There is just something about phones that offer the pure and untouched Android experience. Lovingly known as Android One, these phones are clean Android as Google intended it. No customizations to the interface, no alterations to the default apps and basically no changes that you may otherwise not want. The biggest advantage, quicker Android updates. No surprise then that the Xiaomi Mi A1 a few years ago really caught on very well, at a time when Nokia was in the midst of a robust comeback with its entire pitch being the Android One goodness. The Mi A2 was an upgrade in the expected terms too. Here and now, it is all about the Xiaomi Mi A3. The basics remain the same. Which can only be a good thing.
The Mi A3 continues to play largely in the same price bracket as its predecessors. You get to take your pick from the 4GB RAM and 64GB storage variant for Rs 12,999 or the 6GB RAM and 128GB storage option for Rs 15,999. But then again, competition in this price band is tough. Direct competition as well as the whereabouts, where a potential buyer can consider splurging a bit more.
There is the Realme 5 Pro which is priced at Rs 13,999 (4GB+64GB), Rs 14,999 (6GB+64GB) and Rs 16,999 (8GB+128GB)—this series is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 712 processor, a 6.3-inch display (2340 x 1080 resolution), 48-megapixel camera and VOOC fast charging. Then there is the Realme X which starts at Rs 16,999 and runs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 AIE processor, a 6.5-inch display (2340 x 1080 resolution) and the VOOC fast charging as well. The thing with the Realme phones is that these run the heavily customized ColorOS, which is not to everyone’s taste. Then there is the slightly older and still very wise Nokia 8.1 which is now retailing for Rs 15,999—a significant price drop from the height of the Rs 28,000 or so price tag. This gets you a 6.2-inch display, the clean Android 9 Pie and a gorgeous design. There is also the Motorola One Action, priced at Rs 13,999 and offers 4GB+128GB, a 6.3-inch FHD+ display, three cameras at the back and Android One.
Design is what really captivates my attention with the Mi A3 too. This has a new glass design with the aluminum sandwiched in the middle. The glass on either side is the Gorilla Glass 5, which means this should hold up well against scratches. It is hard to pinpoint any one thing, but the Mi A3 in general feels great to hold in the hand. It is a large phone but feels fairly compact. It weighs 173.8 grams on the weighing scales but is quite light to hold up and use. In a way, this is one of the best-looking phones at this price point. What helps are the interesting colour choices that Xiaomi has gone ahead with—to be honest, I quite like the experimentation with shades and names. You have one which is called More than White. Then there is a Not just Blue. And finally, a Kind of Grey. Well, take your pick! Irrespective of which colour you pick, do take a look at the back panel at different angles to see how the ambient light reflects off this in a variety of shades and patterns.
With the style comes a significant amount of substance too. Under the hood is a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 AIE processor. This is the 11-nanometer architecture, and you will buy this with either 4GB RAM or 6GB RAM, depending on the variant you buy. If we are to go purely on numbers, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 712 processor surely has an advantage. Faster clock speeds, better Adreno 616 graphics compared with Adreno 610, the 10-nanometer process and a faster modem as well. if we are to go by that logic, the Realme 5 Pro should blow the Xiaomi Mi A3 out of the water? And that should be that? We should finish this review now itself and save everyone the trouble of reading the unnecessary? But that is hardly how things pan out in the real world, once you step out of the virtual world of a spec sheet driven by numbers and “science”. For most users, the Snapdragon 665 will be more than up to the task. This basically handles the regular apps that most users would be using on a daily basis, with absolute ease. Even with half a dozen apps taking up space in the memory, the Mi A3 does not feel slow or under powered. At times, you might notice a fraction of a second delay from the time you tap on the app icon and the app opening, but that really isn’t a hardship. I suspect that has more to do with my usage habits more than anything else. The clean Android 9 Pie does have its own contribution towards the slick and unhindered performance, as there are no customizations and otherwise unnecessary software eating up the resources.
Xiaomi has bumped down the display resolution to HD+, which is 1560 x 720 pixels for this 6.08-inch Super AMOLED real estate. The Snapdragon 665 can work with up to 2520 x 1080 resolution, also known as Full HD+, and that perhaps makes this spec a bit perplexing. The AMOLED panel itself is a huge upgrade over the IPS LCD displays in the predecessors. But the lower than expected pixel density means you see some amount of roughness at times, depending on the content you watch. For instance, on backgrounds that are made of solid colours, there will be some amount of pixilation visible if you look closely. Text doesn’t always read as sharp as we would have liked, and the app icons also betray the lower resolution. While the lower resolution has its downsides, this also means that the gaming performance gets a boost with this graphics chip.
In terms of the battery life, the Mi A3 does well enough to last almost two days on a single charge if you are careful with the usage. The 4030 mAh battery does not disappoint as far as the stamina is concerned. The Mi A3 supports Quick Charge 3.0 and the 18-watt Fast Charging, though Xiaomi only bundles the 10-watt charger in the box. The Mi India Standard Charger (Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0) is a separate accessory priced at Rs 449 as we speak.
At the back are three cameras—a 48-megapixel primary Sony IMX586 sensor, a 8-megapixel ultrawide and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. The primary sensor sits behind a f/1.8 lens, which doesn’t have image stabilization. By default, the camera will click images at 12-megapixel in the binning mode—where four pixels combine to show up as one pixel, with the advantages being more light and more data from each of these pixel bunches for the image processing to work with. The result is daytime and well-lit photos look nicely detailed, adequately sharp and exhibit a wide dynamic range. There doesn’t seem to be any hints of the image processing attempting to over-sharpen or even do aggressive noise reduction. Low light photos will be a bit of a hit and miss, since the Mi A3 doesn’t really capture enough light for the detailing to ever show up in the entirety. Night Mode does improve things a bit, but then again, you will be working with a proverbial ceiling here.
You can also switch to the dedicated 48-megapixel mode as well if that is what you prefer, but we noticed that the larger 48-megapixel photos don’t really give you any extra data or details that you don’t already see in the 12-megapixel photos—except that you end up using more space for these larger photos.
The Mi A3 corrects a lot of the perceptive wrongs of the Mi A2. For instance, the 3.5mm headphone jack is back in action. There is a memory card slot as well. And finally, a much larger battery. Those corrections, along with an OLED display, a very new chipset that delivers slick performance, the advantages of the clean Android installation as well as the glass and aluminum sandwich build make the Mi A3 a phone that has style without missing out on the critical substance. But in the end, I do sit and wonder how important the display and the resolution will be for potential users, and whether that is enough to be categorized as a deal breaker. If I had to spend my money on a phone around the price points the Mi A3 plays in, it would be. But then again, everyone has their preferences.