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Orange Pi Development Boards

Xiaomi Mi A1 (Android One) Smartphone Gets Android 8.0 OTA Firmware Update

January 2nd, 2018 2 comments

Google gave a new life to its Android One program last year with products such as Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, which also happens to be my main phone. One of the main benefits of getting an Android One smartphone is the promise to get regular security updates, as well as upgrades to the latest version of Android for at least 2 years after launch.

I’ve been keeping track of updated in my long term review of Xiaomi Mi A1, and since I received it in mid-October, I got 6 security updates, or about two such update per month. However, Xiaomi also promised Android 8.0 Oreo update by the end of the year (2017), and as the year drew to a close I was not confident the company would fulfill this promise.

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But around mid-afternoon on December 31st, I received a notification about “Android Update (Oreo)”, so I went there, and it just mentioned a December 2017 security update, but I went ahead and download the 1GB+ update, and within 30 minutes, the phone was updated.

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The update went rather smoothly, as it kept all my settings and apps, but I did lose the Phone app icon that is supposed to be on the bottom left corner. I was easy enough to restore. I still had to check whether I got Android 8.0, although the notification dot on the Play Store icon gave a clue. I still went to “About phone”, and indeed the Android version was now 8.0.0, with Linux kernel updated to 3.18.66 from 3.18.31 in Android 7.1.2. However, the company has yet to release the kernel source code. I’m now expecting Android 9.0 update by the end of the year, or early next year.

Android 8.0.0 fixed at least one thing in my case, as Google app had become extremely sluggish in Android 7.1, often leading to “app not responding” pop-ups, but luckily now everything is back to normal.

What’s the Best Android TV Box (2017/2018 Edition)?

December 26th, 2017 17 comments

Since I was often asked which TV box to buy, I wrote a guide entitled “What’s the best Android TV box?” in April 2016. Time has passed, new products have launched, I tested more devices, and got further reader feedback, so it’s time for an update.

There’s still no device that rules them all, and since everybody has different requirements and price points, what could the best Android TV box ever to one person, maybe be a piece of junk to another. Before purchasing a TV box, you should consider what you plan to do with it, and find the device with matches your needs and budget. So first, I’ll provide a list of things to look for – beside the SoC/RAM selection – before selecting three TV boxes that stand out (in no particular order), as well as alternatives worth looking at.

Things to Look for

The list is basically the same as last year, except I added two sections for operating systems, and extra features:

  • Operating System – There was a time when “Android TV box” only meant “Android” “TV Box”, but Google’s own TV box operating system has become more popular, and some companies have also started offering dual OS version with Android/Linux running at the same time, mostly for server purpose. Here are the options you may consider:
    • Official Android TV OS – Pick such device if you want the original experience with leanback launcher, and access to streaming services like Hulu, Netflix an so on. This operating system should come with all/most the licenses needed for streaming, is specially designed for the large screen, and works well with the IR remote control. However, you’ll only be able to easily install apps specifically designed for the TV (e.g. no Chrome browser, unless you sideload it), and the system may not always work well with an air mouse or wireless keyboard/touchpad.
    • Unofficial Android TV OS – Same as above, except some licenses may be missing, so some streaming services may not work as well, or be limited standard resolution
    • Android OS – Most – not to say all – boxes you’ll find in China are running Android operating system made for smartphones with customizations for the big screen. Those devices have good flexibility, since you can install pretty any app from the Google Play store, and they come with a launcher made for the big screen. The downside is that only parts of the interface or some apps will be usable with the IR remote control, so you’ll need to use an air mouse, wireless keyboard, or smartphone app to have good control of the device. Most boxes also lack proper DRM and other licenses, which may restrict the streaming services you may access, or at least the playback resolution.
    • Android + Linux – Dual boot systems have been around for a while, and IMHO not very useful, so what I’m referring to here are systems with two operating systems running at the same time with Android for media playback, and Linux for NAS/server functions. I’ve seen devices with OpenWrt or Debian so far.
  • History of regular firmware updates – If a company provides regular OTA (over-the-air) firmware updates, your device is likely to get better and better overtime. The cheapest TV boxes normally follow the ship-and-forget model, so you can’t expect any improvements, unless some community members offer custom firmware.
  • Support forums – Most reputable companies selling to end users offer support forums. For cheaper boxes, you won’t get any support, except through communities like Freaktab.
  • 4K & HDR Support – If you want to purchase a device that will support 4K videos, and the latest HDR (High Dynamic Range features) you should look for devices with HDMI 2.0a for 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 output up to 60 Hz and HDR. Double check 4K video codecs support (10-bit HEVC/H.265, VP9, H.264), and make sure they can decode the framerate used for your videos. The latter is usually not a problem with H.265, but sometimes it could be for VP9 or H.264 since some systems can only handle 30 fps or 24 fps.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – In case you own an amplifier or A/V receiver capable of handling Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD Master, DTS HD High Resolution, or DTS:X, you really need to check the reviews on this site or others, as many devices fall short despite claiming support.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – This is the ability of the device to match the monitor refresh rate to the video frame rate to avoid a phenomenon called micro stutter, which makes the videos not as smooth as it could be at regular intervals, and especially noticeable when the video is panning. if this is properly implemented, e.g. 24 fps videos played using 24 Hz on the monitor, then micro-stutter disappears.
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming – If you’re paying for video streaming services like Netflix, you’ll have to make sure they are specifically supported, with Widewine Level 1 DRM necessary, but not sufficient condition for playing the videos at HD or UHD (4K) resolution. Most devices can only stream videos in SD resolution due to the lack of proper DRM and a hard-to-get “Netflix license”.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – Many Android TV boxes have similar specifications, but IMHO, two key design choices are especially impacting the performance between apparently similar devices. Some TV boxes will overheat over time, leading to poor performance after a few minutes, while others with proper cooling will perform the same over hours. Fast storage will ensure the device boots quickly, apps load fast, and the device does not get slowed down while apps are installing or updating in the background.
  • Extra Features – You’d normally not care about those, if all you want is to do streaming, but if you want more from your TV box, you could check for digital TV tuner(s) (DVB-T/T2/C, DVB-S2, ATSC..), the presence of a an internal SATA bay, HDMI input for recording or broadcasting video from another device, etc…

