It's getting harder to justify spending over $700 on a phone — even on a device as good as the Galaxy S8 — when there are alternatives like the OnePlus 5 available that offer 90% of the features for under $500. Then there's the Xiaomi Mi 6, which manages to undercut the OnePlus 5 while offering similar specs.
Both OnePlus and Xiaomi stepped up this year, introducing dual cameras, sleeker designs, and build quality that's on par with the best that Samsung and LG have to offer. If you're in the market for a $500 phone that offers top-notch internals and great value for money, read on.
I wasn't a fan of the Mi 5 last year. The device wasn't quite as good as the OnePlus 3, but this time around, it's a much more even contest. That's all down to Xiaomi sorting out the issues from last year — simply put, the Mi 6 is Xiaomi's best handset to date. The hardware is stunning to behold, and the software has picked up much-needed polish.
Xiaomi Mi 6
OxygenOS 4.5, Android 7.1.1 Nougat
MIUI 8.2, Android 7.1.1 Nougat
5.5-inch 1920x1080 AMOLED panel Gorilla Glass 5 401ppi pixel density
5.15-inch 1080p (1920x1080) IPS LCD panel 3D curved glass 428ppi pixel density
Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Four Kryo 280 cores at 2.45GHz Four Kryo 280 cores at 1.90GHz 10nm
Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Four Kryo 280 cores at 2.45GHz Four Kryo 280 cores at 1.90GHz 10nm
64/128GB UFS 2.1
USB-C Dash Charge
USB-C Fast charging (5V/2A)
Rear Camera 1
16MP (IMX398), f/1.7, 1.12-micron pixels, EIS Dual LED flash, 4K 30 fps
12MP camera (IMX386) with 1.25-micron pixels, 4-axis OIS and f/1.8 lens dual-tone LED flash, PDAF 4K video recording
Rear Camera 2
20MP (IMX350), f/2.6, 1-micron pixels
12MP camera (Samsung S5K3M3) with f/2.6 lens, 1-micron pixels and 2x zoom
16MP (IMX371), f/2.0, 1-micron pixels, EIS 1080p 30 fps video
8MP 1080p video recording
LTE 3xCA, 256QAM, Cat 12 Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, dual band, 2x2 MIMO Bluetooth 5.0, aptX HD GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, NFC USB 2.0, USB OTG
LTE with VoLTE Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS, GLONASS USB-C, IR blaster
One-touch fingerprint sensor
Qualcomm Sense ID
Dual Nano SIM
Dual Nano SIM
FDD-LTE: Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/20/25/26/28/29/30/66 TDD-LTE: Band 38/39/40/41 HSPA: Band 1/2/4/5/8 TD-SCDMA: Band 34/39 GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz CDMA: BC0
FDD-LTE: Band 1/3/5/7/8 TDD-LTE: Band 38/39/40/41
154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25 mm
145.2 x 70.5 x 7.5mm
Slate Grey, Midnight Black
Black, Ceramic Black, Blue, White
Both phones look similar from the front — there's a fingerprint sensor below the display, curved 3D glass on all edges, and a single speaker at the bottom. Move to the back and you'll start noticing the differences. The camera sensor on the OnePlus 5 juts out slightly from the chassis, and the casing around the sensor already picked up a few nicks in the ten days I've used the phone. Thankfully, the camera sensor on the Mi 6 sits flush with the body of the phone, but the device has its own issues — mainly a propensity to slide off surfaces. The glass back is extremely slippery, and more than once I came into a room to see the Mi 6 lying on the floor.
The Mi 6 is also prone to smudges. Use it for more than two minutes and you'll notice a network of fingerprints all over the back of the device. If you care about the phone looking pristine, you'll need to carry a microfiber cloth around. Finally, the Mi 6 has picked up a lot of micro-scratches — both at the back and front of the device. If you're interested in the Mi 6, a better option would be to spring for the ceramic edition.
The OnePlus 5 doesn't slip off tables, but at the same time its design isn't as evocative as the Mi 6.
However, as an overall package, the Mi 6 is definitely a step in the right direction. The Mi 5 and Mi 5s had uninspiring designs, but the glass back on the Mi 6 gives it a much more upmarket feel. Furthermore, the regular black version is more resilient than I thought — it survived a lot of tumbles without taking any damage. But after looking at all the scratches, it's easy to recommend the hardened ceramic model.
