Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Review – The Best Smartphone You Can Get Under RM1000?

There’s no doubt that the mid-range smartphone market is important for most companies, which is the reason new products are launched every now and then to keep up with the market. The same story goes to Xiaomi’s Redmi series, as its Redmi range products are the ones that paid most of the bills. The latest Redmi Note 5 joins the range as a sub RM1000 smartphone. With tough competitions such as the Nokia 6 and the surprisingly capable Neffos N1, is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 a good replacement of it’s predecessor – the Note 4, and being able to hold its water in the market? Let’s see.

There are 2 variants of the Note 5 available here in Malaysia – one with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, or 4GB of RAM with 64GB of internal storage. The 3GB + 32GB version will set you back at RM799, while the latter is only RM200 more, at RM999.

Specifications:
Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, Octa-core 1.8GHz
3GB RAM + 32GB internal storage OR 4GB RAM + 64GB internal storage, microSD expansion up to 256GB
5.99-inch 18:9 IPS display, 1080 X 2160 resolution, 403 ppi
12MP + 5MP rear camera, f/1.9 aperture, 1080p video recording
13MP front-facing camera, f/2.0 aperture, LED flash
4000mAh non-removable Battery

Unboxing

In typical Redmi product fashion, the Note 5 comes in an Orange box that signifies that it’s a Redmi product. A white box is immediately presented on the top, and it contains a dark soft case. Lifting the phone up below the box reveals some documentations, a USB wall adapter, a microUSB cable and a SIM tray removal tool.

Design

A non-offensive look and feel.

The design of the Note 5 took off towards a right direction. At first glance, you’d think that the Note 5 is priced higher than it should. Not only it is a good step-up from it’s predecessor, it’s one of the best looking and feeling smartphones at the price range. Pretty much all of the aspects of a premium device is found on the Note 5. Its dimension is pretty spot on, allowing the Note 5 to fit comfortably in one’s hands. Despite packing a lot under the hood, it’s 8.1mm thickness doesn’t develop any problem.

On the front, a Gorilla Glass is in place to protect the display. It also has 2.5D curves on the side which gives it a premium look. The rest of the body however is just plastic, but not cheap feeling plastics. They have a satin finish to give it a metal look and feel, which not only looks good, but feels not bad too. With a weight of 181-grams, it is on the heavier side, but given what’s packed underneath, there’s nothing to complain about.

On the front dominates the 5.99-inch display. It has curved corners and minimal amount of bezel on both left and right sides, even though we’d hope that the bezels could be even more minimal. There’s a good amount of bezels for the top and bottom though, and we’re hoping that could be lessen as well. On the top is the usual setup which consists of a 13-megapixel front-facing camera, an earpiece and a couple of sensors. Accompanying the 13-megapixel camera is a front-facing LED flash. The Note 5 uses on-screen Android controls, which you can customize its button orientation.

The hybrid removable tray sits on the left, and the primary slot takes a nanoSIM card, while the secondary slot takes either a nanoSIM card for dual-SIM functionality, or a microSD card for storage expansion. The slim volume and power buttons are on the right.

Surprisingly, you do get an IR blaster for remote control functionality on top, even at this price point. It does come with an app that allows you to take full functionality of it right out of the box. At the bottom is where the rest of the ports are – including a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microUSB port for data & charging, as well as a mono speaker.

The pair of 12-megapixel and 5-megapixel camera is vertically placed on the top left corner of the device right below the antenna lines, and they are sitting in their own housing which sticks out slightly from the rear panel itself. The stick out housing does cause a little wobble when placed on a flat surface, but it is surrounded by nice chamfered edges. There’s even a dual-LED flash in the middle, although it’s only a single tone. The fingerprint is conveniently located in the centre just a little below the camera housing, and is easily accessible by both index fingers. The rest of the rear just contains the regular MI logo at the bottom, as well as some regulatory information.

The Redmi Note 5 is finished in 3 colours – Gold, Lake Blue and our stealthy-looking Black.