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub

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Criteria:

  • Operating System – Android 6.0.1 OS
  • History of regular firmware updates – MINIX normally updates their devices for about a year or so.
  • Support forumsMINIX forums are fairly active, so you should be able to get decent support from MINIX themselves or the community of users there.
  • 4K & HDR Support – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported, with very good support for 4K 10-bit H.265, VP9 and H.264 videos.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through both working.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK (Kodi 17.x)
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming –  Widewine Level 1 & Microsoft PlayReady implemented. However, Netflix can only play up to SD resolution, or possibly up to HD (720p) with a trick, but not full HD, nor UHD since Netflix requires a separate agreement.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – Good cooling thanks to a large heatsink, and very fast internal storage.
  • Extra Features – Separate microphone jack, Kensington lock

Just like MINIX NEO U1 I recommended last year, as long as you don’t need Netflix Full HD or 4K UHD playback, and are happy using their custom launcher and an air mouse, MINIX NEO U9-H should definitely be in your list of devices to consider. Please read MINIX NEO U9-H review for details, taking into account that some bugs may have been fixed since my review in March 2017.

Price: $149.90 and up with NEO A3 Lite air mouse on Amazon US, GearBest, GeekBuying, and other sellers. You can also find the box only (without air mouse) for around $139.90.

U5PVR Deluxe Set-top Box and NAS

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U5PVR Deluxe made it to the top three list because of all the extras like tuners and a 3.5″ SATA drive, and the fact that it runs both Android TV OS (unofficial) and Debian.

Criteria:

  • Operating System – Unofficial Android TV 5.1 OS and Debian running at the same time. Android TV 7.1 is now also available, as well as a dual boot image with Enigma2.
  • History of regular firmware updates – The company has released several firmware updates since the review. Previous model was U4 Quad Hybrid – Launch: January 2016; last firmware update: November 2016. So a little under a year of firmware updates.
  • Support forums – Available on SmartSTB forums (Somewhat active), or Google+ (not so active). The device is not as popular as MINIX models, so you’ll have less users involved.
  • 4K & HDR Support – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported, with very good support for 4K 10-bit H.265, VP9 and H.264 videos in Media Center app (but Kodi 17.x support needed some work)
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through worked in Media Center app.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK (Media Center app)
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming –  Support for Widevine L1 DRM and Netflix HD/4K (Not in my June 2017 review, but see comments)
  • Thermal design and storage performance – Excellent internal storage performance, and no noticeable issue with cooling (See teardown for design)
  • Extra Features – SATA bay for a 2.5″ or 3.5″ drive, dual DVB-T/T2 tuner

If you live in a country where DVB-T/T2 is supported (or various combination or DVB-T/T2/C, ATSC, DVB-S2 if you purchase an additional tuner board), and plan to use the Linux NAS features, U5PVR Deluxe looks certainly like a good candidate. However, if you mainly want to watch video streams from Netflix, Hulu, and other premium services, and use Kodi, there should be other devices that better fit your needs.

Price: $229.99 including shipping on Aliexpress.

Nvidia Shield Android TV (2017 Edition)

NVIDIA has launched a smaller version of their popular Shield Android TV earlier this year, and while I have not reviewed the device myself, it’s one of the most popular Android TV box on the market.

