Redmi Note 5 Pro review: Xiaomi finally has a smartphone with a legitimately good camera
The beginning of 2018 was always going to be a double-edged sword for the Chinese company Xiaomi. Back in January of 2017, it launched what is currently India's #1 smartphone, Redmi Note 4. To kick things off in 2018, Xiaomi announced it would launch something new on 14 February (aka Valentine's Day).
Would it be an evolution of the Redmi Note 4 or something revolutionary? That was the question on everyone's mind. Turns out, the successor, Redmi Note 5, was merely evolutionary and it didn't move the needle much. I called it an "unworthy upgrade" (http://www.catchnews.com/science-technology/redmi-note-5-review-xiaomi-s-best-selling-smartphone-gets-an-unworthy-upgrade-101486.html) in my review.
On that day, Xiaomi pulled a rabbit out of the hat. They launched another phone alongside the Redmi Note 5. They simply called it Redmi Note 5 Pro. The Redmi Note 5 Pro is the true successor - albeit slightly pricier - to the Redmi Note 4. It's the killer Note. Firstly, it has adapted to the latest trends of bezel-less displays and dual cameras. Secondly, it has a brand new chipset, Qualcomm Snapdragon 636, and is the first smartphone in the world to utilise this processor.
The biggest and probably the only real selling point for the Redmi Note 5 is its pricing. The 3GB/32GB variant is available, crucially, at Rs 9,999. Staying below the Rs 10,000 price point is psychologically significant for the company. No matter how unworthy an upgrade it is, simply due to the pricing, it will fly off the shelves. Let me tell you one thing though. Save up a couple thousand rupees more and you'll get way more bang for your buck than you'd expect in a Xiaomi smartphone.
I said that the Redmi Note 5 Pro was "purely for those on a strict budget". The Redmi Not 5 Pro, on the other hand, is worth the premium. It is the only smartphone Xiaomi should have launched that day. With the Redmi Note 5 Pro, Xiaomi is keeping a stranglehold on the Indian smartphone market. It seems like for Xiaomi, nothing can go wrong. Offering great value for money smartphones - both online and offline - and keeping the core fanbase happy - with things like Mi Experience store and invites to launches - is a great way to keep the positive image of the company going.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro has made its global debut in India. It's got everything one would like in a budget smartphone, something one cannot say of its little brother, the Redmi Note 5. The Redmi Note 5 Pro has a dual camera, a 20-megapixel front camera, face unlock, an 18:9 display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor and a 4,000 mAh battery. It retails at Rs 13,999 for the 4GB/64GB and Rs 16,999 for the 6GB/64GB variant.
I've been using the Redmi Note 5 Pro ever since the launch, and here's why I think this should definitely be your next budget smartphone buy. I'm not going to go category by category detailing the finer details of this smartphone. For that, there are plenty other in-depth reviews. Instead, I'll take you through what it was like to use this smartphone through a typical office day in Delhi and a humid day wandering around Chennai.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro
The biggest difference and one that is immediately noticeable is the beautiful display. Xiaomi has realised that its time to unleash bezel-less displays upon the masses of India. The Chinese brand has opted for on-screen keys and the fingerprint scanner is firmly rooted to the rear of the device. Besides the dual camera on the back (a la iPhone), the Redmi Note 5 Pro is near identical to the Redmi Note, and that is disappointing. There is barely any differentiation between the two, and that might just lead a lot of people to purchase the Redmi Note 5 instead of the Redmi Note 5 Pro.
Another disappointment is the lack of a Type-C port. Both the Redmi Note 5 and Redmi Note 5 Pro smartphones feature a microUSB charging port, a standard that we can now safely call outdated. The fingerprint scanner on the back is easy to reach to and quick to authenticate, but the addition of face unlock is very welcome.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro feels comfortable in the hand and isn't at all slippery. One-handed usage is good, albeit finding the right grip on the smartphone, might be a problem. Saying that though, this problem isn't unique to Xiaomi smartphones.
Going back to that gorgeous display. Safe to say it is one of the best in the sub-Rs 20,000 price bracket. Xiaomi & vibrant displays seem to be going hand-in-hand in recent times. The 5.99-inch LCD offers a 2160x1080 resolution and excellent colour reproduction.
The build of the Redmi Note 5 Pro seems to be much better than its predecessor. It may seem lighter, but it is also much sturdier.
The typical office day
Using this as my daily driver for about two weeks made me realise one thing. This is the first Xiaomi smartphone I'd really want to buy, despite it having MIUI and not stock Android. A Redmi Note 5 Pro Android One smartphone would have won me over instantly.
Waking up around 9 AM with a full battery, I would proceed to get ready for breakfast. Playing music through my JBL Flip 4 or UE Megaboom, was a delight. Little to no lag, and close to zero battery loss. If I were to play some videos - YouTube, Hostar, Jio TV - then I would notice significant battery drain. On the auto ride to the office, I would tend to some calls, take some short videos and try the portrait mode on various objects.
Before settling down at the office, a game or two needed to be played. Either Hill Climb Racing or something like Twenty or Threes.
There are things like the notifications shade and no app drawer that irked me on a daily basis but all of that can be fixed with a software update. I hate how one needs to use two fingers to expand upon a notification.
The rest of my office day would be using WhatsApp - both voice calls and text messages - regularly, picking up call after call and scrolling through all my social media apps - Facebook, Instagram, etc - once in a while. Being in office for seven hours or so and by the time I left around 6 PM, my battery was down to 40%. Not bad at all.
