There’s a – one of the many brilliant scene in Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic Pulp Fiction where Vince Vega (played by John Travolta) and Jules Winfield (Samuel L Jackson in the role of a lifetime) are talking about how things in Europe are different from how they are in the US. From hash bars in Amsterdam to buying beer at McDonald’s in Paris, the conversation between the two is like any between two friends when Vincent tells Jules about the funniest thing in Europe. “It’s the little differences,” he says, a lot of things that the US has, Europe also has them, before adding, “but there they’re a little different.”
A little different. Yes, that’s what you think about when you see Xiaomi phones rolled out every couple of months. Look at the Redmi Note 7S, Redmi Note 7 Pro or the Redmi Note 7. It becomes hard to differentiate them after a point as they offer slightly altered specs. Yet, there’s one phone that stands out of the crowd and that is Xiaomi’s Android One device. For the last two years, Xiaomi has launched a stock Android One smartphone and the latest iteration in the form of Mi A3. The handset comes as a successor to the much-flawed Mi A2 that was launched last year. To recall, the Mi A2 had some glaring issues including no headphone jack, non-expandable storage among others. Xiaomi promises to fix all these issues with the Mi A3 and even offer some upgrades in form of camera and design. We spent some time with the handset and here is our review:
The Xiaomi Mi A3 is quite distinctive when compared to the Redmi series smartphones that we have recently seen from Xiaomi and a huge improvement over its predecessor the Mi A2. The first thing that you notice about the Mi A3 is its narrow form factor that makes the handset ideal for one-handed operations, especially if you have relatively smaller hands. Not may handsets offer a narrow frame anymore so those who like themselves a petite smartphone, may like to use the Mi A3.
Since Xiaomi Mi A3 is part of Google’s Android One initiative, Xiaomi has taken the liberty to name its colour options just like the internet search giant names its different colour options of the Pixel series smartphones. Buyers get to pick between ‘Kind of Grey’, ’Not just Blue’ and ‘More than White’. Our review unit was the More than White variant and we’re quite fond of the look of this one. This colour variant offers a holographic effect when projected to light.
In terms of build quality, the Mi A3 is also quite sturdy and definitely feels more premium than what it actually costs. You get a Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the back, front and also on the triple rear camera setup, because of which Xiaomi claims that the Mi A3 is the world’s first smartphone to offer triple Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection.
Xiaomi has brought back the 3.5mm jack, an important connectivity port that the company had unabashedly removed from the Mi A2. The handset houses the volume rockers and power button on the right and the SIM card tray on the left. The top of smartphone has the IR blaster that lets it control devices such as a TV and the bottom edge comes with a speaker grille at the bottom, along with a USB Type-C. It has also sort of fixed the disproportioned protruding rear camera setup, making the handset less wobbly than its predecessor.
Overall, we can say that Xiaomi has made up for the shortcomings of Mi A2 with the Mi A3.
The points that Xiaomi earned for fixing the design, seem to slip away in the display department of the Mi A3. Firstly, Xiaomi has replaced the display from LCD full HD+ of the Mi A2 to a Super AMOLED screen of HD+ resolution. This leads to over saturated colours with a bluish tint and pixelization of textual content is also quite evident.
You get a 6-inch display on the Mi A2 with 19.5:9 aspect ratio and 286 pixels per inch. The side bezels are thinner compared to top and lower bezels. The top of the display has a water drop notch that houses the selfie camera. Xiaomi has also brought in an in-display fingerprint sensor in a budget smartphone with the Mi A3, but unfortunately for Xiaomi it is a little slow to respond and you notice and obvious lag when using it to unlock your smartphone.
Xiaomi has majorly improved the sunlight legibility in the Mi A3 compared to the Mi A2, however the adaptive-brightness still seems to be a bit off so we preferred it to be turned off for most part of our time with the device.
The Xiaomi Mi A3 comes with a 48MP primary rear camera with Sony IMX586 sensor. There is an 8MP ultra-wide camera with f/2.2 aperture and 118-degree field of view and lastly a 2MP depth lens camera for enhanced bokeh shots.
