Xiaomi phone launches generate a lot of speculation among consumers. Most of the time, the phone is launched in China already and it’s then a guessing game as to which phone will arrive in India next. Not all Xiaomi phones launched in China have seen the light of day here. But it looks like Xiaomi is planning to change that.
The Mi 5X, Xiaomi’s dual camera sporting smartphone was launched in China a while back. So when the Xiaomi India Twitter handle tweeted about a dual camera phone launching soon in India, everyone assumed it would be the Mi 5X. Xiaomi had other plans though, and it went ahead and launched its first Android One smartphone in the form of Xiaomi Mi A1. While the phone isn’t any different from the Mi 5X, the Mi A1 is a stock Android version sporting smartphone. So let us see if this phone has the potential to create a shake up in the Rs 15,000 price bracket phone market.
Build and Design: 8/10
Xiaomi has paid a lot of attention to the design and it shows in the well sculpted phone. The metal unibody encases the phone and the antenna lines are seen on the top and bottom portions. The Mi and Android One branding are prominently seen on the rear side. There’s a circular fingerprint scanner placed conveniently where your index finger will rest. On the top left hand corner is the dual camera module which juts out slightly from the plane of the rear side of the phone. A dual LED flash unit is placed beside it. The matte finish on the rear side of the Mi A1, ensures that it does not collect smudges or fingerprints, as we have come to see with glossy surfaces.
The corners are rounded and the sides have a rounded design around the edges helping you get a good hold on this otherwise slippery phone. You’ve to be really careful, while using the phone one-handed lest it slip from your hands. The edges have chamfering which shows up just around the 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass, thanks to the shiny chrome. Volume rocker and power/standby buttons are placed on the right hand edge and the dual SIM tray is located on the left hand side. The bottom edge has the 3.5 mm audio jack, USB Type C port and the speaker section whereas the top edge has the infrared blaster. The phone is just 7.3 mm thick and weighs 165 grams.
The display is a 5.5-inch full HD panel and the bezels on the top and bottom of the phone are thicker than the ones on the side. The software buttons placed on the base are not programmable. Overall, the build quality is quite refined, there is barely anything to complain about and for the price it is being offered at, you can’t really ask for much.
Xiaomi phones are known for their value proposition offerings. With the Mi A1, Xiaomi has ambitious goals of trying to woo an audience who was staying away from the Xiaomi ecosystem, as they were not sold on the MIUI user interface. The success of phones from the Moto line up over the years, is proof enough that there is a significant audience out there who prefer a pure Android experience. Xiaomi phones with their rich feature set at competitive price points were the perfect platforms to try out this experiment on and with the Mi A1, the smartphone maker has finally decided to chart into this territory.
The highlight of the phone is the presence of Android Nougat 7.1.2 OS without any skinning atop it, which makes it stand apart from all the Xiaomi phones released so far. There are only three Xiaomi apps that come pre-bundled - Mi Remote, Mi Feedback and Mi Store. And since this is a dual camera smartphone, it comes with a Xiaomi camera app instead of the Google native camera app.
It comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC which houses an octa-core processor clocked at 2.0 GHz along with Adreno 506 GPU. There’s 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage which is expandable to 256 GB using a microSD card slot.
The dual rear camera setup is the second USP of the phone. There are two 12 MP sensors, on of them having an f/2.2 aperture with a 26 mm focal length, whereas the other zoom lens has an f/2.6 aperture and 50 mm focal length. Thanks to this arrangement, you get 2x optical zoom out of the box. The video camera is capable of shooting at 2160p at 30 fps and 1080p at 60 fps. On the front, there is a 5 MP selfie camera.
On the connectivity front, you get a hybrid dual SIM slot, support for 4G networks, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Wi-Fi DIrect, Bluetooth 4.2 LE and supports infrared booster. It supports GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS and BDS. Finally, there is a 3,080 mAh battery powering the system.
Xiaomi Mi A1 comes with a 5.5-inch full HD display which is protected by a 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass, which ensures that the display scratch resistant. It uses a LTPS IPS LCD panel. The screen is quite reflective though when there is a remotely dark scene which can get irritating at times. Viewing angles are really good. Even when watching it from steep angles, I did not notice much contrast shift. Watching movies, playing games on this display is a great experience. Text and icons are sharp thanks to the 403 ppi pixel density. Brightness levels are up to the mark, although the maximum brightness makes the display seems a bit washed out. The auto-brightness feature works well.
OS and Software: 7.5/10
Considering this is an Android One smartphone, it comes with Android 7.1.2 Nougat OS out of the box, without any MIUI skin atop it. Since MIUI has been such an integral part of any Xiaomi phone, it will take some time getting used to the fact that this stock Android phone is indeed made by Xiaomi. Thanks to stock Android, there is very little bloat on the phone, apart from the four Xiaomi made apps -- Mi Store, Feedback, Mi Remote and the camera app.