Criteria:

  • Operating System – Official Android TV 7.0 (Upgrade to Oreo likely)
  • History of regular firmware updates – Nvidia has been providing upgrades since 2015 for the original model (around 6 times a year)
  • Support forums – Active SHIELD Android TV board on Nvidia Geforce forum.
  • 4K Support – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported with support for 10-bit H.265, VP9 and H.264 video playback @ 60 fps.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through supported
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK for Kodi and Plex at least.
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming – Netflix HD & 4K officially supported, as well as Amazon Video
  • Thermal design and storage performanceGood storage performance, and I only read reports of isolated issues with overheating (i.e. not a design issue).
  • Extra Features – N/A

NVIDIA TV box also features the most power GPU of any TV boxes, so it’s also an excellent 3D gaming console. Availability is still an issue, although the company has launched the model in some more countries this year. This also means the device can be pretty expensive once you factor shipping, custom duties, and other fees (e.g. forward shipping) if you purchase it from a country where the device has not officially launched. Just like other devices running Android TV OS, not all apps will be available from the Play Store.

Price: Around $200 on Amazon US.

Other Alternatives

The three devices are not the only ones to consider, and other alternatives could meet some people requirements.

  • Above $100
  • Below $100
    • Xiaomi Mi Box US – Good officially Android TV option if you want to stream video from services like Vudu+, Hulu, YouTube, Netflix… and don’t care about playing games, and very high performance for other tasks
    • Mecool M8S PRO+ – Sub $40 box based on Amlogic S905X SoC with 2GB RAM/16GB storage that supports unofficial Android TV 7.1 firmware, Netflix up to 1080p. [Please note warning about eMMC flash version in the linked post]
    • Various low cost Amlogic S905/S905X TV boxes compatible with LibreELEC (Kodi Linux distribution). Note that stock Android firmware on those boxes may not be very good, so better only consider them to run LibreELEC supported by the community

I hope this guide will help some to decide on which model to buy. Feel free to comment if you think another model should be part of the top 3, or the list of alternatives.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Octa Core Kryo 385 SoC to Power Premium Smartphones, XR Headsets, Windows Laptops

December 7th, 2017 9 comments

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor was expected since May 2017 with four custom Cortex A75 cores, four Cortex A53 cores, Adreno 630 GPU, and X20 LTE modem. with the launch planned for Q1 2018. At least, that what the leaks said.

Qualcomm has now formally launched Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform and rumors were mostly right, as the the octa-core processor comes with four Kryo 385 Gold cores (custom Cortex A75), four Kryo 385 Silver cores (custom Cortex A55) leveraging DynamIQ technology, an Adreno 630 “Visual Processing System”, and Snapdragon X20 modem supporting LTE Cat18/13.

The processor is said to use more advanced artificial intelligence (AI) allowing what the company calls “extended reality (XR)” applications, and will soon be found in flagship smartphones, XR headsets, mobile PCs, and more.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (SDM845) specifications:

  • Processor
    • 4x Kryo 385 Gold performance cores @ up to 2.80 GHz (custom ARM Cortex A75 cores)
    • 4x Kryo 385 Silver efficiency cores @ up to 1.80 GHz (custom ARM Cortex A55 cores)
    • DynamIQ technology
  • GPU (Visual Processing Subsystem) – Adreno 630 supporting OpenGL ES 3.2, OpenCL 2.0,Vulkan 1.x, DxNext
  • DSP
    • Hexagon 685 with 3rd Gen Vector Extensions, Qualcomm All-Ways Aware Sensor Hub.
    • Supports Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine (NPE) SDK, Caffe, Caffe2, and Tensorflow
  • Memory I/F – LPDDR4x, 4×16 bit up to 1866MHz, 8GB RAM
  • Storage I/F – TBD (Likely UFS 2.1, but maybe UFS 3.0?)
  • Display
    • Up to 4K Ultra HD, 60 FPS, or dual 2400×2400 @ 120 FPS (VR); 10-bit color depth
    • DisplayPort and USB Type-C support
  • Audio
    • Qualcomm Aqstic audio codec and speaker amplifier
    • Qualcomm aptX audio playback with support for aptX Classic and HD
    • Native DSD support, PCM up to 384kHz/32bit
  • Camera
    • Spectra 280 ISP with dual 14-bit ISPs
    • Up to 16 MP dual camera, up to 32 MP single camera
    • Support for 16MP image sensor operating up to 60 frames per second
    • Hybrid Autofocus, Zero Shutter Lag, Multi-frame Noise Reduction (MFNR)
    • Video Capture – Up to 4K @ 60fps HDR (H.265), up to 720p @ 480fps (slow motion)
  • Connectivity
    • Cellular Modem – Snapdragon X20 with peak download speed: 1.2 Gbps (LTE Cat 18), peak upload speed: 150 Mbps (LTE Cat 13)
    • Qualcomm Wi-Fi 802.11ad Multi-gigabit, integrated 802.11ac 2×2 with MU-MIMO, 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 60 GHz
    • Qualcomm TrueWireless Bluetooth 5
  • Location – Support for 6 satellite systems: GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo, QZSS, SBAS; low power geofencing and tracking, sensor-assisted navigation
  • Security – Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit (SPU), Qualcomm Processor Security, Qualcomm Mobile Security, Qualcomm Content Protection
  • Charging – Qualcomm Quick Charge 4/4+ technology
  • Process – 10nm LPP

The company will provide support for Android and Windows operating systems. eXtended Reality (XR) is enabled with features such as room-scale 6DoF with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), advanced visual inertial odometry (VIO), and Adreno Foveation. Maybe I don’t follow the phone market closely enough, but I can’t remember seeing odometry implemented in any other phones, and Adreon Foveation is not quite self-explaining, so the company explains it combines graphics rendering with eye tracking, and directs the highest graphics resources to where you’re physically looking, while using less resources for rendering other areas. This improves the experience, performance, and lower power consumption.

