Mi A1: Xiaomi’s affordable Pixel alternative for the masses

Intro

Xiaomi Mi A1 Malaysia hands on

When it comes to smartphones, many would consider a Xiaomi for its great hardware at an affordable price. Their Redmi Note 4 is still undoubtedly the best value for money smartphone you can buy for less than RM1,000.

However, there are purists that are not fond of Xiaomi’s MIUI custom Android interface and they would prefer a device that comes with a stock Android experience. If you’re one of them, the latest Xiaomi Mi A1 is just the phone for you. This is their first smartphone powered by Android One.

Hardware and Design

Before we talk about the software experience, here’s a recap of its hardware which is identical to the Redmi Note 4 under the hood. You get the same 5.5″ Full HD display and it runs on the same frugal Snapdragon 625 processor that’s mated to 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. If you need more space, you can pop-in a microSD card using the 2nd sim slot on its hybrid dual-SIM tray.

Compared to the Redmi Note 4, the Mi A1 looks and feels more refined. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that this is basically the international variant of their Mi 5X that’s sold exclusively in China. Both the A1 and Redmi Note 4 are similar in weight at 165g but the A1 is slightly thinner by 1.15mm.

At the back, you get a noticeable bump that houses two cameras and there’s a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor located right smack in the middle. Another notable feature is its iPhone 7 inspired antenna band design that runs across the top and bottom of the device. On the stealthy black version, the antenna bands are well hidden while the entire front gets clean all black look when the phone is in sleep mode.

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Xiaomi’s pure Android experience

As you boot up the device, you know this is not your typical Xiaomi phone. Instead of MIUI, you are getting a barebones Android operating system that’s super fluid to use. It is so bare that you’re only getting a couple of Google services and essential apps such as clock, calculator and that’s pretty much it.

Being an Android One device, you are almost guaranteed to have the latest Android updates. Out of the box it is running Android 7.1.2 and it even has the current 1 August 2017 security update. The very latest Android Oreo will be coming to the A1 by end of this year and Xiaomi says that it would be among the first in line to get the next Android P.

The only non-stock app you’ll find installed is the Mi Camera app which is obviously required to take advantage of its dual camera setup. Another nice inclusion is an infrared blaster which you can use as a universal remote control for your home appliances. The app isn’t installed by default but you’ll be prompted to download it during the phone’s initial set up.

If you’re an existing Xiaomi user, you’ll realise that the MIUI features that you took for granted is missing on the A1. According to Xiaomi, there’s no official way switch from stock Android to MIUI, but since the Mi A1 is identical to the Mi 5X, the adventurous ones would certainly find a way to do so.

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Alexander Wong