Xiaomi Mi A2 review: I love this phone but I don’t know if you will too

Rating: 8/10

Yay:

  • Superb dual rear cameras
  • Equally good selfie cameras
  • Stock Android experience is unparalleled
  • The in-built 10V amp can enhance your audio experience

Nay:

  • Some design choices are questionable
  • Battery life is subpar
  • The display could’ve been calibrated better

Introduction

“Kiska Baja?”

By now, we know that Xiaomi’s TV ads are exploring this theme to highlight the company’s meteoric rise in the country. These ads focus on the ubiquity of that famous Xiaomi ringtone. But, I am sure there is a double entendre there that we might be missing. Considering in Hindi, Kiska Baja could mean one of two things:

  1. Who’s phone rang?
    Or 
  2. Who lost the battle?

Whatever the connotation of that ad, there’s no denying that Xiaomi has managed to ruffle the feathers of a heavyweight like Samsung in India. And, this Chinese company has almost erased the pre-conceived notion from the minds of many Indians who strongly believed that Chinese products are of an inferior quality.

Xiaomi Mi A2 launched in India

Another such quality product from Xiaomi’s stables is the Mi A2. I’ve used it for a couple of weeks now and it is an undoubtedly refined experience. Having said that, I’ve formed an almost love-hate relationship with the phone. Allow me to explain. 

Xiaomi Mi A2 design: not the best in the business

Talking about the design, Xiaomi has gone for a couple of “courageous” exclusions. Firstly, the 3.5mm jack is no more. And secondly, there’s no microSD card slot for more storage. I wasn’t too concerned about the second one, because…you know…cloud storage. But, the first one was definitely a let down when I saw the presentation for the first time.

Talking about the industrial design of the Mi A2 – for users of the Mi A1 – this phone is going to feel a whole lot different because it uses an 18:9 aspect ratio tall display. Moreover, the Mi A2 is like a slimmer cousin of the Redmi Note 5 Pro. The gently sloping curve on the rear reminds me of the OnePlus 5’s horizon line design. It feels nice (for the lack of a better word) in the hand. To shave off the millimeters from the Mi A2, Xiaomi has had to remove the headphone jack (you do get a 3.5mm to USB Type-C dongle inside the box) and reduce the size of the battery. Whether this design decision affects the sound quality and ease of use, or if it affects the battery life, is something I shall explore later in the review. 

Xiaomi Mi A2 launched in India

Moving on, the Mi A2 is made entirely of metal. And our matte black metal variant does look subdued. However, some might find it too slippery but I didn’t in my time with the phone. In case you do find it slipping out of your hands, don’t forget to slap on the transparent black silicon case bundled with the phone. It’s a nice case and all, but I still prefer the naked look. 

Thankfully, unlike the Redmi Note 5 Pro — and like the Mi A1 – the Mi A2 comes with a USB Type-C port at the bottom. There are two grilles on either sides of the Type-C port, of which only the right one works as a speaker. Someone asked me, “Xiaomi could’ve replaced the showpiece speaker grille with a 3.5mm jack instead?” 

Unfortunately, industrial design is not that easy. Either Xiaomi could’ve gone with a “no holes” look or maintained design symmetry with holes on the left like it does on the Mi A2. I, for one, prefer the symmetry. Especially since these are just holes and don’t really require a hardware stack like a 3.5mm jack would have. 

Now, the volume rocker and the power button sit on the right edge. These buttons offer a  sufficiently tactile feedback. No complaints there. On the left edge, you have the dual Nano-SIM tray; a pretty sturdy one too. On the top, like most Xiaomi phones you get an Infrared port. The earpiece, the dual cameras, and the notification LED, all sit above the display.

Coming back to the rear, I was immediately taken aback by that massive camera bump. The first time I looked at it, I was like is that a camera bump or is the Mi A2 just happy to see me. Jokes aside, that camera bump is a necessary evil because it houses those excellent dual sensors. More on that later. 

Talking about the camera bump on the rear, also on the rear is the fingerprint scanner. This scanner is not the fastest one around but it works reliably. So, that’s good. And like most Android One phones, the Mi A2 doesn’t have face unlock either. (Edit: The Mi A2 does come with Face Unlock. But it is hidden inside the Smart Lock inside Settings. You can choose to use a “trusted face” to unlock the phone. However, despite multiple attempts, I couldn’t get it to work seamlessly. Oh, and it looks like Face Unlock could also exist in other Android One phones if the OEM switches it on.)

