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Xiaomi Mi A1 review

Xiaomi Mi A1 review

Our Verdict

The Mi A1’s clutter-free, Android One-certified experience combines elegantly with tried and tested hardware, while the dual-camera capability gives you a premium feel on a budget. Xiaomi ticks all the right boxes with this affordable but feature-rich smartphone.

  • Excellent dual-camera setup
  • Stock Android with timely updates promised
  • Powerful hardware for the price

Against

  • No NFC
  • No water or dust resistance
  • Screen is a bit washed out
When we talk about budget or mid-range Android smartphones, increasingly a Chinese phenomenon by the name of Xiaomi enters the conversation. Over the last few years, this company has torn up the rule book on what we'd normally expect from a smartphone that costs a third the price of an iPhone.

Xiaomi's phones have traditionally offered much of what makes the iPhone experience so appealing - excellent design, simplicity of use and a self-contained ecosystem - in a budget package.

Despite this, some Android purists have always yearned for more, citing Xiaomi's MIUI Android skin as the weak link; while it looks the part and offers impressive customization options, it comes with bloatware and bespoke optimizations which go against the grain of other Android-based handsets.

Those disgruntled individuals can now put their fears to rest, as the Mi A1 is a union between those strangest of bedfellows: Xiaomi and Google. 

We say this because Xiaomi's software story has always been underpinned by putting Google's Android in the shade, and putting MIUI at the center of the galaxy of its products; MIUI has its own account system, app store and much more besides.


With the Mi A1, Xiaomi created what could become the savior of Google's beleaguered Android One program, which originally strived to offer great hardware and software to entry-level consumers in developing nations.

This program failed – ironically – because of Xiaomi's triumphant entry into the Indian market, which made a mockery of the under-powered devices which spearheaded the Android One initiative. But Xiaomi has now rebranded the Mi 5X as the A1 and placed Google's "pure" Android experience at the center of its interface.

What we have here is a potential hydrogen bomb for the budget smartphone market, because on paper this phone delivers stupendous hardware, a refined design aesthetic and a secure software experience in a package that won't break the bank.

Editor's noteWhile Xiaomi has a big presence in Asia and India, it has a far more limited reach in Western markets. That means you may struggle to find a store or local website stocking the firm's handsets, so you'll have to import devices into your country. With no official presence, customer support, repairs and servicing may be difficult to reach.

Design and features

  • Metal unibody
  • Fingerprint scanner on the rear
  • No water or dust resistance

The Mi A1 looks like a love child between the OnePlus 5 and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4. The face of the phone will remind you of the Redmi Note 4, albeit with more rounded corners. On the back, it looks a lot like the OnePlus 5. It has an identical camera position and the antenna lines are also similarly designed.

Essentially this is a repackaged Xiaomi Mi 5X – itself quite a new phone – and these aforementioned similarities aren't a bad thing at all.

Criticize it for being derivative, but it is nevertheless a very well-built phone, especially when you consider its price. The construction is robust and everything feels suitably premium.


Looks aside, this is a very functional device in terms of ergonomics. It's rather svelte at 7.3mm, and is rather light too, tipping the scales at 165g. The weight is also distributed nicely and it feels great, even if you're using it one-handed.

One of the nicest things about the design is the way the chassis tapers and curves ever so gently from the sides towards the back. This creates a seamless line that runs along the spine of the handset, offering a smooth grip and great in-hand feel. These little things count.

On the back, there’s also a super-fast fingerprint scanner which is placed – like it is on so many other Android phones – right where your finger naturally rests. Unlike the Redmi Note 4, it has a USB Type-C connector on the bottom, flanked by a very loud single speaker and a 3.5mm jack.


On the top there's an IR blaster which allows you to control your TV or audio equipment. Below the Mi A1's 5.5-inch screen you'll find a trio of capacitive Android keys for the usual Menu, Home and Back commands. When these aren't in use they fade to black.

Sadly, there's no NFC included with the device, perhaps because in several of the emerging markets Xiaomi and Google intend to push this device, mobile payments haven't really taken off yet. It's a shame as Android Pay is becoming more and more popular, especially in the west.


