It’s no secret that when shopping for a capable smartphone in the budget segment, the shortlist invariably mentions Xiaomi. But since the launch of the Mi 5 early last year, there’s been an absence of what you would call a premium flagship device. While there is little hope of the Mi 6 coming to India, Xiaomi did recently launch a device that it calls a flagship – the Mi A1. The new smartphone is aggressively priced at Rs 14,999, boasts a decent spec sheet, and its highlights include a dual-camera setup and near-stock Android operating system.
The Xiaomi Mi A1 is a part of Google’s Android One initiative. In other words, it runs on stock Android Nougat 7.1.2, and an Android Oreo roll out is promised before the end of this year. The Mi A1 is described as ‘created by Xiaomi and powered by Google’, and the experience of using it is vastly different from the other Xiaomi devices available in India. Having spent a considerable amount of time with it, here’s my review of the Xiaomi Mi A1.
Let’s start with the design, and there is no denying that Mi A1 is a premium-looking device. The overall design is distinctly Xiaomi, and a lot of elements seems to have been retained from the Redmi devices. But the Mi A1 is clearly a step up. At 7.3mm thickness, the device is quite sleek, and the rounded edges help it sit comfortably in one’s palms. Adding a touch of class is the 2.5D curved glass up front, which covers the front of the device.
If I were to nitpick though, the glass up front makes the device quite reflective. The back panel, on the other hand, looks eerily similar to the iPhone 7 Plus. The antenna lines at the top and bottom edges, and the placement of the dual-camera module remind you of Apple’s smartphone. What helps differentiate is the circular fingerprint sensor in the center, and the Mi and Android One logos. These are however small grouches, and something that you are bound to oversee during your day-to-day usage.
As mentioned, the highlight of the Mi A1 is the dual-camera setup. This also happens to be Xiaomi’s first smartphone in India to come with such features. The setup includes a pair of 12-megapixel sensors where one is a wide-angle lens, and the other a telephoto lens. Both combine to shoot photos with DSLR-like bokeh effects. There is a dedicated Portrait mode that is meant for shooting photos with blurred background. Courtesy of the telephoto lens, the camera also allows for 2x lossless optical zoom.
A similar camera setup is found on devices like the OnePlus 5 and the Apple iPhone 7 Plus. While it will be too much to expect the Mi A1’s cameras to offer those kind of results, they don’t necessarily disappoint.
When the lighting conditions are ideal, the Mi A1’s cameras are able to capture some really good portrait shots. Colors looked natural, with just the right amount of blurring, and clearly defined edges. Equally impressive is how effortless it is to shoot good portrait shots. The camera app guides you with tips like ‘Stereo mode helps you blur the background. The object shouldn’t be further than 2 meters’, and ‘Place subject within 2.5 meters’.
With support for Phase Detection auto-focus (PDAF), and face detection, the camera is able to quickly focus on subjects. Apart from portraits, the camera is equally capable of shooting good landscape shots. But with optical image stabilization missing, the camera’s performance takes a hit when the lighting conditions are less than ideal. In low-light conditions the photos are affected by noise, and lack of sharpness and details. Needless to say, the portrait mode is rendered useless when shooting photos in low-light.
Up front, there is a 5-megapixel camera that is more than capable of clicking good selfies. With face detection, the camera is again able to quickly focus on one’s face. The photos are also good enough to be instantly shared on social media without the need for edits. As we have seen with Xiaomi’s smartphones, there’s again a beauty mode that lets you tweak your skin tone, or make your face look slim. Again the feature works quite well, and most of the times, the results do not look gimmicky.
Another talking point on the Mi A1 is the operating system. While there are no doubt a large number of fans of Xiaomi’s MIUI, using a smartphone with stock Android has its own charm. I, for one, fall in the second category. The minimalism and smoothness of stock Android is what I prefer, and that is what I personally like most about the Mi A1.
There are only four Mi apps installed out-of-the-box, and two of them can be immediately uninstalled. These include the camera app, Mi Remote, Feedback and the Mi Store. Of these, only the Mi Remote and Mi Store apps can be uninstalled. Another advantage of having stock Android is Google Assistant, which is among the best voice assistants out there.
My only disappointment here is Google Photos storage. Being a part of Android One, you would expect Google to offer unlimited photo storage, but that is not the case. On the Mi A1, you get unlimited storage for high-quality photos and videos. This is however different from the Pixel smartphones that have unlimited photo and video backup in original quality. There is however 64GB internal storage, which can be expanded using a microSD card.
With these points out of the way, let’s quickly take a look at Mi A1’s other specifications and features. The 5.5-inch full HD display is bright, crisp, and has good viewing angles. Under the hood is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core SoC, which has proven its worth on the popular Redmi Note 4. Paired with 4GB of RAM, the smartphone is able to easily handle day-to-day tasks, along with multitasking, with above average mid-range performance.
Even graphic-intensive games like Asphalt 8 Airborne, and Riptide GP2 work quite well. But crank up the settings, and after a point you do notice a bit of drop in frame rates. Xiaomi has also done well to stop the device from overly heating up. Underneath, the company has opted for dual pyrolytic graphite sheets to dissipate heat effectively. During my time with the phone, I can barely remember a time when the device heated up. The back panel however did get a tad warm when using the camera for a long time, playing games, or when the device is put on charge.
Keeping the device ticking is a 3,080mAh battery. In my day-to-day use, the battery was able to easily last a day on a single charge. My use included a constantly buzzing Slack account, WhatsApp, two email accounts, and social accounts like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Add in some game time, video and music playback, and about an hour worth of calling, and you will have to charge the phone before going to sleep. Suffice to say, some of Xiaomi’s Redmi smartphones in India have a much better battery performance. Charging is via the USB Type-C port, and the time taken from zero to 100 percent is a shade under two hours.
Call quality is decent even when on roaming, and the voice clarity via the earpiece is quite good. The speaker on the smartphone too is particularly loud. It comes with a 10V smart power amplifier for enhancing audio through earphones, and it also uses DHS Audio Calibration Algorithm. With a focus on audio performance, it is a tad disappointing that the Mi A1 doesn’t come with bundled earphones.
There is very little that is wrong with the Xiaomi Mi A1. While Xiaomi’s hardware quality has rarely been questioned, the stock Android OS on board the Mi A1 takes the overall experience to a new level. Many see this as the return of Google’s Android One initiative, and you can see why the search giant chose Xiaomi. RELATED: Well done Xiaomi, you just reminded us that Android One exists
If you look beyond Android One, the Mi A1 on its own is a very capable device that is well built, features a decent list of specifications and features, and is aggressively priced as well. The dual cameras may struggle a bit in low light, but the photos clicked during the day more than make up for it. At Rs 14,999, the Mi A1 comes very close to being a perfect mid-range smartphone, and I would highly recommend it.