Xiaomi Mi A2 Review: De Affordable Pixel in da house?
Android One’s Second Coming on Mi
Xiaomi had literally pulled a stock Android rabbit out of its phone-y hat in 2017 when it launched the Mi A1. The Chinese brand had been known for pushing its own UI, MIUI, on its devices, so much so that it seemed at times to focus on updating the overlay rather than Android itself on many of its phones. So when it came out with a device that was part of Google’s Android One initiative (some even claim that it breathed new life into it), eyebrows were raised. And for all its bugs and trip-ups, the Mi A1 was a success among those who wanted a good device running stock Android, even if timely updates at times went missing (updating it to 8.1 was a particularly erratic experience for some). So it is hardly surprising that almost a year down the line, Xiaomi has come out with its successor, the Mi A2, hoping to not only build on the heritage of the A1 but also hopefully recover any ground that it might have conceded.
Dem Redmi Note 5 Pro feels
In terms of appearance,, the Mi A2 is very different from the Mi A1. In fact, we think it looks like a slimmer version of the Redmi Note 5 Pro. It sports a similar 5.99-inch full HD+ display and has the same vertical capsule like rear dual camera and flash arrangement, which once again juts out. Now, whether that is a good thing or not depends on your tastes and preferences. Some of us at TechPP liked the look of the Redmi Note 5 Pro, others (this author included) did not. There is no doubting that the metal build of the Mi A2 feels solid and we like the smooth rounded edges, but let’s be honest, folks, this is no stunner. Notch haters will rejoice at the absence of one, but bezel haters will also notice a discernible top and chin on the device.
At 7.3 mm, it is nevertheless impressively slim and at 166 grams, relatively lightweight. It is not a traffic stopper but looks smart enough (we have the black edition) and has a solid feel to it. Mind you, water and dust resistance are still not on the agenda, which is a bit of a pity. The phone feels good to hold although it is a trifle on the larger side (unless you have massive hands), and a couple of years ago, could have passed off as handsome. In the era of the likes of the Moto G6, Realme, and the Honor 9N, it looks merely smart and to be honest, a little on the plain side. Mind you, if you liked the Redmi Note 5 Pro’s looks (and many did), you would feel smitten at the sight of the Mi A2.
Dat processor, dem cameras and display bump up…and de audio jack bump out
Perhaps the biggest changes in the A2 over the A1 have been the display, the processor, and the cameras. Visually the change of display is the most significant change. The Mi A1 had struck a wrong chord with some of our colleagues with its perceived to be dated 16:9 aspect ratio – they will have no such complaints about the 18:9 tall aspect ratio display of the A2. It is devoid of a notch too, which will bring forth hoorays from some. The processor has also received a huge bump up – going from the old faithful, the Snapdragon 625 to a much more powerful Snapdragon 660 (the first Xiaomi phone in the country to sport this chip), which some claim will deliver performances close to that of the Snapdragon 820. This will be allied with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage (non-expandable) – at the time of writing, the only variant that will be available for sale in the country.
The display might be the most visible difference between the A1 and A2, but it is the cameras that Xiaomi is pushing as among the most important upgrades. They certainly come with the numbers – the rear has 12 and 20-megapixel snappers with f/1.75 apertures, which are pretty big by most standards. Round that off with a 20.0-megapixel selfie shooter, and you have a lot of megapixel muscle to go around. Xiaomi says that the front-facing camera will also come with “AI-powered beautify” resulting in better selfies.
This being an Android One device, the Mi A2 comes with an almost totally untainted version of Android – Stock Android if you will. What’s more, users are assured of Android updates in a timely manner. The phone comes with Android 8.1 out of the box, and while there is no bloatware, there are some Mi apps on the device. These include the camera app, a Mi file manager, a feedback app and the Mi Drop app. Not too much, really, and we are beginning to like the Mi Drop app a lot more of late.
The phone ticks off most connectivity options including 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (5.0), Infra-Red and GPS, although some will be miffed by the exclusion of the 3.5 mm audio jack (there is an adaptor in the box, though). There will also be some disappointment about the battery being just (!) 3000 mAh. Yes, it comes with support for Quick Charge 4.0, but a number of the Xiaomi faithful have now got accustomed to large 4000 mAh batteries on other devices!