Display

  • 5.5-inch IPS LCD with 1080 x 1920 resolution
  • Screen is bright but colors appear washed out

The Mi A1 packs a 5.5-inch LCD display, which is a pretty standard size in the mid-range Android sector these days.

Sadly, it comes with massive bezels at the top and bottom, a fact which not only makes the device bigger than it perhaps should be (the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 is roughly the same size but boasts a 5.99-inch screen) but also means it looks a little dated when compared to 2017's leading devices.

While it's perhaps unwise to expect budget phones to have jumped on the bezel-free bandwagon, Xiaomi has just announced the Redmi 5 which will combine a low price with a massive screen, while other Chinese companies such as Elephone and Maze are already producing devices with minimal bezels.

The screen itself is bright, but colors look muted and contrast isn't awe-inspiring. Everything looks a little washed out, even when compared to other handsets in the budget sector. It's hard to complain too much when you're paying so little, but the screen definitely could have been better.

Battery life

  • 3,080mAh battery offers over a day of stamina
  • No fast charging or wireless charging

One of the big differences between the Mi A1 and the Redmi Note 4 is battery capacity. The Redmi Note 4 made a name for itself with its hulking 4,100mAh power cell, but the Mi A1 comes with a smaller 3,080mAh battery, which is a pretty standard size these days.

That being said, even here Xiaomi has worked with Google to optimize things and the end result is very good stamina which will effortlessly see you through an entire day of moderate usage.

In a day-to-day usage pattern, we got around 15 to 18 hours of use from a single charge, which for most people equates to a normal working day.

Despite the use of a USB Type-C port and the inclusion of a Qualcomm chipset which supports the company's quick-charge standard, the Mi A1 lacks fast charging. There's also no wireless charging, but that's not much of a shock, given the price of the device.

Camera

  • Dual-lens 12MP camera
  • Telephoto lens allows for detailed close-ups and arty portrait shots

Despite the inclusion of stock Android, you could argue that the true tentpole feature of this phone is the dual camera system, something that is quite unique in this sector of the Android market.

Essentially, Xiaomi has taken the dual 12MP camera setup from its Mi 6 flagship and bolted it onto the Mi A1. It's not quite a like-for-like switch, however, as the Mi Ai has an inferior f/2.2 aperture on its main lens.

That said, it also offers a 2x optical zoom via the secondary 12MP telephoto lens, just like the iPhone X and the OnePlus 5.


The main wide-angle camera is also great, and when used in tandem with the second sensor it offers an effective portrait mode which is, in our opinion, even better than the one on the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T, with very good edge detection.

In daylight, the Mi A1 takes rich images with good levels of detail and color saturation. In low light, the performance nosedives and is noticeably inferior to rivals handsets, such as the Moto G5S.

But overall, this is one of the best camera phones in this price bracket. It even offers a feature-rich "pro" mode that allows the user to individually select between the wide-angle camera and the telephoto lens when snapping.


As for video, the Mi A1 can shoot in 4K and offers both time lapse and slow motion modes. Sadly, the absence of optically-stabilized lenses becomes glaringly apparent here.

Still, this isn't abnormal in this price segment, and we should be glad that audio capture is decent; the phone is able to record decent sound even in quite loud environments.

The front 5MP camera for selfies is a pretty standard affair. It's nothing special, but its not a total loss. It will help you snap some basic selfies provided you have decent lighting, and also works well for video calls.

Camera samples




Interface and performance

  • Uses a Snapdragon 625 octa-core chipset with 4GB of RAM
  • Pure Android and decent internals mean a slick, smooth experience

Google's Android One program was created to do two things – produce affordable "benchmark" phones for emerging markets and to reduce software fragmentation, the result of which is many devices running outdated OS versions which could be potential security hazards.

This first drive of the program fizzled out largely because companies like Xiaomi raised the bar for budget Android smartphones, producing handsets like the Redmi range which boasted flagship hardware features and rendered the first wave of Android One phones obsolete.

We truly are getting the best of both worlds with the Mi A1. Google’s fluid Android experience combines with Xiaomi's phone-making smarts to offer a low-cost handset packed with flagship selling points.

While there are other manufacturers that offer a stock Android UI, the difference with the Mi A1 is that as part of the Android One line, firmware updates are handled directly by Google.


