By Jamshed Avari | Updated: 26 March 2018 21:25 IST
The Redmi 5 offers a powerful processor and 18:9 screen at a low cost
The three variants have different amounts of RAM and storage
Battery life is great, but the cameras are a bit disappointing
Chinese giant Xiaomi offers a dizzying number of low-cost smartphones, each with multiple variants - at present, there are no fewer than sixteen different choices priced between Rs. 5,999 and Rs. 13,999 on its official website. There are multiple overlaps, so you can choose a smaller screen and lower-end processor if you want more RAM and storage, or vice versa. As you move up the price ladder, you have more and more choices, but this is still the budget end of the spectrum, and you have to decide which features and specifications are the most important to you.
The new Redmi 5 slots in above the Redmi 5A (Review) and below the Redmi Note 5 (Review), but the lines are blurry because of these overlaps. This new phone covers all the basics and delivers a lot of in-demand features, in a slick, well-built package. Xiaomi has made a name for itself by upsetting the market time and again with solid products at low prices, and we're eager to see if it's managed to do so again. Here's our full review of the new Redmi 5, with everything you need to know.
Predictably, there's a large 18:9 screen on the front. It's taller, but it isn't just filling space that used to be plastic, and we wouldn't call it bezel-free. There are still fairly prominent borders on the sides, and the forehead and chin are quite thick as well. Compared to its predecessor, the Redmi 5's body has been stretched vertically by just over 12mm, and it's also approximately 3mm wider, but 1mm slimmer.
The review unit we received was black, with a matching black frame under the front glass, and a lot of people will choose this neutral option. The company is also offering this phone in the gold and rose gold options that we've seen hundreds of times by now, but there's a unique Lake Blue option which you can go for if you want to stand out. All three of those have white front faces.
Xiaomi claims to have used 2.5D curved-edge glass for the front, but the curve is barely visible. The sides, top, and bottom of the Redmi 5 are plastic and there's a metal plate across most of the back. The main camera is centred at the top of the rear, and sticks out by about 1mm. Below it is a single-LED flash (unlike the dual-LED one in exactly the same spot on the Redmi Note 5) and the fingerprint sensor which is easy enough to reach thanks to the overall size and proportions of the body.
The power and volume buttons are on the right, and there's a hybrid dual-SIM tray on the left, so you'll have to choose between a second SIM and a microSD card. On the top, you'll find a 3.5mm headset socket, secondary mic, and Xiaomi's trademark infrared emitter for controlling appliances. We're somewhat surprised to see a Micro-USB port on the bottom rather than the newer Type-C. Another feature that's common with budget phones is that only one of the two symmetrical grilles on the bottom is actually a speaker.
Build quality, and the overall fit and finish, are impressive for a phone at this price level. The only issue we had was that the ring around the rear camera is a bit too scratchy. Otherwise, this is a pretty comfortable phone to hold and use, and strikes a good balance between screen size and portability. Thankfully, smudges and fingerprints aren't a huge problem on the front or rear.
Our Xiaomi Redmi 5's retail box screams "Redmi", but the Xiaomi name is once again barely there, and relegated to one corner. Inside, you'll find a dark-tinted translucent flexible plastic case, a pretty bulky 2A charger, a Micro-USB cable, SIM eject tool, quick start guide, and warranty leaflet. Xiaomi doesn't bundled headsets with its phones, but it's happy to sell you one of the several models listed on its website.
Redmi 5 specifications and software
Compared to last year's Redmi 4 (Review), there are some substantial updates with this new model. First and foremost is the taller screen, which now measures 5.7 inches diagonally and is considerably larger than the 5-inch screen on the Redmi 4. The resolution is 720x1440, which is sharp enough for us.
The processor gets a bump up to Qualcomm's Snapdragon 450, which is pretty powerful considering that we haven't seen it in any other sub-Rs. 10,000 phone before. You have three choices when it comes to storage and RAM - you can buy the Redmi 5 with either 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, or 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. All other specifications are the same across variants. We have the middle one in for review, and we suspect that this will be the most popular option. Potential buyers will be tempted by the minor price difference between the base variant and this one, but the top variant is a bit too expensive and overlaps with the Redmi Note 5. You could buy the Redmi Note 5 with 32GB of storage plus a 32GB microSD card for less than what the 64GB Redmi 5 costs.
The battery capacity is about average for Android phones, at 3300mAh, and there's no support for fast charging. The rear camera has a 12-megapixel sensor with PDAF and an f/2.2 lens plus a single-LED flash, while the one in front has a 5-megapixel sensor and LED illuminator. The Redmi 5 supports Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, and 4G with VoLTE.
