Are Premium Mid-Range Smartphones Still Worth It?

Very often, I see people commenting that premium mid-range smartphones, like the OPPO R15, are overpriced. Is that true or is there more to it? Is there any reason to pay more for it, versus getting a budget smartphone like the Redmi Note 5?

To find out, I will be comparing the OPPO R15 to Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 5, both of which I had reviewed recently. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow a review unit for each device at the same time, so why not use this opportunity to compare them?


Design – Pay More for Better Craftsmanship

The first difference you would notice when placing both devices side by side would be their design. Both are pretty good looking devices in their own ways, but one is clearly superior, in terms of material choice, attention to details and craftsmanship.

Of course, the device I am talking about is the OPPO R15. On its rear is glass and if you get the Nebula Purple or Rouge Red models, shining light on it will cause it to appear as a different shade of purple and red respectively. It looks amazing.

Holding the glass and display together is a metal frame, which is almost as reflective as the glass. While I wish there was some kind of sharp curve in the middle to make the R15 feel thinner, I cannot deny that it looks and feels really high quality.

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Redmi Note 5 may have a metal body, but it isn’t anything too impressive. I have seen nicer looking metal smartphones that feel more exquisite in hand, OPPO R11s for example. Compared to the R11s, the Redmi Note 5’s design feels primitive.

Moving to the front, we can see another key difference in design. Redmi Note 5 has pretty small bezels compared to its predecessors, but the OPPO R15’s notch-style display allows it to reduce its bezels even further and fit in more screen.

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While the dimensions of the two devices are very similar, OPPO R15 is able to fit a slightly larger display. Not only do you get more space to work with, the higher screen-to-body ratio gives the R15 a more futuristic and premium look.


Display – OLED vs IPS LCD

Speaking of display, the R15 uses a 6.28″ 19:9 AMOLED panel, while the Redmi Note 5 is equipped with a 5.99″ IPS LCD panel. Both are very good displays, though the usual AMOLED vs IPS LCD argument still stands. (e.g. AMOLED over-saturated)

However, if I were to choose between one of them, I would pick OPPO R15’s AMOLED display. Being AMOLED allows it to have an always-on display, only lighting up part of the display to show the clock whenever the phone is in standby.

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That may not sound like much, but once you use it, you can’t live without it. Many of us have the bad habit of picking up our phone to check the time every few minutes. With always-on display, you do not have to do so anymore to check time.


Performance – OPPO R15 is Better, But Redmi Note 5 Offers Greater Bang-for-the-Buck

Both devices are powered by a Snapdragon 6xx series processor, 660 on the OPPO R15 and 636 on the Redmi Note 5. In Benchmarks, both do very well, but the R15 has a bit of a lead.

In actual usage, both handle most tasks well, but graphic intensive games run smoother on the R15. If you are truly into gaming though, neither is probably what you are looking for as both of them can’t match the performance of a flagship device.

If you are on a tight budget, the Redmi Note 5 is not a bad option. But if you are an avid smartphone gamer and are willing to spend S$749 on an OPPO R15, why not get a similarly priced flagship killer instead, like the OnePlus 6?


Rear Cameras – Closing the Gap

In the past, one of the reasons why one would pay more for premium mid-range devices is for better cameras, but that may not be the case anymore. The affordable Redmi Note 5 packs a pair of cameras on its rear that takes marvelous photos, even at night.

Below are a few images shot for comparison. In most cases, both devices do an equally excellent job, with the differences mainly in the color reproduction. Even at night, both still perform very well. A year ago, the difference would have been huge.

OPPO R15

Redmi Note 5

Both devices have a secondary camera on the rear for depth perception, allowing you to capture photos with bokeh effect. Additionally, OPPO R15 automatically zooms in whenever you are in portrait mode, allowing you to get “closer” to your subject.

Both are not perfect at detecting the edges of objects, but are not too bad for smartphone cameras. However, the R15 does have issues focusing on near objects in portrait mode, persistently focusing on the background instead. Annoying.

Below are two videos recorded at the same time, one taken with the OPPO R15 and the other with the Redmi Note 5. OPPO R15’s video has quite a bit of over-sharpening and dynamic range is bad. For video recording, I would pick the Redmi Note 5.

