Xiaomi Mi A1 is the Perfect Budget Phone
When I am reviewing Xiaomi phones, there’s one thing that stands out right away: while the design and specifications are great in general considering its price, the software is usually very weak. If you were to read some of the reviews about Xiaomi’s other devices or have used one of their phones yourself and you will know what I am talking about. All Xiaomi devices ship with MIUI, which is a heavily modified version of Android but with a lot more problems than Android. For example, there may be Bluetooth connectivity bugs, bad notification handling and bad power management that can break notifications for a lot of adds. Here is all that’s about the new Xiaomi Mi A1.
Since Xiaomi’s phones are mostly just inhibited by the software, people asked the company to make one with stock Android. And this really happened last month, when Xiaomi announced the first Android one device, and that is the Xiaomi Mi A1.
So, how is the Xiaomi Mi A1 phone actually?
Design and materials
The design and building of Xiaomi Mi A1 is usually one of the strengths of Xiaomi even though the phones are not entirely original, and this is also the case or Mi A1. In fact, this phone looks like an Apple phone a lot—and in this case, it looks like the iPhone 7 Plus. This is because it has the same antenna bands running from the top to the bottom, and the same aluminum back, the same cameras as well as the color options. The thickness of the A1 is only 0.2 mm thicker than the iPhone 7 plus.
For me, I do not bother the lack of originality. This is because by copying the iPhone design, the phone looks very nice for the price. If you really do not want to do anything with Apple products, you can choose many other options.
But of course, there are several differences between the two. The first of them is the capacitive navigation keys, which has been a icon of Xiamni’s phone for years just like Samsung. The navigation buttons are not actually very bad, but the overview/back buttons are in the wrong order compared with other Android devices. I myself love software navigation more, but it only takes a few hours to get use to it.
Another difference can be seen at the bottom edge, which is the headphone jack. Although music is not one of the major concerns for me, I still played a little music and therefore the headphone jack matters for me. On the Xiaomi Mi A1, you will find a very slight hiss but if we are talking about audio quality, then it is similar to that of the iPhone 7 Plus.
Components of the phone
The left side of the Xiaomi phone has only SIM card tray and it can only hold either one nanoSIm and one MicroSD or 1-2 nanoSIM cards. I do not have any problems witching between dual SIMs and AT&T and Project Fi.
On the right side, there is a volume racker and a power button which is positioned below the volume racker. This is a little bit annoying since it is different from a Google Pixel. Both buttons have the same coating so this is difficult to distinguish from one another. But still, you will get use to it very soon.
The top of the phone has an IR blaster which is another regular Xiaomi function. I am able to use this app to control my TV so I guess it really works. As mentioned, the back of the Xiaomi Mi A1 looks like that of the iPhone 7. My model has a very nice Rose Gold color, and it is covered in an aluminum finish. There is a fingerprint scanner at the top middle and it is as fast as the one on Pixel. Above the scanner is the pair of cameras with the flash at the very top left corner.
Well, the NFC is missing from A1, but I do not use Android Paly that often so this does not matter a lot for me. But that is actually the only feature missing from the phone.
In general, Xiaomi Mi A1 is really a very well-built phone. Well, that is not anything surprising considering the great features of past Xiaomi devices. All you need to remember is that it is a budget phone, so it does not have a fancy screen, and most phones in this price range are mostly plastic and thicker.
The A1 has a 5.5” 1080p display while its brightness is at 450 nit. This means that you will not have any problems at all using your phone outdoor. You will not get amazing contrast and colors from the screen, but the price is low, so take it. I just do not have much complaint about the screen—great view angles and fine contrast—what else could I ask for at this price range?
The batter life of Xiaomi Mi A1 is really one of the most impressive feature of it. Maybe this is because the Snapdragon 625 processor is great in power consumption so this is not surprising. Although the 2000 mAh battery is not super large, but it is more than enough for you to last a day or even two even with heavy use.
Everyone use their phone different so the battery life of the phones vary among users. My usage of the phone consists of checking social media apps, reading emails with Gmail and watching videos on Youtube, I can get two full days of usage with needing to charge it. (6 hours of screen-on time)
So, if you play games, you will still get one day using A1 due to its impressive battery life.
