Xiaomi is among the world's top smartphone OEMs and requires no introduction but its Xiaomi Mi A3, which was recently offered up for review, definitely deserves one. Not only is the device a part of Google's ongoing Android One program for handsets that come as close to stock as possible. It also steps above that rank-and-file program to offer a lot more starting at under $200.
To begin with, Xiaomi outfitted the Mi A3 with an AI-powered camera and a battery that can power that all day. That's packed into an overall design that fits in well among modern flagships rather than budget phones. Modern amenities like a display-based fingerprint scanner and performance optimizations are in place too.
Whether or not the Xiaomi Mi A3 is worth the money is very nearly not a question. But it isn't without flaws so it may not be for everybody. So it's worth taking a closer look.
Standard Stock Android One is optimized to be better
The first thing to note with the Xiaomi Mi A3 is that it's an Android One handset. That means that in terms of software, it's effectively stock Android and is set to receive at least a couple of updates. It'll also continue receiving security updates beyond the average handset and with more regularity.
It also indicates that there will be very little, if any, bloatware installed by default and at least some of what does come pre-installed can be removed. Aside from Google services found on every Android device, Xiaomi only pushes a single piece of extra software. That's a "Mi Community" app that serves precisely the purpose its name implies.
That can be uninstalled if users choose to. The same applies to some "stock" apps such as the pre-installed calculator, Google Duo, Google Keep, Google News, Google Play Movies, and Google Play Music. That leaves fewer than 20 apps, less than four rows in the app drawer.
Far beyond just letting users have more storage for their own apps and games, the use of Android as per the Android One program means optimization is high. Because of that, performance is much better than would ordinarily be expected in the device's price range and some recent issues seemingly caused by Xiaomi's extra gaming software are nonexistent here.
Xiaomi has, as this review of its Mi A2 shows, put a strong foot forward with this firmware. Because of that, the software is easy to navigate and intuitive. It takes up very little space and allows the hardware to shine as much as possible in real-world use.
Not the best performer but Xiaomi Mi A3 comes close
In terms of performance, the experience of using Xiaomi's Mi A3 is mostly a latency-free one. There are some portions of the software that are certainly slower than others but that's to be expected when making comparisons with a budget-friendly sub-$200 smartphone. What this review of the Xiaomi Mi A3 showed, perhaps above all else, is that it's possible to make a generally great experience from very little.
That is, as long as expectations are kept in check. No. This phone that costs under $200 will probably not play Fortnite or other heavy-hitting online titles to the satisfaction of core gamers. There are other phones on the market for that but none of them fall under the $200 range.
While the available 4GB RAM and either 64GB or 128GB storage are more than enough to store those games — and plenty for files from shooting 4K video or in slow-motion at up to 240fps — the Snapdragon 665 SoC, isn't well-suited for the most intensive titles.
Compared to other devices in its price bracket, many of which I have reviewed it is going to perform above a substantial portion of the class. In day-to-day use, light-to-moderate gaming, and with most of the productivity and creativity apps on the Play Store, Xiaomi has built a solid choice for those who can't afford or who don't want a flagship or even a mid-range gadget.
Packed in a bundle of hardware that's almost better-suited for a mid-sized flagship
Xiaomi's Mi A3 is hardly a small device but the company's design team has still managed to create a handset that feels smaller than most. In-hand, the Xiaomi Mi A3 curves sharply into a thin glass and metal sandwich that can only be described as 'premium'.
The display on the device covers nearly the entire front panel, for starters. That features a 2.5D curve and Gorilla Glass 5, just like the back does. The result is a device that just has a great feel. The only breaks in frame continuity stem from the power button, volume rocker, three-camera array, and two plugs at the top and bottom edge.
The latter of those encompasses a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB-C port for charging. The speakers and mic holes are rounded off and were almost imperceptible to the touch unless I was looking for them. The ports are snug, with no wiggle.
Xiaomi has gone out of its way to make the Mi A3 design feel good to use and the color of my review test unit went a long way toward making it a joy to look at too.
