- Superb rear camera performance
- Good, crisp display
- Stupendous battery life
- Unbeatable price
- Audio performance is a letdown
- Call quality could’ve been better
Scaling the Mount Everest. Swimming through a crocodile-infested lake. Eating a deep-fried cockroach. Peeling an onion without shedding tears.
All these tasks feel easy in comparison to buying the new Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro in a flash sale. The hysteria created by this phone — after the humongous success of the Redmi Note 4 — is unparalleled!
Well, let’s find out what’s so great about the Redmi Note 5 Pro, and what makes it India’s favourite smartphone. In fact, I replaced my personal iPhone 7 Plus with a Redmi Note 5 Pro to give you a comprehensive review of the phone.
Redmi Note 5 Pro design and display: evolving with the times, yet sticking to the old
One look at the Redmi Note 5 Pro and you will immediately notice that Xiaomi has evolved with the times. The Redmi Note 5 Pro now comes with a taller 5.99-inch 18:9 aspect ratio display, making it easier to handle thanks to the reduced width. However, the height of the display still makes it difficult for the thumb to reach the top. If anything, it is more difficult to do so when compared directly to a 16:9 aspect ratio display. The 181g weight of the phone feels intimidating and heavy at first, but you get used to it. I actually like the heft because it ensures I don’t drop the phone often.
When you flip the phone around, you will notice that Xiaomi doesn’t deviate much from its design ethos. A metal plate wraps around back, and there are two plastic strips on the top and the bottom so that the antenna can receive cellular signals with ease. This means that you don’t get a completely unibody design. But, I am not concerned too much about it because you get a solidly-built device despite the seams. What I am concerned about is the fact that the Redmi Note 5 Pro doesn’t come with a USB Type-C port but a Micro-USB one. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Xiaomi decided to do that considering even its very own Mi A1 comes with the newer Type-C standard. Baffling!
Coming back to the rear, the Redmi Note 5 Pro’s design shares some similarities with the iPhone X. Yup, that vertical placement of dual cameras on the rear, with an LED flash sandwiched in between, looks uncannily similar to the iPhone X. Although, thats where the similarity ends. The fingerprint scanner sits bang in the centre of the rear and is easy to reach. It is stupendously fast and, in my opinion, better than the unreliable face recognition unlocking method. The volume rocker and the power button sit on the right edge of the phone and are adequately tactile. You get hybrid SIM tray for two Nano SIMs, or one Nano SIM and a microSD card.
As I see it, with the Redmi Note 5 Pros design, Xiaomi is straddling between the modern smartphone aesthetic defined by full-view displays and a familiar tried-and-tested signature Redmi design.
Coming to that large 5.99-inch 1080p IPS LCD display. It offers a good colour palette with accurate colours, and decent viewing angles too. Also, you don’t have to worry about the harsh sun washing out the display because it can get adequately bright. But, I did notice one problem. The software’s auto-brightness feature was super iffy. It defaults to a low brightness and stays there, even if the surrounding is dark. I switched it off immediately. However, I wouldn’t worry too much because a simple software update can fix this issue. And finally, the Redmi Note 5 Pro comes with an unspecified version of Corning Gorilla Glass on top of the display to protect it from scratches.
Redmi Note 5 Pro software: refined MIUI experience
MIUI – Xiaomi’s homegrown skin on top of Android – is supremely popular and has a loyal crew of followers. In fact, MIUI – like Cyanogenmod – was a custom ROM before Xiaomi decided to make special hardware for it.
MIUI 9 is the latest version of that skin and it runs on top of Android 7.1.2. For all intents and purposes, MIUI is a completely unique mobile operating system in and off itself. Primarily because it completely eschews Android’s UI and UX principles and pushes its own agenda. You either like it, or you hate it. I like it.
The good stuff:
- I love that the phone dialler offers you the option to record the call or take a note.
- MIUI 9’s Mi Remote is an insanely useful app that can be used to switch off the television when someone else is watching it. Tee hee.
- While not novel, MIUI 9’s split screen is fun and easy to use.
- The blink-and-miss animations when you minimise apps are rather cute.
- Second space is an extremely useful feature if you like keeping your professional and personal data separate.
- If you don’t want two separate spaces, you can choose to run dual apps on the same default profile. For example, you can have two instances of WhatsApp or Facebook for two different accounts. I know a lot of folks who will be happy to use this.
- The customisable one-handed mode comes in handy especially for a phone of this size. I did end up using it a lot.
- MIUI lets you hide the soft navigation keys for a completely uninterrupted full screen experience. It works well.
The not so good stuff:
- Yes, MIUI comes with a Quick Reply feature from its notification shade but you need to swipe down with two fingers. I am sorry but that is a major interaction design fail. In fact, my colleague Abdul didn’t know it exists until I told him.
- I hate Themes. They are a personal pet peeve.
- App Vault is half-baked at the moment.
- Duplication of apps is a major problem.
However, the good thing is Xiaomi is constantly tinkering with MIUI to bring more features. For example, full screen gestures – like the iPhone X and the OnePlus 5T – is coming soon in the 9.5 update. So, is the 4K video recording mode. So, there’s a lot to look forward to if you end up buying the Redmi Note 5 Pro.
