Gionee might not be a company that many consumers outside of China and other Asian countries are familiar with but they're definitely someone worth paying a little more attention to, as their most recent smartphone the Gionee A1 is packing some decent hardware specifications for a lower cost than what you'll find with competing devices. Unlike many of the relatively unknown Chinese smartphone brands though, Ginoee has a unique-looking user interface and a fair amount of their own software adjustments that have been made with this most recent device that sets it apart from other brands inside the same region that are producing smartphones. The A1 also carries a nice design to it that is certainly easy on the eyes, and having spent some time with the A1 over the last week we've been able to see what the device was like and how it performed, as well as how it compares to other similar devices. Let's take a closer look at what the Gionee A1 offers and see how it stacks up.
On paper, the Gionee A1 may not seem like a groundbreaking device and if you look at the specs, it's really not doing anything groundbreaking in terms of the hardware used as you can find these kinds of specs on lots of devices. What is a little more unheard of is the kinds of specs you're getting for what the A1 costs. At 349 Euros which is about $378 USD, there's definitely some value here. The Gionee A1 is carrying a Full HD 5.5-inch display, and it comes powered by a 4,010mAh battery as well as 2.0GHz MediaTek Helio P10 octa-core processor, which is paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage space, and the phone also supports expandable via a microSD card up to 128GB. The phone supports Dual Nano SIM so you can insert the SIM cards of two different services at once, and it's nice to see both SIM cards being the nano size as many Chinese Android smartphones that have Dual SIM slots tend to use one nano and one micro.
The A1 is sporting a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera which is nothing completely out of the ordinary by today's smartphone standards, but it's also a decent amount of pixels that shouldn't disappoint. The rear camera also has phase detection autofocus, an f/2.0 aperture, and LED flash. Where Gionee takes things up a notch in the camera department is with the front-facing camera, which is a 16-megapixel sensor that they're calling the Selfie Flash camera, as it's aimed at providing you with a great experience for taking selfies. You'll find a fingerprint sensor on the front of the device that can be used for unlocking the phone but because it lacks NFC you can't use it for mobile payments. It supports Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, and microUSB for the connectivity and charging standards, and it comes running on Android 7.0 Nougat, with Gionee's Amigo 4.0 user interface.
In The Box
Normally with smartphones these days you get little more than the phone itself, the user guide, and the charging cable/adapter combo. Not so with the Gionee A1. You do get all of those things, but Gionee also packs in a clear case for the phone so you can keep it protected, as well as a screen protector that you can choose to put on the phone if you want. The nice thing about this is that they don't preinstall it for you where many of the other Chinese brands that do include a screen protector will already place it on the phone before packaging up the device, and then if you decide you don't want it from the start you have to peel it off. With Gionee's method, you can use the phone as is and put the screen protector on when and if you want to which saves you from having to waste it. In addition to all of those things, you also get a set of earbuds, and a small microfiber cloth that you can use to wipe the screen down before placing the screen protector on it.
Hardware & Design
When it comes to the hardware and design, Gionee definitely seems to have put some time and effort into making this look like an attractive smartphone. The body is made of all metal and the model we have is carrying a nice gold finish for the color, while the front glass bezels are white, with a little gold trim around the home button which is also the fingerprint sensor. On the top of the device you'll find the 3.5mm audio port for plugging in headphones, and the charging port, which again, is micro USB, sits on the bottom of the device which means that you can use headphones and charge the device at the same time. On the bottom of the device you'll also find the speaker. You have the SIM card tray on the left side of the device while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker, and on the front face you have the sensors and front-facing camera sit just above the display. Flipping things over to the back of the device, you'll have the rear-facing camera and LED Flash modules, and a Gionee branding all the way down at the bottom as well as a Gionee logo just under the camera.
Overall the design of the Gionee A1 is pretty slick, and while not everyone will feel that this is a stylish device, there is not really a whole lot to complain about here. The phone looks good and it feels good in the hand when holding it, and it has a decent feeling build quality that doesn't feel cheap in any way. If I had to point one thing out about the device where it seems like Gionee may have dropped the ball a little bit, it's with the design of the Gionee logo that is imprinted onto the the back, as it seems to be just a little bit of kilter and is leaning slightly to the right. This might be just me and it's also a preference thing and it's not likely to bother everyone. Other than that which is a very minor detail, Gionee has a solid build quality here and design to go along with it.
