Of the many Chinese smartphone makers in India, Xiaomi is perhaps the only one that has truly “Indianised” itself. Its approach to India was always balanced. Xiaomi began with splashy campaigns, let the products do the talking, literally established the “community model” here, and then slowed things down. Three years since entry, the company is the top smartphone seller here, much to Samsung’s chagrin. But Xiaomi’s resume isn’t without blotches. Its iterative updates are somewhat annoying nowadays, and the continuing ignorance towards providing real-time Android updates is catching up.
I mention this specifically because they’re really the only two flaws I see in the company’s newest device. The Redmi Note 5 Pro retains the Redmi name and a lot of its singular elements. It is an iterative update on past Notes, and truthfully, I struggle to explain why it exists.
Build and Design
Except the fact that my Note Pro is golden in color, there’s really no big difference between this and the Redmi Note 5. They both have 5.99-inch 18:9 displays, rear fingerprint sensors and metallic bodies. Unlike older Xiaomi phones, the Note Pro is heavy-ish, which is a blessing in disguise. On the one hand, you may not like the added weight in your pocket, but on the other, the heft it gets is reassuring as far as sturdiness is concerned. Displays will break, as always, but the Note Pro will take a few small tumbles without much hassle. In the larger scheme of things, that’s probably a good thing, given that you will get used to carrying this in your pocket anyway. I did.
The 18:9 display makes this taller and narrower than it would have been with a 5.99-inch screen. It’s easier to hold and the fingerprint sensor is easy to reach. That’s a point in its favour, but it certainly doesn’t make it any different from existing 18:9 phones. There’s a vertical dual-camera setup on the back, adding that iPhone-like element for those who care.
A lot about this phone is simply iterative, including the display. The 5.99-inch FHD unit looks decent, just like any other Xiaomi device. Colours are warm and it’s sharp enough too. Touch response is good and sunlight visibility is reasonable. There’s really nothing to complain about here. In fact, this display has better color depth than the Mi A1, though that’s visible on side-by-side comparison only.
Specs and Performance
Many asked Xiaomi why the Redmi Note 5 still runs on the Snapdragon 625 chipset. Its because Xiaomi was planning to launch the Note 5 Pro all along. It sports Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon 636 chipset, which runs the company’s custom Kryo cores, eight of them. The result? The phone is noticeably faster than the Redmi Note 5, as long as they’re compared side-by-side.
For instance, the camera app opens faster on the Redmi Note 5 Pro, even if by a split second. The phone is faster in shooting low light photos, and regular app load times can often be slightly faster too. I know all this because I was using the two phones together for most of this review.
However, the Snapdragon 636 is closer to the 650 of yore, than 625. As a result, it will clock up numbers on benchmarks, pulling ahead of the Redmi Note 5 quite easily. In terms of numbers, the performance boost over the cheaper variant is about 30%, which is a lot by today’s standards.
At the very least, this is the real upgrade to the Redmi Note 4, though you should certainly not ditch that phone to buy this.
But there’s one big problem…
Where is Android Oreo? In a recent poll conducted by Xiaomi, the company’s fans made it pretty clear that they’d prefer stock Android to MiUI. Yet, Xiaomi decided that Android Nougat is the way to go here. You still get MiUI 9.2, but I’d put this as one of the major disappointments about this phone, as it is with most Xiaomi smartphones.
The cheeky use of Apple’s camera design here will probably get Xiaomi some eyeballs, but what really matters is the quality. And yes, the company has improved the camera from last year’s devices. Improved, though doesn’t mean upgraded. It looks like an iPhone (vertically placed bulge and all) but performs like a Xiaomi.
It’s at par with the Mi A1’s camera, which means the Moto G5 Plus still sports a better camera in this price range. The Redmi Note 5 Pro produces warm, punchy colors with reasonable image detail. It can do reasonably well in low light situations, though there’s nothing to celebrate here. In some cases, the Note 5 Pro produces better colors under low light.
The Mi A1 is noticeably better in portrait shots though. That’s because of the telephoto lens on that phone, that blurs the background better. The Note 5 Pro uses a 5MP depth-sensing camera, so it doesn’t have as much background detail as the Mi A1.
The camera, though decent only, is probably the only real reason to choose the Note 5 Pro over the Note 5. If you really care about imaging on your smartphone, the Pro’s camera is more versatile and dependable. It has more features, is noticeably faster and takes better shots.
There’s a 20MP camera on the front of the pro, which takes better selfies than most of its predecessors. Images aren’t unduly softened, though details aren’t very high either. Xiaomi has struck a balance between “beautification” and natural images. It’s not as good as Oppo’s “selfie experts”, but it’s not shabby either.
As with any Xiaomi smartphone, the Redmi Note 5 Pro has impressive battery life. It lasts 14 hours on regular usage, without fail. That, with 10 odd calls, a bunch of text messages, lots of IMs and some 15 shots using the camera. I even threw in some 20 minutes of gaming, but still ended my work day without requiring another charge. A full charge every night is all you will need, and idle battery life is incredibly long.
Much like any “updated” smartphone today, the Redmi Note 5 Pro exists because it has to. This isn’t a true upgrade to the Redmi Note 4, but it’s certainly the best budget smartphone on the market right now. You get a good camera, dependable performance, and incredible battery life. It would truly be the perfect budget smartphone, had Xiaomi provided Oreo out of the box.