Gionee A1 review: master of some Smartphones

At MWC 2017, Gionee took the covers off its latest mid-rangers – the A1 . As seems to be the current trend these days, both smartphones feature powerful selfie cameras – 16MP and 20MP respectively. As of now, Gionee has only launched the A1 in India. The mid-range Smartphone falls into the sub-price segment, where it faces plenty of competition in both the online and offline space. Let’s see how it stacks up.

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Specs at a glance

Display
Size 5.5 Inch
Resolution Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Performance
CPU Octa core, 2 GHz, MediaTek MT6755
RAM 4 GB
Storage
Internal memory 64 GB
External memory Up to 256 GB
Battery
Capacity 4010 mAH, Li-Polymer, Non removable
Camera
Primary camera 13 MP
Secondary camera 16 MP
Connectivity
Network support Dual SIM 4G
Other options Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS
Others
Battery Capacity 4010
Operating system Android 7.0 Nougat

Design and display: metal and AMOLED

It’s getting hard to tell mid-range smartphones apart on the basis of design these days, and the Gionee A1 is no different. But make no mistake – it’s got a premium build quality with what Gionee claims is ‘aircraft-grade metal’, nice rounded corners and a slim waistline despite its huge 4,010mAh battery inside. The use of metal means the phone tends to be slippery, but Gionee has thoughtfully included a transparent TPU case in the retail box which you can slap on right away. The back panel is home to the circular camera module and dual-LED flash, with a large circular Gionee logo beneath.

The port and button placement are fairly standard, and we like the red outline on the power switch. Gionee’s opted for a micro-USB port instead of the increasingly common USB Type-C connector.
The Gionee A1 features a large 5.5-inch full HD display, which is sharp with good viewing angles and brightness levels. The use of an AMOLED panel means you get the rich colours that make viewing videos and playing games a visual treat. Gionee’s used 2.5D curved glass for the front panel, and below the display you’ll find the physical home button / fingerprint sensor. You can unlock the phone from sleep by touching the fingerprint sensor, but if you want to use it as a home button, you’ll need to press it. It can be confusing to use, and we wish Gionee would have used a capacitive key instead.

Software: adios, Amigo

The Gionee A1 runs Android 7.0 Nougat with Amigo UI 4.0 on top. Gionee’s custom UI has improved tremendously since the early days, but it still has a long way to go. It’s choc-a-block with features – most of them pointless and difficult to discover. Something as simple as changing the wallpaper requires heading to the Mood Wallpaper or Theme Park apps. Speaking of apps, we counted over 12 of them that were third-party and come pre-installed with the device. Thankfully, these can be uninstalled, but Gionee’s own bloatware you’ll have to live with. The lock screen is particularly annoying – it follows Huawei’s EMUI-style Magazine Unlock feature which displays different wallpapers every time you unlock the phone. Only in this case the wallpapers come with text and links, and in some cases, even ads.

Amigo UI follows an iOS-style quick settings menu that’s accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the display. Unfortunately on the Gionee A1, the quick settings were often inadvertently brought up while scrolling in apps like Facebook and Twitter, and we even ended up mistakenly turning on airplane mode a few times.

The bottomline is this – too much of a good thing can be bad – and Gionee’s quest to pack Amigo UI with ‘useful’ features ends up having an adverse effect on the user experience.

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Camera: a pretty picture

The mainstay of the Gionee A1 is its 16MP selfie camera with f/2.0 aperture and selfie flash. At the rear, you get a 13MP shooter with f/2.0 aperture and a dual-LED flash. The camera app offers all the usual suspects including HDR, Panorama, Pro, Night, etc. There are also some useful ones like GIF, Translation (snap a photo to translate text instantly) and Smart Scan (scan a barcode or QR code from within the camera app). There are also several filters which you can apply in real time.

Speaking of the front camera first, it can churn out a great selfie most times, with good sharpness and detail, and attractive skin tones. There’s a beauty mode which goes all out to let you smoothen and whiten your skin, slim down your face and even enlarge your eyes – if that’s your thing. The selfie flash on the front camera is actually pretty effective – instead of turning on only when you press the shutter button, it stays on like a torch so you can see the effect before you click. The flash is well distributed and not too harsh, so skin isn’t left looking washed out. Our only gripe with the front camera is that it maximises the screen brightness as soon as it’s opened, casting an artificial glow on to your face. This can also make the screen harsh on the eyes, especially if you’re trying to take a selfie in low light. 

The rear camera is a surprisingly accomplished shooter as well. It’s fast and is able to get more difficult macro shots in focus. Images taken in daylight display natural colours and are well balanced. It only struggles in low light, where you can see images with visible grain and deteriorating sharpness.

Performance: hits and misses

The Gionee A1 is quite sorted in terms of horsepower – you get an octa-core Helio P10 SoC, paired with 4GB of RAM. There’s 64GB of storage onboard, out of which you get 52.61GB to use out of the box. The phone works fine for activities like gaming, without any noticeable frame drops or heating issues. However, due to the heavy nature of Amigo UI, app crashes and freezes are frequent, and a few lags are noticeable during daily usage. The fingerprint sensor on the Gionee A1 works fine for the most part, but isn’t as fast as we would have liked. It also failed to recognize our fingerprint on more than one occasion.

