Xiaomi Mi A1 review

Having an Android phone as my second phone is almost a necessity for a tech-enthusiast like me. I can use it too navigate the road with Waze while my iPhone plays music via Bluetooth. I can have it play Netflix on the TV while I read my Twitter timeline with my other phone. I can bring it for a run since my iPhone 8 Plus is too big (and too risky to bring along). The possibilities are endless. I have a few criteria when choosing an Android phone. It has to have stock Android or at least very minimal skinning and bloatware (like the Nokia ones). It must not big too big - 5.0” to 5.5” would be ideal. Most of all it must be affordable. And Xiaomi Mi A1 fits the bill perfectly.

When it first come out, the Mi A1 is Xiaomi’s first foray into the Android One ecosystem. I’m no stranger with Xiaomi phones, in fact I have bought a few from them. While MIUI itself is not that bad, it is still not stock Android and the updates are not as fast or prompt as the latter. More importantly I just prefer the vanilla Android UI than all the other skinned Android UIs including MIUI. Mi A1 for just RM899 for a 64GB model at the time is a no brainer. The screen size is only 5.5”, not too big to be carried around in my shorts while jogging. The USB-C charging port makes the Mi A1 future-proof and the IR blaster is an added bonus.

In my hand, the Mi A1 feels solid, thin and lightweight. The metal back is only interrupted by the fingerprint scanner and dual camera with 12MP sensors in each lens. Befitting the price and metal back, there is no wireless charging feature for this phone but that’s a compromise I can take. Both the volume rocker and the power button are located at the right side of the phone. The screen is slightly tapered at the sides so getting a tempered glass without bubbles at the edges is almost impossible. For now I just use the screen protector which was included with the packaging. It uses a hybrid SIM/microSD card tray so if you wanna use 2 SIM cards at once, you cannot use a microSD card.

Mi A1 is powered by a Snapdragon 625 processor which is by no mean fast by today’s standard but acceptable in the lower midrange tier. I can play PUBG Mobile on it with moderate graphic setting and no stutter. The 3080mAh battery adequately covers your 9-5 work shift but you’ll have to charge as soon as you get home. 64GB is already more than enough for me but should you want to expand your storage, you can always insert an Android-compatible microSD card, up to 128GB in size. I had a 64GB microSD card in mine and using Android adaptable storage feature on Android 8.1, expands my entire storage to 128GB. The first SanDisk microSD card that I used was faulty after a while so my apps started to act erratically before I diagnosed the problem to the card. If your Mi A1 does the same, you should check the microSD card first and restore the phone without it to see if the app-crashing problems are solved.

The dual camera setup is nothing to shout about. The shots are mediocre at best compared to the iPhone or Google Pixel. Yes there is a software-generate distinctive depth of field but the quality is only passable. For everything else the photos are alright if not spectacular. You can particularly see the noise for low light pictures. I am grateful for the audio jack and IR blaster in the age where more and more midrange phones started to skip them. The IR blaster is especially useful and I use it every day to turn on my TV and air conditioner unit at work. 7 months later, my Mi A1 is still chugging on steadily. The battery doesn’t last as long as the first few months tho although I suspect certain apps is draining the battery.

By the time this article finished, its successor the Mi A2 had probably come out and just like the Mi A1 it is still affordable with added juice and features. The Mi A2 comes with a 18:9 screen aspect ratio without a notch and the Mi A2 Lite comes with a notch but for whatever reason a micro USB port which is a real downgrade from the usual USB C. Would I recommend the Mi A1 now? Yes sure if you have a limited budget of less than 600 ringgit. Yes you can get a brand new Mi A1 at that price now, lower if it’s a second hand unit. Otherwise get the Mi A2 or others.

Lenovo Tab 7 Essential review

This is going to be a pretty short review simply because this tablet sucks.

I had a budget Android tablet in mind when I stumbled upon the Lenovo Tab 7 Essential at an online store. Ideally I would have bought a Samsung tablet with S-Pen but those were too pricey. The Tab 7 however fits my budget perfectly at around 300 ringgit. It has the latest Android 7.0 software, LTE connectivity and also a micro SD expansion slot for good measure.

The first alarm bell was when the sales assistant warned me about this tablet being laggy. It does have only 1GB of RAM inside but I did not give much thought about his warning until I tried it for myself. And boy how he was right. Right off the bat, the tablet was slow AF as teenagers nowadays would put it. There was noticeable lag when I swipe between the screens and especially when opening apps. Coming from iPhone and iPads, the Lenovo Tab 7 was excruciatingly sluggish. I blame the MediaTek processor but mostly the measly RAM. Add that to the adoptable storage that I used with a micro SD card, the system performs even worse.

I tried to ignore the poor performance and used the tablet anyway for a while. I used it mainly to read eBooks and watch movies/TV series which were mostly adequate for such a low-powered tab. Playing games was simply out of the question. After some time, I grew tired of the overall lagginess of the tablet not to mention the occasional app crashes. In the end, I sold out the tablet barely two months after purchase.

Whatever you do, don't buy the Lenovo Tab 7 Essential tablet. Yes it is cheap but it's totally not worth it. You'd be better off getting a second hand Samsung tablet or a used iPad instead. Tablets with 1GB RAMs should be banned from the market altogether for consumer protection.