Of all aspects of this phone, the style was obviously among the most important to Xiaomi. The company sent the "Kind of Grey" version, which features an almost high-reflective dark steel aesthetic. It also sells a pearl-like "More than White" and gradient-laced "Not Just Blue" configuration. The grey version is arguably the lesser coloration but it garnered plenty of attention during my test anyway.
The total lack of any IP-rating is another area for concern. Some users have reported at various online sites that basic protection against minor splashes and the like is present. But it's probably still a good idea to keep this phone away from water or dusty environments.
The Xiaomi Mi A3 display was engineered to please, mostly
The 6.088-inch display on Xiaomi Mi A3 is the sole area where the design of the handset really falls apart. The size isn't small but thanks to a droplet-style notch with extremely thin, almost equally-spaced bezels, it feels smaller than it is. Xiaomi has left plenty of room above that for an earpiece and a notification LED, which I'll cover a bit later on.
The panel itself is very responsive and operates smoothly without missing inputs.
It's also an AMOLED display and comes packing an in-screen fingerprint scanner to round out the design's modern appeal. The scanner itself is noticeably slower than some other devices but I never had it misread my fingerprint either. So those aren't where the problems with this display panel are, although it was annoying to wait sometimes.
The display manages to cover 102.7-percent of the NTSC color gamut with a contrast ratio of 60000:1 — according to Xiaomi. The benefits of that are obvious. Colors are accurate and still vibrant and the darkness of tones, or lightness, looks spot on. It's generally a pleasure to use. So none of that presents an issue here, either.
No, the biggest issue with the display in Xiaomi's Mi A3 is its resolution. As good as this display is, just how much the HD+ (1560 x 720-pixels) holds this phone back is obvious and undeniable. The screen almost certainly helps keep the cost down and battery life exceptional. Users won't likely find stray pixels where they aren't looking for them.
In fact, the wide color gamut and contrast only make that worse. The low resolution takes away from the overall premium sense that are immediately apparent everywhere else. The trouble is that image clarity that seems ever-so-slightly off, even if it's difficult to put a finger on.
Battery life is completely unreasonable in the best way
It's important to bear in mind that, as with any review, the battery life represented here for the Xiaomi Mi A3 may not be typical. I didn't use any lab-like environments or specialty apps to test the battery life here. I simply used the phone. So my experience will almost certainly be different than anybody else.
Now, in total, I managed to see a total of 30-hours from a single charge with the Xiaomi Mi A3 during my use for this review. That's a full 24-hours, plus an additional 6 and a half hours, give or take a few minutes.
My review included some gaming time, time spent casting media to other devices, and time spent watching movies or listening to music. In total, not including emails, text messages, calls, web browsing and the like, I recorded a total of 11-hours and 24-minutes of screen on-time.
What makes that impressive is that my screen's auto-brightness was turned off. Instead, I held that at between 50-percent and 70-percent throughout — more than enough for even a moderately bright, sunny day. No battery-saving measures were turned on either. So life could feasibly be extended much further.
Charging here is exceptional too.
Xiaomi didn't include a wall adapter with my unit so it could feasibly charge up even more quickly. This phone is rated for 18W charging and only comes with a 10W charger out-of-the-box. Despite the fact that I was relegated to using a charger that wasn't optimized for the device, it only took right around 2-hours and 20-minutes to go from empty to full.
Thankfully, Xaiomi managed to squeeze an LED indicator in the top bezel, despite its size and in contrast to many devices. That's something that's been missing far more frequently from all manner of smartphones over the past few years. So it was easy to see when the light turned off that the phone was done charging.
Camera caveats and highlights reaffirm this is a budget device
Xiaomi didn't slack on the Mi A3 camera either and this review's camera samples via Flicker highlight that. Most of the images I snapped for this test were off-the-cuff, without any real planning. Instead, I took advantage of the fact that Xiaomi's camera typically works well enough without interference and only switched between modes.
This triple-camera array is exceptionally straightforward, with modes lining the bottom-based carousel just below the lens switching icon. Special features for those, including HDR mode, AI scene recognition, and beautification, among others, tucked behind a three-dash icon, can be found at the top of the UI.
Each camera tool has its own easy-to-use features. There is a Pro mode for those who like more control over photographic aspects. Xiaomi includes a night, portrait, panoramic, and standard modes alongside filters and other features. The sole feature that seems to be missing is anything resembling AR stickers.
