Xiaomi Mi 5s Review : One Step Forward, One Step Back

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The rhetoric you usually see when a mainstream publication reviews a Xiaomi phone is how astonishingly good it is considering the price. But here at GizChina, we specialize in devices like these, and prices like $300 isn’t any cause for applause.

In fact, many in our audience balk at the thought of spending over $300 on a phone when devices like the Lenovo Z2 Plus and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 exist. However, I’m going to show you… nay, prove to you, that the Mi 5s is still a worthy contender for your hard earned dollar.

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One step forward, one step back. Sure, the Mi 5s is a a rather uninteresting but expected upgrade to the Mi 5, but its still a great device. Xiaomi has predictably upgraded the processor from the Snapdragon 820 to the more power-efficient Snapdragon 821 and the newest camera sensor Sony has to offer.

However, according to Xiaomi, an upgrade is a give and take. While they gave us a newer processor and a better sensor, they took away Gorilla Glass and OIS (Optical Image Stabilization), both omissions that leave me puzzled. I don’t predict a wildly different experience compared to the Mi 5, however the new sensor and lack of OIS should prove interesting to the resulting camera quality. Let’s get in deep right away.

“ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK”

Specifications

Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
Display 5.15″ 1920 x 1080 px, IPS LCD
RAM 4GB
Storage 64GB UFS 2.0
Operating System Android 6.0 with MIUI8
Cameras 12MP UltraPixel + 4MP Ultrapixel Camera
Battery 3100mAh
Physical Properties 145g, 145.6 x 70.3 x 8.3 mm

Big thanks to Gearbest for providing this review unit. I used the Xiaomi Mi5s on Fido in Toronto.

Hardware

The outward design of the Mi 5s remains unchanged, still being indistinguishable from the Xiaomi Mi 5, and that’s not a bad thing. Its matte metal body furnishes the phone with a premium feel while keeping it from sliding out of your palm. It is thin, small, and ergonomic, all important factors for an easy one handed experience, and is something I greatly appreciate.

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This trend of increasing device sizes gone on for too long and it’s time to tone them down to a more reasonable level. I find no issue using this device with one hand, even my relatively small hands. The curved back makes the phone feel quite a bit thinner than its 8.3mm thick frame.

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The bezels around the display are incredibly tiny but deceptive. While the actual bezel might be small, there is still a non functional black strip surrounding the display that is invisible while the screen is off but immediately visible once on.

It’s glaringly obvious when using white apps like the Google Play Store and quite unsightly, but I will qualify that as a “first world device reviewer problem” and something that most people will likely not notice.

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Below the screen are the three capacitive buttons (yes I’m still a fan of capacitive buttons) and underneath the center button is the famous ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. The Z2 Plus (my daily driver) pleased me to no end when I could unlock the device without actually having to depress the button itself, and the same thing applies here — no force required.

The build quality, footprint, and feel are all top notch, but Xiaomi hasn’t done anything wild with the design (like the Mi Mix).

“PREDICTABLY GREAT BUILD QUALITY”

Display

The Xiaomi Mi 5s impresses with “only” a 1080p display. Still though, that many pixels packed into a 5.15” display works out to an impressive 428ppi. It might not be 2K or 4K, but the display is still plenty capable of showing off its chops. While colours are punchy and quite vivid for an LCD display, it still pales relatively to an AMOLED display.

What really impressed me was the very high maximum brightness of 600 nits. The screen is easily viewable in direct, strong, sunlight and is capable of blinding you indoors. Minimum brightness is pleasantly low as well, the screen is light on the eyes even in pitch darkness, making this a great phone to use in bed (please don’t, it destroys your sleep cycle).xiaomi-mi5s-review-10

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Probably the biggest caveat is the lack of protective glass. Xiaomi for some reason decided it was a good idea to forego Gorilla Glass in exchange for a normal one and I for one am puzzled by that decision. That being said, definitely get a screen protector for the phone.

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Audio

For a phone aimed directly at the hearts of high end flagships, it doesn’t do very well in the audio department. While speaker quality is very loud to the point of hurting your ears, it doesn’t do quite as well with quality.

When compared directly to an HTC 10, the audio is definitely less detailed and clear and bass is lacking as well. However, these speakers are still more than good enough for average use.

Battery

I had high hopes for the battery life in the Mi 5s because of its decent 3200mAh battery and Xiaomi’s traditionally excellent battery optimization. Suffice it to say that I was pleasantly surprised and slightly disappointed at the same time.

The lab results exceeded my expectations quite modestly with the phone holding out for 12 hours while web browsing and almost 13 and a half hours for video playback. If this translates directly into daily use, battery life could potentially outperform the Lenovo Z2 Plus. However, it does not.

Real life battery use topped out at around 5 hours of screen on time, which is a great result mind you, but the lab results provide significantly better times. My real life use consisted of web browsing, news, and Reddit on an almost equal mix of WiFi and LTE. I also snapped a few photos as well and the phone was on its last legs (about 6% left) 16 hours after it was off the charger.

Light and medium users will not be able to drain this phone in a day, while heavy users just might. There is quickcharge included that you can use to pump up the phones battery in a pinch.

“GOOD BATTERY”

Software

Call me crazy, but I’m still not a fan of MIUI. I used to hold to a rather neutral stance on the aesthetics of this device but after using the Redmi 3 and the Redmi Note 4, the cartoony look pushed me over the edge, and I am now firmly in the camp that dislikes what MIUI looks like.

