Xiaomi Mi 5
£286 (plus import duty) • xiaomi-mi.com
Xiaomi’s phones are rarely seen in the UK, but the company’s market dominance in China and increasingly India means many more people are starting to hear of Xiaomi. Not officially sold here, the only way you’ll get your hands on one is through unofficial channels.
Our Xiaomi Mi 5 came from GearBest, which stocks all three versions of the Mi 5 in white, black and gold. We tested the white Mi 5 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, which is currently available for £286.09 (note that prices will fluctuate daily at grey-market sites). Shipping to the UK is free, but note that you should pay import duty on anything you buy from China, and you will be billed for this if your parcel is stopped at Customs. We were charged an additional £40.73, which includes 20 percent of the phone’s value on the paperwork, plus a £10 disbursement charge. This took the total price up to £326.82.
Even with the import duty on top, the Mi 5 offers excellent value for a flagship smartphone – especially given that its rivals cost in excess of £500. The difference with this phone is you won’t get it on contract in the UK, but while you might pay more up front you’ll save huge amounts of cash if you also switch your contract to a SIM-only deal.
And, on that subject, O2 customers and those of piggyback networks such as GiffGaff should note that they will not receive 4G on this phone. With no support for band 20 (800MHz), which is O2’s only 4G band, the most you’ll get is 3G. Customers of other mobile operators needn’t worry, since 4G LTE bands 3 and 7 are supported.
Xiaomi’s Mi 5 feels awesome in the hand. In common with the Samsung Galaxy S7 it has a Gorilla Glass 4 front and rear, with the left and right rear edges tapered to give a comfortable
fit in the hand. This phone is thinner and lighter, though, just 7.25mm and 129g.
Although this rear panel can apparently be replaced should you crack it, the insides are not user-accessible. The SIM (two Nano-SIMs if you like) is loaded via a slot tray at the phones top left edge, while the 3000mAh built-in battery may be non-removable but it’s incredibly fast to charge. Unlike the Galaxy S7 there’s no camera bump at the rear, nor curved glass at the front: the Mi 5 is flat as a pancake, save for the ever so slightly raised Home button. This is the first time we’ve seen a fingerprint scanner built into a physical Home button on a Xiaomi phone, and it works very well – fast to recognise your touch and unlock the device.
Either side sit back and recent buttons. These aren’t labelled, and you can switch them around to suit how you want to use the phone.
The screen bezels are virtually nonexistent, resulting in an extremely premium-looking design.
There’s not a single rough edge on the chamfered metal chassis, and save for its non-waterproof body we are seriously struggling to find fault with the design. The white model we tested even battles fingerprints incredibly successfully.
The screen is a standout feature. While some of Xiaomi’s rivals are fitting Quad-HD panels with always-on tech, Xiaomi’s display is merely full-HD (1920x1080, 428ppi). You wouldn’t know it. It’s pinsharp, brilliantly bright (600cd/m2), bursting with colours and has very good contrast. Pixel-level adaptive contrast and Sunlight Display make it easily visible in all scenarios.
Either side of the bottom-mounted USB-C charging- and data-transfer port are speaker grilles, though there is just the one speaker on this phone. It’s loud, though, and we found it to be of acceptable quality for a phone speaker. And at the other end: an IR blaster. Such an under-rated feature and removed from Samsung’s latest Galaxy S-series flagship.
The top-end Mi 5 is capable of faster performance than we’ve ever seen from a smartphone. But this is not the top-end Mi 5. With a slightly lower-clocked Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor running at 1.85GHz and a smaller complement of RAM (3GB versus 4GB in the Mi 5 Pro), this Xiaomi might not be as fast as the Pro, but it’s still devilishly fast.
The only thing that will stop you in your tracks when using this phone is the odd Chinese-language notification that might pop up from the Mi App Store, or the again Chinese-language buttons that might appear on the keyboard (we recommend installing
the Google keyboard rather than trying to use the preinstalled one). It certainly won’t be any issues with lag or an underpowered processor. Everything, and we mean everything, is accomplished in a split second on the Xiaomi Mi 5.
We did notice the Mi 5 became rather warm under test, but this is not at all unusual for a metal-bodied flagship – and it didn’t appear to affect performance.
We’ll start with our graphics tests, since they’re the most impressive when compared to the competition. Even against phones that have the same Adreno 530 GPU, such as the LG G5 (page 25), the Xiaomi scored higher. That’s most likely because we run the on-screen versions of GFXBench T-Rex and Manhattan, and the Xiaomi Mi 5 has a lower-resolution screen than the G5. It scored a very high 59fps in T-Rex and 37fps in Manhattan; the LG G5 recorded 53- and 29fps respectively, while the Samsung Galaxy S7 scored 53- and 27fps, and the iPhone 6s (a lower screen resolution than the Mi 5) scored 60- and 52fps.