Storage and wireless
The internal storage of Xiaomi Mi A1 is 64GB plus one of the SIM card slots for microSD cards. I have no problems using the microSD cars on this phone and the storage worked great. I think most people will be happy about the 64GB included storage but there are just options for you to store more.
For wireless protocols, the A1 supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5Ghz) Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2. I believe that the Wi-Fi reception of A1 is not that good, but it was not that significant, and it depends on which spot you are on. It becomes more noticeable at spots with bad connectivity.
Another terrible part is the Bluetooth. The Bluetooth devices repeatedly disconnected, and your headsets will lose connection during playback or fail to connect at the very first place. This problem is prevalent across all Xiaomi products I guess. But since the A1 use stock Android software, this problem is alleviated.
Cellular reception is one of the problems to use phones in regions they are not sold. Since different countries use different cellular frequencies, phones usually only support the frequencies used in the area available for sale. Since the Xiaomi Mi A1 will be sold in around 30 countries, the frequencies that it supports will be more than before.
Well, the A1 is not sold in USA, o I do not get the full cellular capacities. I tried both types of Sim cards and I stayed at 4G most of the time but occasional dead spots are encountered where the dominant frequency of the area was not picked up by the A1. But this is much better than staying at 3G, but I will stay that there is still room for improvement.
But hey, this problem arises only because I live in the USA. If you live in places where Xiaomi is sold, then you will not have the problem at all.
The Xiaomi Mi A1 has a dual camera setup at its back—this is a common feature across smartphones these days. One of the cameras is a 12MP wide-angle lens while the other is a 12MP telephoto lens. The A1 does take good photos although I am not a frequent user.
Yet, there are two problems with the camera—the color balance and low-light. Well, if you have enough amount of light, then the quality of your photos will be OK, but if you try to take pictures in dim places, then noise starts to become visible. There will be a lack of color balance and the dim areas are often completely washed out. Yet, the camera app does provide a HDR mode which slightly helps.
In general, I just think that most people will be happy, although not very happy, with the pictures of the A1’s photos. Yet, you need to know the conditions which you can take good photos with a A1 in.
The A1’s Snapdragon 625 chipset is fine. This phone has a score of 63.132 in AnTuTU 3DBench, and 464 in the 3D Mark’s Sling Shot Extreme test. This means that the performance of Xiaomi Mi A1 is great for average tasks and it can keep battery usage low, contributing to longer battery life. The performance difference between A1 and other phones in this situation is not that notable—it is quick to open Apps and the multi-tasking work is easy. However, if you perform power-intensive tasks like 3D gaming, then do expect a performance drop.
In general, if you use the phone for normal purposes, then you do not need to worry about it.
Lastly, let’s talk about the software. This is what most people concern about, and this is why the Xiaomi Mi A1 has been hyped up by many Android fanatics. The Mi A1 has completely stock Android instead of the usual MIUI skin. Well, google does not directly update the phones, but it does indeed work with he markets to make sure that they go out very quickly since these phones are part of Google’s Android One program.
There are a few very minor tweaks about Android. For example, you will get a persistent notification when you have headphones connected which can be annoying. The camera app is also from Xiaomi but they will have custom camera applications. The only included app is Mi Remote but you can choose not to install it when you set up the phone.
The launcher included in the phone is a hybrid version between the AOSP and Google Now launchers. There is a round search bar on top of the first home screen and you can swipe left to reveal the Google Feed, while you can swipe up to see all your installed apps.
Actually, the software are just like what you will find with a Pixel phone, but without the Google exclusive functions.
In general, the Xiaomi Mi A1 is a very good phone—this is though not a successor to the Nexus lineup. It is a good mid-range phone with an excellent software experience and a good camera and a promise of quick updates.
My complaints to this phone are only about the minor stuff, like the camera issues and the capacitive navigation buttons which are very annoying at first. But you will get use to them very quick.
After all, my biggest upset about the phone is its availability. Such a good phone is only sold in several countries of the world but not the USA? This is just a massive shame considering most of other budget phones are available in the US market.
If you want to buy a budget phone and you are not living in the USA, I will surely recommend this one, and I do hope that there will be more Android One phones from the company.
image credit: androidpolice