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Xiaomi Mi A1 review

Android One makes the Xiaomi Mi A1 a phone you’ll want to use

If you’ve been tempted 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 to your problems. There are no software tweaks from Xiaomi because the Mi A1 runs Android One — the Google operating system designed for low- and mid-range phones. It promises regular software and security updates, like a Google Pixel smartphone, plus all the usual Google apps including the Google Play Store pre-installed. In our Xiaomi Mi A1 review, we explain how it’s not just the software that’s a winner, but the hardware too.

There is one glaring flaw we should mention first: The lack of 4G LTE support in the U.S. The Xiaomi Mi A1, even the so-called Global version, won’t connect to GSM 4G networks in the U.S., meaning you’ll have to make do with 3G speeds. Buyers in the U.K. and much of Europe will be fine. We’ve had ours running on the O2 network in the U.K. without issues.

Great specs, low price

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how good the Mi A1 is. First, it costs 210 euros from the Mi Spain store, or somewhere around $210 to $250 if you use an online retailer in China. That makes it slightly cheaper in Europe than one of our current absolute favorite budget phones, the Honor 7X (the Mi A1 is a tad more expensive in the U.S.). For that you get a sleek, smooth metal body that’s 7.3mm thick, a 5.5-inch LCD screen with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution, a fingerprint scanner, and a dual-lens 12-megapixel camera on the back. It’s all powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, with 4GB of RAM.

Exactly what we want from a mid-range phone.

The 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. We carried it around while on vacation in Japan, along with several other phones, and it happily slipped into a pocket or bag without a fuss.

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.

Simple software, timely updates

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. Since using the phone, we’ve received October, November, and December’s Android security patch updates, along with another update fixing bugs and improving the device. It felt almost unnatural, having so many important software updates in such a timely manner on an Android phone. It’s the way things really should be.

There are a few pre-installed Xiaomi apps, including Mi Remote to use with the IR blaster, plus the Xiaomi camera app. The Snapdragon 625 processor isn’t that fast, and although scrolling and moving around Android isn’t slow, wading through some apps can be. We noticed hesitation and less-than-smooth scrolling in the Google Play Store, YouTube, and apps like Twitter. It’s not bad, but it’s noticeable, especially if you’re coming from a higher-performance smartphone.

We ran the Mi A1 through a few benchmark tests:

  • AnTuTu 3D Bench: 59883
  • Geekbench 4 CPU: 4200 Multi-Core/867 Single-Core
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 463

The results almost match what we saw from the Honor 7X, a phone which uses a Kirin 659 processor and also has 4GB of RAM. Ultimately for everyday tasks, with a little gaming thrown in, the Mi A1 is a perfectly usable and surprisingly capable companion.

Capable camera

That’s all before you start using the camera, which is excellent for such a low-cost phone and a solid competitor to the Honor 7X, and other similarly-priced dual-lens camera phones. 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. We were very happy with the photos taken by the Mi A1 considering the price, especially for sharing photos on social media. 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.

Downsides? Apart from the 4G LTE problems in the U.S., the Mi A1 doesn’t have NFC, so it can’t be used for Android Pay. We also found the gold rear panel scuffs easily just from sitting in a bag or pocket, so a case may be in order here. Also, compared to the minimal bezels around the Honor 7X’s screen, the Mi A1 doesn’t look quite so modern. Still, we vastly prefer Android One over Huawei’s EMUI user interface on the Honor phone. It ultimately comes down to what’s more valuable to you — timely software and security updates, or style.

Choose the Mi A1 and you will be very happy. It’s exactly what we want from a mid-range phone — no software clutter, a good camera, a pretty screen, a simple design, and a low price tag.

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