There seems to be some form of electronic image stabilization on the R15, but it doesn’t do a very good job so the video is still shaky and the jello effect that it causes is very nauseating. Meanwhile, the EIS on the R15 works pretty well.

Overall, I would say that both rear camera setups are good in their own ways and I wouldn’t say one is clearly better than the other. If you use your smartphone mainly for photography, then I would say the Redmi Note 5 is a better deal for you.


Front Camera – All About That Dynamic Range

One area that most front facing camera on today’s smartphones struggle is dynamic range. Very often, you will get selfies that are overexposed even in environments with great lighting, resulting in bright photos with very dull colors.

Redmi Note 5’s selfie camera is no different, so you will definitely have to edit the photo before posting it onto Instagram. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue on the OPPO R15 and it can take selfies with pleasant looking colors with it.


Software – Both are Among the Best

Both Xiaomi and OPPO uses a custom Android skin on their phones, MIUI and ColorOS respectively. MIUI has a really long history and with a huge user base, it is one of the most featured packed and refined Android skins out there.

 

ColorOS is no slouch either, with a UI that is easy to use, yet is still plenty capable. On the surface, it has less features than MIUI. But once you use it, you will know that there are actually a lot of handy small features that are hidden in the settings app.

However, I do have to point out that MIUI has quite a bit of advertisement in it, from ad banner in the music app to the browser’s “recommendations”. Xiaomi doesn’t profit much from selling phones, so I guess this is a way they are making up for it.

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Meanwhile, ColorOS on the OPPO R15 doesn’t have such a thing. We do get “hot apps” recommendations and even an OPPO app store on the new OPPO Find X though. Hopefully OPPO will continue to keep the R15’s software ad free.

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OPPO Find X


Accessories – What Else is Inside the Box?

A free clear case is included with both devices, but only the R15 come with a screen protector pre-applied. As usual, you also get the charging cable (Micro USB) and wall adapter in the box.

Also included in the R15’s box is a pair of in-ear headphones, something Xiaomi left out to reduce the cost. If you already have a good pair of earphones, which most people probably do, the absence of one on the Redmi Note 5 doesn’t matter.

But what does matter is the lack of fast charging on the Redmi Note 5’s included wall adapter. Redmi Note 5 supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0, but you will have to purchase a wall adapter that supports that separately.

Meanwhile, the charger that comes with the R15 supports OPPO’s VOOC fast charging. VOOC has been around for years, but it is still one of the best fast charging solutions today. To use it, you will need both the included wall adapter and cable.

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After Sale Services – When Something Fails

The warranty that Xiaomi provides for their phones is pretty standard: repair of defects is free 1 year for the phone and 6 months for battery and accessories. Meanwhile, OPPO offers 2 years warranty for the device, and 1 year for battery and accessories.

Screenshot_2018-08-06 OPPO Phone Warranty Policy
OPPO
Screenshot_2018-08-06 Warranty - Mi Singapore
Xiaomi

Xiaomi’s service center at The Central is one of the most dreaded place for me for two reasons: the store is hidden at an obscure corner of the mall and the people there can be rude from my experience. I avoid going there whenever possible.

Meanwhile, OPPO has 2 service centers in Singapore: one in their Suntec City store and the other in their Jurong Point store. I have never sent an OPPO device for repair, but I go to the Suntec City store frequently and the people there are really friendly.

You might be thinking that all of these doesn’t matter because you are always careful with your phone. But accidents do happen sometimes and when it does happen to you, just hope that your smartphone is made by OPPO and not Xiaomi.


Conclusion – Are Premium Mid-Rangers Overpriced?

Whether premium mid-rangers like the OPPO R15 are overpriced will depend on what  you value in a smartphone. If performance or camera is what you are after, then yes, you can definitely find something that does those better for the same price or less.

But if you care about the looks and feel of your device a lot, or if you want the flagship experience but do not need the top-of-the-line performance, I will say that it is worth paying more for a premium mid-range smartphone.

