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Hands-on with the Xiaomi Mi 5, a beautifully designed flagship that’s actually affordable

By Koh Wanzi - 25 Feb 2016

Hands-on with the Xiaomi Mi 5, a beautifully designed flagship that’s actually affordable


Xiaomi Mi 5

Xiaomi certainly took its time with the Mi 5. The older Mi 4 was first released in the middle of 2014, which means that Xiaomi has gone over a year without a major update to its flagship series. As it turns out, the Chinese company has reportedly spent the past two years fine tuning every aspect of the Mi 5, down to even minute details like the curvature of its ceramic back.

Xiaomi is actually releasing the phone in three flavors – the top-end Mi 5 Pro, and 32GB and 64GB versions of the Mi 5. As befits a flagship series, all three comes with the latest quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, although the 32GB Mi 5 has a lower clocked version that tops out at 1.8GHz (as opposed to 2.1GHz). Qualcomm allows OEMs to tweak its processors, so this appears to be Xiaomi’s way of adding more differentiation to the different variants of the Mi 5. The 32GB variant also comes with 3GB of RAM, while the higher-capacity models have 4GB.

That aside, one of the most impressive aspects of the device is the fact that Xiaomi has made every effort to incorporate the latest technologies and hardware. For instance, the Mi 5 has ditched LPDDR3 RAM in favor of faster LPDDR4 memory. It has also dispensed with the commonplace eMMC 5.0 flash memory and gone the route of UFS 2.0, following in the footsteps of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and now S7.

These are not just symbolic upgrades that look good on paper. As we noted in our review of the Galaxy Note 5, UFS 2.0 storage actually makes quite a big difference. In layman’s terms, UFS (or Universal Flash Storage), offers much improved sequential read and write speeds, while still retaining the low power consumption of eMMC storage. As a result, end users can expect improvements like faster boot times, speedier file copies, and even better multi-tasking performance.



Xiaomi Mi 5 front

Measuring 144.55 x 69.20 x 7.25mm and weighing just 129g, the Mi 5 has packed all that high-end hardware in a slim and lightweight body that is a joy to hold and handle.

This is also the first phone from Xiaomi to have a physical home button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. We're not going to point out names, but you've probably already noticed a striking resemblance between the Mi 5 and another recently-announced phone (not that that's a bad thing because the Mi 5 is a gorgeous piece of hardware). In addition, Xiaomi said that it has deliberately smoothed out the curves on the edges of the phone, which provides a more comfortable grip. Compared to the Mi Note, which still had flat, angular edges, the Mi 5’s rear curves smoothly up to meet the display.

Here’s a picture illustrating the differences between the two phones.

Xiaomi Mi 5 grip

Xiaomi Mi 5 Mi Note

The Mi 5 also boasts an all-glass rear. It is visually stunning, but is unfortunately quite a magnet for fingerprints.

Xiaomi Mi 5 glass back

That may change with the Mi 5 Pro, which sports a ceramic back in place of the glass. Xiaomi said that ceramic has a hardness of 8H on the Moh’s scale, which should make it quite resistant to scratches in theory. The Chinese company even said that the material should convey the texture of marble, but we were unfortunately not able to see it for ourselves as Xiaomi did not have the Mi 5 Pro on display. But other than that, all three variants share the same design, so our impressions of the Mi 5 should apply to the Pro version as well.

The phone uses a USB Type-C charging port and supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. The power and volume rocker buttons are located on the right edge, while the dual SIM card tray sits on the flip side. The 3.5mm headphone jack is located at the top edge of the phone.

Xiaomi Mi 5 USB Type-C

Xiaomi Mi 5 dual SIM

Xiaomi Mi 5 headphone jack



Xiaomi Mi 5 display

For starters, the 1080p IPS display is really nice to look at. We were a little disappointed to hear that it wasn’t going to be a 1440p screen, but after seeing it for ourselves, we’re convinced that users won’t have much to complain about.

The screen is a 5.15-inch affair, which translates into a pixel density of around 428ppi. For a further example of how much attention Xiaomi has paid to detail, just look at the placement of the front camera and call speaker. They’ve been deliberately centered exactly between the top edge and the display in order to create greater symmetry.

That may seem like a really tiny detail, but it’s a culmination of minute design decisions like this that create a great-looking phone like this one.

Overall, colors appeared bright and natural, and we think that might have something to do with the 16 LED array on the bottom edge. Compared to previous models, the Mi 5’s greater number of LEDs also enables it to reach an impressive 600 nits of brightness – something that should come in handy under direct sunlight.



Xiaomi Mi 5 camera

Next up, we’ve one of the most important aspects of any phone – the camera. Again, a lot of attention has been lavished upon the design and detail, and the camera sits totally flush with the rear.

The rear camera uses a Sony IMX298 16-megapixel sensor, and comes with goodies like four-axis optical image stabilization, a sapphire glass lens (sapphire is really tough to scratch), phase detection autofocus, and deep trench isolation (DTI) technology. The latter essentially isolates pixels with tiny, light-proof barriers in order to prevent light from one pixel to bleed into the next. The result is improved color accuracy and photo realism, a welcome boon for anyone who edits photos on their phone. As a side note, we should probably also point out that the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus use DTI to improve picture quality as well.

The four-axis OIS is also quite impressive in practice, combining longitudinal, latitudinal, and transversal stabilization to compensate for shakes in both close-up and far shots. For instance, while shaking the phone from side to side, we could see that the onscreen image was moving quite a lot less. The Mi 5 also managed to produce a reasonably sharp picture even after being subject to considerable movement. Of course, no one’s hands are that shaky (at least we think so), and the OIS looks like it will serve the majority of the folks very well.

On the front, the four-megapixel shooter features a large 2µm sensor for low-light photography and supports something Xiaomi calls "Beautify". Essentially, it lightens skin tones and performs other algorithmic tricks to help you look your best for selfies or video calls. 

Finally, the camera UI is extremely clean and minimalistic and very easy to navigate. However, we’ll have to wait till we get our hands on a review unit to comment on picture quality.

Xiaomi Mi 5 camera UI

Xiaomi Mi 5 camera UI


Operating System

Finally, the Mi 5 ships with Android 6.0, or rather Xiaomi’s custom MIUI 7 interface. MIUI is probably one of our favorite custom takes on Android, and the menus and overall interface are blissfully simple and elegant.

Xiaomi Mi 5 MIUI


Pricing and Availability

Xiaomi wouldn’t tell us when exactly the Mi 5 would arrive in Singapore, only saying that it would be soon. For more details on price, you can refer to our original article on the Mi 5's launch.

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