The Redmi Note 5 prices start from Rs 9,999.
The smartphone comes with a 5.99-inch full HD+ 18:9 display.
Xiaomi has equipped a better 12-megapixel rear camera, with support for 4K video recording.
Ever since Xiaomi entered the Indian smartphone market, it has achieved great success, especially with its affordable and mid-range smartphones. The Redmi Note 3 was a game changer with metal unibody, a Qualcomm hexa-core SoC, and a 4,000mAh battery. It’s successor, the Redmi Note 4 got some incremental upgrades, and that also turned out to be the company’s best-selling smartphone in 2017. The success also helped Xiaomi to dethrone Samsung to take the crown as the leading smartphone maker in India.
Now, starting 2018 with a bang, Xiaomi has launched more than one product in India. These include the Redmi Note 5 and the Redmi Note 5 Pro. The successor to last year’s Redmi Note 4, the Redmi Note 5 continues with Xiaomi’s philosophy of offering good design and hardware at an affordable price point. With prices starting at Rs 9,999 for base variant and Rs 11,999 for the higher storage variant, the Redmi Note 5 brings minor changes compared to its predecessor. It comes with a taller 18:9 display, a slightly better camera along with more RAM and storage on the base variant. But do these factors make the Redmi Note 5 worth buying?
The Redmi Note 5 will face tough competition with the recently launched Infinix Hot S3, which comes with a 20-megapixel front camera and Android Oreo out-of-the-box. The other competitor is the Honor 9 Lite, which comes with a premium front and back glass design, along with a dual-camera setup both at the front and back. Does the Redmi Note 5 have enough to outshine the competition? Read my detailed review to find out.
Design and Display: Growing tall…
In 2017, tall displays with the 18:9 aspect ratio became quite common, and we have seen them right from budget smartphones such as the Micromax Canvas Infinity, Infinix Hot S3 and Honor 9 Lite, to high-end flagship smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy Note 8 and the iPhone X. Xiaomi was the first one to introduce the tall display on the Mi MIX in 2016, but the MIX series is a premium one. Now, the Chinese company wants to recreate the same magic on its affordable and best-selling Note-series too.
The smartphone still comes with a metal unibody that looks premium, and the build feels solid too. Up front, you have the earpiece, front camera module and LED flash above the display. While the Redmi Note 4 came with capacitive keys below the display, Xiaomi has now gone for an on-screen implementation. However, the chin below the display still exists, and it is a bit thick too.
The back of the Note 5 looks pretty much similar to the Note 4, with the camera, LED flash and fingerprint sensor symmetrically placed at the center. There is, however, a slight camera bump too; something that was not present on the Note 4.
In terms of port placement, the hybrid dual-SIM card slot is placed on the left side, whereas the power button and volume rocker are placed on the right side. At the top, you have the 3.5mm audio jack and an IR blaster that lets you control your TV, AC, set-top box, Blu Ray player and projector, among other devices. The micro-USB port for charging and data transfers is placed at the bottom.
The Redmi Note 5 comes with a 5.99-inch full HD+ display running at a resolution of 1080×2160 pixels, and aspect ratio of 18:9. The display has rounded corners too, adding to its ergonomics. Due to the tall display, there is a slight change in the dimensions too. The Redmi Note 5 is slightly narrower, but also taller compared to the Redmi Note 4. It also weighs more at 180grams, compared to the Note 4 that weighs 165grams.
The display is not just tall, but it is better too. The screen looks brighter compared to the Redmi Note 4, and the color reproduction is slightly punchier too. Legibility under direct sunlight is no issue either. Whether it is watching videos or playing games, things look pretty good on the screen. Text and icons also look sharp, and it is definitely a big improvement over the previous generations.
Software and UI: Sorry, no Oreo yet!
Xiaomi phones run Android OS, and the Chinese smartphone maker has always focused on its custom MIUI. The Mi A1 is the only exception, being a part of the Android One program that pushes the stock implementation of Android. If you thought the Redmi Note 5 would also run stock Android, you’re going to be disappointed. And even though Google has released the source code for Android Oreo over five months ago, there is no word on when most Xiaomi devices will be treated with the latest Android offering.
The Note 5 runs on Android 7.1.2 Nougat OS with the December security patch. And you get Xiaomi’s MIUI 9.2 custom skin running on top. The interface is pretty much the same as we’ve already seen on other Xiaomi smartphones. There are a lot of Xiaomi specific apps, such as the Mi Community to keep in touch with the latest happenings and interact with forum members, and the Mi Store app lets you buy Xiaomi products directly from the manufacturer.
Then there are also apps such as Mi File Manager, Music and Mi Video. Xiaomi has also included Mi Drop, an app that uses Wi-Fi direct to let you quickly share music, photos and videos with other Xiaomi smartphone users. Lastly, there is also the Mi Remote app, that lets you control your TV, air conditioner and other appliances using your smartphone.
Xiaomi has also preloaded Microsoft apps such as Skype Lite, Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, all of which can be uninstalled if you don’t want to use them. You also get WPS Office, Hungama and Amazon apps that pre-installed, and they can be removed too. And lastly, you have Google apps such as Photos, Duo, Play Music, Chrome, Gmail, Drive, YouTube and Maps too. Sadly, you can’t uninstall them.
MIUI 9 also supports gestures, such as double tap to wake, three finger swipe down to take screenshot, long press the home button to invoke Google Assistant, and more. There is also a Quick Ball that quickly brings virtual keys such as home, back, menu, screen lock and screenshot on any screen. And lastly, there is a one-handed mode that lets you swipe on the capacitive Android buttons to shrink the display on the left or right side. It helps to make single-handed use easier.