 

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Compared to Snapdragon 835, the new processor is said to be around 25 to 30% faster, the Spectra camera and Adreno graphics architectures are claimed to boost power efficiency by up to 30 percent, and the LTE modem is a bit faster (1.2 Gbps/150Mbps vs 1.0 Gbps/150Mbps). Quick Charge 4+ technology should deliver up  to 50 percent charge in 15 minutes. Earlier this year when SD835 was officially launched, there was virtually no mention of artificial intelligence support in mobile APs, but now NNA (Neural Network Accelerator) or NPE (Neural Processing Engine) are part of most high-end mobile processors, which in SD845 appears to be done though the Hexagon 685 DSP. High Dynamic Range (HDR) for video playback and capture is also a novelty in the new Snapdragon processor.

One of the first device powered by Snapdragon 845 will be Xiaomi Mi 7 smartphone, and according to leaks it will come with a 6.1″ display, up to 8GB RAM, dual camera, 3D facial recognition, and more. Further details about the phone are expected for Mobile World Congress 2018. Considering the first Windows 10 laptop based on Snapdragon 835 processor are expected in H1 2018, we may have to wait until the second part of the year for the launch of Snapdragon 845 mobile PCs.

More details may be found on Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 mobile platform product page.

Xiaomi Unveils Their Very Own ESP32 Development Board, Module & SDK

November 28th, 2017 11 comments

We now have plenty of modules and board based on Espressif System ESP32 dual core wireless SoC, and a fairly good software support with ESP IDF SDK, Arduino CoreMicroPython, Espruino and other solutions.

So I was surprised when I saw Teo Swee Ann, Espressif CEO, posted photos about an event – Xiaomi IoT Developer Conference – where Xiaomi apparently introduced their own ESP32 development board, together their own SDK (still empty right now) compatible with the company’s Mijia ecosystem, as part of their “Open IoT platform”

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The slide below translates as “WIFI module –  Automated manufacturing / 4-fold foolproof mechanism / whole process tracing / cost price (about 15 RMB)” and “Open source SDK”, with the price likely the price of Xiaomi ESP32 module (ESP-WROOM-32C) shown on board above (Thank to hm for translation).

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I could not find much information at this early stage, except new partnership between Baidu and Xiaomi for A.I. and IoT which does not mention the board. I’ll update this post, once more details are available.

Sub $20 TV Box, and 14% Discount on TV Boxes and Mini PCs (Promo)

November 27th, 2017 4 comments

Black Friday is over, but companies still offer discounts for Cyber Monday, and GearBest has some specific deals for TV boxes and mini PCs.

If you are after the cheapest TV box model around, Sunvell T95D based on Rockchip RK3229 with 1GB RAM and 8GB RAM is sold for $18.99 with coupon Bfriday303.

Sunvell T95D

But they also have other models sold at a discount:

You can also use GBTBMP coupon on any TV box or (Intel) mini PC to get a 14% discount on any model, but bear in mind this is limited to China warehouse, and if the product is already discounted, the “normal” price will be set before applying the discount. A few other coupon can be found on the aforelinked page. [Update: GB11.11TVBo coupon may lower the price by 15% instead.]

All coupons listed above are valid until November 30.

International Black Friday & Cyber Monday Deals in 2017

November 21st, 2017 32 comments

Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2017 deals have started to show up on some Chinese e-retailers website, so as every year, I’ll go through a non-exhaustive list with the most popular websites.

GearBest’s 2017 Black Friday event offers discount from 8% up to 15% for mobile phone, tablets & computers, and appliances. One example if Alfawise S95 TV Box with S905W/2GB RAM/16GB flash going for $29.99 shipped. They also offer coupons up to 20% or a just amount in dollars. You can purchase lucky bags with a surprise product, some flash sales will be organized, as well as a lucky draw to win Xiaomi Mi 6 smartphone.

Aliexpress is ready for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday with some games to win coupons, and deals per category. I have not found any specific yet, but while the games are on, the actual Black Friday sale will only take place between November 24 and 26, and Cyber Monday on 27-28.

GeekBuying’s Black Friday Sale will take place between November 22-29, with coupon from 8 to 20% for various category of products, or even specific products such as Yi M1 camera.Flash deals will also be launched at low price, but as usual with very low quantity – as on all sites for this type of offer – so you’ll have to be right on time to benefit from the offers.

DX Thanksgiving Sale has started and will run until November 27. $3 and $6 coupons are up for grab, and a Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 smartphone will be offered to one lucky winner. They have discount for various categories and products, and I did not see any specific deals for products I’ve familiar with. I’ve come across a $25 (not 3D printed) Nintendo NES case for Raspberry Pi which can be interesting to some people.

