“Xiaomi’s latest affordable handset has a lot going for it, making it a perfect smartphone for buyers on a budget”

Xiaomi has a reputation for making bang-for-buck smartphones and the company’s offerings have propelled the brand to the very top in the Indian smartphone industry. However, did you know that the first product to come off the company’s stables was not a smartphone but instead, a custom ROM by the name of MIUI? Back in the day, Xiaomi’s take on Android was going like hotcakes and even to this date, the company’s custom platform comes preloaded on a majority of its offerings.

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That said, the market’s affinity for a smartphone with a near-stock OS has grown exponentially over the years and many prospective buyers longed for a smartphone from the company which shipped without MIUI. To cater to this segment, last year, the company announced an Android One mid-ranger in partnership with Google, dubbed the Mi A1 (review). That device rocked our boat with its capabilities and camera prowess, and turned out to be a bestseller for Xiaomi as well. Now, the company has announced the successor to the smartphone in the form of the Mi A2 (first impressions) which comes with an updated design and better internals. I’ve spent a few days with the smartphone and here’s what I make of it. And since its cameras form the mainstay, I’m going to jump straight into the phone’s imaging capabilities before I delve into the other aspects. 

Specs at a glance 

Display
Size 5.99 Inch
Resolution 1080 x 2160 pixels
Performance
CPU Quad core, 2.2 GHz + Quad core, 1.84 GHz, Snapdragon 660
RAM 4 GB
Storage
Internal memory 64 GB
Battery
Capacity 3010 mAH, Li-Polymer, Non removable
Camera
Primary camera 12 MP
Secondary camera 20 MP
Connectivity
Network support Dual SIM 4G
Other options Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS
Others
Battery Capacity 3010
Operating system Android 8.1 Oreo

Cameras

The Xiaomi Mi A1 was fondly called the ‘’poor man’s DSLR” when it was launched, as the handset took excellent photos. A year later, the smartphone’s successor takes its legacy forward by offering what I believe to be the best cameras on a smartphone priced south of Rs 20K. But, before I dive into any more details, let’s talk specs. Towards the back, the Xiaomi Mi A2 sports a dual camera setup with 12MP and 20MP sensors, both with f/1.75 apertures. The primary 12MP shooter utilises a Sony IMX486 sensor whereas the assisting 20MP shooter makes use of a Sony IMX 376 module. On the front, the handset comes equipped with a 20MP f/2.2 aperture selfie camera that makes use of Sony’s IMX 376 sensor.

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And while we’re here, let’s talk about the smartphone’s camera app too. Despite being an Android One device, the Mi A2 makes use of a custom camera app, which allows you to switch between different modes like Panorama, Manual, and Portrait by swiping left and right. The shutter button can be found at the bottom of the viewfinder, sandwiched between a quick-access shortcut for the gallery and a toggle to switch between the front and the rear cameras.  

Related read: Xiaomi Mi A2 camera samples

Now, as far as the quality of the images is concerned, the Xiaomi Mi A2 clicks stunning images in broad daylight. The cameras capture an abundance of details, the colours feel vibrant and even without turning on the built-in HDR mode, you’ll find sufficient dynamic range in the shots. That said, with the mode enabled, you’ll notice that the colours feel a lot punchier but the overall essence of the shot is preserved and the picture doesn’t seem unnatural. If you like to get close to your subjects, then you can achieve a crisp picture with a nice depth-of-field with the smartphone too. Moreover, thanks to the presence of two sensors at the back, you can click some really nice portraits with well-defined boundaries as well. Here are a few samples.

Xiaomi claims that the cameras on the Mi A2 make use of ‘pixel binning’ technology to enhance the quality of the images shot under unfavourable lighting. Now, you must have noticed that pictures clicked in a dimly-lit environment often have grain and noise in them. Therefore, by means of pixel binning, the Xiaomi Mi A2’s 20MP assisting shooter combines (bins) the data from four pixels into one, which in turn increases the surface area for light to impact on. The resulting 5MP image is then converted back into a 20MP image by means of software interpolation. As per Xiaomi, the 20MP selfie shooter also makes use of the same technology.

