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


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.

Xiaomi Mi 5s Full Review

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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”

Xiaomi Mi 5s 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.

Xiaomi Mi 5s 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.

xiaomi-mi5s-review-8

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.

xiaomi-mi5s-review-4 xiaomi-mi5s-review-5

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”

Xiaomi Mi 5s 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

xiaomi-mi5s-review-11

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.

xiaomi-mi5s-review-13

Xiaomi Mi 5s 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.

Xiaomi Mi 5s 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.

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“Good Battery”

Xiaomi Mi 5s 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.

xiaomi-mi5s-review-9

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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Xiaomi Mi 5s 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.

Xiaomi Mi 5s 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.

Xiaomi Mi5s Camera Gallery

Xiaomi Mi5s 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:

  1. The biggest one is the camera’s low light performance. It does not match up to the best and could be a potential dealbreaker.
  2. There is no MicroSD card slot. This is a potential dealbreaker for some.
  3. 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.

I would like to thank Gearbest for sending out this review unit, and if you would like to buy one, you can do so here.

“still a great flagship”

Xiaomi Mi5s Video Review

Xiaomi Mi5s Gallery

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53 Comments

  1. November 28, 2016

    Great review, very thorough. I found it interesting that you say that Xiaomi upgraded to the more “power efficient” SD 821. It also has a bigger battery than the Mi5 but according to GSMArena’s battery life tests, the Mi 5 has better battery life. Not sure why this is. The Mi 5S is also a bit bulkier and heavier then the Mi 5. These are two deal breakers for me: lower battery life and excess bulk/weight.

    • November 28, 2016

      Yes that is according to Qualcomm, they said that the SD821 will provide more power efficiency over the SD820. The fingerprint sensor is very, very, good though. Give the Z2 Plus a try, that one has great battery life.

      • Lazar Prodanovic
        November 29, 2016

        At the end I bought an Mi Max (3/32), playing with it for a couple of days now. Setting RAM optimisation to low actually gave me some pretty interesting results especially with discomark only drawback is slightly lower synthetic performance.

        • November 29, 2016

          I usually turn it off completely in Xiaomi phones, especially ones with 4GB RAM

    • Lazar Prodanovic
      November 29, 2016

      Depends what you do with it, S821 is indeed more power efficient than S820 in the usual every day tasks but if you push it to the limits (which is kind a hard thing to accomplish) it will drain battery as hell mainly because even bigger clocks. Just find & take a look at PC Mark’s mobile work & work 2.0 battery life estimations.
      A braking news is that the Xiaomi didn’t use Qualcomm properly MP decision nor any other open source hot plug whatsoever in any builds with any newer QC SoC based phone in their portfolio how ever their is a official beta (firmware) build with it for download (from MiUI official forums) but it’s not exactly working good for now.

  2. Filipp
    November 28, 2016

    for me the biggest disadvantage is no interchangeable back
    while on mi5 you can easily swap back cover to a wooden/plastic one, on mi5s if you get some scratches (and you will, as aluminium is not steel), you are stuck with it (wearing horrible plastic cases that add thickness and kill phone’s metal feeling is not an option)

    As for speaker, on the waterproof GS7 for 600-700 bucks speaker is even worse

    As for camera, I am sure, that enabling Camera2 API will immediately make mi5s comparable with Pixels

    • November 28, 2016

      We just have to wait for someone to crack it and then install it. Then the camera will be amazing (assuming the rest of the hardware components are up to par).

      • Lazar Prodanovic
        November 29, 2016

        Hardly that will be possible, you see their is much more there than it meats the eye. Pixel camera app works on camera 3 Api & it requires its integration along with hall modifications but as its a same camera sensor one day when N arrives on Mi5S (probably second, third month of the next year [based on the first tire clised betas for Mi5, Max, R3S that just started two days ago]) just me by it becames possible.

        • November 29, 2016

          That’s what I mean by rest of the camera hardware is up to par, the sensor isn’t the only component that makes up a phone camera

    • Lazar Prodanovic
      November 29, 2016

      Api (Camera 2) & Hall are fully integrated in the software but they aren’t enabled in config because their camera app is still based on the camera 1. With a rooted one you need to unable hall by build.prop or init, then using 3rd party software like Mark’s Open Camera you will get better results but don’t expect miracles their is much more in the software tuning & Xiaomi doesn’t do a great job there. By the way Pixel is on Camera 3 Api.

