A little over two months ago, when ASUS launched the Zenfone 5Z (Review) in India, it became the first phone in quite a while to bring a flagship-grade Qualcomm processor below the psychologically important sub-Rs. 30K mark. However, competitors were quick enough to react. Huawei’s sub-brand Honor, for example, responded by launching the competent Honor Play (Review) which had Huawei’s flagship class chip the Kirin 970 chip on a device that was priced below Rs. 20,000.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any crazier, Xiaomi made its intentions clear by launching the POCO F1. The Poco F1 also marked the entry of a new sub-brand from the company: POCO. It wouldn’t be erroneous to state that the POCO F1 literally stole the thunder from both—ASUS Zenfone 5Z and Honor Play—which, mind you, are also excellent smartphones for their respective prices.
In this review, we take a detailed look at the POCO F1. As was the case with most other reviewers in India, we received the top-of-the-line 256GB storage variant of the smartphone with 8GB of RAM and Kevlar back. The phone is also sold in three other versions; a base variant with 6GB RAM and 64GB of storage, an 8GB RAM variant with 128GB of storage, and the 8GB RAM variant with 256GB of storage (with non-Kevlar back panel).
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POCO F1 Review: What’s Inside The Box?
The retail box of the POCO F1 is very unassuming to look at and prominently displays the POCO branding. One thing I noticed about the Indian retail packaging is that the brand is called ‘POCO’ instead of ‘POCOPHONE’ as the brand is referred to in international markets. Anyway, you get the following things inside the retail box.
- POCO F1
- USB Type-C Cable
- Quick Charge 3.0 Charger
- SIM Card Tray Ejector Tool
- Transparent Plastic Case
- Documentation/Quick Start Guide
POCO F1 Review: Design & Build Quality
Xiaomi seems to have taken a totally different approach to design the POCO F1. While most of the POCO F1’s competitors try hard to look premium, the F1 seems to make no tangible effort to achieve that. Even the most premium version (which we received for the review) features a Kevlar coating and distinct patterns at the rear. It still did not evoke a sense of premium-ness, though. As you might already be aware, there are four variants of the POCO F1 currently on sale. Except for the most expensive ‘Armoured Edition’ that gets a polycarbonate body and a Kevlar covered rear panel, all the other less expensive versions get by with a polycarbonate (read Plastic) body. That is not to say that the handset feels cheap and badly built. The volume rocker keys and the power button, for example, have a solid feel and seem built to last.
The front of the POCO F1 is dominated by the large, 6.3-inch IPS LCD panel. As the norm is with most mid-range and premium handsets, this is a notched display. The notch area is where you will find the 20-megapixel front-facing camera, the IR illuminator for face unlock, the proximity sensor, and the earpiece (that also doubles up as a loudspeaker in the stereo mode). Keeping with the current trend, the display has curved edges. However, the curves on the POCO F1 were too round for my liking. Another thing that seemed to have bothered several reviewers and users alike seems to be the large “chin” area of the device. I did not find this to be of too much concern, though.
The rear panel of the POCO F1 is where you will find the dual camera setup that includes the 12-megapixel primary camera sensor and the 5-megapixel depth sensor. The secondary camera does not capture images or videos of its own and does the job of solely being a depth sensor – an arrangement that is commonly seen on cheaper Huawei and Honor devices. Beneath the twin-camera lenses is where you will find the fingerprint reader. The dual-LED flash module is located right next to the camera array. Towards the bottom of the rear panel, you get the POCO logo. This logo reads “POCOPHONE” on the international versions of the device.
The USB Type-C port is located at the bottom which is flanked by two grilles. Only one of those grilles, however, contains the loudspeaker and the other most probably hides a microphone inside. This is also where you will find the primary noise-cancelling microphones. The 3.5mm audio jack and the secondary microphone is located at the top.
Even though the polycarbonate shell of the POCO F1 might not make the phone look as premium as say, the Honor Play or the ASUS Zenfone 5Z, it certainly scores better in one department. Durability. The POCO F1 can easily take a good amount of punishment and survive the travails of daily usage. The display also gets a Corning Gorilla Glass layer for additional durability. I have been using the POCO F1 without a cover and the phone has coped pretty well with my rough usage pattern. One concern I did have about the build quality, however, was the rather flimsy SIM tray that is made of plastic. In fact, a small part of the SIM tray chipped off and broke off within a week of my review.