Tinydeal is also taking part in the event with some deals on specific product, but I did not find much interesting there, maybe you will

If you’d like a piece of dying tech / history, SeeedStudio has a Thanksgiving sale with Intel Galileo ($35.95 – out of stock) and Intel Edison ($85.95) kits, as well as other DIY electronics such as UDOO NEO board ($59 going to $32.45 during the flash sales). The company also offers free shipping (excluding Fedex and DHL) for any order above $99 during their Thanksgiving promotion, until November 28.

For users in the US, PocketBeagle board is apparently (I’m blocked) sold for $19.99 on Micro Center website.

I’ll add further Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals  as I find / receive them in the comments section.

Xiaomi Mi A1 Smartphone Review – Part 2: Android 7.1.2 Firmware

November 15th, 2017 12 comments

Google recently announced several Android One smartphones, which are supposed to get 2 years of firmware updates, including to the latest version of Android, such as HTC U11 Life and Android One Moto X4. Many of those phones are limited to some specific countries, but Xiaomi Mi A1 will be launched in over 40 countries, and thanks to Chinese online shops is really available worldwide. GearBest sent me the latter last month, and in the first part of Xiaomi Mi A1 review I simply went through unboxing, booted the phone, perform an OTA update, and ran Antutu 6.x on the phone for a quick estimate of performance.

Since then, I’ve had around four weeks to play with the smartphone running Android 7.1.2 (still), so I’m ready to report my experience in the second part of the review.

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General Impressions

In the past year, I used Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone powered by Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core SoC, which in theory is quite faster than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 used in Mi A1, but in practise, I did not feel much difference in performance for example while browsing the web or checking email, and in some games, performance of Xiaomi Mi A1 was actually much better than on Apollo Lite, as I reported in the post entitled “Mediatek Helio X20 vs Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 – 3D Graphics Benchmarks and CSR 2 Game“.

Some of my wishes in Vernee Apollo Lite included a better camera, and improved GPS accuracy, and Mi A1 is a big improvement for both as we’ll see in more details later on in the review. The build quality of the phone is good, and the design looks more stylish and thinner than my previous phone. The display is clear, and I like the wide brightness range, that is low enough not to hurt eyes in the dark, and high enough to use the phone in sunlight. It’s quite glossy though, so you’ll have reflect especially with black background, and it’s possibly to use it as a mirror without turning it on… I seldom call with my phone, but the couple of times I made or received actual calls, the sound was loud and clear. I spend most of my time browsing the web, checking emails, watching YouTube video, and playing games (mostly CSR 2) on my phone, and do so over WiFi connection, and the phone just works flawlessly for this with good performance, and no overheating (that I could notice) contrary to Vernee Apollo Lite, which does get hot in some cases, and slows down considerably.

I’m also happy about battery life, and with my use case of hour 4 to 5 hours use a day, I can still get around 30 hours on a charge. One of the downside is the lack of fast charging, so I can’t quickly top of the battery for 5 minutes before going out. A full charge takes around 1h30, so still not too bad, and since the battery lasts more than 24 hours, it would be possible to charge every day at the same time to avoid low battery charge while on the go.

The main selling of the phone is being part of Android One program, as you’ll get security updated once or twice a month, as well as bigger Android version updates for two years hopefully up to Android 9 / P.  You do pay a premium for this, so if regular security/firmware updates are not important to you, you’ll get better value with other smartphones.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, I could not find any major flaws so far, so I can safely recommend it especially if having up-to-date firmware (for the next two years) is important to you.

Benchmarks: Antutu, Vellamo, and 3DMarks

Here are Antutu 6.x benchmark results for people who have yet to read the first part of the review.

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60,000 points is a decent score for a mid-range phone, but for example quite lower than the 85,840 points I got on Vernee Apollo Lite.

Next up… Vellamo 3.x benchmark. Comparisons are against older phone / Android version, so I should probably drop that benchmark in future reviews…

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Note that I could not run Vellamo with Chrome browser, since it would hang during CSS 3D animation. Firefox mostly worked, except for Pixel Bender test timing out… The number are all much lower than my Vellamo results on Vernee Apollo Lite.

So I also ran GeekBench 4. AFAIK, It’s however limited to CPU performance so it does not really give real world indication like Vellamo’s Browser test for example.

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We can see the single core performance is quite lower than more powerful Cortex A72 “class” processors, but multicore performance is close enough. You can find the full details here.

I also ran 3DMark Ice Store Extreme for evaluation 3D performance further. Vernee Apollo Lite would max out the test, but Xiaomi Mi A1 scored “only” 8,045 points.

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The interested part is that my real-life experience does not match the benchmarks at all, as I found Mi A1 to perform just as well as if not much better in many apps. We’ll find out one potential reason just below.

Storage and Wi-Fi Performance

I ran A1 SD Benchmark app to estimate storage performance of 64 GB eMMC flash, and Xiaomi Mi A1 has by far the best storage I’ve used on any devices.

