Xiaomi Mi A1 XDA Review: Android One and Xiaomi Hardware Result in a Delightful & Affordable Stock Experience

Xiaomi Mi A1 XDA Review: Android One and Xiaomi Hardware Result in a Delightful & Affordable Stock Experience

The Xiaomi Mi A1 is one of Xiaomi’s biggest releases of the year 2017. Despite its overall humbling package, the phone marks a few important milestones for the Chinese company as well as for the Android ecosystem.

The Mi A1 is important because it is the first Xiaomi smartphone to ship without Xiaomi’s own custom UX, MIUI on top of the Android OS. It is also the first device that is the result of a reboot of Google’s Android One programan initiative that saw little success in its first phase in India. The Mi A1 is also the first Xiaomi device in recent times that does not see an equivalent launch in China, becoming the first Xiaomi device to be India-exclusive at launch.

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But does the Mi A1 with its Android One branding provide the value experience we are used to from Xiaomi?

In this review, we’ll take an in-depth dive into the Xiaomi Mi A1. Rather than listing specs and talking about how the experience felt, this feature attempts to provide a thorough look with contents relevant to our reader base. At XDA, our reviews are not meant to just tell a user whether a phone is worth buying or not — instead, we try to lend you the phone through our words and help you come to the decision by yourself. Before getting started, let’s get the specification sheet out of the way:

Device Name: Xiaomi Mi A1 Release Date/Price Available Now, ₹14,999 ($230)
Android Version 7.1.2 Nougat (Android One) Display 5.5 inch 1080p IPS LCD (401p ppi)
Chipset Snapdragon 625, Octa Core Cortex-A53, 8x 2GHz, Adreno 506 GPU Battery 3,080mAh non-removable
RAM 4GB LPDDR3 Sensors Fingerprint, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light, Electronic Compass
Storage 64GB eMMC Connectivity USB 2.0 Type-C, Hybrid SIM tray (Micro SIM + Nano SIM or Micro SIM + Micro SD card), 3.5mm audio jack, IR Blaster
Dimensions 155.4 x 75.8 x 7.3 cm (~70.1% screen-to-body) Rear Camera Dual 12MP, PDAF, [email protected] / [email protected] video
Wide Angle: f/2.2
Telephoto: f/2.6, 2x optical zoom
Weight 165g Front Camera 5MP, Fixed Focus, [email protected] video

Index

Design

The Xiaomi Mi A1, like several other Xiaomi phones and phones from other Chinese OEMs, borrows several elements from Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus when it comes to design. But instead of being a straight-up lifting of the iPhone 7 Plus, the Mi A1 blends in the antennae design and the camera layout from the iPhone with a carcass that feels similar to the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 due to its boxy outlines. The side frame of the device is fairly flat, and the transition curve from the sides to the flat back is fairly steep. But unlike the Redmi Note 4 and other previous phones which had plastic caps on the back, the Xiaomi Mi A1 is an actual metallic unibody device, giving it a rich feel in the hand.

The antennae bands run close to the edges on the back of the device, similar to what we now see on a lot of other phones. The dual rear camera setup sits on the right of the dual-tone LED flash, which gives it a differentiating feature from the iPhone look (as the iPhone has the camera setup on the left of the LED). The fingerprint sensor sits on the central axis of the back and is placed towards the top. The bottom of the back bears the Mi branding, the Android One branding and other regulatory branding — there’s a substantial amount of text and symbols here. The camera bump is tall and it’s sometimes difficult to ignore as most of Xiaomi’s previous devices usually had a flush camera setup and used the thickness to squeeze in battery — in this device, it’s the opposite, and we are not very excited about that.

The bottom of the device is quite busy as it houses several openings like the 3.5mm headphone jack, the primary microphone, the screws that hold the phone shut, the USB Type C port and a set of drilled holes for the speaker. The top of the device houses only the IR Blaster and the secondary microphone for noise cancellation. The left of the device houses the hybrid SIM tray.

The volume rocker and the power button find their place on the right of the device. Much like the Redmi Note 4, the buttons have no sideways wiggle to them but they still have a muted response. The weak tactile feedback was not as much of an issue with the Redmi Note 4, but with the Mi A1, the unsatisfying click on the power button often prompted me to inadvertently half-click it again, which led to situations where the camera app opened up when I expected the phone to have its screen off. The power button gesture can be disabled, and one does eventually get used to the weak response, so this is unlikely to be a deal breaker.

Xiaomi is no longer aiming for symmetry in its port placement as it was trying on the Redmi Note 4, so the Mi A1 and the Mi 5X, by extension, have their own sense of identity. The front of the device has the notification LED, the ambient light sensor, the front camera and the earpiece from left to right.

The notification LED only displays white (and not multicolored), as per my experience and testing. On the Gold color variant which has a white front, this white notification LED was hard to spot in a few instances like under bright sunlight, with its saving grace being that it was very bright nonetheless. Using a different color LED would have been a smarter choice for the white front phone. While a multicolor LED is not guaranteed in this price range, it was unexpected to not find it on this phone considering Xiaomi’s lower priced devices had multicolor LEDs.

