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Xiaomi Mi5s Review

The first Xiaomi phone review we've written without a big BUT. The Mi5s is the flagship that should leave the best Android phones of 2016 shaking in their boots.

I’ve long been a fan of Xiaomi products, but I’ve always had one problem with its phones: for UK users who don’t speak Chinese and are familiar with Google services they can be confusing. Having to install Google Play and associated Google apps such as Gmail yourself, install an English keyboard and uninstall or hide away into the folders all the Chinese-language apps preinstalled on the device is too much of a push for less-techy users, and the Chinese notifications that continue to pop up merely add to the confusion. Also read our full Xiaomi Mi6 review


In fairness Xiaomi phones aren’t intended to be sold in the UK, and it’s not its fault if we don’t all speak the same language.

However, with that in mind I’m extremely pleased to see GearBest is stocking the International Edition of Xiaomi’s flagship Mi5s on its site. This version is preinstalled with Google Play and select Google apps such as Gmail (any others that you require can be downloaded from the Play Store), and it removes all the Chinese-language apps and notifications you don’t understand. This is an Android phone just like any other you would buy on the UK market, but with the added bonuses brought by the MIUI 8 user interface.

The Xiaomi Mi5s is in every sense of the term a flagship smartphone, with a spec easily able to take on the names we are more familiar with in the UK: the Samsung Galaxy S7, the LG G5, the HTC 10, the OnePlus 3T, the Google Pixel, even the iPhone 7. And it costs less than half the price. We cannot recommend it enough as a cheaper but just as good alternative.

UK PRICE AND AVAILABILITY - HOW MUCH IS THE XIAOMI MI5S?
Usually in a smartphone review we’d tell you the RRP, plus for how much money you can currently buy it SIM-free and the rough price of any contract deals. Forget all that with the Xiaomi Mi5s. If you want this phone, you need to buy it through a Chinese importer such as GearBest, and the price you pay is the price you see.

GearBest supplies all our Xiaomi phones for review. It imports goods from China with free delivery to the UK, but you should note that because you are buying from outside the UK you will be liable to paying import duty if requested to do so by Customs. It’s not usually a huge amount, but you should factor it into the cost of your purchase (read our advice on buying grey-market tech for more information).

With these type of sites prices can fluctuate on a daily basis. They don’t always mirror product RRPs - they work simply on the going rate - and, since you have no alternative method of purchasing the product, that is what you will pay if you would like to receive it.

At the time of writing the Xiaomi Mi5s is available from GearBest for £282.75 ($352.69), which includes a 30 percent discount according to the site, and ships on 1 December 2016. This is a SIM-free smartphone, which means you can connect it to any network you like, and plump for the best pay-as-you-go- or contract deal to suit your needs. SIM-free deals typically are considerably cheaper, given that the total price of the plan doesn’t include the cost of the phone, so more savings can be made here.

UK buyers should note, though, that the Xiaomi Mi5s does not support the 800MHz 4G band (band 20), which is the only 4G band supported by O2 and Giffgaff in the UK (other networks that support this band can also connect to alternative 4G bands that are supported by the Xiaomi).

Compare that SIM-free cost to some other big-name flagships in the UK and you’ll see what extraordinary value the Xiaomi Mi5s represents. (Prices correct on 29 November 2016.)
PhonePriceStorageRAM
Xiaomi Mi5s£282.7564GB3GB
OnePlus 3T£39964GB6GB
Samsung Galaxy S7£460.9532GB4GB
HTC 10£49532GB4GB
LG G5£385.4932GB4GB
Google Pixel£59932GB4GB
iPhone 7£59932GB2GB
The Mi5s is also available with 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a force-touch screen, costing £369.02 from Banggood.com. There’s also a Plus model, which has a 5.7in screen, a higher-capacity battery, a 13Mp camera and either 4- or 6GB of RAM. The 4GB RAM, 64GB storage Mi5s Plus is also available from GearBest for £383.37. We’ll detail the key differences between the Mi5s and Mi5s Plus, as well as its predecessor the Mi5, below. 


XIAOMI MI5 VS XIAOMI MI5S VS XIAOMI MI5S PLUS
We’re so used to seeing Xiaomi phone updates that merely tweak the design and processor that the Mi5s comes as something of a surprise. Xiaomi has completely updated the design, replacing the glass-coated plastic rear with a new unibody aluminium design. It’s slightly heavier as a result, now 147g. It’s removed the Mi logo from the top left of the phone, as well as the Gorilla Glass screen protection, and popped off the chrome-surround home button at the front. The fingerprint scanner remains in place in a gaping recess below the screen - now an ultrasonic model that uses Snapdragon Sense ID to more accurately and quickly scan your fingerprint. We’ll talk more about the design changes later on.

Under the hood there’s a new processor, with a bump up from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 selected for the Mi5 to the 2.15GHz Snapdragon 821 here. This chip offers a 10 percent performance increase over the 820, and is designed to bring greater power savings, too.

Storage has increased to 64GB as standard (up from 32GB), though there’s still no microSD slot. And the battery capacity has been bumped up from 3,000mAh to 3,200mAh.

