Gionee is one of the Chinese smartphone manufacturers that has focused more on its offline presence than online retail in India. At a recent launch event, the company boasted about how it has grown through offline channels over the years while other brands are fighting it out on e-commerce platforms. One factor that has worked well for Gionee so far is the fact that its product portfolio is spread across several price segments. Interestingly, Gionee has been tapping selfie-obsessed users across these segments, and the latest addition in the company's lineup is another attempt to do just that.
Gionee announced its new A-series smartphones, the A1 and A1 Plus, at the MWC 2017 trade show last month. Without much delay, the Gionee A1 has now been launched in India. The smartphone offers features like a 16-megapixel front camera and a huge battery, and it runs Amigo OS based on Android 7.0 Nougat. However, it is priced to fit into in a category where there are several other smartphones with similar capabilities.
Does the Gionee A1 offer the kind of experience that will beat its competition? We find out.
Gionee A1 design
Metal bodies are slowly becoming a standard feature for the majority of smartphones being sold right now in India, even in the budget segment, and that's a good thing. Metal offers durability while also feeling premium. The Gionee A1 uses A6000 aircraft-grade material that the company claims is used in making premium cars and planes. The device's rounded sides and back also add to its visual appeal. The phone definitely feels sturdy, and the polished back is quite good-looking. The front is dominated by glass which comes right up to the corners of the phone and meets the curve of the metal rim. It fit very well in our hands.
There is a fingerprint scanner embedded in the home button, with capacitive Back and Recents buttons on either side of it. The volume and power buttons are on the right. Gionee has given the power button a reddish tone which is a unique touch. The front camera is placed right above the screen, and there's also an LED flash which Gionee calls "Selfie flash". The Micro-USB charging port and speaker are on the bottom, while the 3.5mm audio jack is on top.
The rear of the Gionee A1 looks familiar, with many current smartphones following the same design. We have antenna lines running across the top and bottom, like we've seen on many other phones such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (Review), which is priced lower than the Gionee A1. The camera protrudes slightly, but it isn't as noticeable as it is on the Moto G5 Plus (Review). There is a dual-LED flash right below the primary camera, with Gionee's logo below it for a symmetrical look. The logo is embossed in a circle, and it feels like the natural placement for a fingerprint reader. We kept trying to place our finger on the logo at the back at first, because we're so used to this positioning now. The Gionee name is printed at the bottom of the back panel as well.
At 183 grams, the Gionee A1 feels slightly heavy for a phone with this screen size. The Redmi Note 4, which also has an all-metal body and a 4100mAh battery, weighs just 165 grams in comparison. The Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime (167 grams) and Moto M (163 grams) also both belong in this category and weigh less than the Gionee A1.
The Gionee A1 ships with a charger, a Micro-USB cable, earphones, a transparent back cover, an instruction manual, and a SIM eject tool. Overall, we like its design and feel that it lives up to the price bracket in which it has been launched. We just wish that it was slightly lighter for more comfortable usage.
Gionee A1 specifications and software
The Gionee A1 is powered by an octa-core MediaTek Helio P10 (MT6755) processor clocked at 2GHz, coupled with 4GB of RAM. It has 64GB of storage and supports microSD cards of up to 256GB. This is a hybrid dual-SIM phone, and 4G is supported on both SIMs, but only one at a time. You also get VoLTE (voice over LTE), Wi-Fi n, Bluetooth 4.0, and USB-OTG.
The handset is backed by a 4010mAh battery which the company claims can last for up to two days with mixed usage. The Gionee A1 supports fast charging which is a nice feature to have.
The Gionee A1 has a 5.5-inch full-HD (1080x1920 pixels) display, and in our opinion it is one of the best we have seen in this price range. It is bright enough, and sunlight legibility is also decent. Blacks are rich, and colours are reproduced well. Text and images look crisp. Viewing angles were also not a problem while watching videos. However, the front of this phone is a fingerprint magnet, and we had to wipe the screen from time to time during the review period.
The handset runs Amigo 4.0 OS based on Android 7.0 Nougat, and is among few handsets in its price segment that offers the latest version of Android out-of-the-box. Gionee's in-house Amigo OS has received much-required visual updates, and integrates a lot of Nougat features as well. Users will get the ability to run different apps in split-screen mode. The Settings app has also received a refresh, although there is no menu button in the upper left corner which lets users quickly switch between subsections without the need to go back to the main Settings screen.
Gionee has added few features like Smart Gestures that let you do things like answers calls automatically when you pick the phone up, or pause alarms when you flip it over. Smart vibration reminders can notify you about missed calls and messages while the phone is in standby, and a double-tap can wake the phone so you don't have to reach for the power button. There's an Edge Bar feature that offers shortcuts to your favourite apps when you swipe left or right on the home button. The A1 also lets you operate the screen while wearing gloves in winter.
As seen in previous version of Amigo OS, there is lots of preinstalled bloatware from Gionee which is mostly of no use, but there's no way to get rid of them. Gionee needs to make these apps optional for users. The Theme Park and Mood Wallpaper apps offer options for changing the look of the UI. There is a G Store app which offers new apps, games and videos. You also get preloaded third-party apps including Amazon, Xender, Hotoday, Messenger, Saavn, SwiftKey Keyboard, and Truecaller plus Asphalt Nitro, Bubble Bash 3, Danger Dash, and Real Football.
