Many Android flagships in 2017 boasted of taller screens with nearly no borders as their headlining feature. Naturally, we started seeing this trend trickle down to the mid-range and entry-level segments, with phones like the InFocus Vision 3 (Review) and Honor 9 Lite (Review) to name a few. Xiaomi has been a favourite in the budget space and now it's joining the party.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Review) has been the ranked as the top selling smartphone in 2017, so expectations for the Chinese manufacturer’s brand new offerings for 2018 are incredibly high. The new Redmi Note 5 (Review) has big shoes to fill and from what we’ve seen, it manages to do so pretty well. Xiaomi has also launched a more powerful model with a better camera, and it's called the Redmi Note 5 Pro. This is the first phone to debut Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 636 mobile platform, which supports full-HD+ displays and features Qualcomm's own custom Kryo CPU cores. While all of this sounds great on paper, the big question is whether it’s worth the premium over the standard Redmi Note 5. Let’s find out.
From the front, the Redmi Note 5 Pro looks very similar to the Redmi Note 5, with the same prominent curved corners on the 18:9 display. The phone still has visible borders to the left and right of the display and comparatively thicker ones at the top and bottom. It does feel slightly heavy at 181g, which could be due to the metal back and large battery. The white and gold trim of our review unit looked good, but you can also get this phone in black, blue, or rose gold.
The 5.99-inch display has a full-HD+ resolution, which is wider than what standard full-HD displays offer. Xiaomi boasts of it having a maximum brightness of 450 nits, which means that in the real world, the display is easily legible even under direct sunlight. Gorilla Glass has been used for scratch protection. There aren’t any capacitive buttons here since Xiaomi has gone with on-screen navigation buttons. Above the screen, we have the front facing camera, a diffused selfie flash, the earpiece, and sensors.
The volume and power buttons are on the right of the phone, and are slightly out of reach when you’re holding the phone normally, but feel solid. Up top, there's an IR emitter just like on previous Redmi Note smartphones. At the bottom of the phone, we have a 3.5mm headphone socket, microphone, Micro-USB port, and a speaker grille. Once again, It’s a bit disappointing to not have a Type-C port. Considering that this is the ‘Pro’ model, we would have appreciated the newer connector. On the left, we have a hybrid dual-SIM slot which can accommodate two Nano-SIMs or a microSD card (up to 128GB) in the second slot.
The metal back reminds us a lot of the Redmi Note 4, with its matte finish and slightly tapering edges. The fingerprint sensor lines up comfortably against your finger when you hold the phone, and authentication is quick. The camera bump is very noticeable, and let’s face it, its design has been, shall we say, "heavily inspired" by the iPhone X (Review). Even the arrangement is the same, with the two camera sensors flanking the dual-LED flash. The bump also means that this phone rests at an awkward angle when you place it on a flat surface. The back is otherwise plain, save for a printed Mi logo towards the bottom.
We received our test unit without any packaging but Xiaomi told us that buyers can expect a bundle similar to that of the Redmi Note 5, including the standard charger and silicone case.
The phone is pretty tall, which makes it a challenge to fit snugly into the pockets of some pants, but that isn't much of an issue otherwise. On the other hand, the width is manageable, making this phone easy to grip with one hand. We also got used to the slightly heavier weight after a couple days of using it. Overall, the Redmi Note 5 Pro is built well and looks good.
Xiaomi is hailing the Redmi Note 5 Pro as the spiritual successor to the Redmi Note 3 (Review), which is true from a performance standpoint. The Redmi Note 3 raised the bar for performance at the Rs. 15,000 price level, and the Redmi Note 5 raises it once again. This is the first phone to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 636 mobile platform, which was announced last October. This is only the second SoC outside the Qualcomm's flagship 800 series to feature the company's own custom Kryo CPU cores. We have a total of eight Kryo 260 cores which can run at a maximum clock speed of 1.8GHz and are split into two clusters of four ‘performance’ cores and four ‘efficiency’ cores. Just like the Snapdragon 630 SoC on the Moto X4 (Review), this one is fabricated using the smaller 14nm process, but with a slightly faster Adreno 509 GPU.
Qualcomm says this new GPU should offer better gaming performance compared to the Adreno 508 in the Snapdragon 630. Our review unit came running a beta build of Xiaomi's MIUI software, on which most benchmarks didn't run, in order to prevent leaks before launch. However, we did manage to run AnTuTu, which gave us a score of 85,838 points, and PCMark Work 2.0, which gave us a score of 5,619. This is a performance jump of around 10 precent on average compared to the Snapdragon 625 SoC used by the Redmi Note 5.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro is available with either 4GB or 6GB of RAM, although the storage remains the same at 64GB in both variants. You can expand by up to 128GB this using a miroSD card. The phone also has Bluetooth 5, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, GPS, FM radio, USB-OTG, and an array of sensors including a gyroscope. 4G is supported with VoLTE.
This phone's MIUI software is still based on Android 7.1.1 Nougat, which is a bit disappointing to see and we don't have any official word on when we can expect an Oreo update as of now. The Android security level is also not up to date - our unit was patched till December 2017, though this could also be due to it being a beta build so we'll give Xiaomi the benefit of the doubt.
The custom skin is similar to what we’ve seen on other recent Xiaomi offerings such as the Redmi 5A (Review) and Redmi Y1 (Review). The custom icon set looks polished and we like the use of pastel shades. The interface looks slick and swiping through home screens is smooth. We didn’t encounter any noticeable lag or stutter in the animations either. The leftmost home screen is dedicated to giving you card-style updates, shortcuts for apps (you can add your own too), a space to take quick notes, cricket scores, and calendar events. There's also integration with Ola which lets you tap shortcuts for your Home and Work locations, although you're redirected to the Ola app (or a Web page if you don't have it installed) to actually make bookings.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro also has a bunch of pre-installed apps from Xiaomi. Mi Drop lets you send files over an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network provided the receiver also has the app installed. There’s also Mi Store and Mi Community, which can be uninstalled if not wanted.