Overall, the Mi A2 is a very functional design that makes a few missteps that many users might not be fond of. 

Xiaomi Mi A2 display: the IPS LCD panel needed better tuning

The Mi A2, like the Redmi Note 5 Pro and the Redmi Y2, comes with an 18:9 aspect ratio IPS LCD panel. This panel can output a resolution of 1080 x 2160 pixels. It is plenty crisp and fairly colour accurate too. However, the brightness levels are a little too low, which affects the sunlight legibility directly. The panel could’ve done with a better tuning for brightness levels. Otherwise, it is fine. The display works well for gaming and media consumption. 

Xiaomi Mi A2 software: stock Android is pure love

The Mi A2 is an Android One device. This means that you get Stock Android Oreo 8.1 right out of the box. However, the Mi A1’s update cycle was riddled with issues. Therefore, some of you might be worried about the Mi A2’s upgrade as well. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on how that pans out for now. But, I am sure that Xiaomi must have worked something out by now. 

That said, stock Android is such a refined experience. From minimal animations to clean, responsive performance, stock Android is the cleanest version of Android. On the Mi A2, you also get a few stock Xiaomi apps. For example, the phone comes with MIUI’s stock camera app and the Mi Remote for controlling appliances in your home. Additionally, the Mi A2 – considering it has great cameras – comes with the option to double press the power button to open the camera app directly from any state, which comes in handy. 

However, Android Oreo still misses out on a lot of features that some skins provide. For example, you don’t get gestures. And, if you ask me I am not a fan of gestures on Android P, which is also expected to hit the Mi A2 soon. 

All things considered, the stock Android experience on the Mi A2 shines through and through. 

Xiaomi Mi A2 camera: undoubtedly top of the pack

The Mi A2’s pièce de résistance is the dual camera setup on the rear. The primary 12MP camera now uses a 1.25 micron Sony IMX486 sensor. This is definitely an upgraded sensor and the results prove its might. The secondary camera is a 20MP IMX 376 sensor. This sensor exists to improve performance in low light. Essentially, Xiaomi uses pixel binning to stack up four 1 micron pixels to create a bigger 2-micron pixel. Both these sensors are attached to a f/1.75 aperture lens.

Mi A2, OnePlus 6, Pixel 2

The camera app is the typical MIUI app that is easy to use and very iPhone-esque. The new Manual mode has a few more options and that is where you can also switch to the secondary camera on the rear with ease. It is labelled “low light.” Since I have actually brought it up, let’s talk about the performance of the secondary camera first. Honestly, my samples were grainy and replete with noise. In fact, the primary camera’s low light performance was way better, especially with the pretty good noise compression. Honestly, I’d have preferred the 2x optical zoom from the Mi A1 on the A2 as well. 

The daylight samples using the rear camera had great colour accuracy and a decent dynamic range as well. Surprisingly, the barrel distortion was also minimal. The details were much sharper than what I achieved with the Redmi Note 5 Pro. As for the low light shots, the Mi A2 is a very capable performer. In fact, it even stands tall with flagships as far as low light performance is concerned. The wider aperture definitely helps. 

The Mi A2 is truly the one killer mid-range camera phone for most users. All’s not hunky dory though, the Mi A2 is a comparatively slow shooter compared to many flagships. This is not a complaint from my end mostly because most users won’t notice the difference, but there were times when I had action shots getting blurred because of a slight shutter lag. 

Also, Xiaomi’s Portrait mode algorithm has improved by leaps and bounds. The bokeh is creamier and the phone can capture a great portrait shot even in low light! That’s great. Even the selfie portrait is pretty dependable. Talking about selfies, the 20MP camera on the front is slightly better than the Redmi Note 5 Pro. It takes detailed selfies albeit with a little Beauty effect by default. However, most folks will still like the output from the front camera. 

The HDR mode, once again, like the Redmi Note 5 Pro does very little to improve the shadows. It only retrieves details from the highlights. I’m not a fan of Xiaomi’s HDR mode on its phones. Anyway, the auto-HDR mode should do it for most folks.