The other key change in the Xiaomi Mi5s is a move from the 16Mp primary camera used in the Mi5 to a new 12Mp model. Don’t let the lower megapixel count fool you into thinking the Mi5s has had a downgrade, though. Leaving aside the fact it no longer supports OIS, this is the same industry-leading camera selected for its Pixel phone by Google. With a 1/2.3in- rather than 1/2.8in sensor and bigger pixels in theory it should record more detail and perform better in low light.

The Mi5s Plus is a larger version of the Mi5s, with key differences being the larger (though still full-HD) 5.7in screen (the Mi5s has, in common with the Mi5, a 5.15in screen), a higher-capacity 3,800mAh battery, a 13Mp primary camera and, potentially more RAM - whereas the Mi5s comes in 3GB and 4GB RAM options, the Mi5s has 4- or 6GB of memory. Understandably the Mi5s Plus is larger and heavier, measuring 154.6x77.7x7.95mm against the Mi5s’ 145.6x70.3x8.3mm.
DESIGN AND BUILD
We really liked the design of the Xiaomi Mi5, with its sleek glass-coated rear reminding us a little of Samsung’s line-up. Xiaomi has now moved away from that design with a unibody metal coat. As before the sides are curved at the rear, giving the impression of a device much smaller than you would expect in the hand, but its newly matte surface makes the Mi5s a lot more grippy, and less easy to drop on to the floor. That’s a good thing, given that for some unknown reason there is now no Gorilla Glass protective screen glass. Aside from that the Mi5s feels tough and well-made, like a phone that will last as long as your contract.

Since metal bodies can cause problems with network reception, new antenna stripes run across the phone’s rear at top and bottom. A mic is built into the top stripe, while the camera sits flush just above it in the top-left corner. As we mentioned earlier this is a new camera (we’ll talk about photography later), and you’ll also notice that the dual-tone flash has now moved from its right- to its left side.

The edges are largely unchanged, though the speaker holes along the bottom are now larger, and with a metal screw on either side of the USB-C slot it would appear that there are more of them. As before you’ll find the volume rocker and power switch on the right edge, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top and a slot-loading dual-SIM tray on the left.

Chamfered at the top the edges glide smoothly into the 2.5D screen, causing the Mi5s to feel as well-made as it looks classy. The screen itself hasn’t changed - at least in this model - still a 5.15in panel with a full-HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels and a pixel density of 428ppi. It’s sharp, it’s clear, and it’s vivid with colour. Xiaomi claims a brightness rating of 600 nits, and it’s certainly not going to cause any problems in direct sunlight.

Should you buy the 128GB Mi5s the screen has been upgraded to recognise force-touch, which works in much the same way as it does on the iPhone. Unfortunately our review model doesn’t support this feature, so we cannot comment further on that.

From the front the Xiaomi Mi5s is quite the departure from its predecessor. It has the same screen bezels, same size screen, same sensor and camera setup above the screen - something is just… missing. And we’re not referring to the Mi logo.

As good as the fancy new ultrasonic fingerprint scanner is, we have to say we much preferred the design of the old one, integrated as it was into the home button with a nice chrome surround. The space allocated to the new fingerprint scanner is greater, and there is a recess in the glass front so you know where to press. But it just looks like someone forgot to attach the home button, or like it fell off.

It feels strange to refer to this as the home button when there is no physical button, but in fairness we’d also refer to the back and multitasking software keys that sit either side of it as ‘buttons’. (These are much easier on the eye, lighting up only in use, and their functions can be changed to suit whichever setup you prefer.)

As we all know, though, beauty is only skin-deep. And this fingerprint scanner is a vast improvement on the old one, which is particularly impressive when you consider that the old one worked pretty well. Whereas most fingerprint readers scan a 2D image of your fingerprint, this new ultrasonic model with Snapdragon Sense ID uses sound to more accurately analyse the ridges and grooves of your fingerprint, even when your finger is wet. This allows the scanner to work more better. And so it does.

CORE HARDWARE AND PERFORMANCE
For a phone you can buy brand-new for less than £300, performance from the Xiaomi Mi5s is breathtaking. In real-world use it can do no wrong, and it sailed through our benchmarks. We should point out, though, that we are testing the 3GB RAM version of the Mi5s, and the 4GB model should be capable of more still.

The hardware is still pretty tasty, though, with a brand-new Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor clocked at 2.15GHz. This is the same processor used by the Google Pixel and OnePlus 3T, both of which have more RAM than our Mi5s review sample. Not that you’d know it: it beat the Pixel in nearly every benchmark and came incredibly close to the OnePlus 3T.