POCO F1 Review: Display
Apart from the polycarbonate shell, the display is one area where Xiaomi seems to have cut corners to save money. The large 6.3-inch panel is an IPS LCD type display with a resolution of 2246×1080 pixels. The panel has an unconventional aspect ratio of 18.7:9. While the display itself isn’t bad, when you compare it to what the competition has on offer, I noticed that our review unit did suffer a bad case of backlight bleed. Initially, I assumed this to be a one-off issue with my unit which was a non-retail version. However, soon after the F1 was launched, people started complaining en-masse about this issue. In fact, there were several threads on XDA Developers and even on MIUI Forums. At the time of publishing this review, we do not still know how widespread this screen-bleed issue on the POCO F1 is.
The bleed issue aside, the display on the POCO F1 is capable of displaying fairly accurate colours. Like all LCD panels, however, the F1 struggles with the blacks. POCO users get several options to customise the display. Most users are likely to use the phone in the default ‘Automatic Contrast’ mode. Within this option, users can choose the default colour mode, a warmer setting and a cool setting. In case you are not happy with the default calibrated modes, the colour wheel comes in handy. There is also a separate increased contrast mode that bumps up the contrast values several notches up. Then there is the standard mode in which the handset defaults to a slightly warmer tone. The viewing angles on the POCO device’s screen are good, but the backlight bleed issue on my unit did affect the viewing angles on the phone.
Poco F1 Review: Camera Quality
The camera setup on the POCO F1 includes a 12-megapixel sensor with f/1.9 aperture and a 5-megapixel sensor with f/2.0 aperture. The secondary camera is restricted to be used as a depth sensor. The front-facing camera sensor is a 20-megapixel unit which I believe is a straight lift from the relatively less expensive Redmi Note 5 Pro (Review). Xiaomi also went on to add that the phone supports a ton of AI-based features. The main camera, for example, has excellent face recognition capability and an AI-based beautify mode. This camera also supports dual-pixel autofocus and a single tone flash for more natural looking low light shots. OIS has been given a miss, and understandably so, at this price range.
For the price that the POCO F1 retails (and I am talking about the more affordable, base versions here), the phone delivers excellent image quality. The POCO F1’s Achilles heel, as far as the imaging goes, would be its low-light capabilities. Daylight shots, however, turn out excellent, with great colours and dynamic range. Here are a few daylight shots that clearly demonstrate the POCO F1’s imaging prowess in good lighting conditions.
The Portrait Mode on the rear camera is one of the best in its price range and even rivals several higher priced phones. The edge detection on the POCO F1 with the rear camera is also among the better ones I have seen. The front camera, thanks to its 20-megapixel sensor, is capable of some excellent selfies. This camera, too, gets a portrait mode of its own that again, works great with excellent edge detection. Another feature that I liked on the phone is the excellent panorama capability of the device. Look at this panorama (42MP resolution) shot to know what I am talking about.
Like I said earlier, image quality takes a plunge under low light situations.
The camera app UI on the POCO F1 is pretty easy to use and self-explanatory.
As far as the video capability of the phone is concerned, one of the things that the POCO F1 misses out on is the capability to record 4K and 1080p videos at 60 fps. We still do not know why Xiaomi decided to omit 60fps support since the chipset is more than capable of handling it. One area where the POCO F1 does excel, though, is the slow-motion capability. The phone takes some excellent slow-motion videos at 240fps in Full-HD resolution.
POCO F1 Review: Performance
The POCO F1, as you are aware, is the most affordable smartphone in India that houses the Snapdragon 845 SoC from Qualcomm. This is currently one of the fastest chip available for Android smartphones. Prior to the arrival of the Zenfone 5Z two months ago, you had to spend over Rs. 35,000 to own a device that came with this chip. After the POCO F1 happened, that amount has dropped to just Rs. 20,999. Needless to say, the POCO F1 has become one of the most sought-after devices in the sub-Rs. 30K price segment.
The powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip aside, the POCO F1 also gets LPDDR4X RAM in 8GB and 6GB capacities depending on the version you buy. One of the most talked about features of the F1 is its “LiquidCool” technology which is marketing-speak for a copper heatsink that helps cool down the innards of the phone when the F1 performs processor and graphics-intensive tasks. All the versions of the phone get fast UFS 2.1 based flash memory for internal storage.
Connectivity-wise, the phone gets dual-band WiFi support as well as 4G VoLTE support on both the SIM slots. Apart from support for Bluetooth 5.0, with 4G+ support, the phone is capable of latching on to two 4G bands simultaneously for faster data throughput using carrier aggregation.
In the two-plus weeks that I used the POCO F1 as my primary phone, I did occasionally face some performance issues with the device. One of the issues I faced was the camera UI freezing after an image was captured. It took the phone a while to display the image after I clicked on the thumbnail to preview the image. This issue, however, was sorted in a subsequent software update. Xiaomi also quickly fixed an issue that resulted in the phone being unable to install and Play Asphalt 9. The performance of the POCO F1 saw a significant improvement after the device was updated to the newest firmware.
I was not able to properly assess the call quality of the POCO F1 because both the networks I currently use, Airtel and Jio are extremely poor in the area where I am. I could, however, confirm that in areas with good connectivity, the call quality was on par with the competition. Voice clarity through the speaker, could have been better (read louder), though.
POCO F1 Review: Multimedia & Gaming Performance
One of the things that I liked about the POCO F1 is the fact that the phone gets a stereo speaker set up. This adds a bit more realism to your video watching experience. However, the earpiece that doubles up as the left speaker in the stereo mode was a bit too low on sound and lacked depth. The sound output, therefore, feels a bit lopsided. Video playback on YouTube is fine – but thanks to the tall display and the notch, you will see two black bands on either side. You can pinch to zoom to mitigate this issue, though.
In case you are an avid Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar or Netflix watcher, you might be disappointed to know that all videos on these platforms would top out at 540p resolution on the POCO F1’s Full-HD display. This is because the phone does not support Widevine L1 – a DRM encryption scheme for playing back protected and licensed video content on Android devices.
The POCO F1 doubles up as a competent music player if you own a good pair of headphones/earphones. MIUI lets you customise the sound output to suit the type of headphones you own – a feature I hitherto saw on the Zenfone 5Z a few months ago. The equaliser is also enabled when you start using the 3.5mm audio jack or a pair of Bluetooth earphones.
While not an avid gamer, I did install a couple of games on the phone for the sake of this review. Thanks to the powerful Snapdragon 845 chip with the Adreno 630 GPU, currently the most powerful GPU available for Android devices, the POCO F1 is more than capable of handling nearly everything you throw at it. The excellent cooling system ensures that the phone does not heat up even after extended periods of gaming. As far as benchmarks are concerned we ran the usual set that includes AnTuTu, Geekbench and 3D Mark. Take a look at the benchmark results in the screenshots below.
POCO F1 Review: Software & UI
The POCO F1 runs a customised version of MIUI 9.6 atop an Android 8.1 Oreo core. What differentiates the F1 from other Xiaomi devices with MIUI is its brand new launcher – the rather obviously named ‘POCO Launcher for MIUI’. The default theme on the handset is also exclusive for the POCO F1. The major difference between the standard MIUI launcher and the POCO launcher is the fact that the latter now offers users an app drawer. Users can either use gestures for navigation (which might take a while to get used to) or use the traditional virtual navigation buttons to navigate around the UI.
The app drawer by default arranges apps by their type. There are multiple tabs under which apps are “dropped” once you install them. I believe there were simply too many categories (I counted ten in all). Thankfully, the first tab lists all the apps together irrespective of their type. The app search bar is now conveniently placed at the bottom area of the screen. This arrangement did take me some time to get used to, though, but it is easier to use.
Since the phone runs a customised version of MIUI, you can use themes to change the look and feel of the UI. The rest of the features are the same ones you have seen on other MIUI based phones. Some of the more interesting features include support for dual apps that allows two instances of the same app running at the same time. Then there are the button and gesture shortcuts that allow you to do small things like turning the camera on, taking a screenshot and opening the split screen mode using a gesture of your choice.
