Xiaomi Mi 5 review: Extraordinary value Android phone rivals Galaxy S7
Xiaomi’s phones are rare sightings in the UK, but the company’s market dominance in China and increasingly India (where this Mi 5 goes on open sale tomorrow - 1 June) 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. GearBest supplied our Xiaomi Mi 5 for review. Also see: Best phones 2016.
Also see: Best Black Friday Phone Deals
The Mi 5 sits at the top of Xiaomi’s line-up, and is a worthy competitor to the iPhone 6s, LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7, but at half the price. It lacks some features of those phones, such as an always-on display, modular design, removable battery, microSD support and waterproofing, but in all other respects this is a true next-generation smartphone with performance to match.
Three versions of the Mi 5 exist. A version with 3GB of RAM comes with either 32- or 64GB of RAM (we’ve reviewed the 32GB version here). There’s also a Pro edition with a ceramic body, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which has been shown to score in excess of 140K points in AnTuTu - that’s faster than any phone we’ve tested. Also read our full Xiaomi Mi6 review
The entry option reviewed here is still crazy-fast, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor nestled under its gorgeous, brilliantly bright and virtually edge-to-edge 5.15in IPS screen. The Mi 5 is gorgeous, a mix of glass and metal with a design somewhere between the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s.
A 16Mp Sony IMX298 camera sits flush to the phone’s rear, and with four-axis optical image stabilisation and phase-detection autofocus the Xiaomi can take some fantastic photos and video.
Connectivity options are strong with dual-SIM 4G support, alongside an IR blaster, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, USB-C and a new fingerprint scanner hidden inside a physical Home button. A 3000mAh battery, which is good for a day’s use, is insanely fast to charge with support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. Also see: Best dual-SIM phones and dual-SIM buying advice.
Setup for UK users is easier with this Mi 5 than any Xiaomi phone we’ve tested previously. Although it runs MIUI 7, a customised version of Android Marshmallow, it takes literally moments to install the Google Play store from the preinstalled Mi app store and start using the phone as you would any other Android - albeit with no sign of the familiar Android app tray.
Let’s take a closer look at the Xiaomi Mi 5. See all smartphone reviews.
Xiaomi Mi 5 review: Price and UK availability - how much is the Xiaomi Mi 5?
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 £263.75 (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.
(In our experience with DHL it will send you the parcel before you receive the duty bill. Don’t be fooled into thinking this means you’ve got away with it.)
Even with the import duty on top, the Xiaomi 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. Also see: Best Android phones 2016.
Xiaomi Mi 5 review: Design & build, screen
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 non-existent, 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 pin-sharp, brilliantly bright (600cd/m2), bursting with colours and has very good contrast. Pixel-level adaptive contrast and Sunlight Display makle 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 usefully 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, intriguingly, removed from Samsung’s latest Galaxy S-series flagship.