With sequential read speed of 198.94 MB/s, and a write speed of 192.45 MB/s, the device is in a class of its down. Ideally, random I/O performance should be tested too, but it still gives an indication.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Time for some WiFi testing. I did not have any issues, and felt web pages were always loading fast, and YouTube videos played smoothly even at 1080p. But let’s have some numbers to play using SAMBA file copy (278MB) over 802.11ac WiFi  with ES File Explorer, and placing the phone is the same test location as the other DUTs. Just like many recent devices SAMBA “download” is much faster than “upload”:

  • File copy SAMBA to Flash – 47.5s on average (5.85 MB/s)
  • File copy Flash to SAMBA – 2m10s on average (2.13 MB/s)

When we average both numbers, Xiaomi WiFi SAMBA performance is only slightly above average, but still outperformed by some 802.11n devices.

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Maybe that’s an Android Nougat bug… In order to have raw numbers, I also used  iperf for both upload and download

  • 802.11ac WiFi upload:

  • 802.11ac WiFi download:

Assymetry is gone, and Mi A1 is the best device in that test, but we have less data for comparison…

Throughput in Mbps

The main takeaway is that WiFi is working well, and performance is very good.

Rear and Front Facing Cameras

Beside being part of Android One program, another key feature of Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone is the dual rear camera with optical zoom.

Rear Camera

So I’ve taken a few shots with the camera, starting with an easy cat shot… The thing that surprised me the most at first was the speed at which the photo is taken. It just happens instantaneously. With older devices, I often had to wait around one second after pressing the button while it was doing the auto-focus and take photos. You can launch the camera app very quickly – without having to unlock your phone – by pressing the power button twice.

“What do you want?” Cat – Click for Original Size

Clear enough for a camera phone. Close up shots are sometimes problematic with phone, but I had pretty good results. The text book shot is close to perfect.

I used to Read that Stuff – Click for Original Size

Development board can be tricky to photograph because the camera can focus on the wrong part (e.g. top of Ethernet/USB connector), But Orange Pi One photo below is fairly good. I had to try a few times to get the right focus.

 

Best.Board.Ever? – Click for Original Size

You can press on the live view to set the focus point. It will help.

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Flower photos were also good with color matching reality.

Local Angel – Click for Original Size

Photos taken with good lighting are always good.

What year is this? Morning Shot – Click for Original Size

The photo above was taken in the morning with the sun in my back.

Dirt Road Genocide at Sunset – Click for Original Size

When it get a little dark, or in shots with different lighting conditions for foreground and background it helps to enable HDR function.

HDR Works in Temples Too – Click for Original Size

Night shots can be a little grainy, but I find they are still pretty good…

Smoking Bear with Pig and Hedgehog overlooked by Confused Panda at Night – Click for Original Size

Now some video testing, starting with the easiest of all 1080p30 day time video.

The video looks fine, but if you’ve watched it with audio, you may have noticed may not be quite right with the microphone/audio.

4K video can be recorded at 30 fps, but it does feel as smooth as the 1080p one while panning.

All videos are recorded using MP4 Quicktime container, H.264 video codec @ 30 fps, and MPEG-4 AAC stereo audio. If you plan to watch 4K videos from the phone on TV, you’ll have to make sure the player supports 4K H.264 @ 30 fps, as some 4K TV boxes are limited to 24 fps.

Slow motion recording is something that I did not have in my previous phone, and it’s working fairly well up to 720p30 (recorded at 120 fps).

Night time videos are the most difficult, and even at 1080p the results are quite poor with the video frame rate at 14 fps, auto focus being seriously confused, and and audio has a metallic component to it, even more than for the video I recorded during day time.

So I tried again to shot a video will taking to myself, and audio was just fine. So I guess the issue may be specific to far field audio or traffic noise.

Font-facing camera

The front-facing camera works pretty well for selfies.

Angel with Bra – Click for Original Size

Golden Necklace Beauty – Click for Original Size

Black “The Boss” – Click for Original Size

I also used it with a one hour long Skype call.

Camera App Settings

Let’s have a look at the camera app interface. In the preview window we have three icons at the top to change flash settings, enable/disable portrait mode (if enabled it will bur the background), and enable/disable HDR.

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If we tap on Options we’ll have the choice to play with Panorama mode, adjust timer and audio settings, set manual camera settings for white balance, exposure time, focus, ISO, lens selection (wide/tele), and more. Tapping the Settings icon on the top right corner will bring further camera settings.

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If you plan to share photos with strangers you may want to disable “Save location info” as otherwise your GPS location will be embedded into the photos’s EXIF info. Face detection is nice, but you may consider disabling “Age & gender”, as it will automatically detect whether a person is male or female, and estimate their age while taking a photo (although it won’t show on the photo itself). I’ve seen the phone misgender people, and age can always be a contentious subject 🙂

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If we switch to video capture we have much fewer options, mostly time-lapse or slow-motion, and we can select video quality (4K, FULL HD, HD, SD).