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Redmi Note 5 Review

Two years ago, I wrote my first smartphone review, one about the Redmi Note 3 on Mi Community. Last year, I reviewed its successor, the Redmi Note 4. So lets keep up this  tradition and review the recently launched Redmi Note 5.

Huge thanks to ECS for loaning me this brand new review unit.


Summary – A Budget Phone with Great Cameras!

An improvement from the Redmi Note 4 in most aspects, especially in the camera department. Worth upgrading to.

Pros:

  • Affordable price tag
  • Clear case included
  • Beautiful 18:9 display with great viewing angles
  • Excellent performance for price
  • Rear cameras focus quickly with dual pixel autofocus
  • Insane low-light photos considering price
  • Selfie camera has plenty of details
  • Refined camera app
  • Bottom-firing speakers sound better than RMN4’s

Cons:

  • Camera protrudes even with case
  • Design getting stale
  • Battery life not as good as Redmi Note 4

Xiaomi’s Confusing Naming Scheme

Not the same as Redmi 5 Plus. Similar to Redmi Note 5 Pro, but with different set of cameras on the front and rear.

You may have noticed that I wrote a review about the Redmi 5 Plus, aka Redmi Note 5, a while ago, so why am I reviewing it again? The answer is: I am not. The device in today’s article is a different Redmi Note 5 and you can thank Xiaomi for that.

The device I reviewed earlier is known as the Redmi 5 Plus in Singapore, while India calls it the Redmi Note 5. Meanwhile, the one we will be taking a look at today is called Redmi Note 5 in Singapore, and Redmi Note 5 Pro in India. Confused?

My last point was only partially correct though, and that is a very common mistake. While the local Redmi Note 5 may look the same as the Redmi Note 5 Pro, they are different device. Don’t worry, even the official Xiaomi Lazada store got confused.

Screenshot-2018-6-11 Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 (3+32GB) Buy sell online Mobiles with cheap price Lazada Singapore

While most of the specs are the same, the front and rear cameras used on the two variants are very different.

On paper, we are getting are the superior cameras, with larger pixels and greater aperture that theoretically result in better under low-light photos. Also, our variant has dual pixel autofocus, which is allows the camera to focus really quickly.


Pricing & Variants – Very Affordable

S$299 for 32/3GB, S$349 for 64/4GB.

The Redmi Note 5 comes in 2 storage/RAM configurations in Singapore. The 32/3GB version will cost you S$299 and is only available in black and gold. Meanwhile, the 64/4GB one goes for S$349 and comes in blue, black or gold.


Design – Getting Repetitive…

Design isn’t too different from previous generations, new 18:9 display and dual camera setup on the rear.

There honestly isn’t a lot to talk about the Redmi Note 5’s design. It is very similar to the Redmi 5 Plus, with the most noticeable difference being the dual rear cameras at the top left corner, which resembles the iPhone X’s dual rear cameras.

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But like I have repeated myself in the Redmi 5 and Redmi 5 Plus review, this design is getting kind of stale at this point in time. While Xiaomi has tweaked the design slightly to improve its looks each year, it is still reminiscent of the Redmi Note 3.

On the front, we are getting an 18:9 5.99″ display, like on the Redmi 5 Plus. The front camera, flash and ambient light sensor position are mirror imaged though, the screen protector is slightly different for both devices. Just Xiaomi being Xiaomi.

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On the top we have an IR blaster for remote control and a microphone. Meanwhile, at the the bottom, you will find the single speaker grill, micro USB port, another microphone, as well as the headphone jack. Very similar to the Redmi 5 Plus.

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The rear cameras protrudes quite a bit even with the included case, so I place it down with screen facing the table most of the time. Annoying, but if it is required for the superb camera, which I will cover in a short while, the compromise is worth it.


Display – 18:9, Like Most of 2018’s Budget Phones

Similar to Redmi 5 Plus. Enable full screen gestures to make full use of the 18:9 display.

Redmi Note 5 uses an 18:9 5.99″ FHD+ IPS LCD panel, like the Redmi 5 Plus, but they are not the same panel, with colors appearing deeper on the Redmi Note 5. Redmi Note 5’s display is slightly on the cool side and viewing angles are excellent.

