Xiaomi Mi A1 is our first attempt for a smartphone (mini) review. Since smartphones are not in our field of expertise, we will try to provide a more down to earth, real life version than an overly technical one.
Mi A1 is Xiaomi’s first attempt to the stock Android software via the Android One programm. Until now, they were relying on MIUI, their own custom launcher. Instead of MIUI launcher, this model is equipped with Google’s stock Android, and will get software updates directly from Google. Android O(reo) will arrive before the end of the year.
Packaging – Specifications
Mi A1 arrived in a plain white cardboard with its specifications and Android One logo dominating the free space.
Inside you will find the smartphone itself, a wall charger (no quick charging is available), a USB C cable, the SIM eject tool and basic documentation. Do not expect any type of earpieces.
Xiaomi Mi A1 is supposed to be a mid-range smartphone but a closer look will probably make you think that it deserves a better (higher range) placing.
4GB of RAM, 64GB of ROM, Dual SIM (Dual Standby, Hybrid with Micro SD) capability, a dual camera setup (with 2x optical zoom), a precise fingerprint reader, an IR blaster, a power efficient Octa-core Snapdragon SoC and a 1080p 5.5” IPS display are way more than a poor man’s Nexus/Pixel.
Add to the above the beefy 3080mAh battery and the advanced Dual Band Wi-Fi and BT4.2 connection protocols and you end up with a smartphone that will exceed your expectations without carrying a flagship retail price.
The dimensions of the Mi A1, 155.4 x 75.8 x 7.3 mm, are considered normal since we are not dealing with a bezel-less smartphone.
Build Quality – Layout
Build quality is superb. There is absolutely no difference compared to a premium smartphone. It sports an all metal unibody chassis with sturdy and premium feel when you hold it.
The only point which differentiates it from top performers of the genre is perhaps its simple design that reminds the company’s mainstream Redmi series.
At the back you will find the dual camera setup (12 MP (f/2.2, 1.25 µm) + 12 MP (f/2.6, Tele, 1 µm) with the dual LED flash and the fingerprint reader in the middle.
At the top you will find the IR Blaster with the noise cancelling microphone while at the bottom you will see the USB-C port, the talking microphone, the headphones jack and the speaker.
On the left side the Hybrid Dual SIM slot is the only thing you can find, while on the right side the volume rocker and the power on/off button are all there is to see.
On the front, the big 5.5” low power IPS display occupies the bigger part (>70% screen to body size ratio) and at the top you will find the 5MP selfie camera (with smartphone’s hidden sensors) while at the bottom the capacitive buttons (Home, back and multi-tasking) occupy all the space left.
Software – Performance
Google’s stock Nougat (7.1) OS is considered for many people (count me in) the best solution for an Android user due to its vanilla approach leaving you free to customize it the way you want (exactly the opposite compared with Xiaomi’s MIUI launcher).
We have the addition of an ambient display that allows you to read all notifications as soon as they arrive without having to touch your device (you must enable it first). Google assistant and camera shortcuts also exist in the lock screen. Main menu is …stock with Google Apps being the only ones that are installed (with Xiaomi’s camera and IR apps). The application drawer software button is now replaced with a swipe up gesture which we find more convenient, just like we find in Pixel smartphones. The always impressive Google Now is integrated to the launcher (compared to a widget if you used MIUI or another launcher) and is easily accessible with a swipe from the left side of your screen.
Our unit arrived with Android 7.1.2 and immediately received the monthly security updates. Android O(reo) will arrive before the end of the year.
Performance wise, Mi A1 proved to be way better than we hoped for. Menu navigation and task switching/Multi-tasking was lag-free due to 4GB of RAM and the snappy performance of Snapdragon 625 SoC.
Applications launch fast and memory management is superb since we didn’t notice full restart/redraw occasions even with more than 15 launched apps at the same time. Chrome always had more than 7 tabs opened simultaneously.
Although benchmark tests do show the mid-range level of the Snapdragon 625 SoC, in real life and with the majority of application you will be challenged to notice major differences compared to pricier higher-end devices. Fortunately the internal ROM, although not as fast as the ones found on Samsung and Apple flagships, is fast enough to not cause any severe delays when launching or installing an application from the Play Store.
