Xiaomi Mi A1 Smartphone Review: Android One At Its Best

September 26, 2017 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Top-notch hardware, low price tag, and stock Android all make for an incredible smartphone, which is the Xiaomi Mi A1.

Often times when a new Xiaomi smartphone is announced, many people love the hardware but will comment something to the effect of “I wish it had stock Android”, or “if only it didn’t have MIUI”. Well Xiaomi is known for listening to its customers and potential customers, and they have done just that. The Xiaomi Mi A1 has the hardware you’d expect from Xiaomi, with the stock Android look and feel you’d expect from Google. But the real question here is how well do these two merge together? Is the Xiaomi Mi A1 worth picking up? Let’s find out.

Specs

The Xiaomi Mi A1 sports a 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS LCD display, along with Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 on top for protection. This gives you a pixel density of 403 pixels per inch, and about 70.1% of the front of the device is covered with the display. Unlike the Mi MIX 2, the Mi A1 has some rather large top and bottom bezels, which makes the display-to-body ratio a bit lower than most other smartphones in 2017. Additionally, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor is powering the show with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (there is a micro SD card slot available for expanding the storage as well, if needed).

Xiaomi has brought it’s dual camera setup over to the Mi A1. The setup is comprised of two 12-megapixel sensors, with one standard 28mm lens and the other being a telephoto at 50mm. With apertures of f/2.2 and f/2.6 respectively. The rear-facing cameras can record in 4K at up to 30fps, while it can do slow motion at 720p with 120fps. The front-facing camera is a 5-megapixel shooter, and is capable of recording in 1080p resolution.

Other odds and ends include a 3.5mm headphone jack, and no NFC which means no support for Android Pay. It does support dual-band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, so you’ll get plenty fast WiFi speeds out of the Mi A1. There’s also Bluetooth 4.2 LE on board. When it comes to GPS, that is using GLONASS, BDS and A-GPS to determine your location. Finally, the Xiaomi Mi A1 is powered by a 3080mAh battery, along with Android 7.1.2 Nougat on-board.

In the Box

Included with the Mi A1, you’ll get a SIM ejection tool, a USB-A to USB-C cable and a wall adapter. Along with the paperwork that is in every smartphone box. The packaging is rather minimal, but it’s still up to Xiaomi’s standards. Unfortunately, there is no case included here. Something that Xiaomi does include with a number of its own smartphones.

Hardware & Build

Xiaomi has been touting that the Mi A1 is an all-metal unibody smartphone, and that it is. The company offers it in three colors, pink, gold and black. The model that Xiaomi sent over to us is the pink one, which actually looks pretty nice on the Mi A1. The gold and pink models get a white front while the black gets a black front. The Mi A1 does feel very solid in the hand, which is not a surprise at all. The back of the Mi A1 does look a bit busy though. In the upper left-hand corner, you’ll find the dual LED flash along with the dual 12-megapixel cameras. Below that, and centered, you’ll find the fingerprint sensor. Towards the bottom of the phone you’ll find the Mi logo, a bunch of regulatory information and then the Android One logo. So it looks like quite a bit of information on the back compared to other smartphones. But some of that is due to the Android One logo being there – likely a requirement of Google.

Button placement on the Mi A1 is pretty standard for Xiaomi. Placing the power button below the volume rocker on the right-hand side. The left-hand side houses the SIM card tray. This SIM card tray can either house two SIM cards or a SIM card and a micro SD card. Unfortunately it can’t do two SIMs and a micro SD card. Which would be ideal for those that do use two SIM cards. But Xiaomi did include a decent amount of storage in the Mi A1, so that storage shouldn’t be an issue for those that do want to use two SIM cards. On the bottom of the phone you’ll find a speaker grille on the right side, the USB-C port in the middle and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left side. Surprisingly, Xiaomi did keep the headphone jack here – even after getting rid of it on its recent flagships, the Mi 6 and Mi MIX 2. The top, and some of you might be surprised by this, houses an IR blaster along with a microphone. Interesting to see an IR blaster here on the Mi A1.

