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 UI. As well as the software features we mentioned earlier, there’s quite 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.
Read next: Best new phones coming in 2016.
Xiaomi Mi 5: Specs
- 5.15in full-HD (1920x1080, 428ppi) IPS display, Gorilla Glass 4
- MIUI 7 (based on Android Marshmallow)
- 1.85GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 64-bit quad-core processor
- Adreno 530 graphics
- 3/4GB RAM
- 32/64/128GB storage (no microSD)
- Dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Nano-SIM)
- 4G LTE bands 3 and 7
- dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.2
- GPS and GLONASS
- IR blaster
- 16Mp Sony IMX298 camera with dual-LED flash, sapphire glass lens, four-axis optical image stabilisation, phase-detection autofocus, DTI tech and f/2.0 aperture, supports 4K video
- 4Mp selfie camera with f/2.0 aperture and large 2um pixels
- 3000mAh non-removable battery with Quick Charge 3.0
Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide