Xiaomi Redmi 5 review: Built to impress

Xiaomi has proven time and again that it’s the OEM to beat in the budget smartphone segment and with the Redmi 5, the company does little to make anything questionable. All the hallmarks of recent Xiaomi phones are vivid, among them quality build, good specifications for the price, a solid battery life, up-to-date MIUI updates, and all that. In order to keep the price checked, though, Xiaomi had to make a few sacrifices, among them dropping the USB-C port, but I think the Redmi 5 is a budget device that is built to impress the masses in just about everything it does.

READ:  Xiaomi Redmi 5 specifications

Xiaomi Redmi 5 Plus and Redmi Note 5 have been on everyone’s lips and it’s quite justifiable, however, as the smoke clears, the value Xiaomi Redmi 5 is without a doubt gaining interest among budget spenders and even better is that it’s gotten cheaper now that the Redmi 6 series is here.

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The Redmi 5 isn’t a new smartphone so to say and even though the Redmi 6 is already in town, I’m the type of smartphone buyer who gets in a little late with devices and while I have plans to come in later with a Redmi 6 review, this one, although pretty late, is for the Redmi 5.

I’ve had the Redmi 5 as my main device for the past close to two months – a long-enough period to give you an informed insight into what exactly you are getting when you spend your hard-earned cash on this device, but since I don’t want to be a windbag, I’ll keep this review short and, well, sweet. Hopefully!

Design, performance and in the box

Out of the box, the Redmi 5 almost looks like one of those premium phones from a few years back, but a closer look reveals the phone isn’t fully metallic. While the rear panel is actually made of metal, the frame joining the glass front to the back panel is plastic, but believe me, you may fail to notice this. The beauty of plastic is that you won’t notice any bends or dents when the phone accidentally drops, but of course, we all know metal is better at taking everyday wear and tear.

While some might not like the fact that the Redmi 5 has plastic materials, holding the phone in your hand will take any doubts away. The phone feels very solid and sturdy and for someone who isn’t into big phones, I find this device quite easy to handle one-handedly despite rocking a 5.7-inch screen.

Speaking of which, the HD+ LCD panel used on the Redmi 5 is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass, but Xiaomi doesn’t mention the version in play. In my time with it, I haven’t managed to get any scratches on the screen, but probably because I usually have the phone resting on my desk most of the times. Despite the few times I’ve accidentally mixed up the phone in the same pocket with my keys, the display panel is still holding up just fine. Like other 2018 phones, the aspect ratio also stands at 18:9, which makes it future-proof.

One device that I’d happily jump to in this price category is the Nokia 3.1, unfortunately, I can’t just do without the fingerprint scanner anymore. Not only is the Redmi 5 giving you a fingerprint scanner for biometric authentication, but there’s also word on the street that the trending face unlock feature, which is supported on the Redmi 6 and 6A, may also be introduced to this budget phone in a future software update.  We cannot guarantee this, though.

The Redmi 5 also has some nice buttons that are very responsive that I often unknowingly launch the camera (double-click power button) when I actually wanted to turn off the screen. Just above the power button is the volume rocker and on their opposite side, there’s a SIM card tray. The top of the phone has a 3.5mm audio jack and IR blaster while the bottom has a bottom-firing speaker and a microUSB port for charging and data transfer.

Speaking of charging, the Redmi 5 comes with a 3300mAh battery unit that lasts at least a day and a half on moderate usage, but only a single day on heavy usage. And by heavy usage I mean things like watching lots of videos on YouTube, making video calls on WhatsApp and the like, playing video games (which I don’t, BTW) and browsing the web, hours of using social media apps like Facebook, and so on.

The Redmi 5 doesn’t have any form of fast battery charging technology. Instead, it has a 5V/2A charger that pumps the maximum power any non-fast charging phone can take in. The result is that the 3300mAh battery only needs a little less than two hours to charge from 0% to 100%, which is something that would take three or so hours when using a typical charger. Unfortunately, you get to do all this via a microUSB port, a connector that is becoming unpopular even in the budget smartphone segment, with devices like the Tesla 9.1 Lite rocking it yet priced in the same range as the Redmi 5.

