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Xiaomi Mi A3 review: a worthy upgrade

Google announced the Android One project back in 2014, with the aim of providing stock Android goodness at affordable price points. While most Android One phones tended to be entry-level offerings, Xiaomi partnered with Google in 2017 to launch a more premium device in the form of the Mi A1. For the last couple of years, Xiaomi’s Mi A-series phones have brought metal builds, mid-range processors and great cameras, bundled with Android in its purest form. The latest device from the series, the Mi A3 (first impressions), carries forward that trend while adding an upgraded design to the mix. I spent a week with the Xiaomi Mi A3, and here’s what you should know.

Design and display

The Mi A3 looks nothing like its predecessors, and that’s a good thing. Xiaomi has lately been embracing a glass and metal design across its smartphone portfolio, and the Mi A3 is the first in its series to follow suit. Unlike its dull metal-clad predecessors, the Mi A3 looks a lot more premium for its asking price of Rs 12,999 (for the base variant). The smartphone flaunts a Corning Gorilla Glass 5 layer on the front, back as well as the rear camera module, which is a first for the brand. The phone comes in three colour variants, More than White, Not just Blue, and Kind of Grey. When I first heard the names, I remember telling my colleague that the phone borrows not only the stock Android interface but also the naming convention from Pixel phones.

I have the More Than Variant for review, and it’s a stunner, to say the least, reflecting a rainbow-hued aurora when the light hits it. The Mi A3 feels solid in the hand thanks to the extensive use of glass all around, and I enjoyed using the phone because of the even weight distribution. The back panel curves seamlessly into the frame, which itself is quite narrow making it perfectly ergonomic for one-handed usage.

The fact that Xiaomi has opted for a waterdrop notch display with much smaller bezels and an in-display fingerprint scanner, adds to the compact size of the phone. As for other elements, the volume and power buttons are located on the right edge, SIM card tray on the left (housing hybrid dual SIM slots), and USB Type-C port at the bottom along with the speaker grille.  While the Mi A2 received flak for not including a 3.5mm audio jack, Xiaomi has brought it back with the Mi A3.

Before I talk about the display of the Mi A3, there’s one issue that needs to be addressed. The in-display fingerprint scanner is not the best in the biz, and I felt that the phonemaker should have stuck to the capacitive sensor like the previous models. I registered both my thumbs twice as new fingerprints, and yet the module failed to recognise my digits around 50 percent of the time. Additionally, the sensor is slow to recognise fingerprints, and takes a couple of seconds to unlock. It’s because of this reason I primarily resorted to using face unlock, which is much faster.

Coming to the display, Xiaomi Mi A3’s window to the world is a 6.08-inch Super AMOLED display with a waterdrop cutout. The display is good enough for day to day usage and is sufficiently bright outdoors. Unfortunately, the screen resolution has been capped at HD+, resulting in a pixel density of 286ppi. This is the reason the Mi A3 can play only HD resolution on streaming platforms like Netflix, despite having Widevine L1 support. Also worth mentioning that the auto-brightness was glitchy, getting aggressively dim indoors even after I manually increased the brightness.

Cameras

Xiaomi’s Mi A-series smartphones have always been lauded for their camera prowess, and the Mi A3 is no exception. Let’s get the hardware specs out of the way first. The smartphone flaunts a triple camera module on the back comprising of a Sony IMX586 48MP sensor with f/1.79 aperture, an 8MP wide-angle lens with a 118-degree field of view and a 2MP depth sensor. The Mi A3 also offers a best-in-class selfie snapper in the form of a 32MP camera on the front. Like every other Xiaomi device, the Mi A3 also gets a custom camera app despite being a stock Android phone. You get modes like 48MP, portrait, night, pro, HDR and AI.

