Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro Review

I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that the Redmi Note has become one of the most important smartphones on the Indian market today. It started back in 2014 with the launch of the original Redmi Note but what really brought the series to people’s attention was the launch of the Redmi Note 3 in 2016, which was just an incredible value proposition at the time. The phone packed a big screen that Indians love so much with the fastest processor you can buy in that price range and a battery that could power a small house. The formula was perfected last year with the Redmi Note 4, which was even more refined than its predecessor and at the same great price.

This year, Xiaomi is not fucking around. We get not one but two Redmi Note phones, the more expensive of which I have today. The Redmi Note 5 Pro brings forward everything its predecessors were known for but this time with a new display and high quality cameras front and back. It’s also debuting alongside a new processor from Qualcomm that promises to once again be the fastest in its class.

This should be interesting.

The design of the Redmi Note 5 Pro is a mix of old and new. It’s not exactly a stretched out Redmi Note 4 but it’s not terribly unique either.

The front is the most distinguishing side. The taller aspect ratio display makes its presence felt immediately and is surrounded by a white bezel on the gold, rose gold, and blue models. The colors are nice, especially the blue, but the white bezels are a deal-breaker for me. Why you would want to highlight your bezels so prominently by painting them white while everyone else is trying to minimize them eludes me. Only the black variant has black bezels, making it the default choice for sensible people.

The back looks like every other recent Xiaomi phone. Except for the camera, which looks like the iPhone X. While the wholesale rip-off doesn’t bother me much, what does bother me is that the camera sticks out about a foot from the back, making it wobble every time I am using the phone while it lies on my desk.

Some other observations about the design: as much as I like having the fingerprint sensor on the front, the location here on the back is easy to reach and the damn thing unlocks really quick, too quick even. The buttons on the side are also perfectly placed and feel really good to operate with a superb tactile feedback. The curved Gorilla Glass on the front is a nice touch and looks premium. The integration of the aluminum with the plastic on the back is near seamless, with proper color matching and tight tolerances. The new curvature of the sides does make the phone fit better in hand than the last one.

I do wish Xiaomi would switch to using the more premium unibody design; everybody else seems to be doing it now, even in lower price ranges. The current metal on plastic design feels sturdy enough but it doesn’t have the same feel of holding a solid block of aluminum, something you get on a Motorola phone, for example.

This is also a big, heavy phone. The big part is mostly understood now, what with this being the ‘Note’ series, but it is also quite heavy, heavier even than the Note 4. I personally don’t mind it as much but it will put off some buyers immediately.

The Redmi Note 5 Pro has a 5.99-inch, 2160×1080 resolution IPS LCD. The display does look really quite nice and the quality of the panel here is impressive. I set the display to the ‘Standard’ mode, which has the most natural looking colors. The color temperature was still a bit cool, making the whites look bluish, but that’s about all I could fault. The panel is laminated directly to the glass, which makes it feel like you’re directly touching the pixels and really makes the images pop. The corners are also rounded off, which looks good aesthetically. Overall, I was quite happy with the display and the only thing that really bummed me out were those white bezels.

I was looking forward to using this phone when I found out it was running on the new Snapdragon 636 processor. A brief summary of the 636 would be this: the CPU on this has more in common with the high-end processors than the mid-range trash you usually find in this price range. Xiaomi has also paired it with LPDDR4X memory, which is far too many letters to basically say it is fast, efficient and usually found on high-end phones.

The performance, as expected, was generally very good. My yardstick for measuring performance on Android is the official Twitter app. There has not been a more poorly coded and optimized app in human history (some might point to Facebook but I haven’t used that in years). Basically, I install the app, set it up and then just scroll. If it scrolls without a hitch, I’m satisfied. Usually, this only happens with high-end phones (but not all of them; Samsung phones with their Exynos processors fail this test miserably) but the Redmi Note 5 Pro passes with flying colors. The reason I said “generally very good” is because it’s not smooth 100% of the time but what I have with me is a brand new device with non-final software so there is a chance it could get better in the future. As it stands now, it is still very good.

Another good test is firing up Snapchat or Clonestagram and trying on the face filters. AR is a very heavy workload and causes most budget phones to shit their pants while they try to keep the dog ears on your face while maintaining a usable framerate. They fail, of course, and the resultant video with the filter often looks like a slideshow but Redmi Note 5 Pro once again does very well here.