The OnePlus 5 doesn't have any of these issues, but at the same time its design isn't as evocative as the Mi 6. The metal back and the antenna lines at the top and bottom of the device give it a clean look, but it isn't particularly exciting. OnePlus stuck to a safe design choice, and while there's nothing wrong with its design, I prefer the Mi 6.
While both phones have fingerprint sensors at the front, the Mi 6 is the only one to offer Qualcomm's Sense ID. The tech uses ultrasound to create a 3D map of all the ridges and grooves on your finger, leading to a more detailed fingerprint. One advantage with Sense ID is that it registers your fingerprint even if your fingers are wet. In real-world usage, both sensors were just as fast at authentication.
Xiaomi alluded to splash resistance during the Mi 6 keynote, but the phone doesn't carry an IP rating. While OnePlus didn't mention anything about water resistance for the OnePlus 5, its CEO claimed that the device has a certain degree of water resistance. That said, it's best not to take either device to the pool.
Both the OnePlus 5 and Mi 6 are evenly matched in terms of internal hardware. I'm using the 6GB variant of the OnePlus 5, which offers 64GB storage. The particular Mi 6 model I'm testing also has 6GB of RAM, but it has double the storage at 128GB. Both phones are powered by the Snapdragon 835, and while last year's Mi 5 had an underclocked CPU, that isn't the case this time around. The "big" Kryo 280 cores doing the bulk of the legwork are clocked at 2.45GHz on both models.
The OnePlus 5 is unmatched when it comes to day-to-day performance.
Although there isn't much to differentiate both devices when it comes to specs, as far as the day-to-day performance goes, the OnePlus 5 is in an altogether different league. Apps launch instantaneously, and the phone didn't slow down even once. OnePlus mentioned that it sped up the animations on OxygenOS to achieve this effect, and after using the phone for ten days, I cannot wait for other manufacturers to follow suit. The only other phone I've used that was as fluid as the OnePlus 5 was the Pixel XL.
The Mi 6 is no slouch, but it just isn't as fluid as OnePlus' offering. There's an infinitesimal delay when launching an app on MIUI 8 that just isn't present on the OnePlus 5. The touch response on the OnePlus 5 is also fantastic, and it's only when you switch back to another device that you notice the difference. Talking about performance, both phones offer Full HD panels, but the Optic AMOLED display on the OnePlus 5 wins out when it comes to color saturation and contrast levels. The LCD panel on the Mi 6 is one of the best in the market today, but it doesn't quite match up to the AMOLED display on the OnePlus 5.
The main difference between the two devices when it comes to the hardware is the 3.5mm jack — the OnePlus 5 has one, the Mi 6 does not. Xiaomi's justification in getting rid of it was so it could offer a larger battery and make the device splash resistant. Xiaomi includes a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box, and if you've made the switch to wireless audio, the omission of the headphone jack isn't going to bother you a whole lot. But if you primarily listen to music using a wired headset, then the OnePlus 5 is a better choice.
The OnePlus 5 has a 3300mAh battery, and although the Mi 6 is smaller, Xiaomi managed to cram a larger 3350mAh battery into its chassis. Combine that with the aggressive memory management of MIUI 8, and the Mi 6 takes the lead when it comes to battery life. The OnePlus 5 manages to last a day, but you can easily get a day and a half's worth of usage out of the Mi 6.
When it comes to charging the devices, however, the OnePlus 5 has an ace up its sleeve with Dash Charge. The tech — which is based on OPPO's VOOC fast charging protocol — is amazing, delivering up to a 60% charge in just 30 minutes. The Mi 6 also has fast charging, but it's not on the same level as the OnePlus 5.
While the hardware is largely similar on both phones, the same cannot be said for the software. In fact, the software experience couldn't be more different. OxygenOS 4.5 builds on a base of Android 7.1.1 Nougat by adding a few additional features, but the overall interface is close to that of stock Android. There's a Pixel-style launcher that's accessible with a vertical swipe, and a shelf takes up the left-most home screen, giving you quick access to your frequently used apps and contacts.
OnePlus also offers a variety of gestures, and the one I particularly like is one that lets you quickly take a screenshot with a three-finger swipe down motion anywhere on the screen. There's also double tap to wake the screen, gestures for controlling music playback, and configurable gestures that you can use to launch an app.
If you like stock Android, the OnePlus 5 is a much better choice.