The front of the device also has the typical Xiaomi cluster of navigation keys as capacitive buttons. The Overview key is on the left, with Home in the center and Back on the right; all are thankfully backlit. However, since this phone does not come with MIUI, you cannot mess around with the button backlighting on the stock software. Curiously, you also cannot opt for navigation keys, and there is no option to disable or rearrange the capacitive keys either. So you are kind of stuck with what stock Android on the Mi A1 gives you. The buttons are comfortable to reach and are spaced adequately on all sides — however, you may find yourself hitting the overview button frequently when gaming and gripping the phone with both hands; something that I struggled with a fair bit.

There is also a very thin black border all around the display on the white front variants. But it is thin and easy to ignore after a while. The Black color variant has a black front, where the black border is unnoticeable. What is noticeable on the Black color variant though, is Xiaomi’s new fingerprint resistant coating as it does a better job at preventing fingerprint smudges than the backs of the black color variants of other devices. Through my limited hands-on time with the Black color Mi A1 at the launch event, it was safe to conclude that while new coating does not entirely do away with fingerprints, it did its job in making them difficult to appear and spot on the Mi A1.

As someone used to handling 5.5” (and sometimes even larger) phones with one hand, the Mi A1 posed no difficulty. The top and bottom bezels of the device are larger than the ones on the Redmi Note 4, so the phone is bigger in size despite bearing the same screen diagonal and aspect ratio. The Mi A1 is thinner but has the same weight, giving it a denser feeling in the hand. The weight, the build quality and the materials used all combine to give us a premium device that does not feel fragile at all, one that you can hold with confidence. However, the iPhone-inspired design is what most people will pick up at a first glance, which goes to show that the Mi A1/5X are not devices that take any particular risks and play it very safe. For the price tag of the devices, that is not a bad thing either, for the end product is certainly something you will be happy about.

There is one point that is worth mentioning for a phone that is targeted towards the Indian audience: IP certification. Xiaomi continues to shy away from including any sort of significant water and dust resistance. A lack of IP rating was easier to ignore on lower end devices, but with the Mi A1 moving upwards in price (even if it is by a small margin), we’d certainly like Xiaomi to include some form of certified water resistance. During my usage, I was under two instances of heavy thundershowers and moderate waterlogging/flooding — and scenarios like this are common across several Indian cities. Worrying about even the smallest drop of water on an otherwise well-built device is something that takes the fun out of the smartphone experience in those instances. We’d like to see more devices with IP67 and better ratings, and maybe Xiaomi can look into this while deciding the differentiating features for its future lineup.

Performance

The Xiaomi Mi A1 comes with the tried-and-tested Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC, a mid-range SoC that boasts of a good mix between power efficiency and performance. Built on a 14nm fabrication process, the Snapdragon 625 packs 8 Cortex-A53 cores with a peak clock speed of 2GHz. This lays the foundation for the Mi A1 to come up as an efficient mid-range device on paper, much like the Redmi Note 4. But how does swapping MIUI with stock Android affect synthetic and real world performance? Let’s find out!


CPU & System

GeekBench, a benchmark that helps assess CPU performance, gives the Xiaomi Mi A1 a score of 877/4204. This surprisingly beats not only the Redmi Note 4, but the Redmi Note 3 as well on its multi core performance. BaseMark OS II, which measures performance through various calculations and transformations, gives the Mi A1 a total score of 1241, with the Mi A1 scoring higher on system performance than the Redmi Note 4. Individual benchmark numbers mean very little by themselves, but the overall trend with the benchmark scores places the Mi A1 firmly in the mid end segment, behind the flagships like the 835 and 821 and upper mid end SoCs like the 660. PCMark, which takes a holistic approach to benchmarking by putting the device through common real-world scenarios in a less-discrete testing environment, scored the Mi A1 at 4753, which is similar to what the Redmi Note 4 managed to score.

Much like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, the Xiaomi Mi A1 is a phone that does not make you feel that you are not holding a premium dollar device in your hand as far as performance is concerned. While one can find a few performance quibbles, mainly with how lethargic the stock animation speed even on this stock Android device is (seriously, why are all animations not sped up on stock Android? Most SoCs can work well with the faster speeds), and how apps still have a small but noticeable delay in opening up, most consumers will very likely never notice any of these in their daily usage.

What they will notice is a device that feels smooth and responsive on every action. There are no glaring hiccups, no force closes, no unusual or anomalous behavior. The things that you expect to work, simply work. They work as well on day 10 as they do on day 1 with no signs of any deterioration in performance.

Thermal performance on the Mi A1 is excellent, and we expected nothing less from a Snapdragon 625 SoC phone. Prolonged real-world usage barely causes the phone to warm up, and the A1 remains a pleasure to use at all times, both in performance and in temperatures. The metallic body does tend to warm up when used under direct sunlight for too long, but this does not affect the performance of the device in any way either. Xiaomi claims to have used a dual graphite layer under the chassis of the A1 (but never mentioned the same for the Mi 5X, so that may be a point of hardware difference between the two) that absorbs the heat from the processor and distributes it evenly across the body — and we’d like to believe it is indeed working as the phone has no particular hot spots on the rarest of occasions that it does heat up without external sources.

GPU & Gaming

Unsurprisingly, the Mi A1 performs very close to the Redmi Note 4 when it comes to GPU benchmarking and gaming performance. So while the gaming performance per se will not compete against flagships, the Adreno 506 does well for most intensive games. Although they may start off at the lowest graphics settings, you can crank up the graphics quality to medium and high (on a case by case basis) and suffer no loss in FPS as several popular titles cap out at 30 FPS anyways. We thank the folks at GameBench helping with our gaming tests.