JARED NEWMAN 04.05.16 11:17 AM|
It takes a strange sort of smartphone enthusiast to go looking for reviews of the Xiaomi Mi 5, at least if you live in the United States or Europe.
Xiaomi has announced no plans to release the Mi 5 in either market, as the phone maker continues to focus on core developing markets such as its home turf of China—where it was 2015's best-selling smartphone brand—and India. And yet the company keeps sending its flagship phones to reviewers like me, prompting stories about how the Mi 5 is a great phone you can’t buy.
True, the Xiaomi Mi 5 is a very nice phone that doesn’t cost very much—the 64 GB model I tried sells for around $350 in the countries where it's available—but the price-to-performance ratio isn’t exactly what makes the Mi 5 noteworthy. There are plenty of quality budget phones already, including ones you can actually buy in the United States. What sets the Mi 5 apart is how it aspires to be part of something bigger.
The MIUI software reskins Android to be a bit more like iOS.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE BUDGET PHONE
First, let’s talk about the phone itself. The Mi 5 is a conversation-starter, at least in my experience. People see the aluminum trim and curved white glass back and want to know what they’re looking at—a rare quality for a sub-$400 phone.
The Mi 5 excels at more than just looks. It’s also fast at opening, closing, and moving through apps, thanks to a top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 3 GB of RAM. Xiaomi didn’t skimp on the display, which easily rivals my iPhone 6 Plus in terms of maximum brightness and viewing angles, and offering more pristine whites and vibrant colors to my eye.
The phone has a classy curved-glass back
The Mi 5 also has a few other noteworthy embellishments, such as the reversible USB-C charging port, and a fingerprint sensor built into the home button. (The sensor unlocks the phone in a snap, but requires a bit more finger repositioning than iPhone and Nexus phone fingerprint readers.) Despite the Mi 5’s slim build and impressive performance, Xiaomi managed to squeeze in a 3,000 mAh battery, which never failed to get me through the day.
If there’s one noticeable drawback on the hardware side, it’s the camera, which struggles with motion shots. (Many an attempt at photographing my toddler were lost to blurriness.) Even so, the Mi 5 does better than your average mid-range phone. The 16MP shooter takes gorgeous still shots in sunlight, and provides reasonably bright indoor shots without using flash. It helps that the camera uses phase-detection auto-focus to quickly lock onto faces.
A TOUCH OF MIUI
On the software side, the Mi 5 ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. But Xiaomi, like most other phone makers, has decided to bulk it up with a custom interface, in this case called MIUI.
The extra layer isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While the home screen is more akin to iOS than Android, with no app drawer for stowing away less frequently used apps, it still supports widgets, and offers a clever way to bulk-move apps across screens or into folders.
Xiaomi's theme store lets you give MIUI a new look.
The more you look, the more you notice similar thoughtful touches throughout MIUI. Like most Android phones, swiping from the top of the screen brings up notifications, but if you don’t have any, you’ll go straight to a customizable list of settings toggles instead. Set a recurring alarm, and you’ll get an option to skip it for a day. You can also activate a child mode that locks certain apps and functions, and a read mode that cuts down on harsh blue light. A theme store lets you change the phone’s look and feel, and serious Android geeks can switch up the phone’s navigation and volume buttons from MIUI’s settings menu.
Messing with Android this way does tend to invite quirks. Initially, my Mi 5 review unit had a weird issue that my lock screen was replaced by a blank white page, and I couldn’t fix it without factory-resetting the phone. A couple
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