    • Dante
      December 12, 2016

      On the mi4… You cant change the back on the mi5 without melting all the glue…

  3. Jh1
    November 28, 2016

    Nice review. I was surprised at them not including any scratch resistant glass at this price point. Even Dragontail would have been appreciated. Just stumbled across your YouTube channel earlier. Definitely looking forward to watching your redmi 4 prime review when I get a few minutes.

    • November 28, 2016

      I don’t really get what Xiaomi was thinking not putting in at least Dragontrail. And hope you enjoy it!

      • Jh1
        November 28, 2016

        Just watched the redmi 4 prime review. Wow. That is amazing battery life. Looking forward to receiving mine in a few days.

        • November 29, 2016

          You won’t be disappointed

  4. Assefa Hanson
    November 28, 2016

    Ois on the mi 5? Cause I didn’t notice while the mi 5’s camera was shaky like helll

    • November 28, 2016

      Well then the Mi 5s is most likely even worse

      • Assefa Hanson
        November 28, 2016

        Haha

      • Raky_b
        November 30, 2016

        Hardly, but yeah… No one who tried Mi5 wouldn’t miss it’s OIS

  5. Moose
    November 28, 2016

    Great review, very thorough. I found it interesting that you say that Xiaomi upgraded to the more “power efficient” SD 821. It also has a bigger battery than the Mi5 but according to GSMArena’s battery life tests, the Mi 5 has better battery life. Not sure why this is. The Mi 5S is also a bit bulkier and heavier then the Mi 5. These are two deal breakers for me: lower battery life and excess bulk/weight.

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      November 28, 2016

      Yes that is according to Qualcomm, they said that the SD821 will provide more power efficiency over the SD820. The fingerprint sensor is very, very, good though. Give the Z2 Plus a try, that one has great battery life.

    • Lazar Prodanovic
      November 29, 2016

      Depends what you do with it, S821 is indeed more power efficient than S820 in the usual every day tasks but if you push it to the limits (which is kind a hard thing to accomplish) it will drain battery as hell mainly because even bigger clocks. Just find & take a look at PC Mark’s mobile work & work 2.0 battery life estimations.
      A braking news is that the Xiaomi didn’t use Qualcomm properly MP decision nor any other open source hot plug whatsoever in any builds with any newer QC SoC based phone in their portfolio how ever their is a official beta (firmware) build with it for download (from MiUI official forums) but it’s not exactly working good for now.

    • Lazar Prodanovic
      November 29, 2016

      At the end I bought an Mi Max (3/32), playing with it for a couple of days now. Setting RAM optimisation to low actually gave me some pretty interesting results especially with discomark only drawback is slightly lower synthetic performance.

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      November 29, 2016

      I usually turn it off completely in Xiaomi phones, especially ones with 4GB RAM

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      November 29, 2016

      I usually turn it off completely in Xiaomi phones, especially ones with 4GB RAM

    • Lazar Prodanovic
      November 29, 2016

      That part I will do my self when I unlock & root it so that I can tune a devlik subsystem & change IO/CPU/GPU governors as I usually do. So far I am satisfied with SOT as I am getting around 10h I think it can be pushed at least 20% more but we will come to that in time. 😉

    • Lazar Prodanovic
      November 29, 2016

      This is what I have been talking about. 😉

  6. Zi Jin Cheng
    November 28, 2016

    Yes that is according to Qualcomm, they said that the SD821 will provide more power efficiency over the SD820. The fingerprint sensor is very, very, good though. Give the Z2 Plus a try, that one has great battery life.