Other challenges such as launching games, multitasking, scrolling through ad-littered websites in Chrome, and playing 1080p60 YouTube videos are also handled with consummate ease. I edited some images in Twitter (exploding brain), then edited some videos in Instagram (bigger exploding brain) and finally edited some RAW files from my Canon 700D in Snapseed (biggest exploding brain with lots of sparkles), which all went well. Essentially, the phone did everything I asked of it and did it well.

The graphics department didn’t see as big a boost from last year as the CPU. But, I still managed to get all the games I care about running at 60fps, so it’s good enough for now.

I’m now going to talk about the software but before that here’s a disclaimer: I have never really liked the software on any of the Chinese brands, and MIUI is no exception. I am not going to berate the Chinese for having different tastes than me or everybody else in the world because Android developed very differently in China in the absence of Google and so the software there looks and works a certain way. The iOS influence is clear even to this day. I am sick of looking at iOS on iPhones so I have zero inclination of looking at a cheap imitation of it.

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I am well aware of all the features Xiaomi has built into MIUI over the years and some of them are quite clever and useful. But it all comes wrapped in this layer of shitty design and shittier decisions that makes my eyes and brain hurt. Why, do you ask, is the Gmail icon a square, inside a circle, inside another square? Why do the notifications not expand or support any way for you to directly reply to them? Why is that share sheet so bad when Google came up with a much better implementation years ago? Why do apps still have no idea where to find ringtones in MIUI and have to ask you to locate for them? Why do the stock apps still rely on the thoroughly outmoded ‘menu button’ functionality, where you press and hold the multitasking button to access additional features? Why do I have to manually enable lockscreen notifications for every new app that I install? Why do incoming calls still take up the entire display? Why are there two browsers, two music players, two photo galleries, and two app stores? Who below the mental age of 10 genuinely thinks ‘themes’ are good? Why is the Settings app such a convoluted mess? Why do I have to look at the ads when I’ve already paid for the phone? Why is there a fucking anti-virus in here?

But by far the worst crime is that Xiaomi has somehow convinced legions of fans and reviewers (it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes) that it’s okay to not ship with the latest version of Android. That the version of Android doesn’t even matter as long as you get regular MIUI updates. Maybe you want that new emoji pack in Oreo, or for apps like 1Password and LastPass to autofill, or wide color support, Project Treble or a dozen other things. Maybe you just like being on the cutting edge of Android development. It doesn’t matter because that’s simply not a priority for Xiaomi.

And it’s not as if there isn’t a way to do this right; OnePlus has pretty much perfected this with OxygenOS. It adds additional functions on top of Android but without deviating from the core design principles of Android and that’s really what it should be like. Android already is in excellent position right now but a few enhancements here and there never hurt, as long as they don’t completely destroy the years of work Google put into designing it. And OnePlus is also reasonably punctual about Android update; they got their Oreo update out before Samsung.

I seem resentful but that’s only because I care about the core software experience and not just the bells and whistles that come on top, and that has always been the weakness with MIUI. It was fine back in the day when Android looked like something a child drew on an Etch a Sketch, and people found themselves attracted to custom ROMs like MIUI to improve upon the design and functionality of their phones. But that’s not the case anymore. While Android has grown from strength to strength, adopting a more modern design and becoming more functional, MIUI has just turned into an ugly, bloated mess with every version, much in the same way as the OS it derives its design inspiration from.

I really wish they just scrap the whole thing and start from scratch; align themselves with the design guidelines of modern Android, look beyond the people of China and consider the global tastes and trends in software. But that’s not happening any time soon largely because there is no pressure to. There’s no way this would fly in the western markets like Europe and North America but in Asia, who really even cares? OnePlus knows this, which is why OxygenOS doesn’t look like every other Chinese ROM. Huawei is figuring this out now, which is why we have seen rapid improvements in EMUI in the past year or so. But Xiaomi will keep shipping the same square bordered icons and the same tacky themes until such a day comes where it has to start selling in the US and hopefully then maybe we will see some proper change.

Anyway, enough ranting about software. Time to talk about one of my favorite things about this phone, the camera.

