The tentpole feature of this phone, however, isn't the Android One experience. It’s the dual camera system that Xiaomi has been talking up. Xiaomi India MD and global VP Manu Kumar Jain has even been teasing the camera on Facebook and Twitter with photos of himself with a defocused background. So yes, there’s a portrait mode on the phone.
Essentially, Xiaomi has taken the dual 12-megapixel camera stack from the Mi 6 and outfitted it on the Mi A1. This, however, is inferior as it has a shallower aperture of f/2.2. That said, it does a 2x optical zoom via the 12-megapixel telephoto lens like the iPhone 7 Plus and the OnePlus 5. The main wide angle camera is also great and when used in tandem there’s a creamy and effective portrait mode which is better than the one on the OnePlus 5.
In daylight, the Mi A1 takes rich images with good levels of detail and colour saturation. In low light, the performance stumbles and it falls behind even a phone like the new Moto G5S. But overall, it is one of the best camera phones in the sub 15,000 rupee price band. The best phone imaging wise is the LG Q6, but that’s pure image quality we’re talking about because the Mi A1 offers additional bells and whistles like the portrait mode and 2x lossless zoom which isn't there in any phone for less than Rs 15,000 in India.
The portrait mode implementation is also a very good one. It has great edge detection and you get this natural creamy bokeh effect on the background. Sure, it isn't on the same level as the iPhone 7 Plus, but it is better than the OnePlus 5 which praise worthy as this is a phone that costs half as much.
More so there is a very effective pro mode which even allows the user to individually choose between the wide angle camera and the telephoto lens. One must say it has a compelling camera package.
As always, when one talks about video recording, it isn't as good as stills. Of course, it can shoot even in 4k besides having time lapse and slow motion modes, however, the lack of an optically stabilised lens becomes apparent. Then again that’s true for most smartphones in the price segment. The one area it does well is in capturing audio as it can capture decent audio even in loud environments.
The front 8-megapixel camera for selfies is a pretty standard affair. It’s nothing special, but its not unusable. It is good for basic selfies when provided decent lighting and also good for Skype video calls.
Verdict and competition
The Mi A1 raises the bar for what one expects in a mid range Android smartphone. Previously, the game was restricted to good hardware but Xiaomi in collaboration with Google has ratchet up the ante by adding the missing piece of great software. Despite there being phones with stock Android in the market, the Mi A1’s clutter free Android One certified experience gives the peace of mind of timely software updates and simplicity of use.
More than that, on hardware alone, it is a formidable beast, with one of the best dual camera implementations around besting even the OnePlus 5 which is almost twice its price and great hardware all around, it is easily now the benchmark for what one should expect in a sub Rs 15,000 phone.
In the case, this phone isn't to your liking - mainstream users will appreciate the new Moto G5S Plus, people looking for a bigger battery will probably want a Redmi Note 4 and people solely looking for design and imaging finesse would be pleased by the new LG Q6.