Battery Life

Xiaomi Mi A1’s ~3,000 mAh baterry provides enough juice for over 30 hours in my use cases (Web browsing / YouTube / Gaming 4 to 5 hours a day). I also like to turn off my phone automatically at night between 22:00 and 7:00, so it adds a little to the battery life too. A typical cycle for charge to charge looks as the one below.

I normally use LAB501 Battery Life app to test battery life from 100% to 15% for browsing, video and gaming cases, with brightness to 50%, WiFi and Cellular (no data) enabled, but for some reasons I cannot explain, the tests would always stop after a few hours – despite several attempts -, not drawing the battery down to 15%.

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However, the battery discharge on this phone, and Vernee Apollo Lite looks linear…

…so I’ll use linear approximation to estimate the actual battery life..

  • Browsing (100% to 15%) – 740 minutes (12h20)
  • Video (100% to 15%) –  598 minutes (9h58)
  • Gaming (100% to 15%) –  389 minutes (6h29)

…and compare it to the other battery powered mobile devices I’ve tested so far.

Battery Life in Minutes

Xiaomi Mi A1 wins hands down against the other (older) devices I’ve tested when it comes to battery life. The good news is that battery life seems to improve over the years, as the older devices fare the worse. So a few more years, and we can get a week of charge on our phones?

Charging is not as fast as on Vernee Apollo Lite since there’s no Quick Charge, and it takes 1h30 to 1h50 to fully charge the phone from 15% to 100%. Topping the battery from a low of 8% to 27% took me 23 minutes. For comparison, I could do a full charge in one hour on Apollo Lite with Quick Pump 3.0, and a 20 minute charge would add about 40% to the battery.

Miscellaneous

Bluetooth

No problems here. I could transfer photos between the phone and Zidoo H6 Pro Android TV box over Bluetooth, connect two different Bluetooth headsets to the phone, and pair with, and retrieve data from a fitness tracker using Smart Movement app.

GPS

GPS is also an improvement over all the other Mediatek phones I’ve had. GPS fix is super fast like on Vernee Apollo Lite, but while using Nike+ Running, GPS accuracy is much better on the Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, as you can see from the two screenshots below.

Xiaomi Mi A1 (left) vs Vernee Apollo Lite (Right) – Click to Enlarge

I ran two laps with the Xiaomi phone, and they almost exactly overlap. The downside is that I have to run a little longer to achieve the same distance on the app 🙂

Gaming

I tried four games: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Bleach, Riptide GP2, and CSR Racing 2. All played very smoothly, to my surprise CSR 2 performed much better than on Vernee Apollo Lite, despite the latter having a more powerful ARM Mali-T880 GPU in Helio X20 SoC. As mentioned in a aforelinked post, I can see 3 potential reasons for the difference in that game: more optimization on Qualcomm SoCs than Mediatek SoCs, slightly lower level of details shown in the Qualcomm phone, better cooling for Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, which stays cool at all times, contrary to the Vernee phone which may require a cool pack to run smoothly…

IR Transmitter / Remote Control App

An infrared transmitter is built into Xiaomi Mi A1  smartphone, and can be control with Mi Remote app. I tried with LG 4K UHD TV, and it worked well.

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Air conditioners are always more challenging. So first I had to go through a process to detect which Haier aircon model I had, pressing poweroff button, and then other buttons, to find the right model among 158 options.

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It finally found mine, I gave it a name “Bedroom Haier AC” and realized on some functions would work, and some temperatures are not supported. So not so useful in that case.

Others

Multitouch app reports the touchscreen supports 10 touch points. The smartphone has a single speaker with mediocre quality when listening to music, but that’s not that big of an issue as Bluetooth speakers are now rather inexpensive, and in my daily life I mostly use wired or Bluetooth audio headsets. It’s good to have a 3.5mm audio jack, but I normally prefer when it’s placed on the top of the phone, rather than the bottom left, which can be an issue when using an armband, or while holding the phone.

Video Review

I’ve also shot a video review mostly summarizing the points above, showing the camera in action, playing Riptide GP2, a YouTube video up to 1080p, opening a large PDF files, etc…

Long Term Review / History

Since I’ve very satisfied with the phone, I’m going to retire Vernee Apollo Lite, and make Mi A1 my main phone. Since it’s also supposed to be upgraded for two years, I’ll keep this section to report the history of the phone, like a long term review, and report important events like firmware updates, or if something stops working. I got 3 firmware updates since I received the phone less than a month ago.

  • September 5, 2017 – Xiaomi Mi A1 announcement
  • September 12, 2017 – Official launch in India
  • October 16, 2017 –  Unboxing and September 2017 security update (1059.6 MB), Android 7.1.2 / Linux 3.18.31
  • October 21, 2017 – October 2017 security update (118 MB), Android 7.1.2 / Linux 3.18.31
  • November 3, 2017 – October 2017 security update (75.7 MB), Android 7.1.2 / Linux 3.18.31
  • November 15, 2017 – This review
  • November 22, 2017 – November 2017 security update (466.9 MB), Android 7.1.2 / Linux 3.18.31
  • December 12, 2017 – December 2017 security update (153.0 MB), Android 7.1.2 / Linux 3.18.31
  • December 27, 2017 – December 2017 security update (63.4MB), Android 7.1.2 / Linux 3.18.31
  • December 31, 2017 – December 2017 update (1107.4MB), Android 8.0.0 / Linux 3.18.66

Conclusion

I’m really pleased with my experience with Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, and to my surprise it’s an improvement over Vernee Apollo Lake with most features, except for fast charging that’s missing from the phone.

