As a technology writer, one of the most common questions I get asked is “What’s the best phone for under £200?”. My default response is usually whichever Motorola device comes in at just under that price point at the time of asking. Right now that would be the single-SIM Moto G6, which you can find for around £199.
However, look further afield and a tenner less will buy you a phone with a bigger screen, larger battery and a more powerful processor. I’m talking about the Redmi 5 Plus from Chinese OEM Xiaomi, which may just be the best sub-£200 smartphone in the world.
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The Redmi 5 Plus (our review device was acquired from Chinese reseller GearBest for the princely sum of £188) is actually a revamp of the Redmi Note 4, but since that was a highly regarded and best-selling device this is not actually a problem.
The most significant change is that the Note 4’s 5.5-inch 16:9 screen has been swapped out for a 5.99-inch 1080-by-2160 (18:9) IPS LCD affair. As screens go it’s big, bright, sharp and colourful. For the price it’s an absolute cracker.
The large screen hasn’t had any unduly deleterious effects on the size of the Redmi 5 Plus. At 75.5mm wide by 158.5mm deep by 8.1mm thick it’s eminently usable with one hand, and at 180g it’s reasonably light for a device packing a larger-than-average 4,000mAh battery.
It’s well made, too. The end caps at the back may be made from well-disguised plastic but the rest of it is made either of glass – of the Gorilla variety naturally – and aluminium. Make no mistake, this budget phone looks and feels quite premium.
The new 18:9 screen aspect ratio has allowed Xiaomi to shrink the bezels to a degree that, if not bezel-less, the handset is certainly bezel-lite. The lack of much screen surround means the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner is easily accessible even for those with tiny hands.
Inside the Redmi 5 Plus you’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chipset (that’s an octa-core chip with eight 2.0GHz Cortex A-53 cores and an Adreno 506 GPU) with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. If you’re willing to forgo the second SIM card you can install a MicroSD card to boost storage by at least another 64GB (that was the largest capacity card I had to hand for the test).
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That hardware runs Android 7.1 (Nougat) beneath Xiaomi’s all-encompassing MIUI 9 overlay. The Redmi 5 Plus is scheduled for a bump to Android 8 (Oreo) and then MIUI 10 in the near future, but neither had landed on my review device at the time of writing.
MIUI takes a bit of getting used too if you’re coming from stock Android as it looks very iOS-like and dispenses with the app drawer. However, installing a third-party launcher like my personal fave Nova or Google’s own Now Launcher fixes this in a trice without interfering with any of MIUI’s more useful features like split-screen apps.
As a hardware platform the 5 Plus is slick, powerful and efficient. The UI is smooth and hitch-free and the chipset, although not one of Qualcomm’s latest, is still very efficient. Geekbench 4.1 multi-core scores of around 4,300 and AnTuTu 6 scores of 64,500 are good rather than great, but in the real world the Redmi 5 Plus can run even quite demanding games like Shadowgun without drama.
Xiaomi has come in for criticism for not using the Snapdragon 630 chipset, but bear in mind the Moto G6 offers the less powerful Snapdragon 450 component for similar money.
A full charge of the 4,000mAh battery easily saw me through two full days of pretty intense use. To put a more solid number on that, I played a 1080p MP4 video with the brightness and volume set to 75 percent for just over 14.5 hours before the Redmi 5 Plus coughed and died. That’s very good going.
The presence of an IR blaster and a good-old 3.5mm audio jack are both welcome. The single speaker does a good job, offering plenty of volume and a composed soundscape even when turned up to the max. Call quality was good too, if you still make those quaint phone calls.
When it comes to wireless connectivity you get support for 802.11a/b/g/n 2.4/5GHz wi-fi protocols, Bluetooth 4.2 and Bluetooth HID. There’s no NFC chip though, which is something the Moto G6 does offer.
The camera arrangement is nothing out of the ordinary. At the back you get a single 12MP f/2.2 unit with 1.25μm pixels that can shoot 2160p video at 30fps, while up front there’s a 5MP unit that can shoot 1080p, again at 30fps. Both cameras work very well in decent light and better than I expected in low light. The HDR algorithm was particularly impressive.
As with the rest of the Redmi 5 Plus, for the money you absolutely cannot argue with the performance of the cameras – and that covers video as well as stills photography.
Are there any drawbacks? Well, you have to make do with MicroUSB rather than USB Type-C connectivity but other than that, there’s really nothing to gripe about.
So is the Redmi 5 Plus really the best sub-£200 phone in the world? The case can definitely be made. The looks, performance and build quality all belie the price. The Moto G6 by contrast, although a good £200 phone, looks, feels and performs like a £200 phone. Add to that the impressive battery life and high quality of the display I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed.
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