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Xiaomi Mi A2 Review: Pure Android At Its Finest

We review the Mi A2!

Xiaomi’s phones are excellent devices for the price, but if there’s one thing that we consistently don’t like about them, it’s MIUI, the software overlay that’s laid on top of whatever Android version the phone they’re selling is running.

That’s probably why Xiaomi’s Mi A1, the first ever phone released by the company under the Android One program last year did so well in Western countries. European countries where Xiaomi operates in are more familiar with stock Android, and generally, prefer phones that closely emulates stock Android.

The Mi A2 continues on the path that the Mi A1 forged, providing typically Xiaomi-level bang-for-the-buck hardware while still offering a pure Android experience. Priced at Php 14,990 for the base model, the Mi A2 is a compelling mid-range phone that’s priced considerably lower than the competition.

What is it?

The Mi A2 is the latest iteration of Xiaomi’s Android One phone. It’s basically a reworked Mi 6X for the West, sporting much the same hardware but without MIUI. It’s a notable upgrade from the Mi A1, though Xiaomi has sacrificed a few things that its intended audience may not appreciate.

How does it feel?

It feels pretty good in the hand. The Mi A2 is much more streamlined and ergonomic than the Mi A1, and sport an aluminum unibody design, which is a big departure from the glass-backed phones we’ve been seeing lately. Personally, I prefer aluminum-bodied phones over the prettier glass ones simply because they’re more durable. From personal experience, dropping a unibody aluminum phone results at most, a dented corner (unless the phone hits screen first, then GG). Do that with a glass-backed phone, and you’re usually left with a lovely, shattered back.

The rear of the phone tapers nicely to the sides when you’re holding it, which does wonders for overall ergonomics. The dual rear camera is arranged vertically and is located on the upper left side of the device. It also juts out a few mm from the body which is annoying especially when you lay the phone flat on a table, though the phone does come with a silicon back case that helps with that somewhat.

The fingerprint scanner is on the rear as well and is easily reachable even for people with smaller mitts. The power button and volume rocker are on the right, while the SIM tray is on the left. There’s an IR blaster on the top of the phone, and the bottom holds the USB Type-C connector plus speaker grille. There’s no 3.5mm jack or expandable storage for the Mi A2, which are two big features that the phone’s target market usually look for.

Is the display notched?

Not at all. The Mi A2 uses a 6-inch, full HD+ display with Gorilla Glass 5 protection and an 18:9 aspect ratio. Notch haters will like the fact that the phone doesn’t come with one, though the tradeoff there is that the top and bottom bezels are substantial, which makes the phone taller overall.

The display has Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection on it, which should make the display tougher to scratch and damage with regular use.

As far as the display goes, it’s alright. Color reproduction isn’t as good as we anticipated, with the display being a bit on the cool side, having a slight blue tinge. There’s no easy way to fix color temperature with the phone, so it’s something you’ll have to live with.

The bigger issue that we had with the Mi A2 was the display was a little on the dim side. We typically had to raise the display’s brightness to around 80% or 100% to get decent sunlight legibility when we were out and about.

How’s the performance?

The Mi A2 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 660 processor, the same processor that’s on more expensive phones like the Nokia 7 Plus. You can get the Mi A2 in two distinct flavors: the regular 4GB RAM/64GB variant, and the more expensive 6GB RAM/128GB variant.

Qualcomm’s mid-range chipset is a known quantity to us by now, and honestly, it’s one of the best chipsets for the mid-range market. It’s able to handle most Android games and apps including the recently released Asphalt 9: Legends on high without any drastic drop in frames or stuttering.

How about the rest of the phone?

The speaker is loud though loses a wee bit of definition on higher volumes. The loss of the 3.5mm jack really sucks though, as we would have traded a bit of thickness for the ability to use our wired cans. The blow is softened somewhat by the addition of a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter, but it’s still no replacement for a dedicated 3.5mm jack.

The phone’s loss of expandable storage is another blow, though 64GB should be enough for most people, and the highest tier variant that has 128GB of storage isn’t too much more. Still, the loss of two features that’s usually standard for phones in the Mi A2’s price bracket will hurt it especially with the current lineup of its competitors at the price range.

The fingerprint scanner is fast and accurate and is positioned at a place that most people will be able to reach easily.

The addition of pure Android didn’t stop Xiaomi from adding three Mi Apps in the phone, but considering those are the only Xiaomi-branded apps that you’ll have to contend with, it’s not really a big deal. Being an Android One phone, the Mi A2 is supposedly on the fast track to get Android 9.0 Pie when it’s rolled out later this year, but there’s always a chance that the update snafu that hit the Mi A1 will make a comeback with the Mi A2.

What’s the camera performance like?

Pretty awesome, especially considering the price. The vertically stacked dual camera module, composed of a 12-megapixel sensor with a f/1.75 aperture lens and a 20-megapixel sensor f/1.75 aperture lens. The main difference is that the secondary 20-megapixel camera does pixel-binning which should result in better low-light photos.

There are no fancy AI-camera tricks here, though Xiaomi’s “smart lens” selection automatically chooses which camera to use depending on the situation.

Photos we took during our trip to Madrid, Spain, were impressive, to say the least. Color reproduction is great, with the phone focusing on near and far subjects quickly and easily.

Low-light performance was impressive as well. Many of the shots that we took inside the Toledo Cathedral was shot in less than desirable lighting since the building didn’t let in a lot of natural light. Photos of the pews, for example, came out better than expected despite the image noise present.

Dynamic range for the altar shot was pretty good as well considering the poor lighting condistions inside the chapel.

The phone’s front-facing camera isn’t too shabby either and is able to properly discern foreground subjects from the background and apply bokeh convincingly.

How long does it last on a single charge?

The Snapdragon 660 chipset on the Mi A2 is no slouch when it comes to efficiency, though the phone’s 3010mAh battery isn’t doing it any favors. Our PCMark battery benchmark puts the phone’s battery endurance at 7 hours and 29 minutes, which is about right for a single day’s use. Fast charging tech takes the bite of off the small-ish battery though.

Should you buy it?

If you’re the sort that’s looking for a good deal on a smartphone that’s running stock Android and don’t want to mess with UI overlays, then the Mi A2 might be for you. Starting at just Php 14,990 for the base variant that we reviewed, it’s one of the more affordable smartphones that sport Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor.

Unfortunately, though Xiaomi’s traditionally strong pricing has been usurped by their main competitor in China: Honor. Their recently announced Play smartphone is a more capable device, at least on paper, which steals the Mi A2’s thunder a little bit. The loss of expandable storage and 3.5mm jack may also drive potential buyers to other brands at the same price point.

But for the price, the Mi A2 is a solid mid-range Android phone for people who want the purest Android experience possible.

 

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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4 Comments

  1. I’d still go with Nokia 7 plus. Remember this is Xiaomi, the last Android One they had have an update issue despite being an Android One device. You also pay for a lot of features for Nokia 7 plus

  2. but if there’s one thing that we consistently don’t like about them, it’s MIUI, the software overlay that’s laid on top of whatever Android version the phone they’re selling is running. – Ok so you like Huawei’s UI better than Xiaomi’s? The only reason I’m not buying their stuff is that bloated UI.

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