Expert Rating
3.5/5
Design
★★★★★
★★★★★
Display
★★★★★
★★★★★
Software
★★★★★
★★★★★
Camera
★★★★★
★★★★★
Performance
★★★★★
★★★★★
Battery
★★★★★
★★★★★
Pros
  • Attractive pricing
  • Massive 5,000mAh battery
  • Capable performance
  • Good software experience
Cons
  • 48MP camera needs improvement
  • Macro mode is still bad
  • Display isn’t the greatest
Chinese smartphone maker Realme has been laying siege on the Indian mid-range and budget market in the recent past with a slew of products. It seems pretty obvious that Realme has Xiaomi in its crosshairs, and both companies are trying to one-up the other, which in the end has been quite beneficial to the consumer. 

Realme had come out with the Realme 5 (review) and 5 Pro (review) about two months back and now we have a new addition to the series in the form of the Realme 5S, which has been launched alongside the company’s flagship Realme X2 Pro (review). However, if you were expecting some major performance boost or design changes, you would be mistaken. Realme has ported the main 48MP camera sensor from the 5 Pro to the 5 and rebranded the latter as 5S. A similar strategy had been implemented by Xiaomi for its Redmi Note 7 series smartphones wherein it replaced the Note 7 (review) with the Note 7S (review), which had also borrowed the 48 MP camera sensor for the Pro variant.



On the outside, the Realme 5S is indistinguishable from the Realme 5 and that is not necessarily a bad thing. So how good is Realme’s implementation? I used the Realme 5S for a while and here is what I make of it.

Design and Display

As mentioned before, the Realme 5S’ design is almost identical to the Realme 5. It sports a smooth polycarbonate back with a diamond-cut pattern reminiscent of the Realme 1 (review), a design language that I very much appreciate. Although as a personal preference, I am swayed a little towards the dual-tone gradient finish seen on the Redmi Note 8 (review) The glossy back means that the Realme 5S is a fingerprint magnet, but this has become pretty much a norm on budget phones nowadays. Besides, you are most likely going to slap a case on the phone so the smudge-prone back should be of little concern. 



A big 5,000mAh battery combined with a 6.5-inch display means that the phone is cumbersome to use with one hand, though the subtle curves on the edges did give me a good grip on the device. The slight protrusion of the quad-camera module makes the phone wobble when placed on a flat surface. 



Other design features on the phone include a micro-USB port, headphone jack, and speaker grill, all of which are located on the bottom, while we see the standard volume rockers and power buttons on the left and right side of the device respectively. Apart from that, there is also a fingerprint sensor which is located on the top half of the phone right beside the camera module at the rear.



Talking more about the display of the phone, we see the same HD+ screen as on the Realme 5 along with the dewdrop notch and small chin at the bottom. In our review of the latter, we had said that the quality of the display was not really up to the mark, as compared to phones like the Redmi Note 7S. Pitting the Realme 5S against the recently-launched Redmi Note 8, I saw that the Note 8’s screen had generally more punchy colours, apart from the fact that it offers FHD+ resolution.



There is also no Widevine L1 certification on the Realme 5S which translates to you being able to stream only SD content on services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. However, like the Realme 5 before, the 5S also has a bright display which works well for the purposes of browsing under harsh sunlight. 


Cameras

When the Realme 5 came out, its eye-grabbing feature was definitely the quad-camera setup on the back, which was unheard of in the price segment. With the Redmi Note 8, Xiaomi decided to up the quad-camera game, which in turn has forced Realme’s hand into launching the 5S. Like the Redmi Note 8, the Realme 5S also possesses a 48MP Sony IMX586 sensor as its primary camera while the other three sensors, which are the 8MP wide-angle lens, a 2MP ultra macro lens, and a 2MP depth sensor, remain the same. So how good is the new sensor on the Realme 5S? Short answer, not extraordinary. Here’s the long answer.



Let’s talk about low light first, which is always a bane for budget smartphones. Let me also preface this by saying that we have come an extremely long way in computational photography, and what sub-Rs 10,000 phones can do in terms of shooting prowess now would be impossible to imagine a few years back. Even so, Xiaomi appears to have done a stellar job as far as night photography is concerned and it appears Realme has some catching up to do. The Note 8 captures quite detailed shots using the dedicated night mode with good exposure calibration, as evident in this image sample where the street lamps are casting their light directly on the camera sensor. The Realme 5S does a good job overall of keeping the details and even the contrast, but there is a certain dullness about the photo such as the leaves being not as focused as we can see in the Redmi Note 8 shot. 

