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.

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