Specs and Performance

Quite peppy for the price.

At this price point, we’re glad to see that Xiaomi has opted for a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor for the Note 5, and it’s not a bad one too! Powering the Note 5 is Snapdragon 636, a successor to the 625 we’ve seen in countless mid-range phones that actually costs more. Currently, the Note 5 is the only device that is powered by this chip for our market until ASUS brings out their Zenfone Max Pro M1 and the Zenfone 5 for our market. The Snapdragon 636 is also an octa-core unit clocked at 1.8GHz.

With that said, the performance of the Note 5 is nothing to worry about (at this price point). In most cases, it performs well within expectation. Even with their MIUI customization on top which completely takes a leave from the regular Android setup, it feels relatively light. Of course, it blasts through most normal tasks, even though there are still some slight hiccups launching some third-party apps. It wasn’t too bad under load as well. The Note 5 handles light gaming well, even though you have to turn down the settings and lower your expectations. We only noticed very tiny amount of thermal throttling after long gaming sessions, but the Note 5 still stays pretty cool under load.

Our benchmark results obtained from Geekbench is pretty impressive as well, with single-core score at 1339, while the multi-core score is at 4872. Really, both numbers are not looking too shabby.

Our version comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, while you can also spend less for the version with 3GB RAM paired with 32GB of internal storage. Our 64GB eMMC 5.1 storage offers pretty speedy storage too, with sequential read speeds at well over 250MB/s, while write speeds close to 200MB/s. That 4GB of RAM is probably a worthy upgrade and it has more allowance for apps to breath in the background.

The Note 5 doesn’t lack in connectivity options too. What really surprised us is the dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, which some more expensive phones lacked. While those devices also preferred to stay with Bluetooth 4.2, the Note 5 jumped ahead with Bluetooth 5.0. The lack of NFC is nothing ground-breaking. The microUSB port at the bottom is of a 2.0 standard, which is pretty standard.

While there’s a lip below the display on the front, we’re actually quite happy to see that they didn’t squeeze a fingerprint reader in it. Instead, the round shaped fingerprint reader is at the back, and with a matte finish, it’s quick to recognize inputs and accurate for most of the time. There’s no face unlock yet for the Note 5.

Display

The 18:9 display is very welcoming.

The Note 5 makes do with a 5.99-inch display, and like most phones these days, it is of an 18:9 display ratio. It’s not quite as “Full screen” as what Xiaomi called it, but close. At least it doesn’t have a notch on the top which some phones decided to go for. The resolution is 1080 X 2160 as well, which equates to an adequate 403 pixels-per-inch density. It is nice and sharp, well suited for a device at this price range.

The display is also backed by a IPS panel, and in typical Xiaomi fashion, it is a good panel. The colours on this panel is actually quite vibrant and pops really well, and is pleasing to the eyes. It’s deeper black nature can also be credited for the vibrant colours. It does get great viewing angles as there are no visible gap between the panel and the front glass. The brightness level gets quite high too, and using the Note 5 under bright sunlight isn’t a problem. The only letdown is the auto brightness, which tends to lower the brightness a little too much compared to surrounding. It’s better off to stay in manual brightness and adjust it to your liking.

Speakers

Not great, but good enough.

The Note 5 carries a bottom-firing loudspeaker. For what it is, the performance is good enough. The bass amount is adequate, but could use a little more clarity. It’s not as loud as we’d hoped, but at least there’s no distortion at max volume.

Camera performance

Surprise, surprise.

One of the big news about the Note 5 is its camera setup – which on the rear consists of a 12-megapixel and 5-megapixel sensors, with f/1.9 and f/2.0 apertures respectively. The 5-megapixel sensor is there to collect data for bokeh effect emulation. It even has dual-pixel phase detection autofocus. And of course, the Note 5 is targeted for those who love their portrait photos.

