Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Review: Trying to fill big shoes with a tall display
Oh, them Redmi Note 4 feels
About a year ago, Xiaomi launched a device in the Indian market that sold millions of units, the device that changed the position of the company in the Indian smartphone market and the device that set the bar on another level for its competition. Yes, we are talking about the much loved Redmi Note 4, the smartphone that sold like hot cakes on a winter morning. And after a year of success, lots of rumors and speculations, the company has now added another Note to the series, the Redmi Note 5. But is this going to be as Note-able as its predecessor?
The Note 4…with a taller display!
The design of the Redmi Note 5 is kind of conflicting. The face of the smartphone is where all the major change has happened. It is the aspect of the smartphone which will make you feel you are holding the successor of the Redmi Note 4. With the Redmi Note 5, Xiaomi has stepped in the tall, 18:9, “almost bezel-less” mid segment smartphone community. The Note 5 comes with 5.99 (almost six) inch full HD+ display with a resolution of 2160 x 1080 pixels with 18:9 aspect ratio. The display is bright and colorful. It produces vibrant colors but if you prefer slightly warmer or cooler colors, you can change the temperature of the display by going to the settings. Plus there is a reading mode that makes the display black and white for those who read e-books or newspapers on their smartphones.
This gives the front a tall full HD+ display with thinner bezels, and the change certainly hits you straight away. The display is topped with 2.5D curved glass, giving it a very shiny, premium touch. While Xiaomi has trimmed down the bezels on the Note 5, the phone is nowhere nearly bezel-less or even almost bezel-less. The bezels around the screen are very pronounced.
The bezel above the display carries the front camera, LED flash, proximity sensor, and the earpiece while the chin of the Note 5 remains functionless, as the company has removed the capacitive touch buttons and has placed on-screen buttons instead.
Remember we said the design is a conflicting department? Well, it is so because the front of the device may look different but that’s where the major change stops hitting you. Turn the phone around, and a wave of disappointment might strike some people. Why? The Note 5 seems to be the xerox copy of the Redmi Note 4. Not similar in a dead ringer kind of sense, but a copy. And getting a black unit only made matters more…similar. It comes with a similar metal back, divided into three segments by two shiny antenna bands.
Just below the first antenna band is the 12-megapixel primary camera with f/2.2 aperture that protrudes a little. Below the camera is the dual LED flashlight, followed by a regressed fingerprint scanner. There is a grey logo above the second antenna band.
Just like the Redmi Note 4, the Note 5 holds the hybrid SIM card slot on the left side while the volume rocker and the power/lock button are placed on the right side. The base of the smartphone carries the speaker grilles and the micro USB port, and the top carries the 3.5 mm audio jack and the infrared port.
Keeping all the similarities aside, the Note 5 has changed a bit in terms of measurements. It has become, taller, thinner and less wide as compared to its predecessor but has definitely gained some grams. The device measures 158.6 x 75.4 x 8.05 mm and weighs 180 grams. The phone feels solid because of the metal back, but as it is a little large in size, you might feel the need to put all hands on deck in order to use it.
That said, we still think that the Note 5 looks largely like the Note 4. It feels like the Note 4 that went to college and graduated with a tall display degree. And that’s about it.
A Note 4-like performance
While the looks department of the Redmi Note 5 may be a little conflicting with major changes on the front and next to no changes on the back, there is no real conflict when it comes to performance. Because the new Note comes with the EXACT same specs and numbers in this department as its predecessor. Here we have the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB internal storage. There is another variant of the device which comes with 3 GB/ 32 GB configurations. The difference? This time there is no 2 GB/ 16 GB variant.
And because the apple generally does not fall too far from the tree, the performance of the Note 5 is not really that different as compared to the Note 4. The Note 5 handles the daily tasks like handling social media, messaging, calling among other things pretty well. We experienced no lags during the usual hopping from one app to another, which means multitasking is quite smooth as well. Playing casual games on the phone was also a breezy experience. The phone runs through games like Subway Surfer, Candy Crush, and The Spearman. But the obvious lags begin to show when we moved to high-end gaming. We tried games like Asphalt Xtreme and NFS No Limits. The graphics were not really great, and the frames dropped often, and Asphalt even crashed twice while we were playing the game.
The smartphone also heats slights when in heavy duty work mode but never reaches even remotely alarming levels. But the gaming experience on the Note 5 feels better because of the tall display as compared to the Note 4. The Note 5 also does well in call connectivity department, and we did not face any call drop issues. The sound quality over headphone is good but there is nothing exceptional there and the loudspeaker is no different.