The camera here is held back by several issues too, also shown in the sample gallery. First, the shutter speed is slower than expected and even slower in night mode. That stays the same in every shooting mode. As a result, motion blur can become a problem if the hands aren't kept steady. I also noticed that both in low-light or with night-mode active, color anomalies and artifacts started to appear.
Night mode also fails outright in extremely low lighting.
That's particularly apparent in shots where light and colors aren't quite as they should be in night mode shots in the sample gallery. Pixelation is more prevalent than I'd like there too. In portrait mode, similar anomalies occur. A photo taken in portrait mode of a tree, for instance, showed blackened pixels appearing just along the edge of the bark.
The Sony 48-megapixel primary sensor used by Xiaomi is great, but not enough to leave behind the fact that this is a 'budget' device. It's 8-megapixel ultra-wide sensor, 2-megapixel depth sensor, and 32-megapixel selfie snapper aren't quite enough for that either.
Astonishingly good sound held back by limited connectivity
Audio with this smartphone is an odd mix of things that work and don't, not unlike the camera. With that said, anybody who considers themselves an audiophile should probably avoid this phone.
The biggest drawback is that it passed up an opportunity to genuinely provide great audio. For movies and similar media, it works great. The speakers are well balanced and there's plenty of punch, without any distortion until the highest volumes are reached. But therein lies another problem. These speakers just aren't as loud as some contemporary devices either.
That's not true stereo either since sound only comes from the bottom-firing speakers. They're impressive given the price but not as good as they could have been.
Over headphones, the audio is surprisingly not as great in terms of balance. Clarity is high and distortion is non-existent while Audio tends toward the bass side of things.
The real issues creep in when it comes to connected options. Over Bluetooth, the audio quality itself is almost perfect thanks to Xiaomi's use of Bluetooth 5.0. The connection itself, whether because of antenna placement or something else, is surprisingly bad with some devices.
Not every device exhibited the problem. Some would completely cut out and jump back in every few dozen seconds. That happened at regular intervals regardless of distancing. For Bluetooth accessories such as lighting and wearables, that didn't present a problem. It did for audio.
Other connections with this smartphone worked brilliantly, as did the earpiece and mics. Wi-Fi Direct and Wi-Fi display work well, although there's no NFC included here. The sole caveat to that is that I never managed anything more than 3G through my AT&T MVNO. 4G should be attainable via some T-Mobile bands. I never saw those speeds with the Xiaomi Mi A3 during my review.
If you're considering the price bracket the Xiaomi Mi A3 occupies, it's probably worth the purchase
The Xiaomi Mi A3 is not perfect but, after having set out to review the $186 gadget, it's also a standout device. As with any device in this price bracket, a number of drawbacks and caveats exist across the board. Those drawbacks mostly appear far less impactful than with the bulk of competing devices.
For instance, the somewhat slow and underperforming camera is still well-optimized. It takes great standard photos for the cost and the AI is just good enough to parcel out the "up to" 27 scenes it can recognize and automatically adjust for. The 32-megapixel selfie-camera can unlock the device quickly and accurately, within reason.
Xiaomi opted for an HD+ screen, conversely. While not crystal clear, that has just enough brightness to use outside without turning it all the way up. It's also an AMOLED display with an in-display fingerprint scanner, extremely wide color gamut coverage, and good responsiveness to touch.
Performance is above-par for a gadget that doesn't break the $200 mark. Battery life, for a device with less than 5,000mAh capacity, is exceptional. Despite lasting beyond 11-hours of screen-on time during my review, that charges up in under 2.5-hours without an optimal power adapter.
Audio, in fact, is almost certainly the only area Xiaomi has failed to meet or exceed my expectations. Although the speakers themselves are balanced, connecting to play audio elsewhere or via headphones proved a fruitless endeavor. It was simply too difficult to find and maintain a solid connection and the headphone jack is not well-optimized. So there's no getting around that particular drawback.
If audio and hardcore mobile gaming with the most hardware-intensive titles aren't the primary concern, the Xiaomi Mi A3 will almost certainly be a good fit for the money.