Walking home, I would play music through my Bluetooth headset (again, little to no lag), take pictures of the outdoors, and then at home, respond to emails, make some video calls, and maybe play a few podcasts. Before sleeping around midnight, I kept a check on the battery usage. It ranged anywhere from 15% to 30%. More than enough charge to last through the morning and reach office.
That is something one cannot say with most budget smartphones. Xiaomi has done really well on this front. Software issues aside, this is the first time I'm really happy to be using a Xiaomi smartphone. Everything works and the smartphone is a pleasure to look at, hour after hour, day after day.
I went to Chennai for work, and I had a full day of roaming around and sightseeing. From visiting the Government museum to eating at Murugan Idli shop, I used the smartphone to look up directions, snap photos of what passed in front of my eyes, and when I needed a to sit down and catch a breathe, I would watch some videos. Also, the ever-changing evening plans with a friend meant I was glued to WhatsApp for portions of the day.
Why am I narrating all of this, you may ask. Well, for the first time, Xiaomi has impressed me. It was a hot and humid day in Chennai and Xiaomi rarely got hot. It rarely got uncomfortable in the hand. It somehow managed to stay cool. I was sweating from head to toe, the Redmi Note 5 Pro was not. The Samsung Galaxy A8+, which was also with me, needed a 'cool down' period.
The only knock on the Redmi Note 5 Pro would be that the battery life took a slight hit in those conditions. Just like a human body drains faster in the sweltering heat, so does the Redmi Note 5 Pro.
A quick summary of the good bits
Here's a quick refresher on the good bits with the Redmi Note 5 Pro. Be a little patient, there are a lot of them:
- Everything just works: From calling to multi-tasking, everything works and works well. Very rarely was there a lag, and almost always was the smartphone speedy.
- Battery life: One and a half days of battery life with moderate usage is more than adequate. With slightly heavier usage, I had enough juice to last me until I reached office the next morning.
- Design: This is one of the best Xiaomi smartphones to hold in a hand. No plastic feeling and a super comfortable hold.
- Processor: Having the Snapdragon 636 - only smartphone in the world so far with this chipset - means a speedy experience while watching videos, casually gaming or streaming music to your Bluetooth headsets.
- Camera: More on this below, but the camera is by far the best ever seen on a Xiaomi smartphone
- Doesn't get hot: Yes. This one is impressive. Thanks to the new design and internals, Xiaomi has managed to make a smartphone that stays cool at all times. Whether it is the heat of Chennai or while charging for long durations, the Redmi Note 5 Pro never gets too hot to hold.
What are the bad bits?
No smartphone is perfect. Even Samsung's Galaxy S9 flagship smartphone comes with its set of drawbacks. Taking into account the price of the Redmi Note 5 Pro, there aren't that many flaws one can point towards:
- Stuck in 2015: Xiaomi's latest Redmi Note 5 Pro has a microUSB port and doesn't support fast charging. In this day and age, for a smartphone that costs Rs 13,999, this is disappointing.
- MIUI: Time and time again I keep saying that the number one drawback for Xiaomi smartphones is the software. The MIUI skin is the Achilles heel for the Chinese smartphone manufacturer.
- Dated design: The design language, whilst good, is three years old now. After a record-breaking 2017, Xaiomi should have pushed the boundaries in 2018. Ultimately, it played it safe and disappointed many a consumer.
- Software: I've mentioned MIUI above, but did I tell you that the latest version is still based on Android Marshmallow and not Android Oreo? Xiaomi, at the moment, isn't committing to any timeline as to when its smartphones may be updated to Android Oreo.
- Video quality: Xiaomi still hasn't improved video recording on its smartphones. Videos don't come out shaky anymore, but they do lack in the quality department. Noticeable noise is present.
What has been holding me back for the past few years from truly recommending a Xiaomi smartphone and using one as my daily driver was the software and the camera. While the former will probably never change (unless Xiaomi releases more Android One smartphones), the latter is constantly improving. The camera has improved to the point where I'd legitimately consider the Redmi Note 5 Pro as my daily driver.
There is a primary 12-megapixel camera and a secondary 5-megapixel depth camera on the rear. On the front, you get a 20-megapixel camera with LED flash. Let me just tell straight up. The camera on the Redmi Note 5 Pro amazed me. In good daylight conditions, you can get photos that are better than with a OnePlus 5T. Turn on the HDR mode and you'll actually see the difference in smartphones.
In low-light conditions, there is room for improvement, but still, performs better than the competition. The portrait mode could also be better, but it did perform better than the Mi A1, Xiaomi's other dual-camera phone available in India. What is surprising is that Xiaomi has got its edge detection algorithm in the portrait mode, spot on.
Here are some comparison pictures of the portrait mode on the Redmi Note 5 Pro and Mi A1
Now here are some unedited photos from the Redmi Note 5 Pro's stunning camera
Seriously consider the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro as your daily driver if your budget is limited to Rs 20,000. From camera to battery life, this smartphone will suit your daily needs and more. Add to that Face Unlock, and you get a package that isn't comparable to other budget smartphones.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro should have been the only phone that replaced the outdated Redmi Note 4. The company should have also pushed the boundaries with respect to design. That aside, Xiaomi has refined their smartphone to a point where it can legitimately be a daily driver for a lot of people around the world.
At Rs 13,999 for the 4GB/64GB model and Rs 16,999 for the 6GB/64GB variant, the Redmi Note 5 Pro edges out the Moto G5S Plus (with its bulkier design) as the leading smartphone in the sub-Rs 20,000 price bracket. The Mi A1, courtesy is stock Android, comes in a close third.