You can compare the performance results of the Xiaomi Mi5s against its rival flagships below. Unfortunately we do not have Geekbench 4 scores for the Xiaomi Mi5, Galaxy S7, HTC 10 and iPhone 7 as these were all tested using Geekbench 3, and you should also take into account that the Xiaomi Mi5s has arguably been able to perform better in graphics tests dues to its full-HD screen (we use the onscreen benchmarks of GFXBench, since you’ll never find yourself playing a game on a phone where you aren’t using the screen).
That aside, performance is excellent, with a staggering 4137 points recorded in Geekbench 4 multi-core and a very high 141,433 in AnTuTu 3D. The Mi5s flew through GFXBench, turning in an easily playable 59fps in T-Rex, 43fps in Manhattan, 31fps in Manhattan 3.1 and 20fps in Car Chase. Even its 57.4 score in JetStream, the Javascript benchmark, is a decent result.

Storage is generous at 64GB as standard (up from 32GB in its predecessor and most of its rivals), which makes up for the fact this phone doesn’t have a microSD slot. This should be plenty of space for most users.

The battery capacity has also been increased from 3000mAh to 3200mAh, but given the more powerful hardware it’s unlikely you’ll see a huge impact on runtime - perhaps an extra hour if you’re lucky. This supports super-fast charging with Quick Charge 3.0, and depending on your usage should easily be good for a day’s use.


CONNECTIVITY
In common with so many of the Chinese phones we review, the Mi5s is a dual-SIM model that operates in dual-standby mode. It takes two Nano-SIMs, and will support Cat 12 4G LTE on one of these provided your network supports the 2100- and 2600MHz bands (the other is restricted to 3G). Dual-SIM functionality is great for managing your business and personal calls from a single phone, or perhaps managing local and home tariffs when you venture abroad. 

Connectivity hasn’t changed much in this model, aside from the new ultrasonic fingerprint scanner. That means as before you get dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS and GLONASS. There’s also NFC, OTG but sadly no longer an IR blaster.

CAMERAS
The Mi5s is fitted with the Sony IMX378, which is also used by the Google Pixel. At that phone’s launch the company used DXOMark Mobile data in an effort to prove that it is the best camera ever seen in a smartphone, with a very high score of 89. Unfortunately Xiaomi hasn’t done as much to optimise the camera software as has Google, so the Pixel is still arguably the better model for smartphone photography. That said, the fat lady has not yet sung, and we’ll be updating the photography section of this review within the next couple of weeks once the results of our new smartphone camera group test are in.

The IMX378 is a 12.3Mp camera with an f/2.0 aperture and phase-detection autofocus, also capable of shooting 4K video. With large 1.55um pixels and a 1/2.3in sensor (previously 1/2.8in in the 16Mp Mi5) it can let in more light and capture more detail. Unfortunately, this camera lacks OIS which, according to Google at least, isn’t life or death.

“EIS and OIS have very different goals, so you can’t compare them to ask which is better/worse. OIS primarily improves low light photography by physically compensating for hand shake within each single frame, and EIS improves shaky video by maintaining a consistent framing between multiple video frames. OIS is primarily for photo, and EIS is only for video. Where OIS helps is still low-light photos. It compensates for hand shake, allowing longer exposures in low light, but this in turn increases motion blur within the frame. And it comes with all kinds of tradeoffs, starting off with its physical size,” Google said of the IMX378.

The camera app in MIUI 8 is easy to use, with various real-time filters and photography modes available. We found the camera was lightning-quick to capture shots, and the results showed plenty of detail and good colour reproduction. And while it’s not the most amazing camera for low-light photography, the results are reasonable.

Below is just a taster of what the phone is capable of (in Auto and HDR modes respectively). Expect more test shots to come following our smartphone camera update.


The selfie camera hasn’t changed, and the Mi5s is still fitted with a 4Mp camera at the front. It offers the same real-time filters as the primary camera, plus modes including Timer, Audio and GroupShot.

SOFTWARE
Whereas the Mi5 ran MIUI 7 out of the box, the Mi5s is preinstalled with MIUI 8. This is a custom version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow with some cool extra features. And this is usually where you’d get a big BUT in one of our Xiaomi phone reviews - but the Xiaomi doesn’t support Google services blah, blah, blah. We don’t wish to undermine the importance of Google apps on an Android phone for UK users of course, but what it comes down to is this one does. Preinstalled with the International Edition of MIUI 8 (as sold via GearBest), the Mi5s reviewed here comes preinstalled with Google Play and Gmail, and you can install any other Google apps you like. There’s none of the usual Chinese-language apps and notifications - UK users can just pick it up and get started straight out the box.

There are a number of changes in MIUI 8. The drop-down notification bar is perhaps the most obvious change, with new quick access icons running along its top. Xiaomi has also moved around a few items in the Settings menu, and introduced some new features such as double-tap to wake, Second Space (which creates a separate space on your phone), Dual Apps (allowing you to run a second version of an app on the phone), individual App Lock and Quick Ball (which places anywhere you like onscreen a button that allows you to quickly return to the home screen or perform other functions). There’s also support for Mi Wallet.

Other new features include an energy saving mode, enhanced video-editing tools plus some photo features that allow you to add doodles and stickers and quickly share your snaps, the new and supposedly easier-on-the-eyes Mi Lanting font, updated QR scanner and calculator apps, an enhanced multi-tasking menu, brighter colours and new lock screen wallpapers.




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