The Gionee A1’s battery life is its other major highlight. With moderate usage, we managed to get over 4 hours and 30 minutes of screen on time over 33 hours, with a bit of juice to spare. In our video loop battery drain test, the A1 lasted for 11 hours and 7 minutes. The bundled charger does a good job of refuelling the device, taking 1 hour and 51 minutes to go from 0 to 100 percent.

Verdict

The Gionee A1’s key selling points are its capable cameras and excellent battery life. And if we were to compare this to the competition available online – namely the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (review) and Moto G5 Plus (review) – it becomes hard to recommend at its price. But it’s important to remember that Gionee is also an established offline player, with a big reach in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. For the A1, the main competition is therefore relegated to devices like the OPPO F1s (review) and Vivo V5s (first impressions), which are also betting on their selfie cameras as their mainstays. In that respect, the Gionee A1 with its add-ons like a full HD display and big battery emerges as a far more serious contender, and one you shouldn’t dismiss off the bat.  

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Gionee A1 first impressions: betting big on battery life and selfie power

While Chinese brands might be taking the global smartphone market by storm, they surprisingly don’t have a significant presence in the biggest annual mobile extravaganza that is MWC. Gionee however, seems to be an exception. Last year, it took the curtains off its innovative Elife S8 flagship (first impressions) that offered features like 3D Touch along with unveiling its new brand identity, and this time as well, it’s introduced a couple of compelling smartphones. The brand launched two offerings under the new A series, monikered the A1. The Plus version isn’t just the larger of the two, but also has better hardware to boast. We got our hands on both devices during the event, and here’s how we’ll sum up our experience. We’ll be mainly talking about the A1 Plus, and the A1 will be mentioned to highlight the differences as we go along.

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Let’s start with the highlight of the two new devices – selfies. It seems that Chinese manufacturers are trying to cash in on the selfie phenomenon as much as they can. The Gionee A1 sports a high-res 20MP sensor at the front, which makes it the second phone after the vivo V5 Plus (review) to rock such a powerful front camera. It also gets an LED flash at the front to ensure that you can capture your self-portraits irrespective of the lighting conditions. The smaller sibling comes with a 16MP selfie camera.

Not just selfies, the A1 duo also seems to be capable shooters as far as the primary sensors are concerned. With the Gionee A1 , you get dual 13MP + 5MP sensors at the back, with the main unit clicking the scene and the other sensor capturing depth information. This ensures interesting bokeh effects. The Gionee A1 features a 13MP camera at the back. Both phablets get dual-colour LED flash units to provide illumination in poorly-lit environments.

As aforementioned, the A1 Plus is a bigger device than the Gionee A1. While both of them technically fall in the category of phablets, the A1 still sports a manageable screen size of 5.5-inches, whereas the A1 Plus’ window to the world is a 6-inch panel. Screens on both the phones offer full HD resolution, which results in crisp text and good colour reproduction. The brightness levels also seem to be impressive.

By virtue of a large display, the Gionee A1 Plus has a bigger footprint and is also on the weightier side by tipping the scales at 226g. We were easily able to hold the device using a single hand thanks to the dual curves at the back, although for most intents and purposes, you’d need to use two hands. The A1 on the other hand, can comfortably be used single-handedly. The smartphones are built with unibody metallic construction and are available in gold, black or silver hues. In terms of the placement of ports and buttons, you won’t find anything out of the ordinary.

With regards to the hardware, both the A1 and A1 Plus come powered by 4 gigs of RAM. However, the Gionee A1 Plus gets a better and faster chipset in the form of the MediaTek P25. The A1 has a 1.8GHz octa-core P10 processor. While we couldn’t test the limits of the hardware during our brief usage, the smartphones offered smooth navigation and switched between apps flawlessly. For memory, both phones feature 64GB of flash storage, which can be extended further with the use of a microSD card.

Software-wise, both phones have Android 7.0 Nougat, though you might not be able to recognise that since the interface is Gionee’s proprietary Amigo 4.0.
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The Gionee A1 Plus draws power from a 4,550mAh battery, whereas the A1 sips juice from a 4,010mAh pack. With these beefy capacities, there’s little doubt that both smartphones will last long, and you even enable several battery-saving modes to reduce the drain. The phablets also support fast charging capabilities.

While the company hasn’t specified a timeline for the Gionee A1 and A1 Plus launch in India, they can be expected to land by March or April. Both the phones are loaded options focussing on current trends, although their pricing seems to be steep. The Gionee A1 will retail at lowest price, while the A1 Plus gets a sticker price . We’re hoping Gionee prices them more aggressively in India… otherwise they’ll be facing an uphill battle to stay in the game. 

Performance: hits and misses

The Gionee A1 is quite sorted in terms of horsepower – you get an octa-core Helio P10 SoC, paired with 4GB of RAM. There’s 64GB of storage onboard, out of which you get 52.61GB to use out of the box. The phone works fine for activities like gaming, without any noticeable frame drops or heating issues. However, due to the heavy nature of Amigo UI, app crashes and freezes are frequent, and a few lags are noticeable during daily usage. The fingerprint sensor on the Gionee A1 works fine for the most part, but isn’t as fast as we would have liked. It also failed to recognise our fingerprint on more than one occasion.