Review: Xiaomi absolutely slays with its first pure Android model
By Chong Jinn Xiung October 23, 2017
- Picks up on Google’s Android One programme to offer quality stock Android phones
- Feature-packed Mi A1 holds a lot more than is usual for a budget model
CHINESE device maker Xiaomi has long been known for its head-turning phones that don’t cost you an arm and a leg. So, when we had the chance to test out the Xiaomi Mi A1, it was an opportunity that was too good to pass up on.
The Mi A1 is part of Google’s Android One programme that looks at producing a pure stock Android experience. The Mi A1 is actually the global variant of the China-only Mi 5X that was released in July 2017.
So, the big question is whether the Mi A1 is worth your hard-earned money. Can it make a good impression among the budget-conscious Android crowd?
The Xiaomi Mi A1 may be a budget phone but it well-built and really good looking at that. It is obvious that the Mi A1 is a doppelganger of the Apple iPhone 7 Plus from the curved aluminium back, noticeable antenna bands and placement of the dual cameras on the top left corner of the device.
You won’t find a fancy bezel-less 18:9 on the Mi A1 but the modest 5.5-inch Full HD IPS display provides serviceable contrasting image quality that befits its price range and is still bright enough to be read outdoors.
The Mi A1 definitely isn’t the slimmest phone that we have handled, measuring 7.3mm and though it is rather broad, the rounded tapered curves of the chassis make the device comfortable to handle.
The fingerprint reader is placed squarely on the top middle section on the back of the phone and is easily reachable for quick unlocking of the device. In our experience, the Mi A1’s reader is very quick and accurate.
There isn’t much else to be said about the device save for the fact that unlike the Redmi Note 4, the Mi A1 carries a USB Type-C connector instead. You will find that it is flanked by your typical 3.5mm headphone jack and speaker grill.
At the very top Xiaomi retains the Mi series’ Infrared (IR) blaster that has a diverse list of devices that you can control making it very useful if you ever lose your TV, air conditioner or fan remote.
Coming down to the specs, the Mi A1 comes with all the specs you would expect in a budget phone: A modest Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor coupled with Andreno 506 GPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage that is expandable.
Looking at the benchmark scores, the Mi A1 scored admirably on Antutu and PCMark Work 2.0, hinting that it is, at the very least, dependable when it comes to productivity. On the whole, the performance of the Mi A1 is great for average everyday apps, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or web browsing on Chrome, opening them promptly and multitasking between them.
The one area the Mi A1 falls short, is in the the graphics department, judging from the low 3DMark score. This was clearly evident when we ran zombie game Into The Dead 2, a fairly graphically-demanding game that could only run in low graphics mode. Low polygon zombies and a terrible draw distance just didn’t help sell the illusion that we were outrunning zombies.
Running on Android 7.1.2 the Mi A1 is a clean stock Android that is devoid of Xiaomi’s staple MIUI skin on top. It is clean as they come with the bare basic necessities installed.
Given that it comes with a power-efficient Snapdragon 625 processor, it is no surprise that despite the average-sized 3,000mAh battery the Mi A1 can easily last a full day and even make it to two days with moderate use.
Using the Mi A1 primarily as a media device for listening to Spotify, watching YouTube and playing the occasional game with some light web surfing thrown in, the phone managed to get through a full day easily with 40% of battery still in the tank.
This makes the Mi A1 a great travel phone as you are not likely to be surfing a lot, leaving you with lots of battery for important calls and text messages.
It used to be that dual cameras were only found in top-end models but they are increasingly common in the entry-level range this year. The Mi A1 is no exception as it sports a 12-Megapixel wide-angle lens and another 12-Megapixel telephoto lens.
The camera’s quality and performance aren't as top notch as a flagship device but the fact that you can get up to 2x optical zoom opens a host of possibilities that you wouldn’t have had on a regular budget smartphone.
Looking at the photo quality, the Mi A1 takes decent photos offering detailed and contrasting images as long as there is plenty of light. One minor annoyance is that it doesn’t feature an automatic High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode that stitches together multiple exposures for a more balanced image.
Without HDR engaged, the camera tends to underexpose images a fair bit especially when shooting under the sun. So, for better-exposed pictures, it is best to use HDR mode though the trade-off is that there is a one second delay after the photo is taken as the Mi A1 needs time to process the HDR shot.
Given that this is a dual camera phone it does come with a Portrait mode that skilfully simulates ‘bokeh’ (blurred background effect). Much like other smartphones, even higher end ones, with this feature it is no perfect substitute for a real wide aperture DSLR lens but does a commendable job, so long as you can place the subject at least 2m away from you in order to achieve the effect.
The Mi A1’s main weakness is low-light photography. The camera is just not capable of shooting clear pictures at night but that is somewhat expected given its budget price range.
Images are really underexposed, noise is present and there is a washed out look to the image.
The absence of optical image stabilisation doesn’t help as you need to keep your hands extra steady. This is worsened when shooting in the telephoto mode as minor shakes are amplified.
Similar to other cameras of its class like the Moto G5 Plus, you can record videos up to 4K quality. Videos, just like photos, look better during the day. But the video quality generally suffers more than photos due to the lack of stabilisation, so you are likely to get more shaky footage.
If you are looking for more sample photos and videos do check out our YouTube video below.
Photos taken during the day look pretty sharp, contrasting and good overall.
Low light photography proves to be the Achilles Heel of the Mi A1.
While there are plenty of budget smartphones to choose from, the Xiaomi Mi A1 definitely stands out. For all intents and purposes, the Mi A1 is a good phone that boasts good build quality, a clean Stock Android software experience and decent dual camera system.
There are a few minor gripes to be had about the Mi A1. While it is solidly built, the design just isn’t original. Also, the capacitive navigation buttons are so 2015.
But, one certainly can’t complain about the power-efficient processor that keeps the Mi A1 purring. It does offer a solid balance between performance and efficiency. Having a phone that can keep running for a full day makes it great as a primary or secondary device.
The inclusion of dual cameras at this price point is great as it opens up more options thanks to its 2x optical zoom. Granted the low-light performance isn’t terrific for photos and videos but the big bonus for the Mi A1 is that users get to store unlimited photos at high quality with Google Photos.
In closing, the Mi A1 is a commendable budget device that at US$260 (RM1,099) punches above its class. So, whether you are seeking a phone with the most value at a great price or need a secondary phone the Mi A1 is a solid choice.
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