We're a little surprised and disappointed to see that Xiaomi is still using Android 7.1.2 for this phone. Xiaomi's custom skin is up to date, so we have MIUI 9.2.7, and it has a lot of fans because of how polished it is. Still, we would have liked some native Android features such as the ability to long-press an app icon to see contextual actions and notifications. Xiaomi says that bundled notifications and inline replies are supported in its notifications shade, but while this was true for SMS messages, Gmail wasn't supported.
You can multitask with some apps running side-by-side on the screen, as long as they support it. The screen to the left of the first home screen is called App Vault, and it shows useful action shortcuts and widgets for certain apps. By default, there are widgets to show cricket scores and let you book Ola cabs, once you enter your personal information. Mi Drop is a simple Apple AirDrop clone that lets you send and receive files directly from other phones, but the app is now available to all Android users, making it potentially very useful.
Mi Remote lets you control multiple household appliances via infrared, while Mi Home is for Xiaomi's own smart home products that have Wi-Fi built in. The Apps store is fairly straightforward and offers several popular apps and games. The Themes app has hundreds of downloadable themes as well as wallpapers, ringtones, fonts, and for some reason, also "pop apps" - which promise to be small apps that you can run without installation, but just redirected us to either the Xiaomi or Google Play stores when we tried them. Finally, Mi Community combines Xiaomi updates, a Q&A forum, a store for Xiaomi phones and accessories, and tutorials for MIUI.
Redmi 5 performance, cameras, and battery life
As we expected, performance was generally pleasant. We didn't have any trouble getting set up or using this phone for work or entertainment. A lot of apps work perfectly well on 18:9 screens already, and the rest are accommodated with blank space above and below their content which is masked well. MIUI is easy enough to get around, though you might have to search for some of the things you need in the Settings app.
All the regular apps and games we use to test with ran quite well, with no lag. Only the heaviest games stuttered a little when loading, but not during gameplay. We were also happy to note that the Redmi 5 didn't get very warm when doing anything intense.
Throughout our time with this phone, we found the screen to be a bit dull, with colours that didn't really pop. Videos and games still looked fine, but we could tell that photos weren't looking their best on this screen. The single speaker can get extremely loud but the sound is harsh and will distort at higher volume levels.
We were able to stretch a single charge through a full day of casual usage involving some gaming, video streaming, camera use and Web surfing, with a little bit left over the next morning. Our HD video loop battery test ran for 13 hours and 36 minutes, which is impressive. Fast charging would have been nice, but that might be asking for too much at these prices. Half an hour of charging only got us up to 32 percent, and a full hour gave us 62 percent.
We got a score of 69,812 in AnTuTu 7, and Geekbench 4 gave us 759 and 3,490 points respectively in its single- and multi-threaded tests. Graphics performance wasn't bad at all, with scores of 32fps in the GFXBench T-Rex run and 7,931 in 3DMark's Ice Storm Extreme test.
Tap to see full-sized Xiaomi Redmi 5 camera samples
The cameras on the Redmi 5 are good, but not great, and this is where most budget phones stumble. Photos definitely look sharper on the phone's own screen than they do on a large monitor. When you check them out at full size, you'll see that details are lacking and textures aren't reproduced well. Shots taken in daylight are a little grainy, and the edges of objects can be rough. The Redmi 5 also isn't great with subjects that might move, such as animals. We were able to take some good macros, but only if we were very still and there was space between our subjects and their backgrounds. At night, shots came out grainy and often blurred.
"Smart Beautification" is on by default when you take selfies, and while they come out looking artificially over-processed, they're better than the noisy, murky shots you'd get normally. Video is recorded at 1280x720 by default but can go up to 1920x1080, but it isn't impressive either. Panning isn't smooth, and the constant autofocus adjustment was jarring.
Verdict Xiaomi will undoubtedly sell massive numbers of the Redmi 5, and you do get a lot of bang for your buck. As usual, the Chinese giant continues to offer specifications that will be very hard for competitors to match. The processor is powerful enough to last for several years, and you get the 18:9 screen that most people want in their next phones. It's likely that the middle variant, with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, will be the most popular. This is the one we used for our review, and we would spend the extra Rs. 1,000 over the base model because 2GB of RAM doesn't seem like much for even low-end Android phones these days. Unfortunately, we can't yet say for sure how different the experience would be with either 2GB or 4GB of RAM.
We were impressed with the Redmi 5's battery life and the overall usage experience. MIUI has a lot of nice touches but the outdated version of Android underpinning it was a letdown. The phone is slated to get MIUI 9.5 in April, but even that is based on Android Nougat. The cameras are also not great by any standard, and you should consider going for a higher-end phone if photography is important to you.
Xiaomi has definitely raised the bar for budget smartphones once again. We're eager to see how the competition will respond.
Is Xiaomi Redmi 5 the most value-for-money smartphone in India? We discussed that on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.
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