2018 has almost come to an end, which means it’s time for us to look back at some of the best phones launched this year. Now when we think of best, we think of phones like the Pixel 3, the iPhone XS, the iPhone XR, the Galaxy Note 9, the OnePlus 6T and so on a so forth. If you are keeping a tab on tech sites you must have seen the best smartphones of 2018 lists all over them and these lists are full of super expensive (and also technically brilliant) phones. But ask yourself this: how many people does a phone like the iPhone XS with its price of Rs 99,900 or a phone like the Pixel 3 XL with a price of Rs 83,000 serve in India? Not many you will say. This is why the phone of the year for me is the humble Xiaomi Mi A2.
It doesn’t matter how good is the phone. What matters is how many people it has delighted, for how many people it has turned out to be useful. And it is in this context I call the Mi A2 a phone that made some impact in 2018 in India. It delighted and helped more people than a phone like the iPhone XS or the Galaxy Note 9.
You see, while the focus throughout the year was on some of the flagship models that offered new technology to the market, the budget segments is where the revolution really happened. Within a year, we saw the edge-to-edge notch display becoming a norm for phones priced even under Rs 10,000. Smart computational photography has also become a need for consumers in this segment. The demand for fast performance clubbed with long-lasting battery life led smartphone manufacturers to burn the midnight oil and come up with compelling options without demanding eye-watering prices.
There was a time when you had to shell a fortune to get the best smartphone user experience. However, the points of differentiation between a flagship phone and one of its more affordable kin have boiled down to just the level of performance and cameras. The Xiaomi Mi A2 is a perfect example of this fact.
When I first used the Mi A2, I felt that Xiaomi had lost the plot of its Android One series of smartphones. The Mi A1 offered almost everything in the right measure with the goodness of a stock Android interface. With the Mi A2, Xiaomi ditched the highly useful 3.5mm headphone jack and avoided shoving in a bigger battery. On paper, it seemed like the Mi A2 was a disaster, especially when the competition was offering competent offerings with higher specs as well as numbers in some regards.
However, as I kept using the phone for a few days, the Mi A2 gradually started to make sense. Being a tech journalist, I rely on my phones for staying connected to the world every millisecond of the day. The phones I use keep throwing notifications from news websites, Twitter channels, YouTube channels and other sources of information. And as they keep coming, I tap on every single one of them to go through the content.
It doesn’t matter how good is the phone. What matters is how many people it has delighted, for how many people it has turned out to be useful. And it is in this context I call the Mi A2 a phone that made some impact in 2018 in India.
Alongside that, I also need my phone for clicking photos at press events. The camera needs to cope up well with diverse lighting conditions while having a very low failure rate. I also use my phone to write reports on-spot while communicating with the workplace. And when the time comes to settle for the day, I pick up my phone for a brief session of PUBG MOBILE or F1 Mobile Racing. And I expect that the phone doesn’t die in-between my bust workflow.
The Mi A2 is able to cope up with all that with absolute ease. I picked up the phone before the day and it kept going on until I retired. Whenever I needed the phone, it was there, ready to accept all my commands. The stock Android Oreo OS at the time of my usage was a great relief after coming from another phone with a heavily customised UI. All the apps were readily available for use and they launched with almost no lag. Animations were fluid and the whole phone felt comparable to a flagship Pixel 2 or the OnePlus 6 in terms of effortless usability. If a phone keeps working without lags for days, it never irritates the user and is a sign of good software optimization.
Part of that fluid performance also has to do with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chipset. The Snapdragon 660 is now considered to be a standard offering under Rs 20,000, but earlier this year, the Mi A2 was responsible for bringing the premium chip to the affordable segments. The Snapdragon 660 with the Adreno 512 GPU makes for smooth gaming performance. The chip also manages power efficiently, which is required on a phone that sports a rather average 3000mAh battery.
While the 3000mAh battery seems inadequate at first glance, it begins to make sense when it’s paired with a clean and power efficient stock Android OS. The battery easily lasts for a day even when I used it heavily. The addition of Quick Charge 4.0 to the recipe makes it a perfect choice for those who prefer to keep the battery topped up even when sitting by a socket for 15 minutes. I am told that the new Android 9 Pie update has improved the battery life considerably, which is a win-win situation for Mi A2 users.
However, for most people, a phone is a statement of their persona. Xiaomi pays special attention to the build quality on their devices and with the Mi A2, they took it up by several notches. The smooth and curvy metal body with a matte finish imparts a luxurious feel. It’s a finish that I didn’t mind flaunting at times in front of the new iPhones and Samsung Galaxys. Surely, glass looks better at times. But the understated elegance that a metal bodies phone provides is unmatched. And if I drop, I know that I won’t have to shed tears over a cracked rear panel.
The front has the fairly modern 18:9 display with thick forehead and chin. While the notched display maybe trendy for some, the “un-notched” narrow-bezel display looks classy and offers a uniform viewing experience with no hindrance. The display is also fairly good in terms of colour reproduction and contrast. Although, other phones at this price offer better displays.
This is not meant to indicate that the Mi A2 is flawless. I certainly wished that Xiaomi had considered retaining the 3.5mm headphone jack and opted for a slightly better screen as well as a bigger battery.
However, what impressed me most in the Mi A2 is the camera setup. The 12-megapixel + 20-megapixel dual rear cameras are extremely capable in terms of hardware. I took out the Mi A2 in various lighting conditions and for most parts, it never disappointed. Xiaomi’s software enhancements made sure that most of the casual photos I took were Instagram-ready. I am not a fan of selfies but the 20-megapixel front camera did deliver exceptionally well, especially with the software assisted portrait mode.
My job allows me to witness some of the finest smartphones to come out every year. Every single week, I keep on switching to a new smartphone that comes in for review, with most of them being flagship-grade smartphones. So, no it is not coming from a Xiaomi fanboy.
I rate the Mi A2 so high because it brings impeccable smartphone experience within reach for a huge number of consumers in India. It’s good enough for what most of us need from a smartphone. As I stated, you pick it up and it will work as intended 90 per cent of the times. Those are great odds. It becomes more impressive when you consider that it sells for Rs 15,999, which is a quarter of what you pay for a Google Pixel 3.
This is not meant to indicate that the Mi A2 is flawless. I certainly wished that Xiaomi had considered retaining the 3.5mm headphone jack and opted for a slightly better screen as well as a bigger battery. However, the positives overcome the drawbacks here and I felt more satisfied in carrying a phone with me that offers a smartphone experience that I desire for a price that doesn’t beg me to reconsider my budget plans for the year. In my opinion, the Xiaomi Mi A2 is the best smartphone most Indian consumers can buy in 2018 and I expect to see a worthy successor next year.