We do have the latest MIUI8 installed over Android 6.0 Marshmallow and MIUI is still incredibly well optimized. General use is fluid, fast, and zippy, opening and closing apps is also incredibly fast most likely due to the new UFS 2.0 flash storage by Samsung.

As with any other MIUI release, the latest iteration of MIUI8 is chock full of customizations and functions. There are a ton of articles, videos and guides about each and every function in MIUI8, so I won’t take the time to go into them. Suffice it to say that you’ll definitely find something to your liking.

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I’m definitely a fan of this ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. Buttonless sensors are the way to go, and the fact that its not actually taking up additional space but sits underneath the home button is just a plus. It’s incredibly fast, faster than the Vernee Mars and also very accurate as well.

Its a tad less accurate than my Lenovo Z2 Plus, but that’s taking into account the Z2 Plus’ learning function as it does get more accurate over time.

Performance wise, the Mi 5s is more than capable of tackling even the most intense games on the Play Store as it only has to drive a 1080p resolution. It also obtains a sky-high Antutu score as well.xiaomi-mi5s-review-16

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Connectivity

The international version of the Xiaomi Mi 5s comes with a myriad of network bands with both TDD-LTE and FDD-LTE. I was able to get 3G and LTE connectivity here in Toronto, Canada, but do check with www.willmyphonework.net to make sure this phone is actually compatible with your carrier.

I ran speedtest and was able to obtain very good speeds. WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS all work well, and we do not find an IR blaster, found on a lot of Xiaomi phones otherwise. However, there is no microSD card slot which is what bothers me the most, as it makes it difficult to store large amounts of video on the phone without using up valuable storage space.

Camera

A mongst a community such as GizChina’s, it’s very obvious to all of us (readers included) that hardware is only half the story when it comes to picture quality. However, to the general population at large, the software side is generally invisible to consumers and companies take advantage of that, showing off the latest and greatest in megapixels, camera sensors, and 4k video.

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Xiaomi has done much the same, and have (wisely) chosen to use the newest Sony IMX378 sensor, the exact same sensor used in the Google Pixel.

That’s generally enough for most people, same hardware, same quality right? Well, we know better, and Google has spent countless man hours building software around the IMX378 to squeeze out the best picture it can, and they did a great job. The Pixel can stand beside other camera giants without the need to bow out. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the Mi 5s. Yes, they created good software, but they did not do as good a job as Google did.

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In good lighting conditions, the Xiaomi Mi 5s easily holds its own against the best. Detail, colour reproduction and dynamic range are all wonderful. Sure, it might still be bested by the S7, iPhone 7 and Pixel, but the differences are slight.

To the untrained eye, a side by side shot with all these phones will yield minor changes that are mostly imperceptible on its own. This is partly due to the new HDR+ mode. HDR modes usually take a few seconds after hitting the shutter button, forcing you to hold it in place for that duration. However, the Mi5s’ HDR+ mode is just as fast as non HDR mode so there’s no reason to turn it off.

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However, crank down the available lighting and you start seeing a difference. Low light situations show the marked difference between the Mi 5s and the Pixel. Same hardware, different software, vastly differing results.

Where the Pixel takes great photos in low light, the Mi 5s tends to overexpose, resulting in blown out shots and a lot of noise. Thankfully there is a manual mode that allows you to manually set each setting for better pictures. The same can be said for the front camera. Great lighting great selfies, bad lighting bad selfies. The rear camera is capable of 4K recording, and footage is incredibly crisp, you can clearly see the minute cracks in the ground. However, it suffers from the same problem as it does photos, low light yields bad video.

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With all that said, do note that the above results are all compared to the best of the best, and when you compare to Chinese phones in general, the Mi 5s takes such great quality pictures and video that they blow away pretty much every Chinese manufacturer’s phone cameras (with the exception of a few manufacturers like Huawei and Vivo).

The results of the camera test can be summed up in one sentence; Great lighting, great photos; bad lighting, bad photos.

Verdict

The road to becoming a top end flagship is a hard one, but becoming a top end flagship at a very low price? Well, that prospect seems all the more difficult. However, at the end of the day, the Xiaomi Mi 5s is very close. Think about every aspect of this device and you will realize that apart from the camera’s low light performance, the Mi5s does not lose to the best of the best.

I’ve taken MIUI out of the equation because whether or not you like MIUI is personal preference. There is a lot to love in this phone, but there are three things to be made aware of, and while all of them could be potential dealbreakers, I only see two as being significant enough to impact your decision to purchase this phone:

  • The biggest one is the camera’s low light performance. It does not match up to the best and could be a potential dealbreaker.
  • There is no MicroSD card slot. This is a potential dealbreaker for some.
  • The speaker quality is average, I don’t see this as being a dealbreaker though.

In my opinion, these compromises are completely worth it for the price you pay, which at this point is either $300 in China or around $350 outside due to reseller price increases. The Mi5s has gone down to $290 at one point, so keep your eyes peeled. The Mi5s is a worthy flagship competitor and will more than satisfy many people’s needs.

“STILL A GREAT FLAGSHIP”

Xiaomi Mi5s Video Review

(gizchina.com, https://goo.gl/Vzzh8g)

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