Review | Mi A3: Style, simplicity and substance

Mala Bhargava | Updated on August 29, 2019

Xiaomi hardware and Google software comes at an incredible price

Xiaomi’s Mi A series is still quite young, as the company launches its Mi A3 smartphone. Users have loved the Mi A1 and A2 in the past — sturdy phones working on Google’s Android One programme, using stock Android instead of Xiaomi’s own MiUI interface. But with companies around really piling on the style quotient, the next Mi A phone could hardly be excepted to turn up looking matronly. So Xiaomi gave it a big makeover.

Our review unit is in the colour that is likely to be the most popular, going by its reception by ‘Mi Fans’ at a recent launch event in New Delhi. The ‘More than White’ colour variant has a very nice prismatic sheen over the Gorilla Glass back. The look is minimalistic with small vertical logos leaving most of the back free to shimmer with subtle rainbow colours against the clean white. The other two colours are ‘Not Just Blue’ and ‘Kind of Grey’ so take your pick.

The colour isn’t the only nice thing about the design of the A3. Xiaomi has the ergonomics right, except for a little bit of heaviness because of a 4,030 mAh battery inside — more than enough to go through a day and beyond. It’s a little more compact than other phones and narrow enough to be very nice to hold and reach all over in one-hand use

The A3 has Gorilla Glass protection all over, including on the camera lenses, so Xiaomi promptly gives it a name and calls it Triple Gorilla Glass 5. It’s a nice phone for those who do a lot of talking because it’s easy to hold and the battery will last over long conversations. Of course, phones stopped being about just talking long ago, and that’s where the Mi A3’s other star attraction comes in — clean Google software.

Clean software

Two types of people — those who like to keep it simple, and those who like to do their own customisation — love the idea of a smartphone free of all the bells and whistles that companies heap on to a device. That’s what the Android One programme brings while also keeping things simple enough for it to work smooth and get timely updates to run safely and with new features. The Mi A series has been one of the most successful ambassadors of Android One with the new A3 taking it a step further. On the inside, the phone has an almost Pixel-like look because elements are arranged the same way and the first wallpaper to greet you is distinctly Pixel reminiscent. The colours pop more than ever because this is an AMOLED screen. But there are some loud grumbles from potential customers because the resolution is 720p, a little lower than it was on previous Mi A phones. Should that put you off? It depends on how sensitive you are to this aspect. Personally, given the choice between a lower res AMOLED and a higher res LCD, I would choose the former. The A3’s display should have been a bit brighter, especially outdoors, and has a slight blue tint with no adjustability and is also too strongly coloured for some, but it’s still one that would work for an average user.

What users like

To make up for what isn’t there, the Mi A3 has some features that users are very prickly about. One of them is the 3.5mm headphone jack, which is very much there. The phone also has Widevine L1 support which means it can stream HD content from Netflix, but of course its own screen may be a bit of a limitation. There’s a micro-SD card slot with the hybrid SIM slot, another thing that users hate to see banished. It also has a tiny notch on the screen — not big enough to be cause for complaint, and an in-display fingerprint sensor that works fine though perhaps just a little slower than more expensive phones. There’s also face recognition. So that’s a lot to like at the price. The phone supports fast charging but sadly the 18 W charger isn’t included and needs to be bought separately. You get a 10 W charger in the box. The phone runs on the fairly new Snapdragon 665 and does so pretty well. It has two variants to go with the processor — 4 GB RAM with 64 GB storage and 6 GB RAM with 128 GB storage. Healthy mid-range specs that do fine even for gaming.

Take your shot

The main camera is a 48 MP Sony IMX586 and it has an f/1.79 aperture. Not long ago, that was found only on top-tier phones. In good light it does very well, with nice details. What’s nice is its 8 MP ultra wide lens, which is real fun to use and doesn’t give you too much distortion. It has a 118-degree field of view. You can even shoot video with this mode. There’s a 2 MP depth sensor for some background blur that’s done well enough. The front camera is a 32 MP with AI support.

Overall, it’s a good package though at just a little more money, you can get devices with more hardware features including pop-up cameras, but those will not come with stock Android.

Published on August 29, 2019

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