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Xiaomi

Review: Xiaomi Mi 5 – good-value smartphone and tougher than you’d think

Despite some flaws, this mobile offers unbeatable value for money and lives up to its cheap and cheerful reputation. Its camera is as good as any and its fingerprint sensor is among the fastest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 10:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 10:01am

Glassy, shiny and very slippery, the latest flagship phone from Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, the Mi 5, is a lot tougher than it looks.

Hardware and design

Wrapped around the entire side of the phone is what looks like aluminium with chamfered edges. It’s shiny and very slippery; it slid off most of the surfaces I placed the phone on. What’s surprising, though, is how tough the entire body is. Every time I expect to be picking up pieces of glass off the floor, instead I get an intact phone with slight scuff marks along the aluminium. Either Xiaomi is doing something right structurally or the Corning Gorilla Glass 4 is highly shatter resistant. It’s still prone to scratches, mind, but so far they’re all very minor. Most surprisingly of all, despite its shiny surface, it’s no fingerprint magnet.

Software and features

One of the main attractions of the Mi 5 is its operating system. Known as MIUI (as in “me UI”), it’s a highly customised OS based on Android’s Marshmallow. There is, for instance, an endless supply of themes. You can get practically any look you like, including some that mimics Apple’s iOS.

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Multitasking is handled with cards, and you can have many apps running at the same time without much drama. Another commendable feature of MIUI is its security and privacy controls. Its Security Centre works to secure the device, optimise the system and scan for viruses.

Camera quality

Nighttime shots are a pleasant surprise. While the Mi 5 does not rise above any of the other 2016 flagships, the 16-megapixel camera holds its own very well in terms of “noise” levels, sharpness and colour reproduction.

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If you don’t mind the occasional exaggerated colour, then make use of the HDR mode for best results; it balances out overblown and underexposed areas in a regular snapshot.

Daytime photos are typically sharp and I have very little complaint. Once again, HDR mode really shines here by sharpening detail, enhancing colour and balancing contrast.

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The 4-megapixel front-facing camera doesn’t sound like much, but it comes with some fun features and takes selfies of sufficient quality.

Performance and battery life

What’s most impressive here is how quickly the fingerprint sensor (which resides on the Home button on the front) recognises me and gets me to the home screen. I would say it’s about as fast as the iPhone 6S, if not faster.

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The Mi 5’s 3000mAh high-density battery keeps it humming along dutifully until late into the night. On a typical day for me – an hour of music over Bluetooth, 30 minutes of video, plus e-mailing and social media, there was still 20 per cent power after 16 hours. There is some battery drain going on in the background even when the phone is idle, something I never got to the bottom of.

Conclusion

The MIUI OS isn’t without flaws, but these are not enough to negate the qualities of the OS, which is well thought out and is the fruit of years of development efforts. I would expect issues to be ironed out quickly by one of Xiaomi’s relatively frequent software updates.

When you take into account its low price, the Mi 5 represents unbeatable value and truly lives up to its cheap and cheerful reputation.

Key specs

Dimensions: 144.55 mm (h) x 69.2 mm (w) x 7.25mm thick

Weight: 129g

Screen size: 5.15 inches

Screen resolution: 1,080 x1,920 pixels; 16-LED ultra-bright display

Battery: 3000mAh (non-removable)

OS: MIUI based on Android’s Marshmallow

Processor: Snapdragon 820

Cameras: 16 megapixels (rear), 4 megapixels (front)

Memory: 32GB (no expandable storage)

Colours: black, white, gold

Xiaomi Mi 5, 32GB, HK$2,599, available from May 10