Redmi Note 5 Pro camera: Xiaomi has improved its camera game
One of the major talking points for Xiaomi at the Redmi Note 5 Pro launch was the new Portrait mode algorithm on the dual rear cameras and the front camera. I did an extensive camera comparison of the Portrait mode capabilities of the phone comparing it to the iPhone X and the Pixel 2. The long and short of it is: the Redmi Note 5 Pro’s Portrait mode is a revelation and detail retention is great too.
In fact, the 12MP primary camera on the rear uses a large 1.25 micron pixel size on its sensor. This sensor is capable of retrieving a greater level of details compared to many other phones in the same price range. I found the colour accuracy and the colour temperature to be on point as well. Even the dynamic range by default is pretty darn good. Although, I still liked the HDR mode for it brings subtle improvements to highlights and shadows. Also, you won’t face any chromatic aberration whatsoever but will have to contend with some barrel distortion around the edges especially when shooting in wide. I won’t consider that to be an big problem because most smartphone lenses struggle lens distortion.
Click on the thumbnail to view the photo in full resolution
In low light, the 12MP rear camera favours luminance over details. What this means is the camera, in conjunction with the software, tends to favour higher ISOs over detail retention. While this looks great on the phone, the moment you transfer these images to a PC and view it in its original size you won’t be impressed. But if we have to get real, this is a Rs 15,000 phone we are talking about. I don’t think I’ve seen a single phone capture good details in low light. So, I am not going to worry too much about it.
Click on the thumbnail to view the photo in full resolution
On the front, Xiaomi has included a 20MP shooter. It takes great selfies in daylight and does a decent job in low light. But even without the beautify mode, the selfie camera is tuned to take over-exposed images making your skin look whiter than normal. I am sure, Xiaomi knows what it is doing.
The image on the left is non-HDR and the one on the right is HDR. Click on the thumbnail to view the photo in full resolution
As for the video recording, you can shoot at a maximum resolution of 1080p with an electronically stabilised footage. The stabilisation is rather good but the image quality is slightly better than average at best. The colour reproduction is similar to when you shoot stills but I noticed a lot of highlight clipping and underexposure in certain areas. And like I mentioned before, Xiaomi has promised a 4K video recording capability in a future update.
Click on the thumbnail to view the photo in full resolution
Redmi Note 5 Pro performance: faster than any phone in this price range
The Redmi Note 5 Pro has the distinction of being the world’s first phone to include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 SoC coupled with either 4GB or 6GB of RAM. This 14nm chipset – apart from being extremely power efficient – is also pretty powerful because it is made of eight Kyro 260 cores and ably supported by the Adreno 509 GPU. For those who don’t know, the Kyro cores — until the Snapdragon 636 and the Snapdragon 660 – were used only in high-end flagship chips like the Snapdragon 820 and above. Therefore, as a tech nerd I was rather excited to benchmark a phone with the Snapdragon 636 for the very first time.
And boy, was I impressed. The Redmi Note 5 Pro returned an AnTuTu score of 1,05,470 and 32fps in GFXbench’s TRex test. I have never seen such high numbers on a newly launched phone under Rs 15,000. These numbers translate to incredible real-life usage as well. The phone screams through every task you throw at it. From multi-tasking to using split screen mode with ease, the Redmi Note 5 Pro is the most powerful phone you can buy in this price range. Period.
Additionally, the stellar gaming performance is only an added advantage. Every graphically intensive game from Tekken to Asphalt 8 ran smoothly without any hiccups.
Moving on to the audio performance, I must say the single downward firing mono speaker can get rather loud. Also, it doesn’t distort at high volumes which is definitely a major advantage. But, the onboard DAC is a poor performer. I used my reference FiiO F9 Pro to test the sound quality and the phone just couldn’t drive them. Even a cheaper pair of earphones like the 1More Dual Drivers struggled. This is surprising because the Mi A1’s internal DAC is a revelation and that phone is a darling in the audiophile community. Moreover, the call quality could’ve been better. I couldn’t hear the person on the other end clearly, and my voice sounded muffled to them too. I definitely think both, Motorola and Honor, have an upper hand in this department.
As far as the battery performance of the 4000mAh unit inside Redmi Note 5 Pro is concerned, you’ll be glad to know that it doesn’t disappoint. On an average, I constantly got anywhere between 5hrs 30 minutes and 6 hrs of screen on time. And, more often than not, I’d end up with at least 20 percent, if not more, battery life left at the end of my usual work day. Interestingly, the Redmi Note 5 Pro comes with support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 fast charging. But, I couldn’t test it out. With the bundled charger I achieved a charging time of 2 hours and 26 minutes.
Should you buy the Redmi Note 5 Pro?
A resounding, YES!
You should buy the Redmi Note 5 Pro. While using the phone, I kept thinking – how the hell is it priced so low?
But like they say — “all good things in life, are hard to find” — the Redmi Note 5 Pro is also difficult to buy thanks to limited stocks and flash sales.
And, that’s where the alternatives come in. I quite like the Honor 7X and the Honor 9 Lite for what they offer. Especially, the Honor 9 Lite with its glass body cuts a sexy figure. Furthermore, Xiaomi’s very own Mi A1, is a great option if you are looking for a stock Android experience.
But all that said, the Redmi Note 5 Pro is my pick for the best phone under Rs 15,000. It offers incredible value for money and is quite honestly, a steal for this price. Xiaomi has created a benchmark yet again, and I wonder how it is going to beat it next year.