By default, the Redmi Note 5 uses on-screen navigation buttons. If you find that a waste of screen estate, you can enable full-screen gestures, which hides the on-screen navigation bar and uses iPhone X-like gestures for navigation instead.

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A flaw with this full screen gestures though is that you are no longer able to access one-handed mode.


Performance – New Snapdragon 636 Processor!

Very powerful processor for the price.

Powered by the Snapdragon 636 processor, the Redmi Note 5 is the most powerful Redmi device til date, scoring 1320 single-core and 4845 multi-core in Geekbench 4.0 and a whopping 117495 in AnTuTu benchmarks. Not bad for a S$349 device.

But benchmarks do not always reflect the true performance of a device, as seen from my Neffos N1 review. So how well does the Redmi Note 5 perform in real life? Very well actually.

Scrolling through MIUI is as smooth as ever, browsing social media is a very pleasant experience and light games run without issues. Even in graphic intensive games like PUBG and 王者荣耀, the Redmi Note 5 runs smoothly with little to no stutter.


Rear Camera – Is This Really a S$349 Device?!!!

Takes very impressive low-light photos for a budget phone, focuses really quickly due to dual pixel autofocus.

There are two reasons to get the Redmi Note 5 over the more affordable Redmi 5 Plus and one of them is the gaming performance, as seen earlier. The other is camera performance. On the rear, Redmi Note 5 is equipped with a pair of cameras.

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The main camera is 12MP with f/1.9 aperture, with pixel size of 1.4μm. Theoretically, this makes the Redmi Note 5’s rear camera a beast under low light. It also has dual pixel autofocus, which allows it to focus really quickly on subjects.

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In fact, it focuses so fast that you do not even see the circle icon that shows it trying to hunt for focus in the app. You can compare it to the Redmi 5, shown below. So much faster.

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Here are some photos taken with the Redmi Note 5’s rear camera. With good lighting, the Redmi Note 5 takes beautiful images with accurate colors. But this is what we have come to expect from most phones, even budget ones under S$200.

Moving to low lighting conditions though, this is when things get unbelievable. Photos turn out a tad bit over saturated, but are well focused, with plenty of details and the sky actually looks black, not overexposed like on similarly priced devices.

However, that does not mean that the Redmi Note 5’s rear camera can compete with modern flagship device’s camera under low light. At night, the Redmi Note 5 still struggles with moving objects, especially smaller ones like this flower.

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Meanwhile, its 5MP secondary camera is used mainly for depth sensing, allowing for beautiful bokeh photos, like the ones you see below. It is not perfect at detecting edges though, especially when it gets dark or when the subject is to complex.

While the Redmi Note 5’s rear camera setup is still no fight for modern day flagship devices, it is leaps and bounds better than what we have ever seen on any budget device.

As for videos, the Redmi Note 5 can record up to 1080p. There is electronic image stabilization and it does quite a good job, though I have seen better. Like with photos, the Redmi Note 5 focuses really fast in videos, so they look very good.

At night though, you will see a lot of noise and a lot of details are lost, but colors still look good. I would say that the video is just barely usable. Hence, if you need to record videos at night, you might still want to pay more for flagship devices.


Selfie Camera – Bokeh on Selfies!

Finally getting bokeh selfies on a Redmi device!

On the front of the Redmi Note 5 we have a 13MP selfie camera with f/2.0 aperture. Pictures turn out pretty good for a S$349 device, with plenty of details but colors tend to be a little washed out, like most smartphone selfie cameras I have used.

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What is a selfie camera without Beautify? On the Redmi Note 5, AI is used to determine the best beauty profile. This results in selfies that hides most of your facial imperfections, yet without the “unnatural” look that haunts previous versions of Beautify.

Also, through the use of AI, Xiaomi brings portrait mode to the front camera. The edge detection is pretty commendable considering that there is no secondary camera. But it has difficulties detecting small objects, like earphone cables.

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Audio – An Improvement Over Its Predecessor

Audio from headphone jack sounds great, bottom-firing speaker is a huge improvement from the Redmi Note 4.

Listening with my JBL Synchros S300i headphones, I compared the Redmi Note 5’s headphone jack output to the Redmi 5’s. Redmi Note 5 had less emphasis on bass while the highs it produced had less distortion compared to the Redmi 5.