There isn’t an app tray and you just swipe up to access all your apps, just like in Pixel. There is no floating Google icon as we had seen on the Pixel which gives a direct access to Now, but the first home screen is a Google search bar with the latest feed. There is a Mi Services tab in the Settings menu in case you want to activate those. You also get the split screen mode and Google Assistant.
Overall the user interface is clean and quite responsive. I did notice some lag in the camera app however, specially when you are switching between the zooming. The transition is not instant but seems to appear gradually. It does support gestures such as opening the camera app by double pressing on the power button. And you can check notifications by swiping down on your fingerprint sensor.
Android One handsets when they were first announced belonged to the entry level category with basic specifications. But Xiaomi Mi A1 offers an impressive mid-range feature set which ensures that day to day performance of the device is lag-free. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC paired with 4 GB RAM is plenty to handle any tasks thrown at it.
Yes, there are the one-off frame drops that you notice when playing high end games such as Asphalt Extreme, but that is par for the course. The Mi A1 would heat up to some extent while playing heavy games, but while watching videos the temperatures were controlled. There was rarely any instance when the app shut down due to overheating. Yes, some apps did randomly shutdown, but it was more of a software bug. This was observed once or twice while using the device for review. 4 GB RAM ensures that you can have many apps open at the same time and switching between apps isn’t an issue. The only lag that was noticeable was in the camera app when I tried using the zoom function.
Call quality was great and audio was crisp. The speakers are quite loud and there were many instances where I did not use earphones to watch YouTube videos. The benchmark numbers are in line with other Snapdragon 625 chipset sporting phones. It ticks off all the boxes of a mid-range device. In day to day usage, the user experience was quite good.
After the Mi 6 that was announced in April this year, this is Xiaomi’s second foray into a dual rear camera sporting smartphone. There are two 12 MP sensors, one of them having an f/2.2 aperture with a 26 mm focal length which is the wide-angle camera, whereas the other zoom lens has an f/2.6 aperture and 50 mm focal length. Thanks to this arrangement, you get 2x optical zoom out of the box. The video camera is capable of shooting at 2160p at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps. On the front, there is a 5 MP selfie camera.
Since the native Google camera app does not support dual camera setups, you get a custom Xiaomi camera app. The interface of the app is quite similar to the one we have seen on MIUI OS sporting Xiaomi phones. You get the filters on the left and camera switcher on the right hand side and at the top you have the direct button to activate portrait mode, one to activate HDR mode and another to activate flash. Options throw up familiar features such as panorama mode, manual mode, Beautify mode, Square mode, Group selfie mode among others. In the video section you get slow motion and time lapse features as well.
When it comes to camera performance, the daylight shots come out well. Focussing is quick and the photo is packed with details. Yes, there is a loss of detail around the edges, but nothing that takes away from the photograph. Colours appear lively as well. The tap to zoom function isn’t the quickest around and you see a definite lag before it actually switches from 1x to 2x optical zoom. Nothing that a future software patch cannot fix.
Things change drastically when you operate the camera in low light. On most occasions I realised that the camera was not able to lock onto a focus. And at times, even after locking on a focus, the final output was not that detailed. There is too much noise which avoids giving us a sharp image in low light. The algorithms certainly need a lot more work and Xiaomi has to look into this aspect, as this is one thing that sticks out in this otherwise great phone.
Portrait mode is decent, but it requires a lot of patience. Forget taking street portraits as you will need to find a subject who is ready to wait for a while before the portrait mode offers a shallow depth of field. With objects such as statues, the portrait mode functioning was a hit and a miss as you will notice in the image samples below.
Battery Life: 7.5/10
Xiaomi Mi A1 lasts a good day on regular usage which involves surfing the web, couple of accounts synced on mail, Slack, WhatsApp conversations, around 30-40 mins of gaming, some video viewing and listening to audio. You can easily derive a screen on time of over 3.5 hours in most cases. In the PC Mark for Android test, we got around 11 hr 25 mins which is good enough for regular usage. It takes around 90 mins to go from 0 to 100 percent charge.
Verdict and Price in India
Xiaomi offers a well rounded phone at Rs 14,999 with stock Android to boot. If you are in the market for a Rs 15,000 phone, you will not go wrong with the Xiaomi Mi A1. Of course, you will have to factor in one of its major drawbacks - poor low light photography. But that apart, there is fairly little to complain with the Mi A1. And thankfully, it will not just be available on flash sales which gets over in seconds. Xiaomi has also partnered with a lot of offline retail partners for the Mi A1.
If you want to look elsewhere, then the Moto G5S Plus is an option to consider. We will be putting out a review of the same soon, so stay tuned. If you still want to opt for a MIUI Xiaomi phone, then the Redmi Note 4 is still quite a capable device.