Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

A Review: Xiaomi Mi 5X

I’m a graphic designer. That means I own an Apple product. Apple have been the forerunners of powerful technology that works well, is user-friendly, and comes in a package that just looks beautiful. I have always gravitated towards Apple for my main machines. Having owned just two MacBooks over a 12-period, that predilection has not failed me yet.

Neither has Apple’s iPhone. It’s not the technology I’m fed up with, but rather the price point for something that has not had much innovation over the last few years. According to Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, the number of transistors on a chip doubles every year, making large amounts of memory cheaper as time goes on.

In practice, you never see this reflected in Apple’s phones, nor do you have the option to upgrade memory. You’re essentially paying hundreds of dollars more just for something that “looks nice and feels good in your hand”. No more. Not for me. My iPhone 6S+ (which still works, for the record) will be the last iPhone I ever own. Enter the Xiaomi Mi 5X.

China’s Apple

Xiaomi has had a meteoric rise in China, first as a phone manufacture, then as a full-blown tech company that dabbles in smart home and lifestyle products. It has pretty brazenly copied the sleek Apple aesthetic, but produces powerful smartphones that work well for a fraction of the cost.

After cracking my iPhone screen and holding out for a trip to the electronics market to repair it, it was just easier for me to go to the Mi Store and pick up a brand new Mi 5X. Impressive stuff, and for the price, there is just no point in even considering an iPhone anymore unless you are married to the brand.


Display: 5.5in

Resolution: 1080x1920 pixels

Storage: 64GB (upgradable)

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core


Rear Camera: 12-megapixel

Front Camera: 5-megapixel

OS: Android 7.0

Battery Capacity: 3080mAh

Price: USD $175

My general thoughts

This is not my first Xiaomi. I had a Xiaomi Redmi in 2015 after leaving my iPhone 5S in the back of a taxi. At that time, I was still impressed with the features but not quite wild over the plastic case. The 5X has a sleek aluminum unibody that feels just as nice and sturdy as an iPhone’s.

It is not the fastest phone in the world but it is responsive enough for the price point, which will be a common theme with the phone. Most of its features are much better than you would expect for the price tag, but of course they are far from being maxed out.

Out of the box, it runs its own MIUI skin with Android 7.0 as the backbone of the OS. I am a big fan of MIUI. It is certainly the most intuitive of the homegrown Chinese Android skins, surpassing Vivo, Oppo, and even Huawei. For me, it is as functional as the iOS, albeit with a bit more app crashes and timeouts.


There is a lot of criticism of China for its tendency to copy Western products instead of innovating from scratch. A lot of this criticism is warranted. However, I will defend Chinese smartphone manufacturers for staying out of the OS game. Android works. There is no point in making a completely new Chinese OS from the ground up.

Xiaomi’s Android skin, MIUI, has cleaned up the OS and made it something that appeals to this former iPhone customer with a strong preference for iOS over other Android skins. Two integrations that have really impressed me are its fitness app and easy access to electronic payments, something that is essential for daily life in China.

Xiaomi has an app and other standard UI widgets for tracking workouts and achieving fitness goals. The app works quite well on its own, but I don’t always want to bring my phone on long runs. The Mi Band is the perfect integration as an affordable fitness tracker that logs your data and pairs with your Xiaomi phone automatically via Bluetooth. I can see how far I’ve run and for how long, and this data is added to the app when I get back.

Paying by mobile is something that is quickly becoming more common in China than paying with cash, and Xiaomi has made this action as quick as it needs to be. Rather than navigating to WeChat or Alipay, there are widgets that quickly bring up scanners and payment codes so that you can be on your merry way.

More memory for fewer Maos

The standard 5X model comes with 64GB of storage. Yes, 64GB in the BASE MODEL for $175. You hear that Apple? This is how you get people to buy phones. That’s 64GB for $175, not $1000, and you don’t have to pay $150 for a memory upgrade. If you need more, buy a cheap-as-chips SD card then, boom, sorted. This is pricing according to Moore’s Law. End rant.

A camera too good for the price bracket

Overall, I’m very impressed with the 12-megapixel camera. Most of the time, it ranges from perfectly acceptable, to great. Although there are some types of lighting that it just can’t work in, specifically England with English weather. If it’s a crisp, blue day, the photos come out great. I’m not a photographer and am probably articulating this in a very oversimplified way. I can say that it’s at least as good as my 6S+ on a beautiful day.

I recently did a photo blog on my summer holiday around Cornwall, purposefully including some photos in all types of lighting with this review in mind.

Check it out to get a better idea of the camera quality and for some beautiful Cornish goodness!

My next phone is going to be a Xiaomi.

Rather than giving it a score, I feel like that’s all I need to say. I will be in China for another year, maximum (I know, I’ve said it before), and will probably walk out with the highest-end Xiaomi currently on the market. As they continue to become available in the West, keep a lookout. A powerful mid-range smartphone has never been more affordable. Apple had better watch out for the same reason.

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