If you’ve been fascinated by Xiaomi’s often well-designed smartphones, but put off by the custom MIUI “theme” layered over the Android software; then the Xiaomi Mi A1 is the answer.
There are no software tweaks from Xiaomi because the Xiaomi Mi A1 runs Android One — the Google operating system designed for low- and mid-range phones. Xiaomi’s reputation for good phones at budget prices makes it the ideal saviour for Google’s beleaguered Android One programme. Android One was supposed to offer cheap handsets running stock Android to millions of customers in developing countries. This program failed – ironically – because of Xiaomi’s triumphant entry into the 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 Xiaomi Mi A1 and placed Google’s “pure” Android experience at the center of its interface.
The Xiaomi Mi A1’s style is reminiscent of the Xiaomi Redmi 4X, and identical to the Mi 5X. It’s simple but attractive, and could be easily mistaken for the OnePlus 5 or an iPhone 7 Plus as well. It’s comfortable to hold, and super light at 165 grams. The build quality is good, although the volume rocker audibly rattles when you put it down on a table. There is a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, far from the camera lenses, and it is accurate and quick to respond. On the bottom is a USB Type-C charging port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. 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.
Battery life is solid, with the phone easily lasting a day with its 3,080mAh cell. This is undoubtedly aided thanks to the Android One software and its uncluttered, and simple approach. Thanks to the Google software, the phone also delivered on timely security updates. There are a few pre-installed Xiaomi apps, including Mi Remote to use with the IR blaster, plus the Xiaomi camera app. 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. 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. 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.
The Mi A1 packs a 5.5-inch LCD display, which is a pretty standard size in the mid-range Android sector these days. The two lenses have 12 megapixels each, an f/2.2 aperture, and a 2x optical zoom feature. The front camera has 5 megapixels, as well as a portrait mode. It takes vivid, natural, and interesting pictures in normal light, but the cameras struggle a little with noise when the light is poor. The dual-lens system for adding a blurred background for portraits works surprisingly well — it’s easy to use, fast, and produces some good results. The portrait mode adds plenty of fun, and is a feature many phones don’t share at this price. The video camera even has a slow-motion mode for extra creativity.