A stock Android phone is impossible for Xiaomi to pull of in China. The Chinese government has banned the Google ecosystem in the country which is the reason why Chinese OEMs release phones with heavily customised UI. Among them, Xiaomi’s MIUI is one of the healthiest UI’s out there with “250 million users worldwide”, according to Xiaomi’s Director of Project Management, Donovan Sung. Despite this, the Chinese upstart
launched a phone in India running pure, stock Android, not MIUI
. The Mi A1 is Xiaomi’s first stock Android phone and it was made in partnership with Google under the Android One program.
The Mi A1 sports a dual camera setup identical to the iPhone 7 Plus offering 2X optical zoom and is a 5.5-inch phone running Qualcomm’s mid-range processor coupled with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage with a 3,080mAh battery.
Yet, anyone who follows Xiaomi’s progress will know that earlier this year, Xiaomi launched the Mi 5X in China, which not only looks identical to the Mi A1, but also sports the same hardware specifications. Despite that, the two phones are a world apart.
We asked Xiaomi whether the Mi A1 is just a rebranded Mi 5X for the global audience, and Xiaomi begged to differ. Donovan cleared the air by claiming Xiaomi made quite a few customisations for the global audience. For instance, the Mi A1 has a dual graphite layer under the chassis that absorbs the heat from the processor and distributes it evenly across the body to keep the temperature from rising up. That is something a lot of phones in India face, particularly because the manufacturers don’t take into account the climate of the country. The Indian climate is harsh for phones. The temperature can be alarmingly high during the daytime and anyone using the phone’s outdoors during the day will face heating issues.
Xiaomi is also shipping 380volts chargers along with the phone for the Indian users because 380 volt chargers are better equipped to handle the voltage fluctuations that are so prevalent in the country which can lead to the batteries getting spoilt or even exploding.
But more than that, the major difference between the two phones is the user experience. That is courtesy the pure, stock Android that Xiaomi is offering in tandem with Google.
“There are some similarities between the two, but they are really two different phones. The software and the OS that is used in a phone vastly changes the user experience and hence here, we are more excited to give our users their first chance to use stock Android on a Mi phone,” Donovan told dia.
It is similar to when Xiaomi launched the Redmi Note 4 in India which had the same hardware as the Redmi Note 4X in China, and yet there were two very different devices. The hardware alone doesn’t assure good experience. It is up to the software to leverage the power of the hardware and make something useful out of it and that is what Google has done in the Mi A1.
By partnering with Google for the Mi A1 and releasing the phone under the Android One program, both Xiaomi and Google have managed to offer users a vastly better experience. Under Android One, Jon Gold, the global director of Android programs said users are going to get a more consistent Android experience through regular security updates and timely updates to the next version.
Upon being asked what an Android One device signifies, Gold said, “the device will have a standardised UI called the Google launcher. It’s going to get regular security updates. It’s going to get letter upgrades (updates to the next version) and it’s a device that Google stands behind and says that this is what is we think is the best application of Android.”
By taking his words at face value, it means that the user experience of using the Mi A1 is going to be different from not just the Mi 5X, it will be different from any other Xiaomi device precisely because of the smoother update cycle and the standardised UI.
Let’s face it. A thematically complex UI is a power guzzler. No matter how much OEMs want to make their phones stand out by customising the UI and offering more over and above what Google ships with Android, it is detrimental to the overall usage of the phone. The extra apps eat up the limited storage and the extra animations take up more power. MIUI, while offering much more than what Google offers by default, doesn’t get updated to the latest version as fast as stock Android devices. MIUI devices also get security updates much later than a Nokia phone, or even a Moto phone.
As a result, the Mi A1 opens up a whole new audience for Xiaomi. The people who prefer their UIs to be clean and standardised, people who want their devices to be secure and protected, the people who crave to have the latest battery optimisations and the speed boosts that every update to Android brings.
“Every particular phone is targeted at a particular user segment and this particular phone (Mi A1) is targeted at people who really love photography and also want to try out the pure, stock Android experience. I think each phone targets a different segment and I hope we sell as many of this phone as possible,” Donovan added.