Review: Xiaomi’s Mi A3 is a solid one, even if it leaves you wanting
By Tan Jee Yee September 9, 2019
- Pros: good performance and battery life, solid camera, pure Android experience
- Cons: a lower-resolution screen that is hard to ignore
XIAOMI’S Mi A1, the first Android One device from the Chinese tech company, was one of the most easily-recommendable smartphones of 2017 – a perfect balance of good tech and attractive pricing with the added bonus of being as pure an Android experience as you can get. If premium flagship devices are the pop stars of the smartphone world, then the Mi A1 is the beloved folk indie that everyone could get into.
Conjuring a successor hasn’t been quite as easy. The Mi A2, while a solid device, saw the removal of the headphone jack and expandable storage, which loses the series’ mass appeal (it’s also priced a little higher). It’s a good phone, just not quite the balanced act that made the Mi A1 so lovable.
The Mi A3 appears to be a course correction. The 3.5mm audio jack is back, and users can expand its storage up to 256GB. Add in the newest camera tech and a larger battery and the Mi A3 seems like it’s very eager to please. With a price starting from US$213.44 (RM899), the device may very well be a worthy successor to the A1.
Yet all these great inclusions mean compromises, and for the Mi A3, these compromises feel like it mars an otherwise great phone. The result is a phone that leaves me wanting, even if I can honestly say that it’s a solid device.
The compromised screen
Let’s talk design first. The Mi A3 seems inspired by the design of the Mi 9. It’s smaller – about 0.3-inches smaller in screen estate – but it’s almost fundamentally similar, down to the waterdrop notch.
It’s not a bad thing. The overall look and feel of the Mi A3 is great and premium-like, and there’s a nice balance between heft and sleekness when holding it in hand. The “Not Just Blue” version I have is the most striking of what the Mi A3 has to offer (“More than White” and “Kind of Grey” are other options), and the more youthful in look of the three.
Gorilla Glass 5 covers both the front and back of the device, which is a nice touch. But the best inclusion here is the under-screen fingerprint scanner. Much like the one under the Mi 9T, it’s responsive and fast, unlocking the device in an instant with pretty consistent accuracy, even with damp fingers. The swirling lights that accompany the scanning process are strangely satisfying.
The screen is a 6.088-inch AMOLED display at a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, and is the most contentious aspect of the Mi A3. See, this is a HD+ display, at 1560 x 720 resolutions – a markedly lower one than even the Mi A1’s.
It’s not at all a terrible display – at a glance, it’s certainly bright and the colours look lively. I daresay that for games and movies, the display holds up well enough, even if it isn’t a Full HD experience. But you will notice jaggedness in the text and on solid-coloured backgrounds. This may be forgivable on a budget device under RM500, but for the third incarnation of the Mi A-series of phones, it feels like a step back.
It’s still a solid multimedia device. As mentioned, the screen has decent brightness. The speakers are surprisingly loud, and the sound rich and deep.
The phone is also more than capable of handling day to day use. It’s powered by the Snapdragon 665 chipset, which is a minor upgrade over the Mi A2’s Snapdragon 660 chip. This is combined with 4GB of RAM, which may appear disappointing, though I feel that it doesn’t affect much of the phone’s performance.
Apps and multi-tasking runs fairly smooth and the phone works well for gaming. I got a generally solid experience playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile. All-in-all, it’s a dependable performer that’s more than capable of handling the usual slate of smartphone tasks.
It’s also highly dependable in the battery department. The Mi A3 carries a 4,030mAh battery, which is about 35% larger than what is inside its two predecessors. It supports Quick Charge 3.0, so if you use a compatible 18W charger, it will fill about 45% of a depleted battery in 30 minutes. 100 minutes of charge gives you a fully-charged device.
I usually manage to end the day with a good 30% to 40% of battery life left, and that’s from a day’s worth of social media browsing, some light gaming, some videos and reading manga. Even on heavy usage, it should last you well until bedtime.
Being an Android One device, you won’t find Xiaomi’s MIUI here. This is a pure Android experience, and while the MIUI may have some nifty pre-installed apps, purists will be able to enjoy a clutter-free experience. It also receives regular security updates from Google, so as far as user experience goes, the Mi A3 is fantastic.
It’s heartening, at least, to see that the Mi A3 sporting some of the newer camera tech. This device has a triple-camera setup on its back, though it’s important to note that only two of them are active shooters.
Like the Mi 9T, the Mi A3’s main camera has a 48MP sensor that is combined with an 8MP ultra-wide angle shooter. The third camera is a 2MP sensor for capturing depth information when shooting in portrait mode. There isn’t a telephoto snapper here, mind, despite the 2X zoom shortcut on the camera app (it gives you a digitally zoomed image instead).
The shooters perform just as well as you’d expect. The main camera, by default, provides 12MP images. They show good level of detail and true-to-life colours, with solid contrast and appear sharp buy not over-sharpened.
You can, of course, opt to shoot in dedicated 48MP mode. I would say, however, that the details here are nothing to shout about, and it ultimately takes up more space to shoot in 48MP.
As for the ultra-wide angle camera, the images produced offer some good colours as well. There is a noticeable fisheye-esque warped quality to it that isn’t quite present in the Mi 9T and other wide-angle phones, but it’s not so bad as to ruin the image.
The shooters function decently in darker situations, too. Photos from the regular camera turned out fine, though you can certainly expect them to appear softer. All in all, it’s not too crummy, though Night Mode (which takes about a second or two to shoot) does let you take more detailed shots at night, even if it doesn’t work quite as nicely as the more premium phones out there.
The Mi A3 also sports a good selfie camera – a 32MP shooter that works well in bright situations. Xiaomi has also included that panorama selfie mode that I like in the Mi 9T, which is a plus.
Don’t get me wrong: the Mi A3 is a solid Android One device that has the performance, battery, features and cameras to ensure that you’ll get your money’s worth for the under RM1,000 price you pay. This means putting up with a lower-resolution display, though it does make you feel more tempted to top up extra to get the Mi 9T instead.
And that’s the unfortunate position of the Mi A3 – a great budget device that leaves you wanting.