Screen performance is very good with Xiaomi promising 450 nits of maximum brightness. 1080p resolutions is always a good choice for a 5.5” display and color reproduction is fairly accurate. Good news for the dynamic contrast too, since it is probably the best we have seen so far. It can’t match the deep blacks of a Super Amoled screen, but it looks like it is the best IPS screen you can get.
LTE (4G) performance is good but not in par with Samsung’s S7 Edge performance that was nearly 3 times better when tested from the same position with the same SIM card and carrier. Not to worry though since LTE performance is still very good and don’t forget that we are dealing with a smartphone that costs a fragment (1/3?) of S7 Edge’s price.
Speaker and microphone performance is stellar both for the owner and the listener of the Xiaomi Mi A1. Voices are loud and clear at both ends.
Fingerprint reader is one of the best around. Extremely accurate and very fast compared to previous generations (Nexus 6p).
(The below photo was taken with main back camera. Google Photos compression is used. No change in resolution.)
(The below photo was taken with Tele back camera (2x) capturing the same object as seen above. Google Photos compression is used. No change in resolution.)
(The picture below shoes battery life with 13% left. 44minutes of calls for those interested. Impressive results)
Camera – Battery Life
The performance of the camera is good, but it certainly is not among the top performers.
Day light photos have pretty good detail and color rendition with low noise. Dynamic range is good, even without the use of HDR mode. HDR mode will do a good job in shadow detail though.
The second tele 50mm, f/2.6 camera offers the 2x optical zoom function (there is no zoom when you press the 2x key. You just take photos using the tele lens) and is better used for portraits. Detail is still good but not as good as the main one. There are lots of filters you can choose from in order to get a result that matches your taste. Blur/bokeh results are nice and will add points to your portrait shots.
Low light performance is a totally different case. Even with the main camera (12MP sensor with a 26mm, f/2.2 lens), there is a lot of noise and loss of detail. Using manual settings can give you better results but that will most likely make you lose the “moment”, unless of course you are shooting static objects/scenery.
Tele camera low light performance is even worse, or non-existing since the application will switch to the main camera when it will sense extreme low light conditions. This will result in a 2x digital zoom photo that you should avoid at all costs.
Selfie cam is good, with enough detail and good contrast. Certainly better than the one used in my Samsung S7 Edge were the software algorithm destroys any facial details.
Video recording can get up to 4K@30fps which is really nice for a mid-range smartphone. 1080p@30fps and 720p@120fps recording modes are also available. 4K videos look impressive with vivid colors and low noise. 1080p recordings are not that good with less detail and the result looks over processed. Still very acceptable, but we recommend to shoot in 4K. 720p@120fps recordings are good and very impressive if you wish to make slow-motion effect videos.
We saved battery life for last. Xiaomi Mi A1’s relatively modest 3080mAh battery may not seem huge (Xiaomi releases smartphones with 4000mAh or bigger batteries) but stock Android optimizations alongside with Qualcomm’s Snaprdagon 625 power efficiency provided very good results. Using the Mi A1 as a daily driver with three synced Gmail accounts, Facebook, Viber, Instagram, Amazon Prime and Google photo backups enabled (among others), the end result was noticeably better (~6h of on screen time) than my Samsung S7 Edge (~4h of on screen time). Definitely day-lasting for the heavy user. In any rare case were you will need more battery, the provided wall type charger will charge your device faster than normal (25% for almost 20 minutes). A complete charge will take approximately two hours.
There is nothing not to like at Xiaomi Mi A1. Some may describe it as a poor man’s Nexus but there is actually more than that. With a 200$ price tag you get a solid build quality, snappy performance, dual camera setup, a gorgeous 5.5” screen, great battery life and two years of guaranteed software upgrades directly from Google (Oreo will arrive shortly and most probably will get Android P when it gets out next year).
The main shortcoming is the low light camera performance but it should be expected at this price range.
So, if you want a stock Android smartphone accompanied by very good overall performance, the Xiaomi Mi A1 is the one to get. Google’s Pixel line-up costs three times more, and no other Android-One based smartphone is equipped with Mi A1’s capable hardware.
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