Feature | What is going on with Xiaomi's Android One Mi A-series?
While Xiaomi makes excellent phones with great, competitive hardware at mouth-watering prices, the company's skin, MIUI, has received plenty of flak. We don't think it's anywhere near as bad as some people claim it to be, but it's definitely the most divisive aspect of Xiaomi's smartphones. As such, when the company launched its Android One series, enthusiasts were stoked.
Fast forward three years later and things aren't quite as rosy as they should be with Xiaomi's Android One Mi A-series. And it's almost mind-boggling. Here's a lineup that caters for the needs of most enthusiasts, on paper at least. Solid hardware? Check. Decent cameras? Check. Great performance to price ratio? Check. Android One software? Check.
And yet, there's a feeling among the masses that Xiaomi's special lineup is failing.
Back in 2017, the Mi A1 represented a bold step for Xiaomi. Based on the Mi 5X, the A1 offered all the aforementioned perks of the Mi A series. It cost just US$200, offered a 2x telephoto lens—a rare feature in the mid-range back then—and a great DAC for audiophiles. It was one of our favorite high-value offerings for the year, alongside the Honor 7X.
One would expect Xiaomi to build on the success of the Mi A1, and make a charge towards dominating a promising niche. Three years later, however, it's starting to feel like the company's Mi A-series peaked with the Mi A1, and that's a shame.
That feeling wouldn't be without reason, either. The Mi A-series has suffered from a number of issues over the years. Poor software updates, defective hardware, and a number of minor technical decisions that tend to mar the overall attractiveness of phones in the lineup.
The Numerous Issues
The Mi A1 was the start of it all. The phone was released on Android Nougat and was billed to receive the Oreo update before the end of the year. Xiaomi fulfilled its promise but only just. The Mi A1 received the Oreo update on New Year's eve. The problem, however, was that the update was buggy and had to be pulled by Xiaomi over the next week.
One of the main draws of the Android One program is software. Two major OS upgrades and steady monthly patches are the fundamentals of the program. Xiaomi has, so far, adhered to that. Google would be unlikely to take any misdemeanors lightly, after all. But Xiaomi's approach to fulfilling those basic requirements needs some more policing.
The company has constantly provided buggy OS upgrades. The Mi A1's Android Oreo update was pulled back in 2018. Things haven't changed much since then either, as Xiaomi also pulled the Mi A2's Android 10 update recently. What's the point of providing updates if they're going to be buggy messes?
Xiaomi has a ton of devices, no doubt due to the company's penchant for releasing new phones almost monthly. Software support for the Mi A-series has suffered as a reason. Updates are either terribly late or, if they're on time, buggy. Six months after the release of Android 10, the Mi A3 is yet to receive the update. Ditto the Mi A2 Lite.
Updates aren't as bad as it gets. The Mi A2 suffered from eMMC issues on the hardware level. Poor quality control from Xiaomi; and we have a hunch owners of the phone were unlikely to be thrilled. The Mi A3 also, somehow, features a 720p pentile AMOLED display. That was a business decision by Xiaomi, in an attempt to cut costs.
Cost-cutting seems to be the reason for all of the issues plaguing the Mi A-series. Xiaomi's unique selling point is the high value its devices offer, and cost-cutting is inevitable. Mi A-series phones are unable to deliver the extra ad revenue the company's MIUI-powered devices offer. Yes, that could be offset by increasing MSRPs, but Xiaomi competes in markets where a slight change in prices could directly mean lost sales. Ergo, a risky move. The alternative? Cut corners.
It's understandable from a business perspective. As an enthusiast, however, it's sad to see, especially when the cut corners are ones that affect the user experience so negatively. There are those who could live with Xiaomi's compromises, but the Mi A-series' target demographic is unlikely to play host to a large number of those.
The good thing is—Xiaomi could make things better. Could. But will they? Unlikely. We'll wait for the Mi A4.