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I found listening to Redmi 5 to be more lively and magical, while the Redmi Note 5 sounded more natural. Despite their differences, I will say that both sound very good when you put them against other phones in the same price range.

As for the bottom-firing speakers, both can get quite loud, but clarity is quite a bit better on the Redmi 5. But compared to Redmi Note 4’s bottom-firing speaker, the Redmi Note 5’s is just so much cleaner and louder. Big improvements.


Battery Life – 1.5 Days of Regular Usage

Very long endurance, though not as long as its predecessor.

When the Redmi Note 3 launched, its huge 4000mAh battery made it an endurance beast. Then, with a less power hungry processor and a slightly larger 4100mAh battery, the Redmi Note 4 had even better battery life than its predecessor.

Then, Xiaomi went back to a 4000mAh battery on the Redmi Note 5. The Redmi 5 Plus that I reviewed earlier also had a 4000mAh battery, but its endurance wasn’t as impressive as I had hope. So how is the endurance of the Redmi Note 5?

Unfortunately, not as good as the Redmi Note 4. I only had time to conduct a single light to moderate usage test and on a single charge, the Redmi Note 5 lasted for 2 full days with 5h sot.

  • Total time 1d 14h 33min
  • Screen-on time 5h
  • 1h 3min 王者荣耀
  • 40min Soul Knights
  • 45min Facebook
  • 53min music
  • >2h hotspot

Most people will spend more time on their phone than I did during the test, so on regular usage, the Redmi Note 5 should last about 1.5 days, similar to the Redmi 5 Plus. It is very good for a smartphone, but Redmi Note 4’s battery life was better.


Software – New Camera App Layout

MIUI stays mostly untouched, except for new camera app.

Redmi Note 5 runs MIUI 9.5 on top of Android 8.1 Oreo. Xiaomi likes to keep the software experience universal across their device, so the features you will find here is mostly the same as what you would find on other Xiaomi devices.

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One notable change though is the camera app. Instead of a menu for the different modes, you now get to switch between modes with a swipe, like on iOS. Xiaomi also replaced the old color filters with new ones, while removing all the effect filters.

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MIUI is very feature-packed, yet it doesn’t feel too bloated. All of the features in MIUI are very well implemented and only features that will add convenience, like currency converter, are included in MIUI. No gimmicky features, minimal bloatware.


Conclusion – Camera Phone on Budget!

If you are on a tight budget and need a phone with good camera, the Redmi Note 5 is your best option right now.

In recent years, budget devices are getting so good that you can find ones that perform exceptionally well in various aspects: build quality (Neffos N1), performance (Redmi Note 3) and battery life (Redmi Note 4). But camera wasn’t one of them.

Until now. As one of the costliest part of a smartphone, camera is often the factor that separates budget devices from premium devices. Redmi Note 5 is trying to change that and while its camera is still not up there yet, it is very close.

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If you are currently using a Redmi Note 4, should you get a Redmi Note 5? Yes! Unlike moving from a Redmi Note 3 to Note 4, the improvements brought by the Redmi Note 5 is pretty drastic and it is better than its predecessor in almost every way.

Redmi Note 5 Unboxing & First Impression + Experiential Event

Yesterday, Xiaomi launched the Redmi Note 5 in Singapore, available in two storage configurations: S$299 for the 32/3GB version and S$349 for the 64/4G version. Wait a minute, haven’t we reviewed the Redmi 5 Plus aka Redmi Note 5?

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Thank Xiaomi’s confusing naming scheme for that. The local Redmi 5 Plus is known as the Redmi Note 5 in India. Meanwhile, the local Redmi Note 5, which is the device we will be taking a look at today, is called the Redmi Note 5 Pro in India.

I attended the experiential event today and got to understand the Redmi Note 5 better. At the same time, I was able to borrow a review unit to test out over the next week, so I will be unboxing the device in this article as well. Two articles in one!

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Unboxing – Another Orange Box

Perhaps to save money on packaging design, all of Xiaomi’s recent Redmi devices come in an orange box, with the device name stated on the front. Pulling off the lid, you will find a clear case and right below it is the Redmi Note 5.

