Xiaomi Mi 5 first impressions: A phone I want but can’t have

Xiaomi Mi 5 first impressions: A phone I want but can’t have

Xiaomi showed off its new Mi 5 Android phone at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today, and it’s an impressive device for a surprisingly low price starting at just $305 USD.

The Mi 5 is a 5.15-inch smartphone sandwiched in glass (or ceramic, on the high end) that looks stunning, though somewhat similar in appearance to the Samsung Galaxy S7.

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For an Android manufacturer it’s a breath of fresh air to see a company like Xiaomi taking design so seriously. If you didn’t know any better, you could be mistaken at a distance that this is a high-end Apple or Samsung phone — it looks that good.

Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra spent a lot of time during the keynote today touting that there’s a fingerprint sensor on the front that doesn’t waste space, and that the camera on the back is flush with the body.

Xiaomi comparing its design to its direct competitors
Xiaomi comparing its design to its direct competitors

That’s an important differentiator for the company, which specifically called out both Apple and Samsung for not solving the problem in their own devices.

It feels solidly built in your hand and it’s a good size for using with just one hand, rather than two. Best of all, it feels light — weighing in at 129g — which is immediately apparent as you pick it up, though it’s just 14g lighter than an iPhone 6s.

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Most of all Xiaomi has built something that’s distinctly its own. Sure, it somewhat resembles the Samsung Galaxy S7, but the curved glass back along with the ceramic option show that the company has come into its own for design rather than just emulating what’s already out there.

One thing worth considering is that the glass backed version is a fingerprint magnet, so if that bothers you it’s worth considering the ceramic version instead — but that comes with a price premium.

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We were only able to try the Mi 5 for a short amount of time, but it was impressively fast, with no perceptible lag opening the camera or performing the kind of tasks you’d be doing every day.

That’s thanks to the Snapdragon 820 inside and 4GB of RAM, which really shows when you’re using the phone. It’s hard to say how good that’ll be long term, but it’s a great start.

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The camera is incredibly responsive and takes snaps without any noticeable lag. Image quality seemed pretty good, though it’s hard to say without spending more time with the phone.

Barra spent a good chunk of the presentation touting the ‘flagship’ camera and demoted impressive example shots from its 16-megapixel shooter, but what phone maker doesn’t? We’ll need to look into this area more later, but it does look promising.

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For the price, the Mi 5 an incredible phone that delivers great performance and quality for such a low price — it would retail for about $305 USD if it were available outside China.

What’s amazing here is that a small Chinese manufacturer that hasn’t even gone global yet is leading the pack with a high performance, well designed smartphone for a low price. Instead of just following, Xiaomi showed today that it can actually lead the smartphone discussion.

That’s the rub: if you want one of these, you’re going to have a really hard time getting it.

Xiaomi is only releasing the Mi 5 in China right now, with India to follow and a vague “elsewhere” later on, but the company is yet to officially release any devices in Europe or the United States — but I’m hoping this will find its way there.

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