[Face Off] Xiaomi Mi A2 vs Honor Play: To Shoot or to Play

Budget flagship meets flagship camera!

by: - Last updated on: August 20th, 2018

When it comes to the smartphone market, no rivalry right now is as intense as the one between Xiaomi and Huawei’s sister brand Honor. The two brands have released devices that go toe to toe against each other at different price points, and perhaps the most high profile clash of them all is the one between Xiaomi’s second Android One device, the Mi A2, and Honor’s budget device with flagship innards targeted at gamers, the Honor Play. Both devices punch well above their price points even while starting at below Rs 20,000. But which is the one for you – the Android One or the gaming specialist?

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Looks and design: No glass palaces please

At a time when so many phone designs are going on roads paved with glass, both Honor and Xiaomi have opted to follow a more metallic path. In fact, both devices follow a broadly similar design aesthetic – with a display dominated front and metal backs that curve away from it. However, there is no chance of any person mistaking one for the other, and that is because, within these broad similarities, there are some sharp differences. Perhaps the biggest of these is the presence of a notch on the 6.3-inch display of the Honor Play, while the one on the Mi A2 remains notch free. Similarly on the back, while both devices sport vertically aligned, capsule shaped dual camera units, both of which jut out, the one on the Honor Play is not as conspicuously large as the one on the Mi A2.

Also, the camera unit on the Mi A2 includes the flash, whereas the one on the Honor Play has the flash just outside it. Neither phone is a head turner or a contender for the best-designed phone of the year award, but neither is an eyesore. If we had to pick one, we would go with the Honor Play, simply because in spite of boasting a larger display, it is a more compact device – it is actually shorter than the Mi A2 (157.9 mm as compared to 158.7 mm) and less wide too (74.3 mm against 75.4 mm), thanks to its slimmer bezels on the sides as well as above and below that display. Yes, the smaller battery, we suspect, makes the Mi A2 a tad slimmer (7.3 mm as against 7.5 mm) and also lighter (166 grams as compared to 176 grams), but all things taken into consideration, the Honor Play cuts a smarter figure than the Mi A2.

Winner: Honor Play

Hardware: Honor-able competition at best, MiLord

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This is a spec battle between a device with near flagship level specs and a relatively mid-segment set of cameras and one with a near flagship level camera set up and mid-segment specs. All in all, there is no doubting that the Honor Play packs in the better spec sheet, with a 6.3-inch full HD+ display powered by the flagship level HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor, and 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage (expandable). Against this, the Mi A2 brings up a respectable but more middling Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chip with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage and a 5.99-inch full HD+ display. Significantly, however, while the storage on the Honor Play is expandable, that on the Mi A2 is not. The Honor Play also scores in the battery department, with a 3750 mAh battery as against the 3000 mAh one on the Mi A2. Round that off with the presence of a 3.5 mm audio jack on the Honor Play, and the spec balance is totally in favor of the Honor Play. With one not-so-tiny exception: the camera front. The Mi A2 pretty much bosses this one. with a 12 megapixel and 20-megapixel rear camera set up with large 1.75 apertures and a 20-megapixel front-facing camera, which dwarfs the 16 and 2-megapixel rear camera set and 16-megapixel selfie snapper on the Honor Play. Connectivity wise both devices pretty much match each other serving up 4G, W-Fi, GPS and the like, although the Mi A2 adds infrared to the mix. Still, the Play wins the really big rounds: the display, the processor and the battery, and also delivers two things the Mi A2 does not – a 3.5 mm audio jack and expandable memory.

Winner: Honor Play

Software and UI: To skin or stock is the question (again!)

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Both the Mi A2 and the Honor Play run on Android 8.1. And there ends their similarity software wise. For while the Xiaomi Mi A2 runs on stock Android with very little bloatware (it is part of the Android One initiative after all), the Honor Play comes with the very elaborate EMUI 8.2 laid over it. As we had seen in our comparison between the Mi A2 and its cousin, the Redmi Note 5 Pro, both sides have their own pros and cons. The geek brigade insists that there is nothing quite like pure, unadulterated Android with hardly any bloatware to sully the experience, but evidence points to users liking the bells and whistles – ranging from file managers to game collections to image editing applications – that skins bring with them. And EMUI 8.2 does bring a lot to the features table, including some AI touches that include an “intelligent gallery” that can group photographs based on time, location and occasion. And while both phones come with Face unlock, the one on the Mi A2 is rather basic and can be fooled easily even with closed eyes. Similarly, the Honor Play gives you a host of navigation options (no gestures though), including a navigation dock and single key navigation, while the Mi A2 restricts you largely to the traditional Android navigation buttons on the base of the display (gestures are coming soon with Android P, though). EMUI does have an impressive array of features but all said and done, we are going with the Android One laced stock Android on the Mi A2. The reason? For all of Xiaomi’s slightly buggy experiences with Android One on the A1, the A2 is still more likely to get updated to a newer version of Android earlier than the Honor Play and also get more software updates. Honor would do well to pull up its socks in this department, and perhaps even borrow a page from its rival’s book – Xiaomi makes it a point to update devices to new versions of software, even if it is to the new version of its own MIUI rather than Android itself.

Winner: Xiaomi Mi A2

Cameras: Guess who got us to be cheese-y, sayingwise!

