I love taking selfies. Even before selfies were a thing, I was obsessed with taking photos of myself, regardless of whether I had to do a bit of trigonometry to take a good clean photo from a VGA rear camera. But that was 2007, and in this era of better front facing cameras, Instagram and Snapchat, taking selfies is easier and much more fun. Another reason I love modern selfie cameras is the beautification mode – an instant cosmetic touch up without shedding a drop of sweat. Even though I have grown older horizontally with more face fat, I want to look good in my photos, no matter what. Naturally, you would want me to buy a selfie phone and stop talking about it, right?
The fact is that at my age, I cannot be investing in a smartphone based only on how good the front-facing camera is. I want my smartphone to help improve productivity with solid performance, security features and deliver at least a full day of battery life. And of course, it should be good enough to handle graphic intensive games, multimedia streaming and complex mobile photography for my leisure. Selfies, unfortunately, are pushed low in the order of elements I look for in a smartphone. But that’s just my use-case; I know there’s a large number of people who are buying smartphones based on the quality of the front camera. Unsurprisingly, smartphone brands are looking to tap into this segment with a slew of selfie-centric smartphones.
This brings me to the Gionee A1. A new smartphone that’s made for better selfies. Priced at Rs 19,999, the smartphone comes with a 16-megapixel front-facing camera with LED flash to justify the ‘selfie’ moniker. At the same time, the smartphones ticks all the boxes to be a worthy mid-ranger with a 5.5-inch full HD display, 4GB of RAM, a 4010mAh battery, MediaTek Helio P10 SoC, and Google’s latest Android Nougat out-of-the-box. I have been using the Gionee A1 as my primary smartphone for the last few days. Besides taking selfies, I also focused on other aspects of the smartphone to reach a conclusion on whether I will continue using a Gionee A1 for another couple of years. Let’s find out.
As pointed out in our first impressions of the smartphone, the Gionee A1 doesn’t really get head turns for its design, which can be considered run-of-the-mill. Not very distinct from what other Chinese smartphones offer or even previous Gionee smartphones, the Gionee A1 sports a metal body, Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on the top and a familiar arrangement of gently curved corners and slim strips of antenna lines on the back.
With 8.3mm depth and 182 grams weight, the Gionee A1 isn’t the slimmest and lightest smartphone out there. Not having a distinguishing design is certainly not a flaw in my opinion. This is very much standard design in the mid-range and upper tier of the mid-range segments. It looks and feels premium, solid and sturdy. I did end up dropping it a few times, and the smartphone survived without suffering any dents. The smartphone offers good grip for a 5.5-inch smartphone. The necessary buttons such as volume and power are well within reach with a normal grip. On the whole, the smartphone doesn’t really give you much to talk about, but then there isn’t much to complain about either. ALSO READ: Gionee A1, A1 Plus hands-on and first impressions
Display, UI, and software
Gionee has not gone overboard with the display resolution with the A1, which comes with a standard 5.5-inch full-HD screen. The display quality is pretty good in terms of color levels, viewing angles and brightness levels. The auto brightness, however, is pretty sluggish and takes a bit of time to adjust to ambient lighting conditions. But when adjusted, it seems pretty okay when viewing under direct sunlight. The good thing is you can control your screen tones. While I prefer neutral tone, you can also choose between ‘cool color’ and ‘warm color’ tones.
The Gionee A1 runs Android 7.0 Nougat out-of-the-box with a custom Amigo UI layer on top. If you are fond of the untouched Android experience, the Gionee A1 isn’t for you. There’s a fair bit of customization, some of which I thought was useless and some which came in handy. There is no app drawer or on screen buttons. The smartphone also has a physical home button which doubles up as the fingerprint scanner, and capacitive touch buttons for navigation.
There are a few preloaded apps such as Amazon, Saavn, Swiftkey keyboard, Hotoday (Flipboard/Google News-like news aggregate), and games like Real Football, Asphalt Nitro and Bubble Bash 3, which might appeal to some buyers.
Elaborating on the customization, the quick settings menu can be reached by swiping up from the home screen, rather than in the form of a drop-down menu. The drop-down menu, on the other hand, is essentially a collated notification center with more content and interactive notifications, which is one of the stock features of Android Nougat. To access the Google Now cards, you need to either ask Google Assistant to open Google Now or open the Google app.
