Why did I want it?
I’ve been an iPhone user for some time now (whilst dabbling with both Android and Windows phones). The problem for me is that I travel a lot and really need a good dual sim phone. I’ve been on the iPhone 6 and find the size pretty good (4.7 inches). Unfortunately there are no dual sim iPhones so I looked to the Android world. There are some great phones out there (check out the OnePlus 2 – OnePlus 2) however they feature massive screens (5.5 inches!) or have poor hardware.
Take a look then at the Xiaomi Mi5. This phone is only sold in China (and soon India), but it is a great phone. Firstly, it has a 5.15 inch screen so it’s not too much bigger than the iPhone 6 (in fact, it’s kind of longer rather than wider) but features a brilliant screen, fast processor, loads of memory and 64gb of internal storage (no need to mess around with SD cards).
So, I was set on the Xiaomi Mi5. The first problem was getting it.
Where to buy
I went with buying from Gearbest, who are a reliable importer. There are a bunch of sellers on eBay, however their super high ratings looked dubious to me. There are also dedicated importers, but given the somewhat grey area that I was buying within I wanted the backing of someone like Gearbest (who, incidentally are a very reliable importer of electronic goods in general) in case the process went wrong.
The first thing to note is that the price of the phone is going to vary reseller by reseller. Xiaomi doesn’t sell the phones in the UK (or the rest of Europe) so the company you buy it from is going to buy it in China then stick a profit on and ship it off to you in the UK. That’s fine, but be aware then that the price will change.
The second thing to note is that it’s probably going to take a while to get to you, and there’s a chance you could get charged import duty. Usual lead times to get the phones are most often in the weeks rather than days. There may also be import duty on the device charged by your country (sometimes, but not always). You can check out stock location to see if the device is already in your country (or the EU at least). Do bear in mind that what’s reported as the item location isn’t always the case (hence why I went through Gearbest!).
The mi5 runs Xiaomi’s MIUI7 software, which is essentially Android 6 with some UI customizations on it. This isn’t some weird niche software, it’s used by roughly 200m people! It comes in two versions: the China version and the Global version. Note, if you Google around about this you’ll find the term ‘ROM’ used a lot. This refers to the software image that can be installed onto your phone.
Most likely you’ll receive your phone with the China ROM on it, I did. This means that the device can be in Mandarin Chinese or English. However, on mainland China no Google services can be accessed due to the great firewall. Therefore Xiaomi have modified Android a lot to strip out all Google services. This means no sign in with Google, no Play Store, no Google apps… full stop. Instead you have Baidu & Xiaomi services and many Chinese apps. Not so helpful really. There are many tutorials on the web for installing the Play Store and Google services. I did these and it worked OK, I got all the apps but they were not very stable.
The best thing to do is to install the Global ROM (that is the software targeted at the market outside China.. Which for Xiaomi is India at the moment). This software has everything you’d expect from Android with Google throughout, no Chinese apps and no Xiaomi store. It’s really good. To install it you need to do a few things:
- Unlock the bootloader of your phone. Xiaomi let you do this, you just need to request it from them here. Mine took just under a week to receive the code. Incidentally it is not tied to your device just your Xiaomi account, so you can request it whilst waiting for your phone to arrive.
- Install the software (a process known as flashing the device). Xiaomi make this as straight forward as possible, but it does require you to connect your phone up to your PC and run some bespoke Xiaomi software to flash it. We recommend using the Fastboot method. Xiaomi make all the software you need available with instructions here. There’s a helpful forum and team of developers that make bespoke MIUI ROMs also, check out xiaomi.eu.
You should check the compatibility with your network (see the UK mobile network frequencies here) and European users should note that the 800MHz 4G frequency is not supported. However, I have this running on EE and Three in the UK. On my EE SIM I recorded 67.62mb down and 15.67mb up – so the performance is excellent.
Would I recommend this phone?
If you are after something to work out the box and arrive quickly, no. You should probably buy the OnePlus 2 (see here on Amazon) or the Huawei P8 (Huawei P8). If you’re OK with a little bit of waiting, and tweaking then yes. I have the Global Stable ROM running now and it works like a dream. The phone has great build quality and is a pleasure to use.
Buy the Xiaomi Mi5 from Gearbest here.