Xiaomi Mi Band 5 Review: An Inexpensive Revolution
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Xiaomi introduced the MiBand 5 and I was intrigued. It's stupid cheap, and it offers a lot of what other fitness trackers ofer but at half the price. I preordered a review unit and it came just about a month ago and I've been using it ever since. Do I like this thing? This is our Xiaomi Mi Band 5 review.
Right off the bat, it's worth noting that as the name implies, this is the 5th generation of the fitness accessory. It's been around for a long time. Also, as the name implies, it's cheap, because Xiaomi makes cheap mobile stuff. You have to appreciate that. In this case, the international Mi Band 5 comes in at around $50, which is a lot more expensive than its predecessors. The typical Mi Band price tag in in the neighborhood of 30-35 dollars, so this is definitely a step up. Regardless, it's half the price of most other fitness bands out there, and a third of the price of most fitness bands you should actually buy, so I can deal with it.
As for the hardware itself, it's very basic. In the past, the Mi band has always been removable and that tradition continues here. I'll be honest, for the first two weeks, I didn't even know the band was removable. It's such a good fit, I assumed it was integrated. The fact that it's removable is a good thing because I question the durability of this silicon band, particularly the loop that the band goes through. I would not be surprised if that loop gave out by Christmas.
So delightful surprise number one - it's not integrated. Delightful surprise number 2, I found an 8-pack of straps for the Mi Band 5 for $13, so I'm good to go.
The body of the fitness band consists of a 1.1-inch OLED screen with capacitive area at the bottom serving as a sort of home/back button. You can swipe on the screen to move it up and down and get through menus. There are also shortcuts to functions like weather and music control to the left and right. Speaking of left and right It's very narrow at just 18.6 mm. On the back there's a heart rate sensor and pogo pins for a proprietary magnetic charger. There is no NFC or GPS.
Speaking of the charger, the battery life of this device is rated for 14 days. That was not the case for me. I needed to turn the brightness all the way up to see the face during the day. Given that, the battery only lasted 6, maybe 7 days for me, which is still awesome considering the always on heart rate tracking. As for step count accuracy, I didn't notice anything obviously way off. I don't have a ton of fitness trackers to compare it to - just my Samsung and wearOS watches and the step counts are consistent with what those devices reported.
And that transitions us nicely into software. For most fitness bands, it's going to come down to software. I'm going to deal with the fitness stuff first. During my review period, Xiaomi pushed out an update that enabled automatic exercise detection. But it was off by default. When I went cycling I needed to start and more importantly stop the exercise tracking. Since I just discovered the update, I went out for an evening cycle. Guess what? No tracking. Keep trying Xiaomi. So all that being said, if you're a gung ho fitness buff, probably skip this one.
While cycling the watch will vibrate every mile you ride which is a nice feature. It will also give you your current speed and length of workout.
The watch also keeps track of your PAI score which stands for Physiological Activity Indicator. It's basically how many steps you've taken, what your heart rate is like, etc, boiled down into a numeric score. It's another way to gamify health and fitness, so i'm down with that. I just wish it translated into something a bit more..I don't know, real?
Moving further into the app you get a lot of customizations, like watch faces. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of watch faces available. I found a good half dozen or so that I liked. My main watch face was the photo face which I used to display a photo of Neowise taken from the LG V60. So that was like triple layers of nerd going on there. The only problem is there's no way to save the photo face, so every time you switch to a different face, you need to find the same photo again. It's annoying. (Correction: I found an easy way to go back to the photo face without resetting the photo. So yay!)
One other delightful surprise was how accurate the lift to wake the watch face was. It was like every time. When it didn't work it was genuinely surprising. One might say Xiaomi was a bit too aggressive in this category because it actually popped on several times i wasn't expecting it - often while laying down. Fortunately, Xiaomi has an option in there to turn off lift to wake during nighttime hours, so it wasn't too distracting while trying to sleep. This is one area where a watch really needs to perform well because most other watches do not. I was actually prepared to not like this part of it, but it was a delightful surprise. Well done, Xiaomi.
The menus are easy to navigate on the watch but I wouldn't call the menus in the app all that intuitive. It took me two weeks to find where the band told you how long it had been off the charger. Overall though, the software is not great, but it works well enough and holds some very nice surprises.
Now comes the question that you're probably asking yourself. Should you buy it? That's a tough question. The Mi Band 4 is just as functional as the Mi Band 5. The 5 adds a few other exercise trackers, and an extra .2 inches of screen. But it also cuts down on battery life from Xiaomi's projects 20 days down to 14, which in reality is probably 9 down to 6. The Mi Band 5 also gets about fifty nits brighter, which can make a difference in direct sunlight. But the Mi Band 4 is only $30 right now while the Mi Band 5 is $50. It's not that big of a deal, but from a percentage standpoint, that's a 40% premium. Imagine paying $2000 for a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. You'd balk for sure.
Overall, I'd say there's really not enough here to justify an upgrade, but I've never been hands on with the Mi Band 4, so it's hard to judge. On Paper, the Mi Band 4 for 30 versus the Mi Band 5 for 50 makes me think the 4 is the smarter buy. The only thing that would make me balk is that xioami added auto exercise to the Mi Band 5 but it doesn't work that well, so you got me shrugging.
Below, I've linked to both the Mi Band 4 or the 5 in the show notes. The Mi Band in general is definitely worth picking up, but whether you go with the 4 or 5 is up to you. I've also linked to a couple of strap packages i found online as well if you're looking to accessorize. As always, you'll be helping the show.