This is a Full HD display here so it won't be anything that people haven't seen before in terms of technology, but beyond being Full HD it's also an AMOLED panel which means richer colors with more contrast, deeper blacks, and an overall sharper looking display compared to LCD panels. The screen is 5.5-inches so it's a great size for anyone who loves media and entertainment on their smartphones, whether that's reading or browsing the web often, watching video, or playing games. The screen size is great for all of it and as a personal preference it really made playing Super Mario Run quite enjoyable.
I found that the screen had some pretty good viewing angles and no matter which way I tilted it I didn't seem to have an issue with seeing what was on the screen as things were just as clear as if I was looking straight at it. Because of Gionee's software there is an auto brightness feature that will simply kick in to help extend the battery life and this is a great detail as it isn't just automatically on like it is on a lot of phones, however you can also turn this off so it stays disabled if you don't care for the auto brightness functionality on your devices. The display seems to have some pretty great visibility in direct sunlight, though it was mostly overcast and raining every day I have had the device in my possession while using it, so I unfortunately can't give a 100% accurate description of what it's like to use this device outside on a sunny day and how easy it to see the screen. All that aside, the Gionee A1's display is well-rounded and definitely offers up some great clarity and sharpness that is nothing to be ashamed of. Gionee has also implemented a way for you to adjust the color temperature of the display so you can tweak it to your liking. You have options for neutral, cool color, and warm color. When it comes down to it, the display is pretty good and there was nothing to complain about. The digitizer even had some really great feedback and the response times were actually very good. I never once ran into issues with the device not recognizing my finger presses when interacting with it. The bottom line, the display is definitely a good experience.
Performance is certainly no slouch on the Gionee A1, and it shouldn't be given that it's running on the Helio P10 processor from MediaTek and considering it has 4GB of RAM, which, is what many other smartphones are carrying these days, but that doesn't take away from this being a positive thing on the A1. General use for things like browsing, reading, and just flipping through the menus all showed some great fluidity and I didn't experience any lag or slow downs at any point. Even gaming seemed to be just fine here, although that doesn't mean that you won't necessarily run into any issues at all as not everyone plays the same games, and there are many, many games available on Android so there is always the chance that someone could run into a game with higher-quality graphics than what I tested where the game may stutter a bit. From my personal experience this wasn't an issue though as the performance was more than just acceptable, it was actually great.
You'll find the fingerprint sensor on the front of this device embedded in the home button just as you do with many other smartphones. It's a common placement for it, and although this isn't to my personal liking based on the way I hold my phone most of the time when I need to unlock it, that's my only complaint as the fingerprint sensor works really well. Not only did it never once not recognize my fingerprint, it also unlocks rather fast which is important in and of itself. Gionee has gotten the fingerprint sensor right where so many other Chinese OEMs could have stood to put a little more work into it, and this is great news for Gionee. The only downside really is that you can't use the fingerprint sensor for authorizing mobile payments, which I have found myself using more as of late so it was a bummer to lack this capability when out and about with the A1.
Sound quality on the Gionee A1 is pretty good, but not absolutely stellar. There is nothing really wrong with the audio as it comes through nice and clear and it can become loud enough to enjoy any type of media, it just isn't over the top excellent. Then again it's important to remember what the price range is for this device which is under $400 USD or about 349 Euros. That said, the Gionee A1 also uses Waves Maxx audio so the sound is definitely better than it would have been without that. The speakers don't sound too tinny or overly blown out if you turn the volume up towards the max level, which is a good thing as I tend to crank the sound up whenever I watch videos or play games as it feels more like an immersive experience with louder volume. If you like you entertainment, then you shouldn't be disappointed as Gionee comes through in the sound department.
Phone Calls & Network
Although I wasn't able to use the Gionee A1 to test the call quality since it won't accept my Project Fi SIM card, the device is an unlocked device and it does work in the U.S. on various networks. It supports the following networks listed below, though this particular device will only work in the U.S. on GSM networks with 2G and 3G coverage.
2G GSM: 850/900/1800/1900
3G W-CDMA: 850/900/1900/2100
4G LTE: 1800/2100/2600
While the A1 does perform pretty well in everyday use, on paper not much can be said for the benchmark results. It scored pretty low compared to some other mid-range and low-end devices, but still did ok for its particular range of device, and the benchmarks are just that, benchmarks, and not generally what is representative of real-world use. We put the A1 through the same three benchmark tests we always use which is AnTuTu, 3D Mark for the graphics, and Geekbench 4. If you're interested in seeing the results of those tests you can check out the screenshots below.