You can switch between three themes — Default, Light, and Dark, with the latter two options allowing you to switch up the accent colors throughout the interface. There's also a new Reading Mode, which optimizes the screen's color temperature for reading text. You can manually toggle the mode, or configure it to launch automatically for a particular app. OxygenOS also offers a blue light filter and an ambient display mode. Overall, OnePlus has done a magnificent job with OxygenOS — it manages to offer enough customizability while at the same time creating an unencumbered software experience.
Meanwhile, the latest version of MIUI 8 (based on Android 7.1.1 Nougat) is just as heavy as earlier iterations. Xiaomi has managed to work out the bugs from last year, and while the Mi 6 is much more fluid than its predecessors, it just doesn't provide the same uncluttered experience as the OnePlus 5. There is a market for MIUI — the custom skin has over 200 million users — but as the interface is designed primarily for a Chinese audience, there are a few features that don't translate well in Western markets.
For instance, the camera app tries to guess your gender and age when you're trying to take a selfie. Then there's the lack of a traditional app drawer. The former is just plain weird, and the latter can be fixed with a third-party launcher like Nova, but you'll have to put in a lot of effort to get MIUI tailored to your liking.
If you're one to tinker with every facet of the user interface, then there's plenty to like in MIUI 8. Xiaomi offers a ton of customization options, and there are hundreds of themes available through which you can completely alter the look of the interface. There's also the ability to run two instances of the same app simultaneously, the gallery has a powerful video editor, and you can use the Mi 6 at work by creating a secondary profile.
Like the rest of the internal hardware, the OnePlus 5 and Mi 6 sport similar dual camera setups in that the secondary sensor is used as a telephoto lens. However, there are key differences when it comes to the implementation — the Mi 6 has dual 12MP cameras, whereas the OnePlus 5 has a primary 16MP camera and a secondary 20MP camera. Furthermore, the primary camera on the Mi 6 has larger 1.25-micron pixels, with the OnePlus 5 featuring a sensor with 1.12-micron pixels.
The Mi 6 offers 2x optical zoom, and while the OnePlus 5 also hits 2x "lossless" zoom, it isn't all down to the sensor. The 20MP sensor goes up to 1.6x optical zoom, and the other 0.4x is achieved through "multiframe technology." Finally, the Mi 6 offers OIS on the primary camera, a feature that's missing entirely from the OnePlus 5.
2x zoom: OnePlus 5 on the left, Mi 6 on the right.
When using 2x zoom, the OnePlus 5 camera tends to overblow colors, with the end result looking unnatural. The Mi 6 does a much better job, producing images with accurate colors and a decent amount of detail.
Portrait Mode: OnePlus 5 on the left, Mi 6 on the right.
Portrait Mode is a hit-and-miss affair on the OnePlus 5. You'll need to shoot a few images to come up with one that's passable, and even then the camera tends to blur out the edges. The Mi 6 fares slightly better in this regard — the camera manages to blur out the background uniformly.
OnePlus 5 on the left, Mi 6 on the right.
Overall, it's easy to see that the OnePlus 5's camera isn't quite there yet. Colors tend to be overblown, and there's a lot of noise in scenes with low or artificial lighting — the lack of OIS clearly makes a huge difference. The company has rolled out two updates this week alone, but there's a lot of work to be done in terms of image processing before the phone can hold its own in this segment. The Mi 6 certainly has the edge (for now), but it'll be interesting to see what sort of updates OnePlus rolls out over the coming weeks and months to improve the camera experience.
Which should you buy? Your call
At the end of the day, both the OnePlus 5 and Mi 6 are excellent devices. They raise the bar for affordable flagships, and offer great value for money. Internally, there isn't a whole lot of difference between either device.
The Mi 6 has a slender edge when it comes to the design, and the 5.15-inch display certainly makes the device better for one-handed use. However, lack of a 3.5mm jack is a major downside. The Mi 6 also wins out on the camera front, but OnePlus is steadily rolling out updates to fix the camera issues on the OnePlus 5.
In terms of the software experience, it all comes down to your preference — if you like tinkering with the user interface to tailor it to your exact needs, then you'll love the customizability of the Mi 6. But if you want an uncluttered interface that mimics stock Android with a few useful tweaks, then you'll be better served by the OnePlus 5.
The Mi 6 can be bought for as low as $410, but availability is a significant drawback. The phone is limited to China, so your only option is to order via third-party sites like GearBest, which provide their own warranty. You'll end up saving some money in the process, but you won't be able to walk into a store and get a new unit if you face any issues with the hardware.