Xiaomi's ability to churn out smartphone after smartphone in rapid succession is quite something. It’s like every month the company has some phone or the other to announce. One device is announced and within no time, rumour and speculation of its next devices start doing the rounds of the internet. While Xiaomi’s main draw is its MIUI-toting smartphones, last year, Xiaomi had introduced a line of phones for those who love their OS in its purest form.
The Xiaomi Mi A1 was, in a way, a ground-breaking smartphone, a first from a Chinese handset maker to offer stock Android OS with just a smattering of Xiaomi apps, and no MIUI skin. This time around, Xiaomi launched the second generation of this series, logically called the Mi A2. It's priced at Rs 16,999 in India, which gets you a model with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB of storage. There is a 128 GB model with 6 GB RAM, but that's coming later.
It was launched at a global event in Spain, alongside the Mi A2 Lite, and was announced for 15 markets globally. This is quite different from the regular Xiaomi phone launches, which are usually seen first for the Chinese markets and then launch in other global markets eventually. With the Mi A2, Xiaomi is going all out from Day 1. But just like last year, the Mi A2 is sold as the MIUI-sporting Mi 6X in China.
The Mi A2 is visually different from the Mi A1, which is refreshing to see as lately it has been difficult to tell Xiaomi smartphones apart. The Mi A2 has a tall display, but it does not sport the notch. It also does not support a microSD card or a 3.5 mm audio jack. With the Xiaomi Mi A1, it was a clear recommendation to go for it, as there were few competitors offering such a huge value for money at the time. With the Xiaomi Mi A2, that is not really the case.
The phone is launching in India, just as we see the launch of the Honor 9N and Honor Play, which come from a company that is strategically timing its device launches with that of every competitor — be it Xiaomi for the budget segment or OnePlus in the premium segment. The Nokia 6.1 is a great alternative in the price, but it's a tad underpowered compared to the A2. Xiaomi’s own Redmi Note 5 Pro is a strong competitor as well. In the face of such competition, Mi A2 makes sense if and only if you want a Xiaomi device sans the MIUI interface. Mi A2 certainly does not do an encore. Read on to find out why.
Build and Design: 8/10
The first thing that struck me when I held the Xiaomi Mi A2 in my hands was just how slim it was. The Mi A2 measures just 7.3 mm on the side, but thanks to the visibly protruding camera bump, there seems to be a break in the otherwise slim form factor. On the rear side, the Mi A2 looks like any other dual-camera sporting smartphone released this year by Xiaomi post the Redmi Note 5 Pro. It’s like Xiaomi is trying to create a uniform design language with minor changes here and there. With so many phones being launched, one can understand a loss of inspiration.
The metallic build makes the phone quite slippery, and paired with the thin display, I would definitely advise putting on a grippy cover on this. The bundled silicone case serves its purpose, but it just looks ugly. The fingerprint scanner is placed in the centre on the rear side, in a convenient position where your index finger would rest. Antenna lines are neatly hidden along the edges, and with the matte black rear cover, the lines are well concealed.
Bevelling along the unibody metal design leads to a smooth transition from metal to glass on the front. There are no sharp edges around the base where the little fingers rest and Xiaomi has taken care to smoothen out the opening around the USB Type-C port on the base, which is surrounded with speaker grilles on either side, of which, only the right-hand side houses a speaker.
The top portion has the IR blaster and microphone. And yes, the 3.5 mm headphone jack has been given a miss on the Mi A2, the slim edge design could be a reason for that.
Despite the tall form factor, the device is not comfortable for one-handed use. The display gets an oleophobic coating and is protected by 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 5, which is the best in the market currently. There is no IP certification on the Mi A2, so it wouldn’t be a great idea to take it to the pool or the beach.
The major feature of the Xiaomi A series devices is that they are meant to sport a stock Android OS, and the Mi A2 comes with Android 8.1 OS out of the box, although with the 5 June 2018 security patch. The 5.99-inch display on the Mi A2 comes with a FullHD+ resolution and its protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5. Considering Google has just made Android 9 Pie official, and this is an Android One device, Xiaomi could certainly win major brownie points if it gets Pie on the Mi A2.
Under the hood, the Xiaomi Mi A2 houses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC, which has an octa-core processor with one quad-core Kryo 260 cluster clocked at 2.2 GHz and another quad-core Kryo 260 cluster clocked at 1.8 GHz. This is paired with an Adreno 512 GPU. The Mi A2 comes in various RAM and storage variants such as 4+32 GB, 4+64 GB and 6+128 GB. The variant I got for testing had 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage, and that's the only variant coming to India as of now. The 128 GB variant will come later.