Front of the Mi A1 is actually somewhat plain. Of course, the sensors on the front do stand out a bit more, since it is a white front, the black version likely blends these sensors in a bit more. But you have the earpiece at the top, with the front-facing camera and other sensors. The bottom of the phone houses capacitive keys. And unlike something like the Xiaomi Mi 6, where there was a physical home buttons then the other two buttons were dots, so they could be remapped, these cannot be remapped. So you are stuck with the recents button on the left, home in the middle and back on the right, like the way Samsung does it. This isn’t the biggest issue in the world, after a few days using the Mi A1, you do get used to it, but it would be better to have the recents and back buttons swapped, since that is how literally everyone else (except Samsung, who now does on-screen buttons so the user can switch them) does it.

Display

Here on the Mi A1, we’re looking at a full HD or 1080p resolution display. That’s not a huge surprise, seeing as Xiaomi has mostly stuck with 1080p displays over Quad HD displays, this is because it feels like Quad HD has more trade offs than full HD, and you also get better battery life with full HD. At 5.5-inches, that gives you 403 pixels per inch, which is still a pretty high pixel density, so no you won’t see any individual pixels here on the Mi A1’s display. This is also an IPS LCD display, instead of an AMOLED display. That may not be a bad thing for everyone, but an AMOLED display would definitely be preferred here. As it would allow for deeper colors, but also have better battery life.

Typically on these mid-range smartphones, which the Mi A1 arguably is, the brightness isn’t all that great. But that doesn’t appear to be much of a problem on the Mi A1. It gets plenty bright and you can see (and use) it outdoors without much of an issue. Now yes, it was tough taking pictures of the Mi A1 outdoors in direct sunlight, but we were still able to see the display without the camera in the way. So for most users out there, there won’t be any issues.

Performance

Surprisingly, there is 4GB of RAM inside the Mi A1, as well as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 processor. The Snapdragon 625 is known of offering up great performance and great battery life – as it has been included in the Moto Z2 Play, BlackBerry KEYone and other smartphones – and that is the case here with the Mi A1. The Snapdragon 625 performs really well inside the Mi A1, we didn’t notice any type of lagging at all, or the phone becoming slow, nor hot. Of course, part of that is due to the fact that it is running mostly stock Android.

With 4GB of RAM, you won’t need to worry about the Mi A1 running out of memory to keep your apps in memory. There is plenty here. Most times, we had around a full gigabyte of RAM that wasn’t being used, so there is definitely plenty here. That’s not surprising since stock Android (what is running on the Mi A1) can run on as little as 512MB of RAM. There is also 64GB of storage included here, out of the box, you get around 56GB of usable storage, which is going to be plenty for most people. And even after installing all of our apps, taking loads of pictures and such, we have about 45GB of storage left. However, for those that do need more, there is a micro SD card slot that can support up to 256GB of additional storage.

Fingerprint Sensor

Xiaomi has decided to put the fingerprint sensor on the backside of the Mi A1, which just further shows the fact that Xiaomi is very inconsistent with its fingerprint sensor placement. Some smartphones you’ll find it on the front as part of a physical home button. While others will have it on the back. The fingerprint sensor is in a good location here, on the back. It’s not up next to the camera where it is hard to reach like Samsung’s latest devices. It’s right where your finger would be resting anyways, so it is a good spot. The fingerprint sensor is nice and fast as you’d expect from Xiaomi in 2017 – or really any smartphone in 2017. It hardly ever didn’t recognize my finger, which is definitely a big deal, and important. There aren’t any fingerprint gestures on this sensor either. With Android One, you are getting the essentials and that’s it.

Speaker & Sound

Here on the Mi A1, you’ll find just one speaker and that is at the bottom of the device, to the right of the USB-C port. The other side houses the 3.5mm headphone jack – which for some, this is a surprise. The speaker sounds decent, you aren’t going to be blown away by the quality of sound that comes out of this speaker, but you won’t be disappointed in it either. While some of the cheaper smartphones do often times come with “tinny” sound, that is not the case with the Mi A1, and that’s a good thing. It does get loud, so you can listen to music outside without headphones, which is also a good thing. Now when it comes to headphones, the sound will vary depending on what headphones you plug in. And of course, it is nice to have that headphone jack available, especially with other Xiaomi devices opting to ditch the headphone jack recently – like the Mi 6 and Mi MIX 2.