We use Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu to measure general processing performance, and in these tests the Xiaomi Mi 5 turned in 4777 and 108,355 points respectively. That’s a little faster than the iPhone 6s (which scored 4400 in Geekbench), but behind
the LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7 (which scored 6466 and 5404 in Geekbench).
Geekbench 3 also has a battery life test. You won’t get more than a day’s life from the Xiaomi Mi 5 in our experience, but we run this test for the very fact that your usage will likely differ and therefore the experience may well be different to ours. The results were very good, with a battery life score of 5353 points and time of eight hours 55 minutes. That’s behind the Galaxy S7 (nine hours 15 minutes, 5553 points), but ahead of the LG G5 (six hours 51 minutes, 4111 points).
More importantly, in our opinion, is that when the battery runs down the Mi 5 is insanely quick to charge. In common with the LG G5, it supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3, which can charge phones up to four times faster than a traditional charger (and that more than makes up for its lack of wireless charging and removable battery in our book). A QC3 charger is supplied in the box, but it’s a two-pin model.
We touched on the Mi 5’s connectivity options earlier in this review, and they really are strong. We’d like to
see the addition of microSD support, but there are more generous storage versions available without too much of a jump in price.
Something phone manufacturers still don’t get is that us Brits want Dual-SIM phones just like the rest of the world. We’d like the opportunity to manage business- and personal numbers or home- and abroad plans on a single phone, too. The great news then is that Xiaomi’s Mi 5 is sold with DualSIM compatibility as standard, and both Nano-SIM slots are capable of 4G (provided you’re not on O2 or GiffGaff as there’s no support for Band 20 LTE).
Another omission from a great many flagships but seen here in the Mi 5 is an IR blaster, while a NFC chip is also included that will let you take advantage of Android Pay (which is just around the corner for UK users).
Other connectivity highlights include the fingerprint scanner, which works as well as any we’ve seen, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS and GLONASS.
The Mi 5 is fitted with a 16Mp Sony IMX298 camera, which is paired with a dual-LED flash. It supports 4K video, which is even better when you consider this phone has four-axis optical image stabilisation – given the right conditions, it’s capable of some tremendous footage and stills.
The primary camera is protected with a sapphire glass lens, and also boasts of DTI tech, phase-detection autofocus and f/2.0 aperture. Again, in good light it takes a fantastic shot, with vibrant colours and lots of detail; as the light goes down
things go a little soft and grainy. But the Mi 5 is very quick to focus, and supports some useful camera modes (including Manual mode) and real-time filters (one of which is ‘Japanese’).
At the front of the Mi 5 is a 4Mp selfie camera with f/2.0 aperture and large 2μm pixels. It has that odd feature often found in Chinese phones that tries to guess your age, although we’re happy with it taking eight years off of ours.
Ordinarily we wouldn’t recommend a Xiaomi phone to anyone not familiar with Android and confident in tinkering because they take a fair amount of setup for UK use. Google Play isn’t preinstalled, and the keyboard and many of the apps are in Chinese.
Setup was much easier with the Mi 5: log into the Mi App Store and search for Google Play. Ignore the fact everything is in Chinese – just click on the top
result to install it. It will prompt you to install Google Account Manager and Framework Services, and so on, then bring up the usual Google login screen you would normally see when first turning on an Android phone. It took around half an hour for our Google account to activate, but we were then able to install apps from Google Play as usual. We recommend you start with the Chrome browser and Google Keyboard, and remember to change the phone’s automatic time zone setting from Chinese.
The first thing you’ll notice about MIUI 7, which is a heavily customised version of Android Marshmallow, is that there is no app tray – as with an iPhone, everything is placed on the home screen (you can tidy things up with folders by dragging apps on top of others). That includes quite a few Chinese apps that you won’t know what to do with: don’t worry, just drag their icon toward the top of the screen to uninstall them, then download familiar Google apps from Play.
We’ve tried MIUI 7 several times before, and once you get used to things it’s actually a very competent user interface. As well as the software features we mentioned earlier, there’s a lot in the way of customisation. A huge number of themes is available from the dedicated Themes app on the home screen, and you can also tweak the notification LED colour, and the system font and size. If your issue is not with your eyesight but the size of the screen, you’ll appreciate the one-handed mode that shrinks the screen size down to 4.5-, 4- or 3.5in with a simple gesture.
The pull-down notification bar has also been tweaked. When you drag down from the top of the
screen you’ll first see notifications, and must swipe in from the right to access quick settings (making them marginally less ‘quick’ although you can at least change which toggles are shown here) and a shortcut to the Settings menu.
A pinch on the home screen brings up options to move apps, add widgets and alter the wallpaper and effects (the transitions as you move between home screens). We also like the Child mode, which lets you allow access only to certain apps installed on your phone before handing it over to the kids.
A fantastic Android flagship that comes in at an outrageously low price, the Xiaomi Mi 5 has the brawn and the beauty to match the greats. Perhaps not a wise choice for first time Android users, but those comfortable in customising the setup will love this excellent-value, gorgeously designed smartphone. Marie Brewis