Xiaomi Mi A2's powerful hardware marred by major compromises: Digit readers

The Mi A2's powerful performance and commendable low-light camera is spoilt by the niggling compromises and readers are calling out Xiaomi for it.

Published Date
09 - Aug - 2018
| Last Updated
10 - Aug - 2018
Xiaomi Mi A2’s powerful hardware marred by major compromises: Dig...

The Xiaomi Mi A2 has got everything. Well... almost. It has a top-of-the-line mid-range processor, Stock Android UI, a commendable low-light camera, a slim design, a tall 18:9 display. And a killer price tag of Rs 16,999. Why, then people don’t seem that happy with the phone? The devil is in the details. Ever since the phone was announced in an event in Madrid, smartphone enthusiasts have flared up over certain design and hardware choices Xiaomi has made in the Mi A2, many considered to be regressive.

Read our review of the Xiaomi Mi A2 here.

What has Xiaomi done? Well, for one, they very courageously went ahead and removed the 3.5mm headphone jack. The company’s explanation for it is to make the phone thinner. Agreed, the Mi A2 looks refined and aesthetic. It’s 7.3mm slim and is extremely ergonomic. The body curves down to meet the screen along the edges which doesn’t dig into the palms. However, because of going so slim, three things happened — 1. The camera juts out of the body. 2. The battery capacity is miserly at 3010mAh in this day and age. 3. The 3.5mm headphone jack goes missing. 4. There’s no expandable storage.

Those four compromises may seem minor when you compare it against the hardware it has underneath and its performance overall. However, combine them together, and you suddenly have a phone that is powerful, but handicapped in front of its rivals. In the mid-range segment, it all comes down to value for money. In this price range, It DOES matter if there’s microSD card support, a big battery and more importantly, the 3.5mm headphone jack. If people had unlimited amount of money, they’d would rather invest in a flagship phone. It’s because mid-range phones provide most of the features of a flagship at one-fourth the price, that they are so popular. The more the features, more popular that phone is. Of course, more nuanced users will look if the advertised features work well enough. But on an average, the spec sheet still rules the roost in the Indian smartphone market. That’s exactly what our readers and viewers are saying about the Xiaomi Mi A2.

In our coverage of the Mi A2 launch in social media, the backlash against removing the headphone jack is apparent. The fact that there’s no headphone jack is making others look for alternatives, even though most believe it’s a powerful phone.

A reader commented suggesting to look for alternatives. “Quickcharge 4.0, Snapdragon 660 is good but lack of SD card and headphone jack is the main problem. If it had them, it would be a better deal. I would suggest to go for honor play...which has the Kirin flagship chip. .and a better optimized GPU.”

Yet another spoke about the importance of having a microSD card slot - “Whether I need it or not I just need to have the feeling of more than enough. No sd card slot is not enough with only 64gb. And it's too costly for 17k.”  

Another reader also pointed the shortfall - “Photos centric phone I can say but with out expansion of storage n head phone jack big big negative point.”

Some aren’t happy about it not sporting a notch - "Worthless design. Exessive bezels, no audio jack, battery is very low, internal hardware such as mic and USB port are of low cost type including the display quality too...”

The sentiments are more or less the same across all the other channels. Despite a stock Android-powered smartphone that has arguably one of the best cameras in the mid-range segment, users are considering the Honor Play that incidentally offers a flagship chipset with a GPU optimised for gaming. Most people are ready to go for the relatively older Redmi Note 5 Pro as well, which is priced the same as the Mi A2 at Rs 16,999.

It’s understandable why. In the price range of 10-20k, a good design comes secondary to everything else. Expandable storage is a bare minimum and most mid-range phones have it. A 3.5mm headphone jack is even more  important. Having it means you can continue using the earphones/headphones you own and don’t have to invest in a wireless pair. Yes, Xiaomi does provide a dongle, but the dongle is so small, user’s might lose it.

People are also concerned about the battery capacity of the phone. When you put a 3010mAh battery and claim to provide over a day’s worth of battery life, people are going to suspect. However, I have to say that the Mi A2 is quite efficient in its performance. The phone regularly lasted the whole day for me while I was reviewing it. But not everyone is going to know about the efficiency before using it and having a larger battery on paper mitigates that seed of doubt. In a Facebook Live video we did with the phone, a user asked, “How is the battery life? Isn't 3000 enough for 1 full day?” The Redmi Note 5 Pro packs a 4,000mAh battery. The capacity itself is enough to convince users it is going to last longer than most of its alternatives.

Furthermore, the Mi A2 supports Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 4.0 standards for fast charging, but doesn’t come with a fast charger. The box only has a standard 5W-2A charger that takes around 1 hour 30 minutes to top up the phone. A fast charger does it in less than an hour. Essentially, to make the most out of the phone, you will have to throw in extra money for a third-party charger. Mind you, if anything goes wrong with the phone while charging with a third-party charger, it will not be covered under warranty. Is it a risk even worth taking? Side note, Xiaomi themselves don’t make a fast charger that supports Quick Charge 4.0. At least not yet.

The issues get compounded further when you realise the Mi A2 doesn’t support dual VoLTE and dual 4G. In a market where Reliance Jio is making every other operator adopt the same cellular standards, here is a phone that stays rooted to the past. If your primary SIM card has VoLTE activated, the second SIM card will not be allowed to have VoLTE. That essentially means while on a call on your primary network, the second phone number will be unreachable.

It sounds even more dumbfounding when the Mi A1 last year offered both expandable storage and dual VoLTE, not to mention the 3.5mm headphone jack as well. As a result, the perception of the audience makes it difficult to call the Mi A2 a real upgrade from its predecessor. Largely, it does have an even more powerful processor, a vastly improved camera especially under low-light and a taller, brighter display. Ideally, that should be enough to call it an upgrade, but it’s the little details that the Mi A2 skips out that makes it quite difficult for me, as a reviewer, to recommend.

It can be argued that the headphone jack is now past its prime and thanks to the proliferation of fast charging power-banks and cloud storage, you don’t really need all those features. But in the Indian smartphone market, where regional constraints are many and internet connectivity is still not as seamless as one would like to have, these small things matter a lot. As a result, the other alternatives like the Nokia 6.1, the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 and even the more expensive Honor Play and Huawei P20 Lite seem like more reliable options. In fact, the Redmi Note 5 Pro that is priced the same has 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, headphone jack and expandable storage, automatically becomes the default choice.

The value for money prospect of Xiaomi phones seem to be missing in the Mi A2 when you look closer. People are spotting it and calling out Xiaomi for it. Phrases like “overpriced”, "Phone is good but lacks 3.5 mm jack”, “Is it worth for for 17 grand..?”, are being thrown around on social media. As a result, the Mi A2 might not be appreciated for everything it does right. Somehow, this reminds me of the Google Pixel 2 XL. The phone with arguably the best smartphone camera was marred by a lot of issues in the display, audio and more which kept it from realising its full potential. The Mi A2 seems like a repeat of that in the mid-range segment. In a lot of ways, the Mi A2 does feel like the Pixel in its segment. Stock Android. Superior low-light camera and a functional design. Will it suffer the same fate as the Pixel 2? Only time will tell.

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