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Xiaomi is known for its ability to cram top-notch performance specs in budget phones and this is exactly what you get in the Redmi 5. The phone packs a powerful budget processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 450, that is then paired with either 2GB or 3GB RAM and 16GB or 32GB of expandable storage. In this price range, you won’t find a more powerful phone, but unless you are okay with sneaking a microSD card of up to 128GB in there at the expense of the second SIM card, better grab the 32GB variant. This is because of the heavy MIUI 9 skin that eats up a huge chunk of the internal storage, leaving you with about 6GB of usable space.

One little problem with the Redmi 5 is that it comes preinstalled with Android 7.1.2 Nougat. Now, I know this might not be a concern for some, but having the latest OS in town is a boon. You will be getting the most recent features to take advantage of the latest hardware and even better is that it puts you in a better position to receive the next OS upgrade. With this in mind, the only OS upgrade to expect on the Redmi 5 is the over-a-year-old Android Oreo, which may arrive later this year, but for now, the MIUI 10 update, an AI-inspired upgrade to MIUI 9, is available beginning mid-October 2018.

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While at it, I didn’t see me saying this at some point: Xiaomi’s MIUI is one of the best custom skins out there. Although there are a good number of preinstalled apps that I wish I could do away with, I’m almost losing count of the many little, nifty customizations that come as part of MIUI 9. I’m talking things like the greatly-implemented split-screen multitasking feature, second space that lets you create a second account on the device for hiding stuff from prying eyes, Dual Apps for setting up a second account on your favorite apps like WhatsApp and Facebook, full screen gestures that bring you an early look into what Android Pie has in store, App lock for locking apps, Quick ball that brings certain shortcuts a single tap away from the home screen, and so much more.

The performance experience I’ve had on the Redmi 5 is amazing at its price. MIUI is often accused of causing unnecessary lags, but this isn’t part of what you get on this phone. Navigation is smooth, switching between apps is a breeze and multitasking doesn’t trouble the phone at all, even the 2GB RAM variant. It takes about two seconds to launch the camera app, something that can take several seconds on other phones in this price range, but when the phone’s storage starts getting filled up, the usual lags become noticeable when launching apps like Twitter, Facebook, Chrome and so on, so make sure you have enough room for storage.

Xiaomi’s MIUI notifies you when your phone is running out of storage and even warns you that usual performance will be affected unless you delete some files. I’d wish the many preinstalled apps that I never used could be among the apps to remove in order to create more room, but unfortunately, Xiaomi won’t let you do this.

I’m not your typical photogenic guy, but the photos I did manage to take with the Redmi 5 are some of the best you can get in this price range. You have nothing to worry about when taking photos in well-lit environments using the 12MP unit on the back, but things might get a little tricky when dark sets in. In fact, like many phones in the sub-Sh 20,000 category, the Redmi 5 struggles with night shots, but believe you me, it’s not the worst out there. This is also true for the 5MP selfie camera, which, like the main shooter, also includes a flurry of modes in the Camera app that can help you make plenty of tweaks to photos to make them even better. I’ve shared some camera samples down below.

In the box, the Redmi 5 is accompanied by a wall charger, a microUSB cable, a SIM card ejection tool, a soft rubber case, and the usual paperwork. Of course, like other Xiaomi phones, there are no earbuds.

Camera samples

The good

  • A vibrant 18:9 LCD display that delivers even when outdoors
  • Sturdy design and solid build that can take up some roughing
  • A long battery life
  • Great cameras at this price
  • You got to love MIUI 9, and MIUI 10 even better
  • Great value for money out here

The bad

  • Android 7.1.2 Nougat is over two years old, although an update to Oreo should help alleviate some pain!
  • No USB-C port, which means the device isn’t future-proof
  • A hybrid dual-SIM slot is not for Kenyans. We need a dedicated microSD card slot and two (or more) SIM card slots, no?

Should you buy it?

Yes. Unless you are looking forward to the new Redmi 6, the Redmi 5 is a purchase you won’t regret carrying around as your daily driver. The phone, now that its successor is available, has gotten even cheaper and is retailing at about Sh 14,000 or cheaper depending on where you buy it. Still, it delivers on all fronts, be it build quality, performance, photography, battery life, software experience (and updates) and so on – boxes that most devices in this price range fail to check fully.

Each one teach one.