  7. Filipp
    November 28, 2016

    for me the biggest disadvantage is no interchangeable back
    while on mi5 you can easily swap back cover to a wooden/plastic one, on mi5s if you get some scratches (and you will, as aluminium is not steel), you are stuck with it (wearing horrible plastic cases that add thickness and kill phone’s metal feeling is not an option)

    As for speaker, on the waterproof GS7 for 600-700 bucks speaker is even worse

    As for camera, I am sure, that enabling Camera2 API will immediately make mi5s comparable with Pixels

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      November 28, 2016

      We just have to wait for someone to crack it and then install it. Then the camera will be amazing (assuming the rest of the hardware components are up to par).

    • Lazar Prodanovic
      November 29, 2016

      Api (Camera 2) & Hall are fully integrated in the software but they aren’t enabled in config because their camera app is still based on the camera 1. With a rooted one you need to unable hall by build.prop or init, then using 3rd party software like Mark’s Open Camera you will get better results but don’t expect miracles their is much more in the software tuning & Xiaomi doesn’t do a great job there. By the way Pixel is on Camera 3 Api.

    • Lazar Prodanovic
      November 29, 2016

      Hardly that will be possible, you see their is much more there than it meats the eye. Pixel camera app works on camera 3 Api & it requires its integration along with hall modifications but as its a same camera sensor one day when N arrives on Mi5S (probably second, third month of the next year [based on the first tire clised betas for Mi5, Max, R3S that just started two days ago]) just me by it becames possible.

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      November 29, 2016

      That’s what I mean by rest of the camera hardware is up to par, the sensor isn’t the only component that makes up a phone camera

    • Dante
      December 12, 2016

      On the mi4… You cant change the back on the mi5 without melting all the glue…

  8. Jh1
    November 28, 2016

    Nice review. I was surprised at them not including any scratch resistant glass at this price point. Even Dragontail would have been appreciated. Just stumbled across your YouTube channel earlier. Definitely looking forward to watching your redmi 4 prime review when I get a few minutes.

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      November 28, 2016

      I don’t really get what Xiaomi was thinking not putting in at least Dragontrail. And hope you enjoy it!

    • Jh1
      November 29, 2016

      Just watched the redmi 4 prime review. Wow. That is amazing battery life. Looking forward to receiving mine in a few days.

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      November 29, 2016

      You won’t be disappointed

  9. Assefa Hanson
    November 28, 2016

    Ois on the mi 5? Cause I didn’t notice while the mi 5’s camera was shaky like helll

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      November 28, 2016

      Well then the Mi 5s is most likely even worse

    • Assefa Hanson
      November 28, 2016

      Haha

    • bojan radovanovic
      November 30, 2016

      Hardly, but yeah… No one who tried Mi5 wouldn’t miss it’s OIS

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      December 1, 2016

      Fair enough

  10. Lazar Prodanovic
    November 29, 2016

    At the end I bought an Mi Max (3/32), playing with it for a couple of days now. Setting RAM optimisation to low actually gave me some pretty interesting results especially with discomark only drawback is slightly lower synthetic performance.

  11. Raky_b
    November 30, 2016

    This black bazels around screen is something that completely turns me off this device, otherwise it is worth of a money.
    I don’t know what Xiaomi does wrong, but their devices need 30% bigger battery to keep with others in real life, but if it can handle full day, it’s fine.

    Anyway, great review.
    I am glad that someone dare to write of its shortcomings, because it’s really odd to see all those “real” reviews that did not show any minuses for Xiaomi devices…

    • December 1, 2016

      OK so it’s not just me 🙂

      I also agree that the battery needs to be bigger, but battery life is already really good in this phone, just not Redmi level yet.

  12. bojan radovanovic
    November 30, 2016

    This black bazels around screen is something that completely turns me off this device, otherwise it is worth of a money.
    I don’t know what Xiaomi does wrong, but their devices need 30% bigger battery to keep with others in real life, but if it can handle full day, it’s fine.

    Anyway, great review.
    I am glad that someone dare to write of its shortcomings, because it’s really odd to see all those “real” reviews that did not show any minuses for Xiaomi devices…

    • Zi Jin Cheng
      December 1, 2016

      OK so it’s not just me 🙂

      I also agree that the battery needs to be bigger, but battery life is already really good in this phone, just not Redmi level yet.

  13. BSJD
    December 1, 2016

    Whao !???

  14. BSJD
    December 1, 2016

    Whao !💪💪💪