Cameras: Minor, but much-needed improvements…
The photography department was never the strong point of the Redmi Note-series, something that we have discussed in our Redmi Note 3 and Redmi Note 4 review too. This continues with the Redmi Note 5 too, but given the price point of the device, it will be unreasonable to compare the quality with other smartphones that are priced higher.
The Redmi Note 3 featured a 16-megapixel rear camera of aperture f/2.0 and a pixel size of 1-micron. With the Redmi Note 4, Xiaomi lowered the megapixel count to 13-megapixel with aperture f/2.0 and 1.12-micron pixel sensor. Now, with the Redmi Note 5, Xiaomi has tried to improve things further and the smartphone now comes with a 12-megapixel camera of aperture f/2.2 and 1.25-micron pixels. Yes, the resolution has decreased and so has the aperture, but the larger pixel size should help in delivering better results. Does it help in real-world usage?
Yes, the camera quality has definitely improved over the Redmi Note 3 and Redmi Note 4. The sensor is able to capture photos with better details and colors outdoors in better lighting conditions. In low-light, the camera struggles and some grain is visible, but for a budget all-rounder, the Redmi Note 5 still does a very good job. Below are some camera samples.
The front camera quality has also been improved a bit. Selfies captured on Redmi Note 4 used to make skin tones a bit reddish, but the ones captured on the Note 5 retain the skin tone to a good extent. We now also have a front-facing LED flash to capture better selfies in low-light conditions. In absolute darkness, selfies look blurry and are completely grainy, but when shot indoors with dull lighting conditions, they look a little better.
Another interesting addition is the support for 4K video recording at 30fps for the rear camera. The video quality is just acceptable, but even having the ability to record 4K on an affordable smartphone is a big plus.
Performance and Battery Life: Does the heavy lifting
The Redmi Note devices have been known to offer good performance at the price, and the Note 5 won’t disappoint you. The smartphone is powered by the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core SoC built on 14nm process, as the one on the Redmi Note 4. And instead of going for a newer chipset, Xiaomi has taken a tried and tested approach, along the lines of “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”.
It’s worth noting here that there is a newer, more capable chipset in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro, while only the more affordable Redmi Note 5 features the familiar Snapdragon 625. This helps to separately position the two new devices, with the Redmi Note 5 serving as an affordable, reliable option, while the Redmi Note 5 Pro appeals to power users.
The Note 4 was a solid performer, both when it comes to day-to-day performance and battery efficiency, and the same continues with the Note 5 too. Xiaomi had seeded us with the higher end variant with 4GB of RAM with 64GB onboard storage, and I absolutely had no issues with the performance. I’ve been using the phone for close to a week now, and it works as smooth as butter.
Those who love stock Android may find the interface a bit annoying, but I’ve been flashing MIUI ROMs on my previous smartphones, even when Xiaomi had not entered the Indian smartphone space. Some may say it resembles iOS; the menu is confusing, but it really needs you to get used to it. During my usage, I did not come across any issues where I felt the device was slowing down. Even with a few apps running in the background, the smartphone runs very smoothly.
My only complaint is that MIUI is resource-hungry. Even with all recent apps cleared, the UI uses around 2.3GB of RAM with only 1.7GB available out of 4GB. And with about 10 apps running in the background, only 700MB of RAM was left. To give things a try, I started Asphalt 8: Airborne – which is a graphics intense game – and to my surprise, it ran smoothly without any hiccups. After one race, I exited the game and again looked at the RAM usage, and MIUI had intelligently put some apps to sleep to make more room for the game, and free RAM then jumped to 1.4GB. In short, you don’t need to worry much as MIUI will handle memory usage based on how much power apps need.
Lastly, it’s time to talk about the battery life. Redmi Note 3 offered battery life of over a day-and-a-half with moderate usage, and the same was with the Redmi Note 4 too. And now, the Note 5’s 4,000mAh battery offers enough juice to sail through the day with heavy usage, and over a day with moderate use. The battery doesn’t support fast charging, but the bundled charger is good enough to take the smartphone battery from empty to full in two-and-a-half hours.
During my time with the phone, I had two SIM cards in the device, the smartphone was continuously connected to Wi-Fi and 4G, and I also had two personal and one official email account in sync continuously downloading my mails. Even social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were continuously connected, fetching notifications all through. And with all of this usage, the battery easily lasted for a day or more, depending on the way I used it.
Verdict: Should you buy the Redmi Note 5?
All said and done, the Redmi Note 5 is still a budget smartphone, just like its predecessors. The smartphone comes with a better, brighter and taller display, along with improved cameras. Xiaomi has also upgraded the base storage and RAM, while keeping the price intact. Besides the pros, if I had to nitpick anything, it would be the fact that Xiaomi isn’t shipping the smartphone with Android Oreo out-of-the-box.
Overall, if you’ve been using the Note 3, then the upgrade to the Note 5 will be completely worth it. And in case, you are using the Note 4, and don’t care much about the minor camera improvements and the tall display, it would be worth waiting for another year, or you could spend a little more and get the Redmi Note 5 Pro. That phone comes with a 20-megapixel front camera, and a dual-camera setup at the back, as well as the more capable Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 SoC and up to 6GB of RAM.
In case you’re not sold on the idea of going for a Xiaomi smartphone, the Honor 9 Lite could be a better choice. It comes with a similar 18:9 display, front and back glass design, dual cameras at the front and back that let you add DLSR-like bokeh effects to your selfies, and ships with Android Oreo out-of-the-box. The Honor 9 Lite starts at Rs 10,999.
The Infinix Hot S3 with its18:9 display, 20-megapixel front camera and Android Oreo OS isn’t a bad choice either. The base variant is priced at Rs 8,999, while the higher storage and RAM variant is priced at Rs 10,999.