally brighten images too much in low-light conditions. While its camera isn’t exactly the best in the market, it’s definitely above average. I wouldn’t mind using the Mi 5 at all to do some casual photography.
Retailing at only RM1,549, the Xiaomi Mi 5 doesn’t exactly have a direct competitor – as far as flagship smartphones go, of course. However, if we look at a higher price point, there is a very worthy competitor to the Mi 5: the OnePlus 3.
Just like the Mi 5, the OnePlus 3 is powered by the capable Snapdragon 820 processor (a higher clocked 2.2GHz version), but the latter has twice the RAM and storage capacity at a whopping 6GB and 64GB respectively. Unfortunately, both of these devices do not have expandable memory, but the OnePlus 3 does have more practical storage capacity. Of course, this does come at a price: the OnePlus 3 retails at RM1,888; that’s RM339 more than the Mi 5. Then again, the almost stock Android OxygenOS on the OnePlus 3 may appeal to certain consumers more – not to mention the fact that both devices are still well below the RM2,000 mark.
Then there is the Huawei P9. In terms of specification, the P9 has a less powerful – but still very capable – HiSilicon Kirin 955 processor, a slightly bigger 5.2-inch 1080 IPS-NEO display, a plenty good 12MP dual-camera setup, as well as a 3,000mAh battery, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage like the Mi 5. As for retail price, the P9 goes for RM2,099. Yes, it costs more than the Mi 5, but the P9 does have expandable storage – a feature that’s not available on the former.
Last, but definitely not least, is the excellent Samsung Galaxy S7. In terms of design, both smartphones have premium constructions, although the S7 does have IP68 rating, making it dust and water-resistant to some extent. On top of that, the S7’s 12MP dual-pixel camera is definitely more capable than the Mi 5’s 16MP shooter, not to mention the fact that the S7 comes with 4GB of RAM, support for expandable storage, as well as a sharper 1440p Super AMOLED display.
But, all of these advantages do not come cheap: the Galaxy S7 retails at RM2,699, RM1,150 more than the Mi 5. While the S7 does appear to be the better smartphone of the two, consumers will have to pay a pretty penny for these improvements.
I was excited when the Xiaomi Mi 5 was unveiled. It looks sleek, feels premium, and most of all, it has a very compelling price tag. Even though the Malaysian market only gets the base model, the Mi 5’s RM1,549 retail price is very competitive for a flagship smartphone.
However, after spending some time with the Mi 5, I wasn’t quite as excited anymore. MIUI 7 simply feels like it could use more polish, and the overall user experience of the Mi 5 isn’t up to par with its competition. Yes, it feels and looks like a premium smartphone, but the software side of things doesn’t match these impressive qualities.
Given the price tag, however, the Xiaomi Mi 5 is still a noteworthy Android smartphone that’s well worth considering at that price range. The software issues I faced may be fixed in upcoming updates to MIUI 7, and MIUI 8 may provide a completely different user experience. If you’re used to MIUI’s quirks, few smartphones match the Mi 5 in terms of value.