Let’s talk about the real-life performance of the cameras now. While the primary sensor is capable of capturing 48MP shots, by default it is set to clicking 12MP images. In order to capture high-res images, you need to enable the 48MP mode from the settings. Bear in mind, when you toggle on the 48MP mode, the AI scene-detection and HDR will turn off by default and there is no means to turn them back on. That being said, while the camera clicks good pictures in high-res mode, I found myself leaning towards pictures clicked in regular mode with HDR and AI scene-recognition turned on.

Coming to the secondary cameras, the 8MP wide-angle lens with a 118-degree field of view manages to capture a lot more in the frame. There’s a very slight fish-eye distortion in the corner but it’s not noticeable unless you zoom into the image. The depth sensor also does its job well, as the phone was able to detect edges perfectly and create just enough blur so that pictures don’t look artificial. The night-scape mode is particularly impressive, as it brings out details in shadows and also reduces the glare around lights considerably.

As for selfies, the 32MP sensor on the front is one of the best in this price segment. The selfies taken in daylight in both regular and portrait modes came out brilliantly. The camera also delivered commendable images in low-light conditions.

Software and performance

The Xiaomi Mi A3 is one of the two smartphones in India rocking the latest Snapdragon 665 SoC. This successor to the popular Snapdragon 660 is fabricated using the 11nm die size and offers better performance and battery efficiency. You have the option to choose between a 4GB + 64GB or 6GB + 128GB variant. And Xiaomi has also brought back support for expandable storage through the microSD card slot, which was missing on the Mi A2.

Talking of the performance in real life, the Snapdragon 665 chipset is already being offered by the Realme 5 under Rs 10,000. And for almost the same price as the Mi A3, you can pick up the Realme 5 Pro featuring a more powerful Snapdragon 712 SoC. However, the saving grace is the stock Android 9 Pie, which barely stresses the chipset, unlike ColorOS on the Realme offerings. Therefore, the difference in performance is almost negligible in day-to-day usage.

If you are a casual gamer who likes to have chicken dinner to pass time, the Mi A3 will definitely serve you well. But in case you are passionate about gaming, I would suggest looking elsewhere since the phone plays PUBG on the lowest graphics setting by default.

The silver lining here is the Android One umbrella, which ensures that the Mi A3 will receive at least two major Android upgrades including Android 10 and 11. Additionally, Google will provide an additional year of security patches and updates to the handset. Personally, I am not much of a gamer and favour the vanilla Android interface and faster updates.

As for the power requirements, Xiaomi has bumped up the battery to 4,030mAh compared to the 3,000mAh unit on the Mi A2. The battery also supports 18W fast charging, but Xiaomi provides a standard 10W charger in the box. If you want to make use of the full charging potential, you can pick up Xiaomi’s Quick Charge 3.0 charger from Mi.com, which is reasonably priced at Rs 449. During my time with the phone, it easily lasted me an entire day, with usage comprising of social media, a game or two of PUBG and non-stop WhatsApp. In our video loop battery test, the smartphone lasted 23 hours, which is quite impressive.

The competition

At Rs 12,999 and Rs 15,999 for the 4GB and 6GB models respectively, the Mi A3 goes up against some serious rivals. Among these are the Realme X (review) and OPPO K3 (first impressions). You get superior displays, more powerful processors, elevating selfie cameras and more for a near-identical price tag, but you’ll have to forgo stock Android for ColorOS. Then, there’s the Realme 5 (review), which will give you the same performance for a much cheaper price.

Verdict

The Mi A3 has a few aspects that work in its favour, namely, the stock Android interface, gorgeous design and powerful front camera. However, it does come with a few shackles, like the low-resolution display, glitchy fingerprint scanner and a price that misses the mark. That said, if a capable phone with a vanilla UI is what you’re after, the Xiaomi Mi A3 will serve your needs well.

Pricebaba’s rating: 8 / 10

Pros:

  • Stock Android interface
  • Refreshed design
  • Good battery life
  • Brings back the 3.5mm audio jack and microSD card slot

Cons:

  • HD display
  • A glitchy in-display fingerprint scanner
  • Competition offers better performance at the same price

Photos by Raj Rout

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