As much as I love Xiaomi phones for their generous feature sets and competitive prices, I could never fully get behind MIUI, the brand’s take on how the Android operating system should look and feel.
Don’t get me wrong; MIUI has introduced several functions that were eventually imitated by Google’s stock Android itself, but the incompatibility with certain apps, pickiness when pairing with third-party accessories, and lack of an app drawer (or the option to bring it back) hinder an otherwise complete interface.
That’s why seeing a Xiaomi handset equipped with a pure Android OS got me so excited. Based on Google’s newly resurrected Android One platform, the Mi A1 has it all: a dual-camera setup, affordable price tag, and Pixel-like experience.
It isn’t all perfect as we had learned, however. Read on.
Look at that pure version of Android
And all-metal back with a couple of plastic antenna bands
Here’s a closer look at the Android One branding
The camera bump is unsightly and prone to scratches
Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is fast as usual
Like other Xiaomi phones, this one has an IR blaster
And yes, the newer USB-C port is at the bottom
How well does it perform?
This is where things get interesting. On top of owning stock Android — which entails having a clutter-free interface, consistent software updates to improve performance, and no bloatware — the Mi A1 uses one of our favorite processors, the Snapdragon 625. Every handset we’ve reviewed with this chipset has done well in our tests, including the ZenFone 4 and Xiaomi’s own Redmi Note 4X.
Combined with the industry standard 4GB of memory and 64GB of expandable storage, you’re pretty much assured a smooth ride with any light app you throw at the Mi A1. Playing with the highest graphics settings on games like NBA 2K17 and Asphalt Xtreme is out of reach without some stutters here and there, but medium settings are doable.
Only a few non-Google apps come pre-installed; otherwise, the Android 7.1.2 Nougat we have here is as clean as it gets. This being part of the Android One program, I wonder why the Mi A1 doesn’t have Oreo already, which has been out for two months now. Although it’s sure to arrive within the year, I hope the rollout will be a little faster once Android P becomes available next year.
Can it take pretty pictures?
I’ll cover the main attraction first: the dual-camera setup. Both sensors at the back are 12 megapixels in resolution, with one offering a regular wide-angle lens and the other being telephoto for zooming in on subjects. You can see how it works with these samples:
The implementation is great; activating the 2x optical zoom is quick, and it helps take shots you’d normally miss on a smartphone. But even though both cameras seem equal on paper, the results aren’t as even. Photos from the telephoto lens are darker and sometimes blurrier than those from the wide-angle equivalent — nothing experience-ruining, however.
Both cameras also lack optical image stabilization, meaning they’re prone to shaky hands and producing blurry shots under poor lighting. It’s only when the conditions are just right and you get enough natural daylight that photos turn out as good as the ones we have here.
For more travel photos, check out our Creative Director’s trip to Busan, South Korea with the Mi A1.
Can it last over a day?
While not as large in battery capacity as its sibilings the Mi Max and Redmi Note 4X, the 3080mAh size is more than enough in most instances. During my review, I managed to get exactly a day of use with LTE constantly on and a screen-on time of five hours. That puts the Mi A1 in line with most modern smartphones, but way behind what the two aforementioned Xiaomi handsets pull off on a daily basis.
What sucks is the lack of fast charging, even though there’s a Qualcomm chip inside. It’s an enduring omission on lower-end Xiaomi devices, and makes full charges a total chore. It takes me two and a half hours to bring the Mi A1 to a hundred percent using the included charger. For comparison, smartphones with much larger batteries take less than two hours to top up when fast charging is present.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
The fact alone that the Mi A1 is an Android One device integrated with Xiaomi’s excellent hardware and low pricing makes it a winner. Inside and out, this phone rarely disappoints, making a strong case for being the best handset in its tightly contested class. The nifty dual-camera setup is simply a cherry on top — a well-appreciated one at that.
Drawbacks are few: I’d prefer seeing the fingerprint sensor on the thick bottom bezel in place of the plain capacitive home button; fast charging would’ve also been grand, if not necessary for a more complete package. We can’t have them all, can we?
Our unit, which we acquired through Xiaomi India, retails for INR 14,999, which converts to around US$ 230. This pits the Mi A1 against some excellent options in this price range, but the Xiaomi product stands out for its purest form of Android and generous helping of dual-camera goodness.
Outside of India, you can purchase the Mi A1 at GearBest.com.