When Xiaomi launched its first A series Mi smartphone, the world (India and China to be precise) was more than happy to accept it because it was the only smartphone that offered stock Android at its attractive Rs 14,999 price tag.
It packed in the one feature that every Android fan craved for back then. A pure serving of Android, minus the custom skin, which most manufacturers back in 2017 still had not gotten right (clunky at best). It was fast (thanks to Android One), accessible and it sold like hotcakes.
It was literally the “poor man’s Pixel” and at that, it was more than capable of getting the job done given its stock Android software and a capable (and power-efficient) Snapdragon 625 chipset.
In 2018, Xiaomi confidently launched the Mi A2. Its price tag was raised to Rs 16,999 (4 GB + 64 GB) and it even came in a power-packed 6 GB + 128 GB option as well.
However, by this time, Nokia had also announced a slew of smartphones with Android One project, so the Mi A2 did not offer anything special or new. What worked in its favour was the Snapdragon 660 chipset, which was quite powerful and still a big leap over the 636 chipset on the Redmi Note 5 Pro, and whatever Nokia had on offer in that price range as well.
Wait, isn’t the Redmi Note 7 Pro a better performer?
In 2019, the Mi A3 looked at other areas. Gone are thick bezels of the A2. There’s a new notched display, an in-display fingerprint reader and even a snazzy new shell, which looks gorgeous.
But its 665 chipset that I believe falls a bit short for the upper end of the budget range. This is because the Redmi Note 7 Pro packs in a better chipset (675 SoC), a higher resolution display (FHD+) and an attractive design as well. It will also run PUBG Mobile at maxed-out settings, unlike the Mi A3 which only works with Low or Balanced graphics. Asphalt 9 was also a very stuttery experience even at the lowest graphics settings (performance). Mobile FPS Shadowgun Legends, ran smoothly with no hiccups at the highest settings possible.
So why should you buy a Mi A3 in 2019?
While Mi A1’s camera was not too great, the Mi A2 did a pretty good job at clicking photos in all types of lighting conditions. The Mi A3 continues with that tradition and delivers a great mobile photography experience, with its AI-powered triple camera setup.
You get a 48 MP + 8 MP + 2 MP camera setup where the 48 MP primary delivers binned 12 MP photos. As always the 12 MP photos are clearer and more detailed so I would recommend not switching to the 48 MP mode as every capture takes up about 12 MB of space.
We took the Mi A3 out of Mumbai on our overnight trip to Lonavala.
The weather was amazing and the Mi A3 performed as expected. Delivering slightly oversaturated 12 MP photos across the quickly changing lighting conditions. The AI mode kind of boosts the saturation when clicking green landscapes but smartly kept the colours in control while I clicked portraits of my colleague Abigail in front of this colourful van.
The camera does have a tendency to overexpose when focusing on a subject (especially in Portrait mode) and the HDR camera at times is not able to compensate for it as well.
As for low light, I found the auto mode samples to be sharper than the photos I got from the Night mode which I found to be a bit blurry. Given its Rs 12,999 price tag the Mi A3 is quite the capable low light shooter, except that the details are a wee bit on the low side.
Video recording is locked at 30 fps (whether its 720p, 1080p or 4K) but the electronic image stabilisation (EIS) is pretty good and the bitrate smooth.
While the 32 MP selfie camera made my colleague Sneha Sharma quite happy, the selfie video stabilisation was not all that great and needs some polish. Indeed, the only reason for one to switch from a Mi A2 or a Note 7 Pro to a Mi A3 would be the wide-angle camera. Long story short, it’s not that great and the photos quite often came out blurry.
That AMOLED display
We don’t know who decides what goes into Xiaomi’s phones, but swapping out an FHD+ display for an HD+ AMOLED display does not look good on paper.
The visuals looked crisp and the wide-gamut AMOLED display made for a rather contrasted Netflix viewing experience. What I did not like was how low the brightness levels were. Back in the mountains on the trip, I had a tough time previewing clicked photos on the phone which is not great for a smartphone priced in this range. An LCD unit would not have this problem.
The Mi A3 packs in a 4,030 mAh battery which is 30 mAh bump over the Mi A2 and the Redmi Note 7 Pro. And this is where I appreciated the switch from FHD to HD+ resolution. It’s massive, and I believe the HD+ resolution AMOLED display had a role to play when delivering a good two days of standby time and about 5-6 hours of screen on time after plenty of photographs, regular messaging and several calls.
I’m not a fan of the display notch and definitely not a fan of the slower than normal in-display fingerprint reader. It’s reliable but takes more than a second to unlock and you have to stare at that animation while it does that, which kind of gets tiring when you have to wait to click a quick photo.
What I liked about the Mi A3’s design apart from that snazzy (Not Just Blue) holographic back was how narrow the device was. The rounded glass back and polycarbonate frame makes one-handed use possible (with a bit of stretching) and that’s kind of impressive for a smartphone with a 6.08-inch display.
As mentioned earlier in this review, Android One is not really special in the budget smartphone range anymore. Literally, every Nokia phone from the Nokia 2.2 onwards features stock Android, so customers do have plenty of choices that range from Rs 6,999 till Rs 49,999 (Nokia 9 PureView) or if you include Google’s Pixel all the way up to Rs 65,999.
But in this price range, the closest you can get is a Nokia 6.1 Plus at Rs 13,999 which is a capable smartphone, just that it is not as good as the Mi A3.
The audio quality through a pair of headphones was pretty good. I also tried using a pair of Bluetooth headphones and the audio quality was as expected given that there's Bluetooth 5.0 onboard. It's good to see Xiaomi include a 3.5 mm headphone when its predecessor had skipped on it last year. This definitely gets a thumbs up.
The Redmi K20 should have been this year’s Mi A3
Yes, the Mi A3’s pricing and placement is a bit confusing. Its focus is supposed to be the camera but the ultra-wide angle lens feels a bit gimmicky. Android One is not exactly special anymore, thanks to Nokia’s entire 2019 lineup and the Xiaomi’s own Redmi Note 7 Pro offers a better chipset and a higher resolution display at a lower price. Which begs the question, should Xiaomi just kill the A series?
Not really, Xiaomi has managed to squeeze in a phone in its smartphone range that offers a lot of value at a lower price than ever before (for a Mi A series device) given that its closest competitor is the Nokia 6.1 Plus.
Xiaomi’s confusion basically started with the introduction of the Redmi K20. Priced at Rs 21,999, the K20 should have been this year’s truly upgraded Mi A3 and it would have packed in quite a punch. But, Xiaomi decided to add to the confusion and introduce the K series anyways. Still, I’m not complaining.
Buy the Xiaomi Mi A3
Buy the Nokia 7.1 (Rs 15,999) for a better camera and if you have trust issues with Xiaomi being a "Chinese" brand.
Buy the Realme 5 Pro (Rs 13,999) if gaming and the camera is your priority and you don’t mind ColorOS.
And buy the Vivo Z1 Pro (Rs 14,990) for its hole-punch display and that powerful 712 SoC.
Buy the Mi A3 if you want an all-rounder of an Android One smartphone that is priced just right!