During the keynote speech of Google I/O 2014, Sundar Pichai, the then senior vice president of Google (now its CEO) noted the slow adoption of Android devices in emerging markets such as India. He also announced that Google would launch an initiative to address this issue. Thus, Android One was born.
Android One would essentially be a project aimed at OEMs to produce smartphones with Google laying down a list of guidelines and references, dictating what components could be used. These devices would offer a balance between price to performance. Think of them as a poor man’s Nexus device. The first generation Android One devices were the Karbonn Sparkle V, Micromax Canvas A1, Spice Dream UNO which were all launched in India, while the first Android One device to launch in Bangladesh was the Symphony Roar A50.
These devices were all launched with the promise that they would receive updates for 2 straight years in terms of software and that they would be a vanilla Android experience with no 3rd party apps installed. We even managed to get our hands on Micromax Canvas A1 a while ago and we were quite impressed with the price to performance ratio of the device. Fast forward a few years and Android One is now in its fourth generation of smartphones. Over the years, the specifications have improved offering some stellar performance for the price. Now it’s about to get better, or is it?
Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone company known for being the 5th largest smartphone manufacturer in 2017 recently announced that they too would be entering the Android One fray with their own device. Called the Xiaomi Mi A1, the device is a variant of the Xiaomi Mi 5X which was launched by the company in July 2017. This makes the Xiaomi Mi A1 the highest-end Android One device to date.
Well, if you’ve used the Xiaomi Mi 5X, then it’s pretty much the same, with narrower bezels. Packing a 5.5” full HD display, the Mi A1 packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 Octa core processor and is backed up by 4GB of RAM and comes with 64GB of internal storage. Additional storage can be arranged via a MicroSD card of upto 128GB that sits in the second SIM tray (which also means that the Xiaomi Mi A1 is a dual SIM smartphone).
If you think that’s high end, there’s more. The Xiaomi Mi A1 also packs dual 12MP rear cameras with features such as phase detection autofocus and 4K video recording at 30fps and 120fps (slow motion) at 720p. As for the 5 MP secondary camera in front, when not used for taking selfies, you can use it to record full HD 1080p videos. The device has all the other bells and whistles such as Bluetooth 4.2, full LTE support, a non-removable 3080mAh battery with fast charging, rear mounted fingerprint sensor and a USB Type-C port.
Infrared makes a comeback with the Xiaomi Mi A1 shipping with an IR Blaster so you can probably use it to control your TV and AC units. Thankfully, a 3.5mm headphone jack is included as well. It even has an Aluminum unibody design for that extra touch of class. In terms of software, the Xiaomi Mi X5 ships with Android 7.1.2 Nougat with a planned upgrade to Android 8.0 Oreo.
While all this is well and good, it does tend to disrupt the guidelines set forth by the Android One initiative. For example, whereas Sundar Pichai wanted smartphone for as low as $30 launching in India, and the Android One program began with $100 devices, the Xiaomi Mi A1 ships at $234 or 14,999INR. In addition, because Google Camera doesn’t actually support dual lenses and Android One devices are supposed to ship with Vanilla Android, Xiaomi shipped their own camera app, making it not exactly Vanilla Android. Further, the Xiaomi Mi A1 is the first Android One device to actually do away with the on screen navigation buttons, opting for the old school capacitive buttons with the button order reversed.
If you ask me, this is the Nexus lineup all over again. If you recall, akin to the Android One program, the Google Nexus lineup of devices beginning from the original Nexus One by HTC were all managed by Google in terms of design, development, marketing and support by Google, with some of the manufacturing carried out by OEMs. The Google Nexus 5 was the best mid-range smartphone as of 2013 boasting flagship specifications at a very affordable price.
Sadly, the devices that followed did away with this theory. They became more and more expensive and in the end were essentially just expensive smartphones that offered little to no value for money on terms of what the Nexus lineup was all about. The pinnacle of this was the Google Pixel, a $649 smartphone that was gorgeous, yes. But also rather expensive when it came to a stock Google device.
On one hand, you’re getting quite a powerful device at a reasonable price. But if you take into account the fact that Android One was aimed at devices with a maximum retail price of $100, then your primary assumption of price is taken out of the proverbial house of cards, making the entire thing unstable. Still, the promise of timely updates for the next two years is an alluring one.
Announced in over 40 markets including Indonesia, Vietnam, Russia, Poland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Ukraine and Mexico, the Xiaomi Mi A1 will be available for purchase in India by the 12th of September 2017. Given how the cheaper Android One devices were popular simply because of their low price, it will be interesting to see how well the Xiaomi Mi A1 fares in the Indian market. I guess we would just have to wait and see. If you’re interested in the Xiaomi Mi A1 and other Android One devices, you can click here to visit Google’s official website for Android One.
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