It’s here. Xiaomi’s MiBand 5 is a 5th iteration of the wildly popular sports tracker and 4th device I got my hands on (review MiBand 2, 3, 4). Each time, the new wearable from Chinese tech giant Xiaomi gets a little better. Is it enough to get one? Or more importantly, is it enough to make you upgrade from the previous iteration? I will try to answer both questions.
MiBand 5 in detail
It wouldn’t be a tech review without throwing some specifications at you, hoping that you’ll get impressed. So let’s do that, have it out of the way, and talk about stuff that isn’t mentioned often.
MiBand 5 specs
Display: 126×294 pixels 1.1″ AMOLED 16 bit with 450 nits
Sensors: 6 axis low power, 3 axis accelerometer & gyro, PPG heart rate
Battery: 14 days 125mAh
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0 BLE
Hardware: Flash/RAM 16MB/512KB
Other: 5 ATM water resistance, 11.9g weight
What’s interesting, hardware-wise, MiBand 5 isn’t that different from MiBand 4. The screen is 50 nits brighter, 0.2″ bigger and has a couple more pixels, but the colour depth dropped from 24bit to 16. The battery is also smaller compared to 135mAh fitted inside the MiBand 4.
The 6-axis low-power accelerometer is probably the reason why MiBand 5 lasts this long on a smaller battery. I just can’t shake off the feeling that MiBand 5 has not fallen very far the Xiaomi MiBand 4 tree.
Despite the physical similarities and obvious change in the charging method (I like the snap-on, magnetic connector) MiBand 5 won’t fit your old bands. It’s disappointing, as the sizes are almost identical, but different enough to make the new wearable slotted awkwardly inside MiBand 4 bands.
New and exciting features
Despite the similarities, MiBand 5 comes loaded with new activity tracking options, extra features and great interface improvements. The list of supported exercises went up from 6 to 11:
- Outdoor/Indoor running
- Power walking
- Outdoor/Indoor Cycling
- Pool swimming
- Elliptical, jump rope, yoga, rowing machine, freestyle
It’s a shame that sit-ups, squats and press-ups are still not supported. Something I really liked about GoogleFit and LG Urbane (review). If these modes are present on a 6-year-old smartwatch, I can’t think of a reason why these could not be supported on the tracker.
Apart from new smart modes, new health features include stress measurement, breathing exercise and finally a tool to track menstrual cycles for women. The stress measurement feels a little gimmicky (more on that later), breathing exercise is basically a timer, but the cycles tool is well designed and I can see this as a big selling point for any female looking for a wearable.
What I don’t understand is the lack of these functions on MiBand 4. These are software upgrades, not adding these retrospectively to MiBand 4 feels like a cheap move to push MiBand 5 upgrades. Not everyone feels that the smart tracker has to be updated every year, so pushing updates like that builds the brands loyalty.
it’s bigger and in theory brighter, but truth be told, wearing MiBand 4 side by side, I can’t tell the difference. Both feel bright, the contrast is great, the screen outline is blended nicely into the dark bezel. Whether you run in the woods or cycle in the full sunshine wearing dark shades, you won’t have any problems reading the data from the 1.1″ AMOLED display.
The whole interaction with the wearable is done via a touch surface. I’m not calling it a touch display as the button is located outside of the display area. The wearable supports swipe up/down and to the side as well. Thanks to a completely custom menu, your favourite feature is always only 1-2 swipes away.
I only wish the home button came with a highlight. It’s hard to notice it at times especially when the UI elements can imitate a button as well – yes, I’m looking at you, activity shortcut!
Great UI changes
The biggest and the best change is the UI overhaul. The MiBand 5 watch face may seem ordinary at first, but the watch faces support widgets. The number of widgets (1-2) will depend on the watch face type in use, but you can edit what information is displayed on your home screen. It’s a great tool, but it also comes with imposed limits. Some faces only come with certain widget choices.
Swiping left or right opens up custom menus. The quick access list is editable in the MiFit app. You could start a workout, access weather or trigger a camera shutter.
MiBand 5 comes with camera shutter control and music playback widget. Sadly these only work when corresponding apps are already opened. I made a Tasker profile to fix this for MiBand 4 – looks like I will be doing the same for MiBand 5. This time for both camera (fix pending) and music playback (fix pending).
Up to this point, the wearable of my choice was Amazfit GTR (review). A smartwatch and a smart band hybrid. Swapping it for MiBand 5 was very noticeable. I didn’t realise how heavy and bulky the GTR was. I’ve gotten so used to the watch, that MiBand 5 felt feather-light on my wrist. Even after days of use, I can hardly tell if the MiBand 5 is on my wrist. It’s very light and never gets in the way.
Setting everything to the max (brightness, timeouts, etc), I get just under 7 days of use. With reasonable sleep policies, screen dimming at night and DND settings, you should extend that to 14 days without issues. Considering how light and small the wearable is, this is very impressive.
Exercise and HR sensor
In the name of science, I took the band cycling and running. While I’m a decent cyclist, I’m really bad at running. To tag along, I put my MiBand 4 on and pitched both bands against ANT+ enabled Sigma ROX10 with a chest strap – something I trust in regards to HR readings.
I have to say that thanks to a better fit, an improved HR sensor design and the fact that I did shave my wrist for science, the MiBand 5 was very accurate in regards to heart readings. I complained a lot about wrist wearable being inaccurate in motion, but I have no such argument to make this time.
MiBand 5 was freakishly accurate. Constantly within 2-3 beats of my Sigma ROX10 which is impressive, to say the least. MiFit app provides a lot of metrics after the activity to benchmark your performance, while MiBand 5 displays the most important stats like time, distance, BPM, speed/pace and achievements at selected intervals. Unfortunately, you can’t control music from the band during the exercise, so your wearable is limited only to 2 screens with activity data for the duration of it.
For some reason, MiFit isn’t reporting altitude changes for Xiaomi Mi9 (review) phone. Since this is a GPS based feature, I’m inclined to blame it on the app & phone compatibility especially that MiBand 4 with Pixel 3 (review) tracked altitude changes correctly.
The stress indicator measures stress levels based on HR and other factors when the body is in the rest position. Initially, I thought it to be accurate, looking at the stress levels during my work hours, but after testing positive for high stress during my Netflix and chill time which happened after extensive exercise, I have my doubts.
I work nights, so there is no sleep tracking for me, but for some reason not a single nap was registered with the MiBand 5 – time will tell if the automatic nap tracking will get better – Xiaomi should think more about people working different patterns.
Mobile notifications improved as well. They are more readable, which makes me less likely to reach out for the phone, which is the whole point of having the wearable with you. It would be nice to be able to issue a quick, pre-defined reply, but it is, what it is.
There are other functions that come with this sports tracker. Alarms, time, stopwatch, events, weather information with UV and pollution data, step counter and mysterious PAI score that rates your physical activity.
If you don’t own a smart tracker and you are in the market for one, MiBand 5 is hands down the best tracker you can get at this price point. It beats more expensive trackers to a pulp too! The problems start if you already own a MiBand 4. Splashing out £30 on a new iteration to get a couple of more activities tracked and features that could be retrospectively added to your current wearable feels like a stretch to me, especially knowing that Amazefit Band 5
(rumour alert!) will be a MiBand 5 clone that comes with Alexa, NFC and blood oxygen sensor for a roughly similar price (sub $50?).