Android One at its finest.
The Android One program aims to deliver a smooth Android experience on mobile devices even with mid-range hardware. The mission is to bring such devices to emerging countries where people can purchase an inexpensive smartphone but still get Google’s up to date patches and updates.
Just last week, Xiaomi unveiled the Mi A1, the company’s first Android One-branded device. Costing roughly 14,999 rupees (around 900 AED) in India where it was first announced, the Mi A1 brings form and function at a very inexpensive price.
The price itself makes it a very attractive option for some, especially since most premium smartphones cost four times as much as the Mi A1.
But it didn’t compromise on quality – in fact, it’s one of best designed budget smartphones we’ve seen. Granted that the design might have been inspired by other flagships, the aim is probably to make you feel you have a premium device without having to pay a lot for it.
The Mi A1 comes in Gold, Rose Gold and Black (tested here) and it is easily the best option available. The black feels more seek, and while Xiaomi mentioned that it is fingerprint resistant, smudges can easily be seen after using it. You can easily wipe it with a cleaning cloth though so no worries there.
The power switch and volume rockers are located on the right side, with the dual SIM/micro SD card try on the left. There is also a fingerprint sensor that’s conveniently located at the back at scans fingerprints so fast you’d hardly see your smartphone unlock and an IR blaster for the remote control function. Xiaomi retained the 3.5 mm audio jack (but it didn’t bundle headphones in the package) on the Mi A1 and it uses USB-C for charging and data transfers.
The navigation buttons are located below the screen, with the home button in the middle, recents button on the left and the back button on the right. While this is usually the norm for Android devices, I’ve been accustomed to using the reverse layout with the back button on the left and the recents button on the right. Most smartphones let you easily swap the buttons in the settings, but unfortunately you can’t do that on the Mi A1.
The Mi A1, which comes with the ‘created by Xiaomi, powered by Google’ branding, features a dual lens camera system similar to the iPhone 7 Plus. In fact, it is the exact camera lens setup found on Apple’s current flagship: one 12-megapixel telephoto lens is partnered with a 12-megapixel wide angle lens.
Xiaomi even advertised how the dual camera setup is the same one found on the iPhone 7 Plus, but the company’s intention is that you can still enjoy the same camera functions without having to splurge a lot of money on a more expensive device.
It packs a decent hardware configuration as well: a Snapdragon 625 CPU with 4 GB of RAM, there’s 64 GB of storage expandable through micro SD. For users in India, Xiaomi specifically made a special 380V custom-made charger that can handle the frequent power spikes that happen in the country.
It runs a stock version of Android Nougat, with the Android Oreo update coming later this year. During the launch, Xiaomi even said that the Mi A1 will also get the Android P update when it eventually becomes available. The Mi A1 uses their own camera app, different from the stock Google Camera app, so even if it will get the updates faster than other devices, Xiaomi will still handle the updates and not Google.
The stock interface was fast and fluid, and the CPU easily handled all my tasks with ease considering that it’s even the top tier version. Even for 3D-demanding games such as Asphalt 8, framerates are consistent meaning that the Mi A1 is perfectly capable device for games.
With the built-in 3,080 mAh battery, the Mi A1 is able to give you enough juice to last you for a whole day. The USB-C port also enables you take advantage of the fast charging feature so you’ll still get more battery life even with a few minutes of charging.
But probably the main star of the Mi A1 is the camera. Marketed as the same cameras found on the iPhone 7 Plus, the Mi A1’s camera takes decent shots especially in daylight with good levels of color and detail. Low light images falter, getting too much noise especially when you shoot at dark environments.
Like the iPhone 7 Plus, the Mi A1’s dual camera lets you take image in portrait mode that gives the subject a blurred background or the ‘bokeh’ effect. Xiaomi said that certain post processing methods are done after you take a photo, making it look better compared to shots taken on similar cameras like the iPhone 7 Plus and the OnePlus 5. It’s not perfect, but for the price the Mi A1 packs a decent shooter.
Xiaomi somehow blurs the line on what a mid-range and a premium smartphone could be. The specifications of the Mi A1 won’t match the ones from Samsung or Apple, but it still manages to breeze through various things that we put it though.
The Xiaomi Mi A1 is an excellent device for its price – decent hardware, a good camera and stock Android, making it the perfect smartphone to represent Google’s Android One vision.
The Mi A1 will initially be available in India this week and will also be available in other countries including the UAE in the next couple of weeks.