With the Mi A2, you cannot expand storage, so you will need to wisely select which variant you want. This is a huge miss on the Mi A2, considering it is offering a 32 GB variant. The storage limitation makes the 4+32 GB variant an absolute no-go if you are planning to invest in this phone.
The selfie camera on the Mi A2 receives a big boost with the 5 MP unit from the previous generation Mi A1 replaced by a massive 20 MP "AI focussed" camera. On the rear, there are dual cameras in a 20 MP + 12 MP configuration. The rear cameras feature pixel binning — a technique for improving image quality in low-light — and while the front camera has an aperture of f/2.2, both the rear cameras have a larger f/1.75 aperture. The dual cameras do not provide an optical zoom facility but are meant more to help with low light photography. And help it does, as we will see in the Camera section.
The setup is powered by a non-removable 3,010 mAh battery which supports Qualcomm QuickCharge v4.0. And before I forget, kudos to Xiaomi for keeping the infrared blaster on the top portion of the Mi A2.
The Xiaomi Mi A2 sports a tall 5.99-inch FHD+ display with a resolution of 1080 x 2160 pixels, thereby giving it a pixel density of 403 PPI. Xiaomi has managed to fit this IPS LCD panel inside the same form factor as last year’s Mi A1. Unlike the trends we have seen with tall display devices since the launch of the Apple iPhone X, the Mi A2 does not sport a notch.
The first thing that stood out as I was using the phone was that the display was too dim. Switching to adaptive display mode did not help and I had to manually raise the display settings beyond 80 percent to have even acceptable brightness. It’s disappointing to have such a low luminosity on the display. Also, by default, the A2 display has a cool blue tinge to it. Under the display settings, there aren’t really many options to tweak it, and there is no colour temperature indicator to let you set the display to your liking. This plays havoc with sunlight legibility.
The sharpness levels of the display are good and thanks to the IPS LCD panel, the viewing angles are great as well. Videos and games look good only when the brightness is maxed out. Colours appear natural and there wasn’t any sort of unnecessary saturation and it’s mostly neutral, which is great. The display is reflective, but not enough to disturb your viewing experience. But again, if I had to point out one disappointing feature on the Mi A2, it has to be the dim display.
OS and Software: 8/10
Xiaomi Mi A2 comes with stock Android 8.1 with the 5 June 2018 security patch. But since it is a Xiaomi phone, you get pre-bundled apps such as Mi Drop, File Manager, Feedback, Mi Store and Mi Community, of which only the Feedback app can’t be uninstalled. It’s good to see that there's so little bloatware though.
If you are used to the MIUI software, then you will miss out on some tweaking options in the Settings menu. As it is, the settings menu is bare bones. Among the gestures supported, there’s only one to quickly launch the camera by double pressing the power button.
Up to five fingerprints can be added for security purposes.
Thanks to the stock OS, there were no random animation freezes and most things ran smoothly. Switching between applications was quick. The camera app on the Mi A2 is slightly different from the default Google Camera app, with features added in for the Portrait mode, Short Video mode, Square mode and so on. There is no dedicated Gallery app and all your photos can be seen on the Google Photos app.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC paired with 4 GB of RAM makes sure that things run smoothly. I did not face many issues with app loading or any slow animations. Yes, there was one instance where a third party gallery app was behaving really slowly, but I realised it was an app related issue, as uninstalling it and replacing it with another app got rid of the problem.
Call quality was excellent and the earpiece speaker is loud enough to take a call in my loud Mumbai traffic as well. The mono speaker is really loud. I mean, you don’t want to make the mistake of having the device by your bedside unless its volume is low as I was woken up quite a few times by the loud notification sounds. Notification and call volumes are unnaturally loud if you are not careful. As the Mi A2 has no dedicated 3.5 mm audio jack, Xiaomi has bundled a USB Type-C to 3.5 mm adapter which works fine with third-party earphones.
Gaming on the Mi A2 was a joy. Asphalt 9: Legends, which is quite a heavy game, ran smoothly across all settings. When the preset was selected as High Quality, I was expecting a noticeable drop in frame-rates, but that wasn’t the case. Yes, there are some jaggies that are noticeable, but overall the gameplay did not slow down. Heat management is also top notch, and the phone got only mildly warm during intense game-binges.
Xiaomi Mi A2 comes with a dual rear camera setup. Here’s the breakup: 12 MP camera with f/1.75 aperture and 1.25-micron pixel size + 20 MP camera with f/1.75 aperture and 1-micron pixel size. On the front, there is a 20 MP camera with an f/2.2 aperture with a 1-micron pixel size. There’s even a flash unit for the front camera.
