The Indian smartphone market is a unique one, thanks to the wide differences in approach by different brands. While one set, led from the front by Xiaomi, sticks to the online space for its ease and affordability of distribution and ability to offer better value, the other set attacks the market with flashy branding, high dealer commissions and powerful and inclusive distribution. While Oppo and Vivo continue to dominate the offline market alongside Samsung and Lenovo, there is one other player from China that is making its own in-roads into the Indian market: Gionee.
One of the earliest Chinese smartphone makers to establish a presence in India, Gionee has built a strong distribution and dealership network in North India, particularly in Rajasthan where it is one of the leading smartphone vendors by shipments. As is expected for an offline-first brand, Gionee’s products are focused on features that appeal to the masses, and often lack the geeky pizzazz that brands such as OnePlus, Xiaomi, Motorola and others have succeeded to build for themselves. ALSO READ: The success that Oppo and Vivo have tasted in India hints at reasons well beyond specifications
Launched in March this year, the Gionee A1 is the company’s first phone to combine the benefits of the big battery that the Marathon range is known for, along with the camera-centric features that the S range touts. Following soon after is the latest phone from Gionee, the A1 Plus at Rs 26,999 . Positioned on the same lines as the A1, this new phone offers, well, a bit more on all fronts, with the dual-camera set up and bigger screen being the most noticeable. We’ve reviewed the Gionee A1 Plus, and here’s what we think about it.
Bigger screen, heavier feel
Our review of the Gionee A1 speaks in detail of just what makes the phone what it is, and the A1 Plus improves on some of these factors to earn its ‘Plus’ moniker. The biggest difference between the two phones is in its screen; the Gionee A1 Plus is significantly larger thanks to its 6-inch full-HD screen. Naturally, this makes for a more satisfying media experience, and will be particularly useful if you spend a lot of time watching videos on your phone.
The screen itself is an IPS-LCD display, and is fairly sharp, bright and detailed for a phone in this price range. You also get Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection against scratches and damage, as well as 2.5D curves at the edges for a cleaner look. Although the curves do exist and can be felt, the screen itself sits on a slab just above the main metal body of the phone, thereby negating the effects of the curvature just a bit.
The Gionee A1 Plus is also a bit heavier than its predecessor, thanks to its larger size, bigger screen and larger battery. While the A1 weighs in at a not-so-light 182g, the A1 Plus is significantly heavier at 226g and definitely feels like it. It’s also over 9mm thick, and is definitely not the phone for you if you prefer your phone compact and easy to hold, or if you have small hands. It definitely feels solid though, thanks to its metal body, although the phone is a bit top-heavy and might feel unbalanced to some.
Slightly improved specifications
With small improvements in the spec-sheet, the Gionee A1 Plus shows some visible improvements across the board, improving on factors that invited criticism for the Gionee A1. The biggest of these is the new SoC, with the Gionee A1 Plus sporting the MediaTek Helio P25 SoC. Clocked at up to 2.6GHz and with eight cores, the SoC offers improved performance over the Gionee A1. There’s also 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage (expandable by up to 256GB), Bluetooth 4.0 and compatibility for VoLTE and ViLTE.
The phone comes with Android Nougat 7.0 out-of-the-box, with Gionee’s Amigo 4.0 UI on top. Amigo has typically been among the less intuitive and more cluttered interfaces, and this continues with the A1 Plus. From the single-layered UI to the oddly placed settings and notification window, the interface can come across as needlessly complex. However, there are some interesting touches, including the edge bar, which brings shortcuts to a chosen set of apps and functions by swiping on the fingerprint sensor, smart gestures, and reverse charging, which lets you use the Gionee A1 Plus and its large battery to charge your other devices by functioning as a battery pack.
I did have some trouble with the phone’s fingerprint sensor though. The sensor is at the front, embedded into the physical home button, and is a bit smaller than sensors we’ve typically seen at the front of smartphones. It isn’t particularly accurate, and often needs you to place your finger firmly on the sensor in order to have it unlock the phone. I often had to try multiple times to unlock the phone, which can get particularly bothersome. While this usually works alright, these few occasions of trouble do mar the overall experience a bit.
Big Battery and Fast Charging
The battery of the Gionee A1 Plus also gets a bump, with the phone powered by a 4,550mAh battery. Battery life is excellent as a result, easily lasting up to two days on a single charge with normal use. Although it doesn’t quite have the longevity and capability of the Marathon series from Gionee, it’s certainly above average when it comes to battery life and will give the Lenovo P2 a run for its money, thanks to similar optimization of the hardware and software. Considering that the phone has a large 6-inch screen to power along with the higher-end MediaTek P25 SoC, we did get a decent amount of battery life on the device. ALSO READ: Lenovo P2 Review
Also worth mentioning is that the Gionee A1 Plus comes with fast charging capability, with an 18W charger bundled in the box. Capable of charging at either 18W or 10W, the charger initially fast charges the phone when the battery level is low, eventually reducing the voltage as the battery nears full. With large battery phones, fast charging has become a necessity to avoid spending too much time keeping the phone plugged in, and the Gionee is able to charge up in about 90-100 minutes from near zero to full. You can also use the phone to reverse charge other devices with a USB-OTG cable, making use of the big battery.
One of the big new features of the Gionee A1 Plus is its set of cameras. With a dual-camera set up at the rear and 20-megapixel front camera with lamp flash, the phone is certainly geared towards improving your photography. The rear camera setup uses a primary 13-megapixel sensor and a secondary 5-megapixel sensor which is used to create a bokeh effect for portrait mode shots. Video can be recorded at up to 1080p with the rear camera and 720p with the front camera, which highlights the shortcomings of the MediaTek P25 SoC under the hood.
In good light, pictures are decent enough, with minimal grain, decent detail and good color reproduction, although you are likely to see better results from similarly priced phones such as the Nubia Z17 Mini, or even the lower priced Moto G5 Plus. Switching to the portrait mode, the depth-sensing ability of the camera is decent enough, and manages to take decent bokeh shots. However, here again the Nubia Z17 Mini offers more in the way of features to use the two cameras effectively, such as clone mode and true monochrome for better low-light photography.
Low-light photography isn’t quite as good as it could be, and in general, the camera of the Gionee A1 Plus comes across as decent, but not quite the best. The 20-megapixel front camera is above average when it comes to shooting selfies, so if you enjoy taking pictures of yourself, the phone will be good for you. Pictures are well composed, bright, detailed and colorful. The presence of lamp flash at the front is a useful addition as well, and will help with pictures taken in low-light.
The Gionee A1 Plus is a capable successor to the Gionee A1 in many ways, particularly thanks to its bigger battery, larger screen and excellent front camera. While the rear camera falls a bit short on expectations and performance is average at best, there’s enough in the smartphone to make it a worthwhile purchase if you’re looking for a big-screen phone with a big battery. Although some competing options could be better, it’s important to remember that the Gionee A1 Plus is available to buy offline, which is a key purchase factor for a lot of buyers.
At its price of Rs 26,999, the Gionee may appeal to a lot of buyers with its big specifications, massive battery, large screen and boast-worthy camera set. However, it’s also quite expensive as compared to other big-screen, big-battery devices such as the Xiaomi Mi Max 2. Although offline availability and ease of purchase will of course negate the price difference to some extent, the phone is still a bit expensive for what you’re getting.
You do get a basic, functioning bokeh mode, as well as an excellent front camera with flash for good selfies. While the phone isn’t perfect in all ways, it’s certainly a capable device in a lot of departments, and is worth checking out if you’re looking for a new phone with a big battery and big screen at under 30,000 that you can buy in a retail store near you.