Android One is Google’s big hope to get millions of unconnected Indians hooked to its ecosystem and to start off, we have three Android One devices, which have identical specs and software (with a few exclusive apps), but differ on design. That’s the only difference besides the small discounts being offered on the Rs 6,499 price. We were particularly interested in seeing the Micromax Canvas A1 and here’s what we found out when we got our hands on it.
Design and build
I have no qualms in claiming that this is the best phone Micromax has put together. It’s not a high-end specs monster, or branded as a gold phone, but the Canvas A1 feels leagues ahead of any other Micromax phone we have seen. The rubberised removable back feels smooth to the touch and adds to the solid feel. The dark chrome trim around the front is suitably reserved but shines in the right light, while the minimalist front evokes the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the first Nexus phone to eschew physical buttons. The Canvas A1 has a nice heft even though it’s not heavy or chunky by any means.
The back of the phone features a metallic bump on the top, similar to the Nokia PureView bump, but that doesn’t mean the camera is comparable (more on that later). We really like the brushed aluminium look of the camera bump, and it adds some reserved flair to the otherwise plain black handset. So plain in fact that the only branding is the chrome Micromax logo and a lowercase Android One emblazoned on the bottom beneath the circular cut-out for the speakers. The Canvas A1 is also available in the relatively more garish white and gold colours. We prefer the black one by a lot.
The front has a similar cut-out for the phone receiver and a camera next to it. The hardware buttons are bunched on the right side. The gloss black buttons are rather flat, but offer good tactile feedback. The volume rocker features a dimple in the centre to indicate the + and - sides. The 3.5mm jack is up top, with the USB port and a noise-cancellation mic on the bottom.
With a 4.5-inch WVGA display, we had low expectations about the Android One series, but if the other two phones are anything like the Canvas A1, there’s no reason to be worried. Yes, one could complain that it’s not a qHD or 720p panel, but that’s not the intention of this first batch of Android One devices. The display on the Canvas A1 is more than serviceable. It looks bright, colours pack a punch without going overboard, with good viewing angles. It’s not the crispest in the world, but we don’t mind it.
The glass on the display though is something of a pain to keep clean. Perhaps Micromax should supply a micro-fibre cloth with the unit. It’s quite bad.
As budget handsets go, the A1 sets a high benchmark for performance, surpassing the Moto E quite comfortably. We think this is one of the biggest benefits of Android One and it really shines on the Canvas A1. HD games were not an issue and we rarely found the phone staggering. At times we found the recent apps screen would be slow to come up, but it only happened once or twice. There were no big stumbles.
The Canvas A1 has surprisingly good audio chops even though there’s just the one speaker on the back. The speaker is round in shape like the Nexus 5 earpiece, and gets loud enough to fill up a room. It does get slightly muffled when the phone is face up.
As this is stock Android, it comes with all the bells and whistles from Google’s core ecosystem for the OS. Chrome is the default browser; Keep is pre-installed, as is the Google Play suite of apps. However, it would seem Google has allowed the vendor to add some more apps besides the stock Google apps. The Canvas A1 comes with Amazon, Askme, Hike and MLive applications pre-installed. They were the first apps we disabled, and they disappeared from the app drawer. We won’t go into too much detail about stock Android. You can read about that in our Nexus 5 review.
The biggest drawback with the Android One devices right now is that you cannot use the camera without an external microSD card. While Micromax and Karbonn are bundling 8GB cards with their Android One phone, Spice does not and it would be extra expense for the user. This limitation is crippling, if you are not interested in buying a card, and sort of forces the user to buy one. We think it's a terrible move, and one we hope is sorted out through in a future update, possibly Android L.
This could be the biggest letdown in the phone that has all the right ingredients. Don’t get us wrong, the camera is quite good for the price tag, but we just wish it were better. The app is the Google Camera app so you get all the bells and whistles such as Lens Blur, Photospheres, Panoramas, along with HDR mode, exposure adjustment, WB adjustment and more. This is a lot of settings in a phone that retails for under Rs 6,500.
The camera captures images fast, but needs the right light for crisp shots. Most shots showed noise even when you zoom in on the handset, so they will look worse on the PC. To our mind though, most people using the Canvas A1 won’t be printing their pictures, but only sharing them on Instagram or Facebook. For which it is more than good enough. Here are a few samples.
The Canvas A1 lasted us 18 hours from 100 percent to 2 percent, before we had to find the plug. This included over 4 hours of screen on time thanks to a mix of gaming, phone calls, text and IMs, and a long session of Reddit browsing and surfing. The phone was also syncing to restore apps from the Play Store during the first hour of operation. The great part about the battery life was the phone only dropped three percentage points during 8 overnight hours in deep sleep. So all in all we are very pleased with what the Canvas A1 offered us.
We think the Micromax Canvas A1 is the best smartphone made by the company. It is dwarfed by the specs of the Canvas Knight or the Canvas Nitro, but is actually a way better overall experience in terms of usability, stability, and longevity. In fact, it looks way more expensive and sophisticated than its price suggests. It’s also great value thanks to the price, while the promised updates from Google are the cherry on top. The only drawbacks are the camera, which is not terrible, but could be better, while the smudges
It’s also a vindication of the notion that stock Android is the best form of Android. Customisations are great but not at the cost of user experience. It’s a sure recommendation in the budget category over the likes of the Moto E and the Xiaomi Redmi 1s, and if you are looking for a budget smartphone this winter, look no further.
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