Phone Calls & Network

Xiaomi has given us the global version of the Mi A1 (MDG2 is the model number for those curious), so our thoughts on phone calls and network speeds will be based on that unit. Xiaomi has been releasing the Mi A1 in various markets over the past few weeks – which started with India. Below you’ll see the bands that are compatible with this version of the Mi A1:

2G GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900

3G HSDPA 850, 900, 1900, 2100

4G LTE band 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 38, 40

Now as you can see from those bands, there are plenty missing for use in the US. Which means that we were not able to fully test out the Xiaomi Mi A1 on a cellular network during our review – which is going to affect battery life as well. But we were able to connect to T-Mobile’s 2G network here in the US, and speeds were on par with other smartphones that don’t support 3G or 4G LTE on its network, so there’s nothing to worry about there.

On the phone calls side of things, calls were still able to be made with the Mi A1 here in the US. Unfortunately, there’s no support for VoLTE or WiFi Calling out of the box with the Mi A1. Which is a bit interesting considering the fact that the Mi MIX 2 did have both supported. However, it’s important to remember with the Mi A1, this is not Xiaomi’s software (other than the camera) and this is all straight from AOSP. So until Google adds native support in AOSP for both VoLTE and WiFi Calling, that likely won’t be coming to the Mi A1 or other Android One devices.

Benchmarks

As with every review, we did run three benchmarks on the Mi A1. That includes AnTuTu, Geekbench 4 and 3D Mark. The scores we got from all three match other smartphones with similar specs (like the Moto Z2 Play, Moto G5 Plus and BlackBerry KEYone). On AnTuTu, it picked up a score of 60,582. Now yes that is towards the bottom of the leaderboard in AnTuTu’s app, but you have to remember that the leaderboard is full of flagship devices with much more powerful processors. On Geekbench 4, it picked up a single core score of 862 and a multi-core score of 4202. Finally on 3D Mark, it grabbed a score of 461. You can see the full test results in the gallery below.

Battery Life

There is a 3080mAh battery inside the Mi A1 here, which by Xiaomi’s standards, seems a bit small. However, with software optimization, Xiaomi was able to save a bit of cash on the battery (to keep the price low) and still offer some great battery life. Now as we mentioned before, the Mi A1 isn’t fully compatible with networks in the US, which means that we spent a good amount of time without a SIM card inside. That does affect battery life, so do keep that in mind here. But even with the SIM card in the phone, the Mi A1 just would not die – and that is definitely a good thing to have. Most users should be able to get a good 5-6 hours of on-screen time out of the Mi A1, of course, that depends on what they are doing. But stock Android does run really well on this device, and with the power sipping Snapdragon 625 running the show, you can expect incredible battery life here.

On the flip side of great battery life, is fast charging. To be specific, it’s Quick Charge 3.0. Since the Snapdragon 625 is included here, that means Quick Charge 3.0 is included as well. Which means you can go from 0 to 80% in about 35 minutes, with a compatible charger. So topping off the Mi A1 is going to be pretty quick to do. We were able to get to a full charge in just a little over an hour and a half (the first 80% is quick, but that final 20% is a trickle to keep the battery healthy). That is about on par with other smartphones we’ve reviewed with similar sized batteries and Quick Charge 3.0.

Software

At the time of this review, the Xiaomi Mi A1 unit in our hands was running on Android 7.1.2 Nougat, build N3G47H.7.8.23 and the August 1st, 2017 security patch. Now it is worth mentioning that when we took the Mi A1 out of the box it did have an update waiting for us, which was the August 2017 security patch, but we have not received an update since. Updates should come fairly quickly to the Mi A1, since it is an Android One device, however Xiaomi will get final say before it is pushed out to the device. It will get Android 8.0 Oreo, but at this point, there is no confirmed date as to when that will happen.

Software here on the Mi A1 is basically what you would get if you compiled AOSP onto a device. There’s not much else included here, which is good for those that want stock Android on some of Xiaomi’s high-quality hardware. You will see some aspects of Xiaomi’s own skin, MIUI in here though. But that is mostly in the camera, and with the Feedback app that is included. The feedback app allows you to quickly send feedback over to Xiaomi, this is useful if you encounter an issue, or even just have a suggestion for something to add to the software – since Xiaomi is big on listening to it’s customers on its devices and software, this is not a huge surprise. Now the other aspect of MIUI here is the camera, which we’ll talk more about in the camera section.