The Settings app has a submenu for Wi-Fi calling, but there were no options to set, only a message that the feature depends on the cellular network provider. You can change the UI theme, use the fingerprint sensor to lock apps or take pictures, and set shortcuts for launching the flashlight, camera, etc. There are also familiar MIUI features such as Quick Ball, which is like Apple’s AssistiveTouch shortcut panel; one-handed mode; and Dual Apps, which lets you create two instances of some apps so that you can use them with multiple accounts.
The Fullscreen Mode menu lets you force apps to run full-screen (minus black bars on the sides), and you can set the navigation bar to auto-hide for a more immersive experience. You can also optionally sign up for a Mi Cloud account, which gives you 5GB of free cloud storage for backing up your contacts, messages, calendars, notes, etc.
We tested the 4GB RAM variant of the Redmi Note 5 Pro, which performed very well with day-to-day usage. The screen does attract some fingerprints but we found the rest of the body to be quite resilient to smudges and dirt. Call reception is good and the speaker is loud enough for alerts and some media playback. The phone also runs pretty cool, and even with gaming, it only gets a bit warm. Heavy camera usage doesn’t make it overheat, which is very good.
For media playback, Xiaomi offers its own music and video app, which is frankly not needed when you have Google’s suite of media players preinstalled, and more feature-rich options such as MX Player available for free. High-bitrate videos played just fine, and this phone can even handle 4K playback. There’s a system-wide audio enhancement feature for headphones, which can be activated from the Settings app. Audio quality through headphones is good, and you can toggle between presets tuned to Xiaomi's various headphones, or set your own.
Xiaomi says the cameras are one of the big highlights of the Redmi Note 5 Pro, and in our experience, they were pretty good. At the back of the phone, there's a primary 12-megapixel camera with 1.25 micron pixels on its sensor and a f/2.2 aperture, while the second 5-megapixel camera is only used for sensing depth for the Portrait Mode effect. This works decently well for human subjects but the edge detection isn’t always accurate for other objects.
Landscapes shot in daylight have good detail, with very good colours. The phone struggles to get the white balance right at times under harsh sunlight, but otherwise, light metering is handled well. Edges in close-ups aren't very sharp but this is only noticeable when zoomed in at 100 percent. Sadly, HDR doesn’t kick in automatically (it does so with the front camera) so you’ll have to remember to engage it manually. In low light, autofocus gets a bit slower and shutter lag does creep in, but image quality doesn’t degrade too badly. Landscapes have a decent level of detail and noise is kept within bounds, and in macros, colours are well represented. Portrait Mode also works well in low light.
Since we tested this phone with beta firmware, the option for 4K video recording wasn't shown. We did check with Xiaomi about this and the company said that 4K video recording is meant to be supported, but an update might not be released by the time this phone goes on sale. Still, 1080p video recorded under good light is impressive. You can enable electronic stabilisation, which causes minor ‘shimmering’ anomalies in the output but this is something that might be fixed with future updates. The stabilisation itself works very well, even when you’re moving about.
However, continuous autofocus wasn't very effective when recording video. When switched off, autofocus was more on point. There are also slow-motion and time-lapse video modes, which work well enough. The Short Video shooting mode records a 10-second video clip but the audio quality is quite poor. Panorama mode also works well and is quick in stitching frames together. Manual mode offers limited functionality as it only lets you change the white balance and ISO.
The front 20-megapixel sensor captures detailed selfies in daylight, although HDR isn’t too effective under strong sunlight. There’s a Depth Mode which uses Xiaomi’s AI learning algorithms for edge detection. In practice, it works quite well. It managed to blur out most of the background of our test shots (with a few misses here and there). There’s a selfie light, which fires diffused white light on your face, helping in very low light. Beautification can be turned on if needed, and you can choose the level of the effect and also modify some of your facial features.
The 4000mAh battery in the Redmi Note 5 Pro easily lasted us through more than a day of medium to heavy usage. The bundled 10W charger doesn’t support quick charging but the phone itself does. We tried it with our own Qualcomm Quick Charge power adapter and a notification on the lock screen indicated that the phone was charging quickly. The charging icon in the status bar also changed to the Quick Charge logo. In our HD video loop test, we managed to get 16 hours and 36 minutes of continuous video playback on a single charge.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro offers plenty of reasons to spend that extra bit of money over the Redmi Note 5. The list of improvements includes a better set of cameras, slightly better battery life, and a more powerful processor - all of which make the usage experience just a bit nicer. The weight of the phone is something you will have to get used to, and even though it isn’t very striking to look at, the build quality is solid. We love the new taller display, which is sharp and has very good sunlight legibility.
Portrait mode works very well for the front and rear cameras, and this is backed by solid battery life and very good overall app and system performance. Given that this is a ‘Pro’ model, we would have liked to see more features, such as a bundled fast charger, USB Type-C port, and maybe a more distinctive design which would have set this phone apart from the non-Pro model. Having Android Oreo out-of-the-box would have also been a nice touch for enthusiasts, who Xiaomi is targeting here.
At a starting price of Rs. 13,999, this phone is pretty hard to beat. You have Xiaomi’s own Mi A1 (Review) at the same price, which is also a good pick especially if you’re looking for stock Android interface like on the Google Pixel series. The Moto G5S Plus (Review) has long been one of our top picks at this price point, but now, there’s really no matching the Redmi Note 5 Pro in terms of performance and features at this price.
We discuss the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5, Redmi Note 5 Pro, and the Mi TV 4 on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.