The same trend is seen in daylight photos as well, wherein the Redmi Note 8 seems to be capturing more details overall and displays punchier colours. The Realme 5S does good exposure calibration but has a much softer focus, skimming details on things such as the bushes you see in this picture. The company’s Chroma boost feature, which increases saturation, is also not to my taste, unless you would like to click Instagram-ready pictures. What’s more, the previous Realme 5 also churns out a very similar photo to the Realme 5S which has the advantage of the 48MP sensor, though admittedly what we see is a pixel-binned 12MP photo. Even so, the UHD 48MP mode on the Realme 5S was also not displaying as much detail over the 12MP shots of the Realme 5 as I would’ve preferred.

The macro mode on the Realme 5S needs improvement and what’s more, the device does not focus on objects closer than 4cm from the lens. In comparison, the Redmi Note 8 has a much more nuanced macro mode which has better focusing and detail capturing capabilities. The ultra-wide sensor on both the phones is good but you can see distortions at the edges. Even so, I would again rate the Note 8 slightly higher for better colour reproduction than the Realme 5S.



As far as selfies are concerned, both the Realme 5S and Redmi Note 8 have 13MP front-facing cameras and for the most, we see decent photos on both. The details were fine on my face while the contrast looked slightly off on the Redmi Note 8 Pro. Portrait mode on both phones’ front cameras has skewed exposure calibrations with weak background separation, but this is something we expect out of budget smartphones.

Performance, Software, and Battery

For an affordable device, the Realme 5S offers solid performance for its price. The Snapdragon 665 chipset found on the Realme 5 has been retained in the 5S, delivering almost on all speed-related aspects except for (understandably) gaming at high graphics and high frame rates. Basic tasks such as the opening of multiple apps in the background and switching between them is a breeze, as is running a couple of low-intensity games such as Subway Surfers and Angry Birds. The variant which I have for review happens to have 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, although you could opt for a lower RAM option without any significant drop in performance. Your storage needs can be met using the expandable slot which gives you an additional 256GB of space by adding a microSD card.



I had an average experience playing graphics-intensive titles such as PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty Mobile, and that is to be expected on a phone which is in the budget range. What I was pleased to see was that the device did not become hot and laggy even after about an hour of gameplay on the phone. The settings could only be maxed out to medium but for the average consumer, who is not concerned with good graphics or high frame rates, this should not be a deterrent.



As far as the audio quality of the phone goes, the speakers on the Realme 5S are slightly tinny but you can hear the sound playing across an empty room quite easily. The earpiece and mic also worked to my satisfaction. Another thing that had me impressed was how fast the capacitive fingerprint sensor worked, unlocking the phone in a flash. The face unlock was a bit of a hit and miss, but was usable in sufficient lighting conditions, although I cannot speak for the security of this method. It is best to stay on a fingerprint unlock which is both safe and highly reliable. 



Something that needs to be said about Realme’s budget phones this year is the exceptional battery life that the company is offering. The Realme 5S features the same 5,000mAh powerhouse borrowed from the Realme 5 which has been quite phenomenal, to say the least. In my battery test, which consisted of playing a single video on loop at half the max brightness and volume, the phone lasted for more than 28 hours which is slightly lower than the 33 hours on the Realme 5. The new phone supports OPPO’s proprietary VOOC 3.0 charging technology which can juice up the device in just above 2 hours.  



Talking about the software side of things, the ColorOS 6.0.1 skin runs atop Android 9.0 Pie. There isn’t much I can add that hasn’t been already said in our review of the Realme 3i which also makes use of the same skin, so head there for a more detailed explanation. Long story short, you won’t be seeing any ads on your settings menu but it won’t be as clean as the OnePlus’ OxygenOS. That being said, there are reports of ColorOS 7.0 being rolled out soon and we will have to see how good the experience is going to be when it comes out and becomes available for the Realme 5S.

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Verdict

So should you buy the Realme 5S? As you could have seen from my review, it offers very little incentive over the Redmi Note 8, which a very compelling phone in the sub-Rs 10,000 segment. What you would certainly get in the Realme 5S is a cleaner and ad-free software experience and a larger 5,000mAh battery. Is that really enough to warrant a purchase? Even the borrowed 48MP sensor on the 5S does not appear to have any kind of significant boost over the Realme 5’s 12MP sensor. As of right now, it would appear that Redmi has the upper hand, but with the constant tech warfare that both companies find themselves in right now, expect the former OPPO sub-brand to pull out all the stops in its next budget smartphone.


Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5 

Pros:

  • Attractive pricing 
  • Massive 5,000mAh battery 
  • Capable performance 
  • Good software experience

Cons:

  • 48MP camera needs improvement
  • Macro mode is still bad 
  • Display isn’t the greatest  

Photos by Raj Rout