The rear camera setup does not have an optical zoom element and is meant more for a feature called ‘Smart Lens’ selection. This basically lets the Mi A2 determine which cameras should be used, based on the ambient lighting situations. Both the cameras come with a wide f/1.75 aperture. During daytime, the 12 MP camera is the primary one, whereas, during low light, the 20 MP camera takes over. It features pixel-binning to give you a better low light image. But if you go to the Manual mode of the camera, you can actually toggle between the regular camera (12 MP) and the low light camera (20 MP).
The Mi A2 has an impressive camera. In the daylight there were no issues with the images, colours came out well and there wasn’t any noticeable loss of sharpness around the edges. Focusing is quick. You will have to ensure that HDR is selected as it is not on by default, although the images with HDR on tend to look a wee bit sharper than needed. One thing that is noticeable is some amount of barrel distortion around the edges. If you have buildings in your frame, they appear to be leaning inwards. Hopefully, Xiaomi can add in a lens-correction profile, because photos of large groups can look distorted.
Selfies come out pleasant, including group selfies. But the problem of barrel distortion around the edges remains. The portrait mode on the selfie as well as on the rear camera is hit and miss. The edge separation isn’t that sharp and hair edges get muddled, ruining the photo. The portrait mode also fails to detect objects properly and is best avoided. In low light, the flash certainly helps with selfies, but there’s no escaping the noise.
Low light photographs were interesting. Yes, noise is visible on the Mi A2, but the photos shot in low light do not appear like over smoothened paintings, something that is common in this category of phones. The saturation levels were retained to a large extent. Shooting with ambient street lights after dark still gives a lot of usable images. The closer the subject is to you, the relatively sharper the image is. Far off landscape shots show noise and loss in details when zoomed in. There were instances where I shot a night photo with a Mi A2 and it was comparable to the one shot on... the iPhone X! Of course, the iPhone X gave a better output in most cases, but it wasn’t 4x or 5x better than the output on the Mi A2, unlike their pricing.
When doing a side-by-side comparison, the Mi A2 and Nokia 7 Plus were almost at par with each other, but in selfies and portraits, the Nokia 7 Plus had a definite edge. Honor 9N and Honor Play gave portraits which were a bit too oversharpened and over smoothened (despite disabling the beauty mode) for my liking. There isn’t much difference between images shot on the Mi A2 and the Redmi Note 5 Pro during the daytime, but for low light photographs, the Redmi Note 5 Pro has a definite edge over the Mi A2. Thanks to the Android One tag of the Mi A2, you will not see the AI-related features seen on the MIUI interface up front here, but the SD660 SoC comes with an AI Engine inside.
The video is nothing to write home about. You get steady video only if you are shooting in 1080p when the image stabilisation kicks in and helps to some extent. Daylight footage was decent, but in low light, focus hunting is noticeable and the footage is a bit jerky overall. If you are shooting in 2160p, ensure that you are steady as the image stabilisation just goes for a toss here. Walking and shooting a video is simply not recommended.
Battery Life: 7/10
The battery life on the Xiaomi Mi A2 is good enough to last over a working day. A phone charged at 8 am in the morning would still have around 10-15 percent battery by 11 pm on the same day. A regular day’s usage involved three email accounts on sync, constantly buzzing Telegram, WhatsApp and Slack accounts, 15-20 photos a day, 20 mins of gaming and an hour of video or audio streaming. On lighter days such as on weekends, the Mi A2 would easily go on for close to two days. Thanks to QuickCharge 4.0 support, the phone charges from 0-100 in around 80-90 minutes.
Verdict and Price in India
At Rs 16,999, the Xiaomi Mi A2 definitely makes its mark in the Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 bracket, but it has clearly left enough leeway for its other family member, the Redmi Note 5 Pro, which retails for around Rs 14,999. Barring the Honor Play which starts at Rs 19,999, there isn’t much competition to the Mi A2, though the Honor Play makes more sense only for the mobile gamers. The Nokia 6.1 is the only other Android One device in the same price range is slightly more expensive and is running a comparatively underpowered processor.
There are three clear ways to go about this: go for the Honor Play if you want a long-lasting battery and will be gaming a lot and are willing to spend more money; go for the Redmi Note 5 Pro, if camera is what you are looking for in addition to an all-rounder device and finally, go for the Mi A2 if and only if you want a Xiaomi phone with stock Android OS. While as reviewers, we may love the idea of stock Android, a conversation with a friend and family members reveals that it isn't that great a decider in the larger scheme of things.
Do keep in mind the flaws that the Mi A2 comes with: no microSD card support, dim disappointing display and no 3.5 mm headphone jack. These three shortcomings don’t make the Mi A2 as easy a recommendation as was the Mi A1. If you are willing to live with that, the Mi A2 does get most other things right.
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