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First look at Xiaomi's Mi 5 flagship

Xiaomi's big Mobile World Congress unveiling doesn't disappoint

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One of the biggest names in China's smartphone market has come to the world's biggest mobile show to debut its next flagship, the Mi 5. Today, Xiaomi introduces itself to a global audience on the Mobile World Congress stage as it details its latest top-of-the-line Android smartphone.

The Mi 5 is a classic Android flagship in the sense that its primary selling point is its overwhelming spec sheet. Xiaomi pairs Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 820 chipset with 4GB of memory, the latest 16-megapixel camera sensor from Sony (IMX298), and as much as 128GB of storage. It's engineered to wow with its sheer speed and power, but it's also extremely light and almost delicate in its design. The display up front is a 5.15-inch 1080p IPS LCD with almost no bezels on either side and an efficient use of the space above and below. The Mi 5 is Xiaomi's first handset with a home button on the front, which also integrates a fingerprint reader. Framing that are a pair of capacitive keys: a multitasking button on the left and a back key on the right. Xiaomi's Hugo Barra even dedicated a portion of the phone's launch event to highlighting the Mi 5's "forehead" — the space above the display — which is smaller than on Apple's iPhone or Samsung's Galaxy S flagships.

As with the OnePlus X, there's a ceramic option if you want it

Xiaomi's Mi 5 falls right in line with the newly announced Galaxy S7 from Samsung and G5 from LG in having a very polished and refined design. Its curved back — glass on the regular model or ceramic on the Pro — is perfectly comfortable to hold, and its size is ideal for one-handed use. This phone weighs only 129 grams and feels like it. There's an effortlessness to holding and using it. That's not to the detriment of the internals, either, as Xiaomi also fits in a 3,000mAh battery, the same as you'll find on Samsung's new Galaxy S7. Supporting Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0, the Mi 5's battery is said to have the highest energy-density available today.

Sapphire glass protects the 16-megapixel camera, which works with lightning quickness. I wasn't immediately impressed by the image quality of the few pics I took, but Xiaomi has posted some highly detailed sample pictures already and considers this "a true flagship camera." It comes with phase-detect autofocus, four-axis stabilization (adding transversal — up / down and left / right — as well as rotational correction). It even has Deep Trench Isolation, just like the latest iPhone cameras. Unlike Apple or Samsung's flagships, however, Xiaomi's new camera sits perfectly flush with the rear of the phone — no camera bumps to be found here.

Xiaomi is putting the 'Chinese copycat' label behind it

Speaking of the iPhone, it's worth acknowledging that Xiaomi has truly created its own device here. Having built up a reputation for unscrupulously and meticulously copying Apple's products, Xiaomi is making its pitch to a truly global audience with a smartphone that is uniquely its own. (Well, as unique as a smartphone can be these days!) I do find the glossy glass on the black and white Mi 5s rather distracting and easy to spoil with flecks of dust, but it certainly has the polished and sophisticated appearance that Xiaomi was aiming for. I also might have preferred not to have the extra bling of the chamfered edge, but that's just nitpicking. The Mi 5 is a handsome phone, with a good-looking display that makes it feel cohesive and well thought-out.

Available in China from March 1st, the Xiaomi Mi 5 might actually be the very first Snapdragon 820 device on the market. It was last to make its big debut here at Mobile World Congress, but on the evidence of our first encounter with it, it was worth the wait. That's especially true when you consider its price, which is just over $260 for the regular Mi 5 and $350 for the Mi 5 Pro with extra RAM, storage, and a ceramic back. With such pricing, a good design, and a maxed-out spec sheet, the only thing the Mi 5 needs to do now is make its way out to the west. Xiaomi says a launch in India will follow China, with "other markets" coming after that.

Xiaomi Mi5 hands-on photos