Cutting megapixels, improving quality
Most successors are generally expected to bring along improved features and numbers, but Xiaomi is not following the fashion this time. While many people were expecting the smartphone to join the dual camera bandwagon (which did not happen), the company has actually cut back on the megapixel count. Not just this, but the Note 5’s camera also comes with a smaller aperture at f/2.2 as compared to Note 4 that came with f/2.0 aperture.
But smaller numbers do not always mean compromised performance. For all the cutting, Note 5 actually has a marginally better camera than the Note 4, though it is not exceptionally improved.
The detail produced by the Note 5’s camera is one of the biggest pluses in the camera department. The picture of the flower petal with droplets of water on it is a close-up, but the camera did not struggle to take the picture. We sometimes had to re-adjust the space between the camera and the object but the phone mostly just took a well-detailed shot right away. Even zooming in is not a great pain which is a problem in many cameras because the picture starts pixelating once you zoom in. Yes, you lose some detail, and a bit of noise creeps in, but it definitely remains passable for most social network sites.
The phone also handles moves and shakes well. No, we did not take the phone dancing, but taking a picture out of a moving auto rickshaw with a shaky hand did not butcher the picture as badly as we were expecting it to.
But it is not all hunky-dory in the Note 5’s camera world. One of the problems with the camera of the device is the color reproduction. The camera seems to be very inconsistent in terms of color reproduction. The camera sometimes produced super bright and oversaturated colors, sometimes did justice to the subject, while at others, gave us completely washed out results and because of this, we just did not know what to expect from the camera in terms of color reproduction.
In terms of front camera, the Note 5 comes with 5-megapixel shooter just like that of the Note 4’s but added here is a front-facing flash. The selfie camera only takes passable selfies. There is nothing too great about it. The details are not really the camera’s forte (just like most front cameras in this segment) and the color reproduction level seems to be always inclined towards oversaturation. The beauty mode on the Note 5 does not make you look like an anime character and does not look unreal which is definitely a plus point. The flash on the front works automatically, you can turn it off, but if you want the flash on in your selfies at all times, you would have to choose the Torch option in the UI which will turn the LED on permanently, until you turn it off.
Because the Note 5 comes with MIUI 9, it is laden with all the modes and filters that come with MIUI generally. So, you can play around with those features, too.
Ticking the battery and UI boxes
Just like the Note 5 cut back a little in the camera department, it has cut back in the battery department as well. So all those who were expecting it to come with a bigger battery, you are allowed to feel disappointed. The Note 5 comes with 4,000 mAh battery, but just like the camera did not leave us underwhelmed, the battery has not either. The 4,000 mAh battery easily sees a little more than a day under heavy usage and can easily see two days when used moderately, all thanks to MIUI 9 (or so they say).
The world may have taken the Android Oreo train already, but the Note 5 seems to be a little too attached to Android Nougat. The smartphone comes with Android 7.1.1 out of the box and is bundled with Xiaomi’s in-house MIUI 9. Unlike some of the other heavy UIs that make the smartphone slow and often add features at the cost of speed, MIUI 9 does not seem to be hurting the speed of the smartphone and feels sharp and snappy enough. The UI offers various themes that people can download and can customize their Xiaomi phones. The pure Android fan brigade might not like the idea, but we think it adds value to the smartphone. The connectivity options on the smartphone include 4G Bluetooth, Wi-fi, and FM radio.
The great Redmi Note 4, now has a successor and the device is priced at Rs. 9,999 for the 3 GB/ 32 GB variant and Rs 11,999 for the 4 GB/ 64 GB variant. This means the smartphone goes in the market with very stiff competition around it. The Note 5 faces heat from the Honor 9 Lite that comes with not just two but four cameras, 18:9 aspect ratio display and a very good design. The phone also has Lenovo K8 Plus which comes with dual primary cameras and Moto G5 Plus which is pretty comfortably set in this segment. The Note 4 created a buzz in the industry when it was launched, but we think the Note 5 fails to do so – it may have got the baton of the Note series now, but it is not a massive step forward from the Note 4 which definitely is a disappointment because the Note 4 had a huge lead in this race of mid-segment smartphones. Yes, those looking for a smartphone around Rs 10,000 will definitely consider the Redmi Note 5, but those already with a Redmi Note 4 (and there are millions of those around) might feel tempted to pass. Or maybe go for the Redmi Note 5 Pro.