The POCO F1 has two biometric methods of unlocking – the good old fingerprint scanner and the newer Face Unlock mechanism. While most of its contemporaries (including the mighty OnePlus 6) use the front facing camera to recognize the user and unlock the phone, the POCO F1 uses the more advanced IR face unlock method. The IR method ensures that the phone is able to “see” your face even in pitch dark environments. This is a situation where most other phones with the camera based 2D Face Unlock feature fails to work.
One of the reasons I am personally not a fan of MIUI is because of the sheer number of preinstalled apps that it usually comes with. The POCO F1 is no exception to this. The phone comes preloaded with apps that include Xiaomi’s own security app, a cleaner app, Mi Store, and UC Browser among others.
POCO F1 Review: Battery Life
Thanks to the large 4,000 mAh battery, the POCO F1 will easily last you one full day even with relatively heavy usage. I was able to consistently eke out more than 7 hours of screen on time with the device. You just need to ensure that the display brightness is set to slightly above 50 per cent.
At launch, Xiaomi did confirm that the POCO F1 supports Quick Charge 3.0. In our tests, the phone took a little over two hours to fully charge. Even with fast charging support, the POCO F1 takes nearly 40 minutes to charge to 50%. This is notably slower than most other devices with fast charge support. A few weeks after launch, Xiaomi also added that the POCO F1 supports Quick Charge 4.0 as well. I did try charging the phone with a non-certified QC 4.0 charger, but the phone did not fast charge.
Poco F1 Review: Should You Buy It?
For a long time now, it used to be devices from OnePlus devices that held the mantle of the ‘affordable flagship’. However, with almost all new OnePlus devices now priced above the Rs. 35,000 mark, there was a clear void in the attractive Rs. 20K to Rs. 35K price segment. ASUS was the first one to target this void with its excellent Zenfone 5Z. Not to be left behind, Honor one-upped ASUS by coming up with the Honor Play, which mind you, is the most affordable of the lot with the base version costing just Rs. 19,990.
The Honor Play’s bane, however, is that it uses Huawei’s Kirin 970 chip instead of the more popular Snapdragon 845 chipset from Qualcomm which means it falls slightly behind the POCO F1 in the benchmarks. In real life situations, however, the difference is hardly noticeable. The Honor Play also falls behind the POCO in some other aspects like the slow-motion video capability and the amount of RAM. Qualcomm clearly does GPU and ISP better than Huawei. The ASUS Zenfone 5Z is a more premium and well-rounded offering for its price and does not make any compromises (save for the lack of splash and water resistance).
With the base version of the POCO F1 priced at just Rs. 20,999, the POCO F1 is able to attract two sets of buyers. These include people who had a budget of 16-17k for a smartphone and would not mind waiting for a month, save some more and get a more powerful device. Then there is the crowd that had a budget of over Rs. 25K to Rs. 35K and were considering devices like the Zenfone 5Z, the Honor 10 and the entry-level versions of the OnePlus 6 and they suddenly have an option that is lighter on the pocket. In case you belong to the former category, the POCO F1 would make for an excellent upgrade over the likes of the Redmi Note 5 Pro, the Mi A2 and the Zenfone Max Pro M1 (Review).
However, if you have a budget of over Rs. 25,000, I still believe that the Zenfone 5Z offers the most bang for your bucks. The Zenfone 5Z scores better in the imaging department, it has a much nicer display, the video recording capabilities are excellent, and the audio performance with its dedicated amplifier is unbeatable (at least in its price segment). The only area where it falls behind the POCO F1 is the lower storage capacity on the base version and the lower resolution for slow-motion videos. To simplify my conclusion, the POCO F1 is your best bet in case you have a budget of less than Rs. 25,000. If you have more than Rs. 25,000 to spend, the Zenfone 5Z makes for a more sensible choice for most people.
All said and done, I have to give full credits to Xiaomi for coming up with something like the POCO F1.
Design and Build Quality8.0/10
Value for Money10.0/10
What Is Good?
- Value for money
- Flagship class performance on a budget
- Excellent daylight camera
- Great battery life
- Frequent software updates
What Is Bad?
- Light bleed issues on our unit
- Buggy at times
- Polycarbonate body lacks premium feel
- Lack of Widevine L1 support
- MIUI might not appeal to all
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