Techno mumbo-jumbo aside, do the images look any better? Well, the answer isn’t as black and white as I’d like it to be. Although pixel binning does shed a light on the subject (quite literally), it also makes the images more grainy. As can be seen from the sample shots I’ve attached, while my face is a lot clearer on the second image, there’s also significantly more noise. If you do prefer the results obtained by pixel binning and were wondering how to replicate the same on your Mi A2, then head over to the pro mode in the camera application and switch the lens from ‘regular’ to ‘night mode’.

I don’t know about you, but my smartphone gallery almost always has more selfies than landscapes and thanks to the Mi A2’s fantastic selfie shooter, the number of selfies I took in a day shot up dramatically. Under ideal lighting conditions, the smartphone’s 20MP front shooter takes excellent selfies which are rich in detail and colours. The selfie portrait mode does a good job of blurring the background of the subject and as a bonus, it can focus simultaneously on two faces too. Moreover, thanks to the inclusion of a dedicated LED flash module, the quality of selfies taken at night doesn’t nosedive either. Simply put, the cameras on the Mi A2 are outstanding and the smartphone can easily rival some pricier offerings from the competition’s stables.

Software and performance

Xiaomi Mi A2 software (2)Xiaomi Mi A2 software (3)Xiaomi Mi A2 software (1)

For software, the Xiaomi Mi A2 runs a stock version of Android Oreo from the get-go. Since the handset is part of Google’s Android One initiative, you will get a no-frills Android experience from the device. As a matter of fact, outside of Google’s suite of necessary apps, you’ll only get four other pre-loaded apps on the smartphone from Xiaomi. Moreover, there’s just one gesture supported by the smartphone upon boot, which launches the camera from any screen if you double-tap the power button quickly. Everything considered, I’m sure the Mi A2’s no-nonsense software will find a lot of takers.

I know most of you are here to see whether the handset can run PUBG or not. Well, the short answer is yes. Underneath its metal chassis, the Mi A2 is backed by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor which works alongside 4GB of RAM and 64GB of built-in, non-expandable storage. That said, Xiaomi will be bringing the 6GB RAM variant of the smartphone to the Indian shores too, which comes with 128GB of internal storage. As far as my overall impressions of the handset’s performance are concerned, I’m quite impressed with the smartphone. During my week-long review, I never came across any instance of lag or stutter on the phone. The handset comfortably managed to breeze through my usual array of social media apps running in the background, along with a few tabs of Chrome and Apple Music running simultaneously too.

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To satiate my gaming needs, I ran PUBG and the recently announced Asphalt 9: Legends on the smartphone. Both the titles ran without any hiccups, but I did have to tone the graphics settings down to medium on PUBG to achieve playable frame rates. All in all, Xiaomi’s Mi A2 is an excellent performer and will easily last you a while without showing any signs of slowing down. Interestingly, while the smartphone’s chassis did get warm when I was clicking a lot of pictures, the handset remained cool to the touch when I was gaming.

Design and Display

I’ll say this right out the gate – I’m not a fan of the Xiaomi Mi A2’s design. Although the smartphone makes use of a unibody metal build which offers an excellent in-hand feel, the design of the smartphone doesn’t really excite. Don’t get me wrong, coming from the Xiaomi Mi A1, you’ll find a day-and-night difference in the smartphone’s style. In fact, the new phone is much slimmer and has a curvier rear as compared to its predecessor. However, the Mi A2 looks almost the same as many other Xiaomi handsets launched this year with its curvy back, vertically aligned dual-cameras, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor and the ‘MI’ branding at the bottom.

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Now, I can look past the design similarities of the Mi A2, but what I can’t get over is the handset’s pronounced camera bump. Blame it on the slimmer body, but every time I look at it, the protrusion reminds me of Black Eyed Peas famous song My Humps. Only this time, the hump isn’t ‘lovely’ and makes it tough to use the smartphone when it’s kept flat on a surface. Moreover, you also risk scratching the glass protecting the handset’s camera module. Suffice it to say, I would’ve liked Xiaomi to take a different route with the Mi A2’s design.

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I was peeved at Xiaomi’s decision to omit the headphone jack from the smartphone too. Yup, the Mi A2 doesn’t come with a 3.5mm headset port, and as you can imagine, it’s not good news for an audiophile like me. Now, to the company’s credit, the handset does feature a built-in 10V amp, which paves way for an excellent audio experience provided you have the right set of earphones or headphones. Moreover, there is a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter bundled with the retail unit of the handset. But, the reliance on an adapter to listen to music is surely not going to sit well with serious audiophiles.