With a 4,010mAh battery inside the Gionee A1 is more than capable of holding its own when it comes to staying powered on throughout the day, in fact, it exceeded my expectations in this area. While I expected the A1 to last a while, I didn't expect it to last as long as it did. During my time of use with the device over the past week I would routinely get about 9 and a half to 10 hours of screen on time, which is amazing to say the least as most phones these days will last about half that for screen on time. Your own mileage may vary of course, as when tested with PC Mark it got about 10 hours and 35 minutes of screen on time, so depending on what it is you're doing with the device the battery could drain a little faster or it could last a little bit longer. Typically I was able to go about two days without having to charge this phone which is pretty good, though it's certainly not the only phone that's capable of doing so. If you're looking for a device that can handle going a while without a charge, the Gionee A1 definitely delivers.
One of the best surprises of the A1 is that it runs on Android 7.0 Nougat. That being said, it doesn't have Google Assistant which is a shame. It does however have other Nougat-related features like multi-window, and that's not a shame. The A1 is layered with Gionee's Amigo OS version 4.0, which is their latest version of the software, and it offers quite a different experience to what most people are likely used to with Android. There are tons of little nuances and unique touches to the software that make this a somewhat enjoyable UI to use, but there are also some things that I wish Gionee would have done a little bit different here. For example, there are no quick settings in the notification tray when you drag it down, they're simply not there at all, and this is a huge pain as I routinely interact with a lot of functions that you can enable and disable straight from the quick settings, like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, the flashlight and more. Other things are pleasant though. For instance, when swiping from home screen page to home screen page, there is a built-in animation that sort of dips or lifts to the direction of where your app shortcut icons are placed on the home screen. You can also swipe all the way from your main screen to the very last screen and continue swiping to go right back to the main home screen page. This is not necessarily anything that affects the performance of the device, but it was enjoyable as I didn't have to switch back to swiping the other direction.
A familiar trait with a lot of Chinese Android devices is that there is no app drawer here. All installed apps simply end up on the home screen on a new page until it fills up and then another new page is created if needed. This type of UI element is very much like the way it is on iOS, and some people prefer this. I on the other hand still prefer to have the app drawer as I feel things are just more clean and organized this way. All that aside, despite the way the home screen is set up there is a bunch of extras in the software features, like gestures to use the device more intuitively. Like many devices these days the Gionee A1 also has a theme chooser so you can apply different looks and styles to your device, and there's a store where you can download a fairly large number of themes, many of which are free. In the settings you can find a list of smart gestures you have access to after you toggle the smart gestures on, and these include smart dial, which lets you put the phone to your ear and automatically dial a person from their message content page, or other areas like their contact details page. There is also a smart answer which automatically answers the phone's incoming calls by doing the same motion.
If you have an alarm going off you can disable it by flipping the phone over, and you even have access to the double click to wake the screen from a sleep state, which seems to be more and more common on phones these days. While smart gestures are nice, what I found to be more intriguing was the Edge Bar feature, which allows you to drag in from the left edge or right edge of the home button to bring up the edge bar, which houses quick access to a few different apps or functions, like the settings app, a notes app, or a device-wide search. There is also a button on the edge bar that takes you back to the edge bar settings. Another unique feature of Amigo OS 4.0 is the integrated news on the lock screen. When you bring the screen up from a sleep state you're presented with a news article from various topics, and each time you bring up the screen from a sleep state it seems to cycle to a new article. Tapping on the title of these stories takes you to the article, while tapping anywhere else on screen brings up an option to give the article a thumbs up or thumbs down, and below the snippet of the article contents you can see the time and date, as well as a camera icon.
There is also a small button with three lines you can tap that brings up a set of options that pertain to the article that's currently showing on the lock screen, and these options include the ability to save an article, subscribe, share it, or delete it. You can also cycle through the various articles by swiping left or right here from the lock screen if you're curious to see what else is being highlighted. The only downside to this functionality is that I couldn't seem to find any place where these sources that populate articles could be configured, meaning I couldn't find a way to add in sources I would prefer to access content from. Moving back to the different settings features you can find in the settings menu, under more settings which is where you'll find the smart gestures, there is a button you can enable under the suspend option setting which puts a floating button on the screen that you can use to toggle a few different things. From this button you can tap to go back to the home screen, lock the device, and even minimize the part of the screen you interact with to a smaller portion of the screen in the bottom right corner to make the device easier to use with one hand. You can also leave the floating button on screen if you don't mind it always being in view, but if you find it to be an eyesore you can long press on it to hide it in the notification tray as a persistent notification, this way you can still access it quickly without having to go back into the settings menu but you also don't have to have it on screen at all times. The software on the Gionee A1 is definitely a different experience, but by no means is it a bad experience, and there are certainly plenty of UIs that are worse. It might not be stock Android, but it has a lot of nifty stuff that plenty of users would surely appreciate.