The phone is currently on Android Nougat, but the search giant is promising an update to Oreo in the near future and security updates on a timely basis.

Software wise, this is clean, unadulterated Android with no software modification, aside from the camera app, which we'll come to shortly. This means the excellent Google Assistant comes baked in, and Google Now rests on your left-hand home screen by default.

Aside from Xiaomi's feedback application, there are no other pre-installed apps outside of Google's own; it's a gloriously uncluttered experience all round.

The core hardware is largely similar to that of the Redmi Note 4, and performance is also on the same level. It contains a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core chipset which has been built on a 14nm manufacturing process, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and dual-SIM support.

Day-to-day performance is actually superior to the Redmi Note 4, thanks to the fact that this device is running pure Android with no other processes hogging up CPU time. The A1 goes one step further with the vanilla Android Nougat 7.1.2 Nougat experience running in tow with Android One.


It feels perceptibly faster in general usage than the Redmi Note 4. Apps load up quicker and you can toggle between them faster, while multitasking is a breeze for basic things like WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, Apple Music, browsing the web and Instagram.

We could have as many as 25 apps open at the same time and the phone wouldn't get warm or start misbehaving. This is a very solid smartphone in terms of performance and reliability, and a lot of that will come from the fact that it runs stock Android, with no OEM-created software to cause crashes or hang-ups.

In fact, day-to-day performance is so good that we'd even go as far as to compare it to the likes of the OnePlus 5T, even though it uses an inferior chipset and packs less RAM – that's the amount of optimization that's been done on a software level.

Of course, if you use the phones side by side, you may find the OnePlus 5T to be faster because it brute forces everything with its superior hardware, but for the average consumer that's not much of a concern, and it's important to remember that even the reasonably-priced 5T is twice the cost of the Mi A1.


Movies, music and gaming

  • 10V amp means an above average audio experience
  • 3D games run smoothly
  • Washed out screen robs movies of impact

If you're talking about heavy-duty tasks like gaming then this phone hardly breaks a sweat, even on intense 3D games like Asphalt 8, Dead Trigger 2 and Nova 3. All three were incredibly playable, delivering very high-quality graphics.

The phone didn't heat up and nor did we see any crippling frame rate drops. Some of this will be down to the fact that the Mi A1 has a 1080p display, meaning there are less pixels to push around when compared to Android flagships.

If you plan to watch movies and TV shows on your handset then you might be disappointed by the screen, as that aforementioned "washed out" effect means some HD films don't pop in the way they perhaps should.

Interestingly, this phone also has a 10V amplifier which makes sure the audio experience is above average. The single mono loudspeaker is loud and clear and even when the headphones are plugged in, the sound quality is quite good. The call quality on the phone is above average.

Xiaomi and Google team up to conquer the budget sector

The Xiaomi Mi A1 raises the bar for what one expects in a mid-range Android smartphone. Phones in this price bracket are sometimes restricted by cheap hardware and bodged software, but Xiaomi – in collaboration with Google – has upped the ante by combing great design with powerful specs and pure Android.

Stock Android isn't unseen in this sector of the market – especially when you take into account the many low-cost phones coming from China but the Mi A1’s clutter-free Android One-certified experience gives consumers the peace of mind of timely software updates and impeccable security.

More than that, on hardware alone, this is a formidable beast which offers one of the better dual-camera implementations around.


Who's this for?

If you adore stock Android but don't want to be lumbered with a handset that stops getting firmware updates after six months on sale then this is the handset for you.

Google's in charge of issuing new firmware, so you're assured of timely and consistent updates, and on the hardware side of things Xiaomi has done an incredible job – and all for a lower mid-range price.











Xiaomi Mi A1 4G Smartphone 4GB RAM Global Version


$249.34


$155.65





Should you buy it?

For roughly £200/$250/AU$300, there's little reason to ignore this phone. The only caveat we'd point out is that buying smartphones from Asia can sometimes be more hassle than it's worth, especially if the re-seller decides to flash the handset with custom firmware that is packed with pointless bloatware.

Getting in contact with customer support and the repair center may also be problematic, so do consider your purchase carefully before you buy.

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