This is Android 7.1.2 Nougat, and what is nice about this build is that Xiaomi has taken out the duplicate apps. Xiaomi has made sure not to have a Gallery app and the Google Photos app installed here. So if you are looking for a gallery app, it is indeed the Photos app. Which means that users won’t be confused at all. You do also have Google Assistant available out-of-the-box, since this is a smartphone that isn’t destined for China (it was actually released as the Mi 5X, and not as an Android One device in China). So you are able to long-press the home button and jump right into the Google Assistant and get things set up. There are no pre-installed apps here that are not Google’s own apps – and those are needed for the Xiaomi Mi A1 to be certified to run Google’s services. So this is, by all means, a bare-bones smartphone. And that is appealing to a lot of people.

The software on the Mi A1 runs just as you would expect on this hardware. It runs smoothly, without any hiccups whatsoever. Android 7.1.2 is the latest version of Android, before Android 8.0 Oreo, which the Mi A1 will receive, and hopefully soon. Android Nougat does appear to run like butter on the Snapdragon 625, and 4GB of RAM, and that’s definitely what you would expect these days.

Camera

Xiaomi has brought dual cameras to Android One with the Mi A1, and it’s definitely a welcomed feature. There are two 12-megapixel cameras on the backside, which is the same setup as the Mi 6 (but not the same sensors). With this setup, Xiaomi has also brought along its portrait mode that debuted on the Mi 6 earlier this year. Which means that the camera app is straight from MIUI, and that is the first thing you’ll notice when opening the camera. You will see all of the same modes that you’d see on the Mi MIX 2 or another MIUI-powered device from Xiaomi. This includes Panorama, Timer, Audio, Manual, Straighten, Beautify, Group Selfies, Tilt-shift, Square and HHT (aka night mode). Since the second camera is a telephoto lens, you do have the option of zooming in 2x without worrying about adding extra noise to the pictures taken in that mode.

The camera app is pretty easy to use, with the different modes being available on the left side, near the shutter button. And then you have shortcuts for flash, portrait mode and HDR on the right side. With HDR on, the camera is a bit slower to take a photo, this is mostly true with all smartphones using HDR. However, the Mi A1 is a tad bit faster than the Mi MIX 2 was in this regard. Which is actually pretty interesting, when you think about it. Portrait mode works just as you’d expect, and while Xiaomi does market it as being great for taking portraits of someone, it also works great as a bokeh mode, which we did some testing with while we had the phone, and you’ll see that in the gallery below.

Pictures taken with the Mi A1 came out pretty good. Now we did take some at night, and it did blow out the street lights and such, which is actually pretty common in auto. There is a manual mode here, but unfortunately it does not include an option to adjust the shutter speed. Which makes it a bit harder to get the perfect photo, especially at night (luckily you can download some third party apps to adjust the shutter speed and other aspects of the camera, in the Google Play Store). But overall, photos came out really good with this camera. The Mi A1 may not have the best camera – that’s still the LG V30 or Galaxy Note 8 depending on who you ask – but it is a decent enough camera to get you some great photos.

The Good

Great build quality

Low price tag

Great battery life

Plenty of storage – with only a 64GB option available

Expandable storage

Dual SIM

Dual camera

IR blaster included

The Bad

Looks a lot like the iPhone

Only available in select countries

Only one storage option – 32GB for a lower price tag would be optimal

Large top and bottom bezels

Capacitive keys which cannot be remapped

Wrap Up

As we said in the very beginning of this review, many have been asking Xiaomi to make a smartphone that is stock Android. The company listened and delivered. It delivered – at the time – the highest specced Android One smartphone. Now that is arguably the Moto X4, but these are destined for different markets, obviously. Xiaomi is pretty well-known for offering up some great hardware at a low cost, and that is what the Mi A1 is. This smartphone runs for Rs. 14,999 in India, which converts to around $231 USD. That’s an absolute steal for what you get here. Obviously there are some things that we don’t like, like the large bezels, the capacitive keys and such. But for this price tag, you’re getting a whole lot of phone.

Should you Buy the Xiaomi Mi A1?

If you live in a market where the Xiaomi Mi A1 is being sold, definitely. If not, make sure that the bands needed for your carrier’s network are supported, before picking it up – there are a few different models available. The Xiaomi Mi A1 may not be the best smartphone on the market, but it is a great one for a pretty small price tag, when you have devices like the Galaxy Note 8 that are closer to $1000, like the iPhone X. So it’s definitely worth looking at as your next smartphone.

Buy The Xiaomi Mi A1