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If you had told us a few weeks ago that a Xiaomi phone would take a more expensive Honor device to the cleaners in the camera department, we would have subjected you to a breath analysis to detect traces of alcohol or other intoxicants, But with the Mi A2, Xiaomi has pretty much done just that. As we mentioned in the hardware section, the Mi A2 totally outguns the Honor Play in camera specs – two rear cameras (12 and 20 megapixels) with 1.75 apertures and a front facing 20 megapixel selfie camera as against a rear camera duo of 16 and 2 megapixels (f/2.2 aperture on the main camera) and a 16 megapixel selfie snapper on the Honor Play. And well, notwithstanding all the AI smarts that Honor has added to cameras and the galleries (scene identification and the like), the Play really is not in the league of the A2, camera wise. This is not to say that the Honor Play has bad shooters. Far from it. In good light conditions, the Play is capable of taking some very good snaps and its camera app is more versatile than the one on the A2, but when it comes to overall performance, the A2 just pulls away with way better color reproduction and more detail captured. It also handles portrait mode from both rear and front cameras much better. Neither of the devices is a rock star in the video department – fair light friends both. But no matter how you look at it, the Mi A2 takes this round comfortably.

Winner: Xiaomi Mi A2

Gaming and multitasking: The time to chip in

This is a fascinating face-off and actually is reminiscent of the camera around, only with the roles reversed. It is not as if the Mi A2 is a gaming dud. No, it will handle casual games like Temple Run and Angry Birds with a degree of elan, but push it into the higher echelons of gaming, where the likes of PUBG and the Asphalt series reside, and you will see the odd lag creep in (PUBG installs with medium settings). It is not as if the games will not play – they will play but you are not going to get the sort of smooth performance you would get from a high-end flagship. Which is actually what you get from the Honor Play. The device has been positioned as a gaming one and is powered by the same HiSilcion Kirin 970 chip that we saw in the premium Huawei P20 Pro and the Honor 10. And well, the difference tells. Games load faster and just feel a whole lot more snappy on the Honor Play. Then there is the GPU Turbo feature which the brand claims improves performance – we do not know how much of a difference it actually made, but games did play very smoothly indeed (as it did on other Kirin 970 phones like Honor 10). And if you are playing PUBG, you get to experience the 4D Smart Shock gaming experience with the phone vibrating differently for different gaming activities.

When it comes to switching between multiple apps, both phones do reasonably well, but once again, if one of the apps being switched from is a high-end game, the Play does seem a bit more resilient. That flagship processor makes its presence felt. And how.

Winner: Honor Play

Battery: Charge? Sure, when and how many times?

The Honor Play pretty much takes the title here. Its 3750 mAh battery easily lasts more than the 3000 mAh one on the Mi A2. In general usage terms, the Honor Play was able to see off a day and then some of usage which often included some heavy duty gaming. On the other hand, the Mi A2 sailed smoothly through a day of normal use but struggled to go beyond that. If you are a battery hog, there is only one winner here. The numbers actually add up for the Honor Play.

Winner: Honor Play

General performance: Beyond bells and whistles

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In day to day tasks, both the phones are neck and neck. The Honor Play does boast superior hardware but it does not come to the fore as prominently when one is working away on browsing the Web, managing social networks and handling messages and emails. Both devices were very much on a level keel here, with the Snapdragon 660 rubbing shoulders very comfortably with the Kirin 970. We did not face any lags or stumbles in general performance on either device. Yes, the matter of interface does come into play here – with one being able to do far lesser on the Mi A2 out of the box as compared to the more richly endowed EMUI 8.2 on the Honor Play. In fact, some even felt that the A2’s stock Android interface actually felt snappier than the one on the Honor Play, but truth be told, we have a feeling that was perception talking as much as reality. If there was one general performance area in which the Honor Play, however, did outclass the Mi A2, it was in calls – we actually felt reception and call quality was markedly superior on the Honor Play as compared to the Mi A2, where it was slightly sub-par (but nowhere near a deal-breaking level). All said and done, we are calling this a tie.

Winner: Tie

Verdict: Pick A 2 or Play for Honor?

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At the time of writing, the Mi A2 was retailing for Rs 16,999 for its 4 GB/ 64 GB variant (a 6 GB/ 64 GB variant is in the works, but its price is not known), while the Honor Play was available for Rs 19,999 for a similar variant (its 6 GB/64 GB variant retails for Rs 23,999). On the surface, the price edge seems to be firmly with the Xiaomi phone. However, for those additional bucks it charges, the Honor Play does deliver a fair bit, especially in terms of high-end gaming and battery performance. There will also be those who will point to the fact that the Honor Play comes with a bigger display, a notch (some value it, you know), an expandable memory card slot as well as a 3.5 mm audio jack. Against that the Mi A2 brigade will fly the twin flags of Stock Android (with assured upgrades, no less) and significantly superior front and rear cameras, not to mention notch-less aesthetics. But in sheer numerical terms, it is significant that the Honor Play wins on four of the seven performance parameters and is equal on another. It is only in the camera department (and to an extent the software/UI one) that the Mi A2 really ruffles its feathers.

So, as in most things, so much is going to boil down to your priorities. If photography is important, the Mi A2 is a no-brainer. If gaming and multitasking are, then the Play holds the fort. Treasure frequently updated Android with minimal bloatware? Grab the Mi A2. Want longer battery life and expandable memory? The Honor Play it is. It really depends on what you value more – a high-end processor or a high-end camera set up.

It is a tale of two phones, really. And whether it is a matter of Mi or Honor, the ending will be a happy one if you choose wisely.

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