Like the other Xiaomi phones that come with a 48MP primary sensor, the Mi A3 too uses pixel binning technique, which means that even though the primary camera is a 48MP sensor, the handset captures images in 12MP resolution by default. Therefore if you want to take an image in the 48MP resolution, you will have to manually enable the mode. Despite running on stock Android operating system, the Mi A3 offers Mi camera app — that you see in all Redmi smartphones that run on MIUI. So you get the same modes Portrait, Night, Panorama etc as you usually get on the Xiaomi Redmi smartphones.
When it comes to the image quality of the pictures captured by the Xiaomi Mi A3, the primary camera does a good job if you like punchy and slightly over-sharpened images, even if that means that it is a little off from the real colours. This is true in the case of both daylight and standard in-house lighting. The 8MP ultra-wide angle lens is functional at best as it will do its job with decent colour reproduction, however the images lack detail. This is further aggravated as a result of the AMOLED HD+ display so we recommend that you look at the images on a laptop to know the actual results.
When it comes to the low-light shots, the handset manages to capture some good shots but for the most part you find yourself struggling due to lack of optical stabilization. Turning on the Night mode drastically makes an improvement in the quality of the image and you end up relying on that for capturing images after sun-down even if that means that you get soft and touched up shots.
As far as the hardware specs are concerned, Xiaomi Mi A3 is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor with Adreno 610 GPU. Buyers get two options when it comes to storage. The base variant offers 64GB internal storage paired with 4GB RAM and the second variant packs 128GB storage with 6GB RAM. There is even support for microSD card in the Mi A3, which was not there in the Mi A2.
In our time with the Mi A3, the handset handled multi-tasking with no issues. Switching between random apps did not lead to any heating issues. Network reception was also adequate for most part. The speaker output as well as the 3.5mm jack output were loud enough.
The lag-free performance can be attributed to the bloat-free stock Android operating system. The device runs on Android 9.0 Pie operating system and does not bother you with any unnecessary notifications. That said, it doesn’t mean that the software part of the Mi A3 is untainted. You still get Mi Community app and Mi Camera app. As part of the Android One programme, the Mi A3 is said to receive major Android OS updates for two years, and security updates for three years. Notably, Android Q, which is the latest Android operating system version, has already been rolled out by Google but there is no word on it being made available to MI A3 users.
On the down side, the Mi A3 didn’t feel as zippy as an Android One smartphone should do. The lack of bloatware should ideally make the handset run at a blazing fast speed, but the Mi A3 doesn’t. This becomes more evident while playing graphic heavy games such as PUBG or Asphalt 9.
The Xiaomi Mi A3 comes backed by a 4030mAh battery, the device has got an incremental upgrade in this department. Even though the handset supports 18W fast charge, you get a 10W charger inside the box. Therefore, if you want you Mi A3 to make use of its fast charge feature, you will have to buy your own. Using the charger in the box, it will easily take you over 2 hours to full charge the device from 0%.
That said, depending on your usage from heavy to moderate, the Mi A3 can last you a day or a little over that, if this page includes daily tasks for surfing the web, scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, watching videos on YouTube.
When compared to its predecessor, Xiaomi Mi A3 comes with a lot of amendments. It has brought back the 3.5 mm headphone and expandable storage support — the things Mi A2 was criticised for. Over that, it has also upscaled the design and camera performance by a vast margin, which plays in favour of the Mi A3 as the majority of buyers do consider these two factors paramount.
That said, we cannot call the Mi A3 a compelling buy. The lack of good display experience, a slightly lagged fingerprint sensor and disappointing low light camera performance are noticeable issues that are there with the Mi A3. Given the fierce competition in this price category, Mi A3 may lose out on some buyers, not because it performs badly but because competition offers much better.
For instance, the processor that backs the Mi A3 — Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 — also comes in the Realme 5. While the former comes at a starting price of Rs 12,999, the latter comes at a starting price of Rs 9,999. Of course there are things such as the stock Android experience and the 48MP primary rear camera, glass body design that the Mi A3 offers better than the competition. If stock Android is what you are looking for, then you should not even think twice before buying the Mi A3, otherwise you may want to evaluate the market better. Sometimes, a little different, may not end up making a lot of difference.