PROS

  • Stable and relatively recent Android 7.1.2 firmware
  • Part of Android One program with promise of regular security and firmware updates for 2 years (including Android 8.x and 9.x).
  • Good & sharp 1920 x 1080 display; wide brightness range
  • Excellent Wi-Fi 802.11ac performance
  • Excellent eMMC flash performance (Best I’ve tested so far)
  • Long battery life (about 30 hours per charge for 4 to 5 hours active use per day)
  • Good front-facing camera and rear dual cameras for depth effect
  • Overall better app performance compared to my previous Helio X20 based smartphone, especially for some games
  • Support forums

CONS

  • Quick Charge (Fast charging) not available
  • Videos shot with the rear camera are not smooth in dark scenes, and audio is poor in some videos (metal sound)
  • SAMBA WiFi performance is average for transfer from phone to server
  • Mi Remote  app (infrared remote) is not working well with my aircon (Haier)
  • Display is quite glossy / reflective
  • Built-in speaker not really good to listen to music
  • Android One support may add about $30 to $40 to the price of the phone
  • GPL source code not released yet, but an article suggests Mi A1 Linux kernel source code may be released within three months.

I’d like to thank GearBest for providing a review sample. Xiaomi Mi A1 (Black) can be purchased on their shop for $219.99 shipped with coupon A1HS. Other shopping options include GeekBuying, Banggood, eBay, and others online shops.

Some people noticed that Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 smartphone has very similar specifications with a Snapdragon 625 processor, 4GB RAM, and 64GB storage, the same 5.5″ Full HD display, but no dual rear camera, and a bigger battery (4,100 mAh). It’s sold for on Aliexpress for about $190 (Black version) and around $180 (Other colors), so if we assume the battery / camera features cancel out (in terms of price) that means Android One support adds about $30 to $40. One way to look at it is that you pay a little less than $2 per month for 2-year support with regular security & firmware updates.

Testing Google’s GNSS Analysis Tool for GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou…

November 1st, 2017 1 comment

Google has recently released GNSS Analysis Tool to process and analyze Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) raw measurements from Android devices. This is mostly designed to enable manufacturers to see whether their GNSS receivers are working as expected.

The tool can also be used for research and to learn more about GNSS, and there are two components:

  • GNSS Analysis tool itself available for Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X
  • GNSS Data Logger app working with Android 7.0 or greater phones that support raw measurements.

You can download both from the release page on Github. I’ve given it a try with a computer running Ubuntu 16.04 and Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, but you can the analysis tool even f you don’t have Android 7.0+ smartphone, as sample data is included.

I downloaded GnssAnalysisLinuxV2.4.0.0.zip, and extracted the content in ~/Desktop/GnnsAnalysisFiles directory as instructed.

Click to Enlarge

Now we can open a terminal window and install the utility:

The last command will download MATLAB runtime, and other necessary files and may take a few minutes (around 10 minutes here). Once it’s done, it should show the installer for GnssAnalysisApp 2.400.

Click next and select installation directories for the app and MATLAB Runtine R2016a…

… and click on Install. A bit more patience, and we’ll be able to run the tool using MATLAB Runtine installation directory as parameter:

This will show the control panel below.


Click on Find Log File but and load demofiles/gnss_log_2016_06_30_21_26_07.txt, then click on Analyze & Plot, and it will open many different windows, analyzing the GPS/GNSS data.

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People familiar with GNSS will know how to analyze this data, but this will feel like gibberish to anybody unfamiliar with the intricacies of GPS or other GNSS systems. A good way to better understand the data, and learn more about GPS is to close all the windows, and click on “Make report” button with the Android logo instead. This will create a file called GnnsAnalysisReport.html giving some more useful information and whether a given test passed or failed, for example:

When there you can read the analysis, and learn more from the results. Using sample data is fun, but let’s try to use the Android app to gather our own data with Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone running Android 7.1.2. Once the app (Gnsslogger.apk) is installed, place your phone in an open location, start the app, enable the options in the SETTINGS tab, switch to the LOG tab and tap START LOG.

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Leave the app gathering data for a few minutes, optionally setting a timer, and then tap on STOP & SEND button, which should open Android’s share menu, and in my case I simply sent the log to my email, and received it with SensorLog subject with attachment. I could load the attachment, but after clicking on Analyze & Plot the log window reported “No raw measurements read from this file.”. I did have some data in my file, but I had no “Raw” lines, while the sample had some:

So that likely means my phone does not provide any raw GNSS data.