On the positive side, the Xiaomi Mi A2 does sport an IR blaster on the top, which comes in handy when you’re too lazy to reach for the TV’s remote to change a channel. Moreover, the handset’s fingerprint sensor is rapid too and it manages to scan the fingerprint, recognise it and unlock the smartphone, all in under a second.

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Display-wise, the Xiaomi Mi A2 is rocking a 5.99-inch FHD+ IPS panel with an aspect ratio of 18:9. The screen boasts excellent viewing angles albeit exhibits slightly muted colours. Moreover, since the Mi A2 is an Android One smartphone, you cannot tweak the display from within the settings menu. That being said, I was satisfied with the panel’s legibility in broad daylight and there was no noticeable colour shift when I tilted the display and viewed it from an angle either.

Battery life and more

The Xiaomi Mi A2 sips juice from a 3,010mAh battery which is just a hair shy of its predecessor’s 3,080mAh cell. However, the Mi A2 is sporting a significantly bigger display this time around and consequently, the smartphone barely managed to see me through the end of a day. During my usage, I was getting just around three hours of screen on time which included playing casual games like Clash Royale, browsing through my social media feeds, listening to music and watching videos on YouTube. Moreover, in our standard 91mobiles battery test, the handset managed to play a 720p video on loop for a just little over ten hours, which is an average result.

Xiaomi Mi A2 battery life (1) Xiaomi Mi A2 battery life (3)Xiaomi Mi A2 battery life (2)

On the bright side, the Mi A2 is the first phone in India to ship with support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4.0. Unfortunately, the bundled wall charger maxes out at 2A and therefore, you’ll have to invest in a third-party charger if you want to leverage the smartphone’s uber-fast charging speeds. It must be noted however, that there isn’t even a single QC4.0-compatible adapter in the Indian market, as of writing this review. 

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The Mi A2 sports a bottom-firing speaker, which gets sufficiently loud. Therefore, you don’t have to fuss about connecting the phone to a Bluetooth speaker to enjoy Netflix. Speaking of which, there’s Bluetooth v5.0 onboard, so you should get better range and bandwidth if you’re connected to a device which supports the same. If you prefer to go the wired route, then the smartphone’s built-in 10V amplifier will go along nicely with your headphones.

Verdict

The Xiaomi Mi A2 retails for Rs 16,999 and faces stiff competition from mainly three smartphones currently available in India – the 6GB RAM variant of the ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1 (review), the company’s own Redmi Note 5 Pro (review) and the recently-launched Honor Play (first impressions). Now, the Mi A2 is backed by a superior processor than both the Redmi Note 5 Pro and the ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1 and therefore, it should fare better in the longer run. That said, performance-hungry users might be better off with the Honor Play, which ships with Huawei’s flagship Kirin 970 SoC.

Xiaomi Mi A2 review17On the software side of things, the Mi A2 regains its lead as the smartphone is a certified Android One device, which means that the handset will get guaranteed updates for the next two years, including the latest Android 9.0 Pie. Camera-wise, you could pick up either of the four smartphones and be content with your decision. However, I felt that the images I clicked with the Mi A2 were a tad bit better than what the competition had to offer.

That being said, the Mi A2’s battery life left me wanting for more and I wasn’t thrilled with the company’s decision to axe the headphone jack either. Lest I forget, the smartphone’s camera bump is aesthetically unappealing too.

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Now, if you can look past these quibbles, then Xiaomi’s Mi A2 comes out on top when compared to the Redmi Note 5 Pro and the ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1. However, the Honor Play makes things difficult for the new smartphone, as it seemingly offers better performance, expandable storage and a more powerful battery. That said, we’re yet to review the Honor Play and a clearer picture will only emerge after we’re done with that. The Mi A2’s camera capabilities, stock Android and the promise of timely platform updates are clear winners for sure, and if these aspects appeal to you, you can go ahead and pick up the latest from Xiaomi — it won’t disappoint you. 

Editor’s Rating: 4 / 5

Pros: 

  • Excellent cameras
  • Solid performer 
  • Assured Android updates for the next two years 

Cons: 

  • No headphone jack
  • Battery life is average 
  • Pronounced camera bump 
Photos by Gaurav Rajput