The Xiaomi Mi A1 had every ingredient in the book to make fans (and critics) fall in love with. Hopefully the Mi A2 will be better.
Xiaomi took everyone by surprise when it launched the Android One-backed Mi A1 last year. I can still remember my briefing session with the folks at Xiaomi prior to launch. Vividly. It was the sort of thing that dreams are made of. I was happy. Very happy. The Mi A1 was already a winner, or at least halfway there, for me. Call me biased but no one does budget — read affordable — hardware better than Xiaomi. The company somehow manages to raise the bar, almost all the time. But its software has remained largely polarising. Some like it. Many don’t like it. Which is where the Mi A1 stepped in as a breath of fresh air. That it was a phone that also delivered on all the other fronts, and quite convincingly at that, was just an icing on the cake.
Xiaomi’s custom ROM, aka MIUI, is known for some heavy skinning on top of Android, something that some don’t really appreciate. Also, because there’s third-party skinning involved and because Xiaomi likes to update each and every device in its portfolio more or less on similar lines, the fact that users have to wait longer for updates, doesn’t go down well with many. That besides the fact that the company is known to kill some key Android features just so it can maintain uniformity across its devices is a subject of much debate.
Take the Redmi Note 4 for instance. When Xiaomi launched the Redmi Note 4 in India in January last year, the phone shipped with Android Marshmallow (based MIUI 8). In early August, the phone started receiving the Android 7.0 Nougat update (MIUI 8.5) alongside the July Android security patch. Interestingly, the Redmi Note 4 — as per Xiaomi’s listing — isn’t scheduled to get Android 7.1 even though it has been updated to MIUI 9. If Xiaomi’s listing is to be gone by, chances are the Redmi Note 4 may be stuck with Android 7.0 for the rest of its life. To expect an Android Oreo upgrade from it, would be wishful thinking.
The Redmi Note 5 was launched in February this year with Android 7.1.1 Nougat-based MIUI 9. In March, Xiaomi started rolling out the MIUI 9.5 update for the Redmi Note 5. The update, more noticeably, brings full screen gesture support to the Redmi Note 5. It is based on Android 7.1.2 Nougat in the case of the Redmi Note 5.
The Mi Mix 2, Xiaomi’s high-end flagship phone with a bezel-less screen, was also recently updated to MIUI 9.5. The MIUI 9.5 update, in the case of the Mi Mix 2, bumped up the Android version to 8.0 Oreo though. Which I got to realise only upon opening its about phone section. Everything from looks and feel to feature set — including full screen gesture support — was same across the board. This means although both the Redmi Note 5 and the Mi Mix 2 were updated to different Android versions, MIUI 9.5 ensured Redmi Note 5 users weren’t missing out on much at the end of the day. While that’s thoughtful, someone who payed more money to get the premiere Mi Mix 2, would want more out of their purchase, including software titbits.
The MIUI 9.5 update, although it bumps up the Android version to 8.0 in the case of the Mi Mix 2, kills off what’s actually one of the most liked features of Android 8.0 Oreo: notification dots. Unless you’re using a third-party launcher like Lean launcher, there’s no way you can get notification dots as also the ability to long press an app/widget to bring out additional options, in the Mi Mix 2. Even though it’s running Android Oreo now.
Just so you know, Xiaomi’s phones are in no way inadequate — or inferior — in software standards to counterparts. It’s just that Xiaomi operates in an entirely different manner. Xiaomi doesn’t toil with Android AOSP APIs. Rather, the company adds its own features on top of the AOSP. A lot of this happens at the ground level which is why — for most users — there would generally be very little visible difference between a Nougat-based MIUI and an Oreo-based MIUI.
A lot of this also happens without changing an Android version. It is the MIUI version that one would see changing at all times, and going by Xiaomi’s history, the company is in the habit of changing that way too frequently. Xiaomi’s phones may not always boast of the latest version of Android, but, they most certainly aren’t losing out on much anyways, according to Xiaomi. This also helps Xiaomi to keep updating all its phones no matter the release window.
But there is still an audience that would still take Android Oreo over Nougat and it would want it as quickly as possible. That’s where Xiaomi’s Mi A1 stepped in. Not only would the Mi A1 pack in the latest and greatest in Android at all times, it would be the closest thing next to what a certain Google Pixel has to offer at the end of the day: unadulterated software. At least on paper.
Xiaomi has tried its best to maintain the sanctity of Android One. The Mi A1 was updated to Android 8.0 Oreo by the end of 2017. As promised. But the update wasn’t without its flaws. It was, in fact, taken down a couple of times to iron out the chinks in its armor. Also, there were many, who criticised Xiaomi for failing to include Treble support in the update. It’s speculated that the Android 8.1 update may bring Treble to the Mi A1 down the line. We do not know for sure. But what we do know is that the Mi A1 is already on Oreo, and it will be upgraded to Android P as and when Google is out with its next major Android iteration. No other Xiaomi phone can guarantee you that.
The Mi A1 may not be perfect by all means as far as software is concerned, but, you’ll have to cut Xiaomi some slack here. The Mi A1 was Xiaomi’s first tryst with stock Android. And those who know a thing or two about Xiaomi will know: Xiaomi is a software company first, and MIUI is its first and only product. Stock Android isn’t second nature for it. Much like any other Chinese brand, it holds its own software in high regard. It launched a phone with stock Android, only because its fans — and critics — had been asking for one. Just the way its fans — and critics — have been asking for a successor now.
The Mi A1 was a re-branded Mi 5X, and rumour has it that Xiaomi will be launching the Mi 6X in China on April 25.

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