There is a shortcut button in the settings allowing you to access some key features such as battery manager, fingerprint and split screen, among others. One of my favorite features on the device is the gesture support on the fingerprint scanner. When you swipe right on the fingerprint scanner/home button, you get a set of quick shortcuts to a few functions such as universal search, settings and tasks. In my case, I added a contact for speed dial and Facebook. The shortcuts appear on the side of the screen, reminding you of Galaxy edge functionality. It’s quite nifty, but isn’t really intuitive like the Galaxy edge.
The front camera is the main highlight of the Gionee A1, and is a 16-megapixel sensor with LED flash, allowing you to take brighter photos in low-light conditions. To spice things up, the camera comes with a ‘face beauty’ mode, allowing you to have smoother and wrinkle-free selfies. The beautification mode comes with filters like skin whitening, eye enlarging and face slimming. It supports HDR for selfies as well.
The Gionee A1 does take good front facing photos but is far from being mind-boggling. The photo quality, in my opinion, is pretty much on par to what you get from a range of Android smartphones nowadays. Besides the advantage of the LED flash, I really didn’t feel the selfies were impressive. I have seen similar performance on a lot of budget Android smartphones of late. About two years ago, I had used the Asus Zenfone Selfie, which as the name suggests was targeted at selfie enthusiasts. I really don’t see selfies getting significantly better from what was offered on that two-year-old phone. The only change I can see is that selfies are a more common phenomenon in 2017.
Coming to the rear camera, which has a 13-megapixel sensor with f/2.0 aperture, PDAF support, and LED flash. The smartphone comes with a slew of modes like Pro, night, timelapse, slow motion, text recognition, and text translation among others. There are a few preloaded filters. While the Pro mode gives you control over the brightness and contrast levels among other aspects, you can also change the aspect ratio by changing the resolution or choose to tap on the screen to capture the photo. The camera UI is very simple and easy to use. It quickly processes the images when taken in the auto mode. Once you have chosen any mode, say HDR, the image processing becomes slower and you need your hands to be really steady to pull off a good photo.
The rear camera on the Gionee A1 is average at best. It takes pretty good photos in good light but significantly deteriorates in low-light conditions. Photos taken in the latter situations were quite underwhelming. There was a fair amount of grain and lack of focus was very evident. For a smartphone priced at Rs 20,000, the overall output of the Gionee A1’s rear camera wasn’t really up to the mark. With devices such as the Moto G5 Plus (dual-pixel sensor) and Honor 6X (dual-camera), the A1 will certainly face strong competition.
Performance and battery
The Gionee A1 comes with the Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 octa-core SoC paired with Mali-T860MP2, and 4GB of RAM. There is 64GB of internal storage on offer, which can be expanded by up to 256GB using a microSD card.
The smartphone easily handled some graphic intensive games such as Marvel’s Spiderman, along with routine games such as Angry Birds and Super Mario Run. The phone never heats up to uncomfortable levels even during long sessions of mobile gaming. Also, the smartphone functioned smoothly with about 10-15 apps open in the background at any given time. There’s a push notification when any app is using too many resources, allowing you to close it to conserve power.
But that’s were the pros end. There have been multiple occasions of apps crashes, forcing me to reboot the smartphone to access them again. While the reboot gets the job done, at times it is a bit baffling that you are unable to access features as simple as the native camera or Twitter app.
Another impressive feature of the Gionee A1 is the battery life. On moderate to high usage, the smartphone can easily see a full day with a single charge. I started my day with the full charge around 8am, and the battery reached 15 percent at around 10pm. Throughout the day I extensively used Slack messenger, Chrome browser and Facebook with a little bit of multimedia streaming, voice calling and camera use. There are a few energy saving modes to further optimize the battery life. You can choose between normal mode, power saving mode (reduces performance) and an extreme mode (for basic features like phone, contact, messaging and clock).
In terms of audio, the Gionee A1 is pretty decent. The speakerphone is loud and clear enough. Usually, bundled earphones aren’t that good, but the Gionee A1’s headset is an exception to this. The bundled earphones are great when it comes to clarity, although the sound might be a bit bass-heavy. The smartphone does a good job when it comes to vocal-based songs. The fingerprint scanner on the device is easy to set up and unlocks the device quickly. The scanner can store up to five fingerprints.
For Rs 19,999, the Gionee A1 is no doubt priced quite high. Apart from decent battery life and the high pixel count on the front camera, the Gionee A1 doesn’t seem to be a compelling enough device for me to switch over, particularly considering the competition. If selfies aren’t too important to you, you can consider powerhouses such as the Lenovo Z2 Plus, Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 and Moto G5 Plus, among others. But if great selfies are your thing, the Gionee A1 does have a price advantage over options such as the Oppo F3 Plus and Vivo V5 Plus.