The main camera on the back, for all intents and purposes, is dope. I was genuinely impressed by the image quality of the main camera in daylight, and judging by the responses I got on Zuckstagram, so were many others. The images have pleasingly accurate colors and white balance in almost every lighting condition. Looking a bit closer, the noise levels are very well under control thanks to a very capable algorithm that doesn’t seem to blur out too much of the detail. Possibly because of this but there also isn’t a ton of artificial sharpening going on. This makes the images look very smooth and high quality when looked at 100% zoom, with none of the compression or sharpening artefacts that you normally see on smartphone photos. The phase detection autofocus system is also very quick and reliable.

I also like how well Xiaomi’s HDR algorithm works. On most phones, the HDR mode only boosts shadows without recovering the highlights. The one on this phone works as it should and I was genuinely surprised at times at how much detail it recovered. It is right up there with some of the best HDR algorithms on a smartphone.

Low light quality wasn’t that bad either. I mean, it’s no Pixel 2 or iPhone X, but the phone can hold its own, with perfectly usable results. Colors, noise, and sharpening are once again impressive, even when it starts getting really dark.

The portrait mode also worked well most of the times. I am not a huge fan of using wide angle lenses for portrait photography as that’s not how it works on dedicated cameras (for very good reasons) but for what it’s worth, the edge detection and blur strength are very good and give mostly pleasing results on people as well as objects.

Moving over to the front camera, the image quality was decent if not especially incredible. I’m not much into the new beauty mode filters but they do their job as well and Xiaomi does them better than anyone. I was really impressed by the portrait mode implementation on the front camera, which, much like Google’s, uses a single lens and a buttload (technical term) of software ingenuity to separate your face from the background. And I have to say, it works really well.

The video part of the camera is what is least impressive about it. It’s a standard 1080p 30fps affair, which is disappointing since the hardware can easily do 4K. Other phones in this price range can also do 4K recording now so it was a strange decision to lock it down to 1080p. The phone does have a pretty decent electronic image stabilization system and my guess is since this is difficult to do at 4K (most budget phones only have EIS at 1080p) Xiaomi decided to leave out 4K altogether instead of having unstabilized 4K.

You can find all the images I took here.

The Redmi Note series has always been known for its battery life and the Redmi Note 5 Pro is no exception. I was curious to see what effect the more powerful processor will have on the battery life but in my usage I regularly saw upwards of 8 hours of screen-on time and over 24 hours of standby time, meaning I could get through an entire day and still have some charge left for the next. Not having to worry about your battery dying in the middle of the day is a genuinely liberating feeling and you get that with this phone.

The only annoyance is that the charging process is slow. The phone technically supports fast charging but doesn’t actually ship with a fast charger in the box. Even when I used my own, the charging rate wasn’t noticeably faster than just using the charger that came in the box. The phone charges about 27% from flat in 30 minutes and about 55% after about an hour. Full charge takes about 2 hours 20 minutes, which is okay, considering the size of the battery but I really wish the initial charging rate was quicker.

Also, the Redmi Note 5 Pro still ships with a microUSB connector in 2018. Of all the places where Xiaomi could have cut costs, this is the place they chose to do it. It’s simply not acceptable at this point, especially when much cheaper phones are now shipping with USB-C connectors.

Alright, time for the conclusion then. If you read the whole thing, you already know what I think but to summarize, I think the Redmi Note 5 Pro is an excellent phone overall. I really liked the display, the performance, the cameras and the battery life. The fact that Xiaomi continues to pack all this in at that price is shockingly impressive. The phone is so good that even if someone had a budget extending all the way to 25k or even 30k, I would still recommending picking this up instead because from here till the OnePlus 5T, there is nothing there in between that can compete right now.

Which is not to say that it isn’t without its faults. MIUI is absolute trash. An Android One version of this phone would be perfect but I’m not sure if that’s ever happening. The phone is rather large and heavy. There is no USB-C connector and charging this phone takes ages. Hybrid dual SIM is not the same as proper dual SIM and can we please have black bezels on the front on all colors in the future?

But the biggest drawback is going to be being able to buy this phone. I feel like I should stop recommending Xiaomi products to people because every time they go to the website to purchase something, they are greeted with a sign that tells them to come back on a particular day and time, when all the stars in the sky align perfectly and there’s a brief one second window during which your order will actually go through. It is utterly ridiculous and alongside announcing how many phones it managed to sell during every sale, Xiaomi should also have a counter for how many people went back empty handed or ended up buying a phone from a competing brand.

So the conclusion then is the same as every other Xiaomi product: You should totally buy it. If they let you.

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