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At the bottom of the box, you will find a wall adapter, a Micro USB cable, the SIM removal tool, as well as a user manual. Would have been nice if a screen protector was included.

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First Impression – The Real Redmi Note 5!

Design

The Redmi Note 5 is very similar to the Redmi 5 Plus in terms of design, with the main differences being the rear camera position (due to the new dual camera setup), as well as the position of the camera, flash and ambient light sensor on the front.

So my impression of this design is the same as my verdict for the Redmi 5 Plus’s design, at least for now: too similar to the Redmi Note 3 and 4, getting a little stale. It is not a bad design, but reusing it for more than 2 years is just being lazy.

Rear Cameras

One thing that differentiates the Redmi Note 5 from the Redmi 5 Plus is the pair of cameras on the rear. This is the first time we are seeing a dual camera setup on a Redmi device.

The main camera comes with a 12MP sensor with f/1.9 aperture. It uses dual-pixel auto focus, which previously could only be found on much costlier flagship and premium mid-range device. This allows it to focus extremely quickly.

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The secondary 5MP camera is used for depth sensing and it works with AI edge detection to take bokeh images in portrait mode. I didn’t have anyone to test it on after unboxing, so here is a photo of durian ice-cream with biscuits in portrait mode.

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In the past, Redmi devices struggled to take photos in the dark, but that may not be the case anymore. The Redmi Note 5’s main 12MP camera has large 1.4µm pixels, which allows more light to enter, theoretically resulting in better low-light photos.

The photo below was taken with the Redmi Note 5 at night. I had taken a photo of the same artwork in my Redmi Note 4 review and there was a ton of noise, even though the sun had not completely set yet. The improvement is just unbelievable.

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That said, there are limitations to this camera at night. It is unable to focus on objects moving at night, resulting in blur. From what I have seen, it has the potential to compete with some S$700 devices, but I wouldn’t compare it to modern flagships.

For videos, the Redmi Note 5 has EIS for stabilization, so videos should turn out better. Sadly, it is only able to record up to 1080p videos on the rear camera. (Already have some recordings, but I am saving it for the full review. Stay tuned for that!)

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Front Camera

Front cameras on past Redmi devices are admittedly not very good, even on the recent Redmi 5 and 5 Plus. But with the Redmi Note 5, Xiaomi opted for a 13MP sensor. How does it perform?

Like the rear camera, the front camera is also capable of bokeh, called depth effect. Since it doesn’t have a secondary depth sensor though, the bokeh is created purely by AI edge detection. From my few minutes of testing it, it did a great job.

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But what isn’t so great is the color reproduction. Images taken with the selfie camera on the Redmi Note 5 seems to be a little pale, though a little bit of editing might do the trick.

What is a selfie camera without beautify? On the Redmi Note 5, Beautify got smarter with AI, just like we have seen last year on the OPPO R11s. The image on top that I used to demonstrate portrait mode was taken with Beautify enabled.

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Performance

Redmi Note 5 is the first device to be powered by the Snapdragon 636, with 8 Kyro 260 cores. I have never used a device with it before so I do not know what to expect from it, but I will be putting it through thorough testing in my full review.

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Battery

Like the Redmi 5 Plus, the Redmi Note 5 has a 4000mAh non-removable battery. In my review, the Redmi 5 Plus didn’t do as well as its predecessors, so I hope the Redmi Note 5 will do better. Will the new processor be more efficient?

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Experiential Event – Claw Machine!

From 1st June to 3rd June 2018, spend more than S$99 at Mi Home Suntec City and you will get a chance at the claw machine! Attractive prizes are to be won, including power banks, VR headsets, smart watches and even an electric scooter!

You can also get free cotton candy too! No spending is required, but why not get yourself some really affordable Mi gadgets? The 5000mAh Mi Power Bank is going at only S$9.90!


Conclusion – Another Year, Another Redmi Note

When I tested the Redmi 5 Plus a while back, I wasn’t very impressed as it didn’t offer a lot of improvements. With the new dual rear camera setup and a better processor, is the Redmi Note 5 the Redmi Note 4 successor we have been waiting for?