Gionee A1 cameras
The Gionee A1 is being heavily marketed as a selfie phone, so we begin with that. There's a 16-megapixel front camera with autofocus and a single LED flash. The camera app offers live filters as well as smoothening, whitening, slimming, and eye enlarging features so you can "beautify" shots before they are taken. Selfies looked vibrant and detailed. The software tweaks were fun to use. Most of our selfies were decent, though we noticed a little unnecessary colour tone which seemed artificial. HDR selfies tended to be better than regular ones. Low-light results were also good, though the front camera tended to pick up noise when light was limited. The selfie flash feature works as claimed by the company, and fills light in shots where there isn't enough. However, the flash can be uncomfortable when it goes off at arm's length from your eyes.
The 13-megapixel rear camera on the Gionee A1 has a dual-LED flash and f2.0 aperture. It uses a Sony IMX258 sensor. The camera app offers plenty of modes to choose from including night, professional, time-lapse, slow-motion, smart scene, and GIF. The Gionee A1's camera app also offers a translation feature that lets you photograph words or even few lines and translate them to another language. Only a few languages are supported, and the default is English to Simplified Chinese. The rear camera can record 1080p and 720p videos, and the quality was decent.
The rear camera managed to take shots with accurate colours, but they tended to look oversaturated and lose texture quality at times. The camera also took some time to lock focus which can be annoying. Shots taken at night were also good, though we noticed some noise and motion blur on checking them at full size. Overall, the Gionee A1 offers decent cameras both in front and at the back, though we feel it needs further polish since photography is one of its main highlights.
Gionee A1 performance
The Gionee A1 definitely won't disappoint you in terms of performance, and the octa-core processor feels adequate for most jobs. The handset packs 4GB of RAM, and during our review, we found that there was around 1.8GB of RAM free at any moment. The fingerprint scanner on the Gionee A1 is really quick and we like the fact that the phone can be unlocked with just a touch, without us needing to press the home button.
Games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Dead Effect 2 ran without frame rate drops, and we could flip between games and other apps without any lag. The 5.5-inch screen is good for movies and videos, and we had a good time streaming shows on our test unit.
We were however disappointed that the Gionee A1 got hot quite often. After just 30 minutes of gaming, it was uncomfortable to hold. This also happened when we used GPS for navigation and when using the camera app or even talking on the phone for a long time. Our unit even restarted itself a few times after getting warm, which isn't something we expect from a phone no matter its price. This issue ruined the overall usage experience for us.
The Gionee A1 offers MaxxAudio enhancement that claims to improve sound from the speaker as well as earphones. At higher volumes, the Gionee A1 doesn't disappoint, and clarity doesn't suffer. The bundled earphones are decent as well. Call quality was decent, and we didn't have any trouble with voice quality. We were impressed with the smartphone's ability to latch on to network in areas with low connectivity or weak Wi-Fi signals.
In our benchmark tests, the Gionee A1 fared well. It returned 50,186 on AnTuTu; 22,416 in Quadrant overall; 17fps in GFXbench; and 6,841 in 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme. At this price point, we have seen smartphones getting better scores than the Gionee A1.
The Gionee A1 doesn't disappoint when it comes to battery performance especially considering that this is the phone's other big highlight. The handset packs a non-removable 4010mAh battery and supports fast charging, which came in handy. Twenty minutes gave us a decent 40 percent charge, and the phone reached 100 percent in less than two hours. We logged an impressive 14 hours and 45 minutes of runtime in our HD video loop test. We also liked the regular and extreme power saving modes on the Gionee A1 which extended usage time for several hours. In real world usage, we found that the device easily managed over 36 hours with heavy usage where we had our email, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, Instagram and more apps open in the background at all times. With light to medium usage, we got an impressive 45-48 hours of life with around 20 percent still remaining.
The Gionee A1 is a solid option in its price segment, and will definitely make heads turn with its good looks. Battery performance is impressive, and the cameras fare well enough. The heating issue however is this phone's biggest problem, and buyers will have to deal with the rear constantly getting warm with even day-to-day usage, which will get uncomfortable. The fact that this phone runs Android 7.0 Nougat gets extra points from us, though the software bloat is disappointing.
The Gionee A1 will be going on sale through offline retail channels as well as on Amazon India at a later date. The company is kicking off preorders for the Gionee A1 starting on March 31, and in a bid to woo customers, is offering a two-year warranty along with a pair of JBL headphones or a Swiss Military Bluetooth Speaker with every booking.
Many recently launched phones have been targeted at selfie-obsessed users, and the Gionee A1 is definitely an addition to that list. Some of its competitors are the Vivo V5 Plus (Review) which is priced way higher at Rs. 27,980, and the Oppo F1s (Review) which is positioned slightly lower at Rs. 17,990. Other competitors include the Moto M and Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime (Review) - both of which are available for under Rs. 20,000.