Bukit Gambang Resort City & Water Park

For our first family vacation this year, we made plans to tour the northern states of Malaysia - Perak, Kedah and maybe Perlis. However it all changed when my uncle called inviting me to come to his son’s wedding in Kemaman. Although I didn’t plan on going at first since Kemaman is quite far away, I felt obliged to go since he personally invited me. If it was a mass invite on Whatsapp or Facebook, I’d give it a pass. But then he personally called me and I’m indebted to him for so many things he helped me with over the years. I didn’t have the heart to let him down.

So there goes our northern tour. We had to make some changes to our plan and do an eastern state tour instead. There’s not much fun for us to take the kids to in the east coast except for the beaches and perhaps Bukit Gambang Water Park which where we decided to take the kids to. Compared to Sunway Lagoon, Bukit Gambang’s entrance fee is much-much lower so on paper it sounded like a good deal for us. We looked at the resort’s website for ticket price and also an a few e-commerce site like Lazada and 11street. Turns out 11street offers a pretty good and cheaper combo deal then the official site. We book a 2 days 1 night stay at the Caribbean Bay resort with breakfast and water park entrance for 4 for only 383 ringgit which is way cheaper than the original price of RM308 without water park entrance.

We didn’t leave until after 12:00PM that Saturday afternoon. My wife had unscheduled visit to the dentist to fix her braces an hour earlier. Somehow the braces wires were loose and were painfully poking the inside of her cheek. The dentist didn’t show up until 11:00AM, the audacity. Anyway the 3 hours journey along the Karak highway into LPT was smooth. We arrived in Gambang around 3:30PM and stopped for prayer break and lunch at one of the restaurants just outside the park. Protip: fill yourself up at the restaurant outside because the food inside the resort and water park will be typically expensive as always.

We took our own sweet time because we were made to understand that the water park would not be closing until 9:30PM that night. My wife specifically asked her friend who’ve been there before and that’s what she said. To our surprise, it was the Safari Park that closes at 9:30PM. The Water Park closes at 6:00, about an hour left after we finished checking in that afternoon. Since we’ll be on a rush to my cousin’s wedding in Kemaman the next morning, we had no choice but to go to the Water Park that afternoon anyhow. We rushed inside and tried almost every thing in the park in that short amount of time that we had.

Bukit Gambang Resort City’s Water Park has a quarter of the rides and attractions of Sunway Lagoon. However priced at a quarter of the price of Sunway Lagoon tickets, I cannot really complain much. There’s a few pools including a wave pool and a few slides and that’s it. They were nothing as fun and extravagant as Sunway Lagoon. You can go in one twirling slide with just your body, the rest you’ll need to rent the tubes to use it which is a real bummer. I was not about to rent a day’s worth of tube for just an hour worth of play. The wave pool and lagoon is about half the size of Sunway Lagoon’s and we get to experience about 15 minutes of waves towards the end. Although the sign says the water park is closed at 6:00PM, by 5:30PM they siren was already blown and everybody practically had to get out of the park. That ended our short-lived stay at the water park.

There were two eateries inside the water park- the Coco Delight and Penguin Express. They sell local foods at Coco Delight and western food at the Penguin Express kiosk. The food price was not that expensive to be honest, nothing crazy expensive like Sunway Lagoon. If you buy from 11street like I did, there’s a water park plus lunch combo as well which would save you a few ringgit. There’s lockers and cabanas (huts) to rent in the middle of the park. Plenty of locker space but the huts are pretty limited and seemed to be always occupied.

I know it was partially our fault for not checking and confirming in advance the water park operation hours but still it sucks to pay for something and not really fully enjoy it. Our stay at the Caribbean Bay Suite was quite pleasant though. It has two rooms with two bedrooms with one bathrooms each, just nice for all five of us. For the price we pay, it’s quite worth it. The next morning we had breakfast at their cafĂ© downstairs. They were nice enough not charge anything for 7 years old Hana (because she probably don’t each much). The food was okay, ample mix of local and western delicacies. After breakfast we quickly made our way to Kemaman, breaking a few speed traps along the way.

It was also in Gambang Water Park that I learned the lesson about iPhone 7’s water resistance. In our haste to enter the park, I totally forgot to bring along my GoPro and my wife forgot to keep her iPhone 7 in the bag. In the end we brought along the iPhone for a dip in the pools. Later that evening we were alarmed to find the home button acting erratically. When I press once, the button acts like I’ve pressed it a couple of times. After much research, I can only conclude that the iPhone is showing signs of water damage. I quickly turned off the phone and let it to dry overnight. Gradually after a prolonged exposure to the heat and the sun, the iPhone started to operate normally again. What a scare. The lesson here is, the iPhone 7 is only certified IP67 which mean it’s only splash, water and dust resistant, not totally waterproof. Bear that in mind whenever you plan to bring your water-resistant phone for a swim. Heck I wouldn’t bring my waterproof phone for a swim even if I can. There’s always so many ways you can damage the phone while in the water.

Would I recommend Bukit Gambang Resort City and their Water Park? Sure if you don’t have much budget or expectations. Their water park is the poor man’s version of Sunway Lagoon. Just be sure to come early to enjoy the water park or safari park (choose one). The dress code is pretty relaxed too, I wouldn’t expect otherwise for a park in this conservative east coast state.