We used to have to say “ahhh, it’s cheap, hence the camera is awful” and has a reason to apologize for it, but on the Note 5, the camera performed quite well for what it is. Samples shot on the Note 5 have really pleasing colours. They are vivid, but in a true to life manner. Interestingly they are slightly towards the cooler side. There’s almost no noise at all, and the details are sharp. The HDR mode on the Note 5 really levels the colour really well, and kicks in at the right time when set in auto mode.

Of course, the 5-megapixel camera is there to allow for portrait mode, where it applies simulated blur effects to the background of an object. It works well for what it is. The simulated effects are a little too artificial, and it could use a better shape marking, but really, we can’t complain much.

In darker conditions is where the larger sensor on the Note 5 comes into its own. It’s 1.4μm large pixel size allows it to collect more light to the sensor, hence allows it to take better low-light photos without needing it to bump the ISO or shutter speed up. In most cases, there’s less noise, yet a lot of light, and images are pretty sharp too. With dual-pixel autofocus to back it up, it is fast and accurate to focus on any item. However, it lacks optical image stabilization, which at times you could end up with blurry images.

On the other side, there’s a front-facing 13-megapixel camera for selfies. You can expect it to take good selfies as samples turned out with good amount of well-rendered details, as well as good colour reproduction. The Note 5 also spots Mi’s AI Beautify 4.0, which is their beautification technology where it identifies different facial features and applies lots of natural beautification for different spots. Not only that, it will also do bokeh effect, but of course, the dual-camera on the rear does it better.

Video recording on the Note 5 is pretty average. It has average details, but the colours are correctly rendered. For some reason, there’s still some visible noise. The lack of optical image stabilization does introduce some shakiness in the video, but at least it doesn’t go focus hunting crazy. Overall, it gets the job done.

The camera app is a simple one. There are minimal shortcut toggles on the left, while the usual group of shutter and preview buttons are towards the right. Swiping up and down switches between different modes. There’s a manual mode, but there’s only 2 settings that you can play with – white balance and ISO. The performance of the camera app however, is what ruins all the fun. The app takes time to launch, and there’s even a shutter lag. It’s not just random lags, it’s there all the time, and it appears most of the time when we’re trying to take a photo. Hopefully they’re able to fix it with a software update in the near future.

via GIPHY

Software

Hello again, MIUI.

Of course, a Mi smartphone has to come with MIUI, and our Global version is shipped with MIUI 9.5, based on Android 8.1. It has its own approach to the customization, pretty much completely different compared to any other MIUI devices, down to the home screen layout, built-in apps and more. We’ve had our fair share of complaints regarding previous MIUI firmware, and while it still isn’t perfect, the latest MIUI is a good improvement. At least all the built-in apps have pretty similar feel to it and does not look out of place. The performance is up there as well.

Battery life

Huge battery is always welcomed.

Another main point of the Note 5 is the built-in 4000mAh battery, which is considered huge even by today standards. We’re able to go through our usual busy day with ease, and around 40% of battery life left at the end of the day with around 6 hours of screen on time. So if you’re concerned about battery life, the Note 5 is probably the one to go.

Believe it or not, the Note 5 does support Qualcomm’s version of Quick Charging, even though it’s only an older version. But, the Note 5 doesn’t come with a charger that supports that. Instead, you’ll need to go out and purchase your own which supports QuickCharge.

Conclusion

The Redmi Note 5 is definitely a smartphone that surprised us, considering it’s starting price. It is hard to imagine that all of what the Note 5 could offer is available at such pricing. But of course, it still has come sacrifices. Overall, if you’re picking up a device at this price point, the Note 5 really is the one that you should be considering. Unless you’re on a tight budget, paying an additional RM200 for the higher spec-ed version is well worth it.

The Pros:
Value for money
Display is crisp and sharp
Good power to battery life ratio
Less heat during full load
Low-light photography

The Cons:
Video recording performance could be improved
Included case does not fully over the front glass
Not shipped with quick charging charger even though the phone supports it
MIUI can still be improved
Camera app performance needs serious improvement

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