The pitch for the new Mi A1 by Xiaomi is that the phone is ‘created by Xiaomi, powered by Google’. It’s an interesting amalgamation, but does it bring any value to the consumer?
I spent some time with the Xiaomi Mi A1 in last few days, and here are my initial impressions of the first Xiaomi device that is powered by Android One.
At first glance, the Mi A1 impresses with its minimalistic yet premium design and full metal chassis. The antenna bands fluidly blend with the top and bottom edges at the back, and while they look quite prominent in gold and rose gold variants, they are hardly noticeable in the black variant. There’s a minor camera bump on the back, but it’s not an eyesore.
Also, it’s slimmer than other Xiaomi devices with curved corners which makes it a compact smartphone that fits comfortably in your palm and at 165 grams, it weighs just right too. The buttons on the side and the fingerprint sensor on the back are also comfortably within reach.
Overall, I think it’s the best-designed Xiaomi device in its price segment as yet. It has a refreshing new design language, something similar to what we recently saw with the Mi Max 2, and the Mi A1 looks like a smaller sibling of the Mi Max 2.
The Mi A1 sports a 5.5-inch Full HD display with a 2.5D curved glass, and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on top for protection.
The display is quite bright and the text and images look sharp. Even though the display is a tad reflective, sunlight legibility is good enough and viewing angles are great.
For the Android One experiment, Xiaomi goes back to its recent favorite, the Snapdragon 625 chipset paired with 4 GB of RAM. The mid-range Snapdragon 625 processor is not the most powerful in the business, but offers a good balance of power optimization (leading to longer battery life) and performance push.
And with those internals, the Mi A1 does quite well chugging along nicely with whatever one throws at it. I’ve not stress-tested it till now, but multitasking with several apps in the background and everyday navigation is quite breezy. There’s no noticeable lag or stuttering, and the smartphone is quite responsive in everyday usage.
Like always, the Mi A1 packs in a hybrid tray so you can either use two SIM cards or one SIM card and one microSD card for storage expansion. However, 64 GB of onboard storage on the Mi A1 should be good enough for most users.
The Mi A1 packs in 3,080 mAh battery under the hood, and thankfully, Xiaomi has now opted for the USB Type-C port for charging keeping up with the times. Like always, there’s an infrared blaster as well.
The Mi A1 is powered by stock Android, and comes with Android 7.1.2 out of the box. As an Android One smartphone, it aims to offer pure Android Nougat experience with a guarantee of Android Oreo update before the end of this year. In a surprise announcement at the launch, it was shared that the Mi A1 will also receive the Android P update, whenever it’s available.
While there’s no bloat of MIUI, Xiaomi’s proprietary customization layer, there are three Xiaomi apps – Mi Remote (to use in conjunction with the IR blaster), Feedback, and the Mi Store – which also can be uninstalled if one so wishes. The Mi A1 also uses Xiaomi’s own camera app, which is expected since the default Android camera app doesn’t support dual cameras as of now.
The most exciting new Android phone is… an Android One?
While Android UI is a matter on one’s own preference, and there are quite a lot of fans of MIUI especially considering the nifty add-on features it brings to the table, using a Xiaomi device with stock Android is a refreshing experience. It’s zippy, and smooth. There’s support for Google Assistant and free unlimited cloud storage on Google Photos in high quality.
Yet, there’s nothing unique about this Android experience, and a Nokia or Lenovo smartphone with stock Android offers pretty much the same deal. Essentially, there’s no USP in terms of software department, except regular and timely Android updates.
While the partnership with Google made all the headlines, the highlight of the smartphone is its dual camera setup at the back. There’s a 12 MP wide-angle lens and a 12 MP telephoto lens that work together to help you click photos with depth-of-field effect, popularly known as bokeh. The telephoto lens also supports up to 2X optical zoom.
There’s a 5 MP front camera, that takes serviceable selfies unless you have shaky hands.
With the few shots I took, I realized that the rear camera works just as expected. It manages to capture some impressive photos, but few very ordinary ones as well. The bokeh shots are inconsistent.
Overall, the camera is quite good for its price, and one of the best in the segment. Of course, it’s not the same as OnePlus 5 or the iPhone 7 Plus which we wouldn’t even have considered but for the comparison that the company asserted.
At a price of ₹14,999 ($235) in India (and coming to several other countries soon), the Xiaomi Mi A1 is a pretty good smartphone on its own. It looks quite premium, and performs like a good, trusted workhorse.
And then there’s the Android One affiliation, which brings stock Android experience, if it’s important for you, as well as regular updates.
What are your thoughts on the Xiaomi Mi A1 and the resurgence of the Android One program? Tell us in the comments, and meanwhile we’ll do a deep dive into the product, and share our complete review soon.