Dat snappy performance…
And all that hardware and software come together to deliver a generally smooth, glitch-free performance. The Snapdragon 660 chip handled pretty much most regular tasks like Web browsing, e-mail, messaging and social networking with a degree of elan. And it pretty much held its own when it came to casual games as well. When it came to high-end gaming too, the device did surprisingly well – Hitman Sniper played brilliantly on the device and even the recently released Asphalt Legends played smoothly. Yes, you cannot expect to play PUBG at maxed out settings, and there will be the odd frame drop from time to time, but it is no deal breaker, really. All said and done; we would say that this is one of the most solid performers around in its price segment.
No, it is not all smooth sailing. The 3000 mAh battery will just about get you through a day of normal to heavy usage, which is quite acceptable by some standards but not quite by recent Xiaomi ones, thanks to the 4000 mAh batteries we have been seeing on devices. We also felt that sound quality, while decent over headphones, was not quite the greatest on call – clarity was not greatly compromised, but there were times when we felt that the person we were talking to was speaking from a great distance from the device. Finally, while the fingerprint sensor (and indeed, the very basic face unlock) worked smoothly enough on the device, a few issues cropped up when we placed the bundled TPU cover on the back of the phone, with fingerprints at times not being recognized. But once again, this is more of an irritant than a deal breaker.
…and with de cameras too (well, mostly)
Yes, we left the most highlighted aspect of the Mi A2 for the last – the cameras. Are they probably the best to have been placed on a Mi device as some have claimed? Well, we can safely say that in good light conditions, they are formidable and as good as any, including those very good snappers on the OnePlus 6. We got very good detail and colors that, while at times tending towards over-saturation, generally were realistic. Macros and landscapes both came out very well indeed, and portrait mode, for the most part, was largely on point, even when we were taking snaps of objects rather than people. Yes, we did miss the 2X optical zoom that the Mi A1 had brought to the camera party, but we loved the fact that we could switch between the two rear cameras in manual mode. Xiaomi’s camera app has not quite hit EMUI standards in terms of features, but it is one of the better ones around and streets better than most on stock Android devices.[Note: Click here for Full resolution pictures]
That said, the cameras do have their dark side. Literally. When the lights dim, details often get lost, and noise creeps in, although color handling remains very good indeed. And the slightest hint of movement can mess up low light shots too. Blame it on the absence of optical image stabilization ( OIS)? We admit that it would be unfair to expect P20 Pro/ Pixel 2 level low light magic at this price point, but given the hype around the cameras, we did expect a bit more. There were some issues with glare too, but nothing to really complain about. Videos follow a similar pattern – very good in good light conditions, less so in dark ones.
The Mi A2 seems to have taken a page out of the Pixel 2 software book when it comes to delivering stunning selfies with just one front-facing camera. We were not too impressed by the beauty mode, but by and large, we got some very good selfies from it in terms of color and detail. Special mention needs to be made of the portrait mode in selfies – backgrounds were blurred out beautifully, sometimes when we even had only half a face in the frame. This has got to be one of the better selfie snappers we have seen on a smartphone.
De Affordable Pixel?
When Xiaomi had released the Mi A1 in 2017, many had hoped it would be a sort of affordable Pixel – a device that delivered good performance had great cameras and was assured Android updates. The A1 was a very good smartphone, but it came up slightly short in the Android department, with a performance that was definitely on the buggy side and with software updates getting a little delayed (sacrilege for an Android One phone). And this is the challenge the Mi A2 faces as well. Some might consider it to be a bit expensive at a starting price of Rs 16,999 by Xiaomi standards, but it is quite a super deal by others when you factor in what it brings to the table – good performance, very good cameras and the assurance of regular Android updates for two years. It is the last of these that we suspect is going to make or break the fortunes of this phone really. Yes, it does face challenges from the stock Android brigade in the mid-segment, most notably from the Motorola G6, the Nokia 6.1 (2018) and the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1, but it comfortably outperforms them in terms of general performance, gaming and camera (it does give some ground on battery). It faces more formidable competition from the brilliantly specced and surprisingly affordable Honor Play, but if Xiaomi does get Android updates on time (and we have been getting security patches already), then the Mi A2 could well fulfill its destiny of being the affordable Pixel.