The phone can also shoot 4K videos sans EIS, though. They are slightly underexposed but offer plenty of details. The phone records stereo audio in videos but there is very little noise reduction. You can also shoot 1080p videos with EIS, if you wish. The Mi A2 is one of the very few phones that can shoot 720p 120fps slow-motion videos, in this price range. I really liked the output of the slow motion, but the autofocus on the Mi A2 keeps hunting for focus — even in regular videos — and that is a bit annoying. The video recording from the front camera is great for a budget phone, though. The Mi A2 is definitely not a bad phone if you want to use it to make v-logs. 

Overall though, the Mi A2’s three cameras constitute the best camera setup you can find south of Rs 25,000. 

Xiaomi Mi A2 performance: dependable and fast but with one major flaw

By now, the whole world knows that the Mi A2 comes with the Snapdragon 660 SoC. In India, only the variant with 4 gigs of RAM and 64GB of internal storage is going to be available at launch. You will have to be content with the storage available for use because there’s no memory card slot. 

Until the Honor Play launched recently, the 660 SoC inside the Mi A2 looked like the best option. But now that you can get a phone with a flagship-grade Kirin 970 SoC under Rs 20,000, the Mi A2 is not going to be the performance beast everyone hoped for. That said, the 660 is still a kickass processor. Firstly, you aren’t going to face any hiccups in regular usage – swiping through apps, multitasking, the works. I can give you that in writing. Even gaming is pretty good. I devoured hours of Asphalt 9 in high settings on the Mi A2. It was mostly lag free. However, I couldn’t play PUBG in HDR without facing a lag. In all honesty, that’s still fine though. It’s just that if you want a performance monster, the Honor Play would be a better bet IMO.  

Mi A2, OnePlus 6, Pixel 2

Coming to the sound quality, the single downward firing mono speaker can get loud but is not particularly detailed. But the moment you stick the dongle inside the USB Type-C port and listen to music using a pair of quality earphones, you are bound to immediately appreciate the sound quality. Trust me even the OnePlus 6 and the ZenFone 5Z weren’t as refined.

I used the Tin Audio T2 to test the sound quality, and boy I was blown away at the intricate details in sound and the mere amplification power of the phone. For those wondering, the 10V amp inside the Mi A1 continues to exist in the Mi A2 and it can power headphones with up to 600 ohms of impedance. Note this, the dongle is a passive component and it works in the Audio Adapter Accessory Mode. Therefore, the DAC continues to exist in the phone. This is what I meant when I said, I don’t really worry about the lack of a 3.5mm jack. The sound quality is pretty damn good. 

Mi A2 1

But, what’s not great, is the battery life. The 3,000mAh battery only lasted me 3 hrs 30 mins to 4 hrs of SoT. Yes, I am a heavy user but that’s how I use all the review units that come to Mr. Phone. So, the use case scenario is mostly similar. The phone lasts 3/4ths of a day on a full charge, which is okay. The Indian variant supports QC 4.0, though. However, I couldn’t test it out. The charger you get inside the box can charge the phone from 0 to 100 in 2 hours and 11 minutes. Getting a fast charger might help. 

The earpiece quality is better than the one inside the Redmi Note 5 Pro. Thankfully, the call quality is better now. But Xiaomi still has a long way to go before it can improve call performance to Huawei, Moto, or Nokia standards. 

Mi A2 2

Should you buy the Xiaomi Mi A2?

Yes. But, not a resounding one. This is because buying the Mi A2 means that you will have to live with a few compromises. The battery life is between average and bad, and the design omissions are slightly irksome. 

Having said that, as a fan of premium, refined Android experiences, the Mi A2 wins my heart. Also, it doesn’t hurt that it is far more affordable than another phone I absolutely loved this year – the Nokia 7 Plus. Furthermore, the in-built 10V amp definitely helps improve the audio performance on the phone. To top it off, the Mi A2 has, arguably, what can be considered the best camera setup on a smartphone under Rs 20,000. 

Xiaomi Mi A2 launched in India

However, let’s not forget, the newly launched Honor Play. This phone has a flagship-grade Kirin 970 SoC and it is priced really, really well! The performance enthusiasts and gaming lovers will probably pick the Play over the Mi A2. And, the Nova 3i is a great option too. The consumer is really spoilt for choices now. 

Undoubtedly, the Mi A2 is definitely going to be a hot topic of debate. People will love it. People will hate it. But, no one can ignore it. 

Honor Play - rear

As for me: I love this phone. But like I said in my headline, I can’t say for sure if you will too. 

Do let us know what you think about the Mi A2. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?