Gionee's camera in the A1 is a double-edged sword here. It takes a decent picture, but it could be better. That being said, it did produce better images than I thought it would and there's something to be said for that. While it won't be the best smartphone camera on the market, where it does shine quite a bit is with the various camera features that you get. The user interface for the camera is quite nice and does not come with the same boring camera UI you see in a lot of Chinese Android phones. As for the features, the A1 has plenty of different modes for you to shoot in giving you lots of options for how to take a picture.
There's night mode, professional mode, time-lapse mode, slow motion, smart scene, text recognition, GIF, PicNote, smart scan, mood photo, card scanner, and translation. This is a pretty wide spread for the camera and it's a little surprising to see all of these options. You can also shoot in the standard photo mode, or switch things over to face beauty if you're taking a picture of someone and want to focus on the details in their face, or you can use panorama to capture a wide shot, and of course there's video for recording video. Once you get past the modes, the features don't stop there. Just above the shutter button you'll see a button that looks like three intersecting circles, and tapping on this reveals the different color filters you can have applied to your photos before you take them, with options like ash gray, noir, sofina, vintage, none, and others.
You also have three different modes of HDR imaging which are simply keeping HDR off, or you can set it to HDR auto or HDR On similar to the way you have these options on the Pixel. That said, this is certainly implemented better on the Pixel and there is no comparison between the images on both phones. I've only mentioned the Pixel as it also has HDR options set up this way. If you tap on the settings icon you'll find a handful of options here, like the ability to set your capture mode to normal, which requires you to press the shutter button, or touch, which will just take the photo once you touch a spot on the screen of whatever it is you're trying to take a picture of. You can also change the picture size from here as well as enable geo-tagging and set up a countdown if you want a timed photo.
Overall the camera has a decent amount of things on offer and pictures seemed to capture quickly enough without too much shutter lag, and it mostly grabs a fair amount of color and reproduces it in the pictures while keeping the colors mostly true to their real-world look. Having said all that, the pictures do seem to end up producing images more often than not that carry more noise in them when the light is even just a little less than ideal, and it won't be hard for someone who is a fan of photography to notice that the A1 has a shortcoming or two in the camera department, as the HDR On functionality often felt like it was producing a photo that was just a tiny bit washed out and they would tend to look a little blurry no matter how still my hand was and that's a shame, as I expected this function to perform better than it did. The nice thing is you can simply move things back to HDR Auto and the issue shouldn't persist. The pro mode does offer a good set of options to improve your pictures, from ISO and white balance, to exposure levels and more, so anyone who is more serious about their pictures will definitely want to explore more of the pro mode when shooting with the A1, while anyone who just wants a decent photo can stick to the standard photo mode and set HDR to auto.
Pretty decent performance
Great build quality
Camera was decent and also had a lot of features
Really fast and really accurate fingerprint sensor
Nice UI with lots of software features
No Quick Settings in the navigation tray
Lots of pre-installed apps that I never used
The Gionee logo on the back that sits below the camera could be misleading for some users as it passes off as a fingerprint sensor, but in reality it's just a logo. This seems like a poor design choice as they could have just printed the logo on the metal back without using a recessed surface that looks like a fingerprint sensor.
When it comes down to it there is very little wrong with the Gionee A1 and lots of stuff that the company got right. In fact, there is almost nothing really to dislike about the A1 and that makes it a great value at the cost which is around 349 Euros.
Should you buy the Gionee A1?
That depends on a few things. Though many times Chinese smartphones can feel a little lacking on the build quality and design choice, Gionee's A1 shines through as a decent option and it feels just as solid as it looks. Considering the price, you'd expect everything to perform pretty well and that's what you get here. Of course, certain things stand out more than others, like the great display with nice responsiveness and the fast/accurate fingerprint sensor, but overall the A1 is well-rounded and has plenty to offer without consumers having to spend a whole lot. If you live in an area where the Gionee A1 is going to launch and be sold then you should definitely consider it. If you live in the U.S. or other regions which aren't likely to have the A1 officially sold within the country, then you may want to look elsewhere. While the